Sparking Learning and Empathy with Empatico

As educators, we make it a goal of trying to develop students into good citizens, preparing them for the world that awaits them once they leave our classroom. This is no easy task and I can’t think of much more important for the betterment of our world. Prior to becoming a technology integration specialist, I was a classroom math teacher at a Middle School in Western New York. During this time my focus was on making sure my students developed their mathematical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving. I also focused on helping students to become kind and caring at this transitional time approaching their teenage years. The best way I knew to do this was to form positive relationships and model this behavior myself. It worked for many, but it sure was tough. Middle School kids could sure be cruel to each other. They seemed to enjoy life going about their day to day focused on not much other than themselves and what their peers thought of them. Looking back to my Middle School self, I was just like this. These students were a smart bunch finding their way, making mistakes, finding humor in just about everything, even my math lessons. My teaching was confined to my own classroom. You entered Room 207, we learned in Room 207, asked questions in Room 207 and what went on in Room 207 probably for the most part stayed in Room 207 aside from the few students who actually told their parent or guardian what they did in math class that day when they got the question, “So, what did you do in school today?” Keep in mind, this was prior to digital portfolios and parental communication SMS tools like Remind and Bloomz. What was missing from my classroom was a connection to the real world, beyond the book. A math problem referencing a real-world scenario was the best I did. I needed to do better for my students if they were truly going to be prepared for the real world.

Fast forward several years later to today. The advancement of educational technology and the continued movement towards a global society along with teachers looking to engage and empower students has changed the landscape of classrooms and schools. No longer does learning just have to be contained in “Room 207.” In my new role as a technology integration specialist, I aim to bring meaningful learning experiences to the classroom by utilizing technology. To focus on meaningful integration, I love connecting back to the International Society for Technology in Education Standards. I especially like connecting to the latest student standards. These include Empowered Learner, Digital Citizen, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer, Computational Thinker, Creative Communicator, and Global Collaborator.

While embarking on my journey of seeking global collaborations with technology I came across Empatico, a project brought to classrooms by The KIND Foundation. The headline that caught my eye was: “Empatico introduces your students to the world, no passport needed.” Along with it was also the phrase “Match with another classroom. Discover standards-based content. Connect in real time.” This sounded like a recipe for meaningful technology integration and learning to me. Also, the name Empatico hit very close to empathy, something our students need to develop in becoming good citizens. It is aimed at students ages 7-11 (Grades 1-5 in the U.S.) and is completely free (and always will be). The idea behind creating this for children is that having early positive experiences with diverse types of people can strongly influence how they develop perceptions of others in the future. After doing a little more reading about Empatico, it was clear that this program very well aligns with the ISTE Student Standards.


Within a couple minutes, I had an account created and a profile set. I connected with classroom teacher Lori Wunder of A.J. Schmidt Elementary School, one whom I support in my role as a technology integrator/TOSA. I was excited to share with her this new learning tool. There were four activities for us to choose from. In finding a common match with another classroom, we had to set our availability on their built in calendar as well as select two of the four activities. This would allow there to be a shared interest in topics. The activities available were Helping Hands, Ways We Play, Community Cartographers and Weather Out The Window. The total activity time is 2-3 hours, which includes a preparation activity before the interaction (40-70 min) and a reflection activity after the interaction (20 min). Matched classrooms can and are encouraged to modify or extend the connection to meet their individual needs. In our case, what started just as laid out in Empatico, spun off into a collaborative Kindness Project. Our classes both selected Community Cartographers and Weather Out The Window.

Within the dashboard was a Resources/Materials tab with ready to use items for teachers including printables and ideas. These included and could be filtered by need:

  • Teacher Tips for Intercultural Experiences
  • Reflection Circles
  • Backup Plans
  • Room Setup
  • Parent Take Home Letter
  • Empatico Skills Mini-Lessons
  • Activity Templates
  • Reflection Tools

We were matched with a class in Andover, Kansas from Prairie Creek Elementary. Within the Empatico Teacher Dashboard, there was a messaging portal that made communication a breeze. I loved that I also received an email message when our partner class responded. Within a couple days we were having our first connection. Empatico promotes the exchanges as seamless and I couldn’t agree more. With one click of a button, our classrooms were connected over video.


You could feel the positive energy in the room as kids were so interested in meeting their partner class. Students asked questions about each other’s school day, hobbies, and community. We learned that we both had something in common in starting Kindness Projects in our schools and both agreed to help each other out and share experiences. During this initial video connection, I could see students making connections to how they were similar and also to some of their differences. It was during this call we also learned of our partner class’s Kindness Project. They were creating cards and gift boxes for a local children’s hospital. It inspired our students in Mrs. Wunder’s class to create cards for our local children’s hospital connecting on the hashtag #theroadtokindness. We calculated the distance between our schools in Google Maps. 1,142 miles to be exact. We also realized it would take us almost 17 hours to drive there. Students couldn’t wait to connect again for the next part of the activity.

We scheduled our second connection to take place a couple weeks later. This allowed students enough time to construct their maps of their surrounding school community and put their cartography skills to work.

When it was time to connect again, we switched between classes describing their school community surroundings. Here is a video highlighting part of the exchange. During this exchange, it was really snowing heavily outside in Angola, NY. The students in Kansas loved to see the snow because it is rare they get much of it. It helped set the stage for our next activity exchange, “The Weather out the Window.”

