Three Toolkits To Help Maximize Student Learning & Engagement

By Gillian Judson, PhD
Emotion.
Imagination.
Feeling.
These words rarely take center stage in curriculum talk.
The odd thing is that I have never met an educator that doesn’t value emotional and imaginative engagement. All educators want students to be engaged. All educators want their students to be imaginative, to experience and demonstrate creative and flexible understanding of knowledge. All educators want students to remember what they are learning so that curriculum content has an impact on their lives outside school.

Finding Common Ground:  The Heart of Learning

Sure, the students in our classes are incredibly diverse. The contexts we teach in and the demands of our various curricula are incredibly varied. But all educators stand on common ground.
Educators of all kinds and in all contexts are in the business of meaning-making. And, at the end of the (school)day, meaning requires emotion. As Dr. Immordino-Yang shows us in her research in affective neuroscience—and what I think all teachers know deeply—is that emotion is the mind’s rudder. Emotion directs all learning.

Imaginative Education:  An Emotion-Focused Pedagogy

Our students frequently and routinely think about the world in ways that evoke their emotions and imaginations. For example, they universally enjoy stories or narratives of all kinds. They all enjoy jokes and humor. They all identify patterns in the world around them. Many are fascinated by extremes of experience and limits of reality–the stuff in the Guinness Book of World Records. Many associate with heroes and even idolize people, ideas or institutions. Many start collecting things and obsess over hobbies.
Words cause images to arise in all of their minds. They all enjoy a good mystery and can be left awestruck by unanswered questions or strange events. Our older students may enjoy abstract ideas and theories that represent them. Some seek ways to enact change in their environments. I could go on and on; our students’ emotional and imaginative lives manifest themselves in many varied ways.
These different forms of engagement are not insignificant; they are actually ways of thinking that help human beings learn. In Imaginative Education, a pedagogy developed by Dr. Kieran Egan from Simon Fraser University, these features of our imaginative lives are “cognitive tools“–they are emotional ways human beings make meaning in the world.
Dr. Kieran Egan’s theory of Imaginative Education offers all educators a glimpse into the imaginative and emotional lives of their students. He outlines the particular sets of tools students are using to make emotional sense of the world and how any teacher can use these same tools to shape curriculum.
Take this home: You can nurture the heart of learning—engaging emotion with your curriculum content—if you know what cognitive tools your students employ and if you use them in your teaching.

Three Toolkits To Maximize Student Learning & Engagement

1. The Toolkit of Oral Language: story-form, dramatic oppositions, vivid mental imagery, rhyme, rhythm & pattern, a sense of mystery, play.
These tools will be most active for our youngest students, those who engage with the world mostly through their bodies and through oral language. The richness of meaning offered by the tools of oral language is well-known. For generations, these tools have made knowledge meaningful and memorable in an oral context.
The same is true for human minds equipped with oral language today. Of course, all ages of students will be engaged by these tools. It is always worthwhile employing them in your teaching, so use imagery. Identify patterns. Notice the mysterious. Play.
2. The Toolkit of Written Language: story-form/narrative, heroic qualities, humanization of meaning, extremes of experience and limits of reality, a sense of wonder, games/play, visual manipulation of information, rebellion, collections & hobbies.
We aren’t aware of it at the time, but learning to read radically changes our perception of the world.  If you observe kids as they learn to read, you may notice the shape of their imaginative interest changes—according to Dr. Kieran Egan this is due, in part, to a need to make sense of a new and vast reality.
Once we are literate, different features of the world attract our attention—or, in other words, we want to know about different aspects of knowledge. One thing hasn’t changed; knowledge that makes us feel a human emotion is knowledge we remember. You can feed your students’ need for heroes within your curriculum. You can include the human story. You can illuminate the unique, odd, exotic and bizarre.
3. The Toolkit of Theoretical Language: meta-narrative structuring, general theories, anomalies, sense of agency.
Students who are supported in thinking about abstract ideas and questions often realize that the world at our fingertips also exists in a completely separate, theoretical realm. This is immensely appealing to theoretical minds. The world of theory and abstraction attracts the imagination differently.
So, for those educators working with older students/adults, one can and should employ tools of oral and written language in teaching, but it is also very important to feed the theoretical aspects of the mind. What’s the “Truth” on this topic? What “ism” explains its different dimensions? How can students’ participate in the topic in a real-world way?

That Was Quick

Too soon for a conclusion, I know. We have barely scratched the surface! My hope is that you are curious to learn more about how to meet the imaginative needs of your students and, ultimately, maximize their imaginative capacities. You can explore the whole set of “Tips for Imaginative Educators” in this Tools of Imagination Series. Use the right tools and you will bring emotion, imagination and feeling out of the wings and onto center stage.
For more, see:

Gillian Judson is a researcher, teacher and advocate of the role of imagination in all learning. Follow her on Twitter: @perfinker.


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.


Successful Content Curation Strategies in Higher Education

By Blake Beus
Is curation just another trendy buzzword in academic circles, or can it be a smart strategy to help manage the massive changes taking place across the learning and educational environment?
Today’s learners are constantly bombarded by an overwhelming amount of information. Organizations that curate content effectively are seeing the benefits of more engaged, connected learners who have a stronger understanding of how the material they are learning applies to the real world.
Content curation is just one element of the ongoing shift away from traditional, formal instructional approaches to a wider acceptance of informal learning, both in business and education.

The Growth of Informal Learning

Informal learning is far from a new phenomenon, but our perception of it has changed significantly over the past few decades, largely due to the explosion of the Internet. Businesses frequently reference the “70-20-10 rule” of workplace learning as they strive to implement training programs or employee onboarding that is highly experiential and collaborative. To ensure learners are fully prepared for the challenges they will face on the job, learning and development professionals recognize the need to facilitate access to a wide range of relevant information and learning experiences.
K-12 and higher education institutions are also shifting their focus away from the old paradigm of transmitting knowledge from faculty to students and moving toward educational approaches that guide students through a process of exploration, discovery, and participatory learning. Rather than relying exclusively on traditionally published materials, instructors often curate their own textbooks.
Content curation is one strategy that helps bridge the gap between formal and informal learning. But successful curation requires more than simply collecting and sharing information. These tips will help you provide curated content that delivers value to your learners.

Strategies for Successful Content Curation

  • Provide context. Content without relevance has no value. Help your learners understand why the information they are learning is important and how it connects to the world outside the classroom.
  • Wander off the page. Besides books and journal articles, helpful resources could include blogs, wikis, discussion boards and even Twitter. To really engage your learners, don’t forget to look beyond the written word and leverage the diverse forms of media available on the web.

No matter the topic, there’s likely to be a YouTube or TED video, podcast episode, or SlideShare presentation available that ties back to some element of your course content. You may also be able to find existing eLearning presentations, software simulations, study guides, or practice activities that would be useful to your students.

  • Involve your learners. Perhaps the most effective use of curation in the classroom is when learners become curators themselves. Content curation requires a wide range of higher-order thinking skills, including evaluating, synthesizing, and analyzing. Independently or in groups, ask your students to search for external content, share it with their cohort, and explain how it is relevant to the material discussed in class.

There are several online tools designed specifically for sharing of curated content, including Curatr, Scoop.it and TheHubEdu. Common social networking applications such as Pinterest and Twitter can also be used for this purpose.

Helping students integrate course content into life outside the classroom prepares them for future academic and career success.
For more, see:

Blake Beus is the Director of Learning Solutions at Allen Communication Learning Services. Follow him on Twitter: .


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.


Introducing the ‘Selfie’ Generation to the Real World

By Sébastien Turbot

I often meet people who are appalled to see today’s “selfie-generation” drag itself through education–as if it doesn’t care or see the importance of education.
“What is education for?” my eight-year-old asked me one day.
“Your education will offer you a good job, it will prepare you for the world,” I replied. But as soon as I finished my sentence, I realized that my pragmatic response was no longer valid. Education is for life. Indeed. Except it no longer prepares us for our rapidly evolving world. Today, an entire generation remains shut out of the global job market.
Why?
Too much schooling is delivering very little relevant learning. Our current education system is designed to prepare us for one specific task. Except the one-job, one-employer career is over. By the time today’s graduates are 38, they would have gone through 10 to perhaps 14 jobs.
Surveys, global research reports, experts and global think tanks unanimously say that employers desperately seek recruits with strong soft skills such as communication and critical thinking. Yet, universities continue churning out millions of graduates who master knowledge but have very little idea of how to apply it in the real world.
In the next 15 years, 65% of young graduates will be walking into jobs that don’t exist today. But our 19th century education system is ill-equipped to prepare them for the unknown. Moreover, millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and a large majority will never be employees in the traditional sense. While some will find long-term steady jobs, many will choose to jump from one project to another.
So, now, let us take a step back to put ourselves in the “selfie-generation’s” head:

So my lessons are boring, and have no link whatsoever to what is happening outside. I am memorizing stuff that I can easily find on Wikipedia. I am caught in this stress spiral of poor grades, fear of failure and debt. And this education is not even a guarantee of me getting a good job – or even a job in the first place? So what am I doing here in class? What is the point?

Indeed, what is the point of education? What is its purpose? More importantly, is it really preparing young people for the 21st century ‘gig’ economy?
Not really.
There is no quick fix to the problem but as a parent and an educator, I find project-based learning (PBL) to be an effective solution. “What matters today is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know,”according to Tony Wagner. And this is what PBL is all about. It makes learning real. PBL helps children apply their knowledge in the real world. It helps them to connect their lessons with their own lives. It encourages deeper learning.
My lessons at Science Po’s Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) combine International Relations with communication in development, post-conflict and humanitarian contexts. The topics are not PBL-friendly, yet it remains an effective strategy to give students a taste of the real world of global development.
My students aspire to be part of the global development sector–represent the United Nations or launch their own initiatives to make a difference in society.
At PSIA, I don’t manage a classroom. I run a semester-long workathon. I don’t teach students, I guide a group of young practitioners who have to find concrete solutions for intricate challenges such as communicating about AIDS, providing clean water, improving access to education in remote areas, etc. The future workforce in my classroom is expected to manage everything from defining the strategy to spending their very last dime.
They write slogans for adverts, design logos, determine communication release plans, identify communication channels and partners, etc. The exercise opens a world of new concepts (like branding and content design) that students often discover once they step into the world of work.
The learning process inculcates the much-needed social and emotional skills: collaboration replaces competition; problem solving overshadows rote learning; and empathy eclipses jealousy.
At Me and My City, a learning program in Finland, school children get to act and play in a 500 square meter miniature town where they run businesses and public services. They get to work on their entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills, they learn to entwine multiple subjects such as Math, Science and Literature to solve a problem. And most importantly, they learn to navigate their future world.
Big Picture Learning in the United States is another example that illustrates the positive impact of PBL on learning outcomes and student performance.
In addition to preparing learners for the rapidly evolving global economy, project-based lessons promote equity. I find it to be a great equalizer in the classroom. My cohort comprises of students from 15-17 different nationalities. They are products of diverse education systems and economic backgrounds. But their differences are diluted as soon as they start working together. Immersed in a project-driven learning environment, they all have equal access to opportunities, resources and support.
Since there are no exams or grades, learners are not expected to invest heavy amounts of time, money and energy to access high-quality content and support. They are only expected to bring their own expertise, passion and diversity to the table – just like in a real-world meeting room.
This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, see the Project-Based World page. Join in the conversation at #projectbased.
For more, see:

Sébastien Turbot is a Curator for Social Good and currently heads content and programs at Qatar Foundation’s WISE Initiative. Follow him on Twitter: @sturbot.


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.


Cause Marketing for Educators, Eduprenuers & Students

Here’s the deal – we’re all in the cause marketing business now. Let me use a few examples to explain.
You may not think that education and marketing go hand in hand, but if you have ever tried to get 9th graders invested in Algebra, you know how you market and sell the need for information is super important.
As a math teacher in an urban Los Angeles school, Megan Mead understood that helping her students understand the value and importance in learning Algebra wasn’t optional and sure wasn’t easy. It wasn’t just about helping them graduate, it was a social justice issue to her. Mastering Algebra meant a ticket to a new world with new opportunities. It meant a better ability to problem solve and think critically. An opportunity to hone skills that would be essential for the jobs of the future.
She knew many students did not understand the importance of Algebra – so rather than assuming, she created daily reminders of its importance in their life. Mastering Algebra meant potential for college credit while in high school for some students, far more opportunities for entrance to leading colleges and universities and new job pathways. Creating global connections, being authentic and honest and listening to her students was Megan’s own cause marketing campaign.
When Tom Vander Ark was a district superintendent he quickly learned district admins are in the marketing business too – not just for enrollment in competitive markets, but for continued community investment in technology and facilities. In his last year in the role, the district proposed a bond for innovative new small high schools and lost because they didn’t make the case for a new path forward.
If you’re a foundation or nonprofit trying to advance a solution set–personalized learning, reading by 3rd grade, better career preparation–you’re in the cause marketing business.
Whether a teacher, school leader, or service provider, you’re in the cause marketing business– you need to sell a group of people 1) on a path forward, 2) that you’re the right partner for the journey, and 3) that the path is worth the effort.

The Basics

Cause marketing, in the broadest sense, is a marketing effort for social or charitable cause. It also refers to corporate efforts to advance a worthy cause and their brand at the same time. No matter who you are and who you are marketing to, here are three fundamentals of cause marketing to keep in mind:

  1. Make the case–don’t assume it’s obvious. This is your chance to set the tone and describe what the cause is. With so many sources and opinions it’s important to make it clear what your cause is and why it’s relevant and important.
  2. Demonstrate care & competence. At all times your marketing efforts should display empathy of race, class, circumstance and path.
  3. What’s in it for me–current and future. You need to demonstrate and articulate why this cause should matter to your target audience. Who will benefit, how will this create impact and how will people know it’s a success?

Cause Marketing for Educators

Most educators run a cause marketing campaign on a daily basis in their classrooms, but may not have used that title to describe what they were doing. As teachers develop lesson plans and modules, helping students understand the importance and real world connections of content is important to relevance and successful mastery of content for students. Here are three ways educators can (and probably already are) incorporate cause marketing in their classrooms:

  1. Why a unit is important–now and later. All of the focus on college and career readiness is great, but school should also be relevant and important for young people now. Understanding how the unit will provide needed knowledge for the next lesson or class in a particular subject is also important. Helping students connect their current knowledge to something currently happening in internet culture or politics will increase relevance and understanding.
  2. Demonstrate care, listen and engage. Educators can successfully incorporate cause marketing by understanding what their students are interested in. By asking questions, seeking feedback and providing time for discussion, students will feel like their voices are heard and teachers will be able to connect lessons to interests.
  3. Illustrate the rewards of quality work. By showing anchor papers and portfolios, educators can help students enjoy and appreciate the journey. Provide opportunities for students to publish and present their work in the larger community through blogs and local newspapers. For more tips on this topic see our “It’s a Project Based World” Campaign.

Cause Marketing for Edupreneurs

Anyone that has started or scaled a business knows successful marketing can be a game changer. However, in the education business it’s not enough to just market well–you have to help your target audience understand your value proposition, trust you as a partner and believe in your cause. As eduprenuers looking to make an impact, here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Get clear about what problem you solve. As a company you’ll have to make sure, both in words and action, that you demonstrate problem empathy for educators. With a flood of talented people wanting to work in education and build solutions for educators, it’s more important than ever to get clear in your cause and learn how to market that efficiently. It is also crucial to demonstrate foresight–help your audience see that you know the path they are on and will walk that journey with them.
  2. Demonstrate appreciation of user experience. Your marketing efforts should make the partnership case–why is your product/service the best choice? Why are you a trustworthy partner?
  3. Show how you’re getting better. Make the case that your products/services are good and getting better. If you’re offering a subscription (software or retained services) make the case that you’re the partner for today and even better tomorrow (with versions 2 and 3).

Cause Marketing for Students

Two of the most important job skills for young people beyond basic communication skills are marketing and project management–getting work and delivering value. Part of applying to college and jobs is being able to market yourself well. Here are three ways cause marketing can support a student’s ability to succeed:

  1. Develop your voice. At school, through community activities and sports, students can develop and present persuasive arguments for causes they believe in. Socratic seminars, leadership opportunities, project-based learning, etc., all present wonderful opportunities to develop student voice.
  2. Learn to collaborate. Now more than ever, organizations are partnering together on strategic alliances around a cause. This happens at a macro and micro level on a daily basis. Whether it’s participating in an international campaign, or partnering on a project at work, students will need to have the ability to collaborate and appreciate the need for trustworthiness.
  3. Gain real world exposure. Through internships, job shadowing experiences and project-based learning, students should gain skills to help them navigate a competitive project-based world.

Team Getting Smart has recently supported and facilitated several cause marketing efforts for partners. A few examples include:

  • As partners in an initiative sponsored by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Getting Smart has continued to facilitate several deeper learning and project-based learning campaigns. Campaigns include strategic communication and social media; interviews with thought leaders; and blog series that resulted in produced and published deeper learning white papers and case studies, such as:
  • When a family fund wanted to investigate education impact opportunities, the Getting Smart team put together an interview series, strategic workshop and culminating resource to share the findings.
  • Getting Smart has planned and executed several foundation-sponsored thought leadership campaigns, including Smart Cities, Smart Parents and GenDIY.

For more information on how we can help you make the case, contact [email protected].
For more check out:

This post originally ran on December 6, 2015.


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.


Smart Review | The Un-Prescription for Autism

By Courtnie Rederick
As an autism mom and a special education teacher, I was excited for the opportunity to read The Un-Prescription for Autism by Dr. Janet Lintala.
My son has a comorbid diagnosis of both ADHD and high functioning autism. I spent multiple months deliberating over whether or not to medicate my son and ultimately ended up going the medication route, so I was intrigued to see what other options may be out there in addition to the prescription that he currently takes.
Lintala covers a wide variety of natural options that may help alleviate a variety of symptoms and suggests that doctors often jump right to prescription medications before looking at natural alternatives or checking for other underlying issues. She argues that by taking this approach, physicians may be missing the fundamental reason in regards to why a child is displaying such adverse symptoms.
Many autism parents have heard of the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. I know that I read quite a bit about this diet shortly after my son was diagnosed and even tried it for a short period of time. The diet was extremely hard to implement and I found that after a couple of days my son was eating next to nothing. Needless to say, the GFCF did not end up lasting very long in my house. Lintala gives a relatively easy alternative to the GFCF diet that will reap the same benefits without having to go to such drastic measures in regards to diet elimination. Digestive enzymes that contain DPP-IV will help break down gluten and casein when taken with every meal. I was thrilled to read that the use of digestive enzymes can help with social skills, gut health, sleep and improved cognitive functioning.
Within the book, Lintala also discusses a variety of other natural alternatives for autism including antimicrobial rotations, probiotic use and diet alternatives such as the Feingold diet. She goes into specific detail in regards to which supplements should be used and how often they should be given. In addition, Lintala discusses which supplements/diet should be used depending upon what type of symptoms a child is displaying.
After reading Lintala’s book, my immediate thought was that I really wished that some of these alternatives were mentioned to me immediately after my son was diagnosed. Today, my thought is that it is better late than never. There are so many success stories in her book that I am inclined to give her suggestions a try.
As a mother, I want to do everything in my power to help my son. I have invested multiple hours a week into speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis. My question is this, “Why wouldn’t I try natural supplements with my son?” I do believe that in some cases medication is needed, but after reading The Un-Prescription for Autism, I think that there are many children who are over-medicated, and that the underlying issues are never properly addressed.
Looking forward, I am excited to see if there are positive changes in my son after we try the protocols addressed in Lintala’s book. Choosing to medicate my child was a difficult decision, but I ultimately chose to go this route in an effort to make life easier for my son. I am hopeful that by incorporating probiotics and enzymes into my son’s diet, that we may eventually be at a place where prescription medication is no longer needed.
I would definitely recommend this book to other parents, especially parents who may be looking for alternatives to classic prescription medications. I would also encourage parents like myself, who may already be medicating their child, to read this book. In hindsight, my only wish is that I had the opportunity to read this book sooner, but I am grateful that I am now better educated in regards to the natural treatment options that are available for some of the symptoms that are manifested by autism and other comorbid disorders.
For more see:

Courtnie Rederick is a special education teacher, blogger and an autism mom. Follow her on Twitter: @diaryautismmom.


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.


Getting Smart Podcast | Mike Feinberg on Opening Great #NewSchools

Twenty four years ago, Mike Feinberg was a Teach for America fellow in Houston with an idea for a more successful middle school program. With co-founder David Levin, Feinberg sought and received permission from the Houston superintendent to run a small pilot program called Knowledge is Power Program, and the highly successful KIPP network was born.
Now that KIPP has opened 183 schools and serves more than 70,000 students, Feinberg and colleagues have learned some lessons about opening great schools. The first one goes all the way back to the origin story: “pilot the idea if you can.” Now in vogue, the idea of prototyping is a great way to test an instructional model.

The Great #NewSchools project, sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation, provides expert advice on the post-approval pre-opening phase of new school development.

Feinberg agrees with Scott Benson, NewSchools Venture Fund, who said, “Start early – give yourself time to explore, design, seek feedback and build support among the community and funders.”
“When I think back to the history of KIPP, I think the one thing that set us up for success was that first we were a program for a whole year,” Feinberg said. “So we basically had a whole year of runway to work on what we wanted to see happen before we started…we started early and we started small.”
For KIPP, starting early means getting the right leader on board. In fact, KIPP won’t open a school without a great leaders at the helm. “Good schools have good teaching and more of it,” said Feinberg. “That’s a product of great leadership.”
Feinberg said getting the culture right is the most important variable in opening a new schools. “Great teaching and learning is built on a foundation of great culture.”
Aaron Brenner, who opened the first KIPP elementary school, said, “Teaching and living the values should be intentional, explicit and full of joy. Building on cultural alignment, leadership and teachers should plan lessons that teach the values in an explicit, intentional and joyful way.”
Feinberg agreed that culture isn’t a behavior code, it’s integrated into everything you do and say. “It’s not a set of expectations. It’s team. It’s family. It’s the joy of both,” said Feinberg.
Brenner is taking these hard-won new school lessons and sharing them with low-income communities through the 1 World Network of Schools.
KIPP schools have the opportunity to create shape their own culture and practices but they all seek a high level of execution.
Feinberg said, “Remember that countless seen and unseen details are the difference between mediocre and magnificent. The biggest difference between those schools (and other organizations) that succeed and those that fail is the ability to execute on the plan written down on paper, making course corrections as necessary, but always executing.”
Feinberg said a short and sweet vision and mission that’s easy for everyone to understand helps promote alignment and execution.
Like former Houston superintendent Terry Grier, Feinberg said investing in hiring and onboarding is key. New KIPP leaders serve a one year fellowship to study school operations in detail.
Feinberg said it’s important to balance improvement and innovation, particularly as more schools are introducing technology and new blended learning models.
He remains particularly interested in creating productive uses of time. “Given the need to spend a lot of time on instruction as well, give yourself room for this by having more instructional time during the day, week and year.”
For more great advice from Mike, check out this podcast:

See the #NewSchools series:


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.


Bringing Mindfulness to the K-5 Classroom

By Lynea Gillen
“Imagine that your mind is a television,” I told the small group of students I was visiting at the rural Oregon school where I worked as a counselor. “And you have a remote.”
I then asked them to change to a sad channel and notice how it made them feel. “Now let’s change it to a happy channel.” How did that feel? What differences did they notice?
We practiced this for a while, the students taking turns to see how all sorts of different channels made us feel. We tried it while holding a yoga tree pose. The students noticed that certain thoughts made it easier to balance; others made it harder.
What they were learning, of course, was how to be mindful of their thoughts and how those thoughts affect their bodies.
They were also learning that they could direct their thoughts – that none of us is ever stuck on just one channel; that mindfulness gives us tools for dealing successfully with all manner of challenges and difficulties.

The Need for Mindfulness in the Classroom

One of the most common challenges is chronic stress. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Stress in America report, kids today are even more stressed out than adults.
At the same time, more students than ever come to our classrooms with real deficits in social and emotional intelligence, histories of trauma and behavioral issues that can get in the way of learning.
As educators, we can easily become even more stressed out ourselves – having to respond to the challenges these factors bring to our teaching, even as we’re already dealing with fewer resources and more academic mandates.
Student or teacher, getting caught up in our stress means living 180 degrees from mindfulness. For stress is focused on imagined futures and lived pasts. It looks everywhere but to the moment in which we are right now.
Too often, growing up leads us to grow away from our awareness of right now. We stop knowing how we feel. We may not even know what we think. We grow used to operating on autopilot. We follow habitual patterns of action and thought as the path of least resistance.
But if we teach children how to be aware of themselves – their minds and bodies – we lay a foundation for better focus, listening and self-control. We make them more ready to learn, as well as provide them with tools for dealing with stress and other issues outside the classroom. We prepare them for life.

Mindfulness Starts with the Teacher

In order to teach, of course, you have to learn the material yourself first. Teachers who take up the practice of mindfulness thus become the first beneficiaries. Indeed, there’s good research supporting its benefit to teachers.
For instance, a 2012 literature review in the journal Mindfulness found that:

Personal training in mindfulness skills can increase teachers’ sense of well-being and teaching self-efficacy, as well as their ability to manage classroom behavior and establish and maintain supportive relationships with students.

A later randomized controlled pilot trial in Mind, Brain, and Education found similarly:

Results suggest that the [mindfulness training] course may be a promising intervention, with participants showing significant reductions in psychological symptoms and burnout, improvements in observer-rated classroom organization and performance on a computer task of affective attentional bias, and increases in self-compassion. In contrast, control group participants showed declines in cortisol functioning over time and marginally significant increases in burnout.

Maybe the best thing about mindfulness training is that it doesn’t take a formal class to get you started. There are plenty of practices and even online courses you can try right now to start developing a more mindful approach to life.
However, formal training provides you with specific strategies to use with your students on a day-to-day basis – as well as the opportunity to connect with other teachers who want to bring mindfulness into the classroom. Such community is invaluable.
And that’s something else that mindfulness can bring to your classroom: a stronger sense of community.
Another activity we often practice is sending compassion to others, which is practiced in tandem with a yoga activity we call Heart Thoughts. We bring our hands to our hearts and think of someone we care about and a thought we’d like to send them. We take a big breath in and then we lift our arms above our heads and exhale while moving our arms outward (like a volcano erupting) and send the thought. Afterwards we ask the students who they sent their heart thoughts to. The bonding that this creates in the classroom is palpable. The students enjoy this practice a lot and often send heart thoughts to each other.
Compassion and community? That’s a winning combo for any classroom. For life.
For more, see:

Lynea Gillen is the cofounder of Yoga Calm. Follow her on Twitter: @yogacalmkids. 


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.


Genius Loci: Place-Based Education & Why It Matters

We hope to change that.
Over the years, we’ve visited and learned from hundreds of schools. We’ve seen innovations in teaching and learning that feel like a sneak peek into the future. And while we do believe in the potential of technology to personalize learning, we’ve discovered that technology is not a prerequisite for personalization. In fact, many of our favorite learning environments are innovating through analog means or effectively using limited but deliberate technology.
What are some common characteristics we’ve noticed about educators in these high-impact deeper learning models? They prioritize engagement and authenticity. They know how to leverage local assets including parks, public spaces, museums and businesses to power partnerships. They get out into the world for their students and for their own learning. And whether they know it or not, they’re living, breathing examples of Place-Based Education.
We set out to learn more about Place-Based Education (PBE) and will share what we’re learning in a blog series and culminating set of implementation guides. We’ve partnered with Nate McClennen and Teton Science Schools (an organization with a rich history of PBE dating back to the 1960s) to share their insights and expertise. And because we know there are so many of you out there doing this great work, there’s more information below about the ways you can also contribute to this project.

What is Place-Based Education?

Happy kid enjoying in nature. Young asian boy exploring nature at flower with magnifying glass on green grass background. Outdoors in the day time with bright sunlight.
Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging personalized learning for students. More specifically, PBE is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.”
While we really believe PBE deserves more attention in national conversation about innovations in teaching and learning that can boost access and opportunity, the concept of place-based learning is certainly nothing new. In some ways, learning has always been locally connected. Indigenous peoples only had local geography as a classroom. Along with storytelling and myth generation, education was inextricably linked to place.
In modern educational history, formal PBE has reemerged at various times to address the disconnect between schools and communities. In the early 20th century, John Dewey affirmed the usefulness of this approach to increase relevance and agency for students. In the 90’s, research work by Greenwood, Smith and Sobel, and the significant investment made by the Annenberg Rural Challenge, allowed PBE to reemerge as an important component, especially for rural education. Groups such as the Center for Place Based Education out of Antioch, Place-Based Education Evaluation Collaborative and the Environment as Integrating Context (EIC Model) all sought to provide frameworks and support for teachers and schools interested in connecting schools to community. Many of these organizations focus on the environmental context of place.


The One Chart You Need to Help HigherEd Learners Succeed

By Gunnar Counselman
While consulting a few years ago, I stumbled into a profound insight about personalized education and student value – one that neatly fits on a single chart and that can be the foundation of a college’s student success strategy.
I arrived before my client for a meeting we had and I was killing time alone in her office thumbing through my Facebook feed when the door swung open and she shuffled in carrying a big binder that said NSSE on the cover. It was their “fresh off the press” National Survey of Student Engagement and my client, the Provost, wanted to change our plan for the meeting and get my help finding actionable insights within the report.
The Marine Corps’ motto is officially Semper Fidelis (always faithful), but if you ask most Marines they’ll say that “Semper Gumby” is just as accurate (always flexible). So being an old Jar Head I said “aye aye ma’am” and we dug in.
Although I’d heard of NSSE, I’d never before seen the meticulously researched report. I quickly flipped through the report looking at all the charts trying desperately to tease some signal from the noise. We spent 10 minutes getting our bearings and chatting about things we found interesting, or surprising … but there wasn’t anything actionable that I could identify. My former employer Bain & Company had taught me that every deck has to have a million dollar slide, the slide that people will talk about and repeat and show over and over again to create change.  I couldn’t find the big “ah-ha” that would go on that slide.

Chart Examples from 2015 NSSE Report:


While I value the research and results, most of the charts in the document were really difficult for me to interpret. Finally though, I found something to focus our attention on, something that we could draw real insight from.
Buried deep in the report was an awesome question, paraphrased below.
“On a scale of 1-10, if you knew then what you know now, how likely would you be to repeat your decision to attend [the college].”
What’s so great about this question, is that it gets directly to the heart of the value proposition for one of the biggest and most important investments of time and money that a person will ever make. Like the Net Promoter Score question that Bain & Company uses, which focuses on what matters most in business — growth through referrals — this question focuses on what matters most in a client service: the client’s perception of value over time.
My client and I spent the better part of our two-hour meeting talking about this one question and its meaning. I ran a few quick multivariate regression analyses on the spot with some handy data that convinced us that the question very likely correlates with the key outcomes metrics we were focused on like graduation rates and placement rates. Eventually we decided to re-do the survey and to combine it with the Student Personas / Archetypes work that we’d just completed.  We made a couple changes that turned out to be useful:

  1. We sent the survey to students AND alumni because alumni have a better vantage point from which to evaluate value.
  2. We cut the students answers by Persona rather than by demographics.
  3. We added some follow-up questions that focused on relationship strategies oriented on The 3Ps of Success.

The results were astonishingly simple and immediately illuminating. We’d found the million dollar slide, though the client refused to renegotiate our fee.

The Net Outcomes Score Explained

The Y axis is the Net Outcomes Score (NOS) from a survey of current students and alumni.  The survey instrument asks the question “On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to repeat your decision to attend [your institution].”
We subtract the percent that answers 1-6 is subtracted from the percent that answers 9 &10 and the difference is the Net Outcomes Score (N.O.S.).
The X axis is the percent of students by persona arranged from highest value to lowest value.
Try the full survey yourself.

Strategy Making

So what does this chart mean for your out-of-class relationship strategy? It’s tautological that an awesome value proposition drives your graduation rate, application-start rates and alumni giving rates. This chart gives you a simple, three step plan to impact all those metrics. Here’s what it meant for  my client.
1. Double Down on Recruiting Core Students/Green
They needed to focus on recruiting more Academic Wanderers, Savvy Operators and Prestige Hounds. Aligning marketing messaging to attract their applications, making adjustments to the application process to make identification of these students easier were the two obvious tactics.
2. Focus Out-of-Class Support for the Middle/Yellow
The majority (62%) of their students were lukewarm on the value proposition so they needed to invest in out-of-class, non curricular support services for passionistas, the ROI set and Chairmen to improve their sense of value.  They couldn’t quickly change the core experience due to faculty control over the classroom, and frankly they didn’t want to because they felt that the core education was high quality.  But they were able to invest in proactive coaching for these students, targeted mentoring, volunteering and intentional career exploration as obvious ways to help these groups find more value in their education.
3. Slow Down Recruitment of Non-Core Students/Red
They had a hard decision to make. There were a number of segments that they were performing terribly with and it was going to be prohibitively expensive to fix.  Ultimately, the right decision was probably to cut bait and spend less effort recruiting Golden Ticket Chaser, and Good Soldiers.  The key to making this strategy work both morally and strategically was to create programming in the short-term that delivered as much value as possible while “teaching out” the students who they already had.
Coming up next, we conclude this series by sharing the implications of focusing on effective learner relationships and the effect it can have on the university and student ecosystem as a whole.
This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Out of Class Student Support Services” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with Fidelis Education (@FidelisEd). For more information, contact [email protected] Join the conversation on Twitter using #OutOfClassSupport.
For more, see:


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.


The Bar Has Been Raised and The Rules Have Changed

This blog was originally published on Education Week’s Learning Deeply.
Download an app and you’re an Uber driver. Sign up on 99designs and you’re a freelance designer. Sign up for TaskRabbit and you can do chores for hire. Make something and sell it on Ebay. It’s never been easier to get work.
It’s never been easier to build an app and start a business. Application development platforms are powerful and easy to learn. The internet makes it easy to reach big audiences. Devices, computing and storage get cheaper every year.
But the new economy requires a lot of young people. The bar is higher and the rules have changed in five ways:

  • Competitive: The advantages are now shared with almost half of the seven billion people on earth. Anyone with an internet connection can learn to code, build an app, and start a business. While talent and investment remain concentrate in innovative ecosystems, they are both becoming more widely available.
  • Fast: Exponential technology and globalization are driving faster market cycles making the economy more demanding and requiring continuous learning.
  • Projects: Robots are taking over routine tasks. Nonroutine work is organized into series of projects with discrete objectives, timelines, budgets and deliverables.
  • Freelance: Soon, 40% of workers will freelance and those that work for big companies find a slim employment bargain and will move frequently for advancement. Whether freelance or corporate, most people will manage or work on diverse project teams.
  • Value: It’s not what you know, it’s what you can do. Value is produced by initiating and sustaining complex work, applying design and problem solving skills in new and nonroutine situations, and to producing quality products.

The good news is that there’s never been a better time to make a contribution. The bad news is that quality education is the entry ticket–and that is not yet widely distributed.

Entry Ticket

What’s the entry ticket to this fast-paced idea-based economy? Reading, writing and problem solving have never been more important.
David Conley is the leading authority on what it takes to be ready for college and careers. He frames desired learning outcomes as Think (analyze, synthesize), Know (content & models), Act (take ownership, manage learning), and Go (navigation and decision-making).

Building on Conley’s work, the Hewlett Foundation developed a deeper learning outcome framework that includes six competencies:

  1. Master Core Academic Content
  2. Think Critically and Solve Complex Problems
  3. Work Collaboratively
  4. Communicate Effectively
  5. Learn How to Learn
  6. Develop Academic Mindsets

diamond icon 20151105 hi-300ppi.jpg
MyWays from Next Generation Learning Challenges is another outcome framework that builds on Conley’s work. It stresses productive habits, the creative application of knowledge, and navigational (wayfinding) abilities.
These new outcome frameworks stress the ability to manage yourself, your time, your attention, and your learning, and to work well with others in a complex and dynamic project-based environments.

Inequity: Old and New

Large inequities remain on old measures of reading, writing and math. Little progress (other than reading in the South) has been made in 50 years on narrowing the Black-White achievement gap. While difficult to measure, it’s quite likely that there are even more significant inequities when it comes to environments that encourage deeper learning outcomes.
Preparing for college and careers has never been more important. Almost 12 million U.S. jobs have been created post recession–and virtually all have gone to workers with at least some college according to a recent report.
The equity question is how to quickly raise the skill levels of kids in previously underserved communities while expanding access to the kinds of deeper learning experiences that will prepare them for a project-based world?
We’ve seen 10 school networks representing about 275 schools (two-thirds of them in school districts) that combine gap-closing personalized learning with inspiring project-based learning. The combination of the two approaches provides equity on ramps with opportunities to develop real career ready skills.

Becoming an Expert

If students spent five hours every school day engaged in high quality project-based learning, they would put in more than 10,000 hours from kindergarten to graduation–they just might become an expert project manager.
The idea that 10,000 of practice could make you an expert was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, but it originated with  a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Ericsson says it’s not blind repetition but deliberate practice that makes all the difference.
When it comes to project-based learning, deliberate practice is described by the Buck Institute as Gold Standard PBL. That means that projects take on challenging real world problems with some student voice and choice; they require demanding demonstration of key concepts and high quality public products after critique and revision.
The world is changing fast. Personalized project-based learning is the best shot we have to build on ramps to the new economy.
This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, see the Project-Based World page. Join in the conversation at #projectbased.
For more, see:


Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.