Final Makes

Designing a Connected Learning Project in High School Physics

ED677: Final Makes

Dylan Fedell


For my Final Makes I am designing a culminating activity for my optics unit in physics. In optics we cover the following topics:

This project is a work in progress, but I wanted to outline my thinking in this project and how it will support connected learning and equity in my classroom, in addition to my own thinking, learning, and practice.

Personally, one of the greatest hurdles to implementing connected learning practices in the classroom is how intangible its ideas still are for many educators. If I had not taken three graduate courses on the subject I would still be lost…actually if I had stopped at two courses I would still be lost. I think it’s because existing lessons may already contain aspects of connected learning, just not labeled as such; or existing lessons with minimal connected learning practices can be modified to incorporate a few of these practices or a lot; it’s your choice! What it really comes down to is what questions do you ask yourself when reflecting and developing a lesson. So, I decided that if I used the themes of our studies in ED677 to devise reflective questions, I could develop a connected learning dogma to guide my practice. Below are the questions that I devised and asked myself:

  • How is the activity openly-networked or allow students to engage in shared purpose?
  • How is the activity production-centered (circulation & visibility of artifacts; access to production tools; collective purpose; just-in-time instruction; value & common purpose (racing at end…build a car))?
  • In what ways does the activity include student interest in academic, civic, community, or career areas?
  • How is the activity a collaboration of other contents, other schools or learning settings?
  • In what ways am I promoting inquiry to build knowledge?
  • In what ways am I letting go of control?
  • In what ways am I supporting current events and fostering civic participation?
  • In what ways am I showing that I care enough that everyone can share their whole selves?


At the beginning of the school year one of my colleagues in the art department let me borrow a book titled, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. Quite honestly, I had not anticipated using this book in my classroom or there being a strong connection between the two topics, but I had wanted to scan its nearly 500 pages out of pure interest. Before scanning, I was aware that physics tools were being used to preserve, restore, and even “look” underneath existing paintings at previously undiscovered artwork or technique (since canvas’ were typically reused, older artwork was simply painted over).

A little while later, in between semesters, I was scanning the book and began to read. The chapter on light was fascinating! One of the topics I found really interesting was how early renaissance artists learned to depict light and how artists use of light spurred scientific thinking and reasoning in order to draw the interaction of light and objects accurately (shadowing). My idea for a hook and culminating task would be as if the student were contracted to paint a picture for some royal figure. In order to do so they would have to learn how light travels and interacts with different objects and pigments and then actually draw it; while learning some of the tricks of the trade of how artists depict light. I wrote this down where I log my ideas for projects and while looking for inspiration for this final make, I had a connected learning epiphany, and decided to revisit this idea!


I decided when I had this epiphany to meet with AT, the art teacher who had lent me the book. AT liked the idea of collaboration between our two departments and shared that he had always wanted to design a project that allowed students to create their own pigments. He also detailed a history of artists using light which was both fascinating and unbeknownst to me at that time. AT mentioned one landscape artist who was particularly famous for his drawings precision; it is suspected that he used a pinhole camera to magnify and project an image onto a canvas for tracing; this before the time of lenses.

After meeting with AT, I began thinking about how we could synthesize our ideas into something meaningful. The science behind these projects fits directly into the physics curriculum, but I wanted to make this project more than just a meshing of contents. So, I began with several components I felt embodied a connected classroom, the project(s) needed to, a) contribute to a positive educational atmosphere; b) exhibit skills and learning done in the classroom; and c) allow students to contribute in different ways that allow them to share/explore areas of skill/interest.

Below is a progression of my thinking as I began answering the questions I had developed (as stated above):

With shared-purpose in mind, I began to think of a mural, display, or kinetic sculpture that students of any skill level could contribute to. For convenience I will refer to murals, displays, and kinetic sculptures simply as displays. I thought of these displays because they can be large in scale, and contribute to a positive atmosphere in our school community. Shared purpose to me feels democratic in a sense because students need to identify what aspects of the content or ideas for the project are important to them as a group. Since the goal would be to include specific concepts or phenomena unique to light, students would need to collectively brainstorm and decide which optics content would be incorporated into the project.

