Third Metric Living: Well-being, Wonder, Wisdom and Giving

Recently I reviewed Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive. In the book Arianna explains that right now too many of us define success by two measures: money and power. Redefining success beyond money and power is possible through practices that align with what she describes as third metric living.

Third metric living is comprised of four pillars:

  • Well-being
  • Wonder
  • Wisdom
  • Giving

Well-being. We often think that we have to sacrifice our health to work and to be productive. Turns out, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Arianna disproves the idea that we have to forgo our health to be productive. It’s our health, body and mind, that is paramount to cognitive function and happiness. Arianna doesn’t suggest that everyone should go out and get a gym membership. Instead she provides practical tips to well-being. Things everyone can do, but most people don’t. They include:

  • Sleep
  • Meditation
  • Walking
  • Slowing down
  • Taking breaks

“Meditation, long walks, exercise, yoga, reconnecting with family and friends, and making sure to unplug, recharge, and get enough sleep – all will increase some aspect of our well being and sense of fulfillment,” says Arianna.

Wonder. Being simultaneously present in the moment and in awe of the world. With improvements in access to technology and anytime, anywhere learning becoming synonymous with PD in nearly every sector, information and data are no longer at a premium. Arianna believes that it’s, “Our sense of delight in the mysteries of the universe,” that must be part integrated into our daily lives and that sense of delight cannot be found by “Googling it.” Tips from Arianna on Wonder:

  • Focus on your breathing as a centering practice
  • Pick an image that you gives you joy, and when you are compressed go to it
  • Forgive yourself of judgments you might be holding

Wisdom. Have a deep connection with the world. There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Use coincidences as shortcuts to spark wonder. Arianna describes the importance of treating life like a classroom and going with your hunches. She warns of the poison of negativity, why your smartphone isn’t making you any smarter, and the detrimental impact of hurry sickness and time famine. Tips from Arianna on Wisdom:

  • Let go of something today that you no longer need
  • Start a gratitude list and share it with friends
  • Designate time during the day when you turn off your phone

Giving. Be present and find moments when you are inspired by empathy and compassion as triggers to give. Arianna does a great job describing that giving is not limited to money. Service to others is often a more rich experience and beneficial for the recipient. Tips from Arianna:

  • Create a habit of making small gestures of kindness, and recognize how it makes you feel
  • Make personal connections with people you would normally not acknowledge
  • If you are skilled or talented in something, help someone with it

The appendix is packed with resources for readers to find ways to give back. They include UN Volunteers, DoSomething, DonorsChoose, Catchafire, VolunteerMarch, and All for Good.

For more Smart Reviews, check out:

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Slow Jam The Poem: A Jimmy Fallon Inspired Lesson Plan

Jimmy Fallon is just too talented. In fact, I believe he could do just about anything sometimes. Now, I don’t want to step out on a limb here, but I bet he could even be a high school educator. Think about it. With awesome ideas like “Thank You Notes,” “Hashtags,” “Wheel of Impressions,” “Catchphrase,” “Box of Lies,” and “Evolution of Hip Hop,” Jimmy Fallon and his team at The Tonight Show could surely energize and challenge a class of fun-seeking and knowledge-hungry students. But of all the aforementioned skits, there is one that has already been proven to be a hit in a Language Arts classroom.

“Slow Jam the News.”

So, before we dive in and take a look at the awesomeness created this week by Studio 113, an innovative American Literature class at East Hall High School, let’s watch the inspiration for the first-ever “Slow Jam the Poem” presentations.

“Slow Jam the News” with President Obama, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots

The Lesson Plan

Teams of three-to-five students were assigned either a Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson poem to analyze with the help of this TP-FASTT guide. After dissecting their assigned poems, students were shown the above version of “Slow Jam the News,” and they were instructed to use these guidelines to construct cue cards that would help them present an authentic interpretation of their poems in “Slow Jam the Poem” style. Of course, like always in Studio 113, students were encouraged to put their own unique touches on the final project.

For a thorough “Slow Jam the Poem” how-to-guide, please view the video at the bottom of this blog post.

Let’s take a look at some “Slow Jam the Poem” presentations from Studio 113.

An Acoustic Guitar and Authentic Song

A Military Version

A Poetic Version

A Blues Version

A Green Screen Version

A Country Version

Care to see some more? Feel free to choose from the following versions or just visit our YouTube channel: a 3-song mix, a rapping version, and an artistic version.

