Parenting 2.0: Teach Tech and Empathy, Fight for Equity

Here are some of my current parenting questions:

  • Should I be using math flash cards with my four year old?
  • Am I being too lax or lazy when I let my daughter watch YouTube PlayDoh videos while I attempt to do other things?
  • Does my daughter’s preschool focus too much on play? Shouldn’t she already know how to read and write?
  • Should my one year old learn how to code? (You read that right. I had the 5 second thought that my son should learn to code after I saw a Tweet Mark Zuckerberg sent out about teaching kids to code early–he did not say they should learn at 15 months; my mind just went there).

Since co-writing and publishing Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning I’ve been busy having conversations about parenting, children and education. I am humbled by how much I don’t know and also by how confused I am about what and how my kids should be learning.

Parenting 2.0

In the next 5 years, parents will continue to wrestle with how much access kids should have to technology and what type of access is permissible. Expect a further entanglement of our online and IRL (in real life) selves, to the point at which our online selves may become more important than our in person selves. This is already happening and I expect more: Listen to this Ted Radio Hour podcast on screen time.
As more of our life is online, teaching computer science, coding and digital literacy become increasingly important and valuable as economic and survival skills.
Perhaps conversely, the more we are online and not face to face, we very much need to deepen young people’s understanding of what it means to be human, how to cultivate empathy and how to foster social and emotional learning skills.
Parents, get ready: How we help our kids balance the technical and increasingly online aspects of life with their human capacity to feel, love and create may be our most important job.

My husband and daughter looking at the inside of a space shuttle on our Virtual Reality View Master.

Who has options?

I am regularly fielding questions around the “dizzying array” of options for learning with parents- in person, online learning opportunities, various different types of schools and various names for various types of learning movements and philosophies. It’s no wonder parents are confused.
At the same time, for many students, there are far few too good options.
The contrast is clearer now to me more so than before we published the book: On the one hand, I chat with parents about choices they have, decisions they have to make. I am one of them. I listen, I nod my head, I agree and help provide insights based on what we learned from our almost two year investigation and subsequent blog series around parenting for powerful learning.
On the other hand, I recognize that there are far too many parents and students left out of conversations around education, with zero choices or only really bad ones.
So here’s your next job: Want choices and options that you want for your own kids, for everybody’s kids. Parent advocacy 2.0 means advocating for all kids. (I wrote a blog about this based on the book by Robert Putnam called Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis which I recommend). Go help the neighbor’s kid, become a mentor, get involved in schools, speak the voice for the voiceless. If you have power and privilege in this country, use it to help those who do not. This first begins with a strong sense, and a deep understanding of your privilege, position in your community, and recognizing your own potential to creating lasting change. This doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. If you need baby steps, this can be as simple as following and sharing on social media about the work of other people that are doing equity work. This could also be as simple as recognizing the inequities and figuring out ways to talk to your kids about it. How we teach them to stick up for and champion the voiceless matters. Big time. This work needs all of us on board, including and especially children.
I recently had the opportunity to chat about Smart Parents with Dr. Will Deyamport on The Dr. Will Show. Dr. Will leads discussions about how educators are using a multitude of technologies for professional development and for reimagining their classrooms. In our Google Hangout, we talked about the role parents can play in shaping their children’s education.
We discussed how the world is rapidly changing and the impact technology is on the way people learn.

Dr. Will and I spoke about my own kids, Getting Smart’s Generation DIY project, students and schools that inspire me– including Alex Angelo, a high school student and entertainer who attends an online school so he can pursue his passions. We also talk about parenting and coding, freelancing and the “gig” economy and the importance of social and emotional learning.
To join the Smart Parents conversation, use  #SmartParents on Twitter  and find me at @belathram. If you have a story to share about how you are encouraging powerful learning at home and at school and everywhere in between, email [email protected] to share your story.
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The Battle For Room 314: Walking the Walk

After a particularly hard day at school, a day where perhaps I learn horrible news about a student, or sometimes on a great day, when the lightbulbs going off light the room like a beacon for “Best Practices,” I want to say to non-teachers, “You will never get this. Don’t even try. Don’t create memes about my summers off. Don’t begrudge me a snow day. Don’t laugh because I think I can change the world. You.Just.Can’t.Get.It.”
But, then, I don’t make this pronouncement because despite my own firm belief that the collective “they” can’t understand my job, I also realize that I can’t fathom theirs either. Put my life in danger running into burning buildings? Can’t comprehend. Spend months preparing for a case that only gets its day in court long enough to settle. I can’t even. Deliver mail in this weather? That’s crazy, I think, as I see my mailman trudge down the road.
The problem with talking about education–my job–is this: everyone went to school, thus everyone has an opinion about how it should go. So many of the people who want to critique the modern day classroom were in school before the internet, before cell phones, before a global economy, or ADHD. Somehow, because we’ve all “survived” our education, we want to bemoan how it is.
So, when I began The Battle For Room 314, the story of a man who has dedicated his life to nonprofit causes and is attempting to become a teacher, I was cautious. It doesn’t take long in the narrative to understand that Ed Boland, who describes his life as “comfy bourgeois” and is taking an $80,000 dollar pay cut, is going to have some harsh realizations.
Masterfully, the book is sensational from the start, beginning with Chantay, a fiercely crude student hurling profanity, calculators literally being thrown across the room, and the author’s legitimate fear that his sexuality would ostracize him even further from students who were equally confused by his world as he was by theirs. The subtitle “My Year of HOPE and DESPAIR in a NEW YORK CITY HIGH SCHOOL,” intrigued me, as did his sister’s warning that he was going to be “Another whore for the poor; welcome to the ranks.” There is an edge to this book that I have not encountered before in any book about education, and it is extremely refreshing because education is edgy and often controversial.
Curious after reading the first few chapters on a Friday afternoon, I was unable to put the book down. Before the weekend was over, I had finished the over-two-hundred-page journey of the self-proclaimed do-gooder, who by turns irritated me with his inexperience as an educator, while absolutely slaying me with his dead on, straightforward observations and quirky sense of humor. He conveyed his hope with such earnestness that it hurt to read, and his despair was deep and real–like a teacher.
The stories are heartbreaking and cringe inducing. He is startlingly blunt and says things that many teachers wouldn’t say, which immediately gave this effort credibility in my eyes. He was not afraid to show his students in their worst moments, but neither was he hesitant to reveal his own horrible reactions and mistakes. Ed Boland may not be a teacher, “for real,” as he does return from his single year to a completely different life; however, his one year was enough for him to make some important observations and suggestions.

