Updating Textbooks with Augmented Reality

NOTE: This post is an expansion on an iBook I published a while back. I’ve used the AR app Aurasma to build and access the augmented reality layers in the Labrary for the last few years. To learn more about how to use Aurasma, check out their overview tutorial

The publishing world is struggling to develop a textbook distribution model that works well for schools. A quick survey of the digital textbook catalog shows that many titles are still not available. And when they are available, it’s often difficult to access and manage student access with logins and purchase codes.  As a result, some schools are hesitant to make a full transition to digital textbooks. This creates an enormous gap, as the primary mode of instruction remains years behind the student in whose hands the textbook resides!

The development of augmented reality (AR) apps has presented an incredible opportunity to elevate the state of the textbook without completely pushing them aside. In short, augmented reality allows you to easily create digital content that makes traditional textbooks more timely, informative, and engaging for your students.

With augmented textbooks, you can now have the best of analog and digital resources!

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to work with one of our history teachers to augment the 9th grade history textbook. Working together, we identified content areas that could be expanded, and found digital resources to meet that need.

Using an iPad and the iOS app Aurasma, we built a series of interactive layers on top of the printed content. These layers lead to digital resources meant to provide context, push understanding, and increase overall engagement and comprehension.

To create the hovering ‘Learn More’ buttons, I created a png image in Photoshop that I then imported as an image layer. Once it was added to the Aura, I added a hyperlink that leads to a webpage or video for further reading or exploration.

We created another example of an augmented biography of William Shakespeare, written by Aliki. We tried to provide some historical context to better understand the world of Shakespeare, and used the ‘Learn More’ buttons to lead readers towards exceptional examples of Shakespearean theater found on Youtube.

We also experimented with adding a layer at the end of each chapter that would lead to a Google Form to collect student reflections, questions, and understandings in order to better meet their individual needs.

Further Things to Consider

After reflecting a bit on this project, I’m wondering if there may be a way to build differentiated resources using a color coded system that helps students better navigate the links.

I would also be interested in experimenting with inviting students to create their own layers to resources that they found particularly instructive or engaging. Crowd-sourcing the creation of layers may further help create hybrid analog/digital textbooks that best support the learning of all students.

How are YOU using augmented reality in your class? I’d love to learn from your experiences! Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter or leave a comment below! 😄

Stacks Upon Stacks: A Life with Books

My family and I recently moved. In fact, just before we recently moved, we recently moved. After about five years in one house, we moved back to Cape Ann, MA this past summer and then, six months later, we moved again. Looking back on our lives together, my wife and I have moved twelve times in almost seventeen years of marriage. We’ve packed, unpacked, and organized our possessions more times than I care to remember. While we’ve found ways to simplify the process over the years, there’s one area we’ve refused to downsize: our books.

I haven’t always loved books. Although I was, according to my parents, an early reader, I didn’t become an enthusiastic reader until finding my “just right” book in early high school. Visiting the Derby Square Bookstore in Salem, MA with my mother, she suggested I give Druids, by Morgan Llywelyn, a shot. Begrudgingly, I relented and brought the book home, where it sat untouched for a few days. While I don’t remember the moment I made the decision to crack the spine and dive in, I vividly remember being completely absorbed by the story of Ainvar, Vercingetorix, and Julius Caesar. Once finished, my life of books began.

The old Derby Square Bookstore in Salem, MA, AKA “Heaven”. Photo by Kendra Mack

If a heaven for me exists, I’ve often imagined it a used book store, stacked high with delicious volumes from all over the globe. The sun is poring in from the large bow windows where I sit with a bottomless cup of steaming black coffee. The clock face never changes, there is no “next thing” clamoring for my attention.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to downsize our collection many times; indeed, with each move we’ve considered the cost – both in dollars and in effort – of keeping and hauling dozens of boxes, which strangely become heavier with every passing year. Confronted with the possibility of parting with our friends, however, we’ve repeatedly opted to move them “one more time”, with the vision of one day being able to unpack them all and place them, with all due admiration, in a place of honor in our home. In fact, we had that exact scenario this afternoon.

One can dream, right?