A “Slow Jam the Poem” How-to-Guide

If you are interested in the work involved in “putting the class back together,” click here to watch a time-lapsed video that proves that teaching can be physically stressful.

And that…is how…you rock out the class.

Thanks, Jimmy Fallon.

For more blogs by John, check out:

What Relationships Drive Learning? Try Fathers

Patrick Riccards

Last year, I heard of a school that was so excited to have a father come in and volunteer that it decided to throw a huge party, in honor of the father. The thought that dads volunteering in the schools was so unique that they should be celebrated, regaled, and placed on a pedestal for taking time from their busy lives.

As mothers across the country grapple with the notion of “leaning in,” and are told that they need to be more like men—sacrificing family and personal needs for work—if they want to be truly professional, perhaps we need to look to the opposite. Maybe, just maybe, we should be talking about how dads should be more involved in their children’s learning. How men need to look beyond the annual back-to-school nights or checking on homework in the evenings, and actually roll up their sleeves and be active, positive, regular presences in the learning experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there aren’t engaged fathers. We all know dads that are highly involved in their local schools and in their kids’ learning. But we should be looking at that as the norm, rather than the exception. We should come to expect it of all fathers, rather than make is seem so damned special.

When my children first started school, I was a “work-first” type of father. I justified that my primary duty was to earn a living and ensure my kids were never wanting. A good home. A full fridge. A closet of clothes. Even their own iPads. While my family was the focus of my life, how I attended to them was to work harder and longer. I was the provider.

Unfortunately, that tablet is an inadequate substitute for an involved parent. By spending more time in my kids’ school, I saw the potential impact my presence could have, both on their learning and on their social development. I knew that my time was far more valuable than the latest electronic.

Of course, that is not saying that dads should quit their jobs and commit their lives to their children’s educations. Nor is it saying that a father can’t be active in the learning experience AND professionally successful. It means that fathers need to work at it. We need to fight each day to find that balance. We need to look at how we can constantly improve to help our kids develop into the inquisitive, interesting, successful people that we all hope them to become.

With my son, it means using tablets as both a learning platform and a reward. In class, I noticed that he would hold a traditional book like it was a ticking bomb. Or he would look for ways to avoid needing to read, in part because he is a struggling reader. But get him home, give him a tablet, and watch him go. An unlimited library available to him, and programs that will read along with him. We are now leveraging his love for Minecraft to develop him math skills. And it is absolutely incredible what he designs with Minecraft. And it has extended to reading, as we discovered a Kindle novel collection set in the Minecraft world, books that my struggling reader just can’t get enough of.

My children have grown up watching technology drive my life. As toddlers, they knew if my cell phone rang or my smartphone indicated an incoming message, they were to bring it to me immediately. They were able to model my behavior, knowing how to hold a device and what motions to make to have it perform as intended.

But the real power of the technology comes from understanding what is happening in class, from seeing my kids’ strengths and knowing how to supplement what is happening. It comes from seeing where they struggle and embracing where they soar. Such determinations can’t be made from a report card or an email from the teacher or a quick review of the evening’s homework. They require hands-on knowledge that comes from being in the classroom, watching the learning process.

In talks about achievement gaps and struggling schools, the family dynamic is usually the second item discussed, after poverty and finances. We know that fathers play an important role in their kids’ lives. We cite the father dynamic regularly, whether it be grad rates or crime rates.

So why do we pay so little attention to the role of the father in the learning experience? If the presence of a father in a child’s life has such impact, think about what a dad active in the schools and involved in the learning process can do.

Last year, there was a study in Psychological Science that found that daughters aspire to greater professional goals when they see their fathers doing tasks such as washing the dishes. Consider that for a moment. A young girl has a better chance of become a CEO or governor of even president if she sees her dad at the sink, scrubbing away at the remnants of dinner.

If that’s true, imagine the possibilities for all of those girls (and boys) who see their dads volunteering in school or visiting the classroom, right alongside all of the moms they come to expect. Imagine how much more interesting that science project looks when dad is in the class to help. Or how intriguing the field trip can be with dad leading a group. Or how that device can be transformed from a Netflix machine to a learning device that opens up new worlds and unlimited possibilities.


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. For more information about the project see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Patrick Riccards is the founder of the Eduflack blog, which examines the intersection if education policy, research, and communications. Follow him on Twitter with @dadprovement.


Spotlight on Math: Strategies for Addressing the Most Challenging Math Standards – Modeling

Mark W. Ellis, Ph.D., NBCT

Data collected from over 750,000 students using i-Ready® Diagnostic & Instruction show that modeling is one of the most challenging math domains for students.

