EcoChains: A Food Web Game to Teach Climate Change

Social science research shows that teaching climate change in way that emphasizes “doom and gloom” and scary facts does not motivate people to engage in the issue, and often leads to feelings of helplessness, fear, or guilt (CUSP, 2017).  Facts alone are often not enough to get people to learn or care about the issue.

The Need for New Ways to Teach Climate Change

Can a game be an effective way to get a person to develop empathy, learn about, or shift attitudes through a firsthand experience?  A review of interactive media tools by published in Nature Climate Change journal found that games can be a promising approach to teach, persuade or change attitudes on the climate change and caring for the environment.

EcoChains: A Food Web Game to Teach Climate Change

EcoChains is a food web card game to teach climate change.  Developed by Joey Lee (game designer and educational technology professor at Columbia University) and Stephanie Pfirman (environmental science professor at Barnard College), the game is meant to be fun and work both in classrooms and at home for game night.

EcoChains: Arctic Life is a simple two player game that involves 3 main steps:

  1. Build food chains by connecting Arctic species cards at the corners — predators eat prey.  For example, polar bear can eat ringed seals.
  2. Ensure animals have enough sea ice at the base of their food chains to survive.  Polar bears, for instance, need 3 sea ice cards at the bottom of their food chain.
  3. Carbon pollution events melt sea ice, which sometimes causes migration and death.  These cards randomly come out as events which affect all players.

Here is a video that explains the game.


The two player version of the card game, EcoChains: Arctic Life, is available now for $9.95 at Amazon.

SWOT Analysis Tool

Summary: SWOT is an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A SWOT analysis is a tool or technique that can be used in business, design or personal settings to evaluate a project or company and to create constructive goals and strategies.

Originators: George Albert Smith Jr., Kenneth Andrews, Albert S. Humphrey (1927-2005)

Keywords: decision making, goals, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, strategy tool, management, business, external issues, internal issues, growth, performance


The exact origin of SWOT Analysis has been debated.[i] Some people believe that it originated in the 1950s at Harvard Business School and was the work of professors George Albert Smith Jr and Kenneth Andrews. Others believe it was created by Albert S. Humphrey in the 1960s during his time at the Stanford Research Institute. Regardless of its origins, SWOT analysis has become quite popular, and may be one of the most widely used management decision-making tools among business managers.

SWOT Analysis gathers data about internal issues within a company or project  – strengths and weakness – and external issues outside of the company or project – opportunities and threats. It then analyzes this data to inform future goals, decisions, and strategies. The ultimate goal of SWOT analysis is to achieve a more successful outcome; for a company, the goal may be to improve performance and enhance growth.

Application of SWOT Analysis

One of the most appealing feature of SWOT analysis is its universal applicability. SWOT analysis can hypothetically be used by any type of organization as a decision-making tool. It can also be used by individuals for similar purposes. Consider the following examples.

EdTech designers – As a project is created, SWOT analysis can identify factors that lead to the eventual success of the project, while also considering risks and areas that need improvement.

Small and medium companies – SWOT analysis of small and medium companies can consist of formulating, implementing, and evaluating strategies that lead to improvements in productivity, performance, and successful operation of the company.[ii]

Farming and agricultural development – Researchers have shown the use of SWOT Analysis in the context of farming and agricultural development in Iran.[iii]

Private schools – SWOT analysis was used in an attempt to improve two different private schools. The researchers stated that the analysis benefited one of the schools by allowing it to “advance in the face of growing challenges thereby leading to its stability and increased productivity.”[iv]

Nursing policy – Researchers have used SWOT analysis to consider the nursing policies of multiple European countries. Their analysis allowed them to identify factors that prevented collaboration between countries.[v]

You can download a printable SWOT Analysis Template below (in Word and PDF formats).


[i] Madsen, D. O. (n.d.). SWOT analysis: A management fashion perspective. Retrieved from

[ii] Houben, G., Lenie, K., & Vanhoof, K. (1999). A knowledge-based SWOT –analysis system as an instrument for strategic planning in small and medium sized enterprises. Decision Support Systems, 26, 125-135.

[iii] Ommani, A. R. (2011). Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) anlysis for farming businesses management: Case of wheat farmers of Shadervan District, Shoushtar Township, Iran. African Journal of Business Management, 5(22), 9448-9454.