Here are a few examples of student maps shown in this Tweet.

I was impressed that a few of our students even labeled specific names of an apartment complex and a lake nearby their partner school. I loved that it forced them to communicate creatively and ask the right questions in creating the most accurate map possible while knowing almost nothing about their partner school’s community.  

After our connection ended, we took to Google Maps again, this time to satellite view and street view to see just how what it really looked like compared to what students mapped based on what was communicated to them. The students loved being able to explore the area in Google Street View feeling almost as if they were right outside the doors of their partner school. We also found a few of the places referenced that made it feel even more real. It was a fabulous global learning experience and collaboration.

Circling back to the indicators to ISTE Student Standard 7: Global Collaborator. They are listed as:

  • Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning
  • Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints
  • Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal.
  • Students explore local and global issues and use collaborative technologies to work with others to investigate solutions.

Empatico hits on many of these indicators and serves as a launching point to teachers wanting to venture out and explore new global education opportunities. Knowing that I experienced students becoming empowered learners, creative communicators, digital citizens, innovative designers and knowledge constructors through Empatico made it a huge success.

In addition to the 4 activities in Empatico, they also launched a two-week long Caring Kids Challenge that which we signed up to participate in. The Caring Kids Challenge was designed to provide free, simple activities to reinforce positive social skills and help students build stronger relationships while navigating differences with curiosity and kindness, in the present and for years to come. These were short 10-20 minute challenges and they certainly sparked some empathy for our learners. The first week’s challenge focused on respectful communication, one of the four Empatico Skill Pillars. The second week’s challenge focused on cooperation and critical thinking skills. All activities and challenges take on a focus of perspective taking in helping students relate to the experiences of others and understanding how those others feel.

Getting back to #theroadtokindness collaboration that became an organic extension of our Empatico connection, here are a few snapshots of the magic that took place:

Ready to get started in your classroom with Empatico? Visit, click Get Matched with a Class, create a profile setting available times to collaborate and you’re on your way to being matched with another class somewhere in the world. Enjoy the ride and the learning ahead, but more importantly, enjoy the benefits of a classroom actively developing more empathetic students!

As my first child begins Kindergarten next year, I can’t help but think that if he is experiencing these during his educational experiences on a fairly regular basis, he will be well prepared for anything that may come his way. I want my son to be a good citizen, a global citizen. I can only hope that he gets to experience the power of Empatico along his journey. Fingers crossed!


It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. As teachers, there are days we love to hate and days we just absolutely love. That mix keeps us on our toes and keeps things interesting. It’s #LoveTeaching Week starting today from February 14 – 21. A challenge was put out to teachers from to “Share the Love.”

I’m not sure I’ll have another story in my career that shares love more than this one from the #K12Valentine project in 2017. I still think back to this often and it immediately brings a smile to my face.

For Valentine’s Day, I came up with some reasons why I love teaching.

  1. I love teaching because I love sharing my passion with others.
  2. I love teaching because of the people I meet along the way.
  3. I love teaching because of the sparks of curiosity.
  4. I love teaching because of the wonders and what ifs.
  5. I love teaching because of the questions from students and colleagues that really make me think.
  6. I love teaching because of the fresh start of a new school year that comes around each Fall.
  7. I love teaching because of the feeling of accomplishment after a full school year as well as the reflecting and recharging that comes with Summer.
  8. I love teaching because of the smiles and laughs.
  9. I love teaching because of the “everything’s going to be OK”s both given and received.
  10. I love teaching because of the creativity displayed day in and day out.
  11. I love teaching because of the powerful collaborations both near and far.
  12. I love teaching because of the brainstorming and problem-solving in moving things forward.
  13. I love teaching because of the discovery of a new resource or tool that empowers us and/or students.
  14. I love teaching because no two days are the same.
  15. I love teaching because of the involvement and connection with the community.
  16. I love teaching because I get to #BeTheOne for someone.
  17. I love teaching because it is just plain fun.
  18. I love teaching because it will never be perfect.
  19. I love teaching because of the unknown and potential for what lies ahead.
  20. I love teaching because of its importance in building a better world.

I love teaching because of ALL students, even the ones that set out to challenge us the most! I love that this list could be added to on any given day and love knowing that I wouldn’t have it any other way! Here’s to teachers everywhere. Thank you for all you do.

Why do you #LoveTeaching?


One Word 2018

My one word for 2017 was ‘discover.’ One of my final discoveries of the year was my one word for the year ahead. My one word for 2018 is ‘reach.’

Why reach as my one word?

I will aim to reach my goals for the year.

I will aim to reach that one student who hasn’t been reached just yet.

I will aim to reach that one teacher who is feeling disconnected.

I will reach to apply new ideas in the classroom and remix old ideas that worked well in hopes that they have more effective reach in the classroom and beyond.

I will not overextend my reach. I will be mindful of balance and being the best version of me so that I can give my very best all the time.

I will continue to reach out of my comfort zone.

I will reach out to my family, colleagues, and PLF for support when needed.

I will reach new destinations along my journey. Just as my one word this past year allowed me to ‘discover’ so much that was unplanned or unexpected, I plan to reach new places, new ideas, and most importantly new people along my learning and teaching journey.

I will aim to reach those I already have built relationships with in deeper ways.

