Helping Small Hands Grow Big Ideas A Digital Learning Journey of Jocelyn Paez

Read below to find my learning story of who I am as an educator, work samples from my classroom, and projects from my Ed Tech graduate program at Michigan State University.

Chapter 1: Biography
Joe, Gus, Meanie, Sky

I live in East Atlanta with my husband, three dogs and cat. I enjoy spending time camping, hiking, traveling with my husband, crafting, and yoga. I am currently pursuing her Masters in Educational Technology at Michigan State University with an expected graduation date of Summer 2018.

Born in upstate NY, I had a free range childhood. Boundaries were limited to the rising and setting of the sun. Bikes were ridden through the dense forests to secret log forts constructed by all the neighborhood kids. Snow castles with an intricate web of tunnels kept me and my friends protected from the sea monsters and pirates that lingered just beyond its walls. In the summer months, child-produced concerts were performed late into those carefree nights.
I use playfulness and curiosity to inspire and engage my students in all that they do.

As an elementary educator, I maintain my passion for exploration and imagination with my students through facilitating inquiry-based projects that address real world problems, exploring learning opportunities outside the classroom, and choosing to be a life-long learner beside my students.

Inspired by a graduate course in Year 1, I used YouTube to learn how to refinish an old dresser into an entertainment center.

See how I used Little Bits circuitry kit to enliven reader's workshop.

Chapter 2: My Philosophy
"We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn." Peter Drucker

Vision Statement

As an educator I aim to create a constructivist environment-where students are the active makers of meaning and knowledge and not just receiving information passively. In order to produce such an environment, three pedagogical components are necessary: autonomous learning; collaboration; authenticity. This requires educators to expose students to learning experiences that encourage and inspire critical thinking, questioning and rationalizing, and independence.


Another key component to fostering a constructivist environment is autonomous learning. When given the opportunity to direct their learning paths, students take on more responsibility and ownership for their knowledge. In a student-centered environment, they feel empowered and hungry for finding solutions to problems they are invested in answering.


Learning from one’s peers is the third component of a constructivist environment. By posing complex and ill-structured problems, deep discussions develop giving way to shared ideas expanding the collective knowledge. Collaborative groups hold each student to a standard by creating a need to generate high-quality questioning and reasoning. Team building, communication, and negotiation skills are subliminally developed throughout this active process.


Authenticity provides students with opportunities to work on issues relevant to their surroundings. If students can truly feel connected to what they are learning, it will ultimately motivate them to dig deeper into developing an understanding of ideas. In this case, digital technology functions as a tool to facilitate learning as students engage in creating complex representations of their ideas. For example, when working on a redesign of an outdoor landing space, students were trained in the program SketchUp to create 3D models of their blueprints.

Students working with families to bring their outdoor classroom to life.

I think teachers must abandon traditional teaching approaches and stretch themselves to apply new and progressive pedagogies. Modeling progressive thinking for our students is the best way to teach them to be collaborative problem solvers despite discomfort or novelty. Teaching with a constructivist approach allows the teacher to be an active learner alongside her students. It allows students to recognize the teacher is not the answer key, and encourages them to stop seeking approval and start relying on themselves.

The classroom environment is the third teacher

Design Thinking

Through the d.school Design Thinking model I explored one of the wicked problems facing educators today, using failure as a learning mode. Wicked problems are defined by 2013 The New Media Consortium communiqué - "a class of social system problems [that] are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing," (Buchanan, 2010, pg. 26). The following are to be the biggest wicked problems facing educators today:

Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology discusses the importance of using technology in ways that support an authentic exploration in his Tedx Talk, below. If students can truly feel connected to what they are learning, it will ultimately motivate them to dig deeper into their understanding.
Understanding comes from multiple iterations. Multiple iterations comes from the belief that we can continuously improve our designs and mindset. Carol Dweck speaks to the power of a growth mindset.
Chapter 3: Facilitated Projects

Working alongside my students has taught me the great power of letting students carve their own learning journeys. Without the pressure of trying to "please the teacher," my students feel more comfortable taking risks and trying new things. See what amazing work came from pushing outside comfort zones.