[iv]Ifediora, C. O., Idoko, O. R., & Nzekwe, J. (2014). Organizations stability and productivity: The role of SWOT anlysis an acronym for strength, weakness, opportunities and threat. Internatinal Journal of Innovative and Applied Research, 2(9), 23-32.

[v] Uhrenfeldt, L., Lakanmaa, R., & Basto, M. L. (2014). Collaboration: A SWOT anlysis of the process of conducting a review of nursing workforce plilicies in five European countries. Journal of Nursing Management, 22(4), 485-498.

Flipgrid: Video Discussion Tool for Fostering a Community of Learners

A common criticism of educational theory is that it is often separated from practice. Educational technology tools are a strategic way to bridge the gap and design instruction centered around targeted learning theories. Flipgrid is a seamless and user-friendly tool that prides itself on building a student-centered community of learners. The basic premise of Flipgrid is that it gives teachers the power to create grids in which they or their students pose topics and other members of the class participate. There are powerful social learning features such as sharing, liking, and visual feedback for students. Flipgrid as a company loves to empower their users and is receptive to showcasing the tool in action. As can be evidenced through their dedication to accessibility, they go beyond lip service and design a technology that has the potential to provide truly transformative learning moments.

Applying Theory to Practice

Flipgrid is a flexible tool that could be used intentionally with different learning theories. At a high level, it fits into the social constructivist paradigm. Students are constructing their own understanding in a shared social setting. Going beyond the abstract, theories such as community of practice, problem-based learning, or social learning theory fit nicely as a design framework for Flipgrid. The actual learning theory used will depend on the design of the grid.

The underlying features of Flipgrid that make it an appropriate tool for these types of theories are the opportunity for students to contribute their own response, to reply to their peers’ post, to engage with content from within their normal communication channels, and to articulate their understanding. Students who would normally have reservations in participating in class now have a platform for their voice.


Fully Utilizing the Tool

The vast number of educational technology tools available for teachers is overwhelming. The supply is constantly changing and different solutions rise and fade in popularity. As educators know, it is not enough to simply learn about the tool. We need a chance to observe the tool in action, to trial it in low-risk environments, and to reflect on our use of the tool in a community of practice.  EdTechGuides has a nice example of the Flipgrid tool in action.

In order to optimize use of Flipgrid you should experiment and participate in your own Flipgrids. This is what is known as the sandbox space. Get used to what features are available in different subscription plans and how this tool would work in your classroom setting. Flipgrid is able to integrate with your Learning Management System or website. The five major features of Flipgrid are the grids, topics, responses, replies, and feedback.

Grids: These are basically the home base for your classroom content. This is where students will go to view topics that have been posted and post their responses.

Topics: Topics are started with a video and text explanation. Topics can revolve around anything you are studying or discussing in class.

Responses: Students are able to respond to topics on a laptop or mobile device. They have the power to pause, record, delete, and flip their cameras in order to share their surroundings.

Replies: Students can post replies to other video postings. Entirely new discussions are fostered through threaded video responses.

Feedback: The feedback system allows for quick and rapid assessment through an emoticon rating scale. Advanced subscriptions also give the option for text feedback.

Check our our video for the theory behind Flipgrid and its features:


Also check out:

Padlet: Collaborative Canvas Tool


Padlet: An Easy to Use Online Collaboration Tool for Multimedia Sharing

Padlet is a very user-friendly canvas or digital bulletin board that allows people to collaborate and insert anything (images, videos, documents, text) via drag and drop.  This tool is very flexible and can be used creatively in a classroom context in many ways.

Equitable Participation

Despite the recent trend in online learning towards personalization and competency-based learning, there is inherent value in learning from others. While this can be accomplished in the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom without technology, student participation is typically not even. Some students like to answer every question while others do not want to actively participate. Purposeful technology use can help to alleviate the problem of uneven student engagement in a physical classroom. When education is moved to the online environment, this intentional focus on connecting students to each other and the teacher is critical. Padlet is a tool that creates a student-centered learning environment that prompts participation and articulation of student understanding. Padlet is very intuitive to use and is functional across multiple devices. Flipping the classroom is only as powerful as the experience for students. Padlet strengthens this experience.

Applying Theory to Practice

The design of the Padlet will vary based on the learning theory used. It is, by nature, a social learning tool focused on students constructing their own knowledge. Digging a little deeper, a prompt that forces students to experience uncomfortable cognitive dissonance is feasible through constructive argumentation. Connectivism and the associated social network analysis is inherent through Padlet design features. The application of learning theories is as varied as the imagination of the classroom in which Padlet is used.

