4 Truths About Effective PBL Leaders

Jennifer Cruz

At the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) we get many calls from site and district leaders asking how to create a school system organized for effective Project Based Learning (PBL). We partner with those who are willing and able to engage with us for a multi-year PBL implementation effort. BIE’s systemic partnership coaches support leaders as they progress on their PBL journey. After years of this work across the United States and around the world, we have discovered some key truths about highly effective PBL leadership.

The most effective leaders begin with why.

I was recently at a school with exceptional performance on high stakes tests. While exploring whether to commit to PBL, they struggled to reconcile changing their teaching practices with their current success by traditional measures. What happens if teachers try something new and scores decrease? What will parents say? What will district administrators say? To move school staff and parents past this dilemma, leaders started with questions that refocused them on their mission and vision for the future, What do our students need to be successful in the future? Is traditional academic knowledge enough? What kind of teaching will make our hopes and dreams for our students come true? For other schools, the questions might be about increasing student engagement, building a better school culture, or finding new strategies for raising test scores. When we ground everyone in the why, the how (PBL) becomes crystal clear.

To reach the goal, everyone has to know the plan.

So you’ve started with the why, and your team agrees that high quality PBL is worth pursuing. Now what? How do we get there? Every great coach has a plan for winning a game, so BIE’s PBL implementation planning sessions help leaders craft a shared vision, then create long-term, mid-term, and short-term outcomes. We co-create the specific supports and activities the staff and community need to meet their outcomes. But even though the PBL planning team is made up of representative stakeholders like parents, teachers, central office staff, and students when appropriate, best-laid plans can fail if they are not communicated well to everyone. Make your work public – repeatedly – in various formats, settings, languages, or whatever it takes to make sure all the players know the game plan.

Effective leaders are model learners.

PBL leaders see their work with their staff as a project and model the best practices of PBL teaching. It’s important to learn side by side with your teachers. Don’t be “that guy” (or gal) who reads email or leaves constantly during professional development sessions. Model the learning behaviors that you want your teachers to use. Ask questions, dig in, make it clear that you value lifelong learning and your staff will too.

Many PBL leaders actually bring the essential project design elements into their leadership practice. Open meetings with a driving question – for example, How should we schedule the student day to maximize learning time? What structures can we implement to ensure that staff have time to collaborate? Collect “need to know” questions at the start of a big initiative and revisit them over the course of time. Create a culture that encourages collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Make time for reflection and celebration.

Successful sports teams reflect on their performance. They watch previous game tapes, recall what they did well or want to improve on, and together plan how to get better. Educators can take a lesson from athletes. How often do we come together to analyze a lesson or unit, then practice the complicated parts before trying it again? PBL leaders need to help teachers deprivatize their practice. Teachers should be in each other’s classrooms to learn how their colleagues teach and reflect on how it might apply to their own classroom. They should engage in ongoing professional learning cycles to examine their work using protocols like those in BIE’s “professional learning loop.” Leaders should be in each other’s schools observing high quality leadership practices unfold and engage in consultancy protocols to solve problems of practice. Have a leadership thought partner who helps you uncover your personal growth areas. Tell your staff. They will respect the reflective model you set.

Successful athletes are also known for hoisting that hard-earned trophy over their head.

PBL leaders should do the same at their schools. Continuous improvement through reflection and use of protocols is important, but don’t get so dogged about improving that you forget to celebrate accomplishments. Some schools do shout-outs at the start of each staff meeting. Others use newsletters or email blasts to point out the good work the staff is doing to move PBL forward. For more ideas and resources to grow your PBL leadership, visit bie.org.


To learn more about leadership and Deeper Learning for leaders, check out:

This post is part of our “Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning” series.  If you have thoughts about what today’s school leaders should know and be able to do and how they should be prepared, we’d love to hear from you. Contact [email protected] with the subject “Preparing Leaders” for more information.

Jennifer Cruz
 is Director of Implementation at the Buck Institute for Education. 
Follow Jennifer on Twitter with @jencBIE.

I Need a Learning Sherpa

Katherine Prince

My daughter Chloe is just three years old. I’m extremely fortunate that she attends a great pre-school. Because her birthday falls in October, she won’t start kindergarten for two and-a-half years. 

Even so, I just spent the last six months agonizing over the intersection between neighborhood and school, torn between the dominant narrative about what constitutes a good school and my desire to live in a historic neighborhood with character and cultural values similar to mine in a city that was mostly developed during my lifetime. This debate was prompted by having been asked to share, via a TEDxColumbus talk, my personal vision for the future of learning. Watch it below. My vision is one of radically personalized learning that enables every learner to have ready access to the right learning experiences, resources, and supports at the right time, regardless of zip code and far beyond the bounds of “school” as we know it today.

