Embracing 21st Century Learning and Opportunities

By Na’ama Y. Rosenberg
Creating a classroom that embraces 21st-century learning and opportunities for creative technology integration is an important and delicate balance in the modern school. There are countless applications to assist teachers in this effort, and options are seemingly limitless for technology platforms. Today’s students have spent their entire schooling careers surrounded by a wide variety of technology, and are eager to embrace new learning opportunities. Studies have shown better learning outcomes when students are engaged on an individual level and required to analyze content and effectively communicate their learning.
Along with advances in technology came tools that utilize hardware in new and innovative ways to further engage the student. For example, companies like Haiku, ParentLocker and Schoology have developed learning management systems where students, teachers and parents interface on a web-based program that includes assignments, homework and test schedules. Teachers have the option of sending reminders and emails, and even of setting up timed online quizzes on the site. In this way, parents are invited to be partners in their children’s learning, alongside teachers, to help the children succeed.
Another direction that educational technology has taken is the developments of applications such as Storybird, Quizlet and Socrative, which help children create their own content for reports, homework assignments and test preparation. Today’s children are more technology-fluent than they used to be, and projects such as using iPads to film a short skit explaining the theme of a piece of literature both engages students and fulfills one of the Common Core Standards for ELA.
21st-Century Learning
Edmodo is an innovative option that integrates traditional teaching methods with 21st-century learning. It allows the students to have a safe, social media type of forum in which to discuss lessons, create projects for homework assignments and even comment on each other’s work (using positive, constructive language). Included on the platform is the opportunity for teachers to upload their presentations and have students follow along on their personal laptop while the lesson is being taught. This is an invaluable tool for visual and auditory learners. Students are then also able to extend the learning time to home, where they can open any lessons that the teacher has made available on Edmodo, allowing parents to assist children in any concepts they’d like to review.
Student Ownership
Students are enthusiastic to embrace out-of-the-box ideas to highlight their learning. Seesaw is an example of a software platform that encourages student-led presentations, where the student creates and uploads their own material and then shares that with the class. Seesaw also has a shareable QR code that parents can scan to access online portfolios. This evidence-based approach improves learning outcomes and class participation.
Voki is another example of presentation software, wherein the student has the option of creating and designing personal avatars for the platform, giving kids voice and choice over the presentation of their learning. The children can record their own voice or type in text and choose an accent and a voice so that they have virtual expression of their individual selves.
Special Education Classroom Use
The Voki avatar tool is particularly useful in a special education classroom, especially for those on the autism spectrum. Not only does the use of digital avatars even the playing field between those who are more verbal and those who communicate in other ways, but it also helps connect emotions with facial expressions and voice, which helps in socialization. In addition, teachers can differentiate lessons by using their own voice-overs in content videos, using their own classroom avatar.
The plethora of valuable software and programs developed for today’s classroom, like Voki, Schoology, Seesaw and Edmodo allows customization and personalization for teachers and students, encouraging students to become an integral part of the learning process.
For more, see:

Na’ama Y. Rosenberg is a former educator and school administrator, and is currently the Director of Content Development at Voki. Follow them on Twitter: @officialvoki

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A Year in Review: 2016 Publications

With a new year just around the corner, we’re taking a look at our #YearInReview to share all of the publications we developed this year. From bundles to white papers to toolkits, there is sure to be something you’ll want to add to your reading list for the new year. You may even want to share some of these with your colleagues to help support their learning for the new year.
Here’s a review of what we’ve learned with our partners and shared with our readers this year:

Smart Bundles

Getting Smart on Out of Class Student Support Services
A key challenge facing schools in the next two decades is the following: how can we take luck out of the HigherEd equation and ensure, systematically, that every student finds THEIR purpose and develops THEIR path and THEIR support network of people to support their success in school and in life thereafter? Getting Smart and Fidelis Education partnered to share more about what it takes to support students outside of class and take the luck out of the HigherEd equation.
Getting Smart on Assessing and Measuring Social and Emotional Learning
A new consensus is emerging in K-12 education today: social and emotional learning (SEL) is essential not just for its own sake, but for its wide range of outcomes in academic and life success. Getting Smart partnered with ProExam/Tessera to explore the need for SEL in schools and what tools are available to measure its impact.
Getting Smart on Rethinking Professional Learning
This 5-blog series explores emerging and best practices in professional learning, including the important role higher education institutions can fill. Featured are several case-study examples from the High Tech High Graduate School of Education (HTH GSE) and schools currently being served by its graduates.
Getting Smart on Learner-Centered STEM
This 7-blog series highlights the Learner-Centered STEM model at Harmony Public Schools—now serving over 30,000 students K-12 in Texas. The bundle features student, teacher and leader perspectives on topics like project-based learning, teacher professional learning, school culture, distributive leaders and STEM partnerships.
Getting Smart on Global Education and Equity
For today’s students to participate effectively and become successful in this changing world, they’ll need a global education. VIF International Education and Getting Smart partnered to closely examine the characteristics of globally competent students and address how K-12 institutions can utilize global education practices to equitably prepare all of today’s students for success.
Getting Smart on Teachers as Collaborative Curriculum Designers
On the front lines of education every day, teachers are the most familiar with which student needs are not being met and what is preventing them from being successful, which is why a teacher-developed curriculum is so important. This bundle explores the importance of teachers as curriculum designers, and how Literacy Design Collaborative helps support collaborative curriculum design while also providing important teacher professional development.
Getting Smart on Closing the Opportunity Gap
This series and bundle tell the story of University Academy—a K-12 charter school in Kansas City that we think is one of the best college prep schools in the country. The school serves 90 percent African-American and 70 percent economically disadvantaged students. Since 2004, 100% of UA graduates have been accepted to college, and almost 60% graduate with a BA or higher. By contrast, the national average for low-income college graduation is 9%. We partnered with UA to learn how they are able to get these great results and share their approach to closing the opportunity gap.