After a morning spent hauling boxes, organizing our stuff, and deciding what to donate, we surveyed our stacks of boxed books. Sweaty and sore, we openly discussed whether it was time to start downsizing our collection, being “sensible” about it all. Once we opened up a box, however, and spotted those spined beauties, resplendent in their own right, but also weighted with the significance of our own histories and stories overlapping with their pages, we shared an appreciative grin and quickly closed the lid. We’re apparently not willing to be sensible about our books quite yet.

This evening, after dinner and homework help, I sat on the couch to read the latest copy of The New Yorker.  Flipping through the pages to set my order of reading, I came upon a moving Personal History article by Kathryn Schulz called “The Stack” in which she lovingly recalls the remarkable pile of books in her parents’ room that stood as a growing monument to her father’s “expansive, exuberant mind”:

I can’t remember it in its early days, because in its early days it wasn’t memorable. I suppose back then it was just a modest little pile of stray books, the kind that many readers have lying around in the living room or next to the bed. But by the time I was in my early teens it was the case—and seemed by then to have always been the case—that my parents’ bedroom was home to the Mt. Kilimanjaro of books. Or perhaps more aptly the Mt. St. Helens of books, since it seemed possible that at any moment some subterranean shift in it might cause a cataclysm.

In reflecting how books are organized – or not – in different families and households, she remarks:

The difficulty is that anything that is perfectly ordered is always threatening to become imperfect and disorderly—especially books in a household of readers. You are forever acquiring new ones and going back to revisit the old, spotting some novel you’ve always intended to read and pulling it from its designated location, discovering never-categorized books in the office or the back seat or under the bed. You can put some of these strays away, of course, but, collectively, they will always spill out beyond your bookshelves, permanently unresolved, like the remainder in a long-division problem. This is a difficulty that goes well beyond libraries. No matter how beautifully your life is arranged, no matter how lovingly you tend to it, it will not stay that way forever.

We adore our local library, and are routinely hauling overflowing bags of books back and forth across town. But there’s something about owning a book, engaging it with pencil in hand, reading it over the course of months or years rather than two weeks, that resonates with me. So we’ll continue to add to our own Stack, and, if necessary, lug them with us in our travels, confident that our labor of love is worth the effort.

Resurrecting This Blog

After almost ten years living and working in CT, my family and I recently moved back to MA this past summer. In the midst of the chaos, it seems I neglected to renew my ownership of the domain designsaunders(dot)com. As such, I lost it 😦 I’ve been itching to get back to blogging and I took some time this week to port over some of my favorite posts from the past few years. Rather than simply rehash old material, I’m using it as an opportunity to reflect on how my life as an educator has evolved over time. I’ll also be adding new posts documenting my experiences as the new Director of Innovation in my new school community!

Thad Starner, Lizzie, and the Beginnings of Wearable Technology

On my way home from Massachusetts yesterday, I listened to an episode of NPR’s Invisibilia called Our Computers, Ourselves, which dealt with the evolving relationship between humans and computers. The whole episode is well worth a listen, but I was particularly intrigued by the story of Thad Starner, who, as a student at MIT in the early 1990s, developed a form of wearable technology, called Lizzie:

SPIEGEL: Twenty-one years ago, in 1993, Thad took this box, which houses a computer hard drive, and strapped it to his body with a whole bunch of other hardware. He had a three-pound battery…

STARNER: Lead-acid battery about the size of a motorcycle battery.

SPIEGEL: …A huge 1990s modem.

STARNER: I plugged that into a car phone.

SPIEGEL: There was a small, one-handed keyboard called a Twiddler. It has, like, a handful of keys that are played kind of like chords on a piano so that words can be typed really, really fast.

SPIEGEL: Finally, Thad had a computer screen for just one eye that he jerry-rigged to some safety goggles. It was black and originally covered all of his left eye – making him look kind of like a 21st-century pirate with a large mechanical patch.


What was Thad’s motivation?

I was learning trigonometry. And I went to my father – he was a power engineer – and said hey, can you help me with this homework? My father looked at it for a few minutes and said nope, I can’t. I really don’t remember it. Hold it – you’re telling me that you knew this stuff at one point, but you forgot it? So I resolved right then and there that I was going to find a way not to forget my lessons. I found that that idea that I could gain understanding of something and then forget it was intolerable to me. It was just a sense of loss – it’s like losing a chunk of yourself.

As a Google Glass Explorer, I was particularly interested in how his professors and classmates felt about Lizzie, and about this type of technology in general. This anecdote seems like it could be found in the headlines of today:

SPIEGEL: So we talked about the anecdote – how Thad, after years of wearing Lizzie, had showed up at his PhD qualifying orals with Lizzy on him as she always was – how, as the panel of professors quizzed him, she had been there in his eye the whole time, gently guiding him, cuing his memories, which, at the end of the exam, had prompted a debate among his examiners. Was it fair to give Thad alone a PhD when he had Lizzy there helping him?

STARNER: It was a half-hour flame-fest. And I almost got a PhD that said, the faculty of MIT hereby convey upon Thad Starner and his wearable computer the degree of doctor of philosophy (laughter).


Definitely give this a listen. I’ve been thinking a lot about devices, connectedness, and personhood this summer, and will be trying to work through my incoherent thoughts over the next few weeks and months.

#NerdyCast Conversation with @TheNerdyTeacher

I had the opportunity this evening to chat with Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on his podcast NerdyCast. Over the course of an hour, we discuss comics, graphic novels, reading, and makerspaces in schools. True to form, Nick brings his passion, insight, and humor to the conversation while also managing to drop some serious graphic novel recommendations for listeners.

Show links:

Blankets, by Craig Thompson
Habibi, by Craig Thompson
Superman: Red Sun, by Mark Millar
Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

The Teachers Guild

And for those interested, here’s the skinny on the Robin Poll we touched on when talking about A Death in the Family:

Over 10,000 votes were cast, with the final vote being 5,343 votes for Jason to die over 5,271 for him to live.

Raspberry Pi Academy

“Chuck it in the skip!” she said from across the table. At first, I nodded in agreement, pretending to understand, but my curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask, “I’m sorry — what..?” I’d only been in England for a few days, but I’d already encountered countless expressions that forced me to admit ignorance and to lean on the kindness and patience of others. It would turn out to be a valuable skill in the days to come!

I’ve been messing around with Raspberry Pi for about a year now, but never made much progress. Earlier this year, I received a Kano as a gift and enjoyed building the computer and leveling up my avatar as I completed challenges along the way. But it wasn’t until January of this year that I stumbled upon Raspberry Pi Academy via Lenny Dutton’s Twitter banner image. Intrigued, I reached out:


Navigating to the Picademy website, I read their description of the program:

Over the course of two days, 24 teachers get hands-on with computing here at Pi Towers in Cambridge, and discover the many ways in which the Raspberry Pi can be used in the classroom. No experience is necessary; the Foundation’s Education Team will help you discover practical ways in which Raspberry Pi can support and further your teaching of the new curriculum.

This was exactly what I was looking for! I immediately set out to complete the application process and create a short video focused on being a 21st century educator.

A few months later I received an invitation to join Picademy 8 in Cambridge, UK April 27–28! Now it was time to make travel arrangements, reach out to the other attendees, and review my python scripting skills..!

The next 6 weeks seemed like an eternity, but the time finally came for me to board a plane headed for London.

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All packed and ready to head to England for #picademy!

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My itinerary included spending Saturday and Sunday exploring London before taking a train to Raspberry Pi Towers in Cambridge. Having never been in England, I was excited to have an opportunity to visit as much of the city as would be possible with two days and a limited budget. My Airbnb flat was located right near the London Eye, so I was in a great location for sightseeing. Some of London’s most popular spots were basically on my front porch!


But I wanted to go far afield, so I ambled across Westminster Bridge and headed towards St. James Park where I rented a “Boris Bike” and rode through the park, across Kensington Garden, and up to Notting Hill where I dismounted and found a place to grab lunch.


From there, I wound my way back through the City, heading towards Covent Garden, where I would be meeting Cat Lamin and Steve Bagnall for dinner at Polpo, which was amazing.