As part of my job, I talk with education stakeholders around the country about KnowledgeWorksten-year forecast on trends shaping education and how they might use those trends and related innovation pathways to bring about their preferred futures.

Applying that question to my own life as a parent is a lot harder. Despite my vision, I found myself being drawn, as I considered what my words on the red circle might mean for me, into the current educational paradigm. To my chagrin, I found myself focusing on formal schools over informal learning experiences. On state accountability measures that I know reflect a limited way of evaluating schools that are part of what I know to be an outdated system that struggles to put students at the center.

What else, as a parent, does any of us have as we attempt to navigate the expanding education landscape? We can ask around, read reviews, study the schedules of out-of-school time activities, gather personal impressions during hour-long visits to alternative schools that we might hope to lottery our children into or struggle to afford. If we’re lucky, as I am, we can exercise some degree of choice about where we live. But we’re caught in the interstices of a decaying system whose stewards are doing their best to serve students and a smattering of other options that might or might not offer fundamentally approaches to learning.

That’s difficult ground to traverse. We’re trying to move wisely through an emerging education landscape using outdated maps and a broken compass. Even if we weren’t living in a transitional time, how do we as parents really know what educational options will meet the needs of our children, especially when choices of housing and schooling are so tightly wound that we typically decide where to live before we have much idea about who our children are as learners?

I think that parents need learning sherpas who can help us navigate the expanding learning landscape and design learning journeys that meet our children where they are. We need expert navigators who can share insights from the journeys of those who have gone before us, tell us what pitfalls and promises to expect around the next bend, and help us surface and assess learning options that might be right for our children and circumstances. These learning sherpas could shoulder some of the weight with us, walk alongside us as we make choices for and with our children.

In the formal learning landscape as we think of it today, parents could use some inside scoop about what one public school or another is really like- which students it serves well, which ones it doesn’t, or whether the socio-economic pressures are insufferable. Parents could also use help comparing neighborhood schools against other options such as charter, parochial, independent, and online schools. How can we compare performance across schools that use different measures of success? What kinds of learning cultures are at play? How fluid are the schools’ boundaries? Which is the right school for my child at this moment in time? What if that school isn’t right in two years? What if it mostly is, but Chloe needs additional support or wants to pursue an interest that the curriculum can’t accommodate? How might I navigate practicalities such as transportation, healthy food, and extended child care?

In the self-organized and community-based learning spaces, what if something called “school” isn’t right for Chloe? Do I have any hope of pursuing some other option as a working mom? How might we weave together a mosaic of learning experiences to create a customized learning journey? What networks might we plug into? Where are the programs that reflect her interests but don’t take place at 10am on a Tuesday morning or keep us from eating dinner?

Learning sherpas could help parents address these kinds of questions and many more. It isn’t realistic to expect parents to navigate the expanding learning landscape without guides. And it’s irresponsible to hope that somehow parents and kids will create their own solutions. Some will.  But a lot of parents and kids, from a lot of different circumstances, will not. If we don’t create new educator roles such as learning sherpas, we’re pretty much saying that we’re okay letting the learning ecosystem fracture. Accepting that some kids will have access to highly personalized learning while others will find their full potential stifled in limited or simply ill-fitting learning environments. We can’t afford to let the learning landscape fracture in that way.

In the meantime, where did I land with the internal debate? I couldn’t get the housing-schooling equation to balance. But my lease was up, so I decided to move to a part of town that I love and trust that I’ll find the right learning environment for Chloe when the time comes. There are moments when I feel as if I’m taking a huge risk. Yet I know that the learning ecosystem is expanding. I know that new educator roles are emerging. So I’m taking an informed risk. I hope that I’ll find wise and personalized guidance when I need it and not show up to interview elementary schools, as I did for daycares, the equivalent of four months pregnant and too late to enroll. I could really use a learning sherpa.

This blog is part of our Smart Parents Series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. We would love to have your voice in the Smart Parents conversations. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information, email Bonnie Lathram with the subject “Smart Parents.” For more information about the project see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Katherine Prince is a Senior Director, Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks. Follow her on Twitter with @katprince.

MobLab Brings Interactive Experiments To The Social Sciences

Students learn by doing experiments and experiencing how things work first-hand in the natural and physical sciences. In 2011, two Caltech scientists, Walter Yuan and Stephanie Wang, founded MobLab to bring such powerful game-based learning experiences to economics, management, and all of the social sciences.