As I focused on openly-networking this project I imagined a whole school voting on the design and inclusion of different works depicted on the display. I would also like to include staff and administration in deciding the location of the project. For the purpose of continuing this project in future semesters I am imagining a display that can be moved, and taken down when convenient.

Next, I wanted to incorporate meaning into the project. In what ways is this project meaningful to my students and meaningful to others? I began to think about civics, community, and career and in what ways I could incorporate skills needed in these areas into this project. The first thing I thought of was students devising a proposal for the display. The proposal could take the form of a written letter, a film, or a presentation to administration outlining the project and its meaning. Upon feedback and approval students could write a funding request (apply for a “grant”) for supplies which most likely would come out of the science department, art department, or principals budget.

At this point I asked myself, why would the school spend money on this project? How does this progress or aid learning (academics)? I thought about this mural becoming an interactive learning display, where students could appreciate the artistic qualities of the piece but also the learning that is incorporated in it. Students could manipulate the display in many ways, for example, moving a light source to cast shadows of different shapes onto the display, or looking through a polarized lens to see a piece of art. Could we display our mural in a community art show?

In supporting a collaborative environment, I began to think about ways my students could interact and utilize the resources that exist around them. Could the English department help students write their proposal? Could the library provide a platform for student research? I also thought about how the student body would be incorporated, after all, their votes would be guiding the message of the display. I am wondering if a group of students could document the process and share progress over social media or other venues. They could even collaborate with our districts Director of Community Relations and Development who runs our social media accounts.

Developing a role for current events and civics in this project was at first a stretch. But, I came to realize that art is often a reflection of current events in the artist’s life. I imagine a display with a central theme based on current events or promoting awareness that incorporates physical pieces of the display to emphasize the meaning of the display. For example, students could use lenses to magnify pictures or facts of importance.

Overall, I feel the main purpose of this project is for students to learn and contribute. I imagine that this project would work a lot like the school play, everyone contributes to the production in different ways, but collectively. Some students with an interest or skill set will build the set for the mural or construct the displays; some will write the proposal and rationale; other students will draw; while some students promote and document. I feel this model allows students to explore their interests and learn new things, but also provide a learning experience for other students with their individual skill set, allowing students to share their full selves.

Summary & Next Steps:

How is the activity openly-networked or allow students to engage in shared purpose?

  • Design and build display exhibiting optics; an awareness topic important to students is the theme.
  • Survey the school to choose parts of the display or to choose theme.

How is the activity production-centered?

  • Design and create a display for the school.
  • Design and create an academically-oriented interactive display – using light to create art.

In what ways does the activity include student interest in academic, civic, community, or career areas?

  • Students write/film/present a proposal for the display, seeking approval and to motivate student body to participate; apply for funding of supplies.
  • Display in a community art show or (depending upon theme) a local awareness event.

How is the activity a collaboration of other contents, other schools or learning settings?

  • Collaboration with the art department (how artists use light, designing/mixing pigments).
  • Collaboration with the English department (drafting proposal).
  • Collaboration with Library (as a research platform).
  • Students will document and update progress in real time through technology (social media, etc.)
  • Collaborate with Director of Outreach for building social media presence.

In what ways am I promoting inquiry to build knowledge?

  • Students will research a theme of their collective choosing.
  • This will be an educational display; students require a deep knowledge of optics to build display.

In what ways am I letting go of control?

  • The student body will choose the theme (message) of the display.
  • Students are tasked with all aspects of this project from production to promotion.

In what ways am I supporting current events and fostering civic participation?

  • Students choose a central theme based on current events or promoting awareness.
  • Display or present in a community art show or (depending upon theme) a local awareness event.

In what ways am I showing that I care enough that everyone can share their whole selves?

  • Students will have different jobs based upon their interests and skills; designing, constructing, drawing, writing proposal and rationale, presenting display, promoting, documenting.

Next steps include receiving and reflecting on feedback from class. Although, I may not have a chance to implement this project before the end of the year, I plan to incorporate this project into my curriculum next time I teach this course. Nothing works out the kinks (so to speak) as when thirty or more students work through its entirety! Overall, I am very excited about this project, I have been looking for an opportunity to include a project rooted in connected learning practices into my curriculum.



