Chem Cash: The Classroom Marketplace

Earlier I blogged about creating a classroom marketplace where students “sell” artifacts that they’ve created for class. Several teachers are calling this the Classroom Exchange instead of a marketplace. “Exchange” has a bit less of a commercial sound; although, the concept does have a commercial aspect to it.

I’m starting to get feedback from teachers who are using the marketplace this fall. I’ll share some of that in a moment, but let’s have a quick review on what the marketplace is.

The concept is this: Student projects are typically made up of digital “artifacts” such as images, video clips, audio clips, regular text-type paragraphs, PowerPoint slides, and so on. Why not break out those individual artifacts and share them with other students who are working on the same project to make the work a collaborative effort?

“I will trade my audio clip on ‘uses of implicit and explicit language’ for your PowerPoint slide on figurative language.”

Students don’t just trade the artifacts, though, in the marketplace. They sell them. They sell them using a classroom currency, and the teacher determines what that currency is. This helps foster a sense of entrepreneurship in students. They get real-world lessons on how quality content sells. They also learn how to market their products and brand themselves. Students can then use the money that they earn to the marketplace to “buy” real-world things in the classroom.

The classroom marketplace allows for group work, but without the group. It draws on the strength of the crowd but also rewards the individual  It helps students realize that their talents can be monetized, and the seeds of entrepreneurship can be planted.

When a project is completed using the classroom marketplace, students will have created 80-90% of the project on their own, and the remaining 10-20% they will have “purchased” from the marketplace.

You will basically need four pieces to create your marketplace structure.

  • Student Portfolio: Students will need a digital portfolio to market the artifacts that they create.

  • Marketplace Listing: Students will need a way to “list” their artifacts in the marketplace.

  • Currency: You will need a marketplace currency. This lets students buy and sell and reap the marketplace rewards. Start students with a small amount of marketplace currency so that they can make their initial purchases. They earn all other monies on their own in the marketplace.

  • Receipt System: You will need a receipt system to track marketplace purchases. This lets students protect their creations and learn to be more responsible digital citizens.

As students work on their projects, they can create things specifically for the marketplace. These are artifacts that they may or may not use in their own projects.

Marketplace artifacts include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Video Clips – created by the students.

  • Images – created by the students.

  • Powerpoint Slides – Slides should contain an image plus text content.  Images or videos that were discovered on the internet (not created by students) MUST show proper attribution. Students who sell a PowerPoint slide that uses images or video from the internet will have to “forfeit” some of their selling price to “pay” the original creators (Ouch! Just like real life.) Students should sell just single slides, not entire sets of slides. Only Powerpoint-type slides can have images and videos from the internet. Those cannot be sold directly.

  • Quotations – Quotes from the play or about the play that are stylistic done (i.e. cool LOOKING quotations like this).

  • Text Content – any text created for the different sections of the project. Students should sell a paragraph at a time, not entire sections.

  • Audio Clips – instead of text, narrate the content in an audio clip.

  • Music – created by the students (use any of the music creation apps like Loopy HD on iTunes).

  • Skills from Other Classes – (other than video, image, and audio creation) translations into other languages, mathematical analysis, historical background.

The Atomic Structure Classroom Marketplace

My spouse, Denise Renfro, is running a classroom marketplace in her chemistry class at Douglas Byrd High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Students are working on an atomic structure project and are sharing artifacts with each other in a marketplace that she set up in Google docs. Her marketplace is shared with other chemistry classes at the school, so students get a real-life experience of exchanging with people beyond their own immediate circle.

Denise explains, “We’ve had our first artifacts submitted this week. In the final project, students have to develop a web page that presents their knowledge and understanding of the atomic structure. This puts students in a constant cycle of learning and producing.”

“Most students, as they get used to the marketplace, are using SmartArt in PowerPoint to construct mind maps for the initial vocabulary assignments; although, they’re definitely not limited to that. So far, they all look really good. Most are much better than what they would turn in to me for a grade. They definitely want to contribute items that their classmates want to buy to the marketplace, and they want to earn that “chem cash” for later on.”

Antonio, an 11th grade student in the project, says, “This did just start out as SmartArt, but I saw others doing that, and I wanted to make my design stand stand out. It really helped me get a good foundation in the vocabulary, too. I spend way more time dealing with these words than on a typical vocab assignment.”

Another student, Shelly, says, “I feel like I’m learning the material better. I’m doing something with it. I’m trying to sell a slide in the marketplace, so I want mine to be the best. I want it to stand out.”

Sample Student Work



In the Atomic Structure Marketplace, students can use their “Chem Cash” to buy music time while they are working in class, extra credit points on quizzes and tests, homework passes on certain assignments, and physical items, too, like pencils, pens, markers, and erasers. 

Classroom Advice 

“Start with a small project to go to the marketplace with,” Denise recommends. “Have it end with a presentation based on just one learning module. This lets students get used to creating artifacts and posting to and buying in the marketplace. Let there be a quicker rather than longer turn around time for when students need to have their presentations complete.” 