Today, over 1800 instructors in higher education and 200 high schools have used MobLab’s games to cover a wide range of topics in economics, game theory, finance, strategy, negotiations, behavioral economics, industrial organization, political economy, and more. Their students get to actively participate and gain experience in games such as markets and auctions by interacting with their peers on a mobile device or through a browser. Learning becomes fun, memorable, immersive, context-rich, and accessible.

Growth. The southern California startup recently closed a $2.25 million round of financing. In addition to continually enlarging its suite of games, MobLab recently signed a partnership agreement with Macmillan Education. “We are very excited about this partnership opportunity. It introduces our technology to many more instructors and students, and also enable us to combine our games with rich content for a seamlessly integrated and innovative learning experience,” says Yuan.

In the next few months MobLab will integrate with a number of leading Learning Management Systems, unveil a suite of macroeconomic games, provide more comprehensive supporting material for easier adoption, and add a discussion forum to grown the extensive product support into a community.

For more on gaming, check out:

CompetencyEd And Why Everyone Should Learn To Code

Melinda Barlow

The speed of progress in the 21st century has almost surpassed our capacity to exist in a functional way within it. Traditional models like time-based learning are not equipping us for the future we are hurtling towards that requires everyone, especially students, to demonstrate mastery in flexible learning environments. A foundation of literacy in reading, writing, and arithmetic are no longer enough. The need for students to improve their tech fluency, to learn to code, and to be capable and competent at navigating the digital world is unquestionable. Education must organically deliver informed and skilled people into the workforce in ways it previously has not. We must also ensure that students are prepared to be lifetime learners.

Many of the students of today will be far better equipped for their futures than any generation before them. Education reform has a lot to do with this of course, but credit must also be given in some capacity to GenDIY. Emerging from classically designed learning models into the blinding glare of the skills gap; their tenacity in the face of unemployment has delivered countless success stories and evidence that there ARE other ways. Armed with traditional postsecondary credentials and the prospect of dozens of jobs they are educated for, but not quite skilled enough for, they seek out a design course, a web development course, or any other skills they require; to get the job they actually want.

The wheels are in motion and new learning systems are forging a different path. One that is built on the adoption of Common Core Standards as a more dynamic and flexible approach to learning. However the transition from cohort to competency education is entirely dependent on our capacity to fully engage with digital personal learning. This in turn is dependent on learning platforms being designed in ways that attract us rather than burden us. High fees and the need to purchase and transport cumbersome text books for an online course do not make for satisfied students. There is some irony in being asked to reference a textbook for a web development course. Or to read a ‘learn to code’ manual which was out-dated before it even went to print.

These kind of transitional issues need to be eliminated quickly as digital literacy rates increase. GenDIY is familiar with solving problems quickly, simply and online. If they find a job they want and are missing a necessary skill, they can choose from a multitude of one of many online learning options. Platforms such as UdemyCareerFoundry and General Assembly offer adaptable, supportive online training in everything from digital marketing to user experience design, web development courses to data analysis training.

Every one of the skills taught by coding is essential for our students’ success in the 21st century. Every single student needs to learn to code as much as they need to read, write and count. Students need to think and function in ways that engage creativity and promote dynamic and flexible exchange. They need to be able learn and apply new concepts and be able to apply skills into their day-to-day life. Current cohort style education teaches foundation subjects but not necessarily essential skill-sets related to technology, healthcare, finance and communication. A competency based education approach offers more focused learning possibilities with the individual student in mind.

Students are involved in the development of their learning goals and understand their purpose. This motivation ensures a stronger commitment, and better engagement in the ongoing customization of their education and subsequently their career. It also allows for better preparation for the transition from school to college to career as the plans have already been in the making for some time.

Initiative is the order of the day and the 1 page CV, listing skills gained through consecutive years at one company will soon become a thing of the past. GenDIY are designing their own careers, experiencing much more job satisfaction and in many cases earning a lot more money than their traditional career choice originally promised them. Flexible working schedules include regular freelance clients, work on fixed contracts for longer term projects and even part-time positions as an ‘in house freelancer’. Cumulatively these offer social interaction, greater opportunities for creative collaboration and most importantly job diversity – something the ‘gold watch career’ could never do.

As the cohort to competency learning transition gains traction, surely a new generation will evolve that will transcend GenDIY. They will transition seamlessly through customized learning options, leveraging technology and innovation as their drivers and discover new ways to engage in lifelong learning.