On a somewhat related note, shortly after landing on this word, my hometown Buffalo Bills have reached the playoffs for the first time in 17 years ending the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports history. Now that they’re in they have the chance to reach the Super Bowl. Memories of the early 1990s are flooding back. Go Bills!

I hope this post will reach you and inspire you to select your one word in 2018 if you haven’t already.

Here’s to REACH in 2018.

One Word 2017 Reflection

Looking back at 2017, my one word was ‘discover.’ It is safe to say that this was THE perfect word that I landed on for the year. I had no idea just what I would discover at the time of choosing my one word for 2017 but here is my reflection and look back on the year.

What exactly did I discover?

I discovered that so many of our teachers are moving forward in terms of trying new things in their classroom with educational technology. I love their attitude and openness to new ideas. I also discovered that nobody knows their classroom better than them. By acting as a thought partner and not through me fully driving the direction of the lesson, our collaboration created better learning experiences.

I discovered ways to amplify student voice. From throwing a random tweet at Sean Farnum about collaborating on a student podcast (which led to this and this and this) to harnessing the power of tools like Flipgrid, Buncee, and Seesaw to hosting a student edcamp, I not only discovered ways of amplifying student voice but the real power and value that comes from doing so. Just tuning in to what students have to say is powerful. Listening to the Student Ignite sessions at ISTE 2017 is something I recommend. Check out Curran Central’s talk here to get a taste.

I discovered the true value of a PLN, or PLF as Sarah Thomas remixed the term for the better at ISTE 2017. This PLF exists on Twitter and in my own backyard. Folks down the hall and teachers in the region at our regional educator forums are a wealth of experience, knowledge, and resources. We share the same vision and the face to face conversations and sharing is always special. I am grateful for Andrew Wheelock and Melanie Kitchen leading and facilitating these sessions. On Twitter (and Voxer), social media has been such a powerful way to connect. The folks here are truly dedicated and looking to create the best possible learning experiences for their students. I discovered that so many of them go out of their way to help, encourage, support, stretch my thinking, and most importantly, share some smiles and laughs together along the way.

I discovered the need to move from digital citizenship to digital leadership. Are we providing these opportunities? Digital citizenship cannot be taught from a textbook, worksheet or lecture. Discovering the book Social LEADia from Jennifer Casa-Todd was a game changer for me. I was grateful to meet her at Canada Connect Conference this year and also connect with her coding club over a video Google Hangout session. Meeting Marialice Curran also helped shape my view of what positive digital citizenship and leadership can look like. Discovering Dig Cit Summits and following along with them led to some great learning and new ideas.

I discovered failure. That’s right. I messed some stuff up. Not that I haven’t experienced it before, but I discovered looking at it differently. Things did not always go as planned. Nobody got hurt and I did not lose my job over it. One of my flaws is that I am often concerned with how other people view me or think of me. Trying to get things perfect comes along with that. This past year I let go of that worry and it was freeing. If I could travel back in time and give the high school me one piece of advice, this would be it.

I discovered the Teach Sustainable Development Goals movement thanks to Fran Siracusa. I was fortunate to be able to connect virtually to learn about how technology can help make the world a better place. Through this tweet she shared, I also discovered #CelebrateMonday, eventually connecting and learning from Sean Gaillard, the founder of #CelebrateMonday! I took the pledge shortly after and promise to keep the conversations active. Through Fran, I also discovered Connections Based Learning and some amazing projects their team led by Sean Robinson participated in. It completely changed how I look at the integration of educational technology. It is so much more than just improving academics (while that is important) and test scores.

I discovered global connections and collaborations are amazing. I have yet to experience a global collaboration and thought I could have made a better use of the time or done something differently. Each one is unique and each one helps students ask more questions than provides answers. I want all learning to feel like this. Buncee Buddies, Belouga, Empatico, STEM Hub, Mystery Skypes, Global Maker Day, K12 Valentine, Awesome Squiggles, Gingerbread STEM, Best Class Podcast, Minecraft Literature World, Read Across America, Global Speed Chat, PenPal Schools, Seesaw Connected Blogs, Skype-a-Thon, and even a high school Student Twitter Chat (#usetech4good – #positivelykind – #digcit). I will aim to discover even more of these learning opportunities in the new year and beyond. I really appreciate the hashtag created by Bronwyn Joyce, #OneWorldOneClassroom.

I discovered just how much I don’t know and how much room I have to grow. As a father, as a husband, as a friend, and as an educator. I am on the right path but discovering and identifying this will make me better.

I discovered the power of gratitude. I have always been a grateful person. My parents raised me this way. However, I never gave much thought to just how powerful gratitude can be. When at the Children’s Book Expo I stopped at a table with a sign reading 365 Days of Gratitude. I met a student author, Muskan Virk along with her mother, Meera. I picked up a copy of the book. Inspired by her message, I invited Muskan to Skype with our school. She agreed, shared her story and her message with students and teachers. It was a highlight of the school year and will leave a lasting impact. I look forward to connecting with her again to discover other ways she is making a difference in the world.

I discovered the real value in Minecraft Education Edition thanks to Mark Grundel and Garrett Zimmer. Their MOOC helped me learn so much about game-based learning and taking risks. It carried over to our classrooms and our students benefited. I took the leap and applied to become a Minecraft Education Global Mentor and was accepted into the program this December. It will run throughout 2018 and I am excited to discover more possibilities from others around the globe part of this community.

I discovered the need to give myself a break. Sometimes I push and push and push to the point of exhaustion. I discovered while the push helps me do what I do well, that pushing too hard will never bring about the best version of me. It is all about balance.

I discovered the power of leaning on your support. Doing it alone will always be an impossible climb, even if you think otherwise. The term “better together” is the truth.

I discovered to appreciate the unknown and what might lie ahead. We’ll never be able to predict our journey but appreciating that we are on one with great people around us is something special.

I probably discovered much more than I am even capturing here but this is what jumps out. I encourage you to take the one word challenge. If you want to take the idea a bit further to your students, check out what Dene Gainey did with his class here. That’s right, he turned it into a writing activity for students and created a podcast from them!

Goodbye 2017. Hello, 2018! May your one word help you discover as much as it did for me. 

Miles of Smiles

As an educator who seeks to bring creativity and imagination to the classroom, often through educational technology, I have experienced first-hand the power of Buncee’s Buncee Buddies program. Past project themes included International Peace Day, Earth Day and U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Empathy is at the heart of these Buncee Buddies projects. Empathy isn’t a subject taught in school but a topic that can be woven into activities that can leave a lasting impact on students. Educators striving to make a difference in the lives of their students can do so by creating opportunities to build empathy in students. Another important aspect of these projects is community building. A community is built within the classroom amongst classmates and it is also built between partner classrooms many miles apart though appreciating similarities and differences. To extend building empathy and community beyond the school walls, we created a Buncee Buddies spin-off.

For many of us, the holiday season will bring smiles as we spend time with family and friends. Knowing this is a great part of what makes the holiday season special, the idea of Buncee Buddies Miles of Smiles was born. When we asked our students if they would be interested in creating a slide (or slides) using Buncee for someone outside of the classroom, their reaction of smiles and cheers reinforced to us that it was worth the effort. What can be created? Anything (since Buncee is a tool for creativity and imagination) one can think up that is smile-inducing but our ideas were: holiday humor, holiday stories, a holiday song, and holiday stickers and animations.   

The Buncee Board (collection of Buncee creations) reads:
#BunceeBuddiesMilesOfSmiles – Have a Buncee that is sure to make someone smile? Add it to this board! We’ll be sharing these with folks away from home for the holidays serving in the military, in retirement communities, nursing home/assisted living facilities, hospitals, etc. Let’s use our creativity and imagination to bring smiles for miles.  *Add a QR code to your Buncee to activate any animations, video or audio features you add.

If you are interested in spreading some smiles for miles, feel free to create a free Buncee account, create a Buncee and copy your Buncee link to the Buncee Board found HERE. Don’t be surprised if creating brings you a smile in addition to bringing a smile to many others. We cannot wait to share these with others. Anyone can view and share the board link. Buncees can be downloaded and printed or viewed digitally on any connected device.

Thanks to Buncee for supporting this idea and to everyone who has shared or contributed to #BunceeBuddiesMilesOfSmiles in some way. An especially big smile was created when Shannon Miller, fellow Buncee Ambassador, shared out a blog post on the project this week. At the time of this post, the Board has over 75 Buncees, almost 400 views, over 300 reactions, and over 50 comments. That is A LOT of smiles.

Enjoy the holiday season. Take time to create and especially take time to smile and spread smiles!

100 Word Challenge

I’ve always been up for a challenge. Sometimes they go great, other times they flop, but every single time I learn something new through the experience. I am not much of a writer but fully appreciate the value in it. My blog has accumulated a little dust since I launched it last January, however, I am feeling more inspired to write lately. Maybe it is the Christmas spirit in the air and the general cheer that is found this time of year. Whatever the reason, I am taking on the 100 Word Challenge put out there by Jessie Boyce on Twitter. The challenge is to share “Why You Love Teaching” in 100 words. Others in my PLN including Dene Gainey, Don Sturm, Dan Krieness, Sherri Spelic, Justin Schleider, Tammy Neil, Doug Timm also took the challenge and their responses are incredible. Reading their awesome thoughts makes it more challenging to write this. Knowing we all have a unique story to share, I am going to give mine a go. This is a challenge where the 100 words might very well turn out different on any given day, but for today, here is what surfaced.

I love teaching for the paycheck, summer and holiday breaks and weekends off. Did I get your attention by wasting some of the 100 words? Those not in education might think only these to be true. However, none of these listed represent why I love what I do. 44 words left to get my message through. I didn’t choose teaching, teaching chose me. It’s 100% where I’m meant to be.  Each day matters. Each day unique. I love this journey, everything it brings and being gifted an opportunity to help others uncover the joy of learning, their passions and purpose.   

Why do you love teaching in 100 words? Take the challenge. It isn’t easy but there is a great feeling that comes with expressing your ‘why.’ Reading them also makes me feel great about the work we are collectively doing in education to move things forward and make a difference in the world. Share yours to #my100words and #100WordChallenge.

Skype-a-Thon 2017 at LSCSD

On November 28 & 29, 2017, Lake Shore CSD students participated in Skype Classroom’s Skype-a-thon event. Hosted by Microsoft Education, District Technology Integrators and Microsoft Educator Community members, Susan Walterich and Michael Drezek, helped coordinate many Skype sessions that reached near and far in an effort to help students learn from other classrooms and also professionals and experts through video exchanges and virtual field trips. Some of these exchanges included a Mystery Skype, a geo guessing game where classrooms alternate asking strategic yes/no questions using their knowledge of geography to uncover the actual location of their partner class.

Just where did they travel and who came along for the trip?

Accra, Ghana, Africa (5387 miles)
Mr. Kowalski, Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough
L & M Memorial Academy (@excoba)
Mystery Skype – Students learned all about oware, ampe, banku, fufu, school days, music, future dreams/goals & Japhet Aryiku. Students also exchanged a traditional song.

Westquarter, Scotland, United Kingdom (3331 miles)
Miss Minazzi, Mrs. Ruszaj
Westquarter Primary School (@ElliePrimary1)
Mystery Skype

Giza, Egypt, Africa (5743 miles)
Mrs. Addison
Virtual Field Trip with Soheir Zaki Abdel-Fattah
Khufu Pyramid is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Students traveled to Giza complex which includes the Sphinx and Solar ship museum beside the three pyramids. Many students around the world have learned about pyramids and will learn how they are built and learn some amazing facts discovered in Khufu pyramids!

Mattawan, Michigan, USA (435 miles)
Mr. Lewis
Mystery Skype

Kingston, Rhode Island, USA (497 miles)
Mrs. Prieschel
Minecraft Author, Sean Fay Wolfe (@seanfaywolfe)
Guest Speaker Series – Students learned all about following their passions from Sean Fay Wolfe, a student turned top selling author. Now a college student, Sean Fay Wolfe shared his inspiring journey with students and encouraged them to learn, write and share their talents with the world.

Tampa, Florida, USA (1325 miles)
Mr. Kowalski
Turner-Bartels School (@MissBTBK8)
Mystery Skype

Middleboro, Massachusetts, USA (492 miles)
Mr. Sills, Mrs. Florczyk
Mystery Skype

Bogota, Columbia, South America (2636 miles)
Mrs. Brumagin, Mrs. Hackbarth
Matt Murrie, Chief Curiosity Curator at What If…360 (@MattMurrie)
Guest Speaker Series – Matt, who visited Lake Shore in person in October 2017, shared his experiences traveling the globe as well as similarities and differences amongst students and schools. He encouraged curiosity to be present in learning experiences as it is a natural resource powerful enough to not only power the world, but guide it!

Aztec, New Mexico, USA (1823 miles)
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Virtual Field Trip & Mystery Skype
National Park Services Ranger Andy along with cameraman Dave led students on a tour and lesson on ancestral Pueblos through various famous tourist spots at Aztec Ruins National Monument. Students visited the kiva rooms, learned about architectural principles, trade customs, artifacts and asked some great questions during the session. Many now want to visit in person!

Grimsby, England, United Kingdom (3525 miles)
Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough
Grimsby Institute (@ElaineTopham)
Mystery Skype

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (1382 miles)
Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough
Canadian Museum of Human Rights (@CMHR_News)
Virtual Field Trip & Mystery Skype
Students met Graham Lowes, the education resident at CMHR. He took students on a journey through the museum and talked about the stories of human rights the museum seeks to preserve and share for future generations. We learned that the museum starts out in darkness, moves towards the light, similar to the journey of one enduring human rights violations. They toured the Garden of Contemplation and traveled up a glass elevator to the Tower of Hope overlooking beautiful downtown Winnipeg. Students asked thought-provoking questions and several students made connections to their indigenous heritage through the Seneca Nation of Indians.

Cody, Wyoming (1934 miles)
Ms. Amoia
Yellowstone National Park
Virtual Field Trip & Mystery Skype
Students interviewed the park ranger or try to guess which park the ranger works in through Mystery Skype. A Yellowstone National Park ranger then led students on a virtual field trip to learn more about geology (geysers, hot springs, volcanoes), ecology (fire; wildlife–bears, bison, elk, wolves, and more), and cultural history (Native American, world’s 1st national park, tourism). Yellowstone is full of science, history and even math.

Kavali Andhra Pradesh, India (8313 miles)
Mrs. Chimera, Mrs. McGough, Mr. Kowalski
Master School India (@Mschoolindia)
Mystery Skype Exchange
Students learned traditional song and dance as well as what a banana plate is. They also exchanged similarities and differences in their educational experiences. Both schools led each other on a virtual tour of the building. At the Middle School, students from India were able to see a FACS classroom engaged in cooking chicken, the pool, library and even a sneak peek at the holiday chorus performance.

Over 14 million virtual miles were traveled by classrooms around the globe. Lake Shore students accounted for a few thousand of these and the connections made and memories formed are sure to last a lifetime. We look forward to involving even more classrooms for Skype-a-Thon 2018 next year and hope that this experience will lead to teachers trying global education experiences in an effort to take learning beyond the four walls of the classroom through technology.

Deeper Learning with Virtual Worlds

Recently our English 9 Honors classes took on a project led by Andrew Wheelock called Islands of Enlightenment – Understanding the Holocaust. This project, created in OpenSim, allowed for an immersive virtual experience that resulted in students making deep connections about the Holocaust, World War II and their own lives. It was a great project from start to finish and I wanted to share a glimpse into our classroom and our virtual world learning experience.

Here is what teacher Deann Poleon had to say, “Experiencing a virtual world, such as Islands of Enlightenment, provides students with an opportunity to explore at their own pace. My students, after viewing Diary of Anne Frank, were able to explore the annex in which she lived, learning additional facts from the notes left around the space. While completing assignments within this world, they needed to make comparisons to their lives, consider what life was like on a daily basis for people (Jewish and non-Jewish), and research stolen artifacts. Students also researched WWII related topics, places and people. Google Slides presentations, posted within Islands on a virtual presenter board, allow our students to teach others about their topic of research. While my students will present this information within our classroom, others visiting the virtual world may read through these presentations to continue to educate themselves. Symbolic objects have also been created by students. These objects, often challenging for students to complete, require students to think symbolically in regards to their researched topic. The experience with Islands prepares students for the world that exists within the novel Night: a world where smoke filled furnaces are at the end of the path, Swastikas strike fear in the hearts of innocent people, and people hope for death.”

Students received avatars set in 1940s attire and set on a learning adventure that involved student choice and hit the highest level of the SAMR model. This project pulled together history, literature, art and technology. As a technology integrator, I am thrilled to be able to work with technology that can hit on a majority of the ISTE student standards. From empowered learner to digital citizen to innovative designer, students gained great experience in many of these areas.


Side view of the Secret Annex toured by students

The project’s student tour card created for the annex shows what students used to move their avatar throughout the virtual space.

1. The front door: The smaller doors on left take you to the first and second floor. The middle doors take you into the warehouse. We will go there first.

2. At the back of the warehouse there is a storage shed that leads out to a garden. The garden gives you a feeling how close together the houses are.

Back to the entrance:
3. The doors on the left are entrances to different flights of stairs. The one on the right takes you up to the first floor and the front office.

4. Between the front office and back office there is a small closet. The back office is straight ahead.

5. Go out to the hallway and take a right to get to the private office in the back. This is where important meetings were held.

6. Also on this level was the kitchen for employees. This kitchen had the only hot water in the building. The people in hiding would use this for bathing on the weekends.

7. The room beside the kitchen is a bathroom. Anne used this for privacy while she bathed.

8. If you go up the flight of stairs you will come to the bookcase. But first we will tour the rest of the factory. Go up the stairs, turn a sharp right, forward a few steps, then turn left and go through the door. On left is another door into storage area. This is the room that has the window painted blue so the workers could not see the Annex.

9. Again, go through the double closet area to get to the front work space for the factory.

10. Now, we will go out through the door, down the hall, through next door and straight ahead to the bookcase.

11. This bookcase is the entry into the Annex. It takes you into a crowded dark hallway. To get to the Frank’s room, click bookcase, click door, enter hallway, bear to left, click next doorway.

12. The next small room is the bedroom that Anne Frank shared with Fritz Pfeffer.

13. Attached to Anne’s room is the bathroom which was shared by all 8 people.

The easiest way to get upstairs is to go back to the bookcase, click it to move it, click the door, and go quickly straight up the stairs.

14. At the top of the stairs is the Van Pels’ room. This room was also the kitchen, dining, and living room.

15. Peter Van Pels slept in the small room beside the kitchen. The stairway to the attic was in his room.

16. It is very tricky to get up to the attic. The stairs are steep and the entrance is small. When you enter Peter’s room you need to walk to stairs and then turn left. You will now only see a wall…so your climb is blind. At the top of ladder turn left again.

Touring the virtual world added great depth to the learning. Imagine being able to walk your avatar through these spaces along with classmates in a true virtual tour. Setting an avatar to “mouse look” view allowed to see the space through the eyes of Anne Frank. It was extremely powerful and this is were the technology was truly transformational. Without experiencing it for oneself, it is tough to understand its impact.

Student Reflection

So, what did the students have to say about it? Here are a few of their reflections:

How do you like interacting with the environment?

  • I like interacting in the environment, by doing so I can learn more while playing in a game like atmosphere, I can meet people and historical figures just by walking around the different features in the program. I feel like I learn things better while interacting with my classmates on a computer. Overall I enjoyed this experience.
  • I like how we can explore so much in the game and how much interaction there is in the game. I enjoy flying in the sandbox, interacting with certain objects to make them do something, and just exploring different places such as the museum to see others slideshows and learn more about the Holocaust.
  • I enjoy interacting with the environment, everything has some sort of way to interact with it.

How does being able to visualize the Secret Annex digitally help in understanding Anne Frank’s plight?

  • I understand Anne Frank’s plight much more after digitally touring the annex and the museum in Amsterdam. I can see it how it was and not have to make up some image in my head on what I think it looked like.
  • It helps us grasp what Anne’s life was like being trapped in the small area for many months. We could understand how little privacy she and the others had and how hard it must have been being confined to a single space so such a long time.
  • It allows me to not have to imagine what I’m learning about, rather I can see it with my own eyes.

Do you like being able to create a digital museum exhibit?  Why or why not?

  • Yes, I enjoy seeing other people’s work and adding to the collection on my own. I feel like it helped me understand the topic a little bit better reading multiple different accounts of what happened from different perspectives.
  • Yes because I can share my work and also see my peers work and other students work who may not even be in our area. We can also learn stuff maybe we wouldn’t have known or something we didn’t find that another student found.
  • Yes, I find it interesting. It is much like real life in which information of the past is stored in museums.

Would you like to be able to create a learning adventure here?  Do you think you would learn more that way?  Why or why not?

