A Look Inside Standards-Based Grading at Starr Detroit Academy

A Look Inside Standards-Based Grading at Starr Detroit Academy first appeared on Sums & Solutions, from MIND Research on February 25, 2014.
By: Jeremy Vidito
In 2012 we opened the doors at Starr Detroit Academy to 526 K-5 students on the east side of Detroit. The opening represented three years of planning on the part of Starr Commonwealth, our parent organization, along with intense support from parents and community members. Starr Detroit Academy was founded on the belief that all students can and will be successful. As educators it is our responsibility to put the systems and structures in place to foster and develop that success.
As the founding principal, it has been quite a whirlwind, but I’m excited about the success Starr Detroit Academy has achieved. This is measured not only in the academic gains our youth have made — nearly two years of consistent growth in math and reading for our fifth-grade students — but also in the social and emotional development that has made these young men and women leaders in their school and community. This past year we expanded to serve an additional 250 students by offering sixth grade; we will continue to grow until we serve pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Our educational model is based on a mastery learning instructional approach that combines direct instruction and blended learning. This instructional strategy encourages school leaders, teachers, parents and students to focus on student mastery of core concepts. Standards are broken down into bite-sized objectives that build in a logical progression and ultimately lead to student proficiency.
Standards-based grading was one of numerous strategies we implemented from Day 1. And it became evident quite early in our first year that we had some challenges to overcome if we were going to successfully implement standards-based grading. As the leadership team reflected on the obstacles, we identified core competencies we had to have in place to successfully launch standards-based grading:
Teacher Professional Development: Our teachers were all well-intentioned, but many did not fully understand what it meant to implement standards-based grading. They were new and veteran teachers who were familiar with traditional grading, which favors effort over proficiency. We had to work with the staff to understand that while we still value hard work — perseverance is one of our core values — it is not something that we incorporate when evaluating student proficiency on a specific standard.
Define Rubric Scores: In grade-level team meetings during the first quarter, teachers started to realize that student scores did not mean the same thing; students were evaluated differently from one classroom to the next. Without common expectations for scoring, standards-based grading did not help us understand student proficiency. As grade-level teams we had to come together to build common expectations around proficiency and student scores. We asked teachers to share work samples and discuss what level of proficiency represented mastery, approaching mastery, etc.
Gradebook: Effective standards-based grading and reporting requires an effective gradebook. If this gradebook is not part of your SIS system, then it should connect so student-staff rosters import easily. The system must generate report cards in the manner that is readable by staff and families.
During our first year we struggled through these issues and more as we continued to implement a scaled-back form of standards-based grading. We focused on what we could: teacher professional development, defining rubric scores, and parent engagement. We could not change our gradebook or report card option, so we implemented Excel-based trackers and Google docs to generate report cards.
We worked with our families to support them around the scoring, which was their biggest frustration. Our report card conferences were all one-on-one so teachers and administrators could explain the report cards and the scoring.
Armed with our previous success and failures, in our second year we once again pushed forward with standards-based grading implementation. We used the summer professional development to spend more time training our staff. We launched a new partnership with the Achievement Network, which provided Common Core-aligned scope and sequence for math and English and standards-aligned interim assessments. Through ANET tools our staff aligns core objectives with standards to track progress, and creates informal and formal checks for understanding.
We also introduced a new gradebook — which ultimately failed to meet our needs, so we turned back to Excel-based trackers that enabled us to produce easy-to-read, parent-friendly report cards. The new report cards listed the standards per subject, the students’ efficiency score for each standard, and included a section for elective courses grading. With a new report card layout and rubric, we knew it would be just as necessary to help parents transition. During the first quarter of our second year, we required parent/teacher conferences to review student report cards. This allowed teachers to go through each standard with the parent and explain what constituted a score of one, two, three and four.
Looking back, there are a few things we should have done differently to ensure a smooth and exciting transition to standards-based grading. If you and your school are looking at making transitions, it’s incredibly important that you have a good change management plan in place. Think about how you’ll communicate the change with teachers, how you’ll get their input on designing the process, and what it means for the entire teaching staff. Make sure you research your gradebook and take time to test it out; there are a lot of different options out there, and having a user-friendly gradebook will greatly impact your transition. It’s vital that you have a professional development plan in place so that training is a priority. Consider establishing a parent committee to participate in the implementation — i.e., review gradebooks or potential report cards. These parents can give you valuable input on what works, and they can champion the implementation to other families.
There are so many great examples of districts who’ve successfully implemented standards-based grading. Don’t be afraid to lean on them for support and best practices.
Jeremy Vidito is Executive Director of Strategic Planning & New Schools at Starr Commonwealth Educational Services.
MIND Research Institute is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. 

