Coding the Bard

This blog post is not endorsed by, nor affiliated with any of the sites featured in this post.

Wherefore dost thou pair Shakespeare and robotics?

At the end of each school year, my Composition 9 students write letters to next year’s incoming classes of students. It is a time for the students to reflect on the many writing adventures we embarked upon throughout the year. Epistolary (letter) writing provides the students with time and space to reflect upon their learning, detail moments of writing triumph, and to impart nuggets of wisdom to next year’s students.

What does this have to do with coding and Shakespeare?

The content of the student letters was overwhelmingly filled with two words: Sphero and Shakespeare. It was by far their absolute favorite learning experience of the entire year. Almost every letter I read mentioned how much the students enjoyed working with Sphero, and how the knowledge they learned about Shakespeare was a skill they would take with them throughout their lives.

What is Sphero?

Sphero is a robot created for classroom use.  Students can control the robot through an iPad app or on a Chromebook app.  It is recommended teachers either attend a training or spend some professional development time learning how to implement the robots in a classroom setting.  The robots can move manually through the drawing portion of the app.  They can also be coded through block coding, which includes creating a dragging “blocks” of instructions, which is comparable to creating a promptbook for blocking thespian movement on a stage (for those of you who are theatre folk.)

Sphero robots build the following skills when combined with ELA:

1.  Theatrical Parallels- Promptbook, Set design & Construction, Costume, Hair & Makeup, Stage Movement & Line delivery

Staging the robots as thespians draws many parallels with the experience of directing a stage production with human thespians. The production of live theatre itself is interdisciplinary in nature, requiring a myriad talent to collaborate from various disciplines to create the experience of a live stage performance. Designing and constructing the set is a feat of engineering and mathematics.

2. Plot & Narrative Structure

The capacity to merge storytelling aspects with robotics provides for new and inventive ways for students to not only understand the constituent elements of a plot but to reimagine and recreate new approaches to the foundational elements of narrative writing.

3. Subtext

Learners can dig into the subtext of a play through the use of robots because they infer and fill in the information to create a performance piece.  The robots are expressive (colors can be used to display particular emotional states) and can even be coded to say words/phrases.

4. Characterization

The characters come to life as the students engage in the process of recreating the features of characters from the play through the robots.  The thoughts, words, deeds, and appearances of the characters are exemplified through the robots as identified by the students.

5. Empathy

Students may develop empathy for the characters in a story by actualizing the characters through the use of the robots.  It is a conspicuous way to display the given circumstances of a story, and the students may be able to better relate to the themes and lessons inherent in the text.

Try it Out! An Instructional Plan:

Eager to try out this novel approach to literacy instruction?  My entire instructional unit “Coding the Bard” is featured as a resource at The Aleatory Imaginarium Shop!

Upon purchasing such wares at the shop, thou shalt be most prepared for creating an engaging, fun and rigorous interdisciplinary unit for any drama-based text!


Top Ten 360-Degree Virtual Tours For ELA & Humanities

This blog post is not endorsed by, nor affiliated with any of the sites featured in this post.

Books take us to places we’ve never been, to meet people and creatures we’ve never known. When we read books, we visit these places and characters in our imaginations, our minds in constant interplay with the words and images created on the page.

Seeing with the mind’s eye and seeing with our actual eyes themselves are not two wholly separate experiences. With the advent of 360-degree photography and video, humanity can utilize technology to transcend place and space- not to replace our imaginings, but to supplement them with the images and worldly renderings that inspired the world’s greatest writers, poets and philosophers.

Here are my top 10 picks for 360-degree virtual tours you can use to enhance teaching, learning and creativity today, right away in English Language Arts & Humanities classrooms…no virtual reality viewers required!

1. Canterbury Cathedral 

“And gladly wolde he learn, and gladly teche.”

-Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

JackLondonPL / Pixabay

This comprehensive virtual tour of the interior of Canterbury Cathedral features stunning 360-degree photography.  I had the privilege of visiting the Cathedral when I studied abroad in England in 2008.  As you weave on foot through an almost forest-like path of narrow medieval roadways of Canterbury, the cathedral seems to peek out amidst the rooftops, the massive scale and structure emerging as a behemoth mountain when stepping out into the clearing.  As impressive as the structure is on the outside, it is doubly impressive inside.  It is no wonder Chaucer’s band of pilgrims journeyed to the cathedral all of those years ago.  The nave’s ceiling gives the illusion that it is as endless as the sky itself.  Aside from the impressive nave, students can also visit the belltower, crypt, choir, Trinity Chapel, and, (perhaps most relevant to the teaching of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) the martyrdom shrine of St. Thomas à Becket.