For more information on CompetencyEd, check out:


Melinda Barlow is an Australian freelance writer and editor, based in Berlin. Find Melinda on Twitter at 


Udemy and General Assembly are portfolio companies of Learn Capital where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

How To Prep For (and Rock) SXSWedu

Eric Nentrup

SXSWedu is quickly approaching and like most educators, I have to find a moment to prepare myself for what will be a veritable deluge of information and interaction. The problem is that our lives as educators are so fraught with frenetic activity, it’s possible to go from all the fires we are trying to put out at our schools, and because of a condition known as “CBS” (Conference Behavior Syndrome), presume we’ll have a moment to relax as soon as we get to Austin.

Certainly, this can be a safe approach for myriad education conferences. You just can’t get away with that at this event because SXSWedu and Austin won’t allow it. 2015 is my third year attending, second year on the advisory board, and first year presenting, and I’m still intimidated by the need to prepare for the event’s magnitude. Admittedly I want to make a strong impression and am fixated upon bringing the goods to the session I’m co-hosting with Mike Kleba, Brooklyn educator and founder of Teachernomics. Yet I know just beyond our session is the need to wring the life out of everything orange in Austin that is SXSWedu. Here’s how I plan to do so and tips for you to consider:

Get The App NOW

Don’t wait until you arrive to line up your sessions. SXSWedu’s Mobile App is already available and will update regularly as changes to the lineup occur. There are a few great reasons to start fiddling with this now:

  1. Previewing your session choices to prevent FOMO (another CBS symptom) in the frenzy that is the hallways of the Austin Convention Center.
  2. But also, eyeing out networking opportunities in between sessions.
  3. Choose from a VARIETY of sessions such as workshop, panel discussion, core conversation, Future15, eduFilm and more. SXSWedu has the most diverse organization of types of presentations of any conference out there and not experiencing that innovation in event planning would be remiss.
  4. After “starring” a few options for each day, stalk some of the presenters beyond the schedule on SXSWedu.com. Find their company, school, district, or non-profit. Read their blogs and watch their YouTube channel. Or reconsider seeing their session if you don’t see much of a digital footprint in favor of another option for whom you can make a more educated commitment to attending their session.
  5. Use SXSWedu’s eduSocial to connect with other attendees let alone presenters. Follow through by connecting with them on at least Twitter if not other social media platforms as well. This builds incentive for seeking out in real life (IRL) these people. In fact, I have some tweets out there now helping me layout a list of people to connect with.

Make/Design/Order Amazing Leave Behinds

enentrup-blog-imageTraditional, business cards, though functional are so yesteryear. And, following on Twitter alone isn’t enough. One way to make a big impression is to think through an exchangeable item for yourself that is representative, affordable, and foils expectations a bit. I’ve seen little tchotchkes in diminutive glass bottles, classic pin-on buttons, lanyard charms, silicone bracelets, etc.

But my favorite is a non-traditional piece of heavy bond paper that transcends the 2×3.5” rectangle. I call it the “power business card”. Measuring in at three-by-five inches, and made from an inkjet custom print flashcard pack, with my contact info printed in the header. I can quickly scrawl some pertinent information then hand it off to make an impression on a new acquaintance.

Of course, you can order your own personalized notecard or go the other way with a skinny, square or mini-card, instead. Just get ready to swap ‘em like they’re baseball cards. Clothespins for your bike spokes are optional but appreciated.

Brick and Mortar of Choosing Sessions and Beyond

After you land in ATX, register and settle into your hotel room, it’s time to get your game face on. Hop on Twitter and check out who’s using #SXSWedu or @SXSWedu. Start following these folks, retweeting their most salient tweets, and even reaching out to grab a coffee or beer with a few.

Set your expectations high, leave them there, but don’t be emotionally tied to those high expectations. We know that conference sessions can be more hype than anything else. As educators, we can be particularly judgemental of presenters who may not speak publicly six hours a day. Put that in check. It’s a forest and trees thing and it could keep you from forging some significant relationships with education professionals because of the rarified air the SXSWedu brand brings with it.

Next, with expectations managed, there’s one bit of advice that I can’t stress enough: it’s okay to walk out of a session that isn’t what you thought it was. This is especially true if you followed the advice before the trip and marked two or more sessions that you wanted to attend during a schedule block. Make your best judgement, know the location of your fallback choice, and don’t be afraid to jump rooms. The conference expects it.

Thirdly, Don’t be swooned by the big names of the “edurati” or other known commodities. You WILL run into some famous people in the hallways, as SXSWedu is a magnet for altruistic celebrities. That doesn’t mean their session is the best use of your time.

What’s incredibly important is that you put your most extraverted foot forward and introduce yourself to people also attending the event that you would otherwise have a very difficult time connecting with. If you get invited to an evening party just “off campus” you know you’re doing it right.