The challenge of helping students make sense of modeling with mathematics begins with the word itself. Although in everyday language the word “model” refers to a small-scale replica of a real object, in mathematics a model is a representation of a real-world object or situation.

A familiar example might be weather forecasts, which are based on mathematical models that involve many elements to predict what might happen. For complex phenomena like weather, there is not one “correct” model but many different models. Different models with varying degrees of accuracy are constantly being refined and revised. In talking about modeling, Zalmin Usiskin explains that the match between the real world and a mathematical model can range from exact (as in a model of combining nine books with 15 books) to impressionistic (as in models for weather forecasts).

Modeling is especially challenging when students have only experienced math as abstract rules and procedures or as contrived problems to be solved with a recently learned algorithm. In order to become proficient, students must regularly engage in modeling that offers opportunities to apply their learning. They need to look at real-world situations and think about what elements might be represented mathematically. Then they can collect data, generate mathematical expressions, check the data against the original situation, and make revisions.

Modeling Steps

Modeling involves several steps that may or may not be sequential:

  • Identify a problem situation
  • Make a representation of one or more elements of the situation
  • Create a mathematical expression
  • Compare results or predictions from the mathematical model with the real situation
  • Make revisions to the model if needed

Additional insight is offered in this extended elaboration about Mathematical Practice #4 Model with Mathematics from Illustrative Mathematics aimed at elementary mathematics learners:

“When given a problem in a contextual situation, mathematically proficient students at the elementary grades can identify the mathematical elements of a situation and create a mathematical model that shows those mathematical elements and relationships among them. The mathematical model might be represented in one or more of the following ways: numbers and symbols, geometric figures, pictures or physical objects used to abstract the mathematical elements of the situation, or a mathematical diagram such as a number line, a table, or a graph, or students might use more than one of these to help them interpret the situation.”

In order to become proficient, students must regularly engage in modeling that both supports and lets them apply their learning. Indeed, the authors of Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics point out that modeling is an everyday activity: “Outside of school they [students] encounter situations in which part of the difficulty is to figure out exactly what the problem is. Then they need to formulate the problem so that they can use mathematics to solve it.”

Classroom Activities

For primary grade students, teachers can suggest strategies for representing simple situations. For example, Ready Mathematics Grade 4 Lesson 6 asks students to use bar diagrams to represent contextual problems requiring multiplication or division. Students create mathematical expressions and are asked to explain how each element of their diagram and expression connects to the original context, thereby reinforcing mathematical sense-making.

When challenged to create their own problems, students are able to exercise more creativity while deepening their understanding of math concepts, relationships, and skills.

The activities on the Thinking Blocks website help students learn to use rectangular block diagrams to represent and solve problems with content from addition of whole numbers to ratio and proportion. Mosa Mack Science Detective offers interdisciplinary explorations for grades 4–8 aligned to current science, math, and English standards.

And this example from NCTM’s Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School asks students to examine the issue of pelican population using visual and mathematical models, offering nice connections with science standards. Video Story Problems offer an example of modeling using technology tools in creative ways. Check out these fifth graders!

When working with modeling problems, always ask students to explain how their work—the visual model, mathematical model, and final answer—relates to the original problem context. This will strengthen the habit of looking for connections and checking that the methods and results make sense.

As students become more comfortable with modeling, encourage them to identify their own problems based on familiar situations that may not have an obvious solution and solve these problems using modeling. For a nice example, see the article, “Posing Problems that Matter: Investigating School Overcrowding.” When sixth-grade students at an urban middle school complained that their school was overcrowded, the teacher developed a unit on area, perimeter, and similar figures, and students were challenged to prove that their school was in fact too crowded and create a presentation to the school board.

This blog is the third in a series from Curriculum Associates about the most challenging math standards that complements they’re recently released white paper – “Mastering the Most Challenging Math Standards with Rigorous Instruction“.

For more see:


Mark Ellis is a National Board Certified Teacher and professor of education at California State University at Fullerton. He is an author of Curriculum Associates’ Ready® Mathematics 

The Future of Personalized Learning is Now

Jean Fleming

Call it personalized, differentiated or customized—teachers have long dreamed of an education system that lets them deliver the exact instruction a child needs at the exact right time to foster optimal learning and growth. It’s this drive that makes teaching as much a calling as a career.

And the dream really is tantalizingly close, thanks to an approaching tipping point that’s bringing together curriculum, instruction, and assessment—the three legs of the education stool—with technology and teachers. It’s happening now in classrooms around the country.