2.   Mark Twain House

skeeze / Pixabay

This site offers 3D, VR and guided online tours of Mark Twain’s Home in Hartford, Connecticut.  What’s unique about this virtual tour is that it the virtual tourist can amble along circular shaped “footpaths” along the floor to gain closer views of the intricate details of the Gilded Age home such as the built-in bookshelves and fireplaces.  These incremental steps give the experience of walking through the home with the ability to casually browse the details of the antiques and artifacts on display.  Mark Twain claimed his writing was most productive while he lived in this home; what better way for students to connect to the idea of authorship than to experience the very space that inspired his work?

3. Anne Frank’s Secret Annex

aburak / Pixabay

On this tour, reader’s of Anne Frank’s prolific diary get to experience The Secret Annex where Anne Frank, her family and friends hid from the horrors of WWII for over two years.  This is the place where she dreamed and imagined better tomorrows as she recorded her experience in her diary named “Kitty.”  The tour uses guided text to explain not only the historical significance behind the various areas of the annex, but provides additional multimedia and images for further explanation.

4. Frederick Douglass’s Home

“Frederick Douglass in his study at Cedar Hill: 1885 ca.” by Washington Area Spark is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

This tour of Frederick Douglass’s home was created in partnership between the National Park Service and Google Arts & Culture.  The digital photography is crystal clear and sharp, showcasing the fine details of the artifacts and nuances of the space itself.  The Father of the Civil Rights Movement,  Douglass shaped the nation through his ideas and was a compelling force in promoting freedom, equality, and diversity in American history.  

5. Willa Cather’s Home & Red Cloud

“Willa Cather” by Paul Comstock is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Willa Cather’s home is filled with media and historic artifacts depicting the author’s work.  Her writing was set at Red Cloud, and this virtual tour features 4 of the sites featured in Cather’s fiction. The navigation instructions at the beginning of the tour are extremely helpful.  The tags found throughout the house makes this a standout tour; each item has a story to tell.  With this tour, it is easy for students to imagine themselves in Red Cloud, Cather’s world.

6.  Ernest Hemingway’s Havana Home 

skeeze / Pixabay

Ernest Hemingway’s Havana Home speaks to the style and tone of Hemingway’s authorship.  The tour, offered through CNN’s website, is an interactive 360-degree video of Hemingways Havana home & grounds.  Tourists can toggle the direction of the screen as the video progresses for 360-degree views.  Visiting this home transports students into the lifestyle of Hemingway as evidenced in his writing.

7.  Jane Austen Sites

“Bio of Jane Austen and Her Work From the Program For “Emma, a New Musical” at the Old Globe Theater, San Diego CA” by JoeInSouthernCA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Google Arts & Culture features sites significant in the literary works of Jane Austen such as Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion Emma.  Inviting students on a tour of this magnitude offers the opportunity for full immersion in Jane Austen’s world, both visually in terms of the scope and grandness of the abbeys and estates, as well as insights into the way society functioned during the early 1800s. 

8. Shakespeare Sites

uroburos / Pixabay

Google Arts & Culture offers tours of iconic sites from Shakespeare’s life, including his various homes and properties in Stratford, theatres, and places that inspired settings in his works.  Shakespeare’s infamous balcony scene in Act II Scene ii of Romeo & Juliet springs to life while touring “Juliet’s balcony” in Verona, Italy.  Tourists are also transported to Kronborg castle in Denmark, which is believed to be the setting for Hamlet.   The Globe Theater tour allows students to understand the logistics of the performance space, and the tour also features the original Globe Theater site.  

9.  Westminster Abbey

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

The treasures of British History & Literature are featured in Westminster Abbey.   Poet’s Corner, one of the best-known parts of the abbey, is featured on the virtual tour.  Buried or commemorated here are literary luminaries including William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Dickens.   Scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Michael Faraday are buried or commemorated in the Nave.  Navigation is seamless with descriptions offered for each section of the abbey tourists wish to peruse with 360-degree camera technology.

10. Harry Potter’s World

Herrfilm / Pixabay

Sign up as a member of this website to access a comprehensive virtual tour of Harry Potter’s world.  This tour is truly virtual; it’s a fantastic rendering of 100 various illuminated “hotspot” locations from Hogwarts Castle and grounds.  Each luminary features explanatory information from the plot of the novels. Using the arrow keys or by scrolling, tourists can “fly” around the exterior of Hogwarts and visit the Quidditch field and the Forbidden Forest.  This is a superb resource if you’re teaching YA literature with the Harry Potter series!

Great tours, simple implementation!

For teachers of writing, reading, speaking, and humanities, these are some great places to introduce to your students so they can visit various significant literary places and spaces around the world!


NatGeo Certification Journey

The views expressed in this post are my own and are in no way endorsed by or affiliated with National Geographic.

In over ten years of teaching and thousands of hours of professional development, my journey to become a National Geographic Certified Educator was one of the most creative professional development experiences I have ever had.

National Geographic is undoubtedly one of the most respected and intelligent companies in the world. As a young girl, I would spend hours digging through National Geographic magazines stored in my grandparents’ corner curio cabinet. I can distinctly recall the cover of the July 1992 issue featuring a baby mountain lion cub being held by her mother (Vol. 182, No.1). My imagination would churn out potential scenarios of the days ahead when I’d become a world-traveling zoologist, saving mountain lions and other big cats from poachers and environmental encroachment. I even wrote a 64-page story (every page had an illustration), broken into three different “chronicles” and “sagas” as I called them- entitled “Aspen the Zoologist.”

Ultimately, I did not become a zoologist. I became an English teacher instead, which makes sense when you look at my 3rd-grade-year-old self’s dedication to writing such a lengthy treatise. Although I am now solely a zoologist at heart, this does not diminish the impact that National Geographic has had on my career. It has empowered me to bring that same creative explorer mindset to my classroom that I discovered as a young girl. My journey through the certification process helped me realize that I am still, many years later, that very same curious explorer and storyteller flipping through those magazines. The explorer mindset is the very foundation of my creative capacity and empowerment as an educational leader.

My experience was professionally life-changing. So, here are 5 reasons why YOU too should become a National Geographic Certified Educator:

1.Multi-disciplinary. Not a geography or science teacher? No worries! The National Geographic Learning Framework transcends all disciplines. In fact, it is designed to be interdisciplinary in nature. The learning framework and infrastructure is open enough that it can be used with any discipline centered on inquiry and change-agency.

2. Creativity & the Art of Storytelling. The capstone project requires that the candidate shares the story of the certification journey and the impact the journey had on the students. This process develops an educator’s storytelling skills. Prior to the National Geographic Certified Educator course, I had never taught digital storytelling. Not only did I teach this important form of media literacy to my students; I also learned so much about how to tell a story through digital means such as Adobe Spark. We made a tremendous impact locally by collecting stories of a local natural disaster, the 1977 Johnstown Flood, and preserving narratives of the human journey in original digital stories.

Check out my capstone video here:

Capstone Video

3. Authenticity & Purpose. What the students learn, and the projects themselves can be applied to better the human journey and our natural world. With my capstone project, the students collected qualitative data and created digital stories for an authentic audience. Their stories are now a digital exhibit for the Johnstown Flood Museum.

4. Student-centered inquiry and deep-thinking.It promotes inquiry and deep-thinking for our students. They were able to visit various scales and perspectives from the National Geographic Learning Framework as they research and presented their projects. The local newspaper covered our project, and the story was picked up by the Associated Press. This chain of events showed the students how far the impact of their project had travelled, even into major city newspapers across the country such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and Seattle!

JAHA 1977 Johnstown Flood Digital Exhibit:


5. An unparalleled professional learning community. As an educator, your professional learning community expands worldwide, and opportunities are abound. Resources are at your fingertips, and the discussion forum provides collegiality with other educators and is a treasure trove of instructional resources. Since I’ve become a NatGeo certified educator, I have been a volunteer judge for their Geochallenge program and I’ve been selected to attend The National Geographic Institute this summer in Jackson, Wyoming. My classrooms have also recently participated in the NatGeo Explorer Classroom Challenge: The Human Journey.

All of this has happened along my journey, and I’ve only been certified since December 2018! If you’re looking for an empowered, creative classroom, this certification is certainly for you!

ASCD Empower19: CCEL

Debuting my dissertation findings at ASCD Empower19 was an amazing experience!  This was my very first time EVER as a presenter at a professional educational conference!