Making Personalized Learning Plans Personal

Personalized learning plans is a trending topic in edchats, and Vermont has taken the nation’s biggest step forward on implementing PLPs. There seems to be some confusion or disagreement, though, on what “personalized” is exactly. The U.S. Department of Education somehow confuses personalized learning with competency-based learning here; although, they do a better job of it here. Others interchange individualized learning and personalized learning routinely, but the two are really different. Individualized learning is great, and a big step forward from our 20th century one-size-fits-all industrial model. But it’s not personalized learning.

Individualized learning is essentially teacher centered. Teachers deliver individualized instruction to students, and a subset of students may receive remediation, work at a different pace or rate, and may even have different objectives. Teachers direct the individualized learning. This is fantastic! This is an incredible advance from even five years ago. Technology has allowed us to bring individualized learning to scale with adaptive learning engines and learning management systems that offer multiple pathways and differentiation for students.

Individualized learning is so good that we often want to call it personalized learning. It’s like when something is a remarkable coincidence, but we want to call it “ironic” because that sounds smarter or better. “I ended up getting the same number on the football team that my dad had 30 years ago. Isn’t that ironic?” Nope.

Personalized learning is really a step far beyond individualized learning. Students are the drivers in personalized learning. “Personalized,” in terms of modern, 21st-century, digital internet conventions means that the user can “personalize” the program, whether is a website, newsfeed, profile, theme . . . or learning program. Personalized learning allows students to pursue their own interests, talents, hopes, dreams, and ambitions. It is, indeed, so personalized that students own and are responsible for the learning. Schools and teachers function in a facilitator role in this model.

It’s important to know that there is a distinction between personalized and individualized learning because schools can model both types at once. The two models are not mutually exclusively, and students certainly benefit from being in both models.

Vermont is on its way to meeting this personalized learning definition. From Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin:

The idea here is — whether you are dyslexic like me and don’t learn traditionally or whether you excel traditionally or whether you’re somewhere in the middle — our job is to have an educational system where everybody succeeds and everybody learns to their potential.

Vermont schools will help students develop PLPs in the seventh and ninth grades (other grades to follow), and those plans will be revised each year. Students have access to online courses and college courses to pursue their learning goals.

PLPs won’t reach their full potential, though, until students can pursue those plans each day at school. Ultimately, PLPS need to be more integrated into a student’s day than taking additional college or online classes. And I definitely think schools have the capacity to do this. We have students for 8 to 9 hours a day in our schools. Surely we can carve out thirty to forty-five minutes a day for students to pursue their hopes and dreams.

And wouldn’t it be great to be in the hopes and dreams business?

Trusting the Young Learner

Can we trust to the young learner to “own” a part of their education? Before we answer that, let’s see what young people can do when they have a chance to personalize their learning. Take a look at teenager Logan LaPlante in this TedX video:

Let’s do one more. These kids are impressive. Check out teenager Adora Svitak.

Pretty impressive. These two young students make interesting and related points. Logan tells us that kids have more neurons than adults, and that’s why kids are more creative. Adora implores adults to think more like children.

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  –Mark Twain 

Sometimes the young mind can think outside the box because it’s not filled with information and information bias. The young mind is not afraid to take great leaps where seasoned, studied minds dare not venture. The young mind is not warped by agendas and ideologies.