Project-Based Learning

Preparing Students for a Project-Based World
The new economy—and the growing inequities therein—significantly impact students and schools. This paper was the first in our year long “It’s a Project-Based World” campaign and explores equity, new economic realities, student engagement and instructional and school design in the preparation of all students for college, career and citizenship.
Preparing Teachers for a Project-Based World
Second in a series of three papers in our “It’s a Project-Based World” campaign, this paper explores how teacher preparation and professional learning can be better aligned to and modeled after the types of deeper learning environments we seek for students. Authors Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag share a vision for teacher PD that embraces the opportunity of personalized PBL and also share what a truly prepared PBL teacher should know and be able to do.

Blended & Personalized Learning

Supporting English Language Learners with Next-Gen Tools
Almost five million students in the public education system are English Language Learners. Reaching all of America’s students includes meeting the needs of diverse learners that possess a wide variance in skills, backgrounds, cultures and family supports. To highlight existing technological tools and illuminate gaps in the field, Supporting English Language Learners with Next-Gen Tools illuminates key learnings from over 25 experienced English Language Learner (ELL) educators, experts, education technology leaders and thought leaders across the United States.
Realizing the Potential of Blended Learning: Beyond Personalized to Active Learning
This paper, produced by Apex Learning in partnership with Getting Smart, addresses the common misconception that active learning is only “hands-on offline,” and personalized learning stays “online.” Active and personalized learning leverages what we know about pedagogical best practices and realizes the full potential of technology to boost student outcomes. The paper is designed to highlight how the intersection between active and personalized learning yields an engaging and relevant experience that increases student achievement.
The Shift to Digital Education: Four Hallmarks of Digital Learning Success
Throughout this publication, written in partnership with Pearson Education, we examine why we must embrace digital learning in our classrooms, why digital doesn’t mean simply having technology available, and the four hallmarks necessary for success in the shift to digital education: a shared vision for powerful learning, empowered teachers and leaders, innovative digital learning models, and a thoughtful approach to purchasing and evaluating EdTech.
Blended Language Learning Toolkit: Classroom-Based Implementation
With the rise of blended learning and educational technology to personalize instruction, there is no reason why all American students shouldn’t have access to high-quality language instruction. This toolkit is designed to help educators implement blended language learning in their classrooms. While the toolkit focuses on the Rosetta Stone K-12 Language Learning Suite, many of the ideas and tools are applicable to blended language learning in general.

School Development & Design

Creating the Future of Learning: Singapore American School
This case study features a virtual tour of the Singapore American School, the largest single campus international school in the world and the largest American school outside of the U.S.
100 Tips & Insights for Opening Great New Schools
Opening a good, new school is an enormous challenge. It involves real estate, construction, financing, marketing and other tasks that are usually outside the experience of even the most veteran educators. What’s most important when opening a new school? How can it be done? We asked two dozen experts who collectively have opened more than a thousand schools and they share these 100 hard-won lessons.
Next Generation Career Pathways: A Manufacturing Case Study
The rise of anywhere, anytime learning and competency-based approaches provides the opportunity for Career and Technical Education programs to lead the way in terms of applying blended, competency-based education in practical ways. In this case study, we assert that new market demands are shaping next generation career and technical education opportunities.

Future of Learning

Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY) Toolkit: Stories to Inspire You and Tools to Get You Started
“GenDIY” is the culmination of a year-long thought leadership campaign with 100+ contributions from young adults, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, educators and advocates. The interactive website and toolkit contain stories from young adults “hacking” their own education and career, as well as tools to inspire others to do the same. GenDIY is an education innovation project in partnership with Getting Smart with support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.
Moving PD from Seat-Time to Demonstrated Competency Using Micro-credentials
Microcredentials are one of the hottest topics in education. Published by our team in partnership with BloomBoard, this “Educator’s Guide to Implementing Personalized, Competency-Based Professional Learning” is action-oriented. Download the guide to learn about: the problems that microcredentials solve, the benefits of competency-based recognition for educators, six steps to earning a micro-credential and best practices.
Policy, Pilots and the Path to Competency-Based Education: A Tale of Three States
Produced in partnership with ExcelinEd, this publication highlights how and why CBE pilot programs offer a promising strategy for states to begin the shift to competency-based learning. The three states featured—Idaho, Utah and Florida—all took slightly different paths that can provide different perspectives while informing and inspiring other states just beginning their own efforts. The report also has a set of recommendations for state leaders building upon lessons from policy efforts to advance CBE across the country.
As you can see, we’ve had a busy year but we’re excited to dive into 2017 to create more resources and guides for our audience. Keep an eye out in early 2017 for three publications in our “Learning and the Power of Place” campaign on implementing place-based learning in your school. And as a follow-up to the first Toolkit for Blended World Language, look for a toolkit for standalone online blended learning.
What are we missing? What could you use to help advance the space of teaching and learning? Send an email to [email protected] or tweet us at @Getting_Smart!
Ready to make an impact? Campaigns are an excellent way to connect with a variety of audiences around a similar theme and topic. They focus efforts and increase impact by engaging participants in a journey that provides insights in a range of media sources and published content. Interested in how campaigns can increase your impact and reach? Getting Smart Services can help. Email [email protected] to learn more!
For more, see:

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10 Great Apps to Promote Kindness in the Classroom