Lots of people have ideas about education reform, but too often they are not walking the walk. In this educator’s opinion, I’m willing to accept his experienced outsider status and listen to what he suggests.

What he does impart in the epilogue are a number of things that most teachers would agree with:

  • Schools are all different
  • Classroom management is an art and science
  • Planning to engage students is crucial because you won’t do it without intentionality
  • Find mentors
  • Rethink education structures
  • Recognize that poverty is the root of educational failure.

It is validating for an outsider to experience a year in the life and walk away with a better understanding of the day-to-day lives of teachers, yet Boland goes further than that.
Most important is his realization that:

Tales of individual teacher and school success and failure serve as a dangerous distraction for those who care deeply about changing the trajectory of American education. To enact real change, we must step outside the system and stop expecting schools and teachers alone to create lasting solutions.

In The Battle for Room 314, Ed Boland came to realize the most complicated paradigm of them all; we, as teachers, can’t solve all problems, and in fact, it is surprising that given the life circumstances of deep poverty, addictions, depression, and overwhelming odds,many students can manage to make it through even a single day of school. They keep coming back though, so often because there is hope within school walls, and though there is despair too, sometimes teachers are, even in our failures, the best some students will ever have. Often we feel that we are small in our battle against the behemoth issues in education, but we are important to those who matter, the students. I certainly hope some policymakers and non-educators find themselves as riveted as I was, curled up on a weekend, taking in the journey from an informed outsider, who dared to be the David to Goliath.
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Thiel Fellows Teach us 4 Elements of an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Gayle Allen
We can accomplish very little without some combination of persistence, determination, and hard work, all of which are key elements of an achievement mindset. So when we probe what constitutes an entrepreneurial mindset – one where achievement is assumed – we know these same attributes play an important role. And yet these skills fall far short of what entrepreneurs need to succeed.
While an achievement mindset can drive ordinary outcomes, it takes a different kind of mindset to innovate or create something new. That distinction is what sets entrepreneurs apart, and it’s what led me to interview four young people – Charlie, Jihad, Madison, and Alex — each of whom is an entrepreneur between the ages of 18 and 24 and a current or past Thiel Fellow.
While their passions and pursuits may be different, their entrepreneurial mindsets are not. In fact, their mindsets are similar in four key ways that we can encourage and support in today’s young people:

1. Intentional Curiosity

They don’t wait for someone to inspire their curiosity or approve their entrepreneurial choices. For example, 2012 Thiel Fellow Charlie Stigler began coding apps while in high school in Los Angeles. At 16, he developed an open-source app, SelfControl, to help a local artist avoid distracting websites.

Today that app is used by millions of people around the world. Two years later, Charlie founded Zaption, a video platform for teachers and students. Charlie’s intentional curiosity is the key reason he left college for a Thiel Fellowship. He explains: “one of the biggest things that I think is really important to who I’ve become is the ability to pick what I want to do rather than be told what I want to do.” In fact, he argues that “we delay until really late the process of finding out what’s important to [us] . . . and I don’t think that delaying it [until college] is a good idea.”

2. A Bias toward Action

Jihad Kawas is a 2015 Thiel Fellow from Lebanon and, at 18, the founder of Saily, an online platform that connects second-hand buyers and sellers. At 13, he built websites for small businesses. At 14, he started a web design agency, printed himself a set of business cards, and pitched his family and school to attend the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco. While Jihad’s family said “yes, his school said no.” Undeterred, he went to the conference. Though Jihad graduated from high school, he admits that the thought of more schooling – of asking for permission to build and innovate – was too stifling. Instead, he shares: “I got out of school and decided I’m not doing the boundaries thing . . . I’m going to get out of that system.” His bias toward action led him back to San Francisco, where the support of his Thiel Fellowship has allowed him to connect with experienced entrepreneurs.

