AIM for Good Writing

As a second-language learner, I have always had issues with writing in English. You might think it’s strange for me to admit that I have issues with English since I have taught English for the past decade in the United States.

I used to joke with my students with that there was no way for an American to move to Korea and teach Korean to Korean-born children. I told them that I was grateful beyond for the opportunities that this country has given me.

Having said that, I always felt that English teachers could do a better job of teaching writing. I say that because I personally struggled for many years before I figured out three fundamental rules for writing in English. I used to have a huge poster in my classroom to teach my students to AIM for good writing because I learned that all great writers have followed the following rules when they write in English. They are: Avoid Redundancy, Improve Vocabulary, and Match Words and Phrases.

1. A = Avoid Redundancy

I used to tell my students that all English writers despised redundancy, which is different from repetition. Any English teacher knows that repetition for effect is a great strategy. But being redundant, not so much! For example, I often tell my students that they should never say, “In my opinion, I believe” in an argumentative essay. Why? Because everyone should already know that one is expressing his or her opinion in an argumentative essay. If you keep saying “In my opinion” or “I believe,” you are being redundant.

2. I= Improve Vocabulary

The second rule of writing English, which I still struggle with all the time, is improving vocabulary, aka elevation diction. During my dissertation writing, this was one of the most challenging aspects. My writing teachers used to tell me that I was “wordy.” What they actually meant was that I didn’t have high-quality vocabulary to convey my thoughts in the most succinct manner.

For example, many students will say, “I am gonna turn in my homework.” I would encourage them to say, “I will submit my homework.” When my students asked why that matters, I would point out how so many writing contests  or college personal statements often have word limits. I would also tell them that is one of the reasons why poetry is considered one of the highest forms of writing since it allows the economy of expression.

3. M= Match Words and Phrases

Finally, I would tell them how the English language requires everything to match, which is expressed in the idea of subject and verb agreement and parallelism. Remember reading John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address or Martin Luther King’s speech? Enough said.

I feel that English teachers who are born in this country understand such rules instinctively. What many English teachers who are native English speakers don’t realize is that students who do not read good writing are unable to pick up such preferences naturally. I argue that teachers must teach the rules explicitly if we were to want to help our students.

Next time you have to teach students to write essays, I encourage you to review these fundamental rules.

Short Story Project

“Create a prequel, sequel, or spinoff of a short story to demonstrate your understanding of the theme and the motifs of the short story you chose.”

Who knew this simple instruction would spark so much creativity among my students? I really shouldn’t be surprised that my students are so creative because they have always been. But time and time again, my students have surprised me with their talent. I am thrilled to see them shine.

Rationale for the Lesson

1. Social Learning Theory

Vygotsky (1978) discusses the importance of learning in a social context in his book Mind in Society.  He focuses on the use of tools. More importantly, Vigotsky argues for allowing all children to engage in play to demonstrate their innate creativity and imagination. This project focuses on providing a learning opportunity for students to work with various tools (short stories, video camera, and video editing software) in groups (social learning) while having fun (play), so that they can express their creativity.

2. A Situative Perspective

The situative perspective attempts to combine “cognitive science and interactional studies” (Greeno, 2006, p.92). Looking at the connection between student motivation and identity creation, this perspective allows teachers to create classroom activities that target both the individual students and the classroom environment to maximize student learning. Since it does not require teachers to make an explicit connection between the individual learning and the learning environment that allows it, it is a useful tool for any classroom teacher.

The Lesson Steps and Potential Challenges

If you are a teacher interested in trying this lesson, steps are listed here.

Potential challenges might be:

  • Lack of cameras

I combat that with supplying 3 digital cameras that I collected over the years. You could ask your colleagues and see whether they have digital cameras that they are willing to share. What I found, however, was that the students can use their smart phones to capture the videos.

  • Lack of video editing software

This could be one of the toughest challenges in attempting this project. At our school, we have labs with PCs. My student used Windows Moviemaker, a free program that is often pre-installed on any PC. Recently, a student of mine recommended VideoPad Video Editor, another free program that is a bit more sophisticated.

I wouldn’t, however, let this stop you from attempting the project. Providing your students with an opportunity to problem solve is important. It will just take more time.

  • Lack of time

For my AP students, I gave nearly 2 weeks to complete this project. I really wanted them to (1) read multiple stories, (2) extract the motifs and the themes from the story, and (3) synthesize their understandings in a coherent script. Still, their understanding of the motifs and the themes had a lot to be desired. I imagine this might take longer for less skilled groups of students.