The next morning, I woke up and walked over to grab breakfast at Borough Market, which is an open air market “celebrating 1000 years in Southwark”. I found some great coffee and walked around to all of the vendors selling fresh breads, cheeses, and produce. It was St. George’s Day, so there were street performers and cooking demonstrations.


After walking to the nearest Underground station, I traveled to Camden Town where I saw street performers and walked the labyrinthal markets that seem to encompass an entire city block. By this time, it was well after lunch and I needed to find my way to King’s Cross in order to catch the train to Cambridge.


Once in Cambridge, Steve and his family picked me up at the station and we drove together to the hotel. As other Picademy people started to arrive, we arranged to meet for dinner in the hotel restaurant. After a late evening of eating and laughing, we called it a night and went to bed, ready to begin Raspberry Pi Academy the following morning.

7AM came early, but I managed to get out of my room and into the lobby in time to catch a cab with the rest of the group to Raspberry Pi Towers. Once there, we buzzed in and climbed the steps to their offices where we were welcomed by the team and ushered into a room with tea and cookies. Local traffic forced us to start a few minutes late in order to allow time for other people to arrive. Around 9:15 we gathered together in a large room and Picademy officially began with Carrie Anne giving an overview of the development and utilizations of Raspberry Pi. We were then broken into two groups and began a series of workshops that ran through the remainder of the day.

My first session was run by Martin O’Hanlon, author of Adventures in Minecraft, who helped us learn how to program Minecraft with Python. Martin showed us how to transport Steve to new locations and how to build a house that follows close behind him, wherever he goes, so that Steve always has a safe place to sleep..! With just a few lines of code, we were able to create a rainbow bridge that is built from blocks that instantly appear underfoot wherever Steve steps. This allowed Steve to walk on air! Teaching students Python by tying it together with Minecraft is a brilliant way of making the computer curriculum more engaging and enjoyable for students!

The second session was run by Sam Aaron, who demonstrated how Raspberry Pi can be used to compose and perform music of all genres with a program he created called Sonic Pi. Within minutes, we were getting our hands dirty with samples, loops, and code. Sam showed us how he uses Sonic Pi for live performances by utilizing live loops, which allow him to turn off and on specific phrases in the composition by commenting out lines of code. This integration of music and code would be an amazing approach to take for music classes, music technology courses, and, of course, programming tracks.


Pibrella seeks to make deployment of Raspberry Pi simpler for young or new users. It sits atop a Raspberry Pi board and comes equipped with a set of LEDs, small speaker, and an input button! Les Pounder challenged us to find ways to spin a wheel 360 degrees to create a Wheel of Fortune-like mechanism. This would be a great first step in a class looking to get students started on physical computing and/or working with Raspberry Pi.

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Meeting with #pibrella at #picademy

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Raspberry Pi comes equipped with a camera interface, and Ben Nuttal led us through a session that helped us figure out how to use it! We connected a Raspberry Pi camera and then wrote some code to activate it in order to take a selfie. From there, we modified the code to alter the camera’s behavior and could quickly see how the camera could be used for a multitude of projects and purposes, such as time lapse or wildlife photography.


The last session of the day was focused on using Scratch GPIO, but it was not cooperating with the newest Raspberry Pi 2, so we worked directly in Python to manipulate a series of LEDs. I’m a big fan of Scratch and am very excited to use the GPIO version to create programs that interface with physical objects via Raspberry Pi!

By this point in the afternoon, my capacity for absorbing more information was quite limited. It was time to head to dinner and let it all sink in..!

The Raspberry Pi team was generous enough to treat all 24 Picademy attendees to dinner at a local restaurant located right near the River Cam. When the dishes had been cleared, we walked downtown to a local pub called The Eagle and spent time discussing project ideas and moonshot thinking for implementation of Raspberry Pi into our respective curricula. Before long, it was way past my bedtime so I headed back to the hotel and crashed into bed.


The next morning, we met extra early in order to grab breakfast at a small cafe across the street from Raspberry Pi Towers. At 8:30, Day Two began and we assembled again in the meeting room for an overview of the day’s events. Dave Honess spent a few minutes discussing the amazing new Astro Pi, which will be brought to the International Space Station with British astronaut Tim Peake. The Astro Pi is an incredible piece of hardware that is described thusly:

What makes the Astro Pi so special is the Hardware Attached on Top board, called HAT for short. This board, as the name suggests, is attached on top of the Raspberry Pi computer via the 40 General Purpose Input Output (GPIO) pins which provide the data and power interface. This board has several integrated-circuit based sensors that can be used for many different types of experiments, applications, and even games. The HAT board includes:

  • Gyroscope
  • Accelerometer
  • Magnetometer
  • Temperature sensor
  • Barometric pressure sensor
  • Humidity sensor
  • 8×8 RGB LED matrix display
  • Visible light or Infra-red (Pi NoIR) Cameras
  • 5 button joystick
  • Additional functional push buttons
  • Real time clock with backup battery

They’ve issued a challenge to students across the UK to write programs that could be used in space. Winning projects will actually be run via the Astro Pi on the ISS! Amazing.

Having spent the previous day learning all about how to use Raspberry Pi, we would be spending Day Two using that knowledge to work on a project of our own choosing. How would we use what we’d learned?

I was blown away by the Astro Pi, and knew immediately that I wanted to spend more time learning about what it can do. Before long, I found a partner in Elani McDonald and we set to work trying to brainstorm project ideas for the Astro Pi.

Our first question was, If it can go into space, where else can it go? We considered submarines and active volcanoes, but pretty quickly found ourselves discussing how to build an earthquake early warning system. The Astro Pi has a gyroscope and an accelerometer that can be used to detect movement across coordinate planes as well as yaw, pitch, and roll. We drew up a concept and started working on the code that would make this system work. Without going into too much detail, our first task was to find out how early warning systems work, then try to identify “normal” parameters for ground movement. Once that was established, we were able to write code that did the following: When the Astro Pi detected movement that exceeded the normal parameters, it communicated with Raspberry Pi to send an alert to the user. And while we were only to get the alert to print in terminal, with more time we could have created alerts with various APIs such as Twitter or Gmail to alert the user that an earthquake was imminent. Our vision was to build an affordable earthquake early warning system for populations who live in areas of high tectonic plate activity. Naturally, we christened it Magni Pi.

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Working with #astropi for today's project! #picademy

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At the end of the day, we all reassembled in the meeting room and shared our projects. And it is not an overstatement to say that I was blown away by the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow Picademy attendees! I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if you found their work featured on the Raspberry Pi website or even on a store shelf sometime in the near future!



Carrie Anne then led us in a credentialing ceremony where we received our Raspberry Pi Certified Educator certificate and pin, and even had our pictures taken with Eben Upton!


When the goodbyes were said, and everyone else started their journeys home, I still had another night in Cambridge ahead of me. So I grabbed my gear and spent the remainder of the day ambling through the windy streets of the city.


Around 6:30 that evening, I managed to find myself in the beautiful St. John’s chapel for a glorious evensong service. And from there, I found dinner and then took the long walk back to the hotel where I packed my things, set the alarm for 5AM, and collapsed into bed.

The next day began in earnest as I took a taxi from the hotel to Cambridge train station for the hour+ trip to King’s Cross. From there, I took another train to Gatwick Airport for an hour flight to Dublin then a seven hour flight to JFK where I then rode the AirTrain and E train to 5th Avenue and then walked to Grand Central Terminal to catch the final leg of the journey back to Connecticut. It was an incredibly long day of traveling, and I was happy to find myself back in the company of my amazing family.

So now what?

I am incredibly fortunate to be working with colleagues who are anxious and interested in making their technology classes more relevant for their students. As such, we have been working hard to reimagine their curricular goals and expectations. My experience at Picademy has empowered me to bring Raspberry Pi to these classes as a vehicle for teaching programming and physical computing. Using Astro Pi, we can more effectively use our campus weather station in cross-curricular projects across the grades. Our Labrary innovation lab can facilitate clubs and events for students looking to get behind the consumer user interface of most computers and become creators of their own powerful tools. In short, my mind is ablaze with ideas and enthusiasm for how to positively impact my community. I am grateful to the Picademy team for their efforts on our behalf, and am looking forward to working with them in the future as we seek to empower students to build a better, more sustainable, and connected world!

Building a Retro Gaming Console with Raspberry Pi

Collecting materials to build a retro game console with my son over break. As this was my first attempt at a gaming station, I found a tutorial that would walk me through the steps of how to install and configure the game console emulator so that my Raspberry Pi can play the video game files in my library. There are tons of resources online, and I chose this fairly straightforward project from the amazing people at Adafruit.

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Merry Xmas to me!

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Setting Up the Raspberry Pi

This part did include some work in Command Line, but nothing too complicated. If you get stuck, there are loads of resources online. And if you really get stuck, you can always just reformat your SD card with a fresh copy of Raspbian! I had an SD card with Jessie, the latest version of Raspbian, installed, and downloaded a copy of EmulationStation from their website (note: the tutorial directs you to the Pi Store, but it’s no longer active).

Once it was installed, I rebooted into the EmulationStation configuration window. This is where you set up your controllers. For this, I wired two buttons and my joystick to the GPIO pins on my Pi then mapped them accordingly. EmulationStation then boots into the menu where you can choose which game console you want to play.

Designing the Case

Given that I don’t currently have access to a laser cutter, I opted instead to design and print a custom case to house the joystick, buttons, and Raspberry Pi. I measured and remeasured the diameters of the buttons to make sure the holes would be just the right size! I also measured out the distance between the screw holes in the joystick housing so that I wouldn’t need to drill into the 3D model itself. Then I took to TinkerCAD to design my case!I first designed the lid of the case, making sure the holes were the correct size and aligned with one another. The next step was to use the dimensions of the lid to create a matching box. Once the lid and the box were the correct sizes, I added some vents to allow airflow to the Pi, and, for good measure, I added a Raspberry Pi emblem to the front of the case!

A Quick Note About That Logo

In order to create and insert the Raspberry Pi logo to my TinkerCAD file, I had to first go to Adobe Illustrator. I pasted a copy of the logo to my artboard and then AutoTraced it, making sure to adjust the results until it was just right. I then expanded the image and deleted all of the white space from the image, leaving it a simple vector image. I saved it as an SVG file then imported it into TinkerCAD. From there, the image is ready to be manipulated in 3D.Now Back to the Case DesignI added a few more vents and a frame along the front face of the box to give it a more finished look. Lastly, I rechecked all of my measurements then saved the file, uploaded it to Makerware and prepped it for printing on a Makerbot Replicator 2.

I decided to print it as two separate files, and started with the lid. I printed it with neither a raft nor with supports, but did add the helper disks to the corners to help prevent warping. When it finished, I then added the box file and, given the negative space in the Raspberry Pi logo, I decided to print it with supports, as well as the helper disks in the corners. Amazingly, it printed without error on the first attempt!After removing the support material.The finished lid fit perfectly into the box! And the buttons clicked magnificently into their holes! The joystick, however, did not fit perfectly, as the distance between the horizontal holes was just slightly too narrow. But the real issue was discovered as soon as I attempted to fit the lid onto the box with the Raspberry Pi inside: The box is too short!

There is insufficient space for the the joystick controls and the Raspberry Pi to co-exist inside the box. I need to edit the file to add a few inches of height…Without the joystick, it fits perfectly!

Next Steps

Short Term: EmulationStation is successfully installed on my Pi and, as such, I can now play any of the games I have in my library of ROMs. But in order for this project to be a total success, I need to revisit my 3D model and make the necessary edits so that it will be the epic retro gaming console I have been craving for so long!Long Term:What I’d really love to do is build a full-sized, old-school, standing arcade cabinet! This could be a great small group project as it would involve woodworking (to build the cabinet), electronics (to wire and configure the controls and software), and art (to decorate the finished cabinet). Maybe once I get my home version finished, I’ll start making plans for this next project..!

Three Questions and A Statement (Or, How I Frame My Social Studies Instruction)

I’ve always loved history. Some of my favorite memories are of looking through old photo albums with my grandparents and imagining what life was like for them when they were young. I can spend hours poring over collections of historical photographs and my podcasting selections have an obvious bias towards the past. I even spent the first year of college as a double major in history and art. But despite my personal affection for the subject, I wasn’t sure how to go about teaching it to others.

Many moons ago, I was an apprentice teacher at a small independent school in Cape Ann, MA. For half a year, I had the opportunity to work alongside a remarkable fifth-grade teacher who had – and still has – an uncanny ability to forge simplicity out of complexity. She shared with me an incredibly simple, but very powerful framework for teaching history that I have used in my classrooms ever since. I don’t know where it came from, or if it has a name, but I call it Three Questions and A Statement. Not a very catchy title, I know. But it goes something like this:

Question One: Who Told the Story?

We need learn how to recognize author perspective and bias whenever we consider historical texts. Read a collection of first-person accounts from a shared historical experience to see how opinions and points of view differ depending on the role, experience, and position of the different authors. Note: even textbook authors have bias and perspective – how might that influence what is included in the book? We often read excepts from this collection of primary sources to compare the experiences and perspectives of different people involved in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Question Two: When Was the Story Told?

The gap between when an event takes place and when its story is told can dramatically impact its reliability. Memories shift and change over time. It’s therefore important to know if we are reading an account written days, months, or years after an event took place.

Question Three: Whose Story is Missing?

Someone once remarked that history is written by the victors. And even when we try to consider as many perspectives as possible, someone’s voice is missing from the conversation. Part of being thoughtful students of history is not only recognizing that bias pervades the narrative, but also identifying and actively seeking those voices missing from the record, for their perspective is an integral piece of the whole.

Statement: You Never Know the Whole Story

Imagine that we could build a book that contains every recorded account of every historical event ever to happen in the world. That’s too big. Instead, let’s imagine that we build a book that contains every recorded account of a singular historical event, such as the Battle of Bunker Hill. Diary entries from soldiers on both sides, letters from civilians living nearby, newspaper articles, editorials, propaganda. It would be an enormous book filled with an incredible amount of information, and yet it wouldn’t be the whole story. How many people didn’t write down their thoughts and experiences? How much has been lost with the passage of time? We need to keep reminding ourselves that, no matter how much we might know, there is so much more we don’t.

I’ve introduced this framework to students at the beginning of every year and it’s opened up incredible discussions about the nature of knowledge and our efforts to understand the past. They also work well as essential questions (+ one statement!) for each unit of study throughout the year. But most importantly, it empowers students to think beyond the narrative, think critically about sources, and recognize that, no matter how much we may know about something, there’s always something more to learn.

There’s No ‘I’ in Labrary!

NOTE: This was first published back in 2015. I’m moving content over to my new blog and really loved seeing how my approach to makerspaces has grown and evolved over time. 2015 was a pivotal year for me and my journey towards my current role as Director of Innovation 🙂

We built the Labrary to be a community space for students and faculty to pursue interests, explore ideas, and experiment with new tools and materials.
Every day, the Labrary is filled with the frenetic (some would say chaotic!) energy of self-directed learning and discovery as students throw themselves feet-first into discovering something new. This is not a place of passivity. And while it’s amazing to watch how fearlessly they tackle the unknown, my favorite part of the whole thing is how it’s organically become a center of spontaneous collaboration. Whether it’s recess, Labrary class, or study hall, students are naturally and seamlessly supporting each others’ learning. Questions are directed not at me, but at each other. And, boy, do they have questions! Free from the expectations of what they “should” know, students are empowered to voice their questions without feeling judged.

On the flip side, I’ve been amazed to see how graciously and generously students share their knowledge with one another in the Labrary. They are proud to demonstrate their expertise and enjoy helping others find success.

But the Labrary can’t be constrained by the school day. Its mission and vision extend beyond dismissal and encompass all members of our community. Our Makerspace Evening Events™ offer opportunities for parents and their children to design and build things together.

In addition, the Labrary is a space for faculty to explore new tools and materials as they develop lesson plans and learning experiences for their students. The large open space and easy access to tools make it an ideal place for teams to conduct formal and informal professional learning activities.

The Labrary is a happening place on campus for many reasons, not least of which is community-centered learning that is at the heart of all we do. In many ways, it is the embodiment of the school’s mission to help students discover and develop what is finest in themselves in their studies, play, character.