Getting Smart and the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) recently released a report profiling 14 schools across the country breaking through the traditional model of teaching and learning by providing personalized learning experiences that are proven to enhance student learning. The schools profiled are experiencing success in part by setting high expectations for college readiness and tailoring instruction to each student’s individual needs and measuring growth through the use of the Measures of Academic Progress Assessment, or MAP test.

To see what this type of breakthrough work looks like firsthand, I visited a Teach to One implementation, in a Brooklyn, New York public middle school. There, the literal and figurative walls have come down, bringing in a completely personalized approach to math. Each day, students get a customized assignment, centered on data gathered in real time.

Based on the data, students rotate through different learning modalities—direct instruction, small group work, and independent study—in the course of a 90-minute block. The teachers also move, one day working one on one with students, another day delivering a lesson to a larger group.

Undergirding the personalization at Teach to One is a system that gathers inputs from different kinds of assessment, including formative, in-the-moment assessments, and longer interim assessment such as the Measures of Academic Progress Assessment, or MAP test. Together, this information helps pinpoint the students’ immediate instructional needs, and helps track growth over time.

Technology plays a key role as well, both in the background to analyze data and help determine appropriate placements. It is also part of the assessment profile, as computer adaptive assessment is used. These assessments can pinpoint areas where students are achieving at high levels and areas where additional support is necessary. Each assessment is customized based on the performance of the student. When students answer correctly they get more challenging questions; when they answer incorrectly the assessment becomes easier.

The computer adaptive MAP test used by New Classrooms is not constrained by grade level, which means a high performing student may be introduced to test items aligned to higher grade curriculum standards, and low performers may see test items aligned to standards from earlier grades. The resulting scores can be used to indicate student progress and identify curriculum concepts that students may have already learned, or be ready to learn.

Adaptive assessments with high levels of precision such as MAP create unique assessments for each student from a large pool of test questions aligned to standards. Because each student receives different questions, a broader range of curriculum objectives get sampled, and the test results produce a more detailed portrait of how students are performing. Armed with this information, educators then can find or develop specific resources to support the student’s learning path.

Not every teacher has a Teach to One-style personalized program in place. So to simplify the work of connecting assessment results with curriculum resources, providers of the MAP assessment collaborated with Khan Academy—a nonprofit on the forefront of education innovation—to connect RIT scores from the test to specific instructional resources in Khan. Through the use of targeted tools like these, teachers across the country are accelerating student learning through individualized academic support.

According to a RAND study released in November, personalized learning is advancing academic gains in classrooms. It is the wave of the future when it comes to how teachers will teach and students will learn. And, despite ongoing concerns about testing in schools, it will continue to grow in classrooms throughout the country as educators, administrators, students and parents begin to see the value of targeted learning through the use of meaningful assessment data.

For more information on assessment, check out:

Jean Fleming, Director of Public Relations at Northwest Evaluation Association. Follow NWEA on Twitter at @NWEA.

Parenting for Powerful Learning: 35 Tips

The first job of parents as Chief Growth Officer is to make learning a priority (as discussed last week). That means making school and schoolwork a priority. But there’s a lot more you can do without a lot of extra effort or expense to make every day a learning journey. All you have to do is take 10 seconds before dinner, a trip to the store, or a walk around the block and ask, “How could this be a learning experience?”

With the help of the #SmartParents on team Getting Smart, following are 35 potentially powerful learning experiences. The first 20 prompts are aimed at learners aged 8-12 (but could easily flex up or down).

Dinner table prompts

  • What did you most enjoy about today? Why?
  • Was there anything hard about your day? How did you work through it?
  • What’s your opinion about what’s happening in the news? What’s your evidence?

Outdoor adventure

  • Ask children to conduct a short research project to learn something new.
  • Ask children to create a photo journal and presentation.
  • Go on a neighborhood walk or nature walk and ask, “What do you see?”

Taking a trip

  • Ask each child to pick a journal topic (e.g., animals, sports, architecture, characters) and report out at the end of the trip (here’s a great example from a traveling family).
  • Plot your trip on the map and track your progress using GPS. Bonus points for trying Geocaching!

Night out

  • Pick a play or musical together and do 30 minutes of research together on the topic and author.
  • Pick a symphony concert and spend 30 minutes supporting a musical comparison

Night in

  • Pick a documentary movie and then have a movie review and discussion
  • Create a SOLE (self-organized learning environment) at home; learn more about anything
  • Sign up for Big History Project and talk about how we got here.

