What is the Problem With Professional Development?

What is the problem with professional development? The biggest problem is the way we frame it with the language that we use, and the thoughtless interpretation and implementation that we apply. What if we shifted the concept from professional development to professional growth, from what is expected of us by others to a promise we make to ourselves?

Good professional development, or what I like to refer to as professional growth, is like good teaching, or what I refer to as educating the student. To me, it’s the same as good curriculum — planning without a plan, structured, yet flexible, applicable, relevant, and engaging. I have been inspired by a few examples in my 14 years of teaching. Most of the good examples occur when I seek them out myself. I learn more when I want to, when I am curious, when I have a mentor guiding and supporting me, and when the passion and questions posed inspire true change in my heart. Being educated and growing must be ongoing, and must aim to achieve excellence rather than mediocrity. Just like our students, we do not want our time wasted, and we do not want impersonal, standardized material.

I Googled ‘Professional Development,’ which is a term we use a lot in education. One definition states, “Professional Development is the continuous process of acquiring new knowledge and skills that relate to one’s profession, job responsibilities, or work environment. It plays a key role in maintaining trained, informed, and motivated employees, regardless of job classification.” Is this an example of educational language that confines or expands our understanding? Is this a good definition? Let’s look at what Dwayne Huebner and Grant Wiggins might add to our thinking.

In 1966, Dwayne Huebner explained that curricular language is filled with various dangerous myths. These are not dangerous because they are myths, but rather because they remain non-recognized and unchallenged. “The educator accepts as given the language which has been passed down to him by his historical colleagues.” What exactly does this mean? What Huebner is describing in his article “Curricular Language and Classroom Meaning,” is that this educational language that we use must be put to the test. We need to question and challenge its effectiveness and expose its flaws.

With the term professional development, it’s the schema associated with the term that I think Heubner would deem dangerous. He goes on to state, “Too often, today, promise is replaced by demand, responsibility by expectations, and conversation by telling, asking, and answering.” How does this relate to professional development? How much of your professional development is demanded by others rather than promised to yourself? How much is expected of you rather than you taking responsibility? Is professional development an ongoing conversation, or something you are told to do?

When we replace the words demand with promise, and expectations with responsibility, we grant ownership, and include obligation. Responsibilities impact the community even though it is individuals who own them. Expectations are shallow when demanded by others, rather than promised to ourselves. In order to grow professionally, we do not need to attend trainings at staff development centers because someone tells us to attend, yet that is what we do. The language demands that of us. We standardize it. We assume that there has to be a specific, definable goal associated with the professional development, rather than viewing it as growth, which allows it to have intrinsic value. Professional growth should inspire and create positive change in our life. Professional growth is our responsibility. We need to get to the point where we want to improve, learn, inspire, be inspired, and strive for excellence. Professional development, just like any other type of growth, should be an ongoing search for knowledge. It is the experience.

The National Staff Development Council states that professional development, “Means a comprehensive, sustained and intensive approach to improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement.” Is this an example of professional development language that Huebner would call dangerous, standardized, and in need of being challenged?

I suspect that Grant Wiggins would define this type of language as stupidification. He warns against “stupidification” in his post “Avoiding Stupidification.”

Stupidification (n): 1. A deadly illness in which perfectly good ideas and processes are killed as a result of thoughtless interpretation and implementation. 2. The reducing of intricate issues and processes to simplistic, rigid, and mandated policies, in the impatient quest for quick fixes to complex problems.

How often does the language that we use and the actions we take related to professional development equate to stupified expectations rather than inspiring responsibilities?

What is the problem with professional development? We must find the language that allows us to see professional growth as ongoing. We do not magically become professionally developed. As professionals, we are obligated to develop the language that leads to understanding the complexities of curricular issues and processes. This will allow us to take perfectly good ideas and processes and thoughtfully interpret and implement them as needed.

On Being a Real Person: The Missing Core of K-12

A small green book with the audacious title anchors a prominent stack of books in our family room. On Being a Real Person by Harry Emerson Fosdick offers up a formula for health and happiness rooted in personal responsibility and his Baptist faith. Seventy years later there are fewer of us with Harry’s formulaic clarity.

George Packer’s new book outlines America’s unwinding, ”allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward.”  David Brooks writes frequently about the impact of the unraveling social contract, “People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape.”

In Emerson’s day, many students experienced alignment of behavioral expectations between school, home, and a faith congregation.  In Packer’s America, there are fewer constraints, but less stable families and communities, and more cracks for kids to fall through.

The role of school. Last year Reed Hastings predicted that computers will keep getting better at teaching stuff and that will allow teachers to focus on what computers will never do–to teach young people how to be human. He said new learning technology “will free up teachers to teach humanity” including the ability to create and collaborate. “Our task is to inspire,” said Hastings. A recent paper outlines how new tools and strategies are improving teaching conditions.