  • Yes, like I said I can really understand the environment in which the Franks lived in now and doing this really broadened my vision of what they had to endure. This is definitely a different style of learning but I enjoyed it.
  • I would like to create an adventure here. Visualization would help students learn faster and more efficiently.
  • Being able to create a learning adventure here would help me learn more about the topic because I learn better visually. It would also help me realize how the events occurred and what it would have been like to live in the situation/setting.

Students as Museum Curators

As it came time for students to present their research and their virtual museum virtual models, Mrs. Poleon, Mr. Wheelock and myself each observed virtually.



Each student was asked to play the role of museum curator and build a 3D model in OpenSim to be placed in the gallery. These are images of student creations along with their note cards for museum visitors. The object build was to symbolize their research topics. Enjoy!


This is my creation. It is a lush tree, representing the freedom after liberation. The prisoners had no vegatation within the camp, so a lush tree would be a sight to behold. -Gavin


This is my creation of the Fuhrerbunker. The Fuhrerbunker was an air-raid shelter in Berlin, Germany.  This object is relevant to my subject, Adolf Hitler, as he spent his last moments here.  The Normady Invasion had Soviet troops surround Berlin. Hitler was trapped. With no escape, he committed suicide on April 30th 1945, in the Fuhrerbunker. -Jacob


I decided to build a podium for my project because I felt that it fit best with my topic. My topic is the Nuremberg  Trials, and during the trials, there was a podium for speaking that the judge, witness, or defendent would use to speak at. -Nicole


I built this table to represent the conversation that the Nazis had about the final solution. Many people gather around a table, not to express their ideas but to be told what their ideas should be. They are told how to kill innocent people and that this is the right thing to do. -Amanda

Mary - Mengele Eye.JPG

Josef Mengele was a very famous doctor during the holocaust. From his experiments he was nicknamed “the angel of death.” Many of his experiments consisted of torturing his patients to their deaths. One of his most well know experiments was he injected chemicals into children’s eyes in attempt to change their eye color. All of his experiments were done without anesthetics therefore putting all of his patients through extreme pain. -Mary


This is the backdrop that was set up at Hitlers Nazi Rallies. Three big pillars each with the Nazi swastika on them. These pillars were created for because they were set up when the Nuremberg Laws were introduced to the nazi youth, and public. These pillars could be seen from miles away due to their massive height. When the Nuremberg laws were introduced a panic swept the world. Even today, when people see the Swastika that originated in Ancient Hindu society but was altered for the Nazi army. When seen, some people remember the fear and pain they felt at the time. The nazi parties harassed so many people, not caring of their sex or color. The nazis only left the people they felt fulfilled the pure Aryan race alone. -Kirsten


The Sunflower By Simon Wiesenthal

This book is about Simon Wiesenthal’s experience being taken to work in a concentration camp. It tells about his life pre-Holocaust when he lived in Poland and while he faced anti-semitism. It then goes on to describe the humiliation, illness, hunger, and the constant threat of death in the camps.

The book is centralized around the fact that he was asked to forgive a dying Nazi, at the Nazi’s deathbed. But he denied giving forgiveness and suffers and regrets it long after, wondering if it was the right choice or not. which leads to the important question of the book: Would you have forgiven the Nazi, if in his position?

This question leads to the last two thirds of the novel where there is a series of essays from over fifty people, one even a former Nazi, responding to his question. -Stephanie


This shovel represents the tool used to dig the trenches. They would use the trenches they dug as a burial place for the Jewish men, women,and children. The  mobile units would line the men, women, and children before the trench and shoot them. -Dayna


This path represents the path that the prisoners took while marching.  The placement of the gun symbolizes the danger these people where in if they were to slow down or fall behind.  They were immediately murdered and left on the road.  This shows the brutality and inhumanity of the soldiers during the Death Marches. – Jacob

Jordan - Hospital.JPG

My object is a hospital because Josef Mengele performed a lot of medical experiments on children and people. Also because he was a medical officer at the Auschwitz- Birkenau complex. He was the chief  medical officer of the main infirmary at Birkenau in 1944. -Jordan


The Gestapo were a secret police force. They started off as Hitler’s personal guards, but eventually become a separate entity. The SS eventually merged with the Gestapo. The Gestapo got rid of any opponents to the Nazi regime, no matter how small. Just telling a joke that was insulted the Gestapo or Nazi regime could get you arrested. The Gestapo would collect political opponents, Jews, gypsies, and other people from newly captured areas. They also monitored the citizens lives using block wardens. These block wardens would visit each household at least once a week and report back to intelligence agents about what they found. Almost nothing that the Gestapo did was legal. They used the excuse that as long as they were doing what the government wanted, nothing they did was illegal. They would arrest people as soon as they were found innocent by the courts. Most people arrested by the Gestapo were sent right to concentration and work camps without and legal formalities. The Gestapo was named a criminal organization during the Nuremberg trials. Despite this, most Gestapo leaders were already dead, however some managed to escape. -Jenna


This house exemplifies Kristallnacht as it is what most of the homes were, on fire and ruined. This house is meant to show the pure destruction of that terrible night. -Logan


This object represents boots.  These boots were worn by a Jewish prisoner on a death march.  This prisoner marched over 60 miles under horrible, harsh conditions. There were hundreds of others marching along with him, only a few survived. – Emily


This dresser resembles what the prisoner of Buchenwald wore. The prisoners had to wear striped pajama.  They wore these to bed, when they went out to work for the day and to role call. -Emily


