So What? How Will This Help Me Teach Better Today?

Lead Features January / Top Feature January / January 16, 2019

-by Terra Graves-

It’s 2019, Happy New Year! In October last year, I looked at one of the research articles shared in Jon Bergmann’s Top 10 and asked, “So what?” How will any of this help me teach better today?

The goal of this column for 2019 is to provide K-12 teachers with a practical application of what the research has found. Otherwise, what is the point of research? Hopefully, you’ll find this column practical and helpful.

The “R” Word

This month, I focused on a practical big idea I found in one of the Top 10 research studies highlighted in the July 2018 issue of FLR. The paper talked about combining Flipped Learning, Project-Based Learning, and Mobile Devices.


Sneak Learning into Your Students’ Cell Phones

We are a cell phone and an internet-connected society. According to Pew Research, in the United States alone, it is estimated that 95% of Americans own a cell phone with 75% being smartphones. While the majority of adults use cell phones for communication and productivity, most students use them for consuming video content and participating in social networks. Educators tend to view cell phones as horrible classroom distractions and would be very happy to see them banned. A Google search for “don’t ban cell phones in school” produced 51,700,000 results. Looking through some of the results, this is a worldwide concern; however, this article will not launch into that debate. Regardless, cell phones are the one piece of technology that our students have within reach for most of their days and nights. Educators need to learn how to leverage that access for learning purposes.

As Park (2011) notes, “[m]obile learning refers to the use of mobile or wireless devices for the purpose of learning while on the move”, but it “is not just about the use of portable devices but also about learning across contexts” (Park, 2011: 79). In other words, mobile learning means that learners are unconstrained by both time and place, but also that they can choose to access multiple sources of information taken from a variety of different contexts in order to complete a given task. (Nickerson, p.67)

FL practitioners need to consider the different tasks they require of students both in the individual space and the group space. When using mobile devices, what types of work make the most sense? Generation Z (a subset of the Millennials) children born in the mid-1990s and early 2000s have grown up surrounded by mobile, internet-ready technology. Their digital footprint began before they were born when their parents posted their 3D ultrasound video on social media. In their teen years, they became experts at selfies and continuously documented their daily lives in images. They carry on 15 different text conversations at a time and find joy in watching videos of other people making funny comments while playing a video game. They have “friends” they will never meet IRL (‘in real life’ for those of you unfamiliar with text-ese).  

So the challenge for educators is to find a way to infiltrate this world and “sneak in” some learning experiences, like sneaking vegetables into the mashed potatoes at dinnertime. We are now the “Learning Ninjas.” On that note, let’s be purposeful about how we do it.

Nickerson et al. (2016) identify three different forms of engagement for learners that can occur when they are working with mobile learning tasks, namely, interaction, production and reflection. These different forms of engagement ask the students to work with the material in different ways in order to complete the task.

This engagement cycle of interaction-production-reflection is at the heart of active learning and can apply to all aspects of either the group space or the individual space. How can FL practitioners identify these forms of engagement in their existing learning activities and then figure out how to add more variety with specific tasks designed with mobile in mind?

The Action

Consider your upcoming lessons and identify the forms of engagement you typically include. Are your flipped lessons stuck in 1.0? For example, are you still doing a video for homework, and everyone does the same thing in class? It’s time to add some variety to your lessons!

While students find comfort in routine, boredom can set in easily. Thinking about the types of learning activities educators include in their lesson plans, I am reminded of the TPACK Learning Activity Types created by Judi Harris and Mark Hofer. These learning activity types are separated by content area, categorized by what type of process they involve, and include recommended technology to enhance the activity. This work stems from the TPACK framework for identifying the types of knowledge required of educators when using technology in the classroom, developed by Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler.

What I like about the TPACK framework is that it helps us understand why integrating technology can be messy. For example, as educators, we know (K in TPACK) of our content area (C in TPACK), and pedagogy (P in TPACK), and we know how to teach (pedagogy) our content area (PCK). When you add technology to the mix, it increases the expectations to what we know about technology, what we know about the technology that can enhance students’ understanding of our content area, and how we teach students about using the technology. It’s a third dimension that adds much more for educators to figure out.

While most FL practitioners are more tech-savvy than others, it’s enlightening to see why it presents a challenge for not-so-tech-savvy folks. The activity types taxonomies are a good starting place to identify the types of activities you are currently assigning. They are separated by content area for ease of use.  

The TPACK framework connects to many elements of the GEEFL table. See below:









Try this:

  1. Take a look at an upcoming unit and label each activity as either “Interaction, Production, or Reflection.” What did you notice? Do you have more of one type than the others?
  2. Now, look at all of the activities you labeled, “Interaction.” What do these entail? Always a video? Always a reading assignment? How can you provide varied interactions for your students to keep their brains stimulated?
  3. Now, look at your “Production” activities. Are you offering students choice in what they produce to show their learning? 
  4. Now, it’s time to look at the “Reflection” activities. I can take an educated guess that there aren’t that many. Reflection is often the forgotten piece of the puzzle because it takes time that many educators do not have. Reflection IS the capstone activity of learning. John Dewey, the father of education, said, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” All learners need to reflect. Period.

Once you’ve identified your existing types of activities, you can make a plan to try some new ideas. Below are some resources to help you.


The Resources


While this category, as described in the research article, is more about how students are interacting with the content, there are some great ideas in these resources for engaging students in knowledge construction and formative assessment.  

10 Things That Happen When Students Engage in Project-Based Learning John Spencer

101 Interactive Techniques Dr. Kevin Yee, University of South Florida


In September’s issue of FLR, I shared ideas for giving students a choice in presentation tools if you are interested in checking them out. Below are some other resources for projects.

Creative Video Project Ideas for Students Biteable

50 Smart Ideas for Project-Based Learning Staff, TeachThought

Putting Students in Charge of Their Learning Beth Pandolpho, Edutopia


If you’re struggling with some ways to bring more reflection into your lessons, these resources will get you started.  

15 Questions to Ask When Introducing New Content to Students Terry Heick, TeachThought

8 Critical Learning Reflections That Promote Deeper Thinking Lee Watanabe-Crockett, Global Digital Citizen Foundation (By the way, this guy has tons of amazing articles on this site. I recommend subscribing.)

Self-Reflection on Project Work Buck Institute for Education

Using mobile devices for learning

If you’re nervous about allowing students to use their phones in class, these resources may provide some guidance.

6 Ways to Use Students’ Smartphones for Learning Kelsey Ehnle, ISTE

Cell Phones in Class: Yes, it Can Work Peg Grafwallner, KQED Education

4 Ways to Integrate Smartphones Into Your Classroom Rhett Oldham, Edweek


I hope that the “So what?” you might be feeling after reading research studies becomes a “Now what?” feeling after reading this column and that innovative research becomes a call to action. And when that call to action is heard, I’m sure you will be able to find a friend on Instagram who can help you reflect.  

Terra Graves
Terra Graves
Terra has been an educator for over twenty years. She is the Project Coordinator/Administrator for the 21st Century Learning Department in Washoe County School District, NV. Prior to this position, she taught elementary and middle school, supported novice teachers as a full-time mentor, served as an Ed Tech Specialist, and a Program Specialist in the 21st Century Learning Department. Terra is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level-II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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