Meetups & Afterhours

Granted, Yelp! will tell you the closest joints worth visiting after we vacate the Convention Center each afternoon, the choices are overwhelming. Here are a few great places you can guarantee to find refreshing accompaniments to your conversations:

  • Easy Tiger. Amazing sandwiches and fresh-baked pretzels to go with one of the best curated beer selections in town.
  • The Brass House. Swanky, but not quiet if one of the local jazz ensembles is stirring it up. A great way to unwind at the end of a busy day sitting.
  • Pelons Tex Mex. You may want to catch a Lyft to this eatery, and you might enjoy a respite from the activity around the Convention Center. I guarantee you’ll rave over the deep fried avocado or carnitas. Sensational.

A Final Word

Have a good time. Really. Just commit to staying in “on” mode for a considerable portion of the day, get comfortable with improvising and socializing.

For more on SXSWedu, check out:


Eric Nentrup is an eLearning coach in central Indiana and advocate for teachers and students. Follow Eric on Twitter with @ericnentrup

3 Ways Parents Can Spot Student-Centered Learning

Recently I had the opportunity to learn alongside my seven-year old daughter, as we used the occasion of yet another snowed-in February day to scratch the itch of one of her many curiosities. Driven partly by me and largely by a friend at school, she’s been talking a lot lately about computers and how they work so we sat down together to try the Hour of Code. It was fun for the two of us to share a learning experience that we were both coming to completely new.

So many of our experiences alongside our children often involve us teaching them things that we ourselves have already experienced or mastered. It didn’t take long, however, before I realized the greatest lessons for me in that hour wouldn’t be about coding. What I gained that snowy afternoon was a set of new insights into how my daughter learns, what motivates her, what frustrates her and how my interactions either supported or discouraged her learning. I was floored by how much she was able to learn in just one hour–the same hour that could’ve instead been spent watching half a movie or playing another spirited round of tag with her sister through the house.

So what was it about that learning experience that made it so powerful?

Student-centered learning is a term that Nellie Mae Education Foundation describes as having four components:

  • Learning is Personalized
  • Learning is Competency-Based
  • Learning Happens Anytime, Anywhere
  • Learning is Student-Driven.

Because I work as an advocate for student-centered learning, I recognize that these four characteristics were definitely factors in contributing to her powerful learning experience with the Hour of Code. But how do these components translate to real classrooms and real teachers? Is it possible for teachers to create the same type of experiences for kids in schools and classrooms?

How can parents recognize student-centered learning?

Here’s my advice from the perspective as a mother of two school-aged children, a former classroom teacher and a current advocate for student-centered learning:

Students are in the driver’s seat.

There are a few key questions to ask to determine if your child is in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

Teachers help plan the routes.

Your child’s teachers should know where your student currently is academically, where they’ve been and where they are going. Ongoing, meaningful assessment of knowledge and skills is essential to obtain insights needed to personalize learning. This knowledge generated from these assessments should inform your child’s learning experience. Good teachers have long known the importance of getting to know individual learners and differentiating instruction in this way. We’re big believers in the potential of technology such as adaptive learning tools and blended learning classroom models to help teachers efficiently gather and track powerful student data to inform their instructional path.

Chris Sturgis & Laurie Gagnon recently shared these helpful questions that can assist parents in better understanding the kind of assessments needed to make student-centered classrooms work.

  • How has the school organized its learning and assessments?
  • Where are you in terms of how the learning is unfolding for the students? Are they starting a new module, working on a new concept or skill, or applying concepts and skills they have learned to new situations?
  • What is the purpose of the assessment: is it within a unit or project, or is it a yearlong or culminating project such as a capstone?
  • How do teachers share their work together through designing and validating tasks, calibrating student work scoring, revising tasks, sharing instructional strategies, etc.?
  • How do students share their work with each other through collaborative work, peer review, etc?
  • Are there portfolio reviews, exhibitions, or other opportunities where students present to authentic audiences, such as members of the community, parents, or other students?

Everyone has access to the “map.”

In a student-centered learning environment, everyone – students, teachers, parents – has access to and understands the landscape–with an awareness of the roadblocks that may be coming ahead and a plan to work through them. To find evidence of the “map,” reflect on or ask these questions:

  • Does your child’s teacher have a system for tracking individual student progress toward overall academic goals across various content areas?
  • What is your child’s involvement in tracking their progress and setting their own goals?
  • Does your child have a strong sense of their strengths, weaknesses and overall progress?
  • Can parents easily access information about their student and get an accurate picture of how their student is progressing? (Student data backpacks and expanded learner profiles are one way schools are approaching this.)

Whether you are currently choosing a school for your child or whether you are just curious to know more about their current learning environment, this list can help generate powerful insights about their learning. Don’t be surprised if you do not find evidence of all three of these components in your child’s current school setting. For many schools that are in the earliest phases of shifting to more personalized and student-centered learning environments, this list is more aspirational than it is currently in practice. Parents can be powerful advocates for shifts like these as schools and districts increasingly acknowledge the importance of parent and community support.

If your child’s current school feels far off from the student-centered learning, determine what factors matter most to you and to your child and start there. Seek informal and formal learning opportunities for your child outside of the school day that are based on their interests and needs.

Above all else, engage your children in conversations about their own learning, then hand them the keys and send them on their way. You may even want to join them for the ride.

This blog is part of our Smart Parents Series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. We would love to have your voice in the Smart Parents conversations. To contribute a blog, ask a question, or for more information, email Bonnie Lathram with the subject “Smart Parents.” For more information about the project see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Wojcicki’s Classroom and Book Encourage Shooting for the Moon

With four publications on deadline, 150 Palo Alto High School students were hard at work after hours. Esther Wojcicki was the only teacher on site while the other two were in a meeting, but she was eating dinner in the kitchen. The high school juniors and seniors were on task, well organized and didn’t require adult supervision to produce world class products.

The Campanile is the campus newspaper. Nine issues are printed throughout the academic school year. It is composed of three, eight-paged sections: news, lifestyle and sports.

Verde Magazine, an award winning 70 page print magazine in its 15th year. Published every six weeks during the academic year, it includes a dozen long features and a dozen short commentaries. Long pieces take on tough social issues including homelessness, gender identity and college affordability. Editorials attack problems with course schedules, homework, and bullying.


Voice is the student website that is updated daily and sometimes multiple times a day. InFocus is Paly’s daily broadcast program. Viking is a sports magazine. Madrono is Paly’s yearbook.

When two young ladies approached Wojcicki a few years ago about another magazine, she worried about the sustainability of another publication. The students agreed to sell advertising to cover the cost of the glossy magazine modeled after the NY Times Magazine. C Magazine, an arts and entertainment was launched by a team of students that, as Wojcicki recounts had  an, “Opportunity to be creative, to fail, to recover, to learn communication, language and tech skills as well as to be passionate about a project.”

For most of 30 years, Wojcicki taught journalism classes in a portable building at Palo Alto High School. This year Esther and her colleagues teach in a beautiful Media Arts Center. Support for the new facility seemed to grow after hundreds of students took the program from Wojcicki and her colleagues over the years and recommended the program to their friends. It became one of the fastest growing programs in the district. The community and all five members of the school board enthusiastically supported the building of the new Media Arts Center which opened in August 2014. Art work from actor and Paly alum James Franco decorates many of the hallways.




Wojcicki stays late two nights a week to allow student teams time to work on publications.  Three times a month, when three publications are on deadline, parents come in and serve students dinner.

Moonshot thinking. Students in what I’ve called the nation’s biggest and best journalism program learn valuable skills. Perhaps even more important is a mindset that they, with a team, can accomplish extraordinary things. As an author and advocate, Wojcicki is sharing strategies that will help other teachers develop the sort of entrepreneurial mindset now common on the Paly campus.

“Moonshots involve goals that are difficult to achieve, perhaps seemingly impossible.”

Wojcicki’s new book, Moonshots in Education, encourages teachers to “shoot for the moon.”

“Today we are preparing kids for a world we cannot even conceptualize,” said Wojcicki, “They need to think, not follow directions. We need to move forward, take a risk; we have the tools and the skills to change the classroom and make learning exciting and relevant for all students.”

Moonshots aims high but is full of tips and practical advice for teachers about apps and classroom strategies. The book, and Esther’s classrooms, exhibit her core belief that, “Students will achieve at levels far beyond what is expected if you give them the opportunity.”

For more on student blogging, check out:

EdTech 10: Warming Up

With New England, much of the midwest and now the south experiencing a record breaking winter, this week’s EdTech news was anything but cold as stories were hot off the press as ever. From the forging of new tools from folks like Fedora, to bigs like BetterLesson boosting their offerings beyond basic boundaries, or learning platforms like PowerMyLearning providing proven programs to everyone from practitioners to policymakers… Alliteration aside, Team Getting Smart was has been staying warm this week with EdTech news that would make everyone in the ed space warm inside with excitement.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. Fueled Up. Fuel Education (FuelEd), in partnership with Getting Smart, launched How to Successfully Scale Personalized Learning: Six Key Lessons from Effective Programs. This new white paper explores how districts and schools successfully scale online and blended programs by highlighting the stories of leaders in six districts. We’re also excited to report that FuelEd announced their highly anticipated Summer School solution.