This jail represents the Nuremberg Trials.  The Nuremberg Trials were a set of trials against the Nazi leaders for war crimes during  World War II.  11 out of 22 Nazi leaders were executed. The other 9 had jail time.  Three were ranged from 10-20 years while the other three had a life time for imprisonment. This jail shows that they had to be held accoutnable for what there actions were. They made million and  millions of jewish lives suffer severly or end them.  Being behind these prison bars locked up is how the jewish people felt locked up in the concentration camps with no where to go and the only thoughts of will I die soon? Being behind bars for life will make them realzie how alone they feel and how alone the Jewish people also felt. -Sara


Hitlers book “Mein Kampf” is shown in the object below. This is a very important piece in the Holocaust. Hitler had written this book in prison when he was sentenced for 5 years but was released after 9 months. The translation of this book means “My Struggle” as Hitler wrote and talked about the problems he and Germany are facing. -Madeline


These handcuffs represent the Gestapo or the Geheime Staatspolizei. The Gestapo were the secret state police of Nazi Germany who were in charge of many outrageous and cruel events. They could do anything they pleased, as long as they followed the will of the government. They were mainly responsible for the mass arrest of the Jewish race, as well as stopping resistance and underground movements. The Gestapo used violence to accomplish their assigned tasks and had almost unlimited power. The handcuffs represent this organization because they were one of the legal forces Hitler used during World War II. -Hanna

Nathaniel - Bunk.JPG

I built a bunkbed because for the prisoners sleeping was the only time they had where they were not being tortured tourmented or harrased. Eventhough the beds were very uncomfortable and very crowded the prisoners adapted to the conditions. -Nathaniel


The Warsaw camp used to just be a city. It was filled with buildings that had use previous the invasion.  This Building is what an apartment building would have looked like.  It was made of brick and had a roof. They were made to live in a small sector of the corner of the city while the other citizens kept living their lives. -Katrina


Gas vans were used by the Einsatzgruppen beginning in 1942. They were basically mobile gas chambers asphyxiating the kidnapped people as they drove.  This is an example of one of the vans.  The picture on the van is their insignia. -Colin


I chose a big podium to represent the style that Hitler gave speeches on. while the SS surrounded him. After the failed attempt to take Munich, the SS accompanied Hitler at every big event. -Bella


During the holocaust, different types of people were marred with certain colored patches to label who or what they are.

Homosexuals and Sex Offenders: Pink
Political Prisoners: Red
“Asocials”: Black
Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bible students): Purple
Foreign Forced laborers or immigrants: Blue
Professional Criminals: Green
Roma (Gypsies): Maroon

If you were a Jew, your patch would be the Star of David, with a section or one of the triangles colored with “your color”. -Maela


This chimney represents the gas chambers and crematoriums used during the Holocaust. Adolf Eichmann was one of the main organizers behind Hitler’s Final Solution. At a young age Eichmann joined the Nazi Party due to the lose of his job. During the war he climbed the ranks very quickly because of his determination and hard work. Eventually he was put in charge as the architect responsible for organizing and implementing the Final Solution. He enjoyed the “production” of mass executions of the Jewish people even though he had no particular hatred toward the Jewish race. Through the use of gas chambers and crematoriums, he performed mass murders of innocent people to his enjoyment. -Samantha


The SS began as a small group of about 8 men but expanded to 209,000 members in a period of 7 years. Each member was expected to wear the same uniform, which was a black coat, black cap, a death’s-head emblem, death-head’s “ring of honor” and a loyalty motto, “Meine Ehre heisst Treue”. This translates to, “Loyalty is my honor”. The SS became the “backbone” of the Nazi regime since they were involved in the torturing and murders of hundreds of thousands of people. These uniforms symbolized, to many victims, fear and terror. -Ally


This giant, yellow star is the Star of David. This is the symbol of the Jewish heritage and Israeli culture, but through the Nazis’ perspective. During WWII, Nazi officers ordered all Jews over the age of 6 to sew this item onto their clothing so they can be easily recognized as Jews.


This is the tree Oskar Schindler planted at the avenue of the righteous. He was honored at Israels Holocaust museum  and recognized by both Israel and Germany for risking his life to save the Jews. -Kylee


During WW2, Josef Goebbels was editor of two magazines called Volkische Freiheit and Nationalsozialistichen Briefe.  Josef Goebbels was in charge of most of the propaganda that had to do with the Nazi party or any of their plans for the Jews. Goebbels was known as Hitler’s “right hand man”, so he was able to give speeches, write magazines and even write a newspaper. He used his influence to persuade people to think that the Nazis weren’t vicious. -Faith


My object is  funeral wreath that represents the number of people that died at Bergen Belsen.  There were 35,000 to 40,000 prisoners that died of disease, starvation and execution at the camp.  Typhus is the disease that killed the most prisoners.  Anne Frank and her sister both died from this disease at Bergen Belsen. -Paige


This is the main gate to enter Auschwitz. Above the gate reads the words “arbeit macht frei” which means, work sets you free.This slogan appeared on the entrances of many other labour camps. The expression comes from the title of a novel by German philologist Lorenz Diefenbach, Arbeit macht frei: Erzählung von Lorenz Diefenbach (1873), in which gamblers and fraudsters find the path to virtue through labour. -Justine

A huge thank you to Andrew Wheelock and all of the contributors to this virtual world. Our student creativity and learning would not have been possible without their dedication and efforts to innovation with educational technology.