Take a look at scientists from the past. So many had their profound, revolutionary breakthroughs at a young age. Isaac Newton invented calculus at twenty-two. Albert Einstein published his theory on relativity at twenty-six. Charles Darwin began his study aboard the Beagle at twenty-five. Stephen Hawking developed his singularity theorem at twenty-three.  (Don’t worry, Council of Elders, we have advantages, too, but that’s for a different blog.)

As educators especially, we can’t just dismiss the young mind because it’s young.  If we set the bar low, they will shoot for that. Check out Luba Vangelova article “Are We Taking Our Students’ Work Seriously Enough?” We want to move students up the Hart’s Ladder of Participation.

Are we ready to facilitate hopes and dreams? Are we ready for that much personalization? None of that sounds very standardized-test or job-market ready. But that doesn’t mean that we have to extinguish our students’ hopes and dreams either. The British philosopher Alan Watts had an interesting take on why the young generation should pursue their hopes and dreams.  Here’s a snippet from a Watts’ lecture in the early 1970s shortly before his death:

We might not find a 1970s philosopher’s advice to be the most pragmatic in today’s job market, but we are also not the best at predicting what the job market will look like in five years, and even worse in our 10-year forecast.  Nevertheless, it is still possible to prepare students for future job markets AND pursue their hopes and dreams.

For more on how to create time during the day to let students personalize their education, check out this blog post.

For a better understanding of personalization, differentiation, and individualization, check out Barbara Bray’s chart here:

Be sure to share your personalized learning thoughts and adventures with us!

Tomorrow is NOW at #iPDX14

By: Jeremy Macdonald

During an “open-mic” opportunity at iPDX14, Jeremy Macdonald shared this monologue, capturing the closing spirit of IntegratED in Portland, Oregon as educators head back to their classrooms, schools and districts:

While my past is important, what I have done and where I have been do not define me because what I will do and where I will go is a better indicator of the man I am and the human that I will be tomorrow.
I’ve heard them say, “You matter.” I’ve heard them say, “You are shaping their future.” But often they are the same that remind me that I teach because I can’t and they do because they can.
Thanks, but I don’t appreciate the sentiment. I am more than the sum of the books and posts that try to define my craft. I am more than the ones and zeros and the updates or tweets. They end with #youmatter #teachersareheros #makeadifference #savetheworld
…and my only reply is #drained #overwhelmed #whyamisojaded
They tell me learning comes from common apple core based devices standardized by SMART goals that rigorize life long memorization of learning filtered through racing to the top… But for what? It’s only leaving our children behind. It’s the same pig but now it’s painted with iridescent lipstick that changes color every time we look at it. But for what?
I understand a touchdown, a home run, a 3-pointer, but please some one tell me, why in this thing we call learning are we keeping score? Why is a student’s potential based on a GPA when it should be based on his or her character and willingness to develop that potential.
Some of you are right. 1:1 is the answer. 1 more minute of patience for that 1 student. 1 short dialogue with 1 child in the hallway to remind them that it’s their potential you seek, not their aptitude to regurgitate. 1 phone call home to remind parents that their 1 student is an integral part to the learning, the community, and the culture of your classroom – even if that 1 student has 1 too many “incident reports on their record.” So please, do not let your wireless connectivity interfere with your human connectivity.
But if the heart on my sleeve that so pervasively beats isn’t enough, then at least let me finish before you dismiss me.
Do not mistake my words today. And if I say tomorrow I do not mean to wait. Tomorrow is my next word; tomorrow is your next thought. Do not put off to tomorrow what should be done today. Because today has already left and what you are left with is now.
I am here today because I know that tomorrow is NOW, and now (because of you), it will be different for many. And now take what you’ve heard, seen, and learned, take it back to your class, back to you schools, back to your homes not just because you need to better, but because it’s time to be different.
Do not mistake my words today for pride or arrogance, but please consider my humility and awe as I stand here and look out there, and see, not what you have done but what you will do.
Jeremy Macdonald  is currently the Integrated Technology Systems Coordinator for Bend-La Pine Schools with three years of experience in a 1:1 classroom setting and seven years classroom experience.  He is also a team member of the ORVSD, focusing on Social Media, Google Apps, and innovative learning. Along with his work in education, Jeremy is a full-time husband and father. He and his wife work tirelessly to raise their 4 kids in Bend, OR.