Connected Yoga

What poses are central to connected learning…what makes it different from what I am doing or have done in the past…which poses do I wobble between transitions and what poses do I flow between?

I like to think that I’ve become fluent in at least three of the six poses in connected learning. Poses I’m fluent in: academic-orientation, interest, and production; poses I haven’t practiced enough include: peer-support, shared purpose, and open network.

I feel like I have spent most of my (short) career developing an academically oriented classroom. After all, this is what administrators seemed to be focused on. It’s possible, and a fear of mine, to have a great looking lesson that has no substance. Basically, a lab that students play instead of observe and reflect.

From an academically oriented pose I wobbled striving to reach interest-driven curriculum. In conventional learning there are only certain points in the curriculum where interest could drive student learning. To assume this pose I am forced to redesign curriculum to be more interest driven by design, not necessarily a la carte. I wobbled for the past 2 years while designing curriculum that reflects a more organic approach to learning. I feel as though I can flow between the two, but must practice often.

I started to become more production centered when I began renovating my house. I realized after a couple years of working with my father-in-law that mentoring and coaching to build something was a special type of learning that the classroom seemed to lack. So I began each of the past two years with an ambition to structure this type of learning into my classroom. Why can’t we wire a room for a house in the classroom? Why can’t students get this one-on-one education that I was getting in my spare time? I can make this pose in my own life, but am still wobbling trying to implement this aspect of learning in my classroom.

I have only recently been exposed to utilizing networks in the classroom so this pose is not quite developed. I am looking to incorporate this aspect into my curriculum but am not sure what this pose would look like in my classroom yet.

I have been wobbling from academically-oriented to peer-supported by implementing in my classroom. By allowing students to interact with the same pieces of information they are inherently supporting each other’s work.

I have slowly been implementing shared purpose into the classroom. I have been trying to design curriculum that provides an opportunity for this interaction. Bringing in issues of hearing loss, lightning safety brings a “for public good” aspect that I interpret as shared purpose.

Still practicing poses, still wobbling, and very occasionally flowing!!!

Do to Learn

As I am finally developing a focused idea of what “making” is and what a “makerspace” involves I am trying to see where makers fit in. I make things, all the time, whether I actively pursue the act of making or seize an opportunity out of pure necessity. I enjoy the challenge of building things that I want and are too expensive to buy prebuilt. I also enjoy learning new skills, acquiring new tools, and using the things that I build for a purpose.

In my experience, I typically stay away from tinkerers, makers, fabricators, or anyone who is uber excited to show off their “skills”. Although I consider myself equally skilled and knowledgeable I feel these groups of people are, in general, elitists; but that’s not totally fair, I’ve known plenty from these groups that are genuinely excited to share what they know.

My app is designed to connect people to projects they’re interested in and want to contribute in some way. The app would log your participation in projects and rank your involvements; people with the most involvements would eventually act as mentors with a particular set of skills. This would be like a free market approach to more knowledgeable others.

Peers would be able to connect, brainstorm and either commit to projects or act observers who could help steer multiple projects towards completion.

This could also be a place where nonprofits can place projects. Contributors would actively search for projects that have meaning to them.

This app would allow students to contribute to projects that have meaning to them. Student involvement would satisfy all the values of connected learning save being academically oriented.

5 Finds for Inspiration

  1. STEM Guitar. This is a program was developed by college professors to incorporate STEM into high school and undergraduate curriculum. This site is particularly inspiring because they are holding workshops, have a large network of teachers that have been trained and a) I wanted to build my own guitar this year; and b) I am already incorporating all of the concepts of  pickup design, amplification, and speakers into my Physics II curriculum! A true win, win, win.
  2. The Physics Classroom. This site is inspiring because it is such a detailed and expansive resource! A teacher in California developed this website to help students of physics learn content, but it has turned into a place to gather curriculum ideas, utilize simulations, and formatively assess students knowledge. This site was developed by a seriously dedicated, experienced, and knowledgeable physics educator…the site even includes NGSS and STEM connections!
  3. The Engines of Our Ingenuity. This is a radio program created and developed by John Leinhard out of Houston. John is a professor of Mechanical Engineering. This is new source for me so I haven’t been able to check it out as much I would like but there are many, many episodes to read the scripts for. There are amazing segments done on engineering topics and technology that help bridge the gap between engineering, a topic which many people ignore, and current innovation.
  4. Teach Engineering. This website is full of free STEM curriculum designed by K-12 teachers, and professors. This is an inspiring site because many of the ideas I feel like I fought hard to develop were already a) thought of; and b) tested in the classroom and refined. This site inspires me to do bigger and better things than just I can think of on my own.
  5. Smarter Everyday. The owner of this YouTube channel is an extraordinary character. Destin is an engineer by trade but creates videos explaining and exploring everyday phenomena. I use this channel often in my classroom because he makes students want to explore topics in science!