3. Self-directed Learner

Necessity requires that all four direct their own learning —  they can’t afford to wait until what they need to learn is added to a syllabus or offered as a course. For Madison Maxey, a 2013 Thiel Fellow and wearable technology entrepreneur, her work is so cutting edge that there wouldn’t be a course for her to take. Madison has been innovating from the time she was in high school designing costumes with alternative materials: “I was…into figuring out these ways of making clothing that were interesting but also [efficient].” Strapped for cash when she founded her company, The Crated, she taught herself how to code. To deepen her programming skills, she took classes at General Assembly:

“I did work study to help pay for the classes and learned programming, but also learned a ton about entrepreneurship because, at this point, General Assembly had a co-working space. So I got this amazing chance to learn from people who were starting companies and just kind of soaked up as much knowledge as I possibly could.”

Today Madison is developing hardware and software to support scalable solutions for fashion tech innovators. She explains, “I really want to bring digital fabrications to the textile circuitry space . . . I don’t know a lot of people working on that problem.” So she’s been “developing some of these tools and learning more about workflows and practices, so I can use them in my practice but also so that, ideally, other people can use them.” Daily she lives with the uncertainty of tackling problems no one else has solved.

4. Creative Confidence

All four have the creative confidence to believe they can solve difficult problems. This confidence allows them to live with the fear, the uncertainty, and the pressure that comes with solving big problems on tight timelines and with scant resources. Alex Koren, a 2014 Thiel Fellow from New Jersey, revealed his creative confidence in high school, when he decided to start a juggling club. Responsible for drumming up peer interest to form a legitimate club, Alex knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he learned:

“If you’re really passionate about something . . . no matter what other people think, no matter how it might be perceived . . . go seek those people and if you can’t find them, then turn people’s perspectives — create the people who have that passion.”

That same kind of confidence led him to coordinate a hackathon during a college internship at Intel. Out of that hackathon, he started two companies, Hyv and Chrg, which led him to speak at Facebook and, soon after, to leave college for a Thiel Fellowship. Since coming to San Francisco, he’s spent time mentoring other entrepreneurs and researching his next company. Every day he asks himself, “If tomorrow is like today, will I be happy?” And every day he has the creative confidence to ensure that’s the case.

Each of these four young people is hard working, determined, and persistent and, though young, they’ve already achieved a number of personal and professional goals. But what sets them apart is an entrepreneurial mindset, a desire to innovate and create. They have the intentional curiosity, the bias toward action, the commitment to direct their own learning, and the creative confidence to pursue passions that lead to products, companies, experiences, and networks that they get to choose.
About “GenDIY”
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)– how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love – on The Huffington Post This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY:

Gayle Allen is Chief Learning Officer at BrightBytes. Follow Gayle on Twitter, .

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‘Most Likely to Succeed’ Tours all 50 States

If you could redesign high school, what would it look like?
Would the students be thinking about their career while still in school? Should they progress by seat-time or by mastering skills? How would you use real world examples to connect to classroom projects?
These are the types of questions that Ted Dintersmith is asking students, parents, teachers and administrators while on his 50 State Tour with his documentary Most Likely to Succeed. Ted outlined his vision of the future of school in a recent blog post.
So far, Ted has visited 31 states with a mission to visit all 50 by spring. Fully committed to accelerating the reach and impact of the film, Ted started the new year with meetings in Maine, first with Commissioner Beardsley to discuss graduation rates and America’s obsession with “college at any cost”, while also meeting with families and children in homeless shelters and visiting CTE programs for high school students.
Ted also recently spent time talking about the future of school in New Hampshire with Governor Maggie Hassan and with students at Seacoast School of Technology. While in Connecticut, Ted visited an I.D. Lab at Choate Rosemary Hall, in addition to meeting Superintendent Beth Schiviano-Narvaez to discuss lottery themed magnet schools.  
Getting Smart joined Ted on his recent stop in Seattle, WA and attended a screening of his film hosted by the Thornton Creek Parent Group and the Ideas Ignited Foundation, where the film was well received. 

On day two of the tour stop in Seattle, visits were made at several Seattle schools including Nova High School, an Alternative Learning Experience school and West Seattle High School.
Knowing that Ted enters most conversations, asking the question what can we do to engage and inspire our students and teachers, Garth Reeves, Assistant Principal at West Seattle High School greeted us with students who are participating in their Got 9 and Back on Track programs. The programs are designed to support students with different levels of engagement. This grouping of students has curriculum designed to pull out a greater understanding of the student as an individual through several elements of the program including:

  • Relationships – with their teachers and cohorts.
  • New models of teaching and learning – more inquiry based and applying your thinking.
  • Exhibitions – presenting your work to a meaningful audience.
  • Personal/individual – goal setting and building your own personal plan.
  • Out of the building – supporting, encouraging and making time for student’s career interest.
  • “non-cognitive” skills – developing goal setting, leadership, self-evaluations.

To learn more about the 50 State Tour and Community Screenings you can check out the Most Likely to Succeed website and to follow Ted’s adventures on the road, check out his blog.
With a real interest in listening to and learning from voices all over our country, Ted will continue with town halls, independent screenings of the film, listening to students, parents and teachers, meeting with underserved populations and discussing necessary changes with political leaders.
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How 2 Minutes of SEL Can Change the Tone for the Day

What if two-minutes could change the tone of the classroom for the entire day? By building on strengths and targeting Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies, two-minutes CAN change an attitude and make the day–for students and teachers.
We had the opportunity to see this in action when we visited Margie DiMuzio and Brittany Noble’s classroom at Carson K-8 School in Cincinnati Public Schools, an innovative blended approach to teaching SEL.
Within the first couple minutes of the day (right after the quiet and systematic pencil-sharpening process), students were identifying and affirming character strengths in not only themselves, but also in their classmates and teachers.
As if it were as natural as saying “My favorite food is pizza,” a 5th grade boy reflected, “One of my best strengths is social intelligence because I know strong relationships are important for a happy life.”
Another student was eager to say, “I appreciate that Mrs. Noble shows the character strength of hope when she expects our best every day.”
It doesn’t take more than two-minutes to make comments like that, and it doesn’t take much more than a commitment to implementing these practices to make strength-based SEL a reality in your classroom or school.
This process, part of an advisory lesson, is based on a character strengths assessment students and teachers had previously completed through the Happify platform as part of Mayerson Academy’s Thriving Learning Communities (TLC)program . This initiative aligns well with the district advisory program and takes it to the next level by providing an engaging, blended approach that leverages the contributions of each partner.
Positive Partnerships. Cincinnati-based Mayerson Academy is collaborating not only with the district, but also with Happify and VIA Institute on Character, to implement TLC with Happify in 41 Cincinnati schools and others around the country. Mayerson Academy specializes in designing learning experiences for improved performance – in this case, building upon the science of character strengths and well-being. President Jillian Darwish reflects:

Our core purpose is to improve performance through extraordinary learning experiences. With this initiative, we work with school and classroom leaders to establish a strengths-based  culture that supports the development of social emotional learning competencies which we know will catalyze the best possible learning environment for all learners. This partnership strategically provides the structure, tools, coaching and research base to make it happen.

Research-Based. The TLC with Happify program is a research-based approach to improving students’ social and emotional competencies through revealing and catalyzing individual strengths that motivate learners of all ages (students and teachers alike). The character strengths inventory, along with classroom and Happify activities, provide a common language for students, educators, teams, and leaders to identify and affirm what is best in themselves and others.
Rather than prescribing a particular recipe for positive character, this approach builds on strengths. When students made their “first two-minutes comments,” they drew from the 24 character strengths that are part of the online assessment.
Mayerson Sheet Banner 680
Not only are the strengths grounded in research, so are the Happify games and activities.  For example, negative knockout is an ‘angry birds’ like game where you choose your biggest challenges that day (procrastination, irritability) and destroy those words with a slingshot. It draws from a 2012 Ohio State University study. [insert happify image]
Advisory Process. We know how important advisory is to personalizing the school experience. The TLC with Happify program? can work within the broader framework of any system’s existing advisory structure – or can provide a great place to start for those just beginning. For example, TLC with Happify is implemented in concert with CPS’ My Tomorrow advisory program.
Karen Graves, Mayerson’s Learning and Engagement Designer who oversees implementation, articulates Cincinnati’s middle-level advisory program goal, “We seek to create a space where every student has the opportunity to feel known, be heard and be understood.” Advisory focuses on four main areas:

  • creating community
  • academic advising
  • social-emotional learning,
  • post-secondary planning.

The process is made fun through the Happify game-based approach to teaching SEL and made easy through a Thriving Classroom curriculum guide that provides blended lessons and activities.
Schoolwide Culture. Assistant Principal Ross Turpeau, says, “We are always looking for more ways to establish a meaningful connection with kids. This is the perfect product to fill a missing gap.” Assistant Principal Al Beauchamp sees it as a professional development opportunity and a catalyst for staff conversations about creating a welcoming environment. He reflects, “It hurts me when a student says, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ We believe we’re providing a welcoming environment and a great set of learning experiences, yet something must be off if some kids don’t want to be here.
The school leadership team is committed to persistently pursuing a positive culture and knows that when we know about kids strengths, we can help them feel connected.
Mayerson Banner Wall
Long-Term Benefits. Indicators point to a great ROI on investing in strengths – not just for the day, but for years. University of Florida’s Jim Judge and Charlie Hurst studied self-evaluations of over 7,000 men and women starting in 1979,when they were teenagers. They followed participants for the next 25 years with questions about education, health, career success, and job status.
Their findings were profound – people with higher confidence showed advantages in the areas measured. For example, those with higher confidence reported better physical health 25 years later (those with lower confidence at three times as many health problems). Results also held true for income levels and career satisfaction. As reported in Strengths-Based Leadership, a follow up study by Gallup showed that people who had the opportunity use their strengths early on (ages 15-23) had significantly higher job satisfaction and income levels 26 years later. In summary, there is a cumulative, and often exponential, benefit for people who are aware of their strengths and develop self-confidence at a young age.
How about you? Whether seeking to change a day, change a life, or both, building on strengths in a practical, fun and engaging way makes sense. Whose day can you make today?
Mayerson Academy and its partners provide a deep, yet practical, “SEL-in-a-box” approach and are sure to shape the conversation. For more information, please visit TLC with Happify.

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How to Turn Boring Lessons Into Engaging Content

Obviously there are still great teachers like that out there – we hear from them every day on our blog and on social media. But times have definitely changed with the advent of virtual classrooms, blended learning, and advanced digital tools. How do you engage students when they aren’t in the same room with you? The blog below shares five great tips to keep in mind when creating engaging content.

Unfortunately, when you take away a few of these go-to tools, even great teachers like Mr. Mowry struggle to turn those classroom lessons into engaging online experiences.
Here are five tips to try the next time you want to create engaging content.

1. Compete for attention.

Before you can overcome a student’s ability to learn you have to overcome their willingness to listen. As the Heath Brothers so eloquently put it in Made to Stick, “The first problem of communication is getting people’s attention.”
Please don’t assume students are waiting for your message. As educators we often forget what it was like to be a student, struggling to stay awake in an uncomfortable desk, distracted by the incessant tapping of the fidgeting boy to our right and the sweet smell of the beautiful girl to our left.
Engaging content
The challenge for digital content is even tougher. If you think students get distracted easily in a classroom, imagine putting them in front of a computer. Suddenly you’re competing with the entire world wide web. Would they rather read your lesson or surf social media? Would they rather watch your video or the latest YouTube fail compilation? Would they rather learn how to solve for X or learn how to beat the next level in Call of Duty?
It’s an uphill battle for those student brains, and you have to be willing to fight for it.

2. Start with students, not standards.

The biggest mistake teachers make when building online lessons is starting with standards. “Here is what I want to teach.” I get it. That methodology makes sense in a teacher’s mind, but it’s a long road to fun from a list of bureaucratic benchmarks. Let’s face it, from a student perspective (and this is the only one that matters here) standards are boring. Why would you start with boring?
If you want to compete for attention and create engaging content you’ll need to start with students, not standards. Start with something students are already interested in. Once you have them leaning forward, it’s much easier to weave in the learning. Great teachers do this in the classroom and it’s even more important online.
When you sit down to write an online lesson, think like a comedian—write the punchline first. That doesn’t mean you should try to be funny, it means you should think creatively about how to make your educational concepts relevant to the student world. Once you have an interesting, entertaining, or memorable connection, then build the lesson or assessment content around it.
But how will you know what students are interested in?

3. Be an anthropologist.

Want to engage students? Study them. Figure out what they are into, their likes and dislikes. Follow the latest trends in music, movies, games, fashion, humor, celebrities and sports. And please don’t assume you know them because you have children of your own or you’ve been teaching this age group for 20 years.
Students are changing all the time. Every class is different. Pop culture is moving at a crazy rate of speed and it’s not easy to keep your finger on the pulse. It takes effort, research and conversation with kids to understand the popular trends in technology, entertainment and social media.
Engaging content
Students don’t expect you to be cool. In fact, if you start referencing the latest meme or music track you may instantly make it uncool. But speaking even a little of their language will go a long way toward engagement.
Of course what is cool to some may be old news to others, so your next challenge is getting to know all your students so you can personalize the learning. Sorry, nobody said this was easy.

4. Weave in the learning.

Once you understand what students are interested in and you have grabbed their attention, it’s time to weave in the learning. This means interlacing the instruction with engaging content to create the fabric of a great lesson. If you craft it properly, the students won’t even realize they are mastering those boring standards.
However, if you stack the instruction between unrelated sections of fun, you’ll end up with what the serious gaming world calls “chocolate covered broccoli”. This term is used to refer to games that give players a fun task, followed by traditional teaching—for instance, asking students to solve traditional math problems in order to earn ammunition to shoot aliens. While your student might take a bite of the broccoli the first time, she’ll quickly figure out it’s the same old green veggie (or long-division problem) adults have been pushing for years.
To keep students engaged in online learning you’ll need to actually make the learning and problem solving engaging, not just stack it between funny cat videos. So get creative and ask students to solve problems relevant to their real world.

5. Test drive it.

In the classroom teachers have the benefit of feedback. When students are excited the teacher can see it and keep heading down that path. When students become disinterested good teachers know instantly and change directions. So how do we create online curriculum that keeps students engaged?
In the near future, every online learning platform will gather student feedback and adjust the lesson delivery to meet individual student needs, but unfortunately it will still be a few years before most students have access to this level of automated personalization. In the meantime teachers and curriculum writers can gather feedback ahead of time. This means testing.
Once your lesson or assessment is created, put it in front of students and watch their reaction just like you would in a classroom. If they look excited, you are probably on the right track. If they look like a drowsy, apathetic teen, you have some work to do.
Notice I didn’t say, “Ask them if they like it.” In my experience with casual testing, this almost always leads to false positives. Students generally want to please their teacher and probably won’t tell you that your baby is ugly (at least not to your face).
engaging content
If you are creating content to be sold or shared beyond a single classroom, you’ll want to invest time and money in a more formal level of feedback. There are lots of online market research tools you can use to survey students. Create quick surveys with Survey Monkey, gather feelings with Temper or test usability with Loop11.
No matter how you collect the feedback, it’s important you are talking to the right audience and you actually listen to their opinions. Great content creators are hungry to learn from student feedback and willing to improve their instruction. If you want to turn the boring lesson into engaging online content, put the ego aside and test drive it.
Mr. Mowry would have gotten a thumbs up from me on his Biology lesson. Hopefully with a few of these techniques you can bring that same level of engagement magic to your next online lesson.
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John Logan is Chief Creative Officer at Global Personalized Academics. Follow John on Twitter, @JohnLoganGPA.