80% Grad Rates: Great Progress, More to Do

The nation quietly passed an important milestone a couple years ago…and we’re just learning about it now–welcome to education data cira 2014. Its crazy that the CEO of Ford can hold a press conference on February 1 and discuss his worldwide January sales and we’re still trying to figure out who graduated from American high schools three years ago. K-12 is 20 years behind other sectors in terms of tracking and using performance data.  As noted Monday, I’m afraid privacy hysteria has already slowed the already glacial pace of data improvement.

But on to celebrating what we can: the U.S. is finally graduating 4 of 5 students.  The 80% mark is a big deal.  Secretary Duncan celebrated the milestone by wearing number 80 in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. In a blog post, titled “Why I Wear 80,” the Secretary asserts, “Often in sports, but rarely in education, do you hear about the heroes whose skill, hard work, creativity, and tenacity resulted in the achievement the whole country should know about.  We should all take heart from the passionate, caring work being done in classrooms, schools, and communities across the country.”

I want to recognize just a few of the people that helped achieve this important milestone:

  • Bill Milliken has been fighting this war for 50 years starting with street academies in NYC in the 60s and launching Communities in Schools in 1977.
  • Ted Sizer published Horace’s Compromise in 1984 and called BS on the big tracked impersonal high schools. The same year he launched the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), a national network of small personalized schools.
  • Dennis Littky led the first school to join CES and then launched Big Picture, a national network of personalized high schools.
  • Innovative new school development began in NYC in the 1970. Seymour Fliegel, first as the Director of Alternative Schools and then as Deputy Superintendent, changed the education landscape by creating a network of small schools as an alternative to traditional schools. That work laid the groundwork for the 400 new schools developed by community partners, particularly New Visions led by Bob Hughes, while Joel Klein was chancellor.
  • Steven Adamowski launched the portfolio work in Cincinnati in 1998 that led to big improvements in grad rates. Ray Daniels launched small learning communities in Kansa City Kansas in 1999 that led to a great improvement story.
  • Bill & Melinda Gates made enormous contributions to this effort sponsoring about 1200 new high schools and 800 high school improvement projects.
  • As head of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Bob Wise has provided almost a decade of national leadership on the graduation gap.

Charter management networks like Alliance, Green Dot, IDEA, KIPP Uplift, YES have made a big contribution to better grad rates and college preparedness.

Perhaps least appreciated, the expansion of credit recovery and dropout recovery programs has boosted grad rates in the last five years (i.e., not fully incorporated into the belated and celebrated 80% rate).
“But, as Duncan said, “I see 80% as a starting point. We have so much further to go – for the one in five students who don’t graduate; for the many who graduate less than fully prepared for college; and for the groups of students that, despite recent progress, are achieving and graduating at lower rates.”
For more on improving grad rates, see:

The Maker Spirit is Alive in Portland ( at #ipdx14 )

“It’s much cheaper to buy a solution to your problem, than make a solution to your problem.”
When we started believing this as a society, we moved away from “Do It Yourself” to just “buy and replace.” That practice has had a huge impact on pedagogy. Have we stopped valuing the time students spend thinking creatively? Is it worth classroom time or should students figure out how to fix and make on their own time? Not according to Mark Frauenfelder, the founding editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and keynote speaker at IntegratED – Portland, Oregon’s top EdTech and innovation conference.

This year, the maker movement has come to Portland in full force and tonight Mark Frauenfelder spearheaded the conversation with a insightful retrospective on how making has evolved. If you look back to the Popular Mechanics issues of the 1950s they really don’t look that different than today’s issues of Make Magazine. But somewhere between then and now, we lost our maker spirit.

In the late 70s, it started to become easier and cheaper to just buy new, rather than fix what you have. “Do it yourself” became much less mainstream – and much more of a subculture. Fortunately, the huge use of the internet over the past twenty years has done two things to truly create the current modern maker movement:

  1. It allowed for sharing of what people made

  2. More importantly, it allowed for the sharing of the tools and skills they use to create- and now basically anyone can make anything.