“We are using soft deadlines to have artifacts completed and in the marketplace. Students should be worried if they’ve not hit the soft deadlines. We have eight days to complete the entire assignment, but next semester, I will just use five days.” 

“We are using Edmodo for the assignment. That’s where students find all their directions and where they communicate with me and their classmates. This has really driven up their Edmodo usage, too. I’ve also found that students are really more savvy on phones than on computers.  Their production abilities are not as developed as one might think, so this has really forced them to focus their skills.” 

Here are my directions for the Atomic Structure Marketplace: 

Project Overview 

Understanding the structure of the atom is essential to understanding  all other topics in chemistry.  Students begin learning about atoms as early as 5th grade, so atomic structure information is not new to the typical chemistry student. However, there is much forgotten between middle school science and high school chemistry, and there is also some new information to learn or emphasize. 

You are going to begin the year with a project on atoms and compounds.  Honors students are required to complete projects each quarter so this will count as that project grade.  You will have specific tasks to complete, quizzes, worksheets and labs assigned to assess your understanding, and of course a final presentation will be required.  The project is complex and rigorous and will be graded accordingly.  Deadlines are firm and a substantial penalty will be applied for missed deadlines. 

Project Details 

Concept 1  Final Presentation:  All steps of the project work towards a final presentation.  Time will determine whether these are presented in class, but that is the goal.  The presentation may take the form of a powerpoint, slideshare, google presentation, glogster, infographic, prezi, sliderocket or any other approved presentation software/app.  The final presentation will be thorough (example, powerpoint presentations should be no less than 15 slides long) and represent largely original work.  Bottom line, projects cannot be a curation of videos and images. 

Concept  2  Learning Modules:  Learning modules will be assigned that included numerous tasks for students to complete that lead toward mastery of atomic structure content.

Concept 3  Artifacts Creation:  Students will use the learning module tasks to create different artifacts for their final presentation.  Artifacts  might include items like powerpoint slides, quotations from relevant scientists, relevant images, biographies of important scientists, video clips, audio clips, personal artwork, mind maps, and potentially many more items depending on your abilities and creativity. 

Concept 4  Classroom Marketplace:  Students will be asked to contribute a minimum of 5 artifacts to the marketplace.  These artifacts will be for “sale” in the marketplace.  Students will receive “currency” for placing items in the marketplace and will receive more currency if they sell those items to other students.  Your final presentation will contain at least 3 and no more than 5 marketplace items.  You will use your own artifacts in your presentation but you may also place up to 2 copies of any given item in the marketplace.  There cannot be more than three total copies of any single artifact.   Further, artifacts are curations of your work, not a single image or video downloaded off the internet. 

Concept 5 Know Your Strengths:  Each student needs to be aware of their strengths and post artifacts accordingly.  If you are a good writer then perhaps you wish to sell only text on the marketplace.  If you are good with powerpoint perhaps you want to put individual powerpoint slides up for sale.  If you are a good artist then you might want to create your own artwork of a scientist or an atom and  put the image on the marketplace for sell.  Maybe you want to narrate a video lesson on atomic structure., create an animoto video of atomic history or some collage of images for a topic.  You are only limited by your creativity.  You can even sell expertise on the marketplace.  You might be willing to offer either video tutorials on how to use a web app like Weebly or a face to face  tutorial on how to add animations in powerpoint.  You cannot make someone’s presentation but you can sell chunks of time to help them understand how to use software or web apps. 

LEARNING MODULE 1:  LET’S BEGIN!  :  Vocab defined, first artifact shared to marketplace.  You get 2 days for module 1. 

Step 1: Define the basic vocabulary. 

First, create an account in Quizlet.  Be sure to create the account using your gmail.  You will be making flashcards for the following terms: 

atom, element, compound, proton, neutron, electron, quark, nuclear charge, nuclear mass, atomic mass, mass number, molecule, atomos, matter, mass, volume, ions, isotopes, strong nuclear force 

Step 2:  Next, using word or a google doc, compare and contrast the following word groups: 

1) atom and compound    2) compound and molecule  3) proton, neutron and electron   4) nuclear mass and atomic mass   5) atomic mass and mass number   6) atoms and ions  7) ions and isotopes  8) atom and element 

Step 3:  Finally, make mindmaps, or use smart art in Word to create artifacts showing the

             relationships between the groups of terms in step 2. 

Step 4:  Other artifact ideas for the marketplace:

             Use a quotation maker to create interesting visuals of definitions or word groups

             Create powerpoint slides of definitions or mindmaps

             Use a game maker to insert a definition game into a presentation or website

  Use a poll like Poll Everywhere in your presentation to test the class

Step 5:  Take a quiz.  See your teacher. 

LEARNING MODULE 2:  Atomic Structure Work, Marketplace Open for business.  You will be allowed 3 days for module 2. 

Step 1:  Watch the following videos and be sure to look at the questions associated with the videos, they will give you some good information for your continuing work: 

Khan Academy Elements and Atoms     13:21 

Khan Academy Introduction to the atom  21:05 

Dogs Teaching Chemistry  1:51 

Crash Course Atomic Structure  10:04 

Complete worksheet on protons, neutrons and electrons* 

Complete the poster activity for the first 18 elements on the periodic table. 

