ILP: Saving A Railway

20402828545_0511fd5b0c_bPhoto CC: by Matty Ring

A model of the InterCity 125 high speed train

This week I came across a documentary on YouTube that sparked my interest. Since watching it, I’ve done some research on the topic and found it incredibly interesting. (This might be a dry read to some, so kudos to you if you read it all the way through!) The documentary was on a company called British Rail, no longer in business but playing a huge part in England’s railroads throughout the better half of the 20th century. The company was founded in 1948, when the British government took control of the then “Big Four” railway companies throughout England: the Great Western Railway, the London Midland and Scottish Railway, the London and North Eastern Railway, and the Southern Railway. Steam locomotion was still in full swing in England throughout the 50’s and early 60’s, but it became a goal of the company in the 60’s to modernize and streamline its system, switching from steam to electric and diesel, and also closing thousands of miles of railway lines that weren’t turning a steady profit. However, by the time the 70’s and 80’s rolled around, the railway was in a sorry state. It’s lines weren’t maintained, and its locomotives and rolling stock were dirty, slow, and practically falling apart. It was because of this that it was highly unpopular with the general public, and as most of its revenue came from commuters, the company was losing money. On top of this, the company had to compete with the airline and auto industry. So in hopes of turning the company around, a businessman by the name of Peter Parker was hired as chairman of the railway board in 1976. He wanted to change the face of British Rail, so he, along with brilliant engineers, developed the country’s first high speed train, called the Inter-City 125, capable of traveling at 125 mph. However, despite this development, the company was still a joke. This new high speed train, along with the company’s new image, which was one of revitalizing the romance and luxury of train travel, needed to be sold to the public. This is where a man by the name of Peter Marsh came in. He was head of a highly successful advertising agency in Britain at the time, and utilized celebrities to promote their products. What he did was bring in a popular celebrity at the time, a man by the name of Jimmy Savile, a popular DJ. The campaign was centered around him, and was filmed riding the company’s new trains, talking them up, telling how he would prefer traveling by rail more than any other mode of transportation. He also highlighted the improvements the company has made, and also talked about how he believed in British rail, and how they were intent on modernization and customer service. The commercials also ended with a jingle: “this is the age of the train.” The “this is the age” portion was sung in an operatic style, while the “of the train” portion was spoken in a man’s voice. This campaign was an instant success. In the end, these men, Peter Parker, Peter Marsh, and Jimmy Savile, essentially turned the dying company around and made it profitable again. They also changed the country’s perspective of the company and on rail travel in general – an almost inconceivable feat. This was due to one thing, however, commercial advertising.

If you’ve somehow enjoyed this, then check out the documentary!



Photo CC: by Michael Smith

This week we’ve learned about this thing called DS106. What exactly is it, however? While it may sound like  a cool name of a droid, which was my initial thought, not going to lie – any other Star Wars fans out there? – it’s actually something like a call number for a class. What the DS stands for it digital storytelling, and this digital storytelling course, according to, is now currently available the world over – for free. “Digital storytelling . . . is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington . . . .” So now that we know it’s a class, a free class that is, what exactly is digital storytelling? According to the same site, digital storytelling can be defined as “using digital tools so that ordinary people can tell their own ‘true life stories.'” In other words, individuals use technology to “tell their own ‘true stories’ in a compelling and emotionally engaging form..” What’s really cool about it, in my opinion, is that individuals who choose to take part in this program are required to “design and build an online identity,” according to their website. An online identity – when used in a positive manner – enables individuals to explore, discover, and learn loads and loads of new information. It also enables those involved to connect with and build relationships with people they may never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. The video DS106 has on their website is a final reflection, with the person that has gone through the class acknowledging the lifelong friendships they’ve made, which is pretty cool. I think just this aspect of DS106 – the building of relationships with other learners – is a crucial key to inspiring creativity in me as a learner, as the whole process is so involved. I say this because ideas are bounced back and forth between classmates, individuals receive feedback on ideas, and ultimately it’s because of this that people grow and evolve as a learner and in using their imagination. In my opinion, and from what I’ve learned, DS106 is a valuable resource to channel creativity and to grow as a learner.

The Maker Movement

In trying to decide which approach to learning I should research, I’ve decided upon the maker movement, as I didn’t know much about it. So to get right to it, what is the maker movement?

According to, “The maker movement is an extension of the DIY . . . movement inspired by the democratization of manufacturing practices and tools in the early to mid-2000’s.” Well, what does this mean? This means that those involved in this particular movement are taking production into their own hands, and out of the hands of larger corporations. This has especially been bolstered by the ever changing and ever evolving world of technology. Take the 3-D printer, for example. In utilizing the 3-D printer, individuals “are learning how to design and 3-D print . . .” virtually anything and everything. This ranges from toys to tables and chairs to other types of furniture. Awesome, right?

In terms of utilizing this movement in the classroom, what a typical classroom looks and sounds like, and what the students are typically doing, a classroom could be described as being divided up into workstations, and it is at these workstations that the students collaborate. Naturally there will be discussion among the students, as according to, students “brainstorm, invent, design, and build – and then . . . fix mistakes, improve, test and improve again . . ..” In my opinion, if this kind of learning is going on, why would he/she not want to incorporate the maker movement into his/her classroom?

Therefore, the advantages are virtually endless. For the sake of brevity, however, according to, “the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing.” What students are doing are playing with 3-D printers, they’re computing, and they’re programming. With all this being said, however, I do not believe there are any real disadvantages. Therefore, the only problems I could possibly think of are time constraints in the classroom. However, that’s a good problem to have, in my opinion.

Don’t just stop at reading my blog, however. Check out these other sweet resources!

This cool video is a great example on how to implement the maker movement into schools:

Fellow Twitter-ers! Here are some must-follows. Gain more insight into the maker movement at: @coolcatteacher,@DianaLRendina, and @TechShopPGH.




Macular Degeneration

Ever have a thought or an idea hit you like a ton of bricks? This is what happened to me this week in my independent learning project. My sister and I spent some time with my grandparents this weekend, first going with them to Safeway to get groceries and then joining them for lunch at their house, and a conversation during lunch made me realize something. My sister had picked up a bag of chips at the store and brought them into the house for my grandparents to try, as they’ve never had them before. They were baked Cheetos puffs, and after trying them my grandma asked my sister what the bag looked like so they could find it themselves next time they went. Interestingly enough, my sister started describing what the lettering on the bag looked like, what they were called, etc. My grandma has macular degeneration however, and therefore can’t see well – she’s legally blind. In the middle of my sister’s description, my grandma interrupted and kindly said, “no, what does the bag look like?” “Well, the bottom half is orange and the top half is light brown,” was the response. It was here I had my “revelation,” if you want to call it that. Since my grandma has low vision, she relies on colors – simple design – to find products at the store. She’s always done this, as she’s had this degenerative disease for the better part of 30 years, but I hadn’t made that connection until now, during my independent learning project. Therefore if my grandma does this, how many others in the world do this as well? Do companies take this into consideration when they design their products or packages for their products? Does this fall into the “universal design” category of assisting those with disabilities? Or, on the other hand, do these companies simply assume the better part of the American public can read and therefore base their package designs on that? What I’m going to do this next week is do some research and hopefully find some answers. Anyway, I hope everyone else’s projects are going great as well!


This is what a person with macular degeneration might see – a black spot in their central vision. My grandma has described it as a giant white cloud in the middle of her vision, however. Photo CC: by National Eye Institute.

A PLN is Pretty Cool

Well, after much Googling and according to, a PLN is a Personalized Learning Network, a network in which one connects with others, possibly experts in a certain curricular area, to learn and share relevant information. You and others use certain platforms in order to connect and share information, such as Twitter, and use whatever electronic devices you and others find suitable. Sounds cool, right? Well, it is. On the site I found and got all my information from, the site I linked above, there are a few videos you can watch to gain more understanding about PLNs, and why educators everywhere should have one. In one of the videos, for example, a teacher states that educators for hundreds of years have connected and collaborated, yet it is just recently, withing the past decade, that these educators can do so universally. The internet has opened up a whole new realm in terms of communication, and teachers the world over can connect, learn from one another, and share all kinds of cool information within seconds. (If you think about it, that really blows your mind). Now in terms of what I’ve done thus far in creating my own PLN and in choosing a shared topic, I’ve decided on children’s literature and have followed over 100 accounts and 10-ish blogs pertaining to the subject. It was a little difficult finding Twitter accounts pertaining just to children’s books overall, so I followed children’s authors and illustrators.