Promoting kindness is an important part of the daily curriculum in a classroom environment. Many would suggest that this is as important as teaching the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, yet 57 percent of teachers polled in a recent Kid Kindness survey agreed that the American school system doesn’t place enough emphasis on teaching kindness.
Fortunately, a wide variety of kindness-focused apps that engage students while teaching them important lessons are accessible to all teachers, no matter their budget. Here are ten apps to help you promote kindness in every student in your classroom.
1. Toca Pet Doctor
Ages 2-6
With this app, students take care of suffering animals. They could be suffering physically or emotionally, or just need help completing a task. Some may need food while others just need kind words to overcome sadness, showing young students how our engagement with others affects their emotions.
2. One Globe Kids
Ages 3-10
This app may at first seem like a social network, but mom bloggers all assure you it’s not. However, because it feels like one, it engages students better than many others. With this app, students meet other kids around the world; they learn about what they like, what they eat, how they speak, and more. There are a variety of ways students can “intereact” with these “friends” within the app, learning to see and accept everyone’s differences as wonderful.
3. The Great Kindness Challenge: School Edition
Ages 4-18
The School Edition of this app is perfect for the classroom. The “acts of kindness,” such as “Smile at 25 people” or “Pick up 10 pieces of trash,” are appropriate for students of all ages and teach them simple but important acts of kindness they can do every single day. Set a goal with your classroom, and the countdown timer will remind everyone how long they have to reach their goal along with the number of acts of kindness left to complete.
4. Avokiddo Emotions
Ages 5 and under
(iOS and Android)
This game features a cast of animal characters with vastly different personalities. Options are given to play dress up, feed the animals and share toys. The animals react appropriately to the choices that the child makes in the game, teaching kids how to recognize facial expressions and determine when they’ve made someone happy or sad. This is a critical first step in understanding empathy for a child.
5. Four Little Corners
Ages 5 and under
This interactive storybook app provides lessons on tolerance, equality and compassion. It teaches these important lessons with geometric shapes—the main character is a square and the friends are circles. You can guess where this award-winning story will end up.
6. Peek-a-Zoo
Ages 5 and Under
This multilingual app is based off the ever popular peek-a-boo game, making it perfect for young students. With it, students learn to experience different faces and expressions, which is a first step towards understanding behavior.
7. Wee You Things
Ages 5 and under
This app celebrates diversity, develops empathy and boosts confidence by sharing how unique people are and celebrating our unique qualities. Students can create their own “you,” and become a part of the story about how everyone is different and how that’s what makes us amazing. Students will love the fun characters and simple stories.
8. DPS from The Social Express
Ages 6+
This app is geared toward elementary age children, and works by helping kids identify and label emotions. My DPS stands for “My Digital Problem Solver,” and the app shows a variety of social situations and offers coping skills that students can use to work through them.
9. Middle School Confidential 1 and 2
Ages 8-14
(iOS and Android)
This game app is geared toward middle school kids, teaching healthy ways to handle issues that middle schoolers encounter. Version 1 is titled “Be Confident in Who You Are,” and Version 2 focuses on “Real Friends vs. the Other Kind.” The game is set up to follow a cast of six characters as they navigate the different social situations. A variety of tools including quizzes, resources and tips from other kids are available to the players.
10. Sit With Us
Ages 13+
This app was developed by a teenager to fight bullying and is designed to help teens feel more welcome in the school cafeteria. It designates ambassadors at schools that will invite those looking for a friend or a friendly place to sit and have lunch. Students can create their profile, see nearby lunch options and even start a lunch and invite people to join.
For more, see:

Jessica Thiefels is an education blogger and the editor of Whooo’s Reading. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07

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Our 45 Favorite Blog Posts of 2016

We published close to 500 blogs in 2016. Our team likes to read and write, and share the work of others—that includes a huge shout out to all of our guest bloggers. Let’s take a look at some of our most popular blogs and also our staff favorites from the year, organized by category.

Access and Opportunity

Diversity is Not Our Problem, It’s Our Solution by K.C. Knudson of Burlington-Edison School District highlights the #ShadowAStudent initiative and emphasizes commonality over divisiveness as a strategy for creating a college-going culture for all. Also, here’s a shout out to College Spark Washington for their leadership in helping ensure readiness in Washington state for more students.
The educators mentioned in 14 Educators and Resources Pushing for Progress are all creating classrooms or environments that help support equitable learning opportunities for all students.
Our #GenDIY (Generation Do It Yourself) series launched into a website this year, with a focus on how young people are charting their own course to create access to opportunities.


The most important tech trend of 2016 was the rise of artificial intelligence. It got smarter and more pervasive, AI startups were gobbled up by big platforms, and the media started covering the implications of a few important reports including the Stanford AI study—Artificial intelligence in 2030 (ok, we admit that this one’s not by us, but it is incredibly relevant if you want to understand AI and where we are headed).
We think it’s a good time to #AskAboutAI and have written about the implications of machine intelligence in healthcare, security, transportation, manufacturing,  at home, in education and what it means for our kids.  Tom writes about how algorithms are making a difference in 9 Ways Smart Machines are Improving Your Life.
In the #AskAboutAI podcast, we hear about how AI could potentially impact our students. Listen here: The Future is Here: Artificial Intelligence & What it Means For Our Kids.

Dual Language

We loved this post on why dual language is an economic imperative and important for equity. This published pre-election, and seems more important than ever.

Ed Policy

The iNACOL Policy team highlighted 6 ways states can redefine student success under the new federal education law – ESSA.
Senator Howard Stevenson was on the Getting Smart Podcast talking about policy that supports personalized learning.

Edu Conferences

Our staff compiled the 25 Can’t-Miss Education Conferences in 2017. We look forward to seeing you at these great events in 2017.
We also went to iNACOL Symposium in 2016. Read our recap here: 3,500 Educators Committed to Innovation for Equity.

Leaderboards and Gamification

Another topic we took up in 2016 was the appropriate use of leaderboards and gamification strategies. We looked at performance monitoring in private and public, formal and informal, and individual and team settings, and we drew six conclusions: measure what matters, be timely and relevant, honor different motivational profiles, encourage effort, avoid shame and blend competition and cooperation.

Let’s Get Personalized

In What’s Next? Personalized, Project-Based Learning, we explore how schools are working to personalize projects for students. Many schools realize that collaborative learning all day isn’t going to help each individual student reach all of their academic and personal goals, so there needs to be some element of personalization.
Tom writes about how much ground we have made in the personalized learning space and outlines several areas where we still need more progress. Read Personalized Learning in 2016: What’s Working, What’s Missing for more!

Networks and New Schools

In June we asked 20 experts for tips on new school development, and overnight we had 100 tips—5000 words—and the message was clear: getting the culture right is most important.
From our colleagues at New Tech Network, we loved this post on an ambitious plan to make the nation proud of its public schools.


Our team traveled to PBL World, a conference dedicated to high-quality project-based learning. One of our favorite blogs from the conference is Promising Practices in Project-Based Learning and Equity.
As part of our work to promote high-quality project-based learning, we featured 35 leaders on the success and challenges of high-quality PBL, and then an additional 30 leaders. Read more about initiatives in supporting quality engagement and inquiry using PBL.
Teachers provided examples of their favorite projects in  5 Power PBL Examples: Makers, Muppets and More!
We keep referring back to this post on whether it’s a project or an activity as we continue to discuss elements of high-quality project-based learning.

Place-Based Education

In 2016, we launched our Place-Based Education campaign. For more on the series, see where it all began.


Platforms have transformed the economy. We wrote a blog about how platforms might transform education in our blog Is education next? We also offered a follow-up post after our review of learning platforms.

School Visits

School visiting are a great way to learn, and we visited a lot of schools in 2016 including Denver and the Bay Area. Here’s a blog and podcast on Project-Based Learning at Olin College and an earlier post on Student-Centered Learning at Olin College.
We also visited and wrote about Bulldog Tech, Katherine Smith and Urban Promise—we can’t wait to continue to visit schools in 2017.
In Blended, Project-Based and Social Emotional Learning at Thrive Public Schools, we got to take a tour of this great San Diego school and got a glimpse of the future of learning: blended, personalized and competency-based.
Tom also visited The Greenest School in the World in Bali—and we were all a bit jealous!


In the move towards equity and access globally, our staff has written about innovations in learning around the world. We wrote specifically about Africa in 5 Organizations Scaling Innovations in Learning Across Africa.
We officially launched our #SmartPlanet series with an article by Bonnie Lathram and VIF International Education’s David Potter, Why Global Should Be the Education Movement of 2017. We invite you to connect, create and share with us on this topic, now and in the new year.

#STEM Gems

There’s still time to find great ways to promote STEM with students (or your own kids). Check out our staff guide to STEM treasures: Best of 2016 STEM Gifts for Kids: Preschool Through Elementary.


The infamous “marshmallow experiment” on delayed gratification reminds us that sometimes waiting is hard for kids (or for humans in general). In On Becoming More Than Preparing: 10 Tips on Developing Humans, we talk about emphasizing students’ abilities to manage themselves, to collaborate with others and to make good decisions.
You never know what you will learn from eavesdropping—an interesting conversation between a grandpa and his grandson resulted in 7 Things Middle Schoolers Should Know. Now, more than ever, it is important to make sure that students are prepared for social interaction. This serves as a good list of conversations to have with your kids before they head back to school after the break.
We also have written about self-directed learning, what it is and what it takes to cultivate more agency and self-directed learners.
We are looking forward to 2017. If you have a favorite blog from 2016, let us know. Tweet at us @Getting_Smart and we can add it to the list. If you have ideas for blog content, check out our guest posting policies. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to activate your educator voice, we’d love to read your post for consideration for GettingSmart.com. Thanks, and Happy New Year!
For more, see:

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Three Tips for Leaving Your Classroom Island

By Stacie Zdrojewski
As human beings, we’re often more focused on getting something right the first time than on learning and growing from mistakes. In my classroom, I noticed that my students seemed to focus more on the end product than the process itself. They were quick to raise a hand to ask for my help—and therefore less likely to struggle on their own, learn from their mistakes and persevere.
In our classrooms, we often engage our students in working with partners to solve a problem, but as teachers we often work alone. Teaching can be a very isolating profession. It can be difficult and intimidating to step outside of our comfort zone and take an honest look at how we can improve. However, I’ve become a better teacher through leaving my classroom “island” and embracing collaboration. Stepping out of my classroom has helped me to develop a network of colleagues who share strategies and expertise that I have also shared at my school, my district and within my state.
I have developed a growth mindset for myself, and I am now instilling the importance of this mindset in my students. This started with changing my teaching strategies. Take mathematics, for example. Instead of presenting new ideas in a traditional way, I start by having students solve problems that develop their conceptual understanding. My students use these problems to explore new ideas and discover a deeper understanding through productive struggle. Once they gain this basic understanding, we strengthen it through developing their fluency and procedural knowledge.
Teaching in this format has allowed me to present real world applications of math as problems to be solved, which is quite different from the former drill and kill algorithm method. My students are now more inclined to keep trying, problem solve and embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
How did this change occur? When I was willing to step out of my own classroom and to think about questions and ideas collaboratively with other educators, I became a more engaging teacher.

Joining The Dream Team

One such opportunity that has had a tremendous impact on my practice has been my work with the LearnZillion Dream Team. Strengthening my understanding of the Common Core Standards and curriculum has led to more thoughtful lesson planning and fine tuning.
Working as a coach, both in my home state of Delaware and nationally, has opened my eyes to the different ways others approach many of the same instructional challenges I have. Talking and working with other teachers, both within my building and in schools 2,600 miles away, has given me new ideas, perspectives and a network of supportive problem-solving partners and advocates who share new opportunities.
Through my work with LearnZillion, I also learned about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Teacher Advisory Council. Wanting to further scale my impact beyond my school and state, I applied to become a member of the Council and was accepted. Working on the Teacher Advisory Council has provided me the chance to consider the future of public education.
At our most recent session, we discussed teacher preparation programs and how a more diverse population of teachers could be recruited. We also discussed the importance of teacher leadership and I began to consider how we could improve aspects of this at my school. These collaborative experiences have truly helped me to become a more reflective practitioner. There is always room to grow and I embrace the opportunity to become a better teacher.

Next Steps For Your First Step

So how can you take the first step toward scaling your own impact as a teacher? Stepping outside of your classroom can feel difficult, but it doesn’t need to be—there are many ways to find opportunities to collaborate and grow as a professional.

  • Seek support from your school leadership. Ask your administrators about training opportunities and collaborative experiences. Ask about how they can help you meet your professional development needs. Perhaps you can even develop your expertise on instructional strategies and provide training to other teachers.
  • Talk to other teachers. Join virtual collaboration groups. Embrace Twitter as a venue through which to connect to others in the educational community. Other educators can be a wealth of information. I’ve found that the more people I meet, the more opportunities I discover.
  • Do your research on topics that you’re passionate about. Be willing to take a chance on yourself. Personally, I’ve been humbled to find myself working alongside teachers who are amazing educators and people. Reach for the opportunities you hope to experience.

Stepping outside of your comfortable classroom to examine yourself and how you can improve is the best way to remain engaged and grow as an educator. Don’t let fear keep you from leaving your island. Network and collaborate and you’ll become a better teacher, too.
For more, see:

Stacie Zdrojewski is a national board certified fifth-grade teacher at Richey Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. Follow her on Twitter: 

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Promoting Psychological Safety in Classrooms for Student Success

Getting It Right
In grammar school I stuttered,
felt the hot panic on my face
When my turn to read crept up the row.
Even when I counted the paragraphs
And memorized the passage,
I’d trip on the first or second word,
and then it would be over,
the awful hesitation, the word
clinging to the lining of my throat
rising only too late to avoid
The laughter around me. I was never
the smartest kid in the room
but I had answers I knew were right
yet was afraid to say them.
Years later it all came out, flowing
sentences I practiced over and over,
Shakespeare or Frost, my own tall tales
In low-lit barrooms, scribbled
in black-bound journals, rehearsing,
anticipating my turn, my time,
a way of finally getting it right.
-Kevin Carey
Performance terror. We’ve all known a classroom, meeting room or stage where we didn’t feel safe doing something we were quite capable of doing.
Garrison Keillor read Kevin Carey’s poem on Writer’s Almanac on Wednesday. Carey’s day job is teaching at Salem State University. “As a college professor I encourage students to read their work aloud, but I never insist on it,” said Carey. “Sometimes those who are uncomfortable doing it will volunteer on their own because it’s their decision rather than mine.”
The same day, Dena Simmons’ TED talk discussing psychological safety in classrooms was featured on the TED homepage and podcast.
Dena Simmons giving speech on confronting impostor syndrome and psychological safety in classrooms
Simmons grew up in a tough part of the Bronx. When her mom got her into a prestigious school in Connecticut, she felt like an imposter. But she persevered, became a teacher, and returned to the Bronx, where she created a classroom that made all students feel proud of who they are.
“I centered my instruction on the lives, histories and identities of my students. And I did all of this because I wanted my students to know that everyone around them was supporting them to be their best self,” said Simmons.
“So while I could not control the instability of their homes, the uncertainty of their next meal, or the loud neighbors that kept them from sleep, I provided them with a loving classroom that made them feel proud of who they are, that made them know that they mattered,” added Simmons.
“There is a better way, one that doesn’t force kids of color into a double bind; a way for them to preserve their ties to their families, homes and communities; a way that teaches them to trust their instincts and to have faith in their own creative genius,” said Simmons.

Safety: Key to Effectiveness

It’s never been more important to help young people develop the skills and confidence to become self-directed learners, makers, creators, problem-solvers and project managers, and it all starts with a safe place to learn.
In a study of effective teams at Google, the most important factor was creating “psychologically safe environments.” Teams that encourage safe discussions and different viewpoints succeed more.
On the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion–what researchers referred to as ”equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.” On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. The good teams had high social sensitivity, they had team members that could sense how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Culture: Key to Safety

A supportive and inclusive culture is key to psychological safety. When employees feel safe, it leads to better learning and performance outcomes, according to research by Harvard’s Amy Edmondson.
A culture of safety starts with leaders that are inclusive and humble, and that encourage their staff to speak up or ask for help, according to Edmondson. Rather than creating a culture of fear of negative consequences, feeling safe in the workplace helps encourage the spirit of experimentation so critical for innovation.
“To achieve [an emotionally safe environment], you have to find the right balance of being emotionally open and authentic without sacrificing the boundaries and hierarchy that keep you and your students secure,” suggests teacher Mark Phillips.
Schools like Deer Park Community City Schools (recently featured in this EdWeek article) are taking an innovative and blended approach to improving school culture by focusing on strengths. Thanks to a partnership between Mayerson AcademyVIA Institute on Character and Happify (an online gaming platform that supports social-emotional learning concepts), students and staff are identifying and developing character strengths and building a safe learning environment.
A study of new schools found that getting the culture was the most important factor. “Pay attention to culture,” says Pat DeKlotz, Kettle Moraine School District. “Listen to students and take the time to nurture the human element.

Advisory: Making Safety Personal

The transition to secondary schools with six to eight classes taught by different teachers can be unsettling for even the most confident students. Frequent passing periods can be a crowded maze that feel like running the gauntlet. To set the cultural tone, reinforce shared values, and connect with every student personally on a frequent (at least 3-5 times weekly) basis. Most high performing schools use an advisory system.
The goal of an advisory system is to help students figure out who they are, where they’re headed, and how they’re going to get there. Through an advisory, each student has an adult who knows them and helps them navigate high school so that they leave with a meaningful, personalized plan and are prepared for postsecondary options. In addition to guidance, an advisory structure ensures that there is a daily personal check-in with every student. Sustained adult relationships can help students navigate the complex secondary experience and spot and fix problems quickly.
Not only does advisory promote a safe environment, but, in the case of the College Spark Washington funded College Readiness Initiative, such structures have helped to boost graduation rates by providing a personalized approach to guidance.

Safety on Projects

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) editorJohn Larmer said, “It’s important to build student independence; you can’t just turn them loose and expect them to be able to effectively function autonomously. Scaffolding includes co-crafted norms, practices and routines.”
Here are eight tips from Larmer for safe spaces on project teams:

  1. Discuss teamwork with students, drawing from their past experience, noting what it looks like when it goes well and what can go wrong.
  2. Develop clear criteria for teamwork; create a  collaboration rubricor another list of expectations/norms. Post guidelines on the classroom wall.
  3. Form teams by carefully considering who would work well together. If a particular student needs extra support or understanding (or, shall we say, special handling), put him or her with the right teammates.
  4. Have each team write (or give them a template) and sign a contract that spells out their agreements about working together, and the steps to be taken when they don’t (do NOT let the first step be “get the teacher!”).
  5. Practice collaboration skills before and during a project (e.g., use role-plays, team-building activities, fishbowl modeling, or have them practice on short, fun, low-stakes tasks).
  6. Teach students how to run meetings, play various roles, use conflict resolution skills and use decision-making strategies; and have students self-assess and reflect on collaboration skills at checkpoints.
  7. Monitor teams closely, sit in during team meetings and hold meetings with teams or team representatives to check in on progress and teamwork.
  8. Remember one of the benefits of PBL: chronically disengaged or absent students may be more motivated to participate if the project is engaging and/or if they have a sense of obligation to their team. Or, at the very least, they are more likely to go along with peer pressure.

A supportive culture, sustained advisory relationships, and teaching strategies that create positive learning all promote psychological safety.
“Every child deserves an education that guarantees the safety to learn in the comfort of one’s own skin,” said Simmons.
For more, see:

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Designing Successful Gamification Practices in Higher Education

By Bob Hand
Gamification has become an increasingly pervasive part of education over the last decade. Educators in K-12 schools have found creative ways to engage students by gamifying coursework. But why are these teaching strategies not more common in higher education?
Gamification, the process of introducing elements and mechanics from games into the classroom, can often be dismissed as just a buzzword in HigherEd. HigherEd educators and students have become apprehensive of the concept of mixing work with games. The aim of gamifying the curriculum is to improve student motivation and engagement—and when applied correctly, there is evidence that games can improve student performance.
However, gamification has had both positive and negative effects in education. Here are examples of both sides.

Promising Uses of Gamification

For educators, mastering gamification requires restructuring current teaching methods. It is only successful if it is holistically integrated into the curriculum. Affixing game mechanics to pre-existing lesson plans in a slapdash manner can confuse and frustrate students; it can unnecessarily complicate simple processes. Here are some examples of well-implemented gamification:
Modeling your classroom as a role-playing game.
A well-known example of successful gamification in education is that of the work of Dr. Lee Sheldon. In 2009, this professor began modeling his classroom on a massively multiplayer online game. Students created avatars, formed guilds with classmates and completed quests to gain experience points.
Furthermore, Sheldon made structural changes to the class to offer choices to his students. Students could tackle assignments in the order of their own choice. As long as they reached level twelve by the end of the semester, they would receive an A.
According to Sheldon’s book, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game, the average grade of students rose from a C to a B under this new system. Attendance records also improved drastically. Other educators have taken notice, and many of the strategies described in Sheldon’s work pervade pedagogy today.
Gamification to motivate students during lectures.
Engaging over two hundred students at a college lecture might seem like a daunting task, but Professor Cliff Lampe has found that the solution is to gamify his lectures. At the University of Michigan, Lampe has been using elements of gamification such as offering students the freedom of choice, providing rapid feedback via a monitoring system, offering chances for students to work as a team, and using “game labels” (such as those used by Dr. Sheldon).
Despite scrutiny from his peers, Lampe’s strategies proved successful. The lecturer has reported that students have given extremely positive feedback to his approach. Students praise the professor’s focus on collaboration and choice. Furthermore, they claim to have a greater retention of class material.

Examples of Ineffective Gamification

There are also several examples of ineffective uses of games in HigherEd. While usually well-intentioned, these attempts do not contribute to better learning. These attempts to gamify either fail to engage students, misunderstand the purpose of gamification, or merely distract students with extrinsic motivators:
Games do not always motivate students.
Virtual badges and other rewards will help to motivate some students. However, a number of students will inevitably be turned off by gamification. Due to preconceptions they may carry, they will not respond favorably to such strategies. Other students may be turned off by the competitive nature of some aspects of gamification. Some elements, like leaderboards, should be optional for students to participate in.
Simply using extrinsic motivators, such as virtual trophies or achievement points, does not always guarantee students will actually care or be more engaged. Educators must be mindful of which gaming elements they want to try to implement into the college classroom. Most gamers will agree that achievement points and virtual trophies do not make a game good. On the other hand, choice, rapid feedback, and creative design do contribute to an engaging experience. These are the elements that professors should seek to incorporate into their teaching.
Trivializing important issues.
Introducing games into the classroom can be an effective strategy. However, using games that are based on sensitive issues can be a misstep. Author and technology advocate Refranz Davis brought up an excellent example of this mistake in an article about the game Mission US: Flight to Freedom—a game intended to give an intimate look at the history of slavery in the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are some troubling implications in the game. The fate of the player is dependent on what choices he or she makes; when the player ends the game as a slave, it is due to the decisions they made. The implication that slavery was a choice is absurd, and likely offensive to many students.
Successful gamification involves introducing elements of games into lesson planning, and it can guide the structure of the classroom, but merely introducing games into the classroom is not necessarily an effective approach to gamification.
However, there are clear incentives for educators to adopt high-quality gamification. The impact it has had on HigherEd has been substantial. Promising results continue to pour in from universities across the nation. Even counselors are finding novel methods of using technology to engage students. While more data will be needed, gamification will continue to find a place in classrooms at universities.
In the future, new strategies will be available in higher education. Universities are adopting BYOD policies, which will provide easier technology implementation for students. Pioneers in edtech are even finding ways to use virtual reality in the classroom. This shift will give students the chance to explore subjects in exciting ways.
Adaptability is key to successful teaching, and prudent educators should be careful to only implement proven strategies. Furthermore, routines can grow ineffectual over time—if a pedagogical approach is identical in every lesson, students will cease to be motivated by that approach. There are hundreds of platforms for introducing game mechanics into the classroom. Educators should continue to explore these options, and pioneer new ways to motivate and engage students.
For more, see:

Bob Hand is a blogger and education enthusiast. You can follow him on Twitter: @bob_hand567.

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5 Reasons To Take Time Out of the Classroom

By Sam Nelson
Over the course of my 12-year teaching career, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel as part of my job. Whether taking 120 eleven-year-olds to a chateau in Belgium or 15 eighteen-year-olds on a World Challenge expedition to Madagascar, each trip has had a myriad of benefits for students and staff alike.
During my two-plus years at THINK Global School (TGS), travel has been an inextricable part of my working life. Every semester brings with it new horizons, new challenges, difficult family goodbyes and joyful re-acquaintances with colleagues and students.

young man standing in front of rolling hills in greece
Greece was one of three countries we lived and learned in during the 2014-15 school year.

One thing that often strikes me is the frequency of similar conversations I have with people (ironically, I even have frequent conversations about this very topic with TGS staff and students). There are often set patterns to the start of conversations once you mention that you work or study at TGS.
“Wow, I’ve never heard of that!” is usually the starting point, closely followed by “Well, the students must all be loaded!” (which is certainly not the case—as I always emphatically state—as we have students from all over the world who come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and tuition is assessed on a sliding scale).
Sometimes I get halfway through the conversation and realize that the person I’m talking to doesn’t grasp that the students travel with us as well. I’ve often pondered this point—these people must assume we’re like the A-Team of education, swooping into foreign schools to save the educational day. “That ain’t no place-based learning, fool!”
Like me, THINK Global School’s students are in it for the long haul, with all 45 traveling alongside our staff to experience life in three different countries each year.
Another question that I’ve been asked on many occasions is simply “Why?” Why do we go to the effort of organizing visas for everyone, arranging accommodation, flights and logistics, and writing our curriculum to reflect the places in which we are living? In short, why do we explore?
I think this is a fitting moment to explain our weXplore program: each term, we arrange a series of short, themed trips for our students, typically lasting between four and six days. During my time at TGS, I’ve planned and experienced a wide range of excursions, ranging from multi-city trips across the UK and Greece to a community project in a children’s refuge in Sicily. Each of these trips has been rewarding in its own way, and has meant something different to every participant.
During one of my conversations about TGS, a teacher from another school asked me how we justify taking valuable time out of the classroom. So to reframe the question, why do weXplore?

1. Travel Broadens The Mind

This may be an overused cliché, but in my experience it really rings true. I consider myself to be a more knowledgeable person in no small part due to where I’ve been and what I’ve learned in those places.
Travel never ceases to be interesting, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose the thrill of stepping out of an airport into a new country. My favorite experiences have been the ones I’ve shared with others, and especially the people I’ve met in those locations—from Kiwis to Greeks to Bosnians.
This is the first reason why we travel. Being able to interact with locals and hear the history of a region firsthand is an invaluable learning experience. It’s also an opportunity to delve into the issues that are pertinent to the region, and experiencing them in person is more likely to generate a sense of understanding or empathy when needed.
Some of these experiences can be overwhelming, like our visit to Srebenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where one of the worst massacres of the Balkan Conflict took place. These are the experiences that often stick with our students long after leaving, and we hope as they mature into global citizens, they become motivated to create meaningful change in the places they have visited, even years down the line.

TGS student being hugged by man in white robe and brightly colored alpaca hat
TGS student Jonah receives a despacho blessing from a Q’ero Shaman. Photo by Jen Buchanan, Media Specialist at TGS

2. We Learn Much More Through Context

Here at TGS we espouse a place-based, project-based educational model. There is a lot to be said for students committing to a project, and there is a lot of evidence that points to the merits of learning through longer, in-depth tasks. In addition, students learn best when they are motivated by what they are doing. It goes without saying that in our plugged-in and multitasking society, a simple textbook is probably not going to motivate a large portion of students. So what better way to get them interested than taking them somewhere new?
It doesn’t even need to be somewhere exotic, as endless opportunities for project-based learning exist right within your community, regardless of where you live. Swapping the standard classroom routine for lessons that venture outside and establish real-world connections can do wonders for students’ motivation and focus.

3. It Reminds You That the World Is Worth Fighting For

If you’re fortunate enough to have lived in the Costa Rican cloud forest or visited the gargantuan Kauri trees in New Zealand like our staff and students have, you’ve witnessed how varied and beautiful our planet is. As beautiful as it may be, the natural world is in trouble, and it’s easy to forget about that when you’re living in any kind of urban environment.
While TGS was traveling around Costa Rica, our ninth and tenth grade students worked on a multidisciplinary project in which they chose a cause and advocated for it through a digital campaign. I was on the judging panel of the project presentations, and the students’ passion that stemmed from the first-hand experience of their chosen issues was truly inspiring.
As an educator, a trip to the cloud forest isn’t necessary for students to embrace the environment; go local with your projects by encouraging your students to tackle issues that are pertinent to their community. Projects might explore how to combat environmental contamination or cultivate a school garden that provides healthy lunchroom options. These projects instill a sense of responsibility and civic pride and often lead to conscious choices—like healthier snacking—being made outside of the school setting.

Student wearing snorkel gear and swimming in choppy waters next to floating wooden frame
Students gather marine data in The Galápagos Islands.

4. It Builds A Sense Of Community

Many educators often speak of “the line.” There is always a line between staff and students—at times immovable and rigid, sometimes shifting and opaque, but always there. “You can be friendly, but you can’t be friends,” as the mantra goes.
While I would agree that there is a different dynamic between friends than between teachers and their students, it is undeniable that it is crucial to have good relationships in the classroom. When you take those relationships out of the classroom, something very special can happen. Shared experiences between teachers and students really help build a strong community, and it’s an excellent way to enrich relationships—be friendly, without being friends.

5. Travel Isn’t Just About Sightseeing

When many people go on holiday, the onus is often on what can be seen. Much of traditional travel is passive. Yes, I’ve seen the beauty of the Iguazú Falls, and I’ve seen the Northern Lights, but I believe that the most profound experiences for students are when the onus is shifted to what they do.
From writing and recording an original Beatles-inspired song in London, to speaking to survivors of the siege of Sarajevo, to re-enacting scenes from Homer’s Iliad while cruising the Ionian sea, to bonding with local students while getting a Wilderness First Aid qualification, we endeavour to provide immersive, challenging, educational and above all active weXplores. These are the ones that really add value to the trip, and encourage learning in much more depth.
Additionally, during these excursions we encourage our students to keep the school’s core values in mind. Being cognizant of these guiding principles, like Qiú Zhi Yù (what the Chinese call a thirst for knowledge) and Ubuntu (the Zulu philosophy of human kindness towards others), helps our students approach their experiences with a common mindset and purpose.
For teachers looking to galvanize greater interest in their students by taking time out of the classroom, I encourage you to look at what values are important to you personally as an educator and embed them into how your students learn.

Students standing and smiling in front of Machu Picchu, a great way to take time out of the classroom
TGS students Wajahat and Victor explore Machu Picchu. Photo by Tianxiao Xu

And that’s why weXplore. I hope our approach to infusing travel into educational experiences is something you can apply directly to your own classroom experiences, whether it be on a local level or, even better, during your own school excursion to the cloud forests of Costa Rica.
This blog is part of our “Place-Based Education” blog series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, check out the PBE campaign page. Join in the conversation on social media using #PlaceBasedEd. For more on Place-Based Education, see:

This post was originally published on Huffington Post.
Sam Nelson teaches Spanish at THINK Global School. Follow them on Twitter: @TGSTHINKGlobal

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The Trifecta: A Triple-Threat Interactive Learning Structure

Have you ever seen an interactive learning structure that fosters academic debates, encourages a deeper analysis of the standards, and challenges students with seemingly insurmountable team tasks? A “triple-threat” structure this strong warrants the perfect name.
Introducing “The Trifecta.”
A new learning design from Studio 113, “The Trifecta” guides student teams through three rigorous rounds that demand participation, require upper-level thinking skills, and reinvigorate students’ often dormant creativity.
Just take a look at some of the highlights from our recent study of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” speech or dive on into the video tutorials below.
Either way, you’ll see that awesomeness comes in threes.

An Introduction and How-To Video Tutorial

Need any pertinent copies? Feel free to download the overview slideshow and the scoresheet.

Round 1 Examples: The Debate: Agree or Disagree

Round 2 Examples: Strictly-Standards Round

For these particular examples, students discuss rhetorical strategies found in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” speech. Feel free to adjust this round to suit the needs of your classroom, whether it be art, physical education, math, history, science, language arts or absolutely any other content area that warrants a jam-up learning structure.

Round 3 Examples: The Challenge

For this round, not only should the students be creative, but the teachers should show their creative abilities, too. By proposing challenging (and often wacky) assignments, teachers will lead the way and inspire students to return the originality with enthusiasm and engagement. What are some of the things we do in Studio 113? Rap songs, movie trailers, Nerfball discussions, putter challenges, the speaker/the whisperer/the visual re-enactments, and a number of improvisational games from Whose Line Is It Anyway? Go ahead. Create something awesome that will make your students’ eyes resemble a deer in headlights.
Yep! YOU have been challenged. Now challenge your students.

The Judges In-Action

Teamwork and Collaboration

Best of the Trifecta

A 360° Video Gallery in ThingLink

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Getting Smart Podcast | Stanford CTO Provokes Good Questions Online (and Off)

You can gauge the quality of learning by the quality of questions a young person asks. That’s the pedagogical punch line of Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean at Stanford University Graduate School of Education.
Dr. Kim and I shared the podium at the Digital Education Show in Dubai. After recapping tech trends—VR, AI, and IOT—Kim lamented that our education system has contributed to a reduction in the number of questions young people ask as they grow older. Young children ask lots of questions (about 40,000 between ages 2-5), but, according to Kim, they become more passive learners as they move through the education system. He thinks we should provoke more good questions rather than focus on the regurgitation of answers.

To support inquiry-based learning, Dr. Kim launched SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment). The application promotes and collects student inquiries, after which students can rate the quality of other questions. Creating and rating questions helps students check their understanding of what they learned.
To support use in areas with little or no connectivity, the SMILE team created a battery powered unit complete with open educational resources. In some respects, Dr. Kim finds it easier to introduce inquiry-based learning in developing economies where there is little or no formal education. Where standards and standardized testing have been introduced, he finds it less likely that good questions will be provoked.
In our conversation, Dr. Kim discusses how machine learning will improve the ability to collect and rate the quality of questions. Given the rise of smart machines and widespread use of automation, Kim believes it is more important than ever to encourage students to ask good questions. He also agrees that it’s a good time to #AskAboutAI.

For more, see:

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