Step 2: Go to Sophia and log into our class with the group code: XXXXXX 

Watch the atomic structure video 

Go through the Atomic Structure slide show 

Complete the guided notes for the slide show (simply scroll down from the slide show).  You can find the doc on google docs or download directly from the website and complete on your own device. 

Step 3:  Follow the link to Colorado PhET Build an Atom online.  Open the lab worksheet and follow the directions.  You will manipulate the atom and answer the required questions in the worksheet. 

Step 4:  Take a quiz.  See your teacher 

Step 5:  Create an artifact.  Make either a video tutorial on the basic structure of an atom or  make a short approximately 3-5 slide presentation on basic atomic structure.  You do not have to cover every topic for this short presentation. 

Learning Module 3:  History of the atom, Marketplace open for business.  You will be  allowed 2 days

Step 1:  Watch the following videos: 

History of the Atom 9:50

Early ideas about the atom  1:24

John Dalton  1:16

JJ Thomson   2:54

Cathode Ray  1:09

Milikan Oil Drop  1:14

Rutherford Gold Foil   :47

atomic history music video   2:53 

Step 2:  Watch this video of the modern view of the atom: 

Quantum Mechanics  6:11 

Step 3:  Create Artifacts.  Create short biographies of the following scientists: 

Democritus, Dalton, JJ Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, James Chadwick, Neils Bohr, Edwin Schrodenger 

Step 4:  Create artifacts. Use any medium you wish to show the change in the atomic model over time.  You may not cut and paste any one complete work from the internet, it must be your original work or your curation. 

Step 5:  Go to the website Dipity and create an atomic theory timeline. 


Create a comprehensive presentation on atoms and molecules.  Use the rubric to make sure you meet all the guidelines.   You may use such things as Prezi, Powerpoint, Slide Rocket, Google presentations, Glogster, Weebly, Slideshare, etc.  You should check with me to confirm your presentation choice if it is not in the list above. 

General Guidelines: 

* Appropriate presentation software/app

* Original work or curations

* 5 or more artifacts shared in the marketplace

* presentation should cover all learning modules

* 3-5 artifacts included from the marketplace that are not your own.

* As a general rule approximately 80% of the presentation should be your own work.

* Follow the rubric.  This will be graded as a test.


Learning From Charters to Shape a District

Kettle Moraine School District’s vision statement reads, “Our Vision is LEARNING WITHOUT BOUNDARIES and our purpose is TO CULTIVATE ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE, CITIZENSHIP, AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.” After a visit to the district, it’s evident that  “without boundaries” shapes their vision as well as their daily practice.

Superintendent, Pat Deklotz and assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Theresa Gennerman hosted our tour of the three charter schools that have developed right inside their traditional elementary and high schools. Pat believes “The purpose of our schools is to engage students in meaningful and rigorous learning experiences, preparing them to be College and Career ready by the time they graduate.” It is exciting to see that her district schools are accomplishing this, but through multiple pathways. In the past few years, they have opened three charter schools: 2 in Kettle Moraine High School and one opening just this 2013-14 school year, inside Wales Elementary School.

KMExplore (Kindergarten-5th grade)

The buzz of fully engaged, happy students hits you the minute you walk in the door. KMExplore has been open for a little over a month but the K-5th graders who attend this school seem to have transitioned seamlessly. Most everything about the school looks different than the traditional elementary school model:photo

  • Classroom walls were removed to create huge, connected spaces for the multi-age classes. Where once doors and hallways separated each grade’s classroom, they now flow together harmoniously. It’s not just one big open room. The space is innovative and purposely designed to give students opportunities for movement, to create, to explore, to study and to develop strong collaborative skills.

  • The furniture is real and full size, donated by parents or local businesses. The huge open common area dubbed the “Dragon Den” is full of big, adult scale chairs that the students can arrange and use anyway needed. A quick look around the room proves that students certainly seem happy to stay comfortably focused on reading in a plush and comfortable chairs, as compared to small, hard plastic desk chairs. Inside the classrooms, students work together on projects at full size kitchen tables or on couches donated by families or community members.

  • Project Based Learning naturally occurs- is student directed and teacher supported. The rooms are already filled with evidence of great finished projects, as well as many projects underway. So many artifacts fill the rooms, it’s hard to believe the school has really been in operation for only about a month.

  • The students, teachers, staff, volunteers… really everyone we encountered radiated the positive energy that establishes the type of school culture everyone wants for their own students- where both teachers and students are leading their own learning and allowing for inquiry to direct and authentically engage every student in the room.

KMGlobal (grades 9-12)

Mission: To cultivate a global perspective through academic excellence, active engagement, and development of leadership identity.

Inside KMGlobal, nothing looks like one would expect from high school except the students themselves. Director Michele Koper and a few impressive students described KMGlobal’s model for us and how it looks everyday:

  • Instead of a set schedule of 7 periods, students here work with advisors to make their own schedules, that really ends up looking more like college. They continue to meet with their advisors in one to one meetings twice a week to be sure they are on the right track.

  • Cohorts, as opposed to age based classes are formed in the different subject areas. In addition to earning all their credits for graduation, students chose to focus on what they want, when they want and how they want to learn it.

  • The entire student body comes together on Tuesday afternoons to work on interesting projects. For example, last week they worked on how to advise President Obama on actions in Syria. The week before that they dove into Global healthcare and what that could like like.

  • Students create, complete and then defend their personal learning projects. They decide what they want to study for an entire semester and how it can apply to a career of their interest. After a few weeks of thinking in depth around what they would like to commit to learning about, students write a proposal, meet with a learning coach to ensure they meet the learning targets across the curriculum and that the credits they need are there. The project always includes multiple learning artifacts, including papers, documentaries, websites, posters, etc. and students showcase their learning to their peers, parents and community members through their presentations. Lastly, they are required to defend their learning to a panel of teachers and advisors, the last step and truly the step the ensures they’ve solidified what they’ve learned.

  • Online content and resources allow students total flexibility and ownership of their learning. They don’t have to wait for class time with teachers, they have access 24/7 to the learning content. Most of the content is created by the teachers at Global themselves, while some is supplemented, like Rosetta Stone for learning foreign languages. Because so much is project based, Project Foundry is a natural fit for students to track their projects and their progress, as well as tap into supporting resources available online.


KMPerform (grades 9-12)

photo (6)KM Perform “emphasizes hands-on-learning, providing a highly relevant stage for production and expression of student learning.  Through authentic performances, students will engage in a rigorous academic curriculum and graduate prepared to achieve in college and a competitive workforce that demands creativity and collaboration.”

Kettle Moraine High School has always been known for its strong arts program, so how do you build a Performing Arts Charter without taking away from the foundation was a big question for Kevin Erickson, KM Perform director. Instead of siphoning from them, KM Perform just built an even stronger program, allowing students to master the arts to new found depths. In order to do this, the school day looks very different for Perform students than it does for the traditional high school student:

  • students usually finish their foundation courses, the courses they need to graduate, in about two years- leaving the last two years of high school to dive deep into the performing art they choose to focus on such as creative writing, theater, music or the visual arts.

  • the school spaces are intentionally designed to function in multiple capacities. The commons area turns into a performance space, the art studio can transform into a gallery for art shows in the evening.

  • Teachers are also multi functional- they are not only experts in the field of content they teach, but have the freedom to teach other subjects that fall into their scope of interest. Teachers have the same freedom allowed the students to engage with what truly interests them. Plus, observing a theater teacher put “scope and scale” into context for the math students proves how easily the world can and should come together and make sense for students. Engaged, enthusiastic teachers produces the same result in students.

  • Students design projects informed by the curriculum and experts from the community who are involved and want to contribute to students success. They have their choice of courses, seminars, workshops and field experience to compile an extensive and highly personalized portfolio. Students leave Perform with a strong mastery and appreciation for the arts, a contextual understanding of English, Math and Science and the developed emotional intelligence needed to succeed at the college level.

Technology’s Role

photoKrista Moroder, the K-12 technology integrator for the Kettle Moraine District was named Outstanding Young Educator by ISTE this past school year. Rightly so because the overarching umbrella of technology supporting the teachers and students in so many capacities pushes all the KM schools from good to great. The shift from relying on textbooks to online resources is evident from lower elementary up to high school. Students use a wide variety of devices throughout the day and at home. Learning is not confined to the classroom. A large cohort in the Middle School is using Google apps to pilot going paperless this year.

With 4 elementaries, a middle school, a high school and three charters to support, Krista can’t connect with each teacher every day. Using her Google Certified teacher/trainer expertise, she has set up a network of self directed professional development for the entire staff. Using a template in Google sites, each teacher is creating their own website as a jumping off point. Teachers are not only mastering Google apps for themselves but setting up sites for student projects and portfolios. The effective use of digital technology is spreading throughout the KM school district because staff and students are learning and supporting each other as they work to master new tools that elevate everyone’s learning.

It’s very obvious the learning is not confined to 4 classroom walls in the Kettle Moraine district. It is just as obvious that learning is not strictly designated to the students. This community is learning together, everyday- from the Superintendent, to the tech integrator, to the charter directors, to the teachers, the staff- no one is afraid to learn new concepts and apply them.

Plans for the next charter focused on Health Sciences are in development. Using what they learn from the charters to inform what is happening in every classroom in the district is key. A community, supporting each other in this journey has put these schools on fast trajectory towards transforming to meet the needs of every student and provide each one with the personalized instruction needed for true life success.

EdTech 10: Bigfoot, Behavior, Broad Prize & Blended Learning

All B’s this week.  Only a month into school and we’re learning about promising efforts to blend the best of face-to-face and online instruction.

We love the opportunity to share what we are hearing with you, so check out this week’s top ten “B” rated stories, and that’s “B” as in best for anyone that’s wondering!

Blended Schools & Tools

1. BLIG Takes #1 This Week – you can just say BLIG for short, but we also know it as the Blended Learning Implementation Guide Version 2.0. The absolute most current paper available today on best practices for blended learning also comes with a brand new updated infographic. Taken together, you’ve got everything you need to get started now.