Plan a meal

  • Ask the kids to pick a theme, research recipe, build a grocery list, and cook a meal.
  • Write a review of a home meal or restaurant meal (you may end up on Yelp!).

Make something

  • Before you throw away that big box, leave it in the living room with some markers and see what magic unfolds before your eyes.

Summer school

  • Ask for a monthly blog about a book (a good excuse to launch a learning blog).
  • Ask for a plan for a new business.


  • Start or join a family book club.
  • Organize a “book swap” with a friend. Trade books with a journal where you tell why you picked that book to share and ask your friend to then offer their opinion on the book too.

High school. By experiencing success in what’s next, high school students gain valuable knowledge, skills and dispositions. There are 15 experiences every high school student deserves. If it doesn’t look like they will gain from these experiences in school, then make it a priority during family time.

  • Enjoyment of high quality challenging literature.
  • Success reading and writing technical and information texts.
  • Calculating probabilities and using algebraic thinking to solve problems.
  • Conducting scientific investigations and reporting results to public audiences.
  • Producing a professional quality publication and multimedia presentation.
  • Making and coding thing they are proud of.
  • Positive and challenging work experiences in several settings.
  • The rewards of community service.
  • Visual and performing art.
  • World language fluency.
  • Demonstrating personal wellness.
  • Completing a course online.
  • Building a brand and selling a product.
  • Teamwork and project management.
  • Earning college credit–on campus if possible.


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:

How to Turn Screen Time into Family Time

Michelle Miller

I loved playing Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? when I was a kid. That was back when games came on disks that were carefully slotted into a desktop computer, and the process of connecting to the Internet gave you enough time to make a sandwich.

Did playing that game contribute to my love of travel? Or, to my future interest in making educational games? It’s hard to say. I do know that following Carmen all over Europe and playing Super Mario with my younger brother were as much a part of my childhood as riding a bike or chasing lightning bugs.

Despite that experience, I’m wary about the role that technology plays for my young daughter. Digital media is more available, more personalized and more integrated into daily life than ever before. Research tells us that it has the power to help kids learn, but also suggests that we should limit when and how often young children are exposed.

At the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, we explore the ways that families use media together, the potential of games for learning and solutions for digital equity. We recently published a free guide called Family Time with Apps with tips for helping busy parents decide how to introduce digital media:

  • Talk with your child about which decisions you can make together.  The more involved she is in the process, the more likely she will make her own good decisions in the future.
  • Use apps and other mobile tools to help support your parenting goals.  For example, e-books can make it easier to squeeze in 15 minutes of reading together time every day.
  • Research shows that children learn more from all kinds of media when families participate too. So even if it’s just for a few minutes, jump in and play together!

Deciding What to Download

No matter how many amazing things an app or game does, some of the most important learning happens beyond the screen. Here are a few questions to consider before downloading an activity for your child:

1) Does it allow your child to learn and grow? Playing games can place your child in the driver’s seat and offer fun ways to foster her curiosity.  The best activities build on your child’s interests in unique ways like walking with dinosaurs, building a skyscraper or playing every instrument in a (virtual) band. Playing games together is also a great chance for your child to be the expert and lead family time, helping her learn how to follow directions, take turns and stay focused.

2) Does it encourage communication? Some activities offer ways to create something together, like a video or a photo album. It’s hard for young children to pay attention during phone calls, but video-conferencing apps can allow them to read a book or share show-and-tell with distant relatives. Even if you don’t play a game together, your child benefits when you talk with her about it afterwards.

3) Does it connect different experiences? Apps, games and other mobile learning tools can be used to help address everyday challenges anytime, anywhere. Playing a game related to a new experience like the first day of school, first plane trip or first haircut can help children prepare for what will happen. Resources like Common Sense Media provide lists of activities organized by themes, such as connecting to outdoor activities and making stressful situations like road trips more fun.

Setting a Predictable Routine

Choosing what digital media to download may be easier while my daughter is very young, but controlling the “when” and the “where” can be a challenge. As much as we try to avoid it, she sees her parents using smartphones and tablets and wants to be part of the action. Just like with sleeping and eating, it’s important to set a predictable routine and be consistent about where, when and for how long your child is allowed to play. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Choose situations or times that you feel are appropriate for using apps (maybe while waiting for an appointment) and limit the rest (for example, during meals).
  • Provide a countdown to warn your child before it’s time to stop playing (“We’re leaving in 5 minutes so please stop at the end of that round.”).
  • Set a regular time for family play at least once a week.
  • Try to avoid using devices close to bedtime.