Conservation in Social Entrepreneurship

This unit started as a way to learn about social entrepreneurship and grew into a student-led fundraiser to support a local nonprofit. Students were challenged to use cast away fabric scraps to create their own products, design their own companies, and then sell their handmade goods at a school-wide market. From these sales, a variety of donations and raffled items the fourth grade raised $1,744!

Our original goal was to reach $2,000 so that we could pay for a month of housing for a family in need. Students were so passionate about reaching their goal they went home and independently raised the remaining funds by selling lemonade or doing extra chores around the house and their neighborhoods.

Redesigning Camping in Fourth

Outdoor Education is a passion of mine and exposing my students to life skills gained in the woods is something I cherish.
  • camping in a variety of conditions self-care/group-care tasks
  • first aid and CPR (wilderness first aid)
  • organized planning for the trips
  • training students to organize the trip themselves
  • wildlife etiquette/conservation
  • orienteering kayaking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, hiking
  • various degrees of tent-camping

Building a Fire

Students were taught basic skills prior to our camping trip. They learned how to pitch tents, build fires, plan and calculate for meals in the woods, packing and preparing for various types of weather.

Building a Tee-Pee Fire.
Making sure to start with small twigs, then sticks, larger sticks and then logs. Don't forget to add some newsprint to help get the fire going.

Cooking a Meal

Each group was responsible for planning, packing, and executing a meal while camping.

They learned to use the tools needed to prepare their meal, including camp stoves.
Teacher chaperones offered only support for the students and helped guide them through managing their time.
Setting the table and giving thanks for meals was also a requirement for each group.
Students had to consider dietary needs and the likes and dislikes of their classmates.
"Our hike around Tallulah Gorge was awesome! It was really cold and windy but still we climbed 467 steps!" -Isaiah

Tech-Free Time in Nature

Students created imaginative stories and shared them with the group. No one complained of being bored. Everyone found a way to entertain themselves and didn't even think about missing their electronic devices.

Using found materials in nature to occupy our creativity.
Dream-catchers and other unique handicrafts filled some down time while camping.

Cleaning Up

Students learned how to properly discard of food scraps when camping. Each planning group was responsible for one clean up after a meal.

The process of cleaning and caring for one another in the woods was vital to team building and compassion.
Teamwork makes the dream work.

Outdoor Classroom Design Challenge

A little vision and creativity flipped this space!
"We are converting an empty, unused, lonely, balcony into an outdoor classroom for kids to enjoy, and to learn while being outside." Fourth grader, Malcolm said.
"Congratulations to last years’ Fourth graders for the vision to develop a plan that would improve your school and then the perserverence to work through all the decisions and do the hard work to make that dream a reality. you are the problem solvers of the future!" -Former Grandparent

Students are designing prototypes for their ideal outdoor classroom based on research and expert consultations.


Food Waste (Ort) Challenge

This video depicts the fourth grade working to accumulate zero pounds of wasted food on a recent trip to St. Simons Island.

Students were awarded a certificate for leaving St. Simons with zero pounds of wasted food.

After a class effort to reduce the amount of food waste accumulated on an overnight trip to St. Simons Island, students wanted to challenge the entire school to the same task.

Students created a master Ort (archaic English for waste) Chart to track the amount of food wasted at lunch across the school each day over the course of a week.

A pair of students were assigned a grade and each day they would collect the food waste from that grade, weigh, and report their findings on the large scale chart.

Total school wide food waste reduced from 15 lbs to 3 lbs!

As a result of their hard work and inspiration, the school approved their request to purchase a compost tumbler to help reduce some of our food waste and create fertile soil to use around campus.
Chapter 4: Coursework Connections

Graduate Studies: Year 1

In the first year we focused heavily on the TPACK framework (integration of technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge) and how as educators we can build learning experiences and environments to support that structure.

In my first year in the Ed Tech program we were tasked with learning something by only watching Youtube videos and reading help forums. I refinished a credenza. My student not long after this assignment wanted to learn to fold origami figures, I directed him to Youtube and this is what he made.

The main text explored in Year 1 was A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.

Berger notes, “if you don’t have the disposition to question, you’re going to fear change. But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things–then change is something that becomes an adventure,” (Berger, p. 28, 2012).