2. Big Blended Gains in Indy: Students at the Carpe Diem Meridian campus in Indianapolis posted results on the NWEA assessments that demonstrated schoolwide average growth of three instructional years in reading and English language arts, four years in math, and three years in science in the school’s first year. Their state test results also showed striking student gains. Chief EduNeering Officer Rick Ogston says “I am more thrilled at the students’ lives that have been changed because of their newfound success. Great teachers who leverage technology can do extraordinary things in the lives of their students.” Read more about the reason why Carpe Diem is so proud of their students’ progress.

3. Bigfoot Spotting: this post didn’t just catch our eye because most of us call the Pacific Northwest home – it’s really because our good friend Alex Hernandez covered the great blended learning happening in Shane Donovan’s 9th grade Physics classroom at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington DC. With a combination of Google Drive and MasteryConnect, the things happening in Shane’s classroom are even more epically legendary than the spotting of a mythical monster!

4. Blended Leaders: we looked 10 promising next-gen school models and outlined what we think it means for developing next-gen school leaders.  Next week, we’ll take a stab at licensure–does it matter? How should it work?  Who should pay for leadership preparation?

Digital Developments

5. Broad Prize Goes to Houston ISD. Congrats to Terry Grier and the team at the Houston Independent School District, winner of the 2013 Broad Prize for Urban Education–for the second time. Check out our Smart Cities profile, an overview of the Apollo 20 school improvement initiative, and 1:1 plans–High School Students Get Laptops Next Year.

6. Broadband for all Students: thanks to roughly 800 educators, libraries, advocates, representatives from the telecommunications industry, and others weighing in, the FCC’s proposal to overhaul the federal E-rate program has passed.

7. Behave! ClassDojo Goes Global: The fast growing behavior mangement software introduced versions in 15 languages. There are already teachers using Classdojo in 120 countries in English but will be much more accessible world wide.

Teachers & Tech

8.Being Connected: It’s almost October and that means it’s time to celebrate connected educators once again. Sign up now & be ready to go on October 1st,  There are more than  170 events listed. There’s more great information in EdWeek.  #CE13

9. Better conditions & careers.  Like our friends at Public Impact, we’re always thinking about ways to improve conditions & careers for educators. This week they released a new brief,  An Opportunity Culture for All: Making Teaching a Highly Paid, High-Impact Profession. It explains how extending the reach of great teachers can start a virtuous cycle of excellence and higher pay for all teachers. We think it’s great to see focus on, “a new way forward—one that focuses on excellent teachers, but takes us to a brighter future for everyone.”

10. Boston Investment. NewSchools announced they will invest $1.6 million in 3 Boston networks: City on a Hill, Match Education and Unlocking Potential, showing continued commitment to high-performing charter schools. ”These three entrepreneurial organizations have proven that they can deliver great results for some of Boston’s highest need students,” said NewSchools’ Managing Partner Jim Peyser. “Through their expansion, these charter school operators will have an even greater impact on the transformation of Boston’s public school system.”

Digital Learning Now is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Tom Vander Ark is a director at iNACOL. MasteryConnect and Class Dojo are Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is a partner.

Blended Language Learning Boosts Global Competence

Middlebury Interactive , a joint venture between Middlebury College and K12 Inc., is a leader in world language instruction for K-12 students. The partnership will serve about 200,000 K-12 students this year in more than 1,200 traditional and virtual schools. The most frequent application is in a blended learning environment.
“Middlebury had a great reputation for language instruction but did not have the online learning option; K12 was known for experience with online learning but was not known for languages so the partnership was formed to bring each parties expertise together,” said Former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift who joined Middlebury Interactive as CEO in 2011.
Language courses are offered in Chinese, Spanish, French, German, and Latin. Elementary courses build a solid language foundation. Middle and high school courses focus on development of the four key language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Middlebury also offers customizable Fluency Courses that can be structured for a fully online, blended or traditional classroom implementation.
Dr. Aline Germain-Rutherford, Chief Learning Officer, said, “We created summer Residential Academies featuring Middlebury’s immersive approach as an option for students to extend their learning. She added, “Rather than just teaching the rules, we help students learn a language by fully becoming embedded in the culture–they learn the language by using it.”
The platform blends immersive gaming, social networking and multimedia interactive learning. Videos have been shot around the world–the French courses were shot in France, Canada, Senegal and Guadeloupe taping real people interacting in a real cultural environment. Task based activities use authentic documents and encourage students to make hypotheses about how the language works. In Middlebury courses, language acquisition is immersed in cultural discovery.
“Opportunities to learn the rules of the language at strategic moments in progression of the course present students with pieces of the language, where students observe grammatical patterns, intonation patters and thematic types of vocabulary,” said Germain-Rutherford.
Supporting Teachers. Assessment includes pre- and post-tests. Teachers record progress in projects and performance tasks measuring cultural and language development. Students record their own growth and develop a portfolio. Middlebury can track use and results across a huge database of students and use the analysis to make course improvements.
Because some teachers feel uncomfortable with the use of authentic documents and a task-based approach, Middlebury provides online and onsite professional development to help teachers understand the Middlebury immersive philosophy and pedagogy.
State leadership. Delaware governor Markell realized that “Compared to their Asian and European peers who begin learning additional languages as early as 5 years old, Delaware students lag considerably behind.” He launched a World Language Expansion Initiative, an aggressive plan to “prepare generations of Delaware students with the language skills to compete in an ever changing global economy at home and around the world.”
The initiative seeks to “graduate globally competitive students with advanced level proficiency in languages, giving them an economic edge in the multilingual and multicultural workforce of the 21st century.” Eight districts are implementing blended middle grade courses for Spanish and Mandarin.
Vermont, where Middlebury is located, has subsidized access to the world language courses and 29 schools have taken advantage.
K12 is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