Find: Active vs. Passive Tech


I have been doing a lot of reading involving the next unit of study in my Physics II class on electricity/magnetism and I plan on using the electric guitar as topic study during this unit. I have found some amazing resources along the way that incorporate both active and passive uses of technology.

  1. The Seymour-Duncan Guitar Wiring Diploma blog. Speaking of active and passive technologies, there are also active and passive electric guitar pickups! A passive pickup simply transmits the faint fluctuations in voltage to an external amplifier and active pickup amplifies the signal and sends it to a speaker. Anyway, I wanted to include this blog because although it could be utilized as a passive use I think how-to-guides are actually quite active. For example, the blogger encourages his readers to ask questions and when they do he responds which I would classify as “interaction with experts” and since readers can reply to others on the blog I would also consider this “peer collaboration”.
  2. Scratch and Go!. The programs and devices from Vernier which makes laboratory probeware joined forces with Scratch coding from MIT. Scratch is a program designed by MIT that allows students to make games, stories, and other interactives while learning to code. Scratch integrated Vernier into its coding operations by, for example, having a person on the Scratch software move forward when the temperature reading of the probe increased.
  3. Journey North – by Annenberg Learner. The Journey North project is an amazing online collaboration that utilizes active technologies. Students use data they collect from observation in their region and contribute that information online. This can range from the migration of different species, rate of change in daylight hours, or when different plants bloom in the spring. This collective information is available for all to use and even gets placed on an interactive map with all contributors information…you can even contact specific contributors!

The most rewarding aspect of utilizing these technologies is how they a) connect individual learners with experts in their field; b) connect software and hardware applications; and c) connect peers from across the globe with a shared purpose. By interacting with hardware and software applications it allows students to venture into a topic that is regularly mystifying for them and most of society; coding. By using active technologies to learn to code, students are developing a mindset focused on turning thoughts into action. While reading this article, I was struck by the idea that students are still not prepared to find reliable information online; yet, I know this to be true. I have observed students and adults alike find and use information that was unreliable from the internet that they believed to be true. I am not sure if students need to be necessarily taught how to find reliable sources of info online besides being shown that sites with .gov, .edu, .org, etc. are considered reliable. I think that we need to push critical thinking as a pathway to selecting reliable sources. All of these resources engage students in college, career, and community readiness by engaging them in different learning communities. Students may use their learning in one community to contribute to another, unrelated aspect (community) of their lives.

I also really like how each of these resources provides both something interest-driven/curiosity-driven and academic. I was happy to read in Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom that a line was drawn between using students cultural phenomena exploited for academic purposes because it breeds resentment. I was never one of those teachers that would hop on band-wagons of student interest as I always thought it was disingenuous to the student. For example, obviously I am not interested nor do I see any academic aspect to fidget spinners…so why on Earth would I try to use them in the classroom? Some might argue that’s “knowing your audience” but I think it may be seen as “trying too hard”.

Game, Set, Match.

When I worked in an alternative school we played games a lot. They just calmed everyone down and gave the room a better vibe. Occasionally, we also used them to reinforce concepts learned in class, here are some of the games we used to play and some I took with me.

