The Grade 2 team together with art, music and myself have just finished a successful How We Express Ourselves transdisciplinary unit of inquiry on how culture can help us express and explain.

Here are the details:

Central Idea: Culture can help us express and explain ourselves

Key Concepts: Form, connection

Lines of Inquiry

  • The elements of culture (Form)
  • How cultures express themselves (Form)
  • Why cultures express and explain (Connection)

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Empowered Learner: students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use, and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
  • Knowledge Constructor: students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
  • Innovative Designer: students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • Creative Communicator: students publish or present content that customises the message and medium for their intended audience.

Learning Engagements

To help students tune into the central idea, Grade 2 students split into nine mixed groups and rotated around nine different teachers (for 30 minutes each, across 3 days). Teachers chose areas of personal cultural interest with which to share with students. Some examples were sports, fashion, music, Chinese culture, and myself – expressing yourself digitally. I shared a short video I made in Clips explaining some elements of my culture (from childhood, New Zealand life etc). Students then used PicKids to create a quick collage of different cultural elements. At the end of the three days of rotations, students selected which cultural element they wanted to inquire further into.

At this point I was allocated a group of nine digitally-interested students to work with for a further three weeks, for a total of six two hour sessions.

The G2 Technology Crew

I cross-referenced the ISTE Standards for Students with a NoTosh Design Thinking approach in planning for these three weeks. I began with a provocative hook: “Teachers don’t know how to use their iPads – LOL!”. After the shock has subsided, students began exploring each of our “Big 8” apps for learning (Explain Everything, Clips, Book Creator, Green Screen, iMovie, Pic Kids, Shadow Puppet EDU, and PuppetPals) about 15 minutes per app, in order to get to know the apps to help the teachers. Students used a “Function mindset” to explore the apps, recording features of each app on small hexagons and sticking them up on the window around larger hexagons labeled with each app.

Once this was complete, we had a lovely, nice, orderly window display. Which thankfully didn’t survive for too long. I explained the concept behind a hexagonal thinking synthesis: to find links, to work out how things fit together and connect in different ways. And the students went at it. Through this process they noticed many apps had similar functions, but each one had at least one function which was unique. They also naturally discovered the concept of “App Smashing” where one creation could be used again or remixed in another app. In the end, we had a marvelous mess of a window, filled with snaking arms of hexagons connecting in different ways. It probably looked like chaos to an outsider, but to us, it made perfect sense.

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We tabled that line of inquiry for a while and moved onto brainstorming elements of our own culture. We used the cultural iceberg to move beyond the flags / food / festivals conceptions of culture as we used massive pieces of paper to scribble down words and images of personal cultural significance. Going deeper into the cultural iceberg was challenging for students, as they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Eliciting the help of parents at this stage was extremely helpful in students becoming aware of aspects of their culture which they’d never thought about. I emailed parents and asked them to discuss certain questions with their child, recording the answers and bringing them to school. Students added this information to their giant brainstorms and the cultural picture began filling out.

We then brought together the two different lines of inquiry into one. We thought, which apps are going to be useful for explaining the different parts of my culture? If I want to show a series of images, perhaps Shadow Puppet EDU is the best. If I want annotate over certain parts of an image as I’m talking, maybe Explain Everything is the best. If I want to explain one image, maybe Green Screen is best. Students added to their brainstorms which apps they think would work for each element, and considered which “Home Base” app would work best for them (the one in which they would bring all their other creations into – most chose Book Creator, a few iMovie). Then they got prototyping.

Considering different home-base apps

Students spent the next few sessions creating, recording, getting feedback, rinse, repeat. By the time the parent Exhibition rolled around, students presented wonderful digital creations filled with elements of their own culture. They were clearly proud, and the parents loved being able to view the final product.


  • How transdisciplinary was this really? We all just specialised in one particular subject.
  • How might we involve more student voice in the Tuning In phase? It was quite teacher directed having students rotate around sessions based on our own personal cultural interests.
  • Next time spend less time in the brainstorm phase and more time in the creation / prototyping phase.
  • How might we help Grade 2 students to make deeper link with the bottom parts of the cultural iceberg? Was this more a country study rather than a cultural one?
  • AirDropping final videos to parents was very much appreciated. How might we continue to do this in other units?
  • In the end, I don’t think I really hit on the central idea. Instead of “Culture can help us express and explain ourselves ” my sessions were more focused on “Technology can help us express and explain our culture.” Is the central idea we have currently exactly what we want it to be?