I created my poster with Canva and I was extremely impressed with the ease and functionality of the design platform.  I went through multiple (like ten) iterations of the poster.  

This tool was invaluable. I also used it to create my handouts (which I’m happy to say I was out of handouts by the end of the session)!!!

If you’d like to check out more about CCEL, click on Empower19 CCEL and use the password mockempower19 to check out more in-depth information about my study! Also, you can get meta and take a poll about your own perspectives about your creative capacity as an educational leader!!

There were so many amazing creative ideas to see and behold at this amazing conference! Thanks to everyone who stopped to visit me today! If you have any further questions please contact me!

Ultramarine Girl Creativity Series

Creativity is more than a spark or a moment.  It’s a process.  And a process is a learning endeavor, and opportunity to cultivate one of our greatest assets: the imagination.

At present I am in the throes of preparing for this summer’s world premiere of my play Ultramarine Girl: A Cup Full of Courage.  The process of producing a play that I’ve written has certainly been an exercise in creativity for which I am quite grateful and humbled to have the experience to partake in.  I have had two other plays produced prior to this one, and each opportunity to witness a place and characters created in my imaginarium spring to life onstage is such a precious experience.  It’s surreal.

This time, I wish to document the aleatory moments of the collaborative creative process in the months preceding the world premiere, and so my blog for the next few months is going to entail a series of posts centered on analysis of the facets and dimensions that comprise this wonderfully creative journey in all of its totality.

Get ready! This is the story behind the tale that is Ultramarine Girl.

Today’s Ultramarine tale reviews the creative process of writing a play with attention to one very important artistic tool:


How does the construct of “time” factor into the creative imagination?  To an artist, time can be both “friend” and “foe”, but one thing is sure; there never seems to be enough of it. of Some writers like to take a copious amount of time to write a piece, oftentimes years.  I wrote Ultramarine Girl in 5 weeks.

Does this mean it was easy?  No.  I had thought about Ultramarine Girl for over two years.  I’m still thinking about it!  I had conducted interviews, researched, and wrote and revised major plot points.  It took a long time for the idea to identify itself as tangible and feasible.  When I sat down to write, I simply had to trust my instincts.  1/3 of the way through the play I abandoned my plot point diagram and began to write from a genuine place of introspection.  By the time I was finished with it, writing the play itself had taken me on a surprising journey; instead of writing a one act play as I had initially planned the play had unfurled itself into a two act play.  I had written it in it’s entirety very, very, very quickly.

When I wrote, I’d write about 5 pages a day on a “slow day” and an average of 10 pages per day on a “productive day”.  In totality, I would write about 2 hours at each sitting every other day or so.  There were some evenings that I would write for more like 4 hours, but that was the maximum amount of time I’d spend at a sitting.

But time, ah time, it is so transitory.  It is a construct.  How does time factor into creativity and imagination?  As artists we must befriend time and use it effectively to nurture our ideas.  When time is underutilized, ideas can be lost and creativity can go unshared.  When one tries to create something with too much expediency, the creative product itself tends to suffer from lack of attention and opportunities for revision and refinement.

Time for an artist is about decision.  What creative endeavor exists in your own aleatory imaginarium waiting to be shared?

Inaugural Post!

::Trumpet Sounds:: Welcome to the inaugural post of my blog!  I suppose I shall tell you a bit about what my blog is about.  I’ve entitled it with a grandiose phrase (I’m a bit of a wordsmith, so why not?) “An Aleatory Imaginarium.”  Sounds quite grand, and important.  And I believe it is.

Aleatory is an adjective that means, essentially, that the creation of art involves elements of random choice from the artist’s schema, or imagination.  I define myself as an artist in various capacities, and what fuels artistry is imagination.  Much work has been done on harnessing creativity and whittling the process down to a science in a series of steps.  The title of this blog is indicative that I wish for this to be a space in which I can explore the depth and scope of how imagination works to bring the creative arts to fruition, and how to use creativity in our daily lives and also in specific disciplines, and fields that typically do not harness the inherent power of imagination and creativity.  I want to explore those spaces unexplored- the Aleatory, random musings and kernels of genius that strike creative inspiration into whatever artistic form or medium we choose to employ.  And so together, we shall see how this blog in it’s form, will mold and shape into an artistic piece worthy of thought and consideration- in essence, an Imaginarium.

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