  1. Periodic table battleship…woo, woo! So I wasn’t the first one to think of this but I like to think I made it more educational and relevant to what we see here. Most teachers use the atomic numbers, the document I posted uses rows and number of valence electrons like row 2, 8 valence electrons. We used the outer shell electron configuration to dial in our shots fired so rather than just saying “10” for neon, they would have to say 2s2, 2p6 and it was a relatively fun way to get students speaking the language.
  2. Although this next game is not educational it was a good moral booster on those tough days when everyone just wanted to go home. It’s called Irish Fairytale and the guy in my Play to Learn, Learn to Play post  taught me this, too. That is not the real name or else Google would have definitely found it, but it goes like this. With a group, two people leave the room. They only know that the group is creating a story and they have to ask questions when they’re allowed back in the room to guess the story. The group just comes up with a title and the two questioners end up creating the story asking yes or no questions. They end up fabricating this elaborate tale from the group answering their questions in no, no, no, yes order. Eventually, they ask questions that contradict their story and they know somethings up. We have them ask the same question 4 times so they see the pattern of answers. AMAZING GAME…but you can only play once with one whole group.
  3. I was reading about Katie’s marble game which sounds a lot like one of the STEM activities we would do to discuss pollinators (bees, etc.)! Students needed to pick up marbles in Katie’s version, but in the STEM version we have to transfer pollen from one area to another. Very cool!
  4. In physics, we use a lot of the PHET simulations in our coursework. Some of these simulations simply provide a sort of virtual lab but others are games. I am a fan of Electric Field Hockey where students use like and opposite charges to propel and attract a particle it the right direction to score a goal. If you play you might not stop.
  5. The last game I would like to highlight is Turd the Target and Turd the Target II located on The Physics Classroom. At first my students think I am joking, but no, you are actually doing physics calculations in order to land a “bird’s” poop in a container as it flies. They all think it’s so strange when they first play but talking to students years later it’s one of those things they remember from my class (good thing??).

Play to Learn. Learn to Play

Show us the ways you played and then tell us what playing leads you to think about and wonder about in relation to connected learning and equity.

Ultimate Frisbee….it’s a game you might not have heard of but for me it embodies the mentality of “play”.

First, for those who aren’t in the know, Ultimate is like a mixture of soccer, football, and a Frisbee toss on the beach. See for yourself… For me learning to play Ultimate was finally breaking into my play mentality. One of my colleagues played Ultimate in college and ran an afterschool club in the school I was working at. I was in my second year of teaching and I really looked up to this guy because he just had “it”. Now I realize he had a play mentality! There was nothing he wasn’t willing to do and make a game out of at the same time; I was borderline opposite of this.

Eventually, I asked if I could coach his Ultimate team with him and doing that meant learning to play. I spent the next two years coaching and playing with the team and it was way too much fun to get paid. By learning and playing this new sport I became a lot more confident. I was putting myself in situations I never thought I’d get myself into like planning tournaments, organizing events at school, even in my classroom I was bringing in professionals from the outside to talk science with my students. I was and still am, because of my experience with Ultimate, open-minded to any possibilities. Basically, with life and Ultimate, you have to learn to play and play to learn simultaneously.

For this week I decided to  play a real nail-biter: 3rd World Farmer. Like the name implies, the game was difficult to win. Eventually, I prevailed. Basically, you start out in this game with $50 and a family of four on a farm with nothing but a hut and a few plots of land. You can decide to send your two kids to school for $30 each and lose three-quarters the mount of work they are able to do, or let them go uneducated and lose points in the end. Then there is health, each member has health that correlated to how much work they are able to accomplish…Western medicine is expensive…so keeping health high (and work ability) is a dicey maneuver.

Then you actually have to make money past your first turn (each turn is a year)! There are 36 plots of land used for corn, wheat, cotton, or peanuts (the cost of each varies but increases from corn to peanuts). There are another 12 plots to build shelters for animals and store your tools which also increase the amount you can harvest. Assuming that you have enough money to plant a crop that year you could lose everything with the various disasters that come with each turn…you’re raided by guerilla forces, a civil war destroys all your shelters, the harvest was devastated by drought, the national back crashes, your family members die from disease, etc.

This game was highly addictive though. I needed to be successful, I played constantly until I had a dynasty of wealthy 3rd world farmers.

In relation to equity and connected learning I could not agree more with Mitch Resnick, who reviewed the 4P’s of creativity. Play is definitely a mindset, but it doesn’t come on its own. I am wondering how gaming can contribute to equity. Is gaming the ladder beneath the students feet? Can a student who uses gaming have an equal chance at success as a more traditional student? These are things I am definitely going to have to think more about.