I suggest reviewing what a motif is thoroughly with your students. I tell them a motif is something that reoccur throughout the story that enhance a point. I referred back to The Lord of the Flies, and Golding’s use of colors, in particular pink. For the purpose of this project, I encourage them to place a physical object in the movie to illustrate their understandings of the concept of motif.


1. Sequel

The following video is a sequel of “The Rocking Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence.

Synopsis – 14 years have passed since Paul Hester, a little boy who rode the rocking horse winner to provide money for his mother in exchange for his life, died after predicting that Malabar would win the big race. His mother is dealing with the fallout from his death.

2. Spinoffs

The following video is a “spinoff” of Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings.”

The following video is a “spinoff” of Chinue Achebe’s “Marriage is a Private Affair.”


I am more than likely to use this lesson again. I am in the process of working with another colleague to see how we can modify it for her ELD and literacy students who require more scaffold and support due to the skills levels. I can’t wait to write about their progress. Once the modifications are complete, we plan to present our findings at a conference in June.


Greeno, J. (2006) Learning in activity. In K. Sawyer (Eds.) (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 79-96). New York: The Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Game and Learning Conference – Where are the games?

On March 14th, I attended the Games for Learning: Transforming Learning and Assessment with Digital Games hosted by the Finnish Government and GlassLab. It was recommended to me by one of my professors who is currently conducting research in collaboration with several Finnish researchers. It was a very small and short conference, and but I learned a lot of things about myself and the game-based researcher world.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.36.49 AM

I was not in Kansas anymore.

When I arrived there, I realized how far removed I was with the gaming researchers and the gaming industry. Despite the fact that I am a doctoral student, most of my days are spent teaching in a high school classroom. The only reason I knew anything about gaming was because I had to take a gaming course in my program. Of course, that hasn’t made me an expert in game-based learning at all, and I am still learning. But I thought I was beginning to gain some important insights. While sitting in a room with industry experts, I realized how little I knew about the movers and shakers in the game-based education world.


Still I was thrilled to speak to Jessica Lindl from GlassLab whom I saw at the Games Learning and Society conference in June of 2013. I found out that she was scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers for this year’s conference.  Mighty Eagle, Peter Vesterbacak, from Rovio also presented to a small group of intellectuals and investors who could bring real money to start up companies, hoping to influence educational gaming market.  Even though I felt somewhat intimidated, I raised my hand and spoke during a panel discussion.


Teacher Professional Development in Gaming

I urged the group to think about all the barriers of getting the games into students’ hands. I shared my frustration of teachers being the biggest barriers in spreading the gaming and how companies seemed to miss great opportunities to work with teachers.


I sat next to a nice young man from Finland who had an educational application company. He told me that his target was parents. I told him that teachers were also parents. I shared an example I read in the book Freakonomics. When Roth IRA first came out, many investment companies aggressively targeted teachers because teachers naturally educate the public if they are convinced of the benefits. I suggested that they should consider creating games that encourages teachers to become gamers.  How can teachers use games to teach students when they don’t know how to play?

Where are the games?

Before we adjourned, I approached Jessica Lindl and asked, “Where are the games?” I asked because I see this happening all the time. In my years as a teacher, I have been to too many conferences with a presenter lecturing about why teachers shouldn’t lecture. For a gaming conference that was supposed to promote game-based learning, we didn’t do any activities that remotely resembled a game. Games work because they are situated and experiential. I realize the conference was more of an information sharing and networking opportunity. However, I thought we could have play one game.

Free SIMCity licenses

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 8.40.45 AM

At the end of the conference, Dr. Tamas Makany from GlassLab approached me.  He was sympathetic and wanted to help. We discussed the technical limitations and challenges that rural teachers face.  To help me, he offered 30 SimCity Edu licenses for free. He was so encouraging and supportive of my passion for spreading game-based learning into rural areas.

After nearly a month, we are finally getting around to installing the program at one of our computer labs. Why? Because we don’t have the right video cards on the computers that our school owns, which goes to prove how many barriers classroom teachers to overcome to do things that we know work.

I know that I still have so much to learn. But I am glad that I learned the value of game-based learning. I can’t wait to develop lessons for my students and colleagues in the future.

Why I want to sing with Mr. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots

The other day, I saw Mr. Jimmy Fallon and The Roots singing with the talented Ms. Idina Menzel on Youtube. I posted this on my Facebook status page.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 1.49.00 PM

The next day, I shared my dream with my students. Hearing my enthusiastic declaration, one of my students asked me why I would want to do it. Here were my reasons.

1. Importance of Collaboration

Just by situating himself with a talented group of musicians, Mr. Fallon is expressing the power of collaboration. He invites famous singers into his domain without making them the focal point. Rather than putting on a concert by one, he and his “friends” make beautiful music together. Mr. Fallon is showing his audience how much more fun we can have when we work with others.

2. Importance of Music and Art in the Classroom

Mr. Fallon sings with various musical instruments that can be found in any elementary classroom. By doing so, he is showing the importance of keeping music in our classrooms. With his actions, he is arguing for more music and art in the classrooms. He is clearly using his influence for good.

3. Importance of Having Clean Fun

Often times, the contrasts evident in his videos are the source of fun. By not allowing his guests to take themselves too seriously yet demonstrating the serious talent he and The Roots posses, Mr. Fallon expresses the art of understated sophistication. I often tell my students that one can’t be funny without being exceedingly clever. Mr. Fallon shows how to be light-hearted without degrading himself or his guests. With his fun personality, he shows how to have fun without being vulgar and cruel.

4. Support for Teachers

Most importantly, because he uses what is available in the actual classroom, he is showing tremendous support for teachers. He reminds the public that teachers with limited resources are making beautiful music both with and for our children as was illustrated in this video below.

So how can I not want to be a part of that? I hope someday I will become important and famous enough for Mr. Fallon to invite me to sing with him. If not, maybe he should just do it because he is a nice guy. I can always dream, right?


Lego Mindstorms Project

A few weeks back, a STEM Outreach Coordinator from Taft College contacted me to see about collaborating with the Coding Club. She brought 24 tubs of Lego Mindstorms NXT and 10 Macbook Pros for my students to use. She also supplied a 10-week curriculum for my students to work on.

After much negotiations, we launched the program on February 21st, 2014. And here are my observations so far.

Lego Mindstorms Robots and MacbookPro Computers

Lego Mindstorms Robots and MacbookPro Computers

Challenges of Sustaining the Club

Even though the Coding Club has been one of the most successful clubs on campus, after our highly successful Hour of Coding event some students began to lose interest. It was partly because of the huge gap between the meetings. Immediately after the Hour of Code event, we were on Winter Break for two weeks. Then I was not in town for two weekends in a row because of my classes and a conference. To make matters worse, we had several Monday holidays in January and February, which made holding the club meetings difficult since they are usually on Mondays.

Furthermore, students were advancing quicker than I could financially support them. They wanted to create complex projects using several Arduino boards and LEDs that required more supplies, which I simply couldn’t afford. This created a huge challenge for the club.

Even though I had all the free tools available, without hands-on projects for the students to work on, learning to code became another “class” for them to manage rather than a meaningful learning experience. Being contacted by Taft college, therefore, was the lucky break that I desperately needed.

Why Lego Mindstorms

On February 21st, 2014, my supplies arrived. It has only been two weeks since we began, but I am seeing amazing things happen.

Students working on Lego Mindstorms

Students working on Lego Mindstorms

1. Name Recognition

Once I began advertising to the student about using Lego Mindstorms robots, I had several new students. They all cited wanting to work with Legos as their reason for wanting to participate. Clearly, the name recognition was working in my favor. Even though a few students have never worked with Legos, they all knew and have heard of them. Because of its reputation and ease of use, Lego Mindstorms provided an edge that neither e-textiles nor Arduino boards had over my students.

2. Practical Challenges that Encourages Students to Play

Rather than simply interacting with a screen, the students must manipulate the materials while working with these robots, which can be programmed to sing, talk, and even “dance.” Although many students are following the designated curriculum, I noticed them simply “playing” with the robot before moving onto the next challenge. One student programmed for his robot to “sing” before turning; another student programmed the robot to flash lights after completing three weeks worth of challenges ahead of everyone else. Because of its reputation as a toy, these robots seem to bring out the playfulness in my students in addition to teaching them engineering and programming skills.

3. Collaborative Learning

While working on the robots, my students constantly communicate with one another. Many of them opted to work in pairs partly because we don’t have enough robots, but partly because they wanted to work with a partner. Even though I tried to encourage them to work in groups, it was not possible while they were strictly learning to program using only the digital tools. I can see that working with these robots facilitates a fantastic social learning environment. It is equally fascinating to see a certain order of information sharing happening in the classroom. I noticed that my struggling students naturally gravitated towards others who already advanced to the next step to get information and guidance, and then passed the information onto others who were still struggling to accomplish the next task.

4. Positive Competition

Since I am aware of the benefits of what Gabe Zimmerman calls the 3-Fs, – Fun, Friends, and Feedback – of game-based learning, I decided to create a “Leader Board” to keep track of my students progress before the project began. I create an area on my board where a student could put an orange star his or her name after accomplishing each task. Seeing others receive stars has done wonders for some students. This became evident when I took a picture of the board to be included in this post. A student said, “Wait, Mrs. Glazer! We are almost done. Please take the picture after we put our star up!”

 5. Rewards for Effort

Since all activities are voluntary and being done after school, some students elected to attend more meetings than others. One such student is a freshman who has spent additional hours during lunch and after school. Even though he is one of the youngest ones in the club, he has accomplished more tasks than any of the other members because he spent the most time on his project. As a result, he has become an informal leader of the group, which has been a great experience for him.

6. Grit

Although these Lego robots can do amazing things, they are also extremely flimsy. My students are having a hard time controlling the robots because all parts are made of plastic. Some of my students have been stuck on a particular challenge not because they didn’t know how to program or construct their robots, but because the back wheel keeps coming off. However, I could tell this has taught them to persevere. Just today, I watched two boys attempting to control their robots while crawling on the floor for nearly an hour. Their robots kept moving out of bounds, which happened at least 15 times, but they kept trying to get it right.

7. Increased Student Engagement

Most importantly, this project has my students’ full attention. Since we began, I have been asked pretty much everyday if I was going to be in my room during lunch and after school. Even though we are only supposed to meet one hour after school on Thursdays and two hours on Saturdays, I had to stay until 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 6th, 2 1/2 hours after school ended. That doesn’t include 1 1/2 hours I stayed after school on Monday, March 3rd, 2 hours on Tuesday, March 4th, and 2 hours on Wednesday, March 5th. Furthermore, students asked if I could stay after school on Friday, and they said they definitely wanted to come at 9 a.m. on Saturday not the normal 10 a.m., so they could spend more time with the robots. Of course, not everyone is coming to every meeting. But at any give day, at any given day I have 3-4 students working on their robots after school.

It has only been two weeks, but I am thrilled to have the Lego Mindstorms robots. I can see how much my students are learning to problem solve and work collaboratively. I am certain that they are learning additional computational thinking skills such as problem solving and programming. They are certainly engaged and focused. I can’t wait to see what my students will do next!

CATE 2014 Conference Reflection

This past weekend, I spent some time at the 2014 CATE Conference. Last time I attended the CATE Conference, Billy Collins read his poems during one of the dinner sessions. I learned so much from other teachers. I felt rejuvenated and excited.

I was also just beginning my doctoral program, and I made a few suggestions as to what the organization could do leverage social media and technology. I had lots of great conversations with key people, and I left feeling pretty good about it.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 3.36.12 PM

Two years later, I was back to do a presentation on game-based learning. I was just as excited to be with fellow teachers who are passionate about education. However, I realize not much has changed in terms of technology. It was still a great conference, but I thought a few things could make this conference that much better next year.

Integrating Social Media

During the registration, I asked what the official #hashtag for the conference was. CATE didn’t have one. Of course, the participants were tweeting about the conference regardless. I suggest that the conference takes charge of their brand by leveraging all forms of social media during the conference, especially Twitter. It will be simple to add the hashtags to the program, and encourage the conference attendees to use them. It should also consider having the Twitter feed during all the main sessions, so that the speaker can interact with the audience.

Intergrating More Technology

I suggest CATE create a place for the presenters and the participants to upload all the presentation materials.  It surprised me that it did not already have such a space. It will be as simple as setting up a Dropbox or even Google Drive. I also suggest that the conference considers doing live streaming and/or recording of the sessions for future use. Of course, this will require the presenters’ consent. But starting with a few and expanding to offer additional webinar could be beneficial in continuing its legacy of excellence. This will also bring in new members into the fold.

Intergrating Hands-on Sessions and Diversifying Session Formats

I suggest CATE diversify the session formats and reduce the number of session per time slot. I also suggest adding hands-on sessions where teachers can demonstrate their lesson techniques and help others to create lessons that can use when they return to their classrooms. Rather than offering 8-10 lecture-style sessions, CATE could offer 4 -5 sessions, and give the presenters opportunities to participate in  a poster session or to ignite talks. This will draw younger teachers or college students who might not be ready to present in a typical one hour and fifteen minute sessions but still want to present at the conference. I also suggest creating a better mechanism for selecting the presentation. I say that because I did not have to submit any sample work for my presentation. Although I think my presentation was excellent, I am not sure whether the committee would have thought that without seeing my work prior to the conference.

