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.



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