From hundreds of school visits, I get the impression that most schools have lost ground on teaching humanity in the last generation. It’s likely a function of the increased focus on tested subjects in schools, growing diversity and poverty of school aged students, and a general decline in participation in traditional faith communities–we’ve become preoccupied, diverse, and unmoored.

As we transition to next-gen tools and schools, educators have the opportunity to place the subject of “becoming a real person” at the core. There are several related schools of thought on the subject of “teaching humanity”–a big venn diagram–with labels including workplace skills, social emotional learning, and character development.

In the first category, Ken Kay spent a decade advocating for adding the 4Cs–critical thinking and problem solving; communication, collaboration; and creativity and innovation–to the 3Rs. Tony Wagner’s 7 survival skills adds entrepreneurship.

MacMillion and McGrath urge an entrepreneurial mindset, “the process of discovering new things to do–things for which there are no precedents and about which there is very limited data/information.”  The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship provides curriculum and activities to boost awareness of business opportunities and increase persistence.

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, said, “ We don’t teach the most important skills,” a list that includes “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.” We don’t teach them and we don’t know what to call these “soft skills.” David Conley, EPIC, thinks the non-cognitive skills could more accurately be called “meta-cognitive learning skills.”

CASEL defines social emotional learning (SEL) as:

  • Self-management: Managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and challenges

  • Social awareness: Showing understanding and empathy for others

  • Relationship skills: Forming positive relationships, working in teams, and dealing effectively with conflict; and

  • Responsible decision making: Making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behavior.

Marty Neumeier thinks there are five “metaskills”–an update of workplace skills and SEL:

  1. Feeling: including empathy, intuition, and social intelligence.

  2. Seeing: the ability to think whole thoughts, also known as systems thinking.

  3. Dreaming: the metaskill of applied imagination.

  4. Making: mastering the design process, including skills for devising prototypes.

  5. Learning: the autodidactic ability to learn new skills at will.

On the character front, there are groups like Character Counts that have tried to create composite “values that everyone can agree on”: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Kern Foundation’s Ryan Olson noted that charter development programs have “come to be considered as almost exclusively psychological in nature.” Productive perhaps but divorced from “the ends toward which character education is aimed.” Olson calls the question of the ends and aims of public education.

The college and workplace readiness programs focus on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions likely to produce career success. Democratic schools typically teach civics, encourage student voice, and encourage collective decision making–they are often schools with a strong culture rooted in the  purpose of preparing contributing citizens.

Is the goal of public education to prepare entrepreneurs, citizens, or good people?  Ideally, all three. Good schools may emphasize one over the others in their aims but they do all three while preparing students for success at the next level of their education.

Critics of state testing programs argue that purpose has been narrowed to skills development, but the ends and aims of schooling are a function of leadership and a product of a community conversation. It is not unreasonable to demand that students should be able to read, write, and solve problems when they graduate but measures of these skills don’t make sufficient aims to develop a compelling school.

What good schools do. All schools create a culture–or allow a culture to be created. All schools teach values whether they articulated or not–there’s a view of what is good and what is not tolerated.  Writing about Danville Kentucky, I noted that Good Schools Start With Good Goals.

At the Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools (the best high poverty STEM school), Bill Kurtz asks two big questions, “What’s your view of the human condition?” and “What do people want?”  He suggests that most people want to be connected to a bigger story and they want to be affirmed for their unique gifts and talents. To that end, DSST constructed core values including respect, responsibility, integrity, courage, curiosity, and doing your best to guide their students and team in pursuit of discovering their unique talents and developing them to further the larger human story.

Great Hearts Academies in Arizona prepares its graduates for top universities and “to be leaders in creating a more philosophical, humane, and just society.”  Great Hearts engages students in “an intense and formative dialogue with the Great Books and Ideas of Western Culture,” with the intent of understanding “more fully what it means to be a human being.”

The operators of EAGLE College Prep, also in Phoenix, “strive to be a warm and loving organization with strong relationships built on trust, service, respect and genuine communication.” They match “time-honored values” with cutting edge approaches.

New school developers bring their values to the design process. Invigorating an existing school starts with a community conversation about shared values and desired outcomes.

The existing toolbox for character development and college/career preparation includes visual cues and daily reminders, student behavior and feedback systems, and advisory curriculum. Good schools integrate core values into the curriculum as well as staff development and evaluation systems. Good schools hold regular community conversations

Good schools encourage students to practice enterprise. The Big Picture and Cristo Rey networks are particularly good at structuring internships. Service learning can yield many similar benefits.

What’s next? College Board has BigFuture and Envictus has Navigation 101 but teens and their families could use better support for the all important postsecondary decision.

Comprehensive learner profiles will soon power recommendations for secondary course taking and help counselors make sure students gain exposure to the most appropriate college and careers. (Families should have the ability to manage the privacy settings in the student profile.)

The Hope Survey measures students perception that they can set and accomplish goals. Schools should have access to more tools like this that measure perception and track social emotional growth.

Students should be tracking their own development in digital portfolios. For example, schools could ask students to blog on their learning and development on a different character trait every month.

On character development, schools could use better advisory curriculum and instructional units that can be incorporated into history, social studies, and English language arts.

Is all this more stuff for schools to take on? A better way to think about it is a new spine of character development and college/career preparation. As Hastings suggested, new blended formats are creating the potential to incorporate a central focus on developing young people–one rooted in purpose, and a Ryan Olson said, “attaches them to a cause greater than themselves and that holds them accountable for their actions.”

How Do You Draw a Scientist?

What comes to mind when you think of a scientist? Try this: Make a list or draw a quick sketch of a scientist.
If the image of a wild-haired man in a white lab coat surrounded by test tubes comes to mind, you’re not alone. How many of the following features did you use?

  • Lab coat (not necessarily white)
  • Eyeglasses
  • Facial hair (beards, mustaches, muttonchops, etc.)
  • Scientific instruments or laboratory equipment
  • Symbols of knowledge (books, filing cabinets, etc.)
  • Technology (computers, buttons, dials, screens, etc.)
  • Captions, signs, or speech bubbles expressing “eureka,” “top secret,” or similar
  • White
  • Male

The “Draw a Scientist” test is a classic study from the 1970s that asked high school students to do just that. The authors, Mead and Metraux, then sorted through students’ drawings to look for commonalities. Their composite image?
“The scientist is a man who wears a white coat and works in a laboratory. He is elderly or middle aged and wears glasses . . . he may wear a beard. . . he is surrounded by equipment: test tubes, bunsen burners, flasks and bottles, a jungle gym of blown glass tubes and weird machines with dials . . . One day he may straighten up and shout: “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” (Mead and Metraux, 1975).
Additionally, only girls drew women scientists, and scientists are almost always drawn indoors in a lab or even an underground bunker.
The original “Draw a Scientist” test and its many follow-up studies have suggested that scientists suffer from a public image problem among children as young as kindergartners.
When instructed to “draw another scientist,” one fourth grade class of 24 students produced “two Frankensteins along with nine pictures that included such clearly dangerous elements as bombs, poisons, and a scientist with test tube held high exclaiming: ‘With this I destroy the world’! … The result was totally unexpected since the intention of this variation in procedure had been to elicit possible distinctions among scientific specialties. In fact, no such distinctions were clearly found” (Chambers 1983). In another study, students were asked to draw a teacher, a veterinarian, and a scientist in order to determine if the stereotypical scientist images were a product of children’s drawing abilities or habits. The result: scientists are typically male and less attractive (crazy, unsmiling, etc.) than veterinarians or teachers (Losh, Wilke, and Pop 2008). Losh, Wilke, and Pop caution against reading too much into the “Draw a Scientist” studies, given that young children may not be capable of drawing details (that might indicate a female rather than a male scientist, or that might add dimension to an otherwise stereotypical character), but they conclude: “Cumulatively, the research results suggest that scientists suffer from a ‘poor public image’; one consequence is that these images may discourage children and youth from choosing science classes, hobbies, or even careers.”
Scientists’ image problem extends to adults.
While a majority of American adults (69%) say that the benefits of scientific research outweigh harmful results, Americans also say that scientific work is dangerous (52%) and that scientists have no fun (20%) and are “odd and peculiar” (25%), according to studies from the National Science Foundation. The media is full of unflattering stereotypes of scientists, and even teachers will tend to draw stereotypical pictures of scientists. These stereotypes can filter down to children: “Classic scientist stereotypes may lead youngsters to see science as valuable—but science occupations and scientists as less desirable” (Losh, Wilke, and Pop 2008).
The good news is that stereotypical images of scientists aren’t set in stone.
Pre-service teachers who have experience with science and students who visit real scientists or engage in hands-on inquiry activities tend to draw less stereotypical images of scientists. Milford and Tippett studied the impact of prior science experience on stereotypes of scientists and concluded that it can be addressed “through a range of interventions that include science activities and experiences that begin in elementary school and continue throughout teacher education programs. Interventions at the elementary classroom level include visiting female scientists and hands-on inquiry activities, while interventions at the university level would seem to include a degree requirement for entry into an education program. Once in an education program, students should have opportunities to reflect on their conceptions of science and scientists” (Milford and Tippett 2012).
Scientists are people, too.
If you’re wondering how to involve some real science and real scientists in your classroom, remember: scientists are people, too. They often have hobbies, kids, and an interest in sharing what they’re passionate about. Getting a scientist in your classroom can be as easy as asking around. If you live near a city, tech companies and universities are obvious places to look, but even rural areas often have scientists hiding in the local Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, or Bureau of Land Management. Get creative – try Skype or find scientists who happen to be in your area for seasonal fieldwork or conferences. The added benefit of connecting with local scientists is that you get to learn about all the great science going on in your own backyard – whether it’s discovering T. rex fossils in Montana or learning what makes the Everglades so special in Florida.
As for activities, there are nearly unlimited inquiry-based science activities to be found online. Try PBS, Teach the Earth (geosciences), NASA, Federal Resources for Educational Excellence, University of California at Berkeley’s Teacher Lounge, and the National Science Teachers Association.

10 Trends in K-12 Online Learning

On Monday I outlined 10 reasons that online learning matters. Today my top ten list outlines the big trends in K-12 online learning.

1. Districts. The most important trend in K-12 online learning is the speed with which school districts are adopting the strategy to improve the quality and array of options, to control costs, and to build sustainability.  Districts are becoming providers and partnering with providers. (See A District Guide to Online Learning, Q&A With a Rural Superintendent, Oregon School District Shows Success With Individualized Online Learning)

2. Course Choice. As districts introduce online options more students are gaining the ability to ‘self blend’ their high school experiences.  John Bailey’s recent House testimony outlines how Utah and Louisiana have expanded access to individual online courses.

Legislators and advocates [in Utah] drew upon Digital Learning Now!’s 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning to develop a policy that drives choice to the course level where students can select courses offered by multiple public and private providers throughout the state. The law allows dollars to follow students to the course of their choice.

3. Blended Learning. Online learning content and strategies are showing up in classrooms nationwide. Digital content is replacing textbooks and much of it was initially used in formal or informal learning online.

Flex academies (online learning with onsite support) are popping up everywhere (See Nexus Lansing: A New High School Experience; AdvancePath Boosts Utica Grad Rates; 10 Reasons Every District Should Open a Flex School; Flex Schools Personalize, Enhance and Accelerate Learning; iPrep: The Miami Flex.)

4. Object-Oriented Content. Providers are adding learning objects (tutorials, teachlets) to core curriculum to provide additional real time support (e.g., Apex Tutorials, Connections Teachlets).

Adaptive learning is one of the most important developments in education (e.g., i-Ready, Dreambox, Reasoning Mind). It has been adopted by blended models but not all online providers.

5.Bundled Platforms.  Connections and K12 are marketing their comprehensive learning and school management platform. Some bundles like Edgenuity (formerly e2020) have been updated and there are a few new comprehensive platforms with content including FlipSwitch, and Vschoolz.

6. Competency-Based Learning. Online and blended learning have paved the way for systems where students show what they know to progress to the next level.  Individual pacing is inherent in many online models–that’s why iNACOL (the online learning association) is the leading advocate of competency-based learning.  (See CompetenyWorks.)

7. Performance-Based Funding. Florida, Utah, and Louisiana base a portion of funding for online learning on successful completion. In John Bailey’s House testimony he notes that Utah’s law “funds success rather than just seat time. A pay for performance element allows online-course providers to receive 50 percent of the state’s per-pupil funds for a given online course up front and the remaining 50 percent only when a student successfully completes the course.”

In a recent paper, Funding Students, Options, and Achievement, we recommended that a small portion of funding for all students be used to create incentives for completion and achievement.

8. College Credit Opportunities. As recently noted, online learning should make it possible for every U.S. high school student to have access to every Advanced Placement course as well as a range of dual enrollment opportunities.

Reynoldsburg high school academies (Columbus, Ohio) use MOOCs, online AP, and onsite community college courses to expand opportunities to earn college credit.

9. Parent Groups. It is common for full time online schools to create or support local communities to provide student and family support and curriculum extensions. There are a handful of parent groups like the Treasure Valley Academy Coop in Boise where parents can share custodial and extracurricular responsibilities. Arizona Virtual Academy has established numerous community relationships with groups and organizations (YMCAs, etc.) where full time or part time blended learning is taking place.

10. Pushback. While districts are developing online learning programs (#1), they are actively opposing the development and expansion of online charter schools like the Illinois moratorium.

The benefit of this (self-interested) opposition will be more rigorous authorization, more transparency, and better growth measures.

With our friends at iNACOL, we’re writing a paper about the myths and realities of K-12 online learning.  We hope to address common misconceptions, address the realities of what needs to improve, and recommend productive policies. If you have questions or concerns about online learning, let us know and we’ll try to address them in the paper. We’d also be happy to highlight productive strategies and share representative stories.
Disclosures: Connections, K12, Curriculum Associates, Dreambox and Digital Learning Now! are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.  Tom is an iNACOL and AdvancePath director. 

Kid in Story: The App Inspired by a Mom in Need

Story telling is a safe way to expose a child to a situation he or she fears. There are numerous apps out there that do this, but I hadn’t seen one I liked until I came across Kid in Story. This app is unique in many ways, most importantly because it uses photos of the child you are helping. This makes the app much more effective than others in the field, especially for neurodiverse children (those with ADHD, Autism, SPD).

My son has a sensory processing disorder, which means that his body interprets stimuli differently than neuro-typical individuals. Because of his SPD, my son sometimes has an extreme reaction to things that scare him, such as getting water in his eyes or encountering dogs off leash. We have tried every trick in the book to help with these two fears in particular. I have researched the subject and consulted doctors, therapists, parents, and teachers. Repeatedly, I came across references to the value of story telling.
I read my son books about his fears, did role playing with him, and showed him videos of other kids working through their fears. None of those strategies had the same impact as showing him photos of himself moving through one of his fears. It is powerful to see a picture of yourself underwater smiling if you are afraid of getting water in your eyes or to see a picture of yourself hugging a cute puppy if you are scared of dogs. It takes power away from the fear and allows the child to sit with the idea that things could be different. They can move safely through their fears.
Kid in Story was created by Locomotive Labs–a group of talented parents, educators and speech and language pathologists—in response to a request by the parent of an autistic child.
Kid in Story’s features include:

  • 8 templates (and more on the way) that include both “fanciful” and ”practical” narratives, and are designed so that stories can be created in 10 minutes or less.
  • One-of-a-kind image detection technology to superimpose the child into the story. This feature is especially key for children who do not respond to other types of social stories that rely on a cartoon character or a generic child in the narrative to model the expected behavior and scenario. ‘

I should add this app is also just plain FUN. Ultimately that is why is works. Don’t be put off by the $6.99 price tag. It is worth every penny, especially for special needs children.

HotChalk Education Index: A Guide to the Future of EdTech

By: Amy Chu
Passion.  Passion to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers by helping them solve problems with innovative, data-driven, technological educational products.
That’s one of the goals behind the HotChalk Education Index (HEI).  The index provides quarterly insights regarding how the Internet is impacting education.  The first HEI report compiled survey data collected from over 25,000 students, teachers, parents, and administrators during January, February, and March, 2013.
Future HEI reports are expected to assist innovators, technologists, publishers, and investors in producing EdTech products that meet the needs of an education hungry population.
The first HEI report should help the education community to formulate and develop new ways to help students in search of meaningful education outcomes, and to support those who share HotChalk’s interest in better serving stu­dents around the globe.
“At HotChalk, we believe in the premise that education is a tide that lifts all boats,” said Edward Fields, HotChalk’s Chairman and CEO. “By making education available to everyone, everywhere, we encourage a rising tide of opportunity, peace, and prosperity for the people of planet earth.”
One of the ways technology is reshaping the views of students and teachers is how online education is viewed, according the first HEI report.
Historically, online education has been perceived as being of lesser value than in-person/onsite education, but the HEI tells a different story. HEI illustrates that 46% of students who had some experience with online education, reported it being, “somewhat better,” or, “much better,” than in-person/onsite education.
Even more interesting, a fairly large percentage of teachers (36%) and students (27%) did not favor on-site learning over online learning.
“Through the HEI, we know from which devices people are accessing educational content around the world,” HotChalk CEO Fields told EdTech Digest. “From where, at what time and what is the actual content the use the most. We can track trends that will enable the educational community to better design learning experiences.”
One issue almost everyone agrees on is that learning must occur in a community, the availability of instant messaging, collaboration tools and Web-based video mean that students no longer need to be in a physical classroom as online education is able to provide learning experiences that is better tailored for students with scheduling, physical, and monetary constraints.
Bringing quality higher education into line with fiscal realities is especially important. Over the last 30 years, states have decreased funding to public colleges and universities, forcing institutions to increase the cost of tuition.  In 2010-11, the average annual price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board for all U.S. degree-granting institutions was roughly $18,497.  By searching for effective learning communities online, students will be able to adapt to rising tuition costs and prepare for the future need for 22 million more college-educated workers by 2018.
The first HEI report found that students want to spend less time in classrooms and more time online because online classes offer the necessary flexibility for working students who need to balance work and school.  Online classes are also better tailored for students that learn better by reading course materials, prefer to work independently, and desire a greater variety of classes.
Online education has the potential to eliminate social injustices and inequalities that can be found in traditional educational institutions and reduce the cost of tangible educational materials, something that can become a burden for many students.
That promise is the foundation of HotChalk passion–a passion to change the world through education.
Amy Chu writes about a wide variety of topics related to education for www.educationinamerica.com.


Summer Learning, Happens So Fast

This is the time, whether you are a student, parent or teacher, we know summer is approaching and it is time to plan how we will spend the next three months. But just as John Travolta and Olivia Newton John almost sang in Grease, summer “learning” happens so fast, tell me more, tell me more, tell me more… So all of us at Getting Smart, in true Blended Learning fashion, would like to offer our recommendations to students and teachers on how they can leverage technology over the summer to meet their personal learning needs. There are so many great resources out there that allow for instant access – it is very easy to go back to school in September equipped with new knowledge and skills. Whether you’re entering Kindergarten in the fall or returning as a veteran teacher, there is something for everyone. (Shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, yeah!)

1. PowerMyLearning.com – Parents looking to help their kids find specific content,  students needing to focus on a certain interest, teachers searching for new online tools to add to their plans in the fall… for every level from Kindergarten to high school, powermylearning.com is an absolute gold mine! Developed by the incredible people at CFY, the non-profit in New York determined to help students, teachers, and parents use digital learning to improve educational outcomes, they have curated this completely free site, categorizing the “best of the best” free learning content out there in almost every subject area.

2. Summeradvantage.org – The summer slide has almost become an accepted fact for the typical US student, especially for those at risk, who rely on school for safety, meals and stability. In order to not only avoid summer slide but provide students with the support they need during the summer months, Summeradvantage.org has established a program aimed to take students to the next level over the summer months. Their mission states:

“We believe that if we provide rigorous academic programming and array of enrichment activities during the summer months of the primary and middle school years, then children will show significant academic gains in reading and math, improve their self-esteem, and aspire to be leaders in their families, communities, nation and world.”

3. Subtext – Summer Reading opportunities- Subtext is an iPad app that combines all the incredible features of an iReader with all the collaborative activity of social network, within the safety of a learning environment  It is one of the hottest apps to hit education this year and more and more teachers are using it inside the classroom. But, during the summer, anyone with an iPad, and SOON (in June), anyone with a chromebook… can join a Subtext Summer Book Club, with book selections ranging from higher elementary to high school. There’s even a great selection of Teacher Professional Development books to join in on… so many great titles to choose from, the Getting Smart team is going to have to split up and join a few!

4. BoomWriter’s StoryTellers Camp –  This camp with Diary of A Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney is not free but for $99 your young author can spend a week writing and interacting online with an award winning, famous author of one of the most popular children’s series ever. Definitely not something we could have even fathomed for our kids 10 years ago. What a memorable connection for our young, aspiring writers to make with Jeff Kinney, who writes the Wimpy Kid series, and has brought the love of reading to an absolute countless number of young readers- Now he can inspire them to love writing too!

6. Dreambox – For so many students, math is where the largest amount of summer learning loss occurs. It can be very hard to find opportunities to keep exercising those “math muscles” in your brain throughout the summer. Well,  Dreambox can help solve that problem with their interactive math lessons and games! Dreambox is an individualized on-line math curriculum that can be used by schools or by parents, but the aspect that  sets them apart from traditional math curriculum is that it is fun and engaging- “DreamBox makes math lessons fun and interactive, so kids build confidence and a sense of accomplishment!” This summer we even have a few “junior members”  of the Getting Smart team who are looking forward to sharpening their math skills this summer with Dreambox -they are actually now looking forward to summer so they can start learning more math!

7. Maker Camp –  on Google+ is too cool to miss! It is a free virtual summer camp for teens from July 8th – August 16th, where they can join in daily Google+ Hangouts to learn about different Maker projects, go on virtual field trips to amazing places, and share their own projects as well as see what others are building. The Maker movement is definitely an essential piece to keeping online learning real and hands-on for participants. Not sure if it sounds interesting? Check out last year’s first annual Maker’s Camp schedule – they had everything from how to make air compressed rockets to meeting Disney Imagineers…hard to imagine, but you know Google is going to have to out do themselves this second time around!

8. Fieldtripfinder.com – It’s time to use technology to get you up and out of the house this summer or use it as a resource while you are traveling to a new city for vacation and not sure where to take the kids. Maybe you are a teacher thinking about spicing up next year and want to find some new places to take your class for some exciting field trips. In any one of these situations, this new site, created by two very techy moms in Indiana, looks like a great place to find cool places to visit for incredible learning opportunities! It’s free, just sign up or login through Facebook and access over 24,000 interesting places for students to visit within any mile radius you choose from your exact address. Fieldtripfinder.com creates a space that  “compiles educational, cultural and off-the-beaten path locations into an easy online field trip database. Users can find ratings and add details to each listing—details only a local would know, hints on how to make the most of a trip or tips to stretch your trip funds.” We went ahead and tested it out, and found a number of cool places to visit within 5 miles that we didn’t even know existed!

9. Consonus Music Institute – An awesome resource for blended learning in music education. Summer is a great time to take advantage of a little extra freedom to focus on learning or improving on music skills. CMI makes it possible for students to get the support they need to practice and move at their own pace as they learn a new instrument. It’s not a free program, but anyone can register for a free trial, which starts you off with 6 blended learning music lessons on your choice of instruments.

10. Sophia.org – If you haven’t tried Sophia yet, it would be a great thing to put on your list to explore this summer.  It’s a place where you can basically try to learn or teach about almost anything you need to know in school. You can prep for the ACT here, review some subjects to ensure you are ready for college and even earn some college credit.

Sophia also has incredible learning and professional development programs for teachers. Educators looking to “flip” their classroom or introduce 1 to 1 tablets into their classrooms in the fall can become certified! Sophia provides the in depth tutorials and quizzes- teachers get to learn new skills, think creatively and come back to the classroom equipped with some great knowledge (and even a new Sophia T-shirt). This is just the tip of the iceberg… Sophia is jam packed with summer learning opportunities for everyone in education.

11.  4.0 Schools – This program, quickly growing out of New Orleans, is the place for educators to apply if they are deeply interested in solving the problems we face in education today.  This innovative group of like-minded thinkers are starting lab cohorts and prepping the members with skills to address with problems through empathy, unbundling or breaking down a very complex problem, and prototyping which means looking to other industries to see how they solved problems.  4.0 Schools is starting some awesome Design Thinking Cohorts in New Orleans and New York this summer, but if you’re not close enough to those locations to join in, definitely keep 4.0 Schools bookmarked as it continues to share resources, start connections and expand their reach!

12. Professional Development MOOCs on Cousera – This summer the MOOC powerhouse, Coursera, is adding an incredible menu of MOOCs geared specifically towards K12 teachers that will cover topics including content development, the common core curriculum, character education and implementing flipped classroom and blended learning strategies. How about getting started in July with learning how to integrate art into the classroom from experts at MoMA! Take the courses for free or pay $30-$100 to jump on the “Signature Track” and receive verification and a certificate for your completion.

13. Moodle MOOC on WizQ – Teachers looking to sharpen their online teaching skills, especially using moodle can sign up for free at WizQ. Teaching with Moodle is a self-paced 4-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for teachers and anyone interested in teaching online using Moodle, WizIQ, and other web technologies. The course will take place in the month of June 2013. The MOOC is in the spirit of open education and is completely free.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 10.45.40 PM

Click to see Haiku Deck on Summer Learning
Dreambox is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

Florida Policymakers Innovate with Online Learning

The 2013 Florida legislature has adjourned having made a couple improvements to one of the best education codes in the country (according to Digital Learning Now!).

Affordable College. Florida has embraced a goal of 90,000 degrees per year by 2025–up from 53,000 now. The plan is to close the gap with online learning and improved graduation rates at existing institutions. This week, Governor Scott blocked planned tuition hike, but he also vetoed a study on expand digital learning and utilizing MOOCs.

The Legislature appropriated $15 million, including $5 million recurring for five years, to the University of Florida to develop a robust offering of high quality, fully-online, four-year baccalaureate degrees. The law establishes an advisory board under the Board of Governors to guide implementation. House Speaker Will Weatherford is pressing for learning experiences at an affordable cost.

The law also requires online tuition to be about 75% of on-campus tuition and limits fees for full-time online students. It could cost as little as $15k for an online degree compared to $25k on campus–plus room and board. (For more see SB 1076, page 117, line 3370 to page 124, line 3579.)

The legislature also funded the Complete Florida Degree Program which was created last year but not funded. The program, led by the University of West Florida, calls for the use of online learning and competency-based learning, including prior learning assessments, to help students complete their degrees more quickly. (For more see SB 1076, page 129, line 3730)

Florida school districts will pay for dual enrollment when students take courses at local colleges (there are also provisions for college classes in the high school). It’s possible that the change will reduce dual enrollment offerings, but reluctance on the part of high schools to pay for courses may be more than offset by expanded student access to an online course catalog including college credit opportunities.

K-12 Course Choice.  HB 7029 requires the Department of Education to create a statewide catalogue of online courses, allows students to take courses across school district lines, requires blended courses to be identified so it is possible to measure and compare achievement across instructional models, initiates a process to approve individual courses instead of just providers, and requires a study to determine how to expand online learning, including the use of massive open online courses and prior learning assessments.

All virtual providers will now be able to provide courses above the six period day (currently just Florida Virtual School), however students will still be funded at the same amount (1.0 FTE).  Per course funding will be prorated based upon the number of courses an individual student takes.  This means students will have greater access to courses from more providers, yet all providers may receive less funding per course than they previously did. This new calculation is arguably more fair, but will results in another budget cut for FLVS (read more here).

HB 7009 allows school districts to establish district innovation school of technology (blended learning schools) –. The schools have to apply using standard blended definitions, the gain exemptions from same rules as charters (e.g., class size).  There is limit on how many schools allowed but it’s an opportunity to create some proof points for blended learning.  (Gov Scott hasn’t acted on 7029 and 7009.)

SB 1514 requires the Department of Education to set standards for bandwidth and devices(line 490-495). SB 1500 gives flexibility to school districts to use $165 million in instructional materials funding for devices and technological infrastructure–a big deal for a big statewide textbook adoption state. The Legislature appropriated $11.3 million for district bandwidth support and $6 million for wireless grants for rural school districts.


Deirdre Finn and the ExcelinEd team contributed to this post.  ExcelinEd and FLVS are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. 

Smart Cities: 10 Opinions About What Matters

For the last six months I’ve written more than 30 Smart Cities posts in search of the secrets of educational innovation and improvement.  I’ve also been learning from other authors. Following is a compilation of other folks thinking about cities and innovation–half from education and half from business and technology.

1. The Center for Reinventing Public Education is the leading advocate for urban portfolio strategy which includes 7 components:

  1. Good Options and Choices for All Families,

  2. School Autonomy,

  3. Pupil-Based Funding for All Schools,

  4. Talent-Seeking Strategy,

  5. Sources of Support for Schools,

  6. Performance-Based Accountability for Schools, and

  7. Extensive Public Engagement.

2. CEE-Trust is a network of more than 30 local funders and agitators advancing a portfolio strategy.  With Public Impact, they recently released two reports on Scaling a Successful Pilot to Expand Blended Learning Options Citywide and Interventions and Catalysts in Markets for Education Technology: Roles of City-Based Funders.

3. The Department of Education has advocated for Education Innovation Clusters that “articulate the connection between three key partners; educators, researchers, and entrepreneurs – each adding their unique strengths to the network.”

4. Andy Smarick’s new book The Urban School System of the Future notes that districts were designed to operate similar attendance boundary schools and not “built to constantly develop different types of schools populated through parental choice. They weren’t designed to continuously identify, replicate, and expand their best schools. They weren’t designed to regularly close and replace failing schools. They weren’t designed to authorize others to run autonomous schools. These tasks are not in the DNA of the traditional school district.”

5. In Startup Communities Brad Feld documents the buzz, activities, and dynamics of entrepreneurial communities. Feld thinks entrepreneurs must lead the startup community and leaders must make a long-term commitment to an inclusive and engaging community. Brad thinks start communities can leverage universities like his hometown of Boulder Colorado does. (See last week’s Getting Smart feature.)

6. The Thriving Cities Project from University of Virginia, measures urban “endowments” which are comprised of the:

  • True: education and knowledge production;

  • Good: moral and ethical formation;

  • Beautiful: art and aesthetics;

  • Prosperous: economic life;

  • Well-ordered and Just: political and legal systems; and

  • Sustainable: public health and environmental.

7. In The Rainforest Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt explore innovation ecosystems. They suggest that the secret to building the Next Silicon Valley is building human networks that generate extraordinary creativity and output.

8. Cities: Where Good Jobs Are Created, is an excerpt from Jim Clifton’s book The Coming Jobs War. Clifton argues that what cities need for job creation “entrepreneurs, enterprise energy, and the leadership to put it all together” is all located in cities, “the highest probability source of job creation.”  He suggests that the culture of Bay Area “that responds to innovation and creates business models like no other place on Earth.”  Clifton urges other cities to “align efforts citywide” to “wage a war for jobs.”

9. Ten years ago Richard Florida outlined the Rise of the Creative Class, but recently he acknowledged that creative coastal cities were not providing much trickle down benefit to middle class workers.

10. Joel Kotkin has criticized Richard Florida’s Creative Class theory and outlined the growth formula of low tax energy rich Red State Growth Corridors.

Comparing the work of these leading authorities, I think we can derive four important elements:

  • innovation takes an ecosystem;

  • talent development feeds the ecosystem;

  • the ecosystem leverages local assets; and

  • policies impact the ecosystem–good and bad.

From a K-12 standpoint, urban districts need partners–investors, talent developers, new school developers, and policy advocate–to create an innovation ecosystem.

Houston High School Students Get Laptops Next Year

In his February state of the district speech, Houston superintendent Terry Grier pitched the idea of giving every high school student a laptop.  “This is a way of transforming what and how we teach,” Grier told the school board in April.  The rollout starts with teachers in 10 schools getting laptops this summer.  Students get theirs in January.

Leading the project is Chief Technology Information Officer Lenny Schad, who joined HISD in January (and hit the ground running). Grier hired Schad based on his tech leadership in Katy ISD, a western Houston suburb that was an early adopter of web 2.0 apps like Edmodo and bring-your-own-device strategies.

Schad said he was frustrated by the perception that big districts can’t lead the shift to digital learning. “We have an opportunity to show people,” said Schad.  This shift is inevitable, “it’s not if, it’s when.” Schad is committed to working with his colleagues to make the transition successful for teachers and students.

Houston ISD issued an RFP for Windows laptops in April, “always an interesting process,” said Schad. After several cycles with a couple of vendors, he said they achieved their targeted pricing.  The package includes leased laptops, dedicated onsite support, loss and damage protection, as well as phone and online support.

With other districts picking tablets, Schad thinks “the keyboard is an important facet especially for high school students.”

They didn’t consider Chromebooks because the rate of home internet access is still pretty low. Schad is working with the city and providers to boost broadband access.

Our implementation team has “walked campuses to identify and observe early adopters–we will incorporate them and leverage their leadership in the rollout.” He anticipates the teacher leaders will add “breadth and depth” to the deployment.  Schad plans to spend time planning and preparing with school leaders this summer.

The laptop project is primarily funded with repurposed budgets–one of the lessons learned from early movers like Mooresville North Carolina (which is featured in Funding the Shift).

Edmodo will be the learning platform in 2013-14. Instructional materials will include a lot of “open content and free web 2.0 tools.”

Schad is thinking hard about strategies to support and measure teacher development and student engagement.

Disclosure: Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is a partner.