Remixing traditional lessons with tech: a framework you can use

Trying to

Trying to “tech up” our old lessons may not have the impact we hope. But we can use traditional lessons to inspire new teaching. Here’s a way. (Public domain image via

Many times, teachers try to bring technology into the classroom by “teching up” their old lessons.

They hope that they’ll get big, lasting change from a little bit of tech fairy dust. Many times, it doesn’t change the overall learning experience much — and sometimes detracts from it.

To really get the most out of our technology — using it to kick learning up to another level — we need to start from the bottom up.

Our traditional lessons can be the inspiration for an instructional remix, though. You know, it’s like when a musician takes a popular song and puts his own spin on it.

Remixing lessons? Yes! We can. And we should.

Austin Kleon says it well in his book, Steal Like an Artist:

The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original,” nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

The Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan remix

I was introduced to a new twist on an old way of planning lessons this weekend at CUE BOLD, billed as “The Premiere Lesson Design Event for the West Coast.”

The idea: let’s build lessons that utilize technology through the framework of the Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan.

Madeline Hunter Lesson Plan Template

Click for full-sized image. Feel free to use and share with credit.

In this conference, presenters designed fully-developed lessons with the Hunter framework above, using technology to enhance the student experience. They presented those to attendees. There were more than 30 of them, and links to ALL of their slide decks are at the end of this post.

In other sessions, a panel of three presenters would work hand-in-hand with attendees to design a lesson on the spot during the session.

An example lesson: Virtual Cultural Exchange

In one of my sessions, I mapped out how a virtual cultural exchange might look. In it, two classes would connect via video calls and other modes of collaboration to share what life is like in their world.

Here’s the whole presentation. If you open the Google Slides file in a new tab or window, you’ll be able to view the speaker notes, which give further instructions on how to actually do this lesson:

Now, let’s dive into a few parts of this lesson …

Virtual Cultural Exchange (CUE BOLD LBF)

Here’s where we activate prior knowledge and generally get kids excited and interested about the lesson.

  • Use a Mystery Skype game with the new class to help students get to know each other and to pique their interest. I’ve written about why we need more Mystery Skypes in schools and 10 tips to more meaningful Skype calls in the classroom. (Note: You don’t have to use Skype. Other video call tools like Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Zoom and Blue Jeans work just fine, too.)
  • Create an intriguing video with Adobe Spark about the intricacies and oddities of the new culture. They incorporate videos, text and music … and they can be a lot of fun. Create one for students to watch or let students create their own.

Virtual Cultural Exchange (CUE BOLD LBF) (1)

Now, students need knowledge and skills! Here are some ways they can find them:

  • Do simple Google and Wikipedia searching for basic facts. (We could argue about the accuracy of Wikipedia and its validity in the classroom, but let’s save that discussion for another day.)
  • Pair students with students from the other class for face-to-face first-person research.
  • Connect with people who are familiar with both cultures for some perspective. People who work with humanitarian organizations or news organizations will likely be able to speak to students about U.S. culture and the target culture, making comparisons.
  • Find and discuss news from each class’s world to compare/contrast.

Virtual Cultural Exchange (CUE BOLD LBF) (3)

When it’s all over, we can’t just move on! Students need some time to reflect on what they’ve learned and think about why it’s important.

  • Have students display work they’ve created during the lesson on their devices (laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, etc.). An idea: Set each device on a desk, and have students walk around to each other’s desks/devices to look.
  • Play a long-distance Kahoot! game. Let students come up with questions about what they’ve learned. Create a Kahoot! game and play it, sharing your screen through a video call with the other class. This blog post talks about how it can be done.
  • Schedule a group call between both classes to debrief.

Lots of other example lessons

At the CUE BOLD conference, presenters shared their own Hunter-inspired lesson remixes and made their slide decks available. Click here to access all of them. There are more than 30 of these lessons available on topics like:

  • 3 Act Math
  • Hyperdocs
  • Visible Thinking
  • Read-alouds
  • Iron-Chef Storytelling
  • Better Book Reports
  • Differentiation with STEAM
  • Inquiry with S.Q.U.I.D.D.

In the end, as we try to make sense of the tech-infused classroom, we have to keep one important point in mind.

We can’t keep teaching the same old way and just plug technology in.

We have to change the way that we teach.

And sometimes, a new twist on an old idea can give us the spark of inspiration that we need.

[reminder]What do you do to make sure your tech use is improving learning to the max? What are your thoughts on the lesson plan template shown here?[/reminder]

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