Of course, there are exceptions. Every now and then we all need that 15 minute break a game provides, and we can’t always play together. (And on a long car ride all bets are off.) As with so many other parenting decisions, it’s easy to feel guilty or worried about our choices. I take heart by watching my daughter, following her cues and trusting my instincts. When she relates something in an app to what we saw at the zoo or jumps up to dance to a song she has created, I see the clear benefits.  Really, all it takes is for her to look at me after we’ve played a game together and say, “We did it!” And maybe someday I’ll introduce her to Carmen Sandiego.


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. For more information about the project see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Michelle Miller is Managing Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and mom to a toddler growing up in New York City.  Follow her on Twitter @writetommm. 

5 Steps to Effective and Transformative Professional Development

Alvin Crawford

At last year’s Learning Forward Conference in Texas, Linda Darling-Hammond (the respected Professor of Education at Stanford University and Director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future) was asked about the effectiveness of teacher professional development. She said that while she believes some districts are doing a great job and could just tweak it around the edges, about 90% of school districts need to think about starting over and redesigning their PD.

Ninety percent.

Or consider the 2009 national research report, which reported that, when asked about their experience in professional development, “most of those teachers…reported that it was totally useless.”

Because the first step to fixing anything is admitting something needs fixing, it’s time to admit PD needs fixing – and fast.

While the adaption of new initiatives such as College and Career-Readiness Standards (CCRS) and Education Equity offer great promise, these standards are new to everyone – putting even more strain on PD.

But what is truly transformative PD that will effectively train superintendents, principals and teachers? We have an idea already.

Here’s a five-point strategy that my company, Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), has designed to help build great PD.

1) Follow the research. We know a great deal about what actually works in PD. To be transformative, strategic professional development needs to be intense, continuous and sustained to have a lasting impact. The Center for Public Education’s Teaching the Teachers reports that effective PD takes 50 hours or more on a given topic.

Reaching that benchmark is important. Last year, 750 teachers in Philadelphia took 50 hours of the KDS PD program on Response to Intervention (RTI) and increased their competency by 44%.

2) Go online. Taking PD at least partially online isn’t something nice – the math tells us it’s essential. There simply aren’t enough PD hours available to teach all of America’s teachers the new skills and standards they will be expected to master.

The type of scaling that online PD offers – reaching thousands instead of dozens at a time – is the only way.

3) But not online exclusively. Some people will want to use the efficiency of online PD to move the old PowerPoints and lectures online and call it a day. That sort of “check the box” PD that we’ve been clinging to for decades, won’t work.

Face-to-face common planning time and online support communities are both essential – a true blended approach. To learn a skill it’s also been proven that coaching, modeling, observation, feedback and time for teachers to reflect on what they’ve learned, is essential.

4) Allow self-pacing and collaboration. We know not every student learns the same way or at the same pace yet we expect teachers to.

Good PD courses should be paced by the teacher, allowing them time to absorb and practice what they’ve learned at their own speed. In addition, ongoing interaction and peer engagement are needed to refine skills and model successes consistently over time.

5) Start Right Now. No one believes an overhaul or update of PD practices will be easy or fast – implementing new standards won’t be either.

But because we know PD needs an update and we know what to do, there’s no reason to wait.

New standards chart a bold and compelling vision for the nation’s students. But standards won’t prepare students for success beyond graduation if we use traditional methods of PD to implement them. It hasn’t worked for over twenty years, why will it work now?

Our future depends on getting PD right – preparing and supporting education leaders and teachers with the best research and tools we have today instead of tweaking around the edges.


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.

To learn more about Deeper Learning environments for students, teachers and leaders check out:

Alvin Crawford is the CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), a leading provider of strategic and blended professional learning solutions for K-12 school districts and educators. Follow Alvin on Twitter with @alvincrawford.


Districts Racing to Personalize Learning

Helping school districts make dramatic changes to boost achievement is hard. I have a lot of experience trying and more failure than success to show for it. That’s why when I heard that the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program was moving from a state focus to a district focus, I was a bit apprehensive.

You may recall that RTTT was a $4 billion part of the $787 billion (now $831) 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Before the feds spent a dime I declared it the most productive EdReform grant program in history because three quarters of the states improved their plans, policies and laws before making application.

The Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) program was launched in 2012 with a focus on personalization. Grants totaling $504 million were awarded in 2012 and 2013 to 21 organizations representing 68 school districts.