School should not just be about filling in the right answer for the test question. Students need to engage in meaningful projects together, problem solve, think creatively. There really isn’t anything more fulfilling in life than inventing something or solving a problem successfully. Students need to feel that in their classrooms and take that feeling with them. By utilizing technology, teachers can provide that learning experience for students now more easily than they ever could before.
Great educators here in Portland are getting excited and ready to kick off their next two days of learning together- definitely feeling moved by the maker spirit.














Get Fueled in Personalized Learning

Today, personalized learning solutions provider, Fuel EducationTM (FuelEd), in association with Getting Smart®, released a white paper, “Fueling a Personalized Learning Revolution in Secondary Education,” defining personalized blended learning in a secondary school environment and how partnerships can lead to successful outcomes. The paper features the expertise of Gregg Levin, General Manager with FuelEd, Bruce Lovett, Vice President, Marketing with FuelEd, our own Dr. Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark.

The goal of the paper is to describe how personalized, blended learning can improve access to high-quality learning opportunities for secondary students. The authors highlight the various experiences of students in districts across the country that are accessing FuelEd courses to blend learning.

In addition to the paper, the participating organizations also released an infographic- “Fueling A Personalized Learning Revolution” which illustrates the 10 blended learning design principles.

Download the full paper and learn more at http://online.getfueled.com/FuelingaPersonalizedLearningRevolution.html  

Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #blendedlearning and #GetFueled. FuelEd is also active on Twitter at @FuelEducation, Getting Smart is at facebook.com/gettingsmart, and on Twitter at @Getting_Smart.

The full press release is copied below.
Fuel Education is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner


Fuel Education Releases Guide to Blended Learning in Secondary Education

White Paper Developed with Getting Smart

Provides Guidance for Leveraging Blended Learning in Secondary Education

WASHINGTON and VIRGINIA (February 27, 2014) –Personalized learning solutions provider, Fuel Education, in association with education advocacy firm, Getting Smart, today released a white paper defining personalized blended learning in a secondary school environment, and illustrating how this model can lead to successful outcomes.
The paper features the expertise of Fuel Education’s Gregg Levin, General Manager, and Bruce Lovett, Vice President of Marketing, with Getting Smart’s Dr. Carri Schneider, Director of Policy and Research, and Tom Vander Ark, CEO. In addition to the paper, Fuel Education released a complementary infographic, “Fueling a Personalized Learning Revolution,” that offers a visual outline of the paper content.
By highlighting various experiences of students in districts across the country who are participating in blended learning programs, the authors show how personalized, blended learning can improve access to high-quality learning opportunities for secondary students.
The new paper covers:

  • Key term definitions, including a 10-point summary of the elements required to provide each student personalized, blended learning;
  • Case studies demonstrating how districts across the country are implementing blended learning in secondary grades and the impacts on student success;
  • The variety of blended learning models available for secondary schools;
  • Benefits being realized today by students and districts offering blended learning; and
  • A checklist of the key design principles to consider in implementing a personalized, blended learning program.

“Personalizing the learning experience by enabling teachers to customize assessments, curriculum, and content using a wide variety of resources is the key to a successful blended learning program,” said Levin. “It is clear that districts are seeing students succeed with this model, and with the right technology and tools, districts, administrators, teachers also benefit from a smarter, more efficient learning experience.”
When blended learning is more personalized, it is customized to the needs and desires of the student in terms of pace, learning preferences, and specific interests. In addition to creating a more engaging and personalized learning experience in the classroom, blended learning offers students better access to diverse, high-quality learning experiences, such as Advanced Placement (AP®), world language, elective, and other courses not offered in their home districts.
“There has never been a better opportunity to improve educational achievement and completion rates of American youth,” said Vander Ark. “These new tools make it possible to incorporate quality learning options and reinvest in student success.”
To learn more, or to download the full paper, go to
To schedule an interview with one of the authors, contact Jennifer Aalgaard at (206) 291-7190 or [email protected]
About Fuel Education
Fuel Education™ partners with school districts to fuel personalized learning and transform the education experience inside and outside the classroom. The company provides innovative solutions for pre-K–12th grade that empower districts to implement successful online and blended learning programs. Its open, easy-to-use Personalized Learning Platform, PEAK™, enables teachers to customize courses using their own content, FuelEd courses and titles, third-party content, and open educational resources. Fuel Education offers the industry’s largest catalog of digital curriculum, certified instruction, professional development, and educational services. FuelEd has helped 2,000 school districts to improve student outcomes and better serve diverse student populations. To learn more, visit getfueled.com and Twitter.
About Getting Smart
Getting Smart® is an advocacy firm passionate about innovations in learning. We help education organizations construct cohesive and forward-thinking strategies for branding, awareness, advancement and communication, and public and media relations. We are advocates for better K-12 education as well as early, post-secondary and informal learning opportunities for all students. We attempt to accelerate and improve the shift to digital learning. On GettingSmart.com we cover important events, trends, products, books and reports. Follow Getting Smart on Facebook and Twitter.


Infographic: Fueling a Personalized Learning Revolution

In an effort to inform educators and districts how personalized, blended learning can improve access to high-quality learning opportunities for secondary students, Fuel EducationTM (FuelEd) has collaborated with Getting Smart® to write “Fueling a Personalized Revolution in Secondary Education” released today.

As a graphic representation of the paper, FuelEd released the infographic, “Fueling A Personalized Learning Revolution.” The infographic lists the 10 blended learning design principles.

Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #blendedlearning and #GetFueled. FuelEd is also active on Twitter at @FuelEducation, Getting Smart is at facebook.com/gettingsmart, and on Twitter at @Getting_Smart. For more see our blog post about the paper launch.

Fuel Education is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner

FuelEd-Infographic-FinalDownload the infographic here.

Education, Nonprofit, Government & Tech Worlds Collide this Month in Virtual Agreement

By: Beth Purcell
Technology is not the answer.
At least not “the entire answer,” according to President Obama’s February 4 speech on ConnectED, the federal program designed to connect 99 percent of America’s schools to the Internet.  Announced just prior to Digital Learning Day, the comment could seem oddly placed.  As PBSLearningMedia, the National Writing Project, and the Library of Congress join the digital learning frenzy, it seems that the education, nonprofit, government and technology worlds collide this month in virtual agreement.  Harnessing the power of tech for America’s schoolchildren, they contend, could help increase college and career readiness, address the effects of poverty, and improve America’s lagging test scores.
These sentiments have fostered such support that the Center for Education Reform has issued a report to pinpoint which and what sized news outlets most often cover digital learning stories.  (Their answer?  Small-circulation news outlets in the South and large-circulation news outlets in the Midwest and Northeast.)
Entitled “The Media and The Digital Learning Revolution,” the report also presents advocacy tips for so-called “digiformers.”  This portmanteau refers to those committed to technology-aided education – of which there seems to be many.
Noting that only 30 percent of American students have true high-speed Internet in their classrooms, President Obama has announced significant strides toward his ConnectED goal. Progress includes a $2 billion commitment by the Federal Communication Commission in waived fees plus $750 million in corporate commitments from companies such as Apple, Sprint, AT&T and Microsoft for software, services, devices and ebooks.
So, what’s missing?  What beyond these impressive and well-funded tools does President Obama advocate as the “entire answer” to education excellence?  Talented teachers, committed parents and students who “make the effort and have high expectations for themselves,” the president suggests.
But I’d say he’s still missing one key factor in the online learning equation– choice.
Maybe the neighborhood school of the future – armed with lightening-fast broadband and student iPads, a school where children create ebooks instead of the poster board-and-marker creations of my own school days – will be the environment where my child learns best.
But maybe not.  Maybe bullying or learning challenges or giftedness or the need for a flexible schedule to pursue extracurricular interests will make a different option the best fit.  Such was the case with my own daughter, who attends a state virtual public charter school.  She, and thousands of students like her nationwide, use technology for education every day by bringing the classroom into the home rather than boarding a school bus.
So, yes, I stand with the “digiformers.”  Technology can – and, I believe, will – transform and improve education for countless students.  I look forward to the advances that will result from ConnectED and other digital learning initiatives.
But no app, gadget or new operating system can change an essential education truth: when it comes to how our students learn, parents know best.   Only with parental choice intact can we harness the full potential of online learning.
Beth Purcell is the Board President of PublicSchoolsOptions.org.

Teaching STEM with Comics

This is part of a series on teaching with comics. The focus this week is on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. You can read the first post in this series here; humanities here; art here.
STEM-themed comics, which would seem to be a natural pairing (because nerds :), are a bit trickier to find than comics for reading or humanities. Many graphic novels make good discussion material for a history class (for example) without necessarily being about history. STEM is a little differentthe range of specialized knowledge that falls under the umbrella of “STEM” usually demands that comics are tailored to a particular subject, audience, and/or curriculum.
But there are quite a few STEM-related comics sinceif you know where to look.
Many are the product of various governmental and non-profit organizations seeking to make their content more appealing to kids. These range from single-panel “funnies” (like Sciencetoons) to hero-centric comic books like the United States Geological Survey’s Journey Along a Field Line. Many have the added bonus of being created with school curriculum in mind–but the downside is that, once funding dries up, the projects ofter go offline and become difficult to find. My advice: if you find comics you want to use in class, save them! While use for educational purposes should be no problem, make sure to get permission before reprinting comics or re-posting them online.
STEM-themed science comics:

  • Science Stories: Amazing Tales from Rothamsted Research Lab: This online comic book features five stories based on insect research. Kid-safe but with middle- to high school-level content and vocabulary.
  • Bird and Moon: Charmingly illustrated comics, mostly about plants and animals, that lean towards the humorous rather than instructive. Kid-safe and appropriate for most ages.
  • Beatrice the Biologist: These cute short comics about the natural world are suitable for most ages.
  • Science Comix: One-page comics about a variety of science topicsmostly natural history. Kid-safe. (Full disclosure: Science Comix are created by the author of this blog post 🙂 ).
  • The Adventures of Archibald Higgins: Available in a variety of languages (including the original French and some English translations  brave their terrible website design and search the page for “Our officiel translator for english”). Kid-safe but with middle- to high school-level content and vocabulary.
  • Max Axiom: Featuring a “super scientist,” these comic books on a range of science topics are developed especially for young readers.
  • Earth and space science comics from Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory. Kid-friendly.
  • In book form, check out the Larry Gonick’s classic Cartoon Guides including Cartoon History of the UniversePhysics, and Genetics. You might also check out the manga guides from No Starch Press, including the Manga Guide to PhysicsCalculus, and the Universe.
  • Science: A Discovery in Comics: This comic book walks you through the very basics of what is science and on to a tour from ancient Greece to modern theories of physics.
  • Boxplot: Appearing on Popular Science and NPR, Boxplot features comics accompanied by explanations of the science behind them. Probably best suited for upper grades.
  • XKCD: “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” XKCD’s comics range from soulful observations of daily life to science insider jokes that may require an advanced degree to understand. Not all of them are appropriate for all ages. Favorites include: Height (The Observable Universe)[Electromagnetic] Spectrum (mind the bodily fluids humor), Gravity Wells, and Science Montage.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Intended to be funny rather than instructive, SMBC comics are not exclusively about science (ranging from science and philosophy to dirty jokes) and and many are not safe for work. Not kid-safe.
  • PhD: A humorous comic about academia, PhD comics will probably be most appreciated by college students, but PhD TV has some great videos featuring real scientists and real research.
  • Unearthed Comics: Mostly related to biology and planetary science, these one-panel comics are funny because science. Kid-safe.
  • Newton and Copernicus: This comic follows the adventures of two lab mice. Kid-safe (if you don’t count discussions on the implications of using animals in research.)
  • The Science of Superheroes, the Science of Supervillains, and the Physics of Superheroes: These books by Lois Gresh and James Kakalios use “classic” superhero comics as a way to talk about science and physics but, bewilderingly, are not themselves comics or graphic novels. In fact, they are very text heavy and quite dense. But if you care to read through them, you might use them to transform superhero comics into launching pads for discussions of science.
  • Bonus: Although not directly educational, Fox Trot‘s geeky main character has always been a favorite protagonist of mine. Kid-safe.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are a few projects I’ve heard of that have since gone offline, and I’m sure there are many more I just don’t know aboutyet! What STEM-themed comics/graphic novels am I missing?

EdTech 10: Queso Season

Are you headed to Austin next week for some queso and #SXSWedu fun? We are, too. We have even started to plan out our schedule and try and map out where we will be. In addition to the Tex-Mex, queso and sunshine, we are looking forward to the jam-packed sessions and EdTech hallway chats. If you’re looking to brush up on your #blendedlearning cooking skills stop by our workshop session (#ChoppedEdu)!

Blended Schools & Tools

1. What’s in Your Toolkit? CoSN (@CoSN), ENA (@ENAconnects) and the eLearn Institute released the Becoming Assessment Ready Toolkit to help ensure schools and districts are ready for the next-gen assessments. The Common Core State Standards online assessments will be coming to a district near you in the next two years and these groups want to make sure you’re ready!

2. Spreading Their Wings. In it’s third move outside of the Bay Area, Rocketship announced they are expanding in to DC (@RocketshipEd). According to Rocketship, community engagement in DC was a large deciding factor in deciding to make the move to the nation’s capital. Look out for new schools in the Bay Area, Milwaukee and Nashville too!

3. Smart Procurement Study. Digital Promise (@DigitalPromise) and Education Industry Association (@EdIndustryAssoc) launched a study that is seeking district participation this week. With funding from Gates Foundation (@GatesFoundation) the organizations are gathering data and information that will help identify problems and create solutions. It’s likely to confirm the advice of the Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement— watch the Smart EdTech Procurement Google Hangout for more on buying smart.

Digital Developments

4. How Do You Score? Smarterer (@smarterer) raised a $1.6 million round led by Rethink to launched Flock TeamSourcing, a crowdsourced hiring app that quantifies knowledge and identify skill gaps. It’s a step closer to data-driven employability and likely to have ripple effects on HigherEd.

5. Measure It, Master It. MasteryConnect (@masteryconnect) announced this week that they have received $3.4 million from investors. The assessment sharing platform is used by teachers in 35,000 schools.  See how they Reinvented the Report Card.

Dollars & Deals

6. Next-Gen Higher Ed. Education social network Piazza (@piazza), which allows students to crowdsource answers online, landed $8M from Khosla Ventures.  In related news,  2U (@2Uinc) filed for a $100M IPO.

Policy Praise

7. 21st Century Ed. The Donnell-Kay (@DonnellKay) foundation unveiled initial plans to  create a new education system. Design for the project, called ReSchool Colorado will be completed by the end of 2015 with the policy and implementation strategy taking effect in 2016.

Teachers & Tech

8. A+ Teachers. One of the most critical factors supporting student success is high quality teachers. That’s why this week the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign (@OTLCampaign) launched “Excellent Teachers for Every Child”. Developed by seven organizations representing a large population of students, educators and parents, the state policy guide provides a blueprint for practical changes to improve teaching quality around the nation.

Let’s Get Personalized

9. Making the Shift. Looking for best practices for implementing standards based grading? Our friends over at MIND Research Institute (@MIND_Research) featured a blog on Sums & Solutions about standards based grading at Starr Detroit Academy. It’s a hot topic we’re all familiar with, and  founding principal Jeremy Vidito gives readers an honest, up front look into what the transition looked like at his school.

The Big “D”

10. Big Data, Big Week.  The Department released guidelines on the proper use, storage, and security of the flood of education data in the era of online and blended learning. SIIA offered best practices to safeguard student information privacy and data security. Tom encouraged policy makers to embrace privacy and innovation in School: A Zone of Privacy and Innovation.


DLN and MIND Research Institute are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. MasteryConnect is Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is partner.