Overhauling How We Teach Our Kids in a World of Accelerating Change

By Dr. Peter Diamandis
Here in L.A., it’s kind of insane that a great kindergarten requires a competitive application and tuitions that exceed most colleges.
I started asking myself, given the fact that most elementary schools haven’t changed in decades (maybe longer), what do I want my kids to learn? How would I reinvent elementary school during an exponential era?
This post covers five subjects related to elementary school education:

  1. Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools
  2. Five Guiding Principles for Future Education
  3. An Elementary School Curriculum for the Future
  4. Exponential Technologies in Our Classroom
  5. Mindsets for the 21st Century

Excuse the length, but if you have kids, the details might be meaningful. If you don’t, then next week’s post will return to normal length and another fun subject. Let’s dive in…

Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools

There’s probably lots of issues with today’s traditional elementary schools, but I’ll just choose a few that bother me most.
1. Grading: In the traditional education system, you start at an “A,” and every time you get something wrong, your score gets lower and lower. At best it’s demotivating, and at worst it has nothing to do with the world you occupy as an adult. In the gaming world (e.g,. Angry Birds), it’s just the opposite. You start with zero and every time you come up with something right, your score gets higher and higher.
2. Sage on the Stage: Most classrooms have a teacher up in front of class lecturing to a classroom of students, half of whom are bored and half of whom are lost. The one-teacher-fits-all model comes from an era of scarcity where great teachers and schools were rare.
3. Relevance: When I think back to elementary and secondary school, I realize how much of what I learned was never actually useful later in life, and how many of my critical lessons for success I had to pick up on my own. (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever actually had to factor a polynomial in my adult life.)
4. Imagination – Coloring Inside the Lines: Probably of greatest concern to me is the factory-worker, industrial-era origin of today’s schools — programs so structured with rote memorization that it squashes the originality from most children. I’m reminded that “the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” Where do we pursue crazy ideas in our schools? Where do we foster imagination?
5. Boring: If learning in school is a chore, boring or emotionless, then the most important driver of human learning–passion–is disengaged. Having our children memorize facts and figures, sit passively in class and take mundane standardized tests completely defeats the purpose.
An average of 7,200 students drop out of high school each day, totaling 1.3 million each year. This means only 69% of students who start high school finish four years later. And over 50% of these high school dropouts name boredom as the No. 1 reason they left.

Five Guiding Principles for Future Education

I imagine a relatively near-term future in which robotics and artificial intelligence will allow any of us, from ages 8 to 108, to easily and quickly find answers, create products or accomplish tasks, all simply by expressing our desires.
From ‘mind to manufactured in moments.’ In short, we’ll be able to do and create almost whatever we want.
In this future, what attributes will be most critical for our children to learn to become successful in their adult lives? What’s most important for educating our children today?
For me it’s about passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking and grit.
1. Passion: You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a mission in life…a calling…something to jolt them out of bed every morning. The most valuable resource for humanity is the persistent and passionate human mind, so creating a future of passionate kids is so very important.
For my 5-year-old boys, I want to support them in finding their passion or purpose…something that is uniquely theirs. In the same way that the Apollo program and Star Trek drove my early love for all things space, and that passion drove me to learn and do.
2. Curiosity: Curiosity is something innate in kids, yet something lost by most adults during the course of their lives. Why?
In a world of Google, robots and AI, raising a kid that is constantly asking questions and running “what if” experiments can be extremely valuable. In an age of machine learning, massive data and a trillion sensors, it will be the quality of your questions that will be most important.
3. Imagination: Entrepreneurs and visionaries imagine the world (and the future) they want to live in, and then they create it. Kids happen to be some of the most imaginative humans around…it’s critical that they know how important and liberating imagination can be.
4. Critical Thinking: In a world flooded with often-conflicting ideas, baseless claims, misleading headlines, negative news and misinformation, learning the skill of critical thinking helps find the signal in the noise. This principle is perhaps the most difficult to teach kids.
5. Grit/Persistence: Grit is defined as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals,” and it has recently been widely acknowledged as one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success.
Teaching your kids not to give up, to keep trying, and to keep trying new ideas for something that they are truly passionate about achieving is extremely critical. Much of my personal success has come from such stubbornness. I joke that both XPRIZE and the Zero Gravity Corporation were “overnight successes after 10 years of hard work.”
So given those five basic principles, what would an elementary curriculum look like? Let’s take a look…

An Elementary School Curriculum for the Future

Over the last 30 years, I’ve had the pleasure of starting two universities, International Space University (1987) and Singularity University (2007). My favorite part of co-founding both institutions was designing and implementing the curriculum. Along those lines, the following is my first shot at the type of curriculum I’d love my own boys to be learning.
I’d love your thoughts. I’ll be looking for them here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DDRWZ8R
For the purpose of illustration, I’ll speak about ‘courses’ or ‘modules,’ but in reality, these are just elements that would ultimately be woven together throughout the course of K-6 education.
Module 1: Storytelling/Communications
When I think about the skill that has served me best in life, it’s been my ability to present my ideas in the most compelling fashion possible, to get others on board, and support birth and growth in an innovative direction. In my adult life, as an entrepreneur and a CEO, it’s been my ability to communicate clearly and tell compelling stories that has allowed me to create the future. I don’t think this lesson can start too early in life.
So imagine a module, year after year, where our kids learn the art and practice of formulating and pitching their ideas. The best of oration and storytelling. Perhaps children in this class would watch TED presentations, or maybe they’d put together their own TEDx for kids. Ultimately, it’s about practice and getting comfortable with putting yourself and your ideas out there and overcoming any fears of public speaking.
Module 2: Passions
A modern school should help our children find and explore their passion(s). Passion is the greatest gift of self-discovery. It is a source of interest and excitement, and is unique to each child.
The key to finding passion is exposure. Allowing kids to experience as many adventures, careers and passionate adults as possible. Historically, this was limited by the reality of geography and cost, implemented by having local moms and dads presenting in class about their careers. “Hi, I’m Alan, Billy’s dad, and I’m an accountant. Accountants are people who…”
But in a world of YouTube and virtual reality, the ability for our children to explore 500 different possible careers or passions during their K-6 education becomes not only possible but compelling. I imagine a module where children share their newest passion each month, sharing videos (or VR experiences) and explaining what they love and what they’ve learned.
Module 3: Curiosity & Experimentation
Einstein famously said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity is innate in children, and many times lost later in life. Arguably, it can be said that curiosity is responsible for all major scientific and technological advances — the desire of an individual to know the truth.
Coupled with curiosity is the process of experimentation and discovery. The process of asking questions, creating and testing a hypothesis, and repeated experimentation until the truth is found. As I’ve studied the most successful entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies, from Google and Amazon to Uber, their success is significantly due to their relentless use of experimentation to define their products and services.
Here I imagine a module which instills in children the importance of curiosity and gives them permission to say, “I don’t know, let’s find out.”
Further, a monthly module that teaches children how to design and execute valid and meaningful experiments. Imagine children who learn the skill of asking a question, proposing a hypothesis, designing an experiment, gathering the data and then reaching a conclusion.
Module 4: Persistence/Grit
Doing anything big, bold and significant in life is hard work. You can’t just give up when the going gets rough. The mindset of persistence, of grit, is a learned behavior and I believe it can be taught at an early age, especially when it’s tied to pursuing a child’s passion.
I imagine a curriculum that, each week, studies the career of a great entrepreneur and highlights their story of persistence. It would highlight the individuals and companies that stuck with it, iterated and ultimately succeeded.
Further, I imagine a module that combines persistence and experimentation in gameplay such as that found in Dean Kamen’s FIRST LEGO league, where 4th graders (and up) research a real-world problem such as food safety, recycling, energy and so on, and are challenged to develop a solution. They also must design, build and program a robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS®, then compete on a tabletop playing field.
Module 5: Technology Exposure
In a world of rapidly accelerating technology, understanding how technologies work, what they do and their potential for benefiting society is, in my humble opinion, critical to a child’s future. Technology and coding (more on this below) are the new “lingua franca” of tomorrow.
In this module, I imagine teaching (age appropriate) kids through play and demonstration. Giving them an overview of exponential technologies such as computation, sensors, networks, artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, genetic engineering, augmented/virtual reality and robotics, to name a few. This module is not about making a child an expert in any technology, it’s more about giving them the language of these new tools, and conceptually an overview of how they might use such a technology in the future. The goal here is to get them excited, give them demonstrations that make the concepts stick, and then to let their imaginations run.
Module 6: Empathy
Empathy, defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” has been recognized as one of the most critical skills for our children today. And while there has been much written, and great practices for instilling this at home and in school, today’s new tools accelerate this.
Virtual reality isn’t just about video games anymore. Artists, activists and journalists now see the technology’s potential to be an empathy engine, one that can shine spotlights on everything from the Ebola epidemic to what it’s like to live in Gaza. And Jeremy Bailenson has been at the vanguard of investigating VR’s power for good.
For more than a decade, Bailenson’s lab at Stanford has been studying how VR can make us better people. Through the power of VR, volunteers at the lab have felt what it is like to be Superman (to see if it makes them more helpful), a cow (to reduce meat consumption) and even a coral (to learn about ocean acidification).
Silly as they might seem, these sorts of VR scenarios could be more effective than the traditional public service ad at making people behave. Afterwards, they waste less paper. They save more money for retirement. They’re nicer to the people around them. And this could have consequences in terms of how we teach and train everyone from cliquey teenagers to high court judges
Module 7: Ethics/Moral Dilemmas
Related to empathy, and equally important, is the goal of infusing kids with a moral compass. Recently I toured a special school created by Elon Musk (the Ad Astra school) for his five boys (age 8 to 13). One element that is persistent in that small school of 31 kids is the conversation about ethics and morals, a conversation manifested by debating real-world scenarios that our kids may one day face.
Here’s an example of the sort of gameplay/roleplay that I heard about at Ad Astra, that might be implemented in a module on morals and ethics. Imagine a small town on a lake, in which the majority of the town is employed by a single factory. But that factory has been polluting the lake and killing all the life. What do you do? It’s posed that shutting down the factory would mean that everyone loses their jobs. On the other hand, keeping the factory open means the lake is destroyed and the lake dies. This kind of regular and routine conversation/gameplay allows the children to see the world in a critically important fashion.
Module 8: The 3R Basics (Reading, wRiting & aRithmetic)
There’s no question that young children entering kindergarten need the basics of reading, writing and math. The only question is what’s the best way for them to get it? We all grew up in the classic mode of a teacher at the chalkboard, books and homework at night. But I would argue that such teaching approaches are long outdated, now replaced with apps, gameplay and the concept of the flip classroom.
Pioneered by high school teachers Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams in 2007, the flipped classroom reverses the sequence of events from that of the traditional classroom.
Students view lecture materials, usually in the form of video lectures, as homework prior to coming to class. In-class time is reserved for activities such as interactive discussions or collaborative work — all performed under the guidance of the teacher.
The benefits are clear:

  1. Students can consume lectures at their own pace, viewing the video again and again until they get the concept, or fast-forwarding if the information is obvious.
  2. The teacher is present while students apply new knowledge. Doing the homework into class time gives teachers insight into which concepts, if any, that their students are struggling with and helps them adjust the class accordingly.
  3. The flipped classroom produces tangible results: 71% of teachers who flipped their classes noticed improved grades, and 80% reported improved student attitudes as a result.

Module 9: Creative Expression & Improvisation
Every single one of us is creative. It’s human nature to be creative… the thing is that we each might have different ways of expressing our creativity.
We must encourage kids to discover and to develop their creative outlets early. In this module, imagine showing kids the many different ways creativity is expressed — from art to engineering to music to math — and then guiding them as they choose the area (or areas) they are most interested in. Critically, teachers (or parents) can then develop unique lessons for each child based on their interests, thanks to open education resources like YouTube and the Khan Academy. If my child is interested in painting and robots, a teacher or AI could scour the Web and put together a custom lesson set from videos/articles where the best painters and roboticists in the world share their skills.
Adapting to change is critical for success, especially in our constantly changing world today. Improvisation is a skill that can be learned, and we need to be teaching it early.
In most collegiate “improv” classes, the core of great improvisation is the “Yes, And…” mindset. When acting out a scene, one actor might introduce a new character or idea, completely changing the context of the scene. It’s critical that the other actors in the scene say “Yes, and…” accept the new reality, then add something new of their own.
Imagine playing similar role-play games in elementary schools, where a teacher gives the students a scene/context and constantly changes variables, forcing them to adapt and play.
Module 10: Coding
Computer science opens more doors for students than any other discipline in today’s world. Learning even the basics will help students in virtually any career, from architecture to zoology.
Coding is an important tool for computer science, in the way that arithmetic is a tool for doing mathematics and words are a tool for English. Coding creates software, but computer science is a broad field encompassing deep concepts that go well beyond coding.
Every 21st century student should also have a chance to learn about algorithms, how to make an app or how the internet works. Computational thinking allows preschoolers to grasp concepts like algorithms, recursion and heuristics — even if they don’t understand the terms, they’ll learn the basic concepts.
There are more than 500,000 open jobs in computing right now, representing the No. 1 source of new wages in the United States, and these jobs are projected to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.
Coding is fun! Beyond the practical reasons for learning how to code, there’s the fact that creating a game or animation can be really fun for kids.
Module 11: Entrepreneurship & Sales
At its core, entrepreneurship is about identifying a problem (an opportunity), developing a vision on how to solve it, and working with a team to turn that vision into reality. I mentioned Elon’s school, Ad Astra: here, again, entrepreneurship is a core discipline where students create and actually sell products and services to each other and the school community.
You could recreate this basic exercise with a group of kids in lots of fun ways to teach them the basic lessons of entrepreneurship.
Related to entrepreneurship is sales. In my opinion, we need to be teaching sales to every child at an early age. Being able to “sell” an idea (again related to storytelling) has been a critical skill in my career, and it is a competency that many people simply never learned.
The lemonade stand has been a classic, though somewhat meager, lesson in sales from past generations, where a child sits on a street corner and tries to sell homemade lemonade for $0.50 to people passing by. I’d suggest we step the game up and take a more active approach in gamifying sales, and maybe having the classroom create a Kickstarter, Indiegogo or GoFundMe campaign. The experience of creating a product or service and successfully selling it will create an indelible memory and give students the tools to change the world.
Module 12: Language
I just returned from a week in China meeting with parents whose focus on kids’ education is extraordinary. One of the areas I found fascinating is how some of the most advanced parents are teaching their kids new languages: through games. On the tablet, the kids are allowed to play games, but only in French. A child’s desire to win fully engages them and drives their learning rapidly.
Beyond games, there’s virtual reality. We know that full immersion is what it takes to become fluent (at least later in life). A semester abroad in France or Italy, and you’ve got a great handle on the language and the culture. But what about for an 8-year-old?
Imagine a module where for an hour each day, the children spend their time walking around Italy in a VR world, hanging out with AI-driven game characters who teach them, engage them, and share the culture and the language in the most personalized and compelling fashion possible.

Exponential Technologies for Our Classrooms

If you’ve attended Abundance 360 or Singularity University, or followed my blogs, you’ll probably agree with me that the way our children will learn is going to fundamentally transform over the next decade.
Here’s an overview of the top five technologies that will reshape the future of education:
Tech 1: Virtual Reality (VR) can make learning truly immersive. Research has shown that we remember 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, and up to 90% of what we do or simulate. Virtual reality yields the latter scenario impeccably. VR enables students to simulate flying through the bloodstream while learning about different cells they encounter, or travel to Mars to inspect the surface for life. To make this a reality, Google Cardboard just launched its Pioneer Expeditions product. Under this program, thousands of schools around the world have gotten a kit containing everything a teacher needs to take his or her class on a virtual trip. While data on VR use in K-12 schools and colleges have yet to be gathered, the steady growth of the market is reflected in the surge of companies (including zSpace, Alchemy VR and Immersive VR Education) solely dedicated to providing schools with packaged education curriculum and content.
Add to VR a related technology called augmented reality (AR), and experiential education really comes alive. Imagine wearing an AR headset that is able to superimpose educational lessons on top of real-world experiences. Interested in botany? As you walk through a garden, the AR headset superimposes the name and details of every plant you see.
Tech 2: 3D Printing is allowing students to bring their ideas to life. Never mind the computer on every desktop (or a tablet for every student), that’s a given. In the near future, teachers and students will want or have a 3D printer on the desk to help them learn core science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) principles. Bre Pettis, of MakerBot Industries, in a grand but practical vision, sees a 3D printer on every school desk in America. “Imagine if you had a 3D printer instead of a LEGO set when you were a kid; what would life be like now?” asks Mr. Pettis. You could print your own mini-figures, your own blocks, and you could iterate on new designs as quickly as your imagination would allow. MakerBots are now in over 5,000 K-12 schools across the United States.
Taking this one step further, you could imagine having a 3D file for most entries in Wikipedia, allowing you to print out and study an object you can only read about or visualize in VR.
Tech 3: Sensors & Networks. An explosion of sensors and networks are going to connect everyone at gigabit speeds, making access to rich video available at all times. At the same time, sensors continue to miniaturize and reduce in power, becoming embedded in everything. One benefit will be the connection of sensor data with machine learning and AI (below), such that knowledge of a child’s attention drifting, or confusion, can be easily measured and communicated. The result would be a representation of the information through an alternate modality or at a different speed.
Tech 4: Machine Learning is Making Learning Adaptive and Personalized. No two students are identical — they have different modes of learning (by reading, seeing, hearing, doing), come from different educational backgrounds, and have different intellectual capabilities and attention spans. Advances in machine learning and the surging adaptive learning movement are seeking to solve this problem. Companies like Knewton and Dreambox have over 15 million students on their respective adaptive learning platforms. Soon, every education application will be adaptive, learning how to personalize the lesson for a specific student. There will be adaptive quizzing apps, flashcard apps, textbook apps, simulation apps and many more.
Tech 5: Artificial Intelligence or “An AI Teaching Companion.”
Neil Stephenson’s book “The Diamond Age” presents a fascinating piece of educational technology called “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.”
As described by Beat Schwendimann, “The primer is an interactive book that can answer a learner’s questions (spoken in natural language), teach through allegories that incorporate elements of the learner’s environment, and presents contextual just-in-time information.
“The primer includes sensors that monitor the learner’s actions and provide feedback. The learner is in a cognitive apprenticeship with the book: The primer models a certain skill (through allegorical fairy tale characters), which the learner then imitates in real life.
“The primer follows a learning progression with increasingly more complex tasks. The educational goals of the primer are humanist: To support the learner to become a strong and independently thinking person.”
The primer, an individualized AI teaching companion is the result of technological convergence and is beautifully described by YouTuber CGP Grey in his video: Digital Aristotle: Thoughts on the Future of Education.
Your AI companion will have unlimited access to information on the cloud and will deliver it at the optimal speed to each student in an engaging, fun way. This AI will demonetize and democratize education, be available to everyone for free (just like Google), and offering the best education to the wealthiest and poorest children on the planet equally.
This AI companion is not a tutor who spouts facts, figures and answers, but a player on the side of the student, there to help him or her learn, and in so doing, learn how to learn better. The AI is always alert, watching for signs of frustration and boredom that may precede quitting, for signs of curiosity or interest that tend to indicate active exploration, and for signs of enjoyment and mastery, which might indicate a successful learning experience.
Ultimately, we’re heading towards a vastly more educated world. We are truly living during the most exciting time to be alive.
(NOTE: At this very moment, the XPRIZE Foundation is operating a $15M Global Learning XPRIZE in which >100 teams are building Android-based software designed to take an illiterate student in the middle of Tanzania and get them to basic reading, writing and numeracy in 18 months.)

Mindsets for the 21st Century

Finally, it’s important for me to discuss mindsets. How we think about the future colors how we learn and what we do. I’ve written extensively about the importance of an abundance and exponential mindset for entrepreneurs and CEOs. I also think that attention to mindset in our elementary schools, when a child is shaping the mental “operating system” for the rest of their life, is even more important.
As such, I would recommend that a school adopt a set of principles that teach and promote a number of mindsets in the fabric of their programs.
Many “mindsets” are important to promote. Here are a couple to consider:
Nurturing Optimism & An Abundance Mindset:
We live in a competitive world, and kids experience a significant amount of pressure to perform. When they fall short, they feel deflated. We all fail at times — that’s part of life. If we want to raise “can-do” kids who can work through failure and come out stronger for it, it’s wise to nurture optimism. Optimistic kids are more willing to take healthy risks, are better problem-solvers and experience positive relationships. You can nurture optimism in your school by starting each day by focusing on gratitude (what each child is grateful for), or a “positive focus” in which each student takes 30 seconds to talk about what they are most excited about, or what recent event was positively impactful to them. (NOTE: I start every meeting inside my PhD Ventures team with a positive focus.)
Finally, helping students understand (through data and graphs) that the world is in fact getting better (see my first book: Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think) will help them counter the continuous flow of negative news flowing through our news media.
When kids feel confident in their abilities and excited about the world, they are willing to work harder and be more creative.
Tolerance for Failure:
Tolerating failure is a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult lesson to teach. But it is critically important to succeeding in life.
Astro Teller, who runs Google’s innovation branch “X,” talks a lot about encouraging failure. At X, they regularly try to “kill” their ideas. If they are successful in killing an idea, and thus “failing,” they save lots of time, money and resources. The ideas they can’t kill survive and develop into billion-dollar businesses. The key is that each time an idea is killed, Astro rewards the team — literally, with cash bonuses. Their failure is celebrated and they become a hero.
This should be reproduced in the classroom: kids should try to be critical of their best ideas (learn critical thinking), then they should be celebrated for ‘successfully failing’ — perhaps with cake, balloons, confetti and lots of Silly String.
This blog originally published on SingularityHub
Dr. Peter Diamantis is an author, entrepreneur and co-founder of Singularity University. Follow them on Twitter: 

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Innov8: It’s a Cyberworld

In honor of a record Cyber Monday (which, at $3.5 billion, was only a quarter the take of Alibaba’s Single’s Day), we bring you stories about how big of an influence technology really is today.
From India using tech to boost its K12 education system to how bots can now write code, we have come a long way from the first official Cyber Monday 11 years ago.
While we may not have any sweet deals for your holiday shopping list, we promise there’s a reason to spend some time with this week’s top eight innovation news stories as you toggle back and forth between deal-hunting and your regularly-scheduled browsing.

Research & Reports

1. Leadership For Learning

Access & Opportunity

2. Diversification Of Gifted & Talented Programs

#STEM Gems

3. Closing The STEM Gap


4. K-12 Tech Boost In India

Technology can be useful for educators in so many ways. For example, here are 3 Strategies For Building a School Community Through Technology.


5. Bot Coding

Want to learn more about how humans can beat the bots? Click here.

#EdPolicy Pieces

6. New Secretary of Ed

7. ESSA Accountability

Speaking of ESSA, iNACOL’s policy team, Dale Frost and Maria Worthen, recently shared 6 Ways States Can Redefine Student Success and Transform Education Under ESSA on our blog.

Let’s Get Personalized

8. #PLearning for Teachers

Have a news item you’d like us to consider for next Wednesday’s edition? Tweet us @Getting_Smart using #innov8 or to email [email protected] with “Innov8” in the subject line. Check out the full Innov8 series on our blog.

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Business Partnerships in PBL…What Does That Really Mean?

By Tony Donen
There is a common theme that appears consistently in the media. The theme is that high school and college graduates are unprepared for the workplace. This theme has been present for years, even as far back as when I graduated high school… and we’ll just say that I graduated over 25 years ago. So why the disconnect?
The answer is actually fairly simple. The schoolhouse and the business community have been separated into mutually exclusive entities. Education has been left to the educators, the experts in instruction of state required content. However, businesses have been left on the outside looking in with little influence as to the content, and no other recourse except to point fingers.
In my work at STEM School Chattanooga, I have found several ways to have effective business partnerships. I have focused on finding inclusive, cost friendly solutions that help to build the workforce that businesses crave and the student work that teachers love. For lack of a better way to explain it, I have chosen to call it the “Business Partner PBL.”
A Business Partner PBL is a project established for students that helps address a current issue a business faces.
For the sake of this article, when I refer to “business” I mean any community group. It could be an actual business, it could be a college, it could be the local YMCA or it could mean any other organized group outside the walls of the schoolhouse. It could also mean a single person, like a college professor or realtor. The important piece is that the business partner is not the teacher.
Let’s focus on the Business Partner PBL and answer the following three questions:

  • What is the purpose?
  • How do schools connect with businesses?
  • What are the baseline requirements for a business to be involved?

Purpose of Business Partners to Support PBL

We want students to be ready for the workforce and we want business to be part of the solution. In order for those two items to happen, we must create opportunities for businesses to “have skin in the game” and work collaboratively with educators in developing worthwhile, meaningful work. This changes the conversation from a blame game to a team game. When businesses are part of creating and implementing meaningful work, they become part of the process, and business has an invested interest in making sure student work is quality.
As for the work, businesses add a lot of value in helping educators create tasks that are meaningful. When students work on problems and issues that matter, students take more ownership in their work and provide higher quality results. Expecting teachers to understand the ever-changing workforce needs is unrealistic and archaic. Businesses are experts in this area.

How Can Schools Connect With Businesses?

The process here is simple. There are three primary methods I use for connecting with Business Partners:

  1. Use your network. Contact someone you know who is not an educator and is part of some business. This is generally the easiest because you already know the person.
  2. Cold call. Call a business and let them know who you are (i.e., I am a teacher at Washington High), that you are interested in working with someone from that business on creating a meaningful project for kids and ask if there is someone at the business who you can speak to about this idea.
  3. Email. Email a business. Very similar to #2. One short email asking a business to help develop a worthwhile project for kids is often received with excitement from the business partner. They rarely, if ever, have been asked to help in this inclusive way.

3 Baseline Requirements to Ensure a Successful Business Partnership

The key to a successful Business Partner PBL is creating a minimum baseline for what the educator/school needs from the business partner, while at the same time allowing for the business partner to participate even more fully if they desire to do so. Here is what I use as a minimum baseline for business participation:

  1. Time. The business partner is willing to spend 30-60 minutes with an educator (or group of educators) to create a project idea. This is generally a dialogue where the educator(s) can listen to what type of work the business partner does and problems that arise in that work, and together develop a driving question or statement for the project.
  2. Project Kick-Off. The business partner is willing to meet with the students/classes involved in the project to kick off the project. It may be to provide background information on why the partner needs help, information students may need to start the project, etc. This can be as brief as a 15-minute visit to the school by the business partner, or as extravagant as a field trip to the business partner location.
  3. Project Presentations and Feedback. The business partner agrees to come back at the end of the project and hear the final presentations by the student teams. It may be that the business partner listens to the top three teams only. But the goal is for the partner to listen, and provide both positive feedback and constructive feedback to the teams.

Remember, these are minimum expectations. The business partner may want to come more often and meet with teams throughout the project. The business partner may want to have the students come and present at their workplace to a room full of people. The business partner may want to provide the supplies needed to complete the project. There are many ways to enhance this process. The key is to set a manageable minimum expectation, which often leads to a more robust Business Partner PBL in the future.
The goal for improving education moving forward is to find ways to create meaningful experiences for businesses and schools to connect and create meaningful work for students. This results in positive and purposeful dialogue to improve educational opportunities and breaks down the barrier between the schoolhouse and the world outside it.
When businesses and schools work together to create meaningful Business Partner PBLs, students, educators and businesses all win.
Tony Donen is the Principal of STEM School Chattanooga. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydonen

This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series. To learn more about this series and to learn ways that you can contribute, click the icon below to go to the Project-Based World page.

pbl world.png

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25 Can’t-Miss Education Conferences in 2017

We’ve updated this post for 2019! Check out 26 Can’t-Miss Education Conferences for 2019.

Our team spends a lot of time traveling to conferences around the country to learn from experts, facilitate sessions and cover various conference happenings. Throughout our travels, we continue to curate and update a list of our favorites that we think everyone should check out.
Here is the latest list of 25 can’t-miss education conferences in 2017 from our team:
1. iNACOL Blended & Online Learning Symposium 
“iNACOL” is the leading edge of blended and online learning, drawing an international audience of educators, policymakers, innovators and everyone in between. This year’s symposium brought together 3,500 experts, EdLeaders and educators to explore next-gen learning for K-12 students in over 200 sessions. Topic tracks included K-12 online learning, K-12 blended learning, competency-based pathways, policy, research, quality assurance and more. Check out our Storify capturing the 2016 theme of Innovation for Equity.
October 15-18, 2017; Charlotte, NC
2. SXSWEdu 
Embarking on its seventh year, SXSWedu hosts approximately 14,000 attendees, 1,000 speakers, 400 sessions and 200 expos. Striking a balance in focus between K-12 education, HigherEd, policy and tech innovation, SXSWEdu is able to showcase what’s next in education and remain a true thought leadership summit. Check out our recaps of the 2016 conference. 
March 6-9, 2017; Austin, TX
3. ASU+GSV Summit
Over 300 of the best and brightest in business, entrepreneurship, higher education and education innovation converge for three days in the “high tech mecca” of Salt Lake City, Utah, to transform the way you think about innovations in learning. Check out what it meant for educators and 20 high impact EdTech enterprises, which we saw in our time at ASU+GSV in 2015.
May 8-10, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT
With over 30,000 attendees from all around the world and thousands of exhibitors demonstrating the latest in EdTech, BETT is the world’s largest EdTech conference. Taking place in London, BETT hosts “the savviest speakers and companies in the education industry and the most enthusiastic educators.” Here are opening day highlights from BETT 2016. The 2017 event takes place January 25-28.
January 25-28, 2017; Excel London
5. NewSchools Summit
Started in 1999, and hosted by New Schools Venture Fund, this invitation-only gathering brings together more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders, funders and policymakers who are focused on reimagining schools to prepare all students, from every background, for the future. We’re eager to see what next year has to bring.
May 16-17, 2017; Burlingame, CA
6. National Charter Schools Conference
NCSC gives attendees an opportunity to connect with over 4,500 other charter school leaders and educators from across the country.  In 130 breakout sessions and unique networking events, participants can share ideas and strategies for growing and improving charter schools. See the 2016 highlights to learn more. See also Getting Smart staff members’ reflections on the conference from an international perspective here.
June 11-14, 2017; Washington, D.C.
Next year’s theme for the 72nd annual professional learning experience is “Empower Your Learning.” This conference is “for every educator,” aiming to gather the best minds in educational leadership including teachers, principals, superintendents, instructional coaches, university professors and central office staffers. Look for innovations in pedagogy, campus and district leadership, and more.
March 25-27, 2017; Anaheim, CA
Dubbed as the “premier forum in which to learn, exchange ideas and survey the field of EdTech,” ISTE Is where educators and school leaders go to learn about new tools and strategies. With over 500 companies, 1,000 sessions and 16,000 educators attending, this event is perfect for industry reps, teachers, tech coordinators/directors, administrators, library media specialists and policy makers. Check out how we were inspired by ISTE 2016 here.
June 25-28, 2016; San Antonio, TX
9. CoSN
CoSN is the place to be if you’re a district tech director or leader. The 2017 event will be celebrating the 25th anniversary with the theme: Invent the Future, aiming to provide technology leaders with the resources to successfully effect change. Sessions cover specifics around common challenges, emerging trends and best practices for what’s next in EdTech. There are also plenty of opportunities to network, share ideas and maximize professional development at breakout sessions, workshops and pre- and post-conference events.
April 3-6, 2017; Chicago, IL
10. SETDA Leadership Summit & Education Forum
With the 2016 event wrapped up, SETDA looks ahead to its 16th year. One of the most important convenings for state EdTech officials of the year brings together leaders from over 40 state departments of education to join leaders in EdTech, assessment, instructional materials and professional development to collaborate and engage in in-depth dialogue.
11. BbWorld
Thought leaders, educators and other great minds from around the world join to “exchange ideas, share best practices and address today’s toughest educational challenges.” Next year’s New Orleans event will host 2,000 attendees and over 150 informative sessions.
July 25-27, 2017; New Orleans, LA
12. PBL World
PBL World is the premier conference for project-based learning, bringing together dedicated teachers, instructional coaches and school leaders. The conference features Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) Gold Standard PBL 101 Workshop, Leadership Academy, Coaching Academy and PBL 201 sessions. Check out the PBL World 2016 Highlights, an article highlighting the focus on equity from 2016’s conference, and a podcast on students and leaders from this year’s PBL World.
June 20-22, 2017; Napa Valley, CA
13. Deeper Learning Conference
This gathering of innovative and inspiring educators is focused on creating greater opportunities for students to learn deeply. Attend the 5th annual conference to experience deeper learning hands-on through interactive workshops, makerspace and deep dives. You can see more of our blog coverage from last year’s amazing Deeper Learning conference here and a series of videos from the conference with a focus on equity and deeper learning.
March 29-31, 2017; San Diego, CA
14. New Tech Network Conference
NTAC 2016 was themed Making It Personal—Connecting the School and the Student, with the guiding belief that through the creative use of technology, collaborative project designs and empowering student voice, students can achieve academic and social development success. NTAC explores the possibilities of personalized learning in a project-based world. Here’s a reflection we shared on the revolution of teacher professional development offered at the conference.
July 6-10, 2017; Saint Louis, MO
15. ExcelinEd National Summit on Education Reform
This year will be the 9th annual summit hosted by the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The best and brightest from around the nation will meet to share strategies with the goal of transforming lives through education, this year’s theme for the event. Sessions cover policies and practices so it’s a great opportunity for lawmakers, advocates and policymakers to learn more about reform. Here’s our recap of last year’s summit.
November 30-December 2, 2016, Washington, D.C.
16. FETC
The largest national independent EdTech conference discussing tech trends, strategies and best practices for student and school success. 2017 marks the 37th annual event focusing on the Future of Education Technology.
January 24-27, 2017; Orlando, FL
17. TCEA
With over 10,000 attendees, 900 presentations and workshops, and 450 exhibiting companies, TCEA is the largest state convention in the US. Sessions feature nationally-recognized experts with topics catering to every educator.
February 6-10, 2017; Austin, TX
18. CUE Conference
CUE is the largest and oldest EdTech conference in California and is targeted towards educators and EdLeaders looking to advance student achievement by using technology in the classroom. The conference has been held for over 35 years and provides a best-value experience.
March 15-18, 2017; Palm Springs, CA
19. Personalized Learning Summit
Education Elements has held this annual summit for 2 years, but is has been invite-only both years. 2017 will be the first year that it is open to the public, and it’s expected that there will be 500 innovative education leaders in attendance. The goal: learning from and with each other through workshops, keynotes, networking events and tech company tours.
May 10-12, 2017; San Francisco, CA
20. Blended and Personalized Learning Conference
Educators and leaders enjoy this two day conference because it gives them an opportunity to discuss blended learning as it exists today in their schools and classrooms; from day-to-day implementation to strategies and systems that support replication and scalability.
2018 Conference date TBD
21. Serious Play
This will be the 6th year for Serious Play, a leadership conference that embraces the idea that games can revolutionize learning. Speakers from around the world share tips on how to move game-based education forward and their experience creating or using games in the classroom as well as healthcare institutions, government, military and corporations. Attendees actively listen, share and participate in informal sessions revolving around the future of serious games.
July 26-28, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC
22. Distance Teaching & Learning Conference
Innovation. Information. Inspiration.  In distance education, keeping up means staying up to date with what’s next. Last year over 800 participants attended more than 130 sessions, and next year is looking to be even bigger and better. Attendees can expect to connect with online learning leaders from around the world and discover innovative ways to teach and support online learners, as well as best strategies, practices and solutions.
July 25-27, 2017; Madison, WI
23. Annual Conference for Middle Level Education
A valuable and comprehensive PD conference for educators and administrators working with middle school students. AMLE features over 300 sessions in 60 topic areas with hands-on and meet-and-greet opportunities. Because AMLE knows everybody learns differently, the conference caters to the needs of every educator with a multifaceted approach—various session types and styles, opportunities for one-on-one discussions with the leaders, explanations and explorations of technology, and networking—for a most valuable and comprehensive professional development event.
November 5-8, 2017
24. Learning Solutions Conference & Expo
Learn about technologies that are changing the world of training and development and enhancing learning experiences. This conference is for training and learning professionals focused on the design, development, management, and/or distribution of tech-based learning, performance support and blended solutions.
March 22-24, 2017; Orlando, FL
25. OEB 2016
OEB is a global, cross-sector conference on tech-supported learning and training. In 2016, OEB is focused on “Owning Learning,” embracing the new world of the empowered learner. Learn from over 2,300 participants from over 100 countries in various hands-on workshops, plenaries, interactive breakout sessions, debates, labs and demos.
November 30 – December 2, 2016; Berlin

Even More Amazing Conferences

Big Picture Learning’s annual Big Bang conference is also the International Conference on Student-Centered Learning. Last year, over 50 students from around the country joined over 450 educators to lead, teach and participate.
July 25 – July 28, 2017; St. Louis
Did we miss one of your favorites? Tweet us at @Getting_Smart so we can check it out!
Getting Smart offers a variety of interactive conference services including podcasting, media coverage and social media amplifications. For more, check out Getting Smart Services. To learn more, email [email protected] and place “conference media” in the title. We’d love to help you create high levels of engagement at your conference and extend the learning opportunities for attendees after the conference is over. Want to learn more? Contact [email protected].

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Next Generation School Design

There’s never been a better time to create a powerful learning environment–and the task has never been more important. But it also has never been more complicated.
A diverse group of educators–from preschools to colleges across north Africa and the middle east–gathered at the Digital Education Show in Dubai (#DigEdME) recently for a Getting Smart school design workshop. We spent four hours working on four topics: new models, goals, tools and tips.
1. New School Models. The best way to learn about new learning models is to visit schools. In the workshop, we made a quick virtual tour of some of our favorite elementary and secondary schools. Of particular note, we discussed blended, personalized SEL at Thrive (featured image), Bay Blends and project-based learning at Katherine Smith School and Bulldog Tech (don’t miss the podcast).
We reviewed the Christensen definition of blended learning options and discussed how iNACOL describes the relationship between personalized learning and the shift to competency-based learning. We reviewed the two dozen important decisions that new schools entail.

New School Design Decisions

  • Mission; values and culture; code of conduct
  • Students (age/grades); community (and transport)
  • Learning goals; learner experience; and learning model
  • School model; staffing model; schedule and calendar
  • Curriculum and content, assessment, matriculation (progress and graduation)
  • Leadership model; professional growth plan
  • Identifying and supporting special needs
  • Funding; facility; enrollment growth
  • Learning platform; information systems; devices and cyber security
  • Service partners; learning partners
  • Communications; feedback and improvement plans

2. Goals, Strategy, Timeline & Model. Defining learning goals starts with community conversation about what graduates should know and be able to do. We discussed large-scale examples of creating new graduation profiles including Houston and El Paso, and the NGLC MyWays framework (as well as some non-traditional approaches).

The conference confirmed that confines (real or perceived) of standardized testing and college entrance requirements where a global inhibitor to developing more student-centered education. Schools need to be responsive to their stakeholders (e.g., get graduates ready for college) but they also need to continue to test what career and civic readiness entail. School visits and community conversations may yield more room to innovate than was perceived (see the Singapore American School case study).
We discussed ways that school and system heads could balance improvement and innovation.

Competency-Based Career Education
College of the North Atlantic-Qatar is an interesting case study. It serves as the country’s CTE partner offering 30 diploma programs including engineering, business, health, IT.
Blended learning strategies and a 12:1 staffing ratio help address the significant language challenges that two-thirds of the population bring to school.
The two and three-year diploma programs are driven by employer defined competencies including academic, technical and employability skills. To ensure demonstrated mastery, midterm and final assessments are blind scored. Competencies are tracked in D2L Brightspace and a portfolio demonstrating employability is developed.
Many students are sponsored by companies with regular check-in sessions and work-based learning opportunities.

3. Platforms, Content, Devices & Talent. We reviewed and compared learning platforms acknowledging that none are likely to do everything a school or network is seeking.
We discussed access and production devices and how fast Chromebooks had closed the gap in the US. Some participants were enthusiastic about the Microsoft Surface tablet.
We discussed how great networks (like Summit) and districts (like Kettle Moraine) approach teacher development.
4. Opening Great New Schools. We unpacked tips for opening great new schools including:

Workshop participants observed:

  • It’s all about people
  • We need to get out and visit innovative schools
  • We should hold community meetings to discuss what graduates should know and be able to do
  • There is no one best solution but an expanding number of options
  • We need to balance improvement and innovation
  • We need a “dust-free strategy” that is frequently updated
  • Next gen learning can be phased in
  • We always need a “Plan B” for when technology fails

The Getting Smart team supports next generation school design and coaches new schools. [email protected] would be happy to discuss your project.
For more, see these reports:

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12 Ways to Start Teaching STEM in Your School

By Tom Vander Ark and Mary Ryerse
Want more STEM experiences for your students but don’t know where to start? Want to infuse art into science and boost STEAM experiences?
Before exploring how to do STEM, let’s define what it is. Everybody teaches science and math—STEM adds technology and engineering to the equation; STEAM adds art. Common elements of quality STEM learning include:

  • Design-focus: using design tools and techniques to attack big problems or opportunity (challenge-based, problem-based learning).
  • Active application: applying knowledge and skills to real-world situations and constructing or prototyping solutions to challenges (maker, project-based learning).
  • Integration: real world problems aren’t limited to a discipline—solutions almost always draw from many fields.

The following are 12 tips for learning about STEM (and STEAM) experiences and implementing them in your school.
1. Visit Schools. Visiting schools is the best form of professional learning, and especially it is especially so for STEM learning, which is likely to be more active and integrated than traditional pedagogy. A couple schools worth seeing include (with more featured in subsequent points, as well):

  • Reynoldsburg Ohio (Columbus) has a K-12 STEM feeder pattern worth seeing, and so is Metro Early College on the OSU campus.
  • The 200 schools in the New Tech Network feature integrated project-based learning.
  • The 46 Harmony schools (TX & DC) feature personalized project-based STEM learning.
  • iDEA and SAMI are both part of Tacoma Public Schools. The Science and Math Institute meets at the Point Defiance Zoo and the Industrial Design Engineering and Art School (iDEA) is new to TPS this year. Check out this short video of our visit:

2. Go on Field Trips. A longstanding and valuable tradition are STEM field trips to science museums, manufacturing facility, energy production facilities and transportation hubs. Jay Greene’s research and podcast speak to the value of field trips. The Museum of Science in Boston (and many other major cities’) provides field trip guides, activity sheets, educator guides, projects and more.
3. Build in Maker Time. In addition to STEM integration into core curriculum, setting aside dedicated maker time provides an ideal entry point for STEM experiences. When we are intentional about finding time to let kids make stuff, it leads to authentic engagement around STEM topics. The possibilities of “when” are numerous—between semesters/trimesters, after school time, summer school, community education or even at a parent-student event. Imagination Foundation, hosts of the Global Cardboard Challenge, are great advocates for maker time.
4. Develop a Makerspace. Maker teacher Lindsey Own has a great 20 blog series on developing a makerspace. The theory is that if you build it, they will come—as evidenced by Lindsey’s many ideas.
In addition to the possibilities for makerspaces within classrooms and schools, many libraries, museums and community centers have started creating makerspaces. For example, the St. Paul Public Library’s central branch offers a hands-on work space with a 3D printer, a laser engraver, a sewing machine, a recording studio and other tools for those with an urge to create.
teacher teaching STEM in your school
5. Install an Engineering Curriculum. A fully developed STEM curriculum and training process can be found in the widely used Project Lead the Way program. PLTW offers its Launch curriculum in elementary school, Gateway in middle school, then multiple articulated disciplines where kids can earn college credit in high school towards biomedical science, computer science and engineering. A high school student describes how his PLTW experiences—ranging from VEX Robotics, RobotC, drones, and coding—have provided engaging content and real-world experiences.
6. Practice Project-Based Learning (PBL). With an ever-increasing focus on the importance of PBL, the STEM fields are a natural place for PBL best practices.

  • Harmony Public Schools, a Texas network of STEM schools, personalizes learning and emphasiszes STEM through frequent demonstrations of learning. The interdisciplinary model is called Students on Stage (STEM SOS). The online Harmony PBL Showcase designed to promote and share exemplary student work that can serve as valuable learning and teaching tools for students, parents, teachers and other educators. Three STEM-focused project infographics of the hundreds currently available online are shown below.

PBE definition: "Place-Based Education is Anytime, Anywhere Learning that Leverages the Power of Place, and not just the power of technology, to personalize learning." One of twelve strategies for teaching STEM in your school
7. Place-Based Education. Getting Smart defines PBE as “anytime, anywhere learning that leverages the power of place and not just the power of technology to personalize learning.” While PBE is an approach to learning across the curriculum, many schools use place-based learning to immerse students in STEM subjects.

8. Expand Career and Technical Offerings. The Association for Career and Technical Education (CTE) has long said STEM is CTE. CTE courses are offered in articulated pathways in fields of science, informational technology, engineering and math. Many of the CTE programs can offer college credit in high school and job-ready certifications in tandem with Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees. Most of the 16 Career Clusters and related 79 CTE Career Pathways are aligned explicitly to the STEM disciplines and careers. For example:

  • Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources Career Cluster—students can gain the foundational knowledge and skills to pursue careers in horticulture, animal science, environment science, mechanical engineering or food science, among other areas.
  • Arts, A/V Technology, & Telecommunications Career Cluster – students can become prepared for careers in graphic or web design, video production, fiber optics and other diverse industries.

9. Incorporate Design Thinking. Some schools make design-thinking central to every subject

  • One Stone, an innovative new microschool in Boise.
  • Design Tech High in the Bay Area is inspired by Stanford’s d.School.
  • DSISD, an innovative new school incubated by Denver Public Schools.
  • SPARK Schools in South Africa incorporate design thinking into an intermediate grade flex blend (diagram below)

10. Promote Challenge-Based Learning. Like Digital Promise, we think using #GlobalGoals is a great way to promote STEM learning. Growing out of a United Nations General Assembly, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a campaign resulted in 17 Global Goals that provide a roadmap for a better future. The goals could be incorporated into the framework for a high school project—with topics goals like zero hunger, affordable and clean energy and sustainable cities.
11. Add Art to Make STEAM. Creativity and artistic expression are integral to innovation in the STEM fields—many schools and programs are intentional about incorporating art into the equation.

12. Increase Work-Based Learning. Whether credit-earning internships or one-day job shadows or somewhere in between, there’s no place like workplaces within STEM industries to see STEM in action. Even better, students enrolled in the GPS Education Partners accelerated technical education program  (Milwaukee, WI) spend their full day in a manufacturing facility as part of an accelerated technical education. Part of the work day consists of apprenticeship work “on the floor,” and core content courses are taught in a break room or other space onsite. This points to what we need more of to fully develop Next Generation Career Pathways.
Regardless of the entry point, the very nature of STEM is engagement. While any subject could feel dull, when the focus is on the design, application, and integration of various pieces—which frequently involve a dose of hands-on maker project-based learning—learners natural curiosity is ignited. In the words of a high school senior, “at least we’re doing something when we’re learning STEM.”

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Smart Review | Galactic Hot Dogs

By Mary Ryerse & Luke Ryerse
What do you get when you combine a space adventure, a cartoon-heavy graphic novel format and a hot dog (yes really, a hot dog)? Well, in our house it led to an engaged reader with his nose in the Galactic Hot Dog book series by Max Brallier, Rachel Maguire and Nichole Kelley.
Galactic Hot Dogs Book ReviewIf you are looking for some good winter break reading recommendations for upper-elementary age kids, this may be your tip. You or your students/kids may recognize the Galactic Hot Dogs name from its start as a Funbrain digital adventure or from its presence on Poptropica.
The focus of this blog—co-written by our 9-year-old son Luke and myself—is on Books 1 & 2 of the Galactic Hot Dog series: Galactic Hot Dogs 1: Cosmoe’s Wiener Getaway and Galactic Hot Dogs 2: The Wiener Strikes Back.

Mary’s Perspective

What Mom liked best about this book

  • Action Orientated. As a mom of three boys, I know that action is often important to keep their attention as readers.
  • A Dose of SEL. The strong friendships stood out to our son—the characters showed evidence of social and emotional learning (SEL) as they looked out for each other, kept each other positive and showed kindness.
  • Classic Plot. These books feature a classic “good vs. evil” plot that’s relatively easy to follow.
  • Independent Reading. When looking at reading levels, graphic novels and comic books often stand in a category of their own. For example, the Lexile is preceded by a GN code. This is GN 570L.
  • Graphic Novel Format. This format makes it feel like you’re reading a comic. The impact of the thought bubbles, pictures and comics on reading comprehension is typically positive (in the case of Luke, I’d say it increased his engagement). A typical page display is included below.

sample page for review galactic hot dogs


From a mom perspective, this was not a book that makes me excited to read along. But perhaps the best part was that I didn’t have to. Luke was independent in both his motivation and his reading. I recall feeling that way about the Captain Underpants series with our older boys.

Luke’s Perspective

These books made me want to read every second. It [Cosmoe’s Wiener Getaway] was one of the best books I’ve ever read. There were a lot of things that I really liked about the books. The things that made the most difference to me were:

  • Adventure. It has adventure and I like that because it makes it really interesting.
  • Characters. The 2-3 main characters are Cosmoe, Humphree and Princess Dagger. It felt like a Tom Hanks movie because it has a lot of action and some resting parts.

  • Variety. You think some characters are evil and then they turn out to be good, which makes it unique.
  • Suspense. I never knew what to expect next because every second has suspense in it.
  • Different. This book is different than a lot of books I have read because it is science fiction in space and because of how it mixes in comics.
  • Space Travel. I loved the “Neon Wiener” ship because it helped the characters in their battles and had lots of interesting compartments and gadgets.


Cosmoe and his best friends Humphree and Princess Dagger were trying to find and capture all of the pieces of a watermelon. They figured out that the pieces of the watermelon were supposed to be brought together to a planet and were surprised to find out that it hatched a snake. In the end, the good guys won, so that was nice.

In Conclusion

Over the course of raising three boys, we have learned that—especially in the middle elementary years—it’s great to have some books that are fun to read together (we love the Who Is/Who Was biography series by Grosset & Dunlap) and others that are ideal for independent reading. The Galactic Hot Dogs fall in the latter category. This can be a relief sometimes! We can read books we enjoy while kids read what they enjoy.
Read Also

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All Kids Coding in Rhode Island

When the nation’s EdTech director left office in December, he headed home to Rhode Island (RI) where he became the state’s first Chief Innovation Officer.
We caught up with Richard Culatta () at the iNACOL Symposium, where he told us about an exciting statewide computer science initiative.
What’s the goal?
Earlier this year, Governor Raimondo rolled out an ambitious plan to offer computer-science classes in every school in Rhode Island by Fall 2017. Known as CS4RI, the program positions RI to become the first state in the country to offer computer science in all schools.
In March we launched the CS4RI program with a challenge to become the first state in the country to offer computer science (CS) in all schools.
Who is involved?
We developed a series of curriculum partners—URI, Brown, Project Lead the Way, Code.org and Microsoft TEALS—to provide schools with a variety of options to choose from. Descriptions, grade levels and teacher supports are all described on our Program page.
Where did you start?
We immediately kicked off a major outreach initiative to connect with schools. By the end of the school year, we had received commitments from nearly half of the schools in the state to begin offering CS this fall. Our curriculum partners then began the ambitious task of providing a CS bootcamp training to over 300 teachers from across the state over the summer.
Who is guiding the way?
We created a CS advisory council, led by the RI STEAM Center, with representatives of schools, parents and commercial partners. We also recruited CS professionals from RI companies to co-teach many of the high school AP CS courses.
How is teacher prep involved?
We launched a partnership between Rhode Island College and General Assembly to offer training to pre-service teachers starting this year (this is the first partnership between General Assembly and a university).
How many schools are involved?
We currently have just over 180 schools offering CS, including most of the high schools; 54 of the 66 high schools in the state are now offering CS this school year.
How is the program supported?
The state provided $260,000 for teacher training. Bootstrap (at Brown University) and the University of Rhode Island programs also had some support from National Science Foundation grants. We also developed great partnerships with RI businesses (known as CS4RI Anchor Companies) to help cover teacher training and materials.
Anyone taking notice?
There was a nice article in the Providence Journal. They quoted Susan Ahlstrom from the Academy for Career Exploration who said, “It’s really quite amazing [to see] the enthusiasm and dedication on the part of businesses, nonprofits [and] schools … all working toward getting these students toward the skills that are relevant.”
We also got a shout-out from the President encouraging other states to look at the model Rhode Island was using.
How can we learn more?
Attend the CS4RI Summit on December 14 or go to www.CS4RI.org
For more, see:

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How a Principal Inspired an Innovative Classroom Audio System

By Dolores Gribouski, Ed.D.
During my career as a school leader, I often had companies try to convince me to buy their products. For the most part, when I would say yes or no to what they offered, that would be the end of it. Once, though, my colleagues and I went beyond being purchasers and became partners in the product-development process.
At the time, I was the Principal of Columbus Park Elementary School in Worcester, MA. The school had a racially and ethnically diverse population, many of whom qualified for free and reduced lunch. We had moved the student achievement levels significantly, but we had more work to do.
The unique collaboration began when David Solomon and Tom Gilmartin from Lightspeed Technologies came to the central office’s Manager of Supplemental Support and suggested that we pilot a portable amplification system that delivered clear audio to the entire classroom. I looked at the system and said, “Fine, but we don’t teach the whole class that often. We do an introduction, and then move into small groups, then do a summary of the lesson.”
David, Tom and I took a walk through some classrooms, where they saw Columbus Park’s approach to teaching and learning firsthand. I also had teachers talk to them about their framework for supporting all students to meet the standards stipulated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). I suggested that instead of a one-way speaker, what we needed to support the way we taught was a two-way system that would allow teachers to have conversations with many groups throughout the classroom.
They agreed and starting that day I worked with David, Tom and their team to keep refining the product. My NCLB Implementation teacher Jayne Cardin and Literacy Coach Donna Mastrovito used prototypes based on existing products in their classrooms and offered suggestions for how to improve the system. Our teachers used a series of new prototypes for three years of the four-year development process. Each of them suggested features that would make the system more valuable to classroom teachers.
We tried the system in different settings to test its varied benefits. A professor from a local university conducted research on how the use of the product increased student engagement and on-task behavior for typically developing students, English language learners and students with disabilities (including those with social-emotional challenges).
As we moved closer to the release of the product that would be called Flexcat, David and Tom approached us to help deepen the knowledge of the sales staff. We developed a guide about why the tool could be valuable to other districts. I also went to the Lightspeed sales meeting and the Education Research & Development Institute conference to see how district-level decision-makers would respond to a product like this. We talked to district leaders about how the Flexcat could help their teachers and students foster the growth of 21st-century skills in the classroom.
The end result of this collaboration was a wireless audio system that includes a lightweight, wearable microphone for the teacher and up to 12 two-way communication pods that can be placed anywhere in the classroom, allowing teachers to monitor the collaborative learning process so they can reinforce and redirect as needed.
If I were offering advice to school leaders about how to collaborate with vendors, I would recommend Roger Schwarz’s work with mutual learning in teams. The guiding principle is to state your views, then be really curious about the other’s information. My team at Columbus Park learned about the engineering requirements of the Flexcat by listening with curiosity and trying to puzzle through.
Also, there’s no way a collaboration like this can be successful unless there is a core team that is willing to put in the time. That means hours of talking and being available. Everyone who worked on the Flexcat put in a lot of face-to-face time, not just phone calls. It wasn’t quick meetings; we had time enough to talk through dilemmas.
If I were offering advice to vendors about how to collaborate with school leaders, I would say that the company needs to work at a speed that connects with academic discovery. The first step is to slow down and listen openly without any aim other than to learn about teaching and learning.
Ultimately, the collaboration between Columbus Park and Lightspeed worked because both sides committed to the goal of improving learning. The core values of the company mirrored the core values of the school, so we worked from a space of commonality. We all learned every day from the students. The Columbus Park team had a rare opportunity to help create a tool that supported the way we taught, and the Lightspeed team saw how the product could help in a variety of teaching and learning situations.
Our students had always been active agents in their own learning, and the Flexcat supported them by allowing their teachers to connect with a group without interfering with the learning of the rest of the class. As teachers were able to communicate with small groups without calling across the room, students’ on-task behavior increased.
The school administration benefitted from the collaboration, too. Throughout the process, we had to clearly communicate our teaching approach so Lightspeed understood what we needed. This clarity helped us to refine our practice. By offering feedback on how the system was working in our classrooms, we were able to solidify the intents behind our practices and serve our students better.
Dolores Gribouski, Ed. D. is the retired principal of Columbus Park Elementary in Worcester, MA.

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Keeping Up with the Evolution of Learning Media (on a Budget)

By Blake Beus
The evolution of educational media has come a long way from film strips, audio cassettes and overhead projectors. In fact, many educators today can still recite the lyrics from Schoolhouse Rock, even though their first exposure to that classic cartoon was likely thanks to a VHS tape.
While media that is based on solid educational principles will always be effective, today’s audience needs media that is more familiar and accessible. Schoolhouse Rock may be a classic, but it’s difficult for modern students to buy in unless it’s presented via YouTube.
B.F. Skinner, renowned Harvard Professor, once said, “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” Today’s effective learning media has been found to engage learners on a level that aids in the retention of the materials, and is therefore an important part of any teacher’s toolbox.
As an educator, you may think that utilizing these innovations in your program would cost a small fortune. However, there are many of these learning media outlets tailored to teachers that are affordable and efficient.


While the hardware has changed over the years, video remains one of the most effective tools for educators. Now that many video formats like DVD and Blu-ray are being integrated with computers, their peripherals are becoming less and less necessary. Coupled with the vast content that is available via free sites like TeacherTube, educators have more access to full-length documentaries and short video clips than they ever have before.
Along with streaming media sites, we have the rise of podcasts. These generally free programs, like the Bedley Brothers and BAM! Radio’s Every Classroom Matters, discuss everything from course subject matter to teaching methods and are another versatile way to map trends in teaching and learning media.

Social Networking

Social media has become a natural extension of learners’ lives, and it’s also an excellent platform to supplement their education. Among the social networking options available to educators are professional teacher social media sites such as Teachers-Teachers.com, which has become more than just a job board for teachers—it also has access to blogs and offers professional networking options.
Social networking is also an effective tool for students, which is why programs like Edmodo, a school-appropriate social network, have been so successful in creating an online space that allows teachers, students and parents to communicate in a teacher-controlled environment. These sites and programs make educators more accessible to one another, and they present students with another avenue to connect with course curriculum through real-time updates.
For more remote teaching, many educators are turning to a virtual model, which uses programs like Adobe Connect and Google Classroom to accommodate larger class sizes and open up the teacher’s ability to interact with individual students. Webcams are becoming standard issue on most computers, including those provided by school districts. Teachers can take advantage of this technology by using free video chat or conferencing programs. Personalized interactive classrooms like Blackboard and Canvas are also becoming more viable options for schools’ IT budgets.

Interactive Media

In addition to social networking and streaming video, the internet also gives educators the ability to utilize online assessments. These assessments help educators gain real-time insight into their students’ abilities, as well as offer strategies regarding when to make curriculum adjustments.
As modern students are seldom found without their smartphones, these assessments are also easy to access from mobile devices. Programs like Kahoot! have become extremely successful, because they provide a way for students to participate in class-wide assessments that tend to be more engaging ways to test student progress than a standard exam—plus students love the fact that they can play with their phones in class.
Gamification is another popular strategy in both the educational world and the corporate sector (where it’s used primarily in employee onboarding). This method utilizes a highly immersive, video game-like system to present the curriculum. It can have elements of assessment, video, audio and social networking bundled into it.
Games like Math Blaster and Oregon Trail still resonate with many people because they made learning enjoyable. However, with the advent of streaming games, schools need not be software dependent. Sites like Smart Kit and Room Recess offer a wide variety of free educational games that can be used in the classroom with nothing more than a tablet or smartphone.
When speaking of interactive media, we would be remiss to not mention the advances in learning hardware. Be it a LeapFrog learning system, tablets, interactive white boards or virtual/augmented reality devices, these implements aid learners and educators in their experience of the material in the curriculum.
Hardware is a tough subject because it can have an astronomical price tag, but don’t allow that to eliminate the possibility. There are some great options that teachers can use to raise money. As educators, if you find that some of these media and interactive resources are outside of the budget, there are optional grants available. You can check out websites like Teacherscount.org and Teach.com, for more information about grants and how to apply for them.
The importance of keeping up with the evolution of learning media is obvious when we stop to examine it. Many of these new advances in resources have become increasingly available even for an educator on a budget. Whether it involves streaming media or using advanced learning devices, these options are available to supplement curriculum and increase the material retention rates.
Blake Beus is the Director of Learning Solutions at Allen Communication Learning Services. Follow him on Twitter: @BlakeBeus

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