There are five different styles of Padlet. They can range from a Pinterest style to a poll to a class debate. The tool is focused exclusively on fostering a shared sense of ownership, and subsequently, participation in the course. This social learning focus extends to the instructor through finding collaborators and model Padlets.

Fully Utilizing the Tool

With teaching, grading, communicating with parents, and volunteering teachers frequently have little spare time to investigate new teaching techniques. Sometimes, this is encountered through professional development. However, it is hard to integrate these technologies into everyday teaching practices. When the tool has a low learning curve and the ability to try without financial repercussions it becomes more attractive to teachers. To observe the tool being used check out our guide over at EdTechGuides.

Padlet is free to use. However, if you want to use Padlet Backpack, it provides an additional layer of customization and privacy for your classroom. The Padlet is constantly saved and has availability in 29 languages. There are different levels of access based on the stakeholder role. Padlet is able to work with virtually any file type or embedding directly from various apps. The home page will have your dashboard, Padlets, activity, attachments, collaborators, and settings.

Dashboard: This is your home page. At this page, you will see any recent Padlets and contributions to those Padlets.


Padlets: This page lists all of the Padlets you have created. This is where you select those five different Padlet types. These types allow for customization and the application of different theories of learning.


Activity: Recent activity will show here in greater detail than on the dashboard.

Attachments: If there is any attachment being used in a Padlet, this is where it can be uploaded and shared.

Collaborators: Using this feature, teachers can find both local and distant collaborators with which to create or build upon existing Padlets.

Settings: Allows users to choose their preferences and reset their username and password. This is also where you can control overall privacy settings.


ExploreLearning: Active Experimentation


Science and math concepts are often some of the most challenging for students to grasp. It is not enough to listen to a teacher talk about concepts and then complete standard assignments. Rather, a learner must be able to learn from the teacher in addition to interacting with simulations and experiments. Physical science experiments and mathematical manipulatives are great ways to practice inquiry. However, they are not suitable for all concepts or learning environments. ExploreLearning Gizmos provides a holistic learning experience, featuring a large library of over 400 simulations.


Reasons Physical Manipulation is Insufficient

In a comprehensive review of virtual and physical science labs it was found that the ideal science laboratory curriculum contained both physical and virtual labs (De Jong, Linn, & Zacharia, 2013). This is because they each have different affordances and constraints and can complement each other. Virtual simulations afford the opportunity to practice multiple times with a phenomena and to explore concepts that can’t be a physical lab. When it comes to learning environments, virtual simulations and manipulations are often the only type of inquiry experience that online students have. They can also be used for home school or homebound students. ExploreLearning is a comprehensive science and math software that comes complete with differentiated simulations, teacher guides, student worksheets, assessments, and state and national standards. The virtual simulations in ExploreLearning are known as Gizmos and these terms will be used interchangeably.

Applying Theory to Practice

A limiting feature of virtual simulations is that they do not create the ill-structured, problem-solving environment that is so foundational to the practice of math and science. However, ExploreLearning scaffolds students so that by the end of the worksheet, they are expected to control confounding variables and operate the simulation in order to solve a research question. Broadly speaking, ExploreLearning falls under the scope of constructivism. More specifically, it falls under the scope of project-based learning, cognitive dissonance, or Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. These learning theories are complementary and could be seen in the same learning sequence depending on the perspective someone takes.

Utilizing ExploreLearning

ExploreLearning comes with a free trial to assign as many simulations as you want to your students. This allows you to try the product without fully creating a course and tracking student assessment data over courses. With this trial, you are able to download the student guide and have students take the quiz at the end of the simulation.  EdTechGuides provides nice example of the ExploreLearning tool in action. All of the instructional design is already done and the simulations are ready to use. This reduces the time a teacher needs to devote to creating a lesson plan from scratch.

ExploreLearning has several nice features, not limited to:

Differentiated Gizmos: Students in the same grade level are going to have vastly different abilities. ExploreLearning has created the same Gizmo at multiple developmental levels. This allows you to assign Gizmos based on the student’s level while ensuring that everyone is engaging with the same content.

Recommended Gizmos: Based on previous searches and selections, ExploreLearning is able to give you a recommendation as to what other simulations would be of relevance to you.

Searching by Standards: ExploreLearning has aligned Gizmos with multiple different standards from individual states to the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. This is particularly helpful if you have an articulated curriculum that mandates when concepts are taught.