2. Learning Platform World Series. We’re honored to work with amazing advocacy partners such as Agilix, Instructure, and FuelEd. That’s why we’ve launched a new series where we are profiling these greats and their learning platforms that impact the learning and teaching of thousands of students and educators everyday.  

Digital Developments

3. I’ve Got The Powah. PowerMyLearning users from more than 35,000 schools nationwide will experience new formative assessment capabilities called Playlist Tasks and Checkpoints. Educators can now increase playlist rigor, gauge student understanding, and provide feedback through the platform.

4. Seeing Is Believing. After hearing from numerous teachers new to blended models, that what they really need is to see real-world examples of blended learning instruction, BetterLesson has released videos from 11 of their Blended Master Teachers practicing techniques in action.  

5. Skills To Pay The Bills. Digital fluency will continue to contribute to a student’s readiness for career and college. Knowing this, Learning.com’s new Project NextTech is designed with a goal to develop the tech proficiency and information and media literacy skills students need to succeed in our increasingly digital world.

Dollars & Deals

6. Far East In Reach. Pole position in education on the Apple App Store with over a million downloads is the LocoMotive Lab’s Todo Math app. The CA-based game developers have received $4 million in support as they set their sights on Asian markets and US classrooms.

Smart Parents

7. YouTube Kids. When it comes to screentime, it’s important to be choosy and chatty about the content that children consume. As we’ve explored how parents can impact their children’s learning in our recently launched series, we were elated to learn that YouTube is releasing an app for kids to support parents as they decide what their children watch.

Policy Pieces

8. Self Paced Wins The Race. Getting Smart Advocacy Partners, The Foundation for Excellence in Education and Instructure have teamed up with the release of free self paced MOOCs for policymakers dubbed EdPolicy Leaders Online.

Let’s Get Personalized

9. Caution: Roadblock Ahead. 89% of educators surveyed by KnowledgeWorks and Nellie Mae Education Foundation said they are interested in CompetencyEd implementation, but 63% said they haven’t been able to take action. A new report by the two leading orgs has identified this divide and suggests policy areas that must be addressed to increase CompetencyEd.

Teachers & Tech-ers

10. Full Control. NYC-based startup, Fedora, is offering a new platform to teachers to create online “schools” to sell courses directly to students. The platform who recently landed $2 million in seed funding empowers teachers with the capability to build, manage, and market courses however they want.

My School Information Design Challenge

My School Information Design Challenge
Authored by The Foundation for Excellence in Education
Download Building a Better School Performance Report Card for Parents & Students
Download Building State Capacity for Powerful School Information: Results of the My School Information Design Challenge

The #SchoolInfo challenge is an effort to provide parents with necessary information to make informed decisions about their student’s education, and to inform policymakers with information for reform strategies.

In the fall of 2014, The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) launched the My School Info Design Challenge (#SchoolInfo) with support from Getting Smart. Fueled by research from Education Commission of the States (ECS) and ExcelinEd that revealed that school information is difficult to find and interpret by parents, community members and other stakeholders, the competition sought  top designers to reimagine state level school report cards.

Two main publications supported this challenge:


Gives an in-depth look at the research behind the challenge, submission requirements and overall challenge objectives.

MySchoolInfoChallengeReport- cover-225pxw

Shares the findings, implications, implementation and next steps for states now that we’re armed with a number of powerful design examples. States have an important opportunity to take these designs and use them to help create their own report cards. New standards, assessments, ability to measure growth and innovative learning models have provided us with new student achievement data that states should be eager to share.

The good news is, the My School Information Design Challenge worked. Designers were engaged in helping develop a new, 21st century reporting strategy that better presents important school performance information. While the challenge worked, the work is not yet done! A prize purse of $35,000 was up for grabs with additional awards given for public voting favorites and designers were urged to join ExcelinEd and Getting Smart in moving education into the modern information era by reimagining report cards.

Designers are available to help and the submissions are open-sourced. ExcelinEd also has members of their advocacy team ready to help support state efforts and make connections to help impact accountability efforts.


GenDIY Profile: Career Path High School

Robyn Bagley

It’s the first Monday of the month and at Career Path High (CPH) in Kaysville, UT, that means it’s Student Career Series day. This month’s career exploration finds the students visiting the Plumbing Program where, after receiving an overview of the program’s required coursework, training, job outlook, and potential earning power, students experience a hands-on demonstration by the department’s lead instructor. Today they learned that the average starting salary for a trained plumber ranges from $12.00 to $31.01/hr.