Blended Learning Success at Gilroy Prep

Creating an innovative school model that eliminates the achievement gap by using state-of-the-art technology while supporting both teaching and learning is not easy, but Gilroy Prep School has done exactly that.
Now in its third year of operation, Gilroy Prep adapted the best school models around the country. School leaders traveled out of state to visit schools like KIPP, Rocketship and Sixth Street Prep, that outperform the norm. We discussed the opening of the school and its success earlier this year with James Dent, the co-founder and principal.
Gilroy Prep’s foundation was built with a combination of technology, teaching strategies and daily intervention, which you can see in action in this video from the school. Among the innovative strategies is the “daily opener” where students review different standards and skills through an engaging, high energy and fast-paced lesson using gestures, chants, songs, repetition – activities that support mastery.
From the beginning, Gilroy Prep’s blended learning curriculum has been intentional, including two touch screen computer labs, as well as teacher presentation equipment in each classroom.
Principal Dent spent time with us discussing lessons learned from the last year using MIND Research Institute’s innovative visually-based math program, ST Math:

  • Measurements Matter: Dent said that Gilroy Prep has clear-cut goals for each student to achieve, including an increase of 3% in ST Math progress every 5 days. In the case that kids fall behind by 6% or more, they are put into “JiJi Academy” during the school day to help bring them up to speed. Every student is held accountable for learning. While education software programs are important, they’re more effective when combined with accountability.
  • Professional Development Counts: Teachers at Gilroy Prep all participate in professional development including training geared toward ST Math. Students in every class use pictures and draw equations to show the how and why of their math problems, instead of just doing a worksheet. Dent says the professional development led to an improvement in teaching in general.
  • Innovative Models Make a Difference: Gilroy Prep outperformed the state of California with 97% of its students scoring proficient or advanced for 3rd grade math, compared to 66% statewide. More than simply implementing ST Math, Dent attributes the success to the following innovations:
    • Math, and other subjects, are taught visually, such as through PowerPoint Lessons.
    • Every day teachers spend 60 minutes focused on a daily math learning objective.
    • Students are given a daily assessment on the learning objective. Those students who “pass” begin their ST Math session and those who do not pass are put into an “intervention” session for small group remediation.
    • Every student spends at least 30 minutes a day on ST Math.
    • In addition, 30 minutes a day are built into each teacher’s schedule to look at student progress reports, and prepare for the next day based on which students need extra assistance.
    • Gilroy Prep believes merit pay is an excellent way of rewarding teachers for their students’ success.
  • Blended Learning Programs Come With Challenges: There can be many challenges with all blended learning programs, including things as simple as maintaining a reliable Internet connection. Dent recommends identifying a “first responder” to help with technology, as well as having a plan for who can fix any issues. Dent also points out that it’s not enough to just use good quality education programs, teachers and administrators must also stay up-to-date with data produced by the programs. Gilroy Prep has added in goals and accountability for their blended learning programs, to help ensure this happens.

Both Gilroy Prep and Principal Dent provide exceptional examples of how to successfully implement a blended learning strategy, as well as how to use ST Math’s instructional software to its full potential. Not only has ST Math helped students show what they’ve learned as far as math concepts, students have started using the “show what you know” practice in all classes at Gilroy Prep. By holding teachers accountable and holding high expectations for students, any school can implement blended learning.
MIND Research Institute is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. 
This post first appeared on Sums & Solutions

Building Buzz in Detroit

The Education Achievement Authority (EAA) is Michigan’s school improvement district (like the LA RSD and TN ASD). It operates 12 schools in Detroit and has partnered with the School Improvement Network to develop a student-centered competency-based school model. Together with the School Improvement Network and Agilix, two Salt Lake City partners, they have also created Buzz, an exciting learning platform. After an April visit, I outlined 8 things I really like about Buzz and the school model.
The EAA is building a coherent system and a performance-based culture. They are working hard to build positive climates and ensure effective learning practices in every classroom every day. EAA benefited from a $10 million grant from the Broad Foundation. Nolan, one of six of the K-8 schools operated by the EAA, won an NGLC grant and the EAA received anNGLC planning grant for a new high school design.
It’s working. Of the 124 elementary and middle schools across Detroit that provided growth data to Excellent Schools Detroit as part of the Annual School Report Cards, all six of the EAA schools ranked in the top 20 in growth with three of them in the top six in growth. The majority of students across the six high schools showed two or more years of growth. Special education students showed even stronger growth.
Deputy Chancellor Mary Esselman said, “The kids get the system now–it will be like 2 extra months of school.” She added, “We are working hard on student voice.”
The EAA is also learning how to build capacity among teachers. As the EAA launches its second year, it now has a team of 40 teachers and instructional coaches who serve on as “Innovator’s by Design” to train new staff and provide technical assistance.
The EAA has built a blended professional development course for teachers inside of Buzz that uses a variety of resources to help teachers learn how to build a strong learning environment through fostering relationships, creating a common language, developing a shared classroom vision and establishing rituals and routines. Other training modules in the course include planning for instruction, assessing mastery, and using data to drive performance. As the teachers learn how to facilitate a blended, student-centered classroom, their learning parallels how students learn including the cycles of learn, practice, apply, assess as they are expected to demonstrate mastery of learning targets from each module and provide evidence of that mastery. The teachers learn the technology tools that support students by experiencing the technology as students themselves.
Teachers also participate in virtual learning communities and book studies including School Improvement Network’s Mapping to the Core in which they were required to create an instructional unit as part of their Pay for Excellent Performance Program. “The depth that teachers are putting in and the innovative practices that are resulting is phenomenal,” said Esselman.
School Improvement Network started working with Esselman and her boss John Covington when they were in Kansas City four years ago. They are supporting platform improvements and learning opportunities for teachers.
Buzz improvements include:

• webbing standards to make it easier for students to see key concepts;

• adding playlists to individual development plans;

• tracking citizenship as well as academics through badging at the school, classroom and individual student level;

• creating an individualized success plan rather than just an academic plan so that students’ plans incorporate social-emotional and behavioral learning to gain a more complete picture of students and their progress; and

• incorporating safe search engine NetTrekker

A couple dozen districts have made inquiries about Buzz. School Improvement Network will continue making platform improvements and improve training. They are adding staff and will be ready to support wider platform adoption next year. School Improvement supports nearly one million educators with the PD360 video library of training resources. It’s possible that they have a learning platform that will be as popular as their PD services.

The Surprising Social Side of Online Teaching

Learning in a K-12 online environment can be a socially isolating experience. It can also be a socially liberating opportunity for many young learners. The difference depends on how any given online school bridges the transactional distance naturally created by distance-based learning. In other words, making a conscious effort to build community amongst online students and teachers has the ability to positively influence all community members’ experiences online to accommodate their computer-based educational needs as well.

But what is it about socialization that matters so much to learning online or in the traditional classroom? Well, it’s not simply about amassing a real life friend’s list. Socialization is the process by which we learn how to interact, build, and maintain relationships with others around us. It even teaches us the beliefs and expectations necessary to adopt in order to become successful contributing members of society. But perhaps most importantly, schools should serve as agents of socialization to help children develop cognitively.

That’s exactly what I was trying to do during the game of Norwegian Horseshoes that I was playing with a few of my students at our school-wide campout last weekend. Of course, I wasn’t consciously concerned with their abilities to engage in appropriate conversations or build up a surplus in a friend’s emotional bank account. I was focused on getting that dang washer into the 3-point hole to win the game. But the way that I responded when I lost to a twelve-year old girl–by congratulating her with a high-five–served as an opportunity for that student to observe my behavior and internalize it herself to guide her future decision making and performance. I try to model appropriate social behavior like that for all of my students when we interact online or off, which happens to be more often than you might think.

Though my students are spread out across the southeastern corner of Idaho, the public online K-12 school that I work for makes possible as many opportunities to log off of our computers and spend time together as we can. It’s optional, certainly. But the amount of socialization that our group of online students and teachers do is certainly counterintuitive to the notion of computer-facilitated homeschooling.

In fact, since we do not need to worry about the financial costs of renting a bus or the liability insurance that comes with taking students off of school property, my students and I are able to do the things that I only dreamt of doing when I was a traditional elementary school teacher. In the next few months alone, our staff and student body will be getting together to go to a university planetarium, harvest pumpkins at a locally-grown pumpkin patch, build LEGO Mindstorm robots, create oil pastel masterpieces, bare the tundra-like elements of an Idaho winter to experience ice fishing, have a Halloween-themed costume party, a school-wide Thanksgiving dinner, and a family-oriented Christmas celebration. Then comes the new year, which is already scheduled full of social outings and school gatherings.

In addition to the efforts that my school’s administration and staff make to create networking opportunities for students in face-to-face settings, the reality of our situation is that not all of our students are able to attend the events that we plan for them. Some live two or more hours away from the city that our school headquarters are located in. Others are pre-professional ballerinas and musicians. And in our part of the state, many of our students are needed to help out on their family’s farm or ranch. That doesn’t mean that we let the geographical distance that separates us keep us from connecting and socializing, however.

One of the specific reasons that I was hired to teach at my district’s online school this year was to develop an online social networking community that our student body and staff could use to contact each other, communicate with classmates, and share our personalities through developing personal profiles and bonding over similar interests and experiences.

So, on the side of our weekly web classroom lessons, my students and I are laying the groundwork for a digital social life on a learning management system called My Big Campus. Before the school year started, I created a self-paced online course introducing middle school students to digital citizenship and online safety. Though each of them is learning about the opportunities and pitfalls of logging on to the Internet, the real lessons that are intended to be learned on My Big Campus are how to connect, communicate, and maintain positive social relationships online that have the potential to extend to our school-wide face-to-face interactions as well.

Currently, I have 35 online middle school students, 33 of whom I have met in person. Like Vygotsky posited, we learn through social interactions with mentors and teachers in our Zones of Proximal Development. But nowhere in his Theory of Cognitive Development did he say anything about having to go to a brick-and-mortar school to successfully do that. Apparently, my students and I are proving just that.

New White Paper: The Future of Learning

“We are living through the most important change in how human beings access information and educational opportunities—it may be bigger than the printing press and it’s certainly happening faster. Promising new models suggest that it is possible to serve more students with excellence while improving working conditions for teachers.” -Tom Vander Ark 

This digital shift we are experiencing in education right now is exactly what prompted Tom to author the new white paper, The Future of Learning: Personalized, Adaptive, and Competency-Based.  Dreambox Learning and Getting Smart both foresee these as the methods of learning that will take our students into to the future on the most successful path.
In the paper, you’ll learn:

  • The reason technology is a valuable tool to implement the Common Core
  • Why “show what they know” is the best metric for evaluation, not seat-time or birthdate
  • How Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ approximates human levels of coaching for ultimate personalized learning

Download now here on Getting Smart or directly from Dreambox.
Dreambox is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

MasteryConnect Powers PLC Connected Educators

Solution Tree, a midsize innovator headquartered in Bloomington Indiana, helped introduced American educators to the power of professional learning communities (PLCs) through books, events and professional development.  In contrast to top down PD, PLC are an authentic way for teachers to collaborate and learn together.
Sanger Unified, Schaumburg, and Whittier are 3 districts that are mentioned in the latest PLC book Cultures Built to Last.   Solution Tree is working with about 20 districts in depth and trains educators from thousands and districts through its programs.
It was recently announced that MasteryConnect would be powering Solution Tree PLCs.  CEO Mick Hewitt said:

PLC’s are focused on answering two questions – what do we want our students to know?  How do we know when they know it?  PLC’s answer the second question through use of formative assessments aligned to the standards. MasteryConnect allows teachers to share and collaborate around formative assessment and has the largest network of teachers creating and sharing formative assessments aligned to both state and Common Core standards.  MasteryConnect gives teachers the tools to grade quickly and get the immediate feedback they need to have the types of conversations they want to have around actionable data in the classroom driven from common formative assessments.

PLCs are changing how educators learn.  They provide a web of connection and support that reduce isolation and improve effectiveness–and most of them are free!
We’re celebrating Connected Educator Month by exploring PLCs and new ways educators are connecting.  In the coming days we’ll feature LearnZillion and Edmodo PLCs and new ways to flip and blend meetings and conferences.

LearnZillion, MasteryConnect and Edmodo are portfolio companies of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.  

Teaching the Nature of Science

“Science is more than a body of knowledge,” Carl Sagan said. “It’s a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe.” And teaching science means teaching more than groups of facts – it means teaching the natures of science (NOS).
A 2010 study of three elementary students found that, “Although each had robust knowledge of instructional strategies for teaching NOS, teachers lacked the requisite knowledge of assessment that would provide a feedback loop to support continued development of their knowledge of learners and lead to improvement in their teaching of NOS” (Hanuscin and Lee 2010).
A sample size of three is not enough to make broad statements about elementary teachers across the US, but the study does point out that teachers could benefit from “professional development that focuses on developing aspects of [pedagogical content knowledge] for NOS such as teachers’ knowledge of assessment as well as educative curriculum materials…” (Hanuscin and Lee 2010).
This curriculum might include “knowledge of a wide range of related examples, activities, illustrations, demonstrations, and historical episodes. … Moreover, knowledge of alternative ways of representing aspects of NOS would enable the teacher to adapt those aspects to the diverse interests and abilities of learners…” (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman 2000). Teachers should be able to help students contextualize their learning about NOS with examples or “stories” from science (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman 2000).
For example, teachers might combine their content knowledge about the nature of science with their pedagogical knowledge to create posters with “kid-friendly” NOS aspects to display in the classroom – “empirical” becomes “scientists collect data and use evidence to explain their ideas” (Hanuscin and Lee 2010). The study also found that explicit instruction of NOS aspects worked better than implicit instruction.
Teachers in a number of studies (Appleton 2006, Hanuscin and Lee 2010) requested “pre-packaged activities that work” for teaching NOS to students; Hanuscin and Lee note “these may play an important role in the development of elementary teachers’ [pedagogical content knowledge] for teaching science” and that “teachers need assistance to integrate NOS into their own science teaching.” Hanuscin and Lee caution against a “cookbook” approach; instead, teachers need some scaffolding of their own to help integrate NOS activities and instruction into their teaching.
Check out the paper here (access to more than the abstract is by subscription).
What activities do you use to teach the nature of science?