I chose children’s books as my focus because I took a children’s literature class a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. That being said, it was in this class that we discussed both good and bad authors and illustrators, and in going through the various lists of Twitter accounts, I found myself thinking how many of these authors/illustrators were highly respected and how many weren’t. This is where I’ll have to “fine-tune” who I’m following, and filter out the accounts I don’t feel are as good as the others. On top of that, there are literally thousands of authors and illustrators of children’s books the world over, and I’ll constantly be discovering new accounts to follow, accounts I feel would add to what I want to learn or what I feel relates well to m

6031963913_9abf0e92aa                                                                 Photo CC: By plaisanter~

An Update in Design

“What is it about this that makes it so eye-catching?” This is just one of the questions I’ve been asking myself when looking at different forms of advertising. The main thing I’ve done this week is actually stopping, analyzing, and interpreting these ads, commercials, or signage. Like I said in my previous update, we’re exposed to approximately 5,000 ads per day, and most of the time our brain doesn’t process these, as it’s just too much information to take in. When I’ve stopped and really looked at these various forms of advertising, however, I’ve been able to identify what makes it pleasing to the eye. (I probably do look strange, however, staring at an ad on the floor or intently looking at a can of soup!) Anyway, according to my design textbook, a good ad – not referring to a commercial – should be simple yet visually attractive enough to draw the viewer in, be informative yet direct, and leave some sort of impression on the viewer. Graphic designers accomplish these things by using a number of strategies, such as utilizing simple color pallets, sticking to one – maybe two – typefaces that play off one another, and using negative space to their advantage (everything behind the main object in the image). There are obviously 1,000 other ways to go about creating an effective ad, but these are just a few. Something else I’ve done to further my exploration into my project is download and play with photoshop apps. My favorite one so far is called ColorPop, and it enables you to take a picture, convert it to grey scale, and then go in and physically color certain objects in the image to make it pop – hence the name! It’s been really fun, as you can apply one of the strategies designers use in creating good ads: utilizing simple color pallets. It reminds me of the stories my grandma’s told me. She worked in a photography studio in the 40’s before she was married, and as color photography wasn’t invented yet, part of her job was to paint the black and white photos. That’s completely fascinating in my eyes! Anyway, I’ve also downloaded some different graphic design apps, and am looking forward to playing more with those. All these range from photo editors to creating logo designs to creating different typefaces (my personal favorite!) I say this because lettering is really an art form in itself. Take Helvetica for example. I watched a video on the development of Helvetica, and so much goes into it! Anyway, I hope everyone else is having a fun time doing their projects as well!

Be Passionate

The two articles I chose to read, “Three Questions to Drive Passion Based Learning” by George Couros, and “25 Ways to Institute Passion-Based Learning in the Classroom” by Saga Briggs, were really insightful. To start off, in the “Three Questions to Drive Passion Based Learning” article, two of the biggest takeaways for me were 1) we can gain a solid and in-depth understanding of anything after just 20 hours and 2) we need to get to the place where students are not just problem solvers, but problem finders. In terms of the first point, this is completely awesome in my opinion. Obviously, as the article states, we won’t be considered experts in any field after this little amount of time, but we’ll have gained enough understanding to have more than just the general gist of it. In terms of the second point, when I think of problem solving, I think of the math class I was enrolled in my freshman year of high school, ‘Math Theory and Problem Solving.” It was an interesting class, to say the least (I say this because I was only a freshman in Algebra 1 in a class with upperclassmen who were in AP Trig, AP Calc, and so on). Anyway, all throughout the class, we were taught how to, as the name of the class implies, how to go about solving problems. Yes it helped me in later classes as I was able to apply those new found problem solving math skills, but it would’ve been 10x cooler if we were more encouraged to find problems. For example, if we were encouraged to find real world problems, apply math to that, and come up with various possible solutions, it would’ve been more beneficial, in my opinion. (I hope this doesn’t sound too ridiculous to all the math people out there!) On the other hand, in regards to the “25 ways to Institute Passion-Based Learning in the Classroom” article, a couple of the best ideas presented, in my opinion, were 1) carving out times during the day in order to let students explore their passions, and 2) letting students take control of their own learning. Both of these things we’re obviously doing in this class, which is completely awesome, but in thinking about taking the time during the busy elementary/middle/high school day to let students pursue what they want to pursue, is a revolutionary idea in my mind. It’s something I’ve never been exposed to before, and I’m sure a lot of people can say the same, but I think it would only be beneficial to the students in both the short run and long run as well.

Link to “Three Questions To Drive Passion Based Learning” 

Link to “25 Ways to Institute Passion-Based Learning in the Classroom”