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How Project-Based Learning Fosters Community Change

Solving real world issues that matter is important to us as adults–and it’s important to our students. When we bring real world issues to the classroom and allow students to lead, we can foster community change. One school in South Carolina is doing this by tackling a daunting and important subject: human trafficking. 
Westwood High School is in its third year working on a project called Globalize 13. Globalize 13 is a service-learning project for secondary schools that presents lessons about slavery within the context of the 13th Amendment, the amendment that abolished slavery 150 years ago. 
How does project-based learning foster community change?
What started with a dialogue around slavery and reading the texts of Frederick Douglass resulted in students recognizing and doing something about modern day slavery in their own community. The students now call themselves Modern Day Abolitionists. As a result of the project, students have started a Facebook page and a Twitter account (@WHS_MDA) to document and share the work of their campaign to create awareness of human trafficking.

Ken Morris, President of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, and direct descendant of both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, visited the school to launch Globalize 13 and support students’ efforts to raise awareness of human trafficking in South Carolina. At the event, a Richland County councilman attended and was so inspired by the students’ projects that he started a task force to investigate human trafficking and has invited students and teacher Stacey Plotner to be members of that task force.
One of the student projects from Ms. Plotner’s English class won honorable mention in the White House Student film festival. (Warning: This video is short and moving. If you have kids, know kids or love kids, you may be moved to act).

Two students also planned a session for other students from around the country who were acting as modern day abolitionists at the “Historians Against Slavery” conference located at Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
We recently had a chance to talk to the lead teacher on the project, Stacey Plotner, about the project. As a teacher in her 19th year, Ms. Plotner said:

Students have to see that their work is doing something. I have taught the narrative of Frederick Douglass for years. It’s so important for the work in the classroom to connect to a real problem today. What started out as a student project has inspired me as a teacher. And the students see that they can really create change.
To begin this project, we had to actually create a campaign. Students had to research and figure out what a campaign is and how to actually launch a campaign. None of us had done this before, so it was kind of chaotic at times.
I am a big advocate of a mix of more traditional teaching and also project-based learning, allowing students to solve real world problems. For teachers, it’s all about how to combine the two which is the true formula for success. A real world problem creates a real deadline. The students know they have to get their work done because there is an authentic audience.

Westwood High School is in Richland School District Two, which has a strategic partnership with Buck Institute for Education (BIE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing project-based learning. BIE coaches have led project-based learning workshops for teachers and also meet individually with teachers on project-based learning best practices. BIE provides systemic PBL implementation services to more than 25 U.S. school districts, supporting more than 10,000 teachers and leaders nationwide. With this three-year partnership, BIE not only supports teachers with professional development but also focuses on the leadership and organizational development needed to sustain system-wide Gold Standard PBL implementation. Deeper learning environments such as these help students think critically, solve real world problems, work collaboratively, master academic content and hone and develop academic mindsets that support college and career readiness. (See this in action in the film Most Likely to Succeed). 
If you are a teacher thinking about implementing project-based learning in the classroom or ways to do it even more effectively, Ms. Plotner suggests allowing students to tackle social issues that they really care about:

If we want to teach students to write persuasively, why not have them persuade about something in the real world?
You can pick labor rights, whatever modern day problem exists, and you can do this in history class, you can use your curriculum you already have, and you can tie in real world issues and let the kids use the skills they are learning.

For more specific information on the Globalize 13 curriculum, see this page on the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.
For more on project-based learning see,

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Student Surveys: Why They Matter and 5 Key Design Principles of Great Surveys

Zoe Mercer-Golden
Great teaching makes a huge difference in the lives of students. But it can be challenging to understand how students view their learning environments and their teachers, and to provide actionable feedback to teachers. Let’s look at why student surveys can be a valuable source of feedback for educators, schools, and districts, and why it’s important to use an instrument that will collect high-quality data. We’ll end by explaining why measuring five core topics can be high-leverage for schools and districts who want to improve teaching effectiveness and student outcomes.

Why use student surveys to measure teaching effectiveness?

In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Foundation released the findings of the three-year Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, which found that student perception surveys were one valid way to measure teaching effectiveness. Since then, millions of students have taken surveys about their classroom experiences in order to give their teachers in-depth feedback about their practices. Student surveys are regularly used by districts around the country to set goals and support strategic planning at the classroom-, school-, and district-level.

Why use a research-validated instrument?

When using perception data to provide educators with feedback or to chart progress against a strategic plan, it’s important to have confidence in the quality of the data collected. Because we know that what gets measured gets improved, it’s essential to use an instrument that conforms to research and survey design best practices and features high validity and reliability.
While there are many important topics to consider when measuring teaching effectiveness, there are five core topics that are particularly important: Pedagogical Effectiveness, Rigorous Expectations, Classroom Climate, Student Engagement, and Teacher-Student Relationships.

1. Pedagogical Effectiveness

Students taught by educators with highly effective teaching practices are more likely to be engaged in the classroom, achieve better grades, and have higher test scores. By measuring pedagogical effectiveness, schools and districts can learn about how much students are learning from a teacher about a particular subject area, how well teachers manage student behavior in the classroom, and how well teachers engage students who may have different learning styles or needs. Scores for a particular teacher on pedagogical effectiveness are likely to predict the achievement gains his or her students make in the academic subject that teacher teaches, as well as how well students are being prepared for college and career.
Example Questions:

  • How interesting does this teacher make what you are learning in class?
  • How good is this teacher at teaching in the way that you personally learn best?

2. Rigorous Expectations

Students who feel that they are being held to high standards around effort and understanding by their teachers are more likely to trust that their teachers believe in them and their capacity to succeed, and as a result, achieve greater academic success. Measuring students’ perceptions of their teachers’ rigorous expectations allows schools and districts to learn whether students feel their teachers encourage them to do their best work and hold them to high standards around performance, effort, and persistence in class. Results for a particular teacher or from a particular group of students on rigorous expectations are likely to predict student academic performance, as well as college and career readiness.
Example Questions:

  • How much does this teacher encourage you to do your best?
  • How often does this teacher make you explain your answers?

3. Classroom Climate

When students feel secure in their classroom and school, they are better able to engage in learning. Student perceptions of their classroom climate measure how safe, comfortable, and secure students feel, physically and emotionally, in their classroom. Student responses on the classroom climate scale should predict improved academic outcomes, as well as reduced incidents of disciplinary action, including suspensions and expulsions.
Example Questions:

  • How fair or unfair are the rules for the students in this class?
  • In this class, how much does the behavior of other students hurt or help your learning?

4. Student Engagement

Engaged students are more likely to achieve a high level of academic success, attend class regularly, and stay in school. Schools and districts can learn about student engagement by measuring how invested and attentive students are in their classes. Student scores about engagement are likely to predict student academic performance in the particular class and subject area, especially student grades and test scores. Scores on classroom engagement are likely to be correlated with how likely students are to attend class and complete their education.
Example Questions:

  • How excited are you about going to this class?
  • In this class, how eager are you to participate?

5. Teacher-Student Relationships

Students who feel connected to their teachers and to other school adults tend to perform better academically and have better behavioral records in individual classes and in school in general.
Because strong teacher-student relationships are an important indicator of many different kinds of student outcomes—academic, professional, and social—teacher-student relationships can be used to determine how much students feel a sense of belonging in school, as well as how likely a student is to drop out of school. Scores on the questions on this topic may also be correlated to how much students value particular subjects and their probable academic success in a subject.  
Example Questions:

  • How respectful is this teacher towards you?
  • How excited would you be to have this teacher again?

To measure these five critical topics and others, we developed the Panorama Student Survey. The survey was designed in line with survey design best practices, and features nineteen topics that measure important aspects of teaching and learning. Because schools and districts have different needs depending on their context, the survey allows educators to customize what they measure by choosing what topics matter most to their community.
Student surveys can play an essential role in improving teaching effectiveness by providing educators, schools, and districts with high-quality, actionable feedback, while also helping schools and districts predict and improve student outcomes. Fundamentally, student surveys can help educators see inside students’ heads– and take action from there.
For more check out:

Zoe Mercer-Golden is a Marketing Manager at Panorama Education. Follow us Panorama Education on Twitter, @PanoramaEd.

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EdTech 10: Everything You Missed During #Blizzard2016

Doesn’t matter what you call it – Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, Snowzilla – the ridiculous amount of snow added to an already interesting week. Here are four thoughts on learning in an uncertain world inspired by this week’s rollercoaster of happenings.  
As our friends out east dig themselves out of Blizzard 2016, with GenDIY approaching the weather with an entrepreneurial mindset, and with those keeping warm by practicing the NSCW dance for National School Choice Week, here are the top EdTech news stories you might have missed while you were busy surviving #Blizzard2016.

Cool Schools & Tools

For the n00bs. “Minecraft Education Edition” will soon find its way to a classroom near you. This week Microsoft bought MinecraftEdu, an educational game version of Minecraft. Moss Pike is already using Minecraft in his classroom, but in his case, he’s using it to teach Latin.

VR field tripping. Expeditions is a new program from Google that will make it easier for schools to access and their VR field trips via a beta app for Android. With VR growing as big as $150 billion in 2020 with 25 million VR users by 2018, VR is coming to a classroom near you.

Digital Developments

Developing a competent competency program. Considering the shift to competency at your college or university but don’t know where to begin? Pearson launched their Competency-Based Education (CBE) Playbook for HigherEd leaders to think, organize and manage the phases and important decisions involved in developing a CBE program.

hAPPy day, hAPPy day. Newsela launched their iOS app! Students can now access curated news articles on their Apple devices from the Associated Press, Scientific American, and the Washington Post. Last year was officially the year of mobile, so this year expect many platforms to launch apps and mobile responsive frameworks.

Dollars & Deals

Bridging the gap. Noodle Markets raised $3 million from a series seed financing round led by Rethink Education and Palm Ventures. This funding comes only a month after the launch of the resource that’s an attempt at bridging the EdTech purchasing information gap.

Stem Gems

Making it big. Inventables is donating 50 3D carving machines to 50 different schools across the US, one in each state. Everything “Maker” is on the rise. See how the “Maker Movement” has developed into “Maker Ed.”

