Blogging Building Community Creativity digital storytelling EdTech Innovation Professional Development Student Engagement Teaching Tools Tech Tools

Create magical experiences using these 3 lessons from Harry Potter

Harry Potter succeeds as a story because it powerfully mixes magic and love: these two words when combined with the latest technology tools (Padlet, ThingLink, IFTTT) can easily create a magical and memorable experience for you, your friends, students, audience… anyone.

Poor Harry Potter, stuck in a world of Muggles. Most teachers who don’t use the latest technology live like young Harry Potter. They have no clue what powers they have trapped within them. Luckily for Harry, Hagrid shows up to save the day. The first time we see some purposeful magic is when Hagrid lights a soothing fire. There’s nothing astounding about the fire, except that it’s the right magic at the right time.

The second time we see magic is when Hagrid gives Dudley Dursley a pig’s tail. Once again the magic isn’t all that special, but there’s an element of fun and a lesson learned.

But for me the real magic starts on Diagon Alley. In particular, when Harry enters Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands. Mr. Ollivander is like those of us who use technology regularly and fluently. His concern is to choose the right wand for Harry Potter, just as we hope to find a fitting tech tool for our friends and fellow teachers.
Potter Wand
Two of the more exciting “wands” for me are Padlet and ThingLink- let’s take a closer look shall we…


At our school the expert Padlet wielder is one fine wizard Mr. Ginex-Orinion.

JR cropped

He looks so masterful.

You should see the science labs his students demonstrate using Padlet. They look like the coolest magic.
GO Padlet

To see the full Padlet in all its glory click

If you are not familiar with Padlet it’s a free webapp. You can create a background image and then “drop” text, pictures, video etc… right on top of the picture. Each thing you drop can be made clickable, video can play- it’s a really cool way to organize and visualize information. Students learn via schema. They learn via the choices they make in how they present and organize the information.

Well… Wizard Ginex-Orinion invited some teachers to his room one time to watch how he was using Padlet. One of our younger teachers stopped by, John Lloyd, and after watching decided to try it himself. Voila- even though he was new at this magic he and his students created something cool and memorable.

Lloyd Padlet

ELA Teacher John Lloyd and his students’ Padlet on Similes. Click to see more.

This brings us to Harry Potter lesson number ONE:

“just give it a wave” You have to just TRY it.

Mr. Ollivander gives us our first crucial lesson when it comes to trying new technology. There is NO WAY to know if the tech tool is going to work for you and your students until you try it. You just have to try it. No more curating cool ideas, no more waiting until everything is perfect, no more wondering what will go wrong: just TRY it.

If you want to learn more about Padlet you should read Steve Anderson’s How to use Padlet and why blog post.

* One note about Padlet and While I could insert a Padlet into a site I was bummed you can’t edit or see the control panel in the embed. I was planning to use an embed of a Padlet on my #teacherconfession aka The Teacher Confessional site.


The sorceress who introduced me to to ThingLink was the tech goddess Amy Burvall. (Well it was actually Chris Long, who pointed out that Amy was doing this) Amy started a Google+ community called L3: Learning, Loving, Listening. You would create a collage and then drop it into the ThingLink website. ThingLink allows you to take images and drop links, comments, and videos all over the image. You don’t see the links, comments, videos until after you hover over the image. Here’s what it looks like before you hover.

L3 FULL no hover cropped

Now as you can see there are no visible links. You might also notice that ThingLink is a social community where you can follow and discover other cool stuff. You can touch and add to images, if the settings have been made public, AND there is a space to comment under the image. It’s pretty cool. Once you hover over the image then the links become visible. Like this:

L3 Hoover Cropped

so cool

Now my friend and co-worker Sean Ziebarth took ThingLink and did two things really cool with it. You can see the first thing he did by clicking on his name. The second thing he did was use ThingLink to have his students analyze advertisements using the SOAPstone AP English Language strategy. What an amazing idea. Here’s the image before you hover over it:

Sean z no hover

And now here’s the image after you hover over it. There are more links than I could show in the screen capture- there are links for occasion, purpose, situation etc…

Sean Z hover crop

yes we have some interesting kids in our HS

I’ve been using ThingLink for quite a few different purposes, but lately I’ve been trying to use it to quickly see if my students have created their four required blog posts per month. My students take a picture from each blog post and create a collage. Then they put a link to each blog post over the appropriate picture. They also put in links to show who they are following, where they have left comments, and which post they loved the most (and why) and which post was the most difficult (and why) then they upload these to the Canvas LMS and BOOM so cool.


This leads us to Harry Potter lesson number TWO:

“The wand chooses the wizard- Harry Potter.”

Padlet is awesome. ThingLink is awesome, but I don’t have time to learn both so how do I choose? I gave the wand a wave, but now what? Well not every solution is right for everyone. Once you have tried something it might not be your thing. I really love ThingLink more than Padlet because:

A) the image before the hover is CLEAN it’s aesthetically pleasing and

B) when you hover over the image and see the various links it’s a combination of magic and treasure hunting. I love it. I feel like ThingLink chose ME.

* I was REALLY bummed that you can’t embed a ThingLink on a site. You can do so on a site (self-hosted) but not the .com version. I had BIG plans for that. I’m going to experiment with and to see if any of them can handle the embed.

If This Than That: IFTTT


There’s more to magic than just choosing the right wand, you also have to know the best spells. One of the more important spells is Expecto Patronum. The Expecto Patronum spell, if cast correctly, can protect the user from specific types of evil.

HarryPatronusPoAyou create this powerful spell by calling up a particularly happy moment in your life

My version of Expecto Patronum is the web app If This Than That. I LOVE IFTTT. What can IFTTT do for you? Well what CAN’T it do?

Here are some more:

Cool idea

oh my- that is awesome… or

Cool idea 4

dear GOSH Stephen Davis would LOVE this

It’s truly magic

So If This Than That takes many WebApps and Social Media sites and mixes them together to create powerful magic.


Just a few of the channels available to mix and mash

The magic I like best is  creating memories. I’ve already written a post talking about how “Make it Memorable” are the three most powerful words a teacher can tell a student when you want to see their very best.

At FVHS we have a WASC accreditation visit coming up, not only that, we have a fun staff that likes building community. What if every time someone took a picture of students learning at FVHS and hashtagged it #baronslearn on Instagram it created a photo post on a unique blog. HOW COOL would that be? Oh it’s cool trust me.


Click on the image to go to the site. We also use #baronslearn on Twitter

People LOVE this recipe for IFTTT: I helped Alice Keeler create a #wssuck #worksheetssuck auto-magic blog with it  and Tanya Avrith (she’s from Montreal!) and Holly Clark (She’s my guardian angel!) asked me to host an #eduSLAM video on the recipe after watching it in action:

Now of course people ask me to share the recipe all the time. You can go to the IFTTT site and see the recipe but it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve been asked to create a step-by-step tutorial for this and I’ve delayed long enough. So here it goes. If I end up making a mistake let me know and I’ll edit this post ASAP. My version uses Instagram and , but you COULD do this with Twitter photos or Facebook photos.

In Catholicism the word Mass means celebration. I’m going to call this process of creating a blog or online story using crowd-sourced participation an online M.A.S.S. (Memorable-Accumulated-Shared-Story)

Step ONE: Create a unique/new email account for this project. I name it something close to the eventual url so I can remember it. I have probably 100 Gmail accounts for various projects. I’m using screenshots of me creating the IFTTT website for Alice Keeler (yes she gladly delegates work to others/friends- which I gladly do since she’s always there for me when I have a question)

Step TWO: Create a blog using You will need your your Gmail account to do this. I look for a single column theme, Pink Touch 2 works well. You want something simple and clean because you want the site to display just pictures of learning and that’s it.

Step THREE: Create an IFTTT account. You will need your new Gmail account to create the IFTTT account. You can only do this recipe ONCE per IFTTT account/blog so you will need a NEW IFTTT account every time you want to do this recipe.

Pic 1

Step FOUR: Confirm your account

pic 2

Step FIVE: Click on the “Create a Recipe” blue box to start the process.

Create with arrow

Step SIX: Find the Instagram channel. Until you “Active” a channel you can’t create a recipe with it. Activating the channel will require you to allow IFTTT to store your login info for that account.

pic 6 needs a red circle

Step SEVEN: You will click on the channel you want to Activate then go through the various steps until IFTTT confirms you have activated the channel correctly. Once you have activated the channel the channel will be in color to confirm activation.

pic 7

Step EIGHT: Choose a Trigger: The trigger you want to click is “New photo by anyone tagged.” This will allow ANYONE in the world to tag a photo with your hashtag and then it will show up on your blog.

choose one arrow

you can choose it to just be photos by you, but that’s not the purpose of this crowd-sources memory creation tool

Step NINE: Here is where you put in the hashtag. Make sure you have checked the hashtag on Instagram and Twitter first. Some fairly innocuous hashtags like #classpics or #classroompics can turn up shocking results. That will not be pleasant for anyone.

pic 9

Step TEN: Now is when you tell IFTTT where or what you want the recipe to go or do. We want those Instagram pics to end up on a blog using WordPress. Remember we have already created a WordPress account for this recipe. Make sure you have a separate WordPress account for this recipe. You can only use ONE WordPress login per IFTTT recipe so if you have four blogs on ONE WordPress account you can’t use this recipe for each blog. Make a new login with just the one IFTTT blog.

pic 10

Step ELEVEN: Pick the WordPress Channel. It’s the one with the big W on it. Make sure it was activated first.

pic 11

It’s the one on the bottom right with the big W.

Step TWELVE: Choose an Action: You want to create a “photo” post. That’s all that will be posted- the photo.

pic 12

The step on the right

Step THIRTEEN: You can actually mess and change the stuff below on the next step, but I just leave it as is.

pic 13

Step FIFTEEN: (almost done)

pic 14

Notice it says “Publish immediately” I’ll get back to that in a sec

Now you need to wait about fifteen minutes or a bit longer for the first picture to show up. There are a few things to think about before you start your first M.A.S.S. (Memorable Accumulate Shared Story)

1. You don’t have to choose “publish immediately” you could choose to approve of each post before they go public and you might want to because

2. ANYONE can post ANYTHING to the blog and you might not like the results. Now I’ve only had something unpleasant happen once and it became a very nice teachable moment for the individuals associated with the poor decision making. Once again it’s pretty easy to figure out who is doing what online if you have the time and inclination. I live my life with love and trust and hopefully things will turn out well for your attempt at creating this magical M.A.S.S..

3. Some of my co-workers have created a M.A.S.S. for their class using a class hashtag, but you can use this in more ways than just with your class or school. You could create a M.A.S.S. for a family wedding, for a summer camp, for the 4th of July for anything.

Let’s take a look at two of my favorite examples:

After watching my #eduSLAM Tanya took my recipe and cooked up something wonderful. If you know Tanya Avrith she is like the best sister ever. I think it would be impossible to have a bad day in her presence. She wanted to create a positive environment around her community so she created


You can see some of the other cool images below. What a wonderful way to highlight the diversity and joy in her community. She is helping to create the memories that people will have and shape future memories.

The last example I’m going to show you was the one I created for The Google Teacher Academy in Chicago. It turned out SO well. Every time I look at it I’m taken back to the experience all over again. It’s so cool looking at the Google Teacher Academy Chicago through different eyes:


Notice the date? @mosspike is still keeping the #GTACHI crew together

But what really excites me about IFTTT is what I can do with it that I haven’t even thought of yet and that’s the final lesson. Just watch this clip from Harry Potter make sure to watch until the very end.

“That’s the memory I chose. I don’t even know if it’s real, but it’s the best I have.”

And that’s Harry Potter lesson number THREE: Our memories aren’t real, but they are the ones we chose. You chose to create the memories of your learning, of your life. Or you can let them just slip away to never be called up in times of doubt, crisis, or despair.  Using any tool or experience that can not only create a magical, memorable moment, but can serve as a shield, a shoulder to lean on when things seem bleak and you feel all alone is everything. We don’t create memories out of narcissism we create them because we value the moment, value the people around us.

Wave the wand, let the tool choose you, chose your moments and memories.

Harry Potter2


  1. I was drawn into this post the minute I saw the words “Harry Potter.” Although all the lessons relating to Harry Potter and the use of technology in school are great, what I really liked the best about this post was the final picture. The quote, in my opinion, is one of the best life lessons I’ve ever gotten from a book. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Albus Dumbledore As a teacher, you choose to use all of this technology to enhance our learning and really pound it into our heads. Whereas, other teachers might have graduated from Harvard, yet they give the most agonizing and boring lectures on the face of this planet.

  2. Very much appreciate the Harry Potter-ness and the fact that this was published in my best friend’s (Alexa) birthday. A lesson alluding to Harry Potter in class would be cool…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: