EdTech 10: Leveraging Teachers; Rating HigherEd

Whether school has already started or you are gearing up to welcome the students this coming Tuesday, all the hard working teachers out there deserve a day off to rest and relax because the school year is here and it’s bound to be a great one! But “great” can’t happen without incredible amounts of hard work, so, this Labor Day, we sure hope all those teachers realize how appreciated their hard work is.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. Building Non-Cognitive Skills into a Blended Model Here’s a must read post from a “superstar teacher” getting ready to teach first grade. We love how she plans to use the blended learning model to have more personal time with students, teaching them about social expectations. We’ve written frequently this year about smarter blends including Fortified Environments Turnaround Impacts of Poverty; Deeper Learning: Not Just for Suburban Students; and Summit Denali: Engaging Student-Centered High School Model.

2. New LAUSD technology panel tackles details of iPad project – It doesn’t go unnoticed when one of the largest districts in the country decides to buy every one of their students iPads! We definitely want to know the “deets” on how it’s going over there… check out this Daily News post.  We’re excited about the potential to Transform Special Education with iPads in LAUSD.  Watch for a deep dive this week on iPad content in LA.

Digital Developments

3. Attention all good iNACOL members. Please add your feedback in this survey iNACOL has created to help improve broadband access for student learning! They want to highlight not only how their members use the internet but also the challenges they face. It’s only 12 questions, won’t take long and you will be helping students connect all over the country.

4. Pearson keeps pushing into the future and taking students with them. This week they launched an online, interactive guide to strategies for using performance assessments to measure 21st Century higher-order skills like critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving. The guide “provides educators, policymakers, students and parents with an overview of different types of assessments and the ways that they can be used to support student learning. The guide offers policymakers with a comprehensive understanding of performance assessment.” If that’s not enough for you, Pearson also has announced they are partnering with Knewton to add adaptive learning features to MyLab and Mastering offerings. Worth watching.

Teachers & Tech

5. Leveraging great teaching with tech. Both Secretary of Ed, Arne Duncan and the Christensen Institute wrote about the importance of teachers and how technology can leverage great teaching.  Opportunity Culture wrote the book on this topic.

6. myEdmatch has a the art of a good pitch down, that’s for sure. They were founded less than a year ago but just closed a round of funding bringing their total investment up to almost $3 million. When you have a great idea like connecting the right educators with the right schools based on missions, beliefs and goals, it should be easy to find support.


7. If you consider yourself a gamer, an educational gamer that is, MIT’s Education Arcade is one of the top resources you should have bookmarked. This week they launched a new online math and science game for high schoolers called The Radix Endeavor. It’s a “World of Warcraft” like game completely aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards for Biology and CCSS for math. Sounds like a win-win for high schoolers everywhere. Interested? Katrina Schwarz covers it here on KQED.

In case you missed it, earlier this week Jessica Slusser posted 5 Tips to Successfully Gamify Your Classroom or School.


Higher, Deeper, Further, Faster Learning

8. We heard it here from Adam Renfro first, but it is definitely official–Linkedin has lowered it’s age restriction to 14 and is opening has announced the addition of  University Pages. This is good news- we hear those college students like to socialize, in the real world as well as virtually.  We think this has the potential the potential to improve employability.

9. The president proposed performance-based funding for HigherEd base on an outcome rating system. Inside Higher Ed provided comprehensive coverage and Brookings notes shortcomings.  Meanwhile innovators are changing the postsecondary landscape.  With the combination of new competitors and new incentives, things could change fast.

10. By the way, while you are over at Inside Higher Ed, take some time and catch up on the latest opinion on MOOCs- their  Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology suggests the 2,251 professors are still skeptical that MOOCs are truly where we are headed. But that’s not all they say… this report is overflowing with data and analysis of what could or could not make a MOOC a success.


Pearson is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Tom is a Director at iNACOL.



Optimizing Informal Learning Spaces: Ten Tips for Universities

By: Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber
Engagement is about learning, not just a transfer of knowledge. With the rise of the digital, diverse, and distributed student, common spaces are emerging as transitional “third places” to gather and collaborate on campuses across the country. Now, it’s more important than ever to make every university space an active learning space- be it media labs, libraries, or lounge areas.
These informal spaces should offer student’s a range of places and the choice and control to select the best environment for their needs. Throughout the semester or even within the same day, students need spaces that support focused, individual study, dyadic work or large team collaborative projects.
Purposely designed, campuses can take advantage of the opportunities represented by these changes and become host to engaged and active learning.
Below are ten guiding tenets for those who plan education spaces to reimagine in-between space real estate to better capture these moments of learning for more effective informal learning spaces:

  1. Provide multiple power outlets for portable technology- smart devices, laptops, etc- to help prevents students from unplugging other equipment to access power.
  2. Consider benching workspaces instead of freestanding desks; they use real estate efficiently, route wires and cables, and are simple to expand or contract.
  3. Design for self-directed learning.
  4. Support individual, dyadic and team work, as well as spaces for instructor demonstration.
  5. Allow for temporary ownership of certain spaces.
  6. Understand the intended user behaviors and design intentionally.
  7. Provide tools for visual display, collaborative technology, information and acoustical privacy.
  8. Consider postural changes for short and long term use.
  9. Support perched and standing short term postures.
  10. Think… multi-purpose, adaptable spaces.

Written by: Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber, Steelcase Education Solutions
For more, see Blended Learning Demands Big Open Spaces

Good & Bad Marriages: Philanthropic Partnerships

Local philanthropic partnerships can leverage resources to attack big problems but they are challenging to create. Between us, we’ve created hundreds of local and initiative-based funding alliances, so we’ve seen our share of good and bad marriages.
We turned to Greg Butler, a former Microsoft executive who heads an international partnership association, and he gave us a dictionary definition of partnerships: ongoing working relationship where risks and benefits are shared. He added that in practical terms this implies that each partner is equally involved in co-creating the partnership’s activities, bringing contributions (of different kinds) to the partnership, and committing to mutual accountability.
Ten tips on forming good marriages. We compared notes and identified ten attributes of productive philanthropic partnerships:

  1. Interest-based conversations are held up front;
  2. Project viability is assessed up front through site visits, audits, and interviews;
  3. Clear mission and goal alignment around desired impact–most often a replicable, scalable program that positively affects multiple constituents;
  4. Challenges, barriers, and risks are identified;
  5. Clear plans are developed to accomplish goals and mitigate risk;
  6. Ownership and engagement of all partners, funders, supporters and implementers;
  7. Project governance that respects roles and boundaries;
  8. Regular project reports with full transparency;
  9. Flexibility to adjust plans, timelines and resource allocations; and
  10. Celebration of progress and recognition of people contributing to impact.

“That kind of partnership leverages cage-busting leadership,” said Ingrid Ellerbe, MIND Research Institute. She noted that the ultimate measure of success is expansion and/or replication of the partnership. MIND Research developed a successful Orange County Math Initiative and replicated it in a dozen other metro areas.
Ana Tilton, Grantmakers for Education, said “Complex problems, like those our members and their partners are working to address, often require them to abandon or compromise single focused agendas in favor of a collective approach.” Like any good marriage, partners must find common ground and do best when they don’t go it alone. When funders collaborate with people and organizations that share their objectives, they are able to leverage individual expertise to do more together than they ever could have done alone.
The successful cradle to career initiatives in greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky are a great example of a productive partnership. Supported by Strive, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, it is a collective approach of more than 300 organizations to improve student achievement
Bad Marriages. We’ve all seen partnerships that went south and failed to produce the planned impact or worse–exploded. Following are a few reasons bad things happen to good people:

  1. It becomes clear that partners have different agendas;
  2. A power imbalance makes the partnership unproductive;
  3. Partners over-promise and continually under-deliver on resources or commitment;
  4. Quality is sacrificed for scale;
  5. Funders do not continually assess inputs and outputs;
  6. Sustainability is not considered with investment strategy;
  7. Lack of buy-in by all parties;
  8. Disconnect between outcomes and expectations;
  9. Lack of transparency on expenditures, activities and/or outputs;
  10. Leadership changes derail partnership plans.

There’s an inherent value when each stakeholder invests. There’s a sense of ownership to affect change versus something being handed to you. Ellerbe said, “There seems to be better outcomes when our schools have ‘skin in the game’ meaning they match or partially match funding. Our history shows that when we don’t have that there’s a 50/50 chance of achieving the goal.”
Tilton said, “The kind of change our members and their partners are dedicated to producing doesn’t happen overnight. Short-term initiatives that promise fast returns are enticing, but they are likely to result in a bad marriage that leaves one or both partners feeling unfulfilled. Making real change and real progress requires a long-term sustained commitment through all of the ups and downs any good partnership brings with it.”
Requirements. The Foundation Strategy Group has identified five conditions that produce alignment and lead to powerful results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.
Under the umbrella of mutually reinforcing activities, partnerships often thrive when there are clear objectives and measures coupled with autonomy on how to get there. Just as critical a requirement – under the umbrella of continuous communication – is building trust between partners as well as ensuring a common motivation from the start.
The Partnership Brokers Association, chaired by Butler, has identified partnership brokering skills including negotiating, facilitating, synthesizing, communicating, institution building, and revising.
Strong partnerships, according to Butler, thrive on equity, transparency, and mutual benefit. When designed around these principles there is respect for the added value each party brings, trust sufficient to support risk taking, and engagement likely to sustain the work over time.
Developing good partnerships requires a significant investment of time and an ongoing investment in managing the partnership agenda, communicating with partners and stakeholders, and adapting to changing circumstances.
Contingencies. Partnerships are becoming more and more structured these days and for good reason. As referenced above, long-term projects hold the greatest promise for the kind of sustained social impact partnerships are formed to create. Structures for everything from reporting results, to regular communication, to how decisions get made are critical to ensuring that progress can continue even in the midst of change. Changes like staff turnover, new evidence to consider and incorporate, and additional need can be minimized when you have the right structures in place.
“Leadership changes on both side of the equations are a big one for us–funder and implementer,” said Ellerbe, “It’s imperative to quickly access the new instructional leader when there’s turnover in order to reengage the major stakeholder responsible for implementing the solution.”
It’s a good idea to include a pause clause in the partnership agreement so that in the event of a significant implementation leadership change, funders have the chance to reassess the situation.
For more. To continue the conversation, vote for our SXSW panel–Good & Bad Marriages: Philanthropic Partnerships–on the panel picker.
The Partnership Brokers Association website provides a wealth of information about partnership brokering. The Partnering Initiative website provides even more information around cross-sector and multi-stakeholder partnerships for development.
Written by:
Ana Tilton, Executive Director, Grantmakers for Education
Steve Seleznow, President and CEO, Arizona Community Foundation
Ingrid Ellerbe, VP Engagement, MIND Research Institute 

Key Definitions for Blended Learning

We’re busy this month updating the DLN Smart Series papers and bundling them as an ebook. We’ll also release Version 2.0 of the Blended Learning Implementation Guide in September, with Digital Learning Now! and The Learning Accelerator.  In the meantime, we couldn’t wait to share our updated list of key definitions and terminology to help our readers keep all these learning innovations straight. 

Terms such as “online learning,” “blended learning,” “personalized learning,” “customized learning,” and “competency-based learning” are flooding our educational dialogue, and they are often used interchangeably. The ideas are related, but they are not the same. It’s important to understand the differences.

Blended learning is “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through the online delivery of content and instruction, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home” (Source: Christensen Institute (formerly Innosight). Compared to high-access environments, which simply provide devices for students, blended learning includes an intentional shift to online instructional delivery for a portion of the day in order to boost student, teacher and school productivity.  As Opportunity Culture outlines, that implies new school models, staffing structures, schedules, and resource allocation pattern. While 1 to 1 initiatives add computers to schools, blended learning changes everything.

Online learning is teacher-led education that takes place over the Internet using a web-based educational delivery system that includes software to provide a structured learning environment. The teacher and student are usually separated geographically, and classes may be delivered synchronously (communication in which participants interact in real time, such as online video) or asynchronously (communication separated by time, such as email or online discussion forums). It may be accessed from multiple settings (in school or out of school buildings) (Source: Keeping Pace).

Personalized learning is paced to student needs, tailored to learning preferences, and customized to the specific interests of different learners. Technology gives students opportunities to take ownership of their learning (Source: National Education Technology Plan).

Customized learning is informed by enhanced and expanded student data, which is applied to boost motivation and achievement, keeping more students on track for college and career readiness (see Data Backpacks: Portable Records and Learner Profiles). We use the term “customized learning” to refer to an expanded and enhanced version of personalization focused on individual student pathways driven by interests and best learning modalities. As adaptive learning becomes more sophisticated, learner profiles will be able to recommend experiences likely to result in learning and persistence.

Competency-based learning is a system of education, often referred to as proficiency or mastery based, in which students advance based on demonstration of mastery. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. Assessment is meaningful and serves as a positive learning experience for students. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. Learning outcomes include the application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions (Source: CompetencyWorks).

Digital learning, as used by Digital Learning Now! and others, refers to all of the above–full and part time access to online and blended learning.

Do these terms echo the uses that you’re hearing? What terms would you like to better understand? 
Digital Learning Now! is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner

New Tech Expands Online PBL Across Network

New Tech Network, 130 STEM schools in 23 states, launched  Digital [email protected] last year with 2 online semester courses and 56 enrolled students from 15 different New Tech schools. The courses were the first to offer online learning as 100% project-based and grouped students in order to have collaborative learning experiences.

This year, with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, NTN is expanding the program by offering 6 unique, yet STEM focused courses that students would not be exposed to in a typical high school curriculum: Astronomy, Physics, Transportation and Communication, Probability and Statistics, Sustainability by Design and “Where Will I Use This?” Mathematical Modeling- a math course for students not intending to major in mathematics in college. These subjects were chosen through a combination of interest in electives and access to exemplary teachers.

“All courses are designed and led by experienced New Tech facilitators, and offer students an opportunity to develop global awareness, online communication, technology, and agency skills– all critical attributes for success in college and careers.”

Last week, we talked to Jamie Sachs, Director of Digital Learning, to hear about her plans for the this year, as they plan to build their catalog by adding a minimum of five new courses every year.  She told us she is excited about online learning again. She comes to NTN with extensive experience in online Charter schools and loves the idea of having these types of online courses offered to students.

The K-12 New Tech Network schools share Echo, a project-based learning learning management system. Each course at New Tech is made up of a series of projects (similar to units at other schools). Now scaling within Network schools are College Ready Assessments (CRA) embedded within projects which enable teachers to score individual student work, culminating in a rubric-scored performance assessment. Echo helps to ensure that each project is standards-based and aligned to Learning Outcomes and is rigorously scored. It also includes an extensive curated library of projects that teachers can use or adapt.  Because Echo has some social learning features, New Tech can offer these courses online.

With the Carnegie Grant, these courses are free for students and the subjects were picked to meet student needs and interest. Next year, there will be a fee, but more courses will be offered and NTN is planning to open up enrollment outside of the network.

What makes students love these courses, is the fact that they are completely project based and they get to meet and work with students from across the country. Although they never meet in person, because they all attend NTN schools and use the Echo platform, they have a shared set of values, expectations, vocabulary and tools that make it instantly easy to communicate effectively. Students not only learn the content of the course, but master the skills necessary to collaborate online- an absolute essential skill for anyone planning to be successful in today’s workforce.

In fact, one of the biggest realizations that came out of the first year of Digital Learning @ NTN was learning that the professional communication/collaboration skills were equally as important as the subject matter of the course. This year, Jamie is focused on scaffolding these skills even more. The students will start the courses with multiple activities, leveraging multiple tools by which the students can use to communicate in creative but effective ways. When working online, there is never just one way to solve a problem, and these online yet project based courses open up a whole new level of deeper learning for the students.

Other lessons learned concerned the grouping of students. Not every NTN school is coming with the same background knowledge of what an online course looks like and not everyone grades on the same skills. Digital Learning had to get everyone on the same page, regarding expectations, grading, etc.

Also, connecting students in similar situations but living in completely different regions of the country, experiencing different climates, geographies and cultures offers a personal connection and great depth to the learning that students can’t find when reading from a text book. But, Jamie explains, they will be more intentional about grouping students at the start of the program- ensuring that students are in same time zone in order to minimize some the challenges communicating online inevitably imposes. The ultimate goal is to overcome the physical obstacles and create an awareness and diversity in the projects by recognizing the fact that the students are studying together from different regions of the country.

Significant work in shifting NTN schools from “fidelity to the model” to “student outcomes” as measure of success is being done and Digital Learning @ NTN aligns with this goal. Two years of development to support CCSS and aspire to 100% college/career ready graduates have culminated in a completely redesigned School Success Rubric, new standard Learning Outcomes for all schools and have set of 45+ rubrics aligned with each learning outcome for 5th, 8th and 9-12th grades. Echo continues to play significant role—new reporting tools also helping teachers and administrators use student data more effectively. Now with Digital Learning, students will be able to add a completely new category to their college/career application- “successful online communicator/learner.”

Internet Learning Part 2: Meet Students Where They Live

This is the second post of a 3 part series. This post first appeared on The Navigator Blog, from CompassLearning. 
Today’s students eat … breathe … sleep … study … play connected. So why not meet them, reach them, and teach them right where they live?
In fact, 21st century mediums like the Internet and social media sites are the ideal means to impart and develop 21st century skills. Encourage students to collaborate, communicate, be creative, think critically, and achieve technology fluency by incorporating the social Web into your teaching practices and professional development. Here’s how: images[7] (3)

  • Create a classroom blog so students (and parents) can stay up-to-date on upcoming projects, due dates, events, and other classroom happenings
  • Encourage students to start their own personal or public blogs
  • Require students to connect with elected officials (like on the White House blog), and industry leaders (via business blogs)
  • Publish student work on a blog, or have students set up their own blogs as online portfolios
  • Sign up to receive blogs like the CompassLearning Navigator and Getting Smart to stay sharp on the latest edtech topics
  • Make it mandatory for students to follow a certain number of bloggers in their area(s) of interest

images[7] (4)Facebook

  • Create a Facebook page for your class where you can schedule events, post notes, and remind students of assignment due dates
  • Post additional materials like links to articles and videos on Twitter so students can continue to learn even when class is over
  • Create Groups to: Collaborate with other teachers in your school, district, state, and beyond; connect with other teachers of the same grade/subject; and share information with parents
  • Create Events to invite students to extracurricular activities
  • Create Event Polls to collect student feedback to shape events and classroom projects
  • Follow Companies like Compass Learning for ed tech news, product information, or to request customer support


  • Create Hangouts with: Students across the state, country, or even the world’ authors, community leaders, and other role models; and college admissions counselors


  • Create a profile to promote your own skills and achievements (Make sure to include your technology skills!)
  • Join existing groups and/or start your own group to collaborate with educators across the state, country, and world
  • Help students get a head start on career mapping and networking by requiring them to create a profile 


  • At the start of the school year ask students to pin images that represent their goals for the year and beyond
  • Have students pin images relevant to a recent lesson (ex. Healthy living: fruits, vegetables, exercise, etc.)
  • Utilize our “Printables” boards for educational and printable classroom décor
  • Search Pinterest for inspiring tips on how to organize and decorate your classroom
  • Allow students to use Pinterest for presentations and projects; and later, set up boards to showcase students’ final assignments


  • Create a Twitter feed for your classroom so you can tweet about upcoming assignments, events, and class news
  • Use hashtags for things like communal note taking during an in-service day or student Q&A during an assembly or presentation
  • Search hashtags to extend your reach and learning (Perfect example: Carl Hooker, Director of Instructional Technology at Eanes ISD in Texas used Storify to troll Twitter’s #ISTE13 hashtag to discover tidbits, resources, and tools that might be useful for his district)
  • Encourage students to follow local influencers (ex. mayor, library, newspaper, etc.)
  • Follow education leaders like your principal, superintendent, board of education members, state education agency commissioner, etc.
  • Follow our “EduBloggers“ list to connect with education thought leaders


  • Create tutorials, or short how-tos for students FAQs
  • Create announcements to share information with your parents
  • Promote and share news about upcoming events
  • Search for on-topic YouTube videos that you can use in the classroom to bring lessons to life
  • Curate organized playlists on YouTube so your students can easily find and watch all related videos on-topic
  • Subscribe to Compass Learning’s YouTube Channel to keep up with the latest videos on K-12 education.

Google Apps (Not really social media, but certainly a good collaborative online tool)

  • Make notes and slide presentations available online in Drive
  • Provide feedback to students via comments feature in Docs
  • Group work collaboration in Docs
  • Share important deadlines and events, like state testing dates, on a shared Calendar

And remember – have the conversation — over and over again — about online safety and responsibility, so that these digital natives can coexist in and contribute to a harmonious online community.
Later this week we’ll run Part Three of our Internet Learning series in which we’ll share online safety and responsibility ideas for parents. (Also, if you missed it, check out the first in our series about Internet Learning.)

Stephanie Bruno

Stephanie Bruno is a Social Media Specialist at Compass Learning. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Media Studies from The University of San Francisco.

Tupac and Einstein: Now That’s Blended Learning

I can honestly remember sitting in a high school Language Arts classroom as a sophomore in 1990 and thinking, “Man, there has to be a better way of learning than this.” But I was that pimple-faced, just-want-to-play-sports, socially awkward kid who tried his best not to be noticed due to an affliction of P.S.S., or Painfully Shy Syndrome. I wasn’t about to voice my criticism.
Truth is, however, my inner voice was screaming so loudly for alternative ways of proving my knowledge, of revealing my talents, of challenging myself to conquer personal weaknesses, of stimulating my desire to learn by being physically active in class…anything other than the usual drill of lecture, read, and worksheet.
You know what I mean. I was longing for a Shakespeare rap in the style of Public Enemy, an improvisational acting of Jem and Scout’s scary, nighttime walk in To Kill a Mockingbird, or maybe just the creation of a totally original short story to demonstrate my understanding of character development. Heck, my simplest classroom wishes had me daydreaming of a teacher who found some way of invoking all students’ voices to form a symphony of diversity via anything other than the one-size-fits-all pedagogy.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say I had visions of multi-touch screens that accessed a world of knowledge by wirelessly connecting to a digital, infinite library. If that were true, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, but instead I would be stretched out with my feet propped up while I watched the sunset on Lake Washington as a 40-year-old retiree of Silicon Valley.
Oh, but I am far more blessed than that.
You see, I, along with Dr. Lisa Sheehy and Wes Vonier, facilitate learning in a classroom with infinite possibilities. Not only is it a classroom where personalized and asynchronous learning dictate the students’ individual paths, but it is a classroom where creativity reigns supreme through flexibility, shared classroom ownership, and a superfluity of educational choices.
Think of it as a classroom where all types of learners can succeed…on their terms. You know, students as diverse and different as, say, Tupac Shakur and Albert Einstein.
Tupac and Einstein?
Now that sounds like a unique blended learning academy.
Let’s take a tour.

Want to see another Wax Museum version of our introduction? This one features live music. Click here.

The Seven Zones

In order to efficiently structure our classroom in some organizational manner and to accommodate all types of learning styles and activities, we established seven zones that bear the names of famously different learners. These names will remain for a half-semester, at which time they will be replaced by the names of other unique learners. Ultimately, our pie-in-the-sky goal is to end the year with the zones renamed in honor of our current students.
Here is a brief introduction of our seven zones:

The Yousafzai Zone and a Welcoming Collage of Greatness

YousafzaiOur first zone, named after Malala Yousafzai, is located immediately inside the entrance to our blended learning academy. It is simple. With only two comfortable chairs, a small table, and one dry-erase board, this learning area beckons students to curl up with wifi-connected tablets or no technology gadgets at all as they brainstorm and collaborate about their next big creation or their next, epic educational stance.
They need not look far for inspiration. A collage of diverse thinkers ranging from Will Smith to Mahatma Gandhi to Steve Jobs to Ray Charles hangs nearby and reminds all students that they are stepping into a room designed for greatness.
Collage of Greatness
Currently top-secret knowledge at this time, our ultimate plan is to gradually replace these famous faces with expressions from our brilliant students to create the final collage at the end of the year. After all, students should believe themselves capable of the extraordinary.

The Tupac Zone

Tupac ZoneNot to glorify any negative actions but to lift up the potential of a truly dedicated and focused blended learner, a portrait of the often troubled but extremely talented Tupac Shakur and his inspirational poem “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” hang just above the entrance to our professional-grade music studio. Equipped with all the appropriate musical hardware and the highly-touted ProTools software, this music studio is ready to pump out high-quality tracks and lyrics.
My years in Studio 113 taught me that music almost always gets the students’ attention. Whether they can sing or not, every student is curious about the process of crafting an original poem and setting it to music. I have witnessed students over the years who had no singing ability whatsoever who were filled with enthusiasm and engagement at the daunting task of demonstrating knowledge through originally written music. Even if the songs weren’t actually worthy of a download from iTunes, the assignment always pushed them way past finish lines normally marked by worksheets and preparation for standardized testing.

The Frida, Lennon, and Mandela Zones

Frida Lennon MandelaNamed after Frida Kahlo, John Lennon, and Nelson Mandela, respectively, three of the seven zones contain 65-inch Samsung flat screens with touch overlays, or windows, that allow up to six simultaneous touches at once. These powerful tech screens also allow students to hook up their tablets or laptops through HDMI or VGA cables. By simply switching the “source” input on the screens, students can toggle back and forth from different computer screens.
However, the Frida Zone’s Chromecast and the Lennon Zone’s Apple TV help add extra flexibility and efficiency by allowing students to share directly from wi-fi enabled tablets, laptops, and smartphones from any location in the room.

The Lee Zone

Lee ZoneThe energetic, rebellious, courageous, and gifted spirit of Bruce Lee encapsulates this zone. Comprising a six-section, portable stage that maxes out at 18” x 12’ x 16’, speakers that will absolutely rock the house, a pull-down screen, and projector, this zone is perfect for mind-blowing presentations and concerts.
Furthermore, by reconfiguring the stage into different dimensions, an infinite number of gamified and interactive learning structures may be set up. These structures may stem from Whose Line Is It Anyway? or they may be some of the totally original ones created by our class as a whole.
I can’t wait to show you some of our future presentations and interactive structures. Please stay tuned.

The Einstein Zone

Einstein ZoneThis particular zone, named after the genius himself, adds pretty cool bit of technology. Enter the media:scape from Dekalb Office. Take a look at this picture, and you will immediately understand the concept.
So far, our first two weeks have revealed this zone to be one of the favorites. This dual screen setup allows students to toggle to and fro from up to four computers. Students can choose to share their laptop or tablet screens by simply clicking on circular, push-button switch that shoots the image directly to one or both of the flat screens. As you can easily imagine, this zone is powerful for teamwork.

Our Digital Learning Platform and Google Drive

To deliver our digital content, we use “Dell’s and Intel’s DLP user interface sitting on top of the Agilix BrainHoney learning management system.” (O’Dell). Our county has rebranded the digital learning platform, and we now refer to it as HallConnect.
To provide even more 21st century technology tools to our students, our county has integrated the power of Google Drive into HallConnect. Students are absolutely blown away by the effectiveness and collaborative potential of creating and sharing all their work in Google Drive.
Me? I’m pumped, too. I can’t wait to grade my first stack of essays with Voice Comment in Drive.

The Tech Gadgets

Our 1:1 program affords us the privilege of using Dell laptops, Dell tablets, and iPads, and to help with our full-scale movie program, as well as a multitude of other creative ventures, we have access to HD cameras, a 10’ X 20’ chroma key set, and lapel mics. Basically, if the students can imagine, they can create it.

Student Profiles

Student ProfilesPerhaps the foundation of what we intend to accomplish in our blended learning academy can be found showcased on our entrance wall in digital picture frames. Scrolling through fifteen seconds at a time, the slideshows announce to our learning family the strengths, weaknesses, talents, and ambitions of our students. No weakness is too great to demand help, and no strength is too humble to hide and go unused. Modeled by the teachers also, students are asked to be as appropriately transparent as possible. Only in this way can students move forward.

An Evolving and Flexible Schedule

As our program develops, we envision a day where “school” hours may resemble a two-shift factory instead of a traditional 8:00-4:00. Due to various conditions, some students in the future may not be able to be present in our physical classroom, but they will easily be able to work on their course content through HallConnect. To show mastery of the standards in a creative way or to seek extra help, students may check the master schedule and plan a time to visit our academy. At this time, students will have access to the latest educational and creative technology to complete original projects.
And that’s not all. Students will be encouraged to register and attend interactive learning sessions where they can collaborate on an interactive level with their peers. It may sound funny, but, hey, it has worked for Home Depot. It’s been proven. People want to be creative, and they will show up when the learning is scheduled to begin.

The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary
Nestled back in our classroom, a 10’ x 12’ area serves as the teachers’ homebase, and high above Mother Teresa sets the atmosphere for what will surely be a sanctuary as we try to provide answers for all the questions we have about this first-year program.
But there is no need to worry. And if there is, lyrics from Tupac will help us stay the course:

“That’s right

I know it seems hard sometimes but uhh

Remember one thing

Through every dark night, there’s a bright day after that

So no matter how hard it gets, stick your chest out

Keep your head up, and handle it.”

I’m sure Einstein would agree with these lines, even if my colleagues and I do have a different version of his famous equation.
You see, whereas “E” equals “engagement” and “MC” stands for “many choices,” there isn’t anything square about this academy.

Internet Learning Part 1: Safety First

This is the first post of a 3 part series. This post first appeared on The Navigator Blog, from CompassLearning. 
Long gone are the days of blackboard-, overhead projector-, and pencil-limited classrooms. Today’s teachers, students, and parents are wired to a seemingly limitless world that goes far beyond just Minecraft, Candy Crush, and Angry Birds. Exciting, engaging learning using the Internet and social media sites is just a click away … unfortunately, so are a lot of sketchy characters, questionable content, and inappropriate behavior bolstered by a false sense of anonymity.
So, while using the Internet and social media in K-12 classrooms is opening up a magnificent world of exploration, collaboration, and deeper learning, it’s also opening up Pandora’s Box. Consequently, all of us in the education community have a tremendous obligation to help our students clearly understand what it means to be part of a virtual community – how to be safe, respectful, and responsible — how to be good digital citizens.
First and foremost, students should be encouraged to only participate in age-appropriate activities; for guidance on that look to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Sensitivity to technology access – or lack thereof – is also paramount when using online tools to enhance learning. Additionally, we need to teach students safe ways to engage online and with whom NOT to engage.
Consider enlisting a group of your students to create a classroom ”digital honor code.” This type of co-development will help students feel a sense of ownership of the expected conduct.
They can turn to … well, the Internet … as can educators and parents, for help finding resources regarding online safety and acceptable behaviors. Common Sense Media is one of many terrific resources. The organization’s mission is to improve the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.
One of the insightful entries that caught our attention on their site is their five tips to help teens create a virtual world they can be proud of:
Think before you post or text – A bad reputation could be just a click away. Before you press the “send” button, imagine the last person in the world who you’d want seeing what you post.
What goes around comes around – If you want your privacy respected, respect others’ privacy. Posting an embarrassing photo or forwarding a friend’s private text without asking can cause unintended hurt or damage to others.
Spread heart, not hurt – If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online. Stand up for those who are bullied or harassed, and let them know that you’re there for them.
Give and get credit – We’re all proud of what we create. Illegal downloading, digital cheating, and cutting and pasting other peoples’ stuff may be easy, but that doesn’t make it right. You have the responsibility to respect other people’s creative work – and the right to have your own work respected.
Make this a world you want to live in – Spread the good stuff. Create, share, tag, comment, and contribute to the online world in positive ways.
Finally, don’t forget about all the valuable education software solutions out there, many of which have already done the work for you by culling and compiling safe, educational Web sites. For example, our own Renzulli Learning boasts a database of more than 40,000 secure and vetted resources your students can use to deepen and extend their learning.
How do you promote good digital citizenship among your students? Share your ideas in the Reply field below. For Part Two of our Internet Learning series in which we’ll delve into some of our favorite ideas for using the Internet and social media for teaching and learning. And, in Part Three, we’ll share Internet safety and responsibility ideas for parents.

Kathi Whitley

Kathi Whitley is a Marketing/Communications Specialist at Compass Learning. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and hasn’t left The Lone Star State since. She and her husband Allen are active members of the Alpha (Austin) chapter of the Epsilon Nu (Empty Nesters) Paternity, with one daughter, Kara, studying Management Information Systems at University of Georgia, and the other, Emma, pursuing a degree in Journalism from Texas Tech.

CompassLearning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

Trending Reasons to Teach Social Media in Schools

Social media. We still need to have this conversation. We have seen its use in political campaigns, national uprisings, social movements, marketing campaigns, data collection, content delivery, and even capturing bad guys. This same media can also be filled with questionable and inaccurate content. Users of this media have to be savvy. Being literate in social media is an essential skill for the future workforce.

“We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media. The question is how well we do it.”  –Erick Qualman

These stats aren’t new, but they are still impressive.

50% of the world’s population is under 30. These are high-end social media users.

96% of the Millennials belong to a social network.

Facebook tops Google in weekly traffic.

1 in 8 couples married in the U.S. met through social media.

The number of years it took to reach 50 million users:

Radio: 38

TV: 13

Internet: 4

iPod 3

Facebook >1

Facebook added 200 million users in the first year.

If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world.

Users downloaded 1 billion iTunes store apps in first 9 months.

80% of U.S. companies use social media for recruitment. 95% of those are using LinkedIn.

Ashton Kutcher has more Twitter followers than the countries of Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, and Panama.

Generation Y and Z think email is dead.

Some universities have abandoned student email accounts.

YouTube has the 2nd largest search engine in the world. Over 100 hours of video will be uploaded by the time you finish reading this blog post.

There are over 200 billion blogs. Word of mouth has been replace by word of blog.

25% of search results for the world’s Top 20 brands link to user-generated content.

Before you dismiss Ashton Kutcher, check out his speech at the Teen Choice Awards.


I’m usually hard pressed to thank celebrities for their contributions to the world of K-12 education, but that was pretty great.

LinkedIn upped the ante for teen social networking when the company lowered its user age limit to 14.  Before kids wreck LinkedIn with their adolescent online social behaviors, let’s see if we can deliver some outstanding digital citizens to this medium.

We need to not only use social media, but we also need to teach social media to this generation of students. They need to know more than how to survive social media. They also need to know how to capitalize on it. We need to let go of our old notions that prepare students for a world that no longer exists. There’s a lot at stake here as there are a lot of pitfalls in social media. Unfortunate mistakes even early on can leave students with a social media tattoo that reads: IMADUMMIE.

We don’t need to let that happen. We can’t let that happen. To do so would be incredibly short sighted. I’m not sure that we need an “Intro to Social Media” course in school, but it can certainly be an entire module in a required course. It can also be integrated throughout the curriculum with clear objectives, modeling from teachers, and coaching along the way.

Don’t forget the technology divide, either. Some students have little access to social media at home. Many parents are afraid of the technology. Others lack access because of economic reasons. Can we afford to let the gap get wider, though? Imagine the disadvantage of applying to college if you didn’t have access to the internet. If you own a next-generation business and you were interviewing candidates with an equal background, but one knew social media well and the other didn’t have a clue, which one would you hire?

We’ve done this for other things in the past. Think about the book. Not a specific book, but just books in general. During pre-K or K, young learners get lessons on what a book is. These aren’t lessons on what the content inside is. No, they are lessons on what that pulp product is and how it’s constructed and what the identifying parts are. The lesson goes something like: “This is a book. This is its cover. This is the binding. It was written by an author. These are his words . . .” and so on and so on. That’s done in early grades across the country. As students get older, the lesson changes slightly. Teachers review the structure of their classroom textbook with students. “This is the glossary. This is the appendix.  The odd answers are in the back. We’ll be doing the evens.”

Soooo . . . . if we do that for our pulp products, why not for our digital products?

We tend to live by a lot of “bumper stickers” in education, but do we really practice what we display on our bumpers? I love the one that says, “Education is not the filling of buckets , but the lighting of a fire.” But are we really lighting a fire?  Or do we serve up some damp embers and then wonder why we don’t have a light show?

Let’s dive into some of the trending reasons why we should both teach and utilize social media in our schools.

Brand – If students are ready to join social media, they need to be prepared to establish and protect their own brand.  One way or another, they will brand themselves with their social online behavior.

Think Critically – Students need to take some reflective time to review what they are doing socially. Is it worthy of their time? Or are they just mindlessly trolling through the web’s social media sites?

Connect – Teachers can connect with both students and parents via social media. Schools can notify stakeholders with timely updates.

Networking – Students should learn to network with peers and experts in areas that they interested in.

Collaborate – This is a future-ready job skill. Schools should be teaching it, and students should be practicing it.

The Backchannel – This might seem crazy, but let students backchannel with a hashtag (if using Twitter) during class. This is good for the student who likes to blurt out everything that comes to his or her mind during class. Sometimes it’s a good thought or question, but just at an inopportune time. Have you seen Purdue University’s Hotseat? Coolest communication thing ever in the classroom. Hopefully other users will be able to use in the future.

Search – Improve students’ search capabilities. There’s too much data to mine without having this essential skill.

Curate – Students need to learn how to store and catalog information for later use, how to make it usable for them, and how to improve it in some way. They need to be “information chemists.”

Teaching Tool – Check out these great social media activities in the classroom and school: 60 examples here.  28 examples here.

Greater Participation – You’ve seen the statistic that students get an opportunity to ask a question every ten hours at school. That’s beyond discouraging, that’s appalling. Social media is an easy way for students to find a voice.

Audience – Let students share their work, projects, and thoughts with a larger audience than one teacher.  I like this old adage: “Students will make it good for their teachers. They will make it great for their peers.” Displaying content for their peers makes the need for revision much more important and real to them. They can’t post a highlight reel without all the hard work behind the scenes.

Digital Citizenship – Let students practice this with social media. If the school offers digital citizenship instruction, social media should be part of it.

Future Ready – Once again, this is a future ready skill as students prepare for higher education and the workforce.

Engagement – Students are already engaged with social and digital media. Meet them where they already are.

Power of the Crowd – Let students capitalize on the power of the crowd. Crowd sourcing and crowd funding are common digital practices.

Follow the Jobs – Who will get the jobs that manage social media accounts for companies?  Someone who knows social media!  Understanding social media will never be a disadvantage in the workplace.

Where to Start

If you’re not ready to jump into Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook (which is really the least necessary), then a platform like Edmodo would be a great place to start. This allows for an environment that you can safely model good practices and monitor student behavior.  Reward good behavior and good contributions. You can even open one section school wide if you need to. You’ll likely need smaller groups, too, as some students will dominate the conversation. If your school has an LMS like Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Haiku, etc., they all have social features that can be enabled.

Good luck to you! We would love to hear how it’s working in your schools. Drop us a line.

Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

Leading for Deeper Learning: 10 Proven Strategies

Over the summer we interviewed two dozen school and network leaders producing strong academic results and developing powerful young people. Considering their leadership stories, we found ten things in common:

  • Good goals. Good schools have good goals; they use a variety of strategies to personalize learning supported by aligned supports, staffing, and schedule. Danville Kentucky is great example with goals focused on powerful learning experience, growth, global preparedness, communication, and community. Deeper learning will be a random occurrence without goals that make it a priority.

  • Equity focus. Schools that promote deeper learning engage all students–not just honor students–in powerful learning experiences; they develop academic mindsets scaffolded by strong supports. According to principal Stephen Mahoney, “The accomplishments of Springfield Renaissance School’s students prove that a child’s zip code does not determine his or her destiny.”

  • Powerful designs. Most striking about these interviews was school leader efforts to create coherence: purposeful goals, intentional culture, powerful learning, with aligned structures, staffing, schedules, and supportive technology. That’s not easy.  It’s always a dynamic process, especially for leaders inheriting a school rather than designing from scratch.

  • Teacher support. The districts and networks we studied support teachers. They  make it increasingly possible for all of their teachers to achieve great results with common frameworks, big goals and good plans, learning platforms, and strong development systems for adult learners.

  • Show what you know. The schools we studied are competency-based. In different ways, they ask students to show what they know and make public presentations of learning. Students progress based on demonstrated mastery. (CompetencyWorks from iNACOL is a great resource and online community.)

  • Strong culture. All of the schools we studied had a powerful intentional culture. “We’re a values first organization,” said Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools, an example of a network with a strong culture where students receive regular feedback on attributes of character development. “Each human being strives to be fully known and affirmed for who they are and to contribute something significant to the human story,” said Kurtz.

  • Good habits. Good schools build good habits. Many of the school we studied use Debbie Meier’s Habits of Mind: significance, perspective, evidence, connection, and supposition.  Some, like Springfield Renaissance, complement these with habits of work: ready to learn, active participation, assess and revise, contribute to group work, complete homework.

  • Sense of place. Good schools not only leverage community assets, but they take kids on learning trips. A group of students from Casco Bay High School, Portland Maine, visited coal mining towns in Appalachia last year.  Students from Minnesota New Country visited the Mississippi delta and came back passionate about civil rights.

  • Projects. Every school we interviewed made good use of project-based learning. Project goals often leveraged student interest, always incorporated standards-based assessment, and periodically resulted in public demonstrations.

  • Great questions. “We want people to be perplexed—to embrace the paradox of starting new schools,” said High Tech High founder Larry Rosenstock. Great schools, like DSST, incorporate this “perplexity” into the curriculum. Ninth graders take Creative Engineering, which, according to teacher Jim Stephens, “requires empathy, ideation, and prototyping before they can arrive at a solution—they learn that they can solve any problem, in or out of school, with this approach. They also take Big History, a course that “covers the history of the universe, the planet, and human history.”

The majority of schools we studied were purpose built and more than half belong to school development networks committed to deeper learning–two big advantages for leaders seeking to consistently challenge and engage students in meaningful work. For leaders working in existing schools that were not purpose built, there is still an opportunity for them to be purpose led.

Schoolwide adoption of deeper learning strategies and practices takes leadership–consider the ten categories above. The profiled schools have an unusually high number of schoolwide agreements. These are not schools where teachers are freelancing; they may have autonomies but they work together within a shared frame with common strategies and practices.

Add the rapidly increasing array of blended tools and strategies, and the number of schoolwide agreements doubles. As we noted in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, big leadership decisions include goals, school model, platform and content, devices, staffing and staff development.

Leadership levers. New Leaders created the Urban Excellence Framework to identify key levers for change. The primary drivers (shown in the exhibit below) are culture, and learning and teaching. The last five common elements we found fall in this category. Supporting levers include aligned staff, operations and systems–the first five foundational elements in the list above.

Good schools have more schoolwide agreements than schools on autopilot–that’s particularly true for schools promoting deeper learning because they use sophisticated rather than scripted instructional strategies.

Incorporating blended learning strategies may double the number of schoolwide agreements–it mucks around with all of the operations and systems. This is compounded by the fact that the opportunity set is evolving and dynamic suggesting that these agreements must be frequently reconsidered.

The most important implication of this dynamic opportunity set is that school leaders need to be conversation leaders and agreement makers. They need to help their school communities become aware of the needs for high standards, strategic options, and emerging opportunities. They need to craft temporary agreements that allow the school to move forward with the expectation that agreements will be reconsidered as opportunities and challenges warrant.

Agreement crafting is tough enough when we’re talking about instructional strategies (e.g., projects versus direction instruction) but when you start mucking around with the operations and systems (e.g., standards based grading and competency-based progressions) it gets everybody’s attention.

Conversation leaders facilitate field trip leaders–one way or another they transport people to the desired future state.  That may be visiting an innovative school, reading and discussing NGLC profiles, or sharing a virtual field trip to Carpe Diem in Yuma. Katie Decker, principal of Braken STEAM Academy in Clark County, creates time during the day for teachers to take field trips to other classrooms in the school.  The New Leaders report suggests that a principal’s personal leadership is foundational for a school’s success–an observation confirmed by Decker’s conversation leadership.