The goal was to support districts to, “Serve as innovation laboratories, advancing new ways to educate students across a range of contexts.” Grant awards range from $5 million to $40 million per grantee determined primarily by the number of students that would be served.

Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary Ursula L. Wright said that many grantees are interested in creating digital personalized learning plans, but most have experienced challenges because learning platforms aren’t up to the task. (Here’s a comprehensive description of what learning platforms should offer developed with Charlotte-Mecklenburg)

The majority of the districts used some of the funds to sponsor their digital conversion. The majority of secondary environments choose Chromebooks. Six districts use Google Apps.

DreamBox Learning, Think Through Math, and Edmodo are used by four districts. (See a full technology inventory that documents what devices, applications and platforms are in use).

The districts are an interesting mix of big urbans (Guilford, Houston, Miami), innovative rural districts (Lindsay, Middletown), cooperatives (KVEC, PSESD, GRREC) and networks (Harmony, IDEA, KIPP DC). See summaries of grantee projects.

Signs of progress. “One of our greatest progress areas is in our high school to college strategies,” said Puget Sound ESD superintendent John Welch. He cites more rigorous course taking, more students taking college bound tests, and more college scholarship applications. “There is a sense of hope that is created in middle school when signing up for the scholarship,” added Welch.

Pablo Mejia, IDEA Public Schools, said the grant allowed the network to expand personalized learning initiatives in secondary schools and develop an Actionable Dashboard to guide student grouping and the next best intervention, to support a collegiate experience for juniors, and to develop socio-emotional support structures at IDEA.

Houston also aimed the RTT-D grant at high school transformation. “The RTTD grant is providing the support we needed to transform our high schools,” said superintendent Terry Grier. (The district has been cited for exemplary EdTech procurement). With a focus on college and career readiness, grant manager Adam Stephens said, “We are trying to identify solutions that are simple, scalable and sustainable so that we can continue our work long after the grant is gone.”

Attempting a package of innovation and improvement initiatives simultaneously (standards, assessments, evaluation, and blended learning) has been a challenge according to Welch. Suggesting that alignment can relieve some of the pressure created by too many efforts at once, he notes, “Quality implementation takes time and too many initiatives can feel overwhelming if they are not aligned.”

Lack of sustained leadership is also a factor. Leadership changes in six of seven participating Puget Sound districts has thwarted the pace of progress. Welch explains, “Change at the top leads to change in other key positions so implementation can sometime go slower than planned.” Our Smart Cities study found that innovation takes sustained leadership.

“The grant has really helped us ensure that successful innovations, formerly living with individual teachers and teams, became standard practice across our [five early childhood and five elementary] RTT-D funded schools,” said KIPP DC Director of Innovation & Instructional Technology Adam Roberts. Professional learning and coaching is provided by school leaders, Roberts’ Innovation Team, the Capital Teaching Residency team, and the Data team. Roberts said the PD and coaching is powered and aligned by, “An incredible amount of data that teachers and school leaders now have available at their fingertips.”

Emerging Roles. As the sector shifts to personalized learning and blended environments, new roles are emerging for teacher leaders. See our feature on multi-classroom leadership in Nashville.

In addition to new district roles that bridge curriculum and technology (e.g., Director of Personalized Learning Environments, Blended Learning Administrator), RTT-D grantees are creating new teacher roles. Examples of new school and district leadership roles include:

  1. Content-focused Instructional Coaches, most typically in math and literacy.
    • Example: Math Coaches in New Haven Unified School District (CA) at each school help plan and co-teach lessons, identify digital and non-digital resources, and provide professional development tailored to team’s needs.
  2. Strategy-focused Instructional Coaches such as Personalized Learning, Data, or Digital Learning Coaches.
    • Example: Blended Learning Coaches in Iredell-Statesville Schools (NC) meet regularly with instructional staff and professional learning teams to model innovative teaching and learning, help align instructional practices with digital resources and assist teachers in using student learning profiles to support student mastery development.
  3. Instructional Technology Coaches, focused on the use of personalized learning or instructional technology.
    • Example: KIPP DC has two Instructional Technology Coaches that provide both informal 1-1 professional development and more formal training for teachers and school leaders focused on technology integration. (See lessons from KIPP blends).
  4. Master Educators such as those on special assignment or otherwise serving as mentors to their peers.
    • Example: Carson City School District (NV) has created a cadre of Implementation Specialists that guide teacher teams in the development of common unit and semester assessments. They serve as instructional coaches and help teachers transition to the district’s new mastery-based system, including through the use of the Mastery Connect platform.
  5. Individualized Learning Specialists that are hybrid teacher-leaders.
    • Example: Individualized Learning Specialists in IDEA Public Schools (South Texas, see feature) split their time between targeted instruction and program management (i.e., data analysis, student grouping, coaching teachers, acquiring resources).
  6. Teacher Assistants and other part-time educators that are necessary to accommodate larger classes in technology-rich environments
    • Example: the iPrep Math middle school program in Miami-Dade Public Schools (see feature) accommodates 60 students in a blended learning environment consisting of two full-time Math teachers and one part-time teacher envisioned as a “roaming conductor” to assist with students working on self-paced tasks.