Higher, Deeper, Further, Faster Learning

Admitting. Parallel to the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success’ call to reimagine the college admissions process is Turning the Tidea new report that reports concrete recommendations for admissions offices to consider that include:

  1. Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
  2. Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
  3. Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.

Deals for days. From now until January 31, CareerFoundary is have 25% off sale on all their UI Design, UX Design and Web Development courses. Here is the story of one GenDIY student who went from being unemployed to a full-scale web developer with CareerFoundary.

Community college collabs. Jobs for the Future (JFF) is leading the creation of Student Success Centers in an effort to organize community colleges around common action for student completion. Talk about free community college has been on the rise. In response, JFF’s Lara Couturier advises students to choose wisely.

The Big “D”

Von Deeper. Udacity (one of 25 HigherEd Innovators) is now hosting a Google facilitated deeper learning course. The course will be part of Udacity’s machine learning engineer Nanodegree program. The case continues to build — machine learning is the new infrastructure for everything.

For more EdTech 10’s check out:

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What You Need to Know When Developing Micro-Credentials

Dr. Mary Ann Wolf
Many of us in education have experienced the two-hour workshop that leaves us excited with new ideas, but then leaves us frustrated when we come across the materials a couple of weeks later realizing that we had not done anything different in our classrooms or schools.
We didn’t necessarily know what to expect as we began our journey toward micro-credentials (sometimes called badges), but we were eager to explore the possibility of changing professional learning from seat-time to competency-base to encourage changes in practice. Nearly half of educators share that they are not satisfied with their professional learning experiences. While research identifies what it takes for professional learning to be effective, few teachers have the opportunity to engage in opportunities that are truly job-embedded, ongoing, connected to peers, and in the context of their own teaching (Darling-Hammond, Wei, 2009).
In an effort to help teachers apply what they learn in professional learning, the Friday Institute, in partnership with Digital Promise with funding from the Oak Foundation, set out to develop micro-credentials as a way to help teachers utilize what they learn to improve their practice. The Friday Institute focused the initial three stacks of micro-credentials on Learning Differences, a body of work supported by the Learning Differences Massive Online Open Course for Educators (MOOC-Ed). Teachers were encouraged to earn micro-credentials on three primary topics of the course: Motivation, Working Memory, and Executive Function.

Seven Lessons Learned from Implementing Micro-credentials

With over 300 submissions from teachers during the implementation this fall, the Friday Institute has learned many lessons that provide insight for those considering or developing micro-credentials. The whitepaper, Seven Lessons Learned from Implementing Micro-credentials, provides specific examples and more in-depth discussion about each of the following:

  1. Teachers who earn micro-credentials want to earn more
  2. Micro-credentials facilitate concrete applications to classroom practice
  3. Micro-credentials scaffold teachers to engage at an increased level of rigor
  4. Teachers can demonstrate competency/mastery in a variety of ways
  5. Instructional design and online platform matter
  6. Micro-credentials should not have a one-size-fits-all approach
  7. Many questions still exist around micro-credentials

Teachers want to pursue other micro-credentials.

As we think about the potential of micro-credentials to improve professional learning, several findings stand out as promising. Ninety-seven percent of respondents to our survey want to pursue additional micro-credentials. With micro-credentials, we have the opportunity to actually see how teachers change their practice with students. Developing the artifacts to submit may encourage or nudge teachers to go the extra step and try what they are learning with students. The artifacts submitted to earn the micro-credentials are actual examples from the classroom and allow us to see what they understand and learn.

Teachers may not earn the micro-credential the first time, but they try again.

Another unanticipated finding is that almost half of teachers did not earn the micro-credentials on the first attempt. However, nearly half of those who did not earn the micro-credential initially tried again and typically earned it on the next attempt. This allows the teachers to experience competency-based learning, and also provides more confidence in what they learn rather than simply measuring how long they sat through a course or workshop.

Making Personalized Professional Learning a Reality

Professional learning is imperative for the transition to digital-age learning, and micro-credentials provide a personalized experience for educators. They submit the artifacts that are meaningful to them, and they have opportunities to learn at their own pace and to resubmit the information if needed. As the landscape for micro-credentials continues to grow, teachers have the opportunity to pursue micro-credentials based upon their own needs and interests.
Seven Lessons Learned from Implementing Micro-credentials provides our initial findings on micro-credentials. Currently, micro-credentials are not the typical way that teachers earn continuing education units (CEUs), but we believe they are very promising. So much so, in fact, that we recommended the State of North Carolina consider implementing micro-credentials as a professional development option for teachers to achieve digital learning competencies. While teachers can display or share micro-credentials to demonstrate their learning, determining the currency for micro-credentials to be recognized for licensure and CEUs is still in its infancy. It is critical that we learn from these early experiences to build meaningful micro-credentials. For micro-credentials to help change the reliance on seat-time for professional learning and to offer personalized experiences for teachers, they must be credible and challenging to earn. Based upon the initial findings and lessons learned, the Friday Institute will continue to implement these micro-credentials and some new ones focused on teaching fractions this spring.
Dr. Mary Ann Wolf is the Director of Digital Learning Programs at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University. Follow Mary on Twitter, .
For more on Micro-credentials, listen to this podcast:

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