Responsive Design: Gizmos work on a variety of devices and sizes including PC, iOS, Chromebooks, and Android devices.

Take a look at our tutorial video for using ExploreLearning Gizmos below.

CoSpaces: Virtual Reality Creation for the Classroom

What is it?

CoSpaces, described as a “making space for imagination,” is a free, cloud-based 3D virtual reality creation environment. Drag and drop 3D objects and images to create various scenes that can be viewed by anyone online, including in Google Cardboard-based virtual reality headsets. It also features an optional programming environment in which students can make their creations interactive via JavaScript or Blockly scripts.

CoSpaces editor
CoSpaces editor

Why is it ideal for schools?

Because the software and all the files are accessed online, it does not require any special installation. It’s simple and intuitive to create anything.

Why is it useful for learning?

Students are free to be creative, quickly building their own 3D scenes and models in minutes. It can be a good way to learn coding fundamentals.

What are some creative ways to use it?

Students can create their own historical recreations, scientific models, art exhibitions, simple games, interpretations of literature, infographics, etc.




Using Mind Maps (Concept Maps) in the Classroom


A concept map (or mind map) is a visual tool to help a learner organize and represent what he or she knows.   They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between these concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts. Words on or between the line, referred to as the linking words/phrases, explain the relationship between the two concepts.

There are many kinds of concept maps.  Perhaps the most common are: hierarchical concept maps, spider concept map, and flow charts.

Hierarchical concept maps demonstrate the hierarchy between concepts.  They start with the most important topic at the top that will be used to organize all the other content (e.g. “Presidents,” “Science Games,” or “Environmental Policy”).  Then additional concepts are written, connected with lines (often with arrows to show directionality of the relationship).  For instance, relationships like A causes B (“sugar causes cavities”) or A includes B (“Presidents include Abraham Lincoln”) can be visualized with a concept with an arrow pointing to another concept, and a relational word in between.

An example concept map (Source: )

Spider concept maps have the keyword in the middle as a central concept, with various sub-topics that branch out.  These sub-topics also have additional sub-topics, and so on.

Flowcharts are diagrams that lead the viewer down various branching paths based upon conditions.  For example, a flowchart to diagnose the root cause of a technical problem may ask: “Is the warning light flashing?” Yes / No.  The flowchart can then branch two or more different directions based upon whether something is true or false.   By following the path of a flowchart to beginning to end, the viewer can reach a certain conclusion.



Concept maps are closely related to constructivist learning theory, which posits that learners actively construct new knowledge; discovery learning theory and David Ausubel’s theory of meaningful learning.  Joseph D. Novak developed concept mapping in 1970s at Cornell University to capture students’ emerging science knowledge.  His work is based on Ausubel, who underscored the importance of prior knowledge for learning.


Concept Mapping Ideas for the Classroom

Concept maps are an excellent way to improve common ground between people.  For example, a teacher can ask students to create various concept maps to demonstrate their current understanding of various topics.

  • Learners can create Personal Learning Network Maps (based upon connectivist learning theory) that can demonstrate all the various sources of knowledge that they use to learn.
  • Students can create concept maps while working on a research project to help keep track of their knowledge of a research topic or to help outline a research paper.
  • Students of English or foreign language courses can create vocabulary word maps to demonstrate the relationship between various words, definitions, word roots and affixes.


Useful concept mapping tools include:

  • Poplet – an excellent mind map creation tool that also allows images, hand drawn sketches, and YouTube video clips.  Also supports collaboration, making it useful for group work or for teacher support.



  • CMap Tools – a popular mind map tool developed by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.



  • Nesbit, J., & Adesope, O. (2006). Learning With Concept and Knowledge Maps: A Meta-Analysis Review of Educational Research, 76 (3), 413-448 DOI: 10.3102/00346543076003413
    Redford, J., Thiede, K., Wiley, J., & Griffin, T. (2012).
  • Concept mapping improves metacomprehension accuracy among 7th graders.  Learning and Instruction, 22 (4), 262-270 DOI: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2011.10.007

Creating Educational Card Games with Card Game Toolkit


Games can be useful tools for education — they are fun and engaging experiences that can teach a wide variety of skills and concepts!  They come in a wide variety of formats, including digital games (mobile, console, video games) and tabletop games (card games, board games, collectible trading card games).