My courses in Year 1 have been an adventure, pushing me to places I was too timid to venture before. After visiting the “sweet spot,” I know what stepping into the unknown feels like and I want to offer that same exhilarating adventure to my students.

One of my assignments in Year 1 was about designing a learning space. In September my students embarked on what would become a year-long design project (something I have never attempted before). They were challenged to redesign an unused landing into a functional and inspirational outdoor learning space. Their journey is documented in our class blog.

Graduate Studies: Year 2

Working in multiple formats: face-face and online

Year two of my graduate program centered around the importance of research, philosophy, and leadership. Part of this leadership component extended into my elective focused on electronic assessment where I researched the best practices of evaluations and devised a master rubric to be used in any content area.

Math in Real Life

Redefining assessment especially in math became a focal point for me during part of my Year 2 studies. I wanted to create opportunities where math could be applied to the real world and students could experience the skills they had been learning.

In order to determine the appropriate portions of each ingredient, students had to work in pairs to figure out the fraction equations.

Here is a sample of the formative assessment each student took in order to determine quantities of ingredients.
Each pair had to share their answers with their partner after they submitted individually in order to agree upon the right quantities.

Following a recipe based on fractional thinking.

Some groups included too many eggs: they had to figure out how to thicken their batter.

Some groups had too little flour: they had to figure out how to thicken their batter.

Some groups had too much flour: they had to figure out how to thin out their batter.

In the end, students were able to address their mistakes not only from the assessment but in a real life situation as well.

Evaluating Hard and Soft Skills

Working with rubrics has transformed my way of thinking when it comes to evaluating my students growth over time. As part of my Year 2 work I spent many hours researching the best approaches to capturing the essence of the whole child through any given project. See my complete research and final master rubric.

Presentation: Building Resilience Through Growth Mindset

My presentation at the SteamLab conference was a partner based research project. This work strongly correlated with previous work from my Year 1 studies. See how I addressed the wicked problem facing educators and students surrounding failure.

Dream It Grant: Helping Reluctant Writers Find Their Voice

I was tasked to write a grant proposal designed to integrate technology into the classroom to address a specific problem. Some of my students lack the motivation or desire to write. My proposed solution is to train them to use audio equipment and recording software to edit podcasts. These podcasts will come from the research and work they do in writer's workshop. This will ideally inspire them to want to write for a purpose and enhance their public speaking abilities.

In the article, Teaching That Sticks by Chip and Dan Heath, we learned that getting an idea to stick isn’t very hard, it just requires some creativity and patience. They outline six steps for making this happen with students, the idea must be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and there must be a story. (Heath, p. 9, 2007). Using this framework, my partner and I were able to create a sticky idea to present at the Steamlab Conference.

  • Simple: getting our attendees to work through challenging puzzles
  • Unexpected: quizzing educators on their own mindsets
  • Concrete: creating challenges for them to solve in class to simulate the struggles our students face
  • Credible: we shared a video about growth mindset presented by Carol Dweck
  • Emotional: by making the educators struggle with the puzzles allowed them to empathize with their students
  • Story: we shared personal stories
See how one of my students used this proposal to fulfill the requirements of an opinion writing piece.

Graduate Studies: Year 3

Learning in a new environment: Galway, Ireland

For the final year of my graduate studies the concentration was on creative thinking and how to encourage that mindset in my students. Using multiple layers of abstraction we created multiple projects but my cinemagragh project is symbolic of my teaching practice and who I am as an educator. Original image found on Covrr.co

Connecting to work previously created in Year 1 was profoundly insightful. See how I remixed a video to explain my passion about creativity.

Chapter 5: Epilogue
As I continue along this journey I am guided by inspirational words: "Let me keep company always with those who say, “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads. [Excerpt from “Mysteries, Yes” by Mary Oliver, from Evidence, 2009]
Created By
Jocelyn Paez


Created with images by Markus Spiske - "untitled image" • 422737 - "number ad yellow color asphalt road digit" • Alexej Алексей Simonenko Симоненко - "Number" • Erica Nilsson - "untitled image" • lourdesnique - "i am a student learning school child" • Toa Heftiba - "untitled image"

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