Mining for Diamonds

To say that I am passionate about technology integration is an understatement. I had a rewarding thirty-year teaching career. Along the journey, I searched for ways that technology could help me be a better teacher. I also wanted to find tools that could make learning more meaningful for all students.  I relied on coaches to share ideas and resources with me. I soaked it all up. I also reached out to a more global PLN on Twitter for ideas. In 2015, I received the Michigan Association of Computers in Learning “Technology Using PreK-12 Teacher of the Year Award.” I was growing, but I needed to give back. I took a leap, well out of my comfort zone, and I began to learn and share at technology education conferences around the country. I continue to search for ideas and resources today! I present the Blended Writer’s Workshop Model with the International Center for Education. Finding resources that will motivate students to write is like mining for diamonds. There are many amazing tools out there, but you must examine them to determine if they meet your criteria.  They are not all “gem worthy.”

The technology gems I am mining must meet certain guidelines. Years ago, I began collecting a list of my favorite technology tools. Today, to meet my “gem worthy” standards they must engage, enhance, and extend learning. The TripleE Framework from the University of Michigan is a web resource that helps. It contains rubrics for lessons. The rubric helps determine what value the technology integration will have on learning. I wanted to know if I was using technology with a purpose in mind or was I using it as a fun tool for my students? Fun tools are great and they have their place, but that shouldn’t be the standard.  Liz Kolb’s book Learning Goals First, Technology Second, is a powerful way to internalize this. I try to keep “learning goals first” in mind. I must consider whether the tool will help my students be more engaged in the learning activity. I mean immersed in learning, completely engaged and not being passive learners. The quiet kids sitting up straight who appear to be “listening” aren’t always engaged. They can fool the best of teachers! 

Next, I must consider the ability of the tool to enhance learning.

  • Will the tool offer something extra?
  • Will it make the learning goals (or my teaching) achievable for all students?
  • Can the tool help me be more effective or efficient?
  • Will my students be able to collaborate, create, and offer choices?
  • Can it help level the playing field for all students?

When I mine for technology gems, I’m seeking tools that will extend learning beyond the classroom. We need to build global writers! Let’s help students discover that their voices deserve an authentic audience.  They matter. I’m seeking something big here…like diamonds.

Insert Drum Roll Here, Please!

When I first heard about Buncee my curiosity piqued. Was it the yellow Buncee Man mascot? Was it the eBook format? It was the clever ways that I saw teachers and students creating projects that clicked for me? I had to explore it for myself. What I found was a new tool that completely engaged students in their learning. I saw students at all grade levels planning, thinking, dreaming, revising, and creating! They were writing in all subject areas and demonstrating their learning for others. It blew my mind to see high school students creating geography projects. I saw middle school math and government concepts incorporated into multimedia presentations. Buncee can do it all. Students and teachers can create and then incorporate audio messages or videos.  They can choose from a variety of animated stickers to create that unique “wow” factor. They can manipulate and format text to create special effects. Students and teachers can insert hyperlinks to further illustrate particular concepts. Buncee allows learners to hit a higher level of proving their knowledge. It allows for metacognition. This is deep thinking. Students are having so much fun creating, they don’t even think of it as “work”. If you think it’s not for all grades or subjects, think again.

I’ve watched teachers of hearing-impaired students create lessons using sign language for their high school and adult students. They added pictures, animations, and diagrams. I’ve seen examples of teachers creating math lessons for high school, Spanish lessons for middle school, and more!   Yes, anything is possible. I wondered if this gem could get any more valuable? Yes! Learning can extend well beyond the classroom walls. Buncee Boards provide a sharing platform for classrooms, parents, other classes.  The teacher moderates the sharing options. In addition, classrooms can connect globally using Buncee Buddies.  Many teachers collaborate. They share opportunities for students to connect with other classrooms. The Buncee Global Reading Day and the Buncee Buddy project with scientists around the world created excitement for many students. The possibilities are endless.

I am fortunate to be able to share Buncee in my “Rock the World with Writing Workshops.” I want teachers to create! It’s fun to see them see how they can create engaging, interactive lessons for all students.  I love to see them make their own recorded lessons so their students can learn at their own pace. I am thrilled to be able to provide educators with the opportunity to explore Buncee. It’s exciting to see its value in all stages of the writing process for any subject matter. The projects students create both independently and collaboratively are so amazing. The best part is that students discover that they are readers, writers, and media creators of any subject. Buncee is a diamond of a resource in my eyes.  If you haven’t heard about Buncee let this be an invitation to learn more!

Meanwhile, I’m busy packing up for another workshop where I’ll help teachers motivate writers. I can’t wait to share a plethora of technology gems. When my group creates final projects and shares with Buncee, I know I’ll see big smiles and hear “ooohs” and “ahhhhs!” I can’t wait to watch lessons and writing assignments come to life! I thank all of my Buncee family for the support and wisdom they offer me!  


Joanna Van Raden taught at the elementary and middle school level for over 30 years. She served as a special, general, and technology education teacher. She spent the final five years of her classroom teaching career, in a 1:1 iPad classroom where she successfully blended all subjects effectively with technology. She transformed her delivery method by creating recordings of her lessons, using an LMS, and growing a student-led classroom. She was awarded the 2015 Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) Outstanding Technology-Using Pre K-12 Teacher of the Year Award. She has presented the blended learning model to a variety of Michigan and National conferences, workshops, and school groups including MACUL, the Michigan Innovative Schools Conference, ISTE, NYSCATE, GAETC, TCEA, and many more. Joanna is passionate about lifelong learning and sharing new educational technology ideas with others. The future of education is exciting and she loves stepping out of the box to find ways to inspire creativity and collaboration with students and colleagues. Joanna’s journey led her on a path to becoming a presenter with the International Center for Education.  She has continued to enthusiastically share her creativity, excitement for blended and student-centered learning, as well as her expertise with the next generation of educators.

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