Career exploration at CPH is designed to be meaningful. The Career Series is just one of the many methods we employ to provide our students with the information they need to make the best decision about which career and technical program to pursue. The Series highlights the different Davis Applied Technology College (DATC) Programs through mini workshops that include hands-on activities. Students learn about the skills being taught in the program as well as potential career opportunities. Ninth and Tenth graders are strongly encouraged to attend to assist them with their future selection of a program. Eleventh and Twelfth graders are full-time college students enrolled in a program while simultaneously completing high school.

Our model is built on the premise that the high school experience can and should be so much more. One of our mantras is “Go to High School, Graduate with a Career!” Our goal is to empower students over their education and pathway. We do it through our flexible blended learning model. We do it through our partnership with a state-of-the-art CTE Institution of Higher Education. At CPH everything is focused on this outcome: Students receive their diploma and their career and technical certification in their chosen field of study upon graduation. Our partnership with the Davis Applied Technology College makes this possible. Our location in the heart of their campus makes it plausible.

Learning that being a Dental Technician takes far more dexterity than you imagined by practicing dental instrument pass off techniques during a Career Series.

We are a charter high school partnered with the Davis Applied Technology College, where there are 30 different career and technical programs for our students to choose from. All 30 are aligned to industry and existing opportunities. Many of the programs provide internships and on the job training. Certain trade skills are in such high demand that a job is nearly guaranteed if you complete the program successfully. During a previous Career Series visit to the medical programs students learned that graduates from the DATC in those programs are in high demand and industry positions can’t be filled as quickly as they arise. Students exiting high school with both their diploma and a certificate from the Applied Technology College are job ready and able to enter the workforce commanding a livable wage. This gives them a monumental advantage over their peers whether they choose to go directly into a career or on to pursue additional higher education.

Learning to sodor during the Plumbing Career Series hands-on demonstration.

For students like Ben, he considers Career Path High a once in a lifetime opportunity. Ben is a good student, but the high school experience alone is not enough for him. Ben likes to stay busy, constantly moving and absorbing in an environment that addresses the way he learns best. The flexibility of our blended model along with the hands-on skill building involved in the Composites Program serve him well, keeping him active and on his toes. When CPH students visited the Composites Program for their science cross-curricular project, Ben was tasked as their guide. He could barely contain his enthusiasm and wanted to share every bit of vast knowledge he has attained about the science behind building composite materials. Making his high school experience relevant to real-world application enriches his years spent in high school, but more importantly Ben understands what this Early College experience means to his future and his earning power at a very young age.


The Career Path High model is based on the commitment that every student will graduate with a high school diploma and a pathway to a career through technical certification and college. Our students come to us for a variety of different reasons. They have varying needs and unique learning styles. Our model of blended learning flex combined with Early College presents a wonderful recipe for success for all who want to partake.

Ian enrolled in CPH seeking a new opportunity. As an incoming senior he was on a path to leave high school before completion. He was deficit in credits and as a result struggled with mastering content in certain subject areas. His future was uncertain. For Ian, the decision to attend Career Path High empowered him with an opportunity to transform his path. Having an education option like CPH available to him literally changed the trajectory of his life. Our model was well equipped to help Ian with the personalized attention and individualized planning he needed to not only get back on track academically but to graduate with much more than just a diploma. What seemed insurmountable when he arrived became incentivized by the promise of a career and Ian went from being written off to Salutatorian of our inaugural graduating class. Ian holds a special place in my heart. It is the Ian’s of the world who inspire what I do at Career Path High.

Our community has exceptional resources, as many do. Which begs the question, why aren’t we better utilizing them to provide our students with legitimate college and career readiness opportunities and skills? We can no longer undervalue the years our students spend in high school. As new education models are emerging, early college career and technical education  represents an important opportunity to the high school experience, one that allows students to pave their own pathway. This not only benefits our emerging young adults but also our communities and the employers seeking a skilled workforce. As our nation looks for example career readiness models, programs like Career Path High that offer relevant career certification and job training deserve a double take.


About “GenDIY”
Young people are taking control of their own pathway to careers, college and contribution. Powered by digital learning, “GenDIY” is combatting unemployment and the rising costs of earning a degree by seeking alternative pathways to find or create jobs they love. Follow their stories here and on Twitter at #GenDIY.

For more on GenDIY, check out:

Robyn-Bagley75x75Robyn Bagley is the School Director of Career Path High School. Follow Robyn on Twitter at @gallagherrobyn.