Fluid environments FOR TEACHING, LEARNING, and Technology

Help students shift from being passive receivers to active readers, evaluators, thinkers, and innovators. Explore the potential of emerging cross-genre, multi-platform, transmedia resources as tools for motivation, differentiation, collaboration, and connections across the curriculum. Help students construct knowledge and convey complex messages through meaningful, technology-enhanced experiences.

Students move from reading the book The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi to exploring the website to playing the iPad app... With so many information resources and new tools available, it's easy to experience information overload, Web 2.0 frustration, class management concerns, and time constraints. The solution is organized access to technology, varied approaches, collaborative activities, and choice in learning.


Fluid environments use multiple modes of communication to experience and convey a complex, interactive message. Information flows smoothly from one media to the next. The strengths of each media create synergy. The result is something more rich and dynamic than could be done in a single medium.

Let's use the recent Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster as an example:

Let's use the recent Chilean Mine disaster as an example:

Think! How can you connect current events to your curriculum? Do a Google search for a current event such as Syria and add the word "infographic." You can even find Zombie Attack infographics.

Let's explore fluid environments for reading, teaching, learning, and technology and life-long learning.

Fluid Environments For READING

Although traditional books provide a wonderful way to experience the written word, 21st century reading goes beyond linear stories on paper. Young people have many choices for experiencing a story.

Young people want to share their reading experiences by imagining the characters and sharing this images on social networks such as Deviant Art. The Hunger Games is a good example. There's both a book website and a Facebook connection where readers can watch videos, play games, participate in polls, and hold discussions.

Publishers are increasingly exploring ways to engage readers beyond the printed page. They are designing reading experiences that go beyond the book. Scholastic has been a leader in web-based book connections such as their Flashlight Readers activities like The Underland Chronicles.

Beginning Readers. Books for children are adding multimedia elements such as music, interviews, video, and games to accompany books.

CliffordGo to the Turtle Pond Collection website and explore the following books with multimedia elements including images, music, movies, activities, interviews, and games.

Sometimes advertisements and an overload of options can distract children. Create a fluid enivronment for reading and writing. Go to the Clifford example. This was created as a PowerPoint slide using screen captures and hyperlinks. The slide was then exported as a web page. Students read stories, then write stories.

Click the image on the right to explore the assignment.

Intermediate Readers. Books for intermediate readers are also entering this new type of reading experience. Rather than being supplemental, the elements are woven throughout the reading experience.

Go to ExpandedBooks.com and explore the Children's section for videos. Then, explore the Clockwork Three website at Scholastic. Create and share your own book trailers at YouTube, SchoolTube, or Vimeo. Use Zamzar to download examples.

Young Adult Readers. Whether reading a new book or a classic like Little Women, young people view reading as a social activity with connections to various devices like the Kindle, iPad, and iPhone.

Go to the Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women website. Explore the background information, trailer, timelines, and lesson plan. See how you connect traditional literature with new technology such as reading on the Kindle, iPad, or iPhone. Watching video at YouTube. Sharing on Facebook, Flickr, and GoodReads. Exploring information at PBS.

Go to the What Would You Wish For website. Read Wish by Alexandra Bullen. Watch the book trailer. Participate in social community where people share their wishes.

Books for young adults are extending their reach beyond multimedia elements and incorporating social media such as Facebook and mobile technology. These books are sometimes called interactive fiction.

Sean Stewart (the author of the Cathy's Series) calls this shift from passive to active reading "the fourth wall." He views this fourth wall as the barrier between the audience and the stage. With the Internet this wall can be blurred or erased. The audience can become part of the play. He notes that young people want to experience Hogwarts, Narnia, and Middle Earth, not just read about them. Whether you're referring to Harry Potter Lego bricks or gaming. Read more in his article and videos on Interactive Fiction.

Jordan Weisman (co-author of the Cathy series) also develops online games for teens that immerse them in virtual worlds including Nanovor Evolution.

Transmedia Readers. Transmedia storytelling occurs when readers seamlessly move from technology to technology experiencing and sometimes participating in the story. These transmedia experiences may include both fiction and nonfiction environments. Read the nonfiction book True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World on paper or ebook for Kindle. Watch the videos throughout the book. Go to Jessica Watson's website. Track Jessica's Voyage on a map.

Visual Communication. Increasingly, online news agencies are presenting information through innovative approaches. Go to the Sun-Sentinel's The Edge area to explore games, interactives, data center, illustrations, widgets and other new approaches to information dissemination. Examples: Hurricane Maker, Hurricane Interactive, Toy Recall Database, Fossil.

To explore more of these types of environments for reading, go to the Divergent Convergence: Learning in a Transmedia, Multiplatform World article. Also read my article in the October 2010 issue of Teacher Librarian.

Think! Explore the website Patrick Carman website. He's currently the most popular transmedia author. The website is dynamic to encourage ongoing participation through a blog that's constantly updated, polls, and forums for discussions on topics both directly and indirectly related to the book. Social networking aspects including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Participants can share pages through Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and Digg. Participants can sign-up for a newsletter.

I Am Number Four. Explore the official book website including Author information, Characters, The Lorien Legacies, News, Activities.

Fluid Environments For Teaching

The vast number of information resources and tools available online can be overwhelming. Ask yourself:

  • What are the big questions?
  • What resources will help my students explore the big question or essential ideas?

Planning Learning Experiences: The Great Migrations

The Great Migration is a new National Geographic program containing interactives, games, and social connections in addition to the original text materials and video. Explore the following example showing how these elements can be put together to build a fluid environment for teaching.

  • Find the Main Idea. Watch an introductory segment as a group. Talk about the main idea. Rea the book and watch the DVD for more depth.
  • Find Supporting Examples. Form small groups focusing on specific animals such as Monarch Butterfly, Salmon, Zebra, and Red crab. Each group focuses on one animal.
  • Make Comparisons. Use the jigsaw approach. Form mixed groups and share the different migration patterns. What are the "big ideas" related to migration? Use a tool such as Webspiration to organize ideas.
  • Apply Knowledge. Play the migration game using knowledge for members of each group.
  • Transfer Learning. Complete the Blue Whale or Great White Shark expedition to learn how animals are tracked.
  • Extend Experience. Reach beyond the classroom and join a live event or explore a replayed assembly.
  • Challenge Local Thinking. Explore the behind the scenes area of the website. What migration could you follow where you live? Revisit the topic through a Journey North experience.
  • Take Action. Explore the Global Action Atlas and discuss why it's important to preserve wildlife habitats. Connect this to migration patterns.
  • Connect Across Curriculum. Associate this assignment with math, reading, and language arts. Choose a National Geographic Expedition you'd like to take. Do some real-world reading. Figure out the costs and write a persuasive letter to parents about why this would be a worthwhile trip.

Organizing Online Resources: Perspectives on Revolutionaries

CheUnfortunately National Geographic, PBS, and BBC haven't developed a program for everything you teach. Sometimes it's necessary to create your own fluid environments. Rather than simply providing a list of resources, consider innovative ways to present information and resources to students. Also, give young people the opportunity to create fluid environments that others can explore.

Young adults enjoy learning about revolutionaries. These people present different perspectives on the world. They can also lead to interesting discussions about specific time periods and people who sought to change the world. Seek out graphic biographies and other unique ways to explore a topic.

Read Che: A Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. Use a variety of information resources that provide background information and varies perspectives.

Click the image below to see a bigger version of the image. Then, click on the buttons.

Che Graphic

An image map is a great way to provide information for a fluid environment.

Designing Fluid Environments: Uncovering Ice Mummies

The key to fluid environments is connecting students to resources as well as tools for building social and collaborative connections. Create learning experiences that build concepts and skills through whole group, collaborative team, individual work, and global experience.

Bodies from the IceWhole Group. Watch NOVA Ice Mummies program on DVD and explore the NOVA Ice Mummies website. Watch The Ice Mummy from Discovery channel. Explore general ice mummie resources:

Collaborative Team. Explore ice mummies from around the world. Then share the similarities and differences.

Click the image below to see the image map web page with links to information about each ice mummy.

ice mummies

Individual Work. Explore an area of interest and report back to the group.

Global Connection. Encourage students to explore their own questions and interests.

  • How do ice mummies related to other types of mummies? How are they alike and different?
  • How are real mummies different than those found in the movies?
  • How are mummies preserved in museums?

Fluid Environments FOr Learning

Although young people often embrace technology, it can also be overwhelming. Establish structured environments for young people to explore, create, and share.

Click the image map below to explore a learning guide for children. The images are links to web-based materials.


Fluid Activities with Glogster

FlushKevin Hodgson has lots of examples in his Meandering Minds blog.

Go to the Environmental Glogster Site. Sixth graders read Flush by Carl Hiaason and explored environmental issues. They created posters that linked to resources.

Also explore Three Cups of Tea projects using Glogster. Students read the book Three Cups of Tea and created posters to share their thinking about culture, adversity, character traits, and social action.

Websites like Glogster are wonderful, however they sometimes go away. Consider how students can create a backup of their work or export it to another format. In come cases, they can create a screen capture to explain their work.

Fluid Environments for Technology and Lifelong Learning

Blending fiction and nonfiction, multiple channels of communication, and exploration across content areas, explore topics that excite young people and encourage them to explore.

Transmedia Storytelling: Cyber Sleuthing

Use the slideshow below to explore the topic. Or go to the slideshow at Trackers.

Use tools such as Google Docs and Presentations to create fluid environment for learning.

End of article. Go to Divergent Convergence.