In this guide, we focus on tabletop games.   Tabletop games have many benefits and advantages.  They include:

  • Practicing valuable skills.  Games provide opportunities to practice important skills such as creativity, problem solving, planning, and strategic thinking.
  • Social interaction with friends, family or peers.  Quality time can be hard to find — games can provide a memorable bonding experience.
  • Short length of time needed to play.   Tabletop games don’t require a huge time commitment – usually 30 minutes to a few hours.
  • Relatively low cost.  Board games tend to be fairly cheap — usually ranging from $10 to $30, making them a good value.

What are some examples of games that are great for learning?

Some of our favorite games include:

Apples to Apples Junior – The Game of Crazy Combinations! – a funny party game involving word associations — quickly choose a word (red apple) that matches an adjective (green apple).  The judge for that round chooses the best match.  This game is useful for English Language Learners (ELL).   You can buy the game for about $10 here.


Timeline American History Game – a fun game in which players take turns trying to place famous events in history in the proper place on a timeline.  Each card contains events in American history, or scientific discoveries and other important events — when did the American Civil War begin?  When was electricity discovered?  You can buy the Timeline Game here for about $10-15.


What about making your own card games?  Our recommendation is a free tool called Card Game Toolkit.

Create a Card Deck in 5 Easy Steps is an excellent tool for making your own custom printable educational card games and paper-based tools.  You can quickly make various creations, download them, and then print them out.  You can also try out other peoples’ creations.

Some more examples of card decks that could be created include:

  • Role play cards (take on a new role in the classroom for the week)
  • Flashcard decks for learning vocabulary (memorize and test your knowledge)
  • Achievement Badges/Currency (allow students to earn or use badges)
  • Pokemon-like trading card game to teach science
  • History timeline games (compete to arrange the cards in the right order)


To try it out, go to and create a card deck.   Simply follow these five steps:

  1. Choose a card template. You can choose a card front and back, or make it one sided.


2. Add images and resize/place them onto your card.  
Make sure your images are not copyrighted, or else your work cannot be featured on our website.


3. Add, move and format text.  You can change color size, color, and other formatting options.


4. Add a card to your deck.  
Once a card is made, it’s easy to duplicate and modify additional cards.  Be sure to make several cards (a complete deck).


5.  Save your deck and provide details.  Write a short description about your deck, including the subject area and any instructions, rules and guidelines.

Right now, we are running a contest: create an educational card game — share it with our community — and win $100!  We want you to “put your best deck forward” and see what kind of creative or fun materials you can come up with! Create a card game or educational learning tool that students can use to learn either at school or at home.

How to Submit an Entry

You can submit as many entries as you wish.  You are encouraged to share your creation to others and have them rate or review your game/tool.

Deadline for Entry: December 15, 2016.  Entries will be judged based upon criteria: useful for education, design, peer rating, and overall quality.  Winner will be announced by December 31, 2016 on and awarded a one time Paypal payment.

Submissions must be original.  All Submissions become the property of  You will receive credit as being a contributor.  As all submissions will become hosted on our site, we reserve the right to modify, edit, delete or sell your creation.

Go on and make a deck! Go to and then come back here to submit your entry.

Submit your contest entry here: 

Terms and Conditions:

All submissions become the property of  We reserve the right to modify, edit and sell your creation.  
(a) Work Product. During the course of submitting to the the Educational Card Game Contest (Contest), the Contributor in conjunction with (Company), develop information, produce work product, or achieve other results for Company.
(b) Ownership. Contributor agrees that such information, work product, and other results, systems and information developed by Contributor and/or Company (hereinafter referred to collectively as the “Work Product”) shall, to the extent permitted by law, be a “work made for hire” within the definition of Section 101 of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. 101), and shall remain the sole and exclusive property of Company.
(c) Assignment of Interest. To the extent any Work Product is not deemed to be a work made for hire within the definition of the Copyright Act, Contributor with effect from creation of any and all Work Product, hereby assigns, and agrees to assign, to Company all right, title and interest in and to such Work Product, including but not limited to copyright, all rights subsumed thereunder, and all other intellectual property rights, including all extensions and renewals thereof.
(d) Moral Rights. Contributor also agrees to waive any and all moral rights relating to the Work Product, including but not limited to, any and all rights of identification of authorship and any and all rights of approval, restriction or limitation on use, and subsequent modifications.
(e) Assistance. Contributor further agrees to provide all assistance reasonably requested by Company, both during and subsequent to the Term of this Agreement, in the establishment, preservation and enforcement of Company’s rights in the Work Product.