Conference Proceedings Publication

Finally, CATE with its existing literary magazine should consider working with teachers to publish conference proceedings as other major conferences typically do. I suggest CATE does this online. I believe this will serve two purposes. First, this will naturally facilitate deeper theoretical and pedagogical discussions among all participants. Second, this will provide opportunities for teachers aspiring to become researcher-scholars, which is one of the organization’s missions.

I think that CATE is a wonderful organization, dedicated to improving the lives of English teachers. Every time I attend the conference, I am struck by how amazing and hardworking all the teachers really are. I hope to contribute to this organization in a meaningful way by doing more presentations and providing suggestions. As a technology doctoral student, I want to help the organization leverage many available resources. I can’t wait to go back to the next year’s conference and many conferences to come! Teaching English is not easy, and we really need each other.

Challenge of Being an Adult Student

I still remember this huge argument that I had with my classmates while attending Cal Poly SLO as an undergraduate. The professor decided to put her students in groups of 3-4 and have us do projects. Because I was living in Santa Maria at the time and was married with children, not many students were willing to include me in their groups. To make a long story short, the 19-year-old students who got “stuck” with me were angry that I was dragging down their grades. I still remember one of the students yelling at me in the hall way, “If I get a B, it’s because of you. And if I get a B, I won’t get into a law school. You are ruining my future. This is what I get for trying to be nice to people.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love Cal Poly SLO because its academically rigorous program that prepared me well for the future. However, it has never been a very adult learner friendly school. When I was looking to get my teaching credential, they only offered classes between 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM. Clearly no consideration for adult students with full time jobs. And I feel for the “kids” who had their whole life ahead of them, who got stuck with me as their group partner. After all, it was not their fault that I had children and was a second-language learner who was barely able to write college-level essays. I am certain that she felt betrayed by me and the professor for making things that much more difficult for her.

But in light of what happened over this past week while I was in school, I couldn’t help but wonder about how higher education institutions treat adult students. My dear friend Robin had to leave class during our last face-to-face sessions to be with her son who was diagnosed with cancer. One of the professors was worried that Pepperdine University would monetarily penalize her for not withdrawing quickly enough if she were to decide to take a leave of absence.

Robin and me

Robin and I, during our last face-to-face

Pepperdine Univeristy is a Christian university that values people. I have been extremely thrilled to be a part of this amazing university. I love my cadre members who are simply amazing people and highly intelligent scholars. I have learned so much from being a part of this institution. But if what my professor said were true, it still seems unable to truly foster adult learners whose needs are vastly different from young, single students who never have to deal with real life issues and whose focus is solely academic.

Let me be clear. I am not blaming the university. After all, an institution must have rules and regulations. I like that Pepperdine is a Christian university with Christina values. What I am saying is that the polices and procedures should somewhat match to those values. Robin shouldn’t have to decide to withdraw right this second simply because she might lose a big chunk of tuition money. She should be given time to figure things out without having to worry about that.

When my Cal Poly incident happened, I advocated for my classmates. I went up to the professor and pleaded with her to grade the group essay with the authorship in mind. I told her which part was mine and which parts were my classmates’. I don’t know what she did, but I hoped that she took my explanation into consideration. Turned out I got a B on the assignment, but ended up getting an A in the class. So I am assuming my group members got good grades as well. I have no idea since they stopped speaking to me after that.

Years later, I found out that the girl who was angry at me for “ruining” her life ended up getting into a law school. I doubt she remembers what she did that day. Still to this day, I am extremely hesitant to participate in group projects in fear that I might let my group down. I am overly sensitive to the quality of writing. She nearly stopped me from starting this blog.

But I also learned to persevere. I found people who have encouraged me to continue. People who remind me that I moved to another country, learned a new language, and became a teacher. I learned to ask for help from others who can edit and correct my writing. I learned to communicate my inadequacies with people up front, so they are aware of my shortcomings. Most importantly, I continue to work hard to become better at writing.

Robin has been posting her son’s progress online. The latest report said that he could be cancer free in 30 days due to the excellent treatment he has received. I am hopeful that this university I love will be kind to my friend as it has always been to me. I also hope that other higher educational instutions will reconsider how they treate adult students. We may not be the most astute researchers, but we have a lot to offer to the world as adults.