These new roles are a great way to leverage early adopters. They also provide a developmental pathway to the principalship and enable more precise professional development. A grant can help initiate these new positions but new staffing models will be required to sustain them.

“As the grant period comes to a close,” reflects KIPP DC’s Adam Roberts, “I think our most exciting work will come in this last year. We are shifting our focus to high-fidelity implementation; coaching conversations have underscored that it is critical for students and teachers to frequently interact with their data. By making this data more accessible to students, we are interested in seeing how that agency translates to faster progress and results. We think that we will see the biggest difference with the oldest students served by the grant [3rd & 4th graders].” KIPP DC is building a student and parent portal that will boost interaction with achievement data via mobile devices. Roberts adds, “There is a ton of opportunity to authentically engage parents and students in their student’s progress in everything from ST Math syllabus progress to homework grades in PowerSchool, well beyond the typical constructs of conferences, and report cards alone.”

For more see:

DreamBox Learning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Edmodo is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom is partner.

RealizeIt Can Make Your Program Adaptive

Imagine a platform that would turn static content into an adaptive sequence, and would get smarter the more it was used.

RealizeIt, based in Dublin and Chicago, can semi-automatically ingest almost any form of learning content and, with a little coaching, can identify prerequisite relationships and build a competency-based sequence of granular learning nodes with assessment gateways.

Founder David Collery spent 14 years teaching Mathematics in inner city Dublin schools. His first startup provides scheduling software still used by all of the schools in Ireland. Eight years ago he co-founded CCKF, the company behind RealizeIt, with Frank Claffey, another teacher and software developer, and John Keane, Chief Technology Officer.

CEO Manoj Kulkarni was the CTO at Career Education Corporation, the first big customer of the adaptive platform, implementing the system in schools including CTU and AIU.

The platform is designed to provide a personalized learning experience. The goal of the platform is to deliver learning at an appropriate time using appropriate material. The platform learns about each learner with use, and also provides analytics to support faculty and the institution.


Each module of content has associated assessment items. Many forms of content come with assessment (e.g., questions at the end of a chapter), but RealizeIt assesses also at the individual node level. Instructors can also create assessment items from a variety of templates including multiple choice, fill in the blank, manipulation, and constructed response, building question templates that can generate multiple different versions of each question. Project-based learning and authentic assessment is supported by rubric templates. After initial setup, the system searches for the most effective questions to ask.

The platform calculates a probability distribution for each content module from 0-100% assurance of knowledge. The system navigates students through the content based on the probabilities to serve precise learning at the point of need. Data from each student interacting with the system provides the instructor with an understanding of how the course is running and how effective the content is.

Chief Product Officer Claffey says the platform is content agnostic and works in any subject domain. It was piloted in sequential subjects like Math but is now successfully used in over 100 courses including English composition, Sociology, and Psychology.


RealizeIt has course building tools for the intrepid instructor who wants to develop content. Instructors and students can add content, worked examples, and questions.

Student and educator dashboards track competencies. Both benefit from learning analytics in real time. RealizeIt is a cloud based platform that provides both mobile and browser base experiences for the user.

RealizeIt can run on top of a legacy learning management system. For a new program, it could take the place of an LMS. RealizeIt can export to a gradebook, ePortfolios and business intelligence systems through LTI integration, an API or a data export.

Over 50,000 students are enrolled in over 300,000 courses on RealizeIt. The UT System is piloting the platform in a competency-based health care degree in one of their schools in fall. In addition to UT, Colorado Technical Institute and American Intercontinental university, RealizeIt has been rolled out in Bay Path University and is involved in pilot programs at Indiana, Central Florida, and Western Universities. The system is also about to be piloted at K-12 level.

This blog is part of the Learning Platforms Series brought to you by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For more, stay tuned in for the final published project, Getting Smart on Next-Gen Learning Platforms and check out additional posts in the series: