Sparks Created at ISTE13

I’m just back from ISTE 2013.  The  mutual desire to innovate education drew upwards of 20,000 edtech gurus, classroom teachers, technology integrationists, app inventors, and would-be education visionaries to the San Antonio convention center. We shared ideas, made connections, and re-energized one another in preparation for the rapid changes our profession is undergoing. Now, with a heady mash-up of ideas, apps, and questions swirling willy-nilly through my head, I must make sense of what I’ve learned over the past week.
Most importantly, I must focus and nail down what I will implement both in my classes and for my own professional growth when school starts up again in August. If I don’t, as the old grind kicks in, I risk losing the spark I sought and found at ISTE.
1.     Nurture new relationships.

  • Several brave souls, including Mark Barnett of STEMivate, have launched maker spaces for kids in the past year – and several of us enjoyed Mark’s gracious tour of his space only a couple of blocks from ISTE. Through Skype and face-to-face connections like this one, I want my students to see how they can follow Mark’s lead and use found objects, stuff from the Dollar Store, media applications, programming basics, 3D printers, and robotics to translate their imaginations into really cool stuff.
  • At the EdTechWomen Dine event, sponsored by ISTE Unplugged, I encountered a broad spectrum of women who are changing the world through technology, from journalists to app builders to teacher leaders. It was an honor to learn from them in the short time we had together. I want to continue to work with this amazing group of inspirational women, and I want to show my students what it means to be connected with powerful, creative people in today’s world.

2.     Create a “commonplace book” as a way to record and aggregate ideas, and impressions, to provide for deeper thinking over time.

  • In his keynote on “Where Good Ideas Come From,” Steven Johnson reintroduced the idea of a “commonplace book,” where enlightened individuals of the past (John Milton, Henry David Thoreau, and such) collected notations from their reading and conversations. I love this idea, different from a journal or diary, of creating a physical document over time that allows us to experience a comingling of golden phrases and provocative ideas (and I would add images) that arrest us and stimulate our thinking.
  • The nubs of ideas “incubate,” according to Johnson, and rub elbows with other ideas in serendipitous fashion. The diversity of ideas is important, as it allows for creative connections that might not evolve otherwise.
  • Johnson recommended Devonthink (a web application for Macs) for powerful aggregating of such disparate notes and quotations all in one place. The mobile version, My Thoughts, is quite expensive, however. I wonder if Evernote could do the job as a less expensive substitute?

3. Gamify my class.

4.     Pursue global connections.

5. Master the design thinking process.

  • Listening to Diane Darrow and George Jemmott describe the design thinking model used at the Nueva School, I suddenly felt all the little pieces of the creative process I have been trying to figure out individually – brainstorming, feedback, prototyping – begin to fall into place and make sense.
  • With a clearer picture in mind of what constitutes the various phases of design – researching or the “deep dive,” focusing, generating ideas, making informed decisions, prototyping, building, and collaborating, though not necessarily in that order – I believe I can better guide my students as they become self-directed designers their own projects. In addition, I like how the process starts from a perspective of empathy and research to produce purposeful designs for others.
  • Darrow and Jemmott not only asked us to undertake the design process in a hands-on way that presenters at ISTE ironically rarely use, but they also articulated how apps like iCardSort, Popplet, QuickVoice, and Paper 53 (which I may appropriate for my commonplace books) actually enhance the productivity of the design process.
  • I know I won’t master the design process in the coming months, but I’m ready to sign on for the free course on design thinking from Stanford or the Design Thinking Institute at Nueva in June of 2014 to learn even more.

Too Ambitious Again?
I realize I’ve set out an ambitious program for myself – especially if I also want to flip parts of my curriculum.  But such is the nature of sparks. I will have to just wait and see which ones fizzle and which ones light up the sky.

New Ways to Individualize Instruction from ISTE13

Flipped Learning

Moving away from  being the “sage on the stage,” many, many teachers are wanting to “flip” their classroom but are looking for resources to aid them in doing it successfully. Founded in 2012, The Flipped Learning Network is providing teachers with the knowledge they need in order to accomplish this inside the classroom.  Wanting to be sure the research was present to support these teachers decisions, Flipped Learning partnered with Pearson k12 and Innovation Network to provide the research needed to support this transformative model. The FLN community has over 12,000 members already but will surely grow in numbers this year as more students, parents and teachers look to flipped learning to individualize and strengthen instruction.


A new release of  iLit supports reading teachers in grades 6-10 currently and will be adding grades 4-5 soon. All the work is done on the iPad, the reading as well student work. It allows teachers to set the routine of 90 minute blocks for the students, including time for teachers to model comprehension strategies, as well as read  and think aloud time. The library includes over 400 non-fiction texts, which is important when trying to meet the Common Core standards. iLit offers three different reading difficulty levels but only the teacher can see the levels, taking away the need to group the students according to ability and, therefore, removing the stigma, or labels students receive when being placed in a specific reading group.  With iLit, teachers can differentiate behind the scenes. Specific information is located at


Provides schools with a way to monitor students and identify the ones at risk of failing, enable intervention and then tracks the students progress. This year, the aimsweb interface gets a huge facelift. Together with the people at IDEO, a global design firm famous for taking “a human-centered, design-based approach” has completely changed the users’, both teacher and student, interaction with the site. The new design strives to present the data in intuitive,dynamic and understandable formats that will quickly monitor student progress and lead to overall better student outcomes.  The reports are customizable anywhere from student to district level, and can be fully interactive in order to improve student achievement all around.


Puts everything the students and teachers need for their on-line learning in one place. OpenClass integrates with Google apps, learn 360 as well 700,ooo items in the library. It allows teachers to have their teaching resources in the same location and organize in order for their students to succeed. It is a collaborative space for teachers and Social media is built into the platform so students can collaborate, as well. Gary Allen, director of Education Technology, from the Antelope Valley Union High School District in Lancaster,CA has a full virtual high School, Virtual Academy Antelope Valley, through the OpenClass platform because teachers can not only communicate with the students around the clock but enables them to transform what they are doing in the classroom, physical or virtual.


A curriculum management system, Schoolnet, brings data to administrators and teachers so that there was one place to keep all the student learning information in one place. Schoolnet is integrated with Reading Street Common Core and enVisionMATH Common Core and simplifies lesson planning, integrates aligned assessment and allows for data to be more meaningful to the teachers.

SuccessMaker for iPad

Available this fall, SuccessMaker tailors reading and math instruction to the individual student, analyzing performance and then automatically adjusting the instruction to meet the student learning needs. Each student starts by making their choice of background that fits their personality. Depending on student achievement, instruction is delivered by a someone that appeals to their grade level, for the elementary students its a animated avatar and middle school students learn from peer videos, explaining the concepts of reading and math they are assigned.  The SuccssMaker for iPad allows for students to be independent learners while still following guidelines, making progress and reaching learning goals throughout the year.

Pearson is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

EdTech 10: Post-ISTE Grooviness

I’m thinking we can divide our readers into two categories this week: those who went to #ISTE13 and those who didn’t. Either way we’ve got something for you in this week’s EdTech 10 – whether you’re unpacking this weekend or still recovering from conference-envy.  For starters, check ISTE’s Top Ten Conversations from the Getting Smart Editor and ISTE-veteran Alison Anderson.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. Clayton Christensen Institute asked this week, What does blended learning really look like? and pointed to their beta Blended Learning Universe (BLU) as a great source that can help to answer that question. Check out BLU – The Getting Smart team gives it our “Groovy Seal of Approval.”

2. I’m guessing we aren’t the only people that have ever been asked for research that supports blended learning. Here’s another study to add to the running list. A new study from RAND and ETS for the USDOE – with involvement of more than 17,000 students and 375 teachers in 147 schools in 7 states – found that Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor Algebra I “nearly doubled” math learning.

3. Ready to hop on the Blended Learning Implementation Bus? Tom has 10 tips for launching a blended high school or phasing blended strategies into an existing school. In need of some additional inspiration? Check out what’s new in NYC’s iZone.

Digital Developments

4. Uh-oh, I feel the need to use the word “groovy” again, because Graphite from Common Sense Media is just that. Yelp for teachers? Consumer Reports for teachers? This free online tool for teachers evaluates and rates a wide range of learning apps, games, websites and other digital tools. Tom gave Graphite a big thumbs-up at Iowa ASCD (#IAcomped)

5. Apple announced iOS7 updates that will focus squarely on supporting educational applications of its devices included app store volume purchasing, streamlined setup, single sign-on and more.


6. iNACOL recently released OER State Policy in K-12 Education: Benefits, Strategies, and Recommendations for Open Access, Open Sharing. The report will be helpful to policymakers who are looking for ways to promote collaboration and deeper learning with OERs.

7. In other OER news, OpenClass Exchange from Pearson launched this week and includes  a catalogue of over 635,000 items, including videos curated from YouTube EDU, Khan Academy and TED Ed.  The OpenClass Exchange also includes a collection of complete OER college courses from the Open Course Library.  This week we also learned about a new OER resource from OpenEd Institute. (Track #OER for more.)

Teachers & Tech

8. BetterLesson is teaming up with the NEA to build on the success of the Master Teacher Project with the goal of transforming teacher development. They’re looking for top teachers to share the “how” and “what” of great teaching.

The Big “D”

9. There was ed data news in K-12 and higher ed this week. An update on two of the districts awarded RTTD dollars from T.H.E. Journal shows how Lindsay Unified and Charleston County are making better use of student data to monitor student progress, guide professional development and more. In #HigherEd news, Civitas Learning announced a $8.75M round that will help them expand to additional schools and build out its services. According to GigaOm coverage of the announcement, Civitas Learning “helps schools aggregate their various data streams – including Student Information System data on student enrollment and withdrawal patterns, learning management system data on how students are interacting with digital content, professors and peers, financial aid information and even swipe card data that reveals the school resources students are using. Then it analyzes the entire universe of data (both historical and current) to pull out helpful patterns and insights.” Cool.

Announcement Avalanche

10. Ed conferences tend to bring out the announcement in all of us. This week’s ISTE conference was no different. Head to these links for the deets on updates from CoSN, Dreambox, Edmodo, Promethean, Schoology, Scholastic, K12 Inc, GoClass, Kno, McGraw-Hill Education, and Teachley.

[Disclosures: Dreambox, K12 Inc, and Pearson are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. Edmodo is a Learn Capital Portfolio Company, where Tom is a partner. Tom is a director at iNACOL. ]

What Will Elementary Look Like?

A couple months ago a friend asked, “What will the average elementary school look like in a few years?” She works for an adaptive learning company, so she’s got a pretty good view of the future but her question belies some skepticism that elementary schools will change much. I’ve been thinking about her question ever since.

Some leading thinkers have called the high school form factor obsolete. That’s less the case with elementary. In most communities 80-90% of families will remain interested in the academic and custodial services of their neighborhood public school.
However, with growing student and life circumstance diversity, there are some common practices–like grouping kids by birthday–that are becoming obsolete. The rapid uptake of adaptive assessment and instruction is creating valuable new learning experiences for students and driving discussions about competency-based progressions
My last blog about How to Create a Blended High School covered five foundational steps that apply equally to elementary schools: start with good goals, create a shared vision of powerful learning experiences, sweat the culture, measure what matters, ask students to wrestle with big questions.
After that, there are five decisions to make (as detailed in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide): build a strategy, adopt or adapt a school model, pick platform and content, blend your staffing plan, and pick a device–in that order.
To the question of “What will elementary schools look like a couple years from now,” I think we’ll see four significant changes.
1. More personalized learning and less whole group instruction. The use of adaptive instruction and learning games will become widespread in K-8.  Social learning (on platforms like Edmodo) is already common in intermediate and middle grades.
Interventions for struggling readers and English language learners are improving rapidly and should be much more productive in a couple years.
2. High access environments will support more personalized and extended learning opportunities. High access environments will typically include school provided devices as well as student owned mobile devices. Tablets are quickly becoming the standard in primary grades while laptops and chromebooks are popular in middle grades.
The combination of the shift to digital and adoption of Common Core standards is leading to a rich app marketplace and a proliferation of open content and resources–in a couple years there will be more cool stuff for free!
3. Flexible grouping and less grouping by age.  Most elementary students will spend part of the day in dynamic performance groups in reading and math. This will be aided by multi-age grade spans or by using a specialist model and more levels (e.g., Michigan’s EAA uses 18 levels in K-8 for ELA and math).
4. Students will more frequently show what they know and progress when they have demonstrated proficiency–and the flexible grouping strategies outlined above will make that feel like more time and support and not retention.
Schools will combine the assessment embedded in learning experiences (like games and adaptive systems) with external measures. Over time (i.e., in the next decade) competency-based systems will be sufficient, robust and widespread and there will be less reliance on heavyweight end of year tests.
Over the next three to five years, these four changes should result in a marked increase in the percentage of students prepared for secondary education.

Kodable: The First Step in Coding

A few weeks ago, I blogged for the need to teach young students coding. The small nation of Estonia starts teaching its children the concepts of coding in first grade.  Estonia’s goal is not to turn everyone into programmers. Their goal is to have students better understand technology as it increasingly augments their lives. They do rank ahead of us in reading, math, and science (and no doubt coding), so it’s worth a look to see what they’re doing and to see how we can improve what we’re doing.

By sixth grade, Estonian students have a sound background in coding. The first graders, though, don’t start with actual coding or programming. They start with the logic behind the code. They master things like “sequence of events” and conditional statements like “If this is true, that will happen.”  Those are great skills outside of coding, too.

I had a lot of questions about Estonia’s curriculum for its first graders after that blog. A great app to start with is Kodable. This app is for anyone who is new to coding, but it really targets 5 to 8 year olds.

Check out this introductory video:


Kodable offers this curriculum for ages 5 and up:

  • Logic and problem solving skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Sequence of events
  • Conditional Statements – “If this is true, that will happen”
  • Loops – repeating a set of commands

Those are essential skills to have at any age or in any class. Coding and programming are not just for the tech wizards. Programming can take the user deep into content knowledge, too.

From the Kodable developers:

Why code with Kodable? Even before your children can pronounce the word “algorithm” they have an astounding ability to learn how to use them. Today’s best programmers fell in love with coding at a young age by experimenting with the concepts taught in Kodable. Understanding the basics of programming empowers your child for the jobs of tomorrow, and expands your child’s mind to solve problems today in more intelligent ways.

Grechen Huebner from the Kodable team gave Getting Smart a detailed overview of their app.


What’s your elevator speech?

Kodable is an iPad game that teaches kids the basics of programming. We created Kodable because some parents we know kept telling us that they wanted to teach their kids to code because they knew how important it would be for their future. We are very passionate about getting kids interested in computer science and Kodable is a great way to do that.

Kodable teaches kids computational thinking, logic and key programming concepts like conditional statements, loops, functions, and debugging. Kids drag and drop commands to program their fuzz to roll through the exciting Technomazes on the planet Smeeborg just like you would program a computer to run a program. Unlike other programming education tools, Kodable is completely text free to ensure it is inviting and fun while also educational.

What are Kodable’s best features?

Kodable is designed to be inviting to girls.

Children can play Kodable before they can read because we don’t include any text and are entirely based on symbols.

Kodable is an introduction to logic and computational thinking

We’re launching a Parent/Teacher Portal next week that will give parents and teacher much more control over the app and tutorials on improving their experience.

How does your product impact classroom, school, district, community?

Kodable makes programming education inviting for students at a young age. This is important for diversifying the computer science area, because it gets students interested and thinking about computer science before society has an opportunity to tell them that programming isn’t cool or for girls.

We’ve also talked to a lot of teachers who want to use iPads but are unsure about how to include it in lessons. We decided to make Kodable easy to integrate by creating a curriculum with lesson plans, tutorials, and explanations of key concepts.

What kind of results have you seen?

When we were testing the game during development, we asked kids what the symbols meant. They were able to tell us exactly how a computer would read the program. For example, ” if the square is purple, then go down.”



What grade levels is Kodable most suitable for?

K through 2nd grade.

What subject areas are covered?

Programming education

What are the technology requirements?

Kodable is only available on the iPad.

What’s your support structure?

Our users can contact us via email through the app or our website at [email protected] Contacting us through twitter (@Kodable) is often the fastest way to get a response, although we pride ourselves on always having a quick response.

What’s your pricing structure?

We have Kodable available for free with two in app purchases for 1.99 each. Each in-app purchase offers a new “lesson” in programming. The second world – Function Junction – teaches about functions. This is a key concept to programming which essentially stores commands in memory so that you can use them later. The third world – Bugs Below – actually teaches kids to “debug” their code, and actually squish a few bugs in the process :). We give them a set of commands with an error in it, and they must find the error and correct it to squish the bug and complete the level.

We also offer Kodable Pro for 2.99 which has all the same content for an up front cost.

We did this because schools that use Kodable can’t do in-app purchases, and some parents are averse to them.

Thanks for that, Grechen!

Kodable is a great place to start with our youngest students. Once they have mastered those early programming and coding concepts, have the level up to Hopscoth, where they can expand those skills.

How to Create a Blended High School

Last week I visited a team planning a new high school, a team planning to reinvigorate a high school, and operators of a couple high performing networks. They were all positive about the emerging opportunities of blended learning but all had similar questions about models, platforms, and content.
Following are 10 tips for launching a blended high school or phasing blended strategies into an existing school.
1. Start with goals. What will grads know and be able to do?  Good schools start with good goals. I like the goal statements from Danville Schools, a small district south of Lexington:

  • POWERFUL LEARNING EXPERIENCES: Every Danville student will consistently experience classroom work and activities that are meaningful, engaging, and relevant, connecting to students’ interests and/or previous knowledge.
  • GLOBAL PREPAREDNESS: Every Danville student will be immersed each day in learning opportunities intentionally designed to develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and data analysis, enabling them to compete globally.
  • GROWTH FOR ALL: Every Danville student, regardless of starting point, will achieve at least one year of academic progress in reading and mathematics each school year.
  • EXCELLENCE IN COMMUNICATION: Every Danville student will be provided regular and multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning through verbal and written communications, visual and performing arts, and the use of multiple forms of technology.
  • AN INFORMED & INVOLVED COMMUNITY: The Danville Schools will establish effective two-way communication, in various forms, with all stakeholders in the community. (See Getting Smart feature.)

2. Create a shared vision of powerful learning experiences. Common Core State Standards are a great opportunity to have a conversation about the kinds of learning experiences young people deserve. For an outline of 15 student learning roles see How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning.
Real college and career readiness requires writing across the curriculum–maybe 500 words a day–and publishing (not just turning in work) on a regular basis to blogs and newspapers.
Students should have a chance to self blend with access to every AP course, a wide variety of foreign languages, and exposure to careers of interest.
3. Sweat the culture.  The kids set the tone in high school unless there is a strong intentional culture.
Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School starts the day with Crew, a 30 minute advisory period where they practice and talk about the shared Habits of Heart and Mind central to the Launch culture: accountability, craftsmanship, wonder, mindfulness, and compassion. The Habits are integrated into the culture and every learning experience at Launch. (See Getting Smart feature.)
In Mooresville, North Carolina It’s Not About the Machine, It’s About Heart and, It’s All About Culture at Acton Academy.
4. Measure what matters. Build a dynamic assessment and competency-tracking capacity using MasteryConnect. Make end of course exams available on demand.
When developing goals and metrics, don’t forget character development and social emotional learning. Developing habits of success and an entrepreneurial mindset is The Missing Core of K-12.
The Summit Public Schools college and career readiness system will track growth trajectory of knowledge, skills, and success habits against college goals ( I don’t know of anyone else thinking about goal-focused tracking on these dimensions). Students falling short of their planned growth trajectory, on any front, will see a big red warning system. (See Getting Smart feature.)
5. Adopt, adapt, or develop a school model that will create powerful learning experiences, leverage your strengths and help you reach your goals. Districts/networks with relatively high performance should consider phasing in a rotation model starting with a subject with strong leadership–perhaps an area where teachers are using flipped classroom strategies.
Read up on high school rotation blends including Carpe Diem, Summit Denali and the NGLC Profiles (and this three part series: Next-Gen Models Attack Problems, Leverage Opportunities, Next-Gen Learning Models Blend Tech & Experiences, Next-Gen Models Break New Ground, Promote System Redesign. If a large percentage of students are below grade level, consider blended systems like Read 180 and Math 180.
Schools serving over-aged and under-credited students or those connected to technical training, like Career Path High, should use a flex model to optimize personalization, schedule and location flexibility, and pathway options. In most cases, it’s best to run a flex model on a comprehensive learning platform.
See 10 Reasons Every District Should Open a Flex School. Nexus Lansing is a new flex model charter school. For a district version, check out iPrep: The Miami Flex.
6. Ask students to wrestle with big problems. Big blocks offer the opportunity for personalization within heterogeneous groupings. Big History is great content for a science/humanities block.
At Reynoldsburg eSTEM, three capstone options are offered in triple blocks potentially incorporating core courses such as ethics and technical writing, technical writing, an AP credit and/or college credit bearing courses like political science and microeconomics, an internship, and a undergraduate-style research projects handful of projects. Imagine high school seniors (instead of coasting) taking a super block focused on energy, environment, and the economy.
The Shift From Cohorts to Competency can be particularly challenging at the high school level given transcripts and graduation requirements. Some schools will reduce the Common Core to a checklist of micro-standards.  Track competencies but don’t miss the opportunity to ask big questions and provoke deeper learning.
7. Pick a platform and content.  It’s easiest to run flex model schools using a comprehensive platform (content plus LMS) like Egenuity, GradPoint, and Flipswitch.
The Alliance for College Ready Schools in LA developed BLAST classrooms, a three station rotation model including online learning, small group instruction, and collaborative learning, in partnership with Education Elements.
Students at ten Houston High Schools will receive a laptop for the next school year (see Houston High School Students Get Laptops Next Year) and they’ll be using the free social learning platform Edmodo that makes it easy to build and share content libraries.
The most innovative platform I’ve seen this year is Buzz in Detroit. The EAA built it on Brainhoney from Agilix and populated the innovative competency-based model with Compass Odyssey.
Check out the growing universe of Open Educational Resources from Gooru Learning,,, and OpenEd (see 6/25 feature).
8. Blend your staffing plan. Check out the extended reach strategies at Opportunity Culture.  Phase in differentiated staffing(different levels) and distributed staffing (a few remote teachers). A recent blog outlined 10 Ways Smart Cities Develop & Support Teachers.
Summit Public Schools has a thoughtful competency-based  four steps teacher development system that utilizes multiple forms of evidence.
9. Pick the right device.  As discussed in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, don’t even think about buying student devices until you’ve set goals, debated student learning experiences, and developed a school model that leverage great teaching with technology.
LAUSD decided on iPads last week–a popular choice these days but it’s not a great production device for high school students.  Maine picked HP laptops. Houston High School Students Will Get Windows Laptops Next Year.  A growing number of Districts Are Chosing Chromebooks Over Tablets.
10. Engage, improve, & iterate. We’re in the early innings of the shift to personal digital learning. New tools and new schools are being developed every month. The best leaders can do is to lead a conversation that exposes the school community to opportunity and yields temporary agreements that enables schools to iterate up from a sound design.
Disclosures: Edmodo and MasteryConnect are Learn Capital Portfolio companies where Tom is a partner. CompassLearning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

Super Power Physics Lessons Debut on TED-Ed

Calling all science teachers! Today, TED-Ed launches a new series of physics lessons, Super Power Physics Lessons, and these are definitely lessons worth sharing!
The videos are beautifully produced inside a “comic book” theme that students will love. They address six different super powers: Super Speed, Super Strength, Invisibility, Body Mass, Immortality and Flight. Each video lasts about 5 minutes and basically answers the question of what would happen to our bodies if the laws of physics that govern these capabilities truly took effect.
Just a few examples of the essential questions being addressed in these “super” engaging flipped lessons are: Did you know that if you were invisible then you also technically could not see because no light would reflect off your retina? If you had super strength and actually ran and caught the damsel in distress, that you’d do more damage to her body than the ground would? Or bugs would destroy your face if you could fly? Is it scientifically possible to  be invisible?
“Each short is brilliantly animated and performed… with voice over work done by none other than James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Fred Flinstone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo, among countless others. And each lesson was written by Joy Lin—a high school science from Austin, TX.”
If you have not explored TED-Ed yet, teachers need to know it does not just provide high quality content videos and lessons. Anyone can tweak, or completely redo any lesson featured on TED-Ed  (or create lessons from scratch based on any video from YouTube) directly inside the site, and then share those lessons with your students and other educators.  As more and more teachers explore the benefits of flipping their classroom, quality resources like these are essential. Flipping lessons is not necessarily a simple process or something that teachers master the first time around, as one of our incredible teacher bloggers, Susan Lucille Davis, just addressed last week, in her post, Why I Haven’t Flipped… Yet. But, luckily, resources like TED-Ed are continually adding to their library of incredible resources so that teachers to have the means to succeed as they continue updating lessons for digital learning.
This brand new series on TED-Ed will certainly help middle school and high school physics students decide if they really would truly like to sign up as a one of the Avengers… but after checking out these videos, there might not be many takers.
Happy summer lesson planning to all the great physics teachers out there!

Museums & MOOCs

Earlier this month, I wrote about museums and alternate models of accessibility, from mobile brain science museums to portable pop-up hands-on STEM ‘museums’. These models, although mobile, still exist in a physical space – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Think Tank is filled with brain science technology that just isn’t available to the average person, and the whole point of the Foundation for Early Learning’s Uni project is to bring hands-on science-related activities into public spaces.
But if the worst case scenario from the news is true, the US is currently facing a STEM crisis and a looming shortage of future scientists and engineers; we’re doing a terrible job of educating not just our K-12 kids but our teachers as well, and our current approach to teacher professional development isn’t fixing things. Even as they grapple with budgets still reeling from the economic crisis, many science museums are trying to fill supplemental science education and teacher training roles. One model museums are experimenting with is the MOOC: Massive Online Open Course.
MOOCs are free-choice online educational program scalable to a massive degree. The idea is that an educator designs a course that can be delivered via the web, complete with homework. Unlike videos on, for example, a YouTube channel, MOOCs aim for interactive participation and open access. While MOOCs do face scrutiny for being over-hyped or not living up to ideals, some museums have taken the plunge.
Having already secured partnerships with elite universities such as Princeton and Columbia, MOOC hub site Coursera recently partnered with several museums to offer professional development for teachers.
Last month, the American Museum of Natural History, the Exploratorium, and the Museum of Modern Art all announced their MOOC channels on Coursera, which will provide free professional development courses. The AMNH’s first three courses will cover genetics, evolution, and Earth science, while the Exploratorium will focus on inquiry-based learning such as integrating tinkering and engineering into classroom activities.
The Exploratorium sees MOOCs as a natural outgrowth of their efforts to train science teachers. In a press release, their Associate Executive Director Rob Semper wrote, “We are constantly tinkering with new ways to expand our impact and reach those who stand to benefit the most. …  Our professional development programs for teachers have had a profound impact on thousands of science classrooms in every state. To put that impact in perspective, 90% of beginning science teachers who graduated from the Exploratorium’s two-year mentoring program are still teaching science after 5 years, compared to a national average teacher retention rate of 50%. The potential to raise this impact to new heights by bringing our teaching methods online is remarkable.”
The Museum of Modern Art’s courses so far include inquiry-based teaching skills for incorporating art into the classroom. While MoMA apparently saw MOOCs as worth a try, another internationally-known art museum decided against MOOCs – at least for now. The UK’s Tate museum is known for their educational digital projects, but felt the costs associated with launching a MOOC channel outweighed the benefits. The ideal of MOOCs providing free, open learning on a global scale fit the museum’s vision, but the reality is that producing and sustaining MOOCs will require resources. In a world of limited resources, the Tate was worried about the quality of the MOOC learning experience and low course completion rates (which may be as low as 10%), as well as their ability to keep content fresh and provide appropriate tutoring for courses.
With detractors warning of a MOOC “hype cycle” and supporters proclaiming MOOCs as the real deal, I suppose – like other new models of accessibility – we’ll have to wait and see. I suspect the answer won’t be a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” for MOOCs – MOOCs will likely prove to be a near-perfect vehicle for some museums and certain content while proving to be a wash for others.

K-12 Assessment and Teacher Evaluation: Lessons from Tim’s Fifth Grade Class

By: Matt Chapman
Tim is a 5th grade teacher in the Portland Public Schools.  I met him while helping to find funding so that his students could continue classes into the summer. Tim has 31 students, only two of whom speak English at home.  He was justifiably proud of those who had recently emigrated to the U.S. from Africa, and were now able to read.  Others had made great progress, but would likely regress without a continuation of their studies.  I found Tim genuinely inspirational – the kind of teacher that motivates me to come to work each day in the belief that I can be part of helping them help kids learn.
But Tim also shared his frustration with the recent administration of Oregon’s state accountability test (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or OAKS).  While it purports to be adaptive, it is confined to grade level measures. As a result, educators can only see whether or not students are achieving what’s expected of a typical 5th grader. They need additional measures to understand what students have actually learned and where they need additional support. Tim reflected sadly on how hopeless his students were as they began the process, knowing that despite their great progress they would be deemed failures because they were not yet performing at grade level.
Tim’s students are not the only ones at risk of being labeled failures. As Oregon accedes to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requirements, a material portion of Tim’s evaluation as a teacher will be based on this same narrowly focused test. And for that element, Tim too will be deemed unsatisfactory, rather than being celebrated as the hero he actually is.
Stories like Tim’s illustrate three critical aspects of teacher evaluations as we try to take measures of student achievement into account.
1. Use appropriate assessments to measure student performance.
Some types of data are not good measures for purposes beyond their primary function. The grade-level focus of OAKS aligns with NCLB requirements and is not inherently problematic for that purpose. But OAKS, like all high stakes state assessments, is a proficiency status test—meaning it demonstrates whether or not a student is meeting established grade level norms—and it tells us very little about how teachers have performed.  Instead, as has often been pointed out, using this data incents teachers to focus efforts on the kids just below proficiency rather than teaching all students irrespective of current performance. For student assessment data to be relevant to evaluating teacher performance it must at a minimum cover the range of student performance, measuring both below and above the grade level to reflect the reality of today’s students.
2. Build teacher evaluations on multiple measures of student knowledge and teacher effectiveness.
Tim’s story illustrates how important it is to base teacher evaluations on multiple measures – including many that don’t provide the deceptively satisfying output of a number.  I have had the opportunity to observe many classrooms over the years, and it takes very little time to tune into the tone and interchange that is underway. Peer observation, instructional rounds and other methods of in-depth evaluation measures provide qualitative feedback that complements a range of student performance data—formative, interim and summative. (In a 2012 study conducted by Grunwald Associates for NWEA, both teachers and parents said that formative and interim assessments were considerably more valuable than summative assessments.)
3. Use student assessment data to help educators improve their practice.
For Tim’s students, the reality that they were doomed to fail with no recognition of their progress was extremely discouraging.  And the same reaction should be expected when we position assessments not as a means to help teachers get better but as a means of punishment and a basis for dismissal. Student assessment data, when tied to professional development, can be a very positive and affirming event for teachers. Teachers teach because they want to help children learn.  And they are eager for data and tools that will help them be even better at their chosen task.  As Vicki Phillips of the Gates Foundation and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers recently articulated in a joint position paper, assessment needs to be part of teacher development – a means to improve – as its primary purpose.
Teacher evaluation systems do not have to be confrontational or punitive. They can be constructive ways to identify strengths upon which teachers can build, and challenges that they need to address. This is true of every personnel evaluation system, and there is no reason we can’t approach teaching – one of our most important and deserving professions – from the same perspective.
As President and CEO, Matt Chapman leads the non-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in achieving its mission of partnering to help all kids learn. Matt has combined his career in business with a volunteer career focused on education, including the development of a program for street youth with an award-winning alternative school and service on the boards of the University of Portland and All Hands Raised (Portland Schools Foundation).

Student Data and Educator Evaluation: Focus on Learning and Professional Growth
Across the country, school districts have responded to state and federal calls for heightened accountability in part by reshaping educator evaluation systems. Increasingly, district leaders are introducing student assessment data into the formulas used to inform these processes. In this three-part guest series, leaders at the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) consider the impact of using data from tests designed for instructional purposes to guide educator evaluations and call for a renewed focus on student learning and professional growth for teachers.
See the first two installments of NWEA’s three part educator evaluation series:

Infographic | Pearson on College Readiness

Pearson recently released a series of infographics, that explore three critical areas of college readiness: pre-college, entry/assessment/placement, and developmental education. These graphics were created in order to better understand the state of college readiness. Some of Pearson’s findings include;
Pre College:

  • The non-traditional student: 75% of students are college commuters, often juggling families, jobs and school
  • College bound seniors & the SAT: 57% did not meet the SAT® College & Career Readiness Benchmark

Developmental Education:

  • 50% of those seeking an associate degree require remediation
  • 20.7% of those seeking a bachelor degree require remediation










Disclosure: Pearson is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.