3D Printing Enhances Student-Centered Learning

We are in an exciting time in education, where innovative topics like Design Thinking, Rapid Prototyping, Entrepreneurism, Engineering Design, High Quality Project-Based Learning, and The Future of Work are at the center of discussion. How can we give our students the chance to master content knowledge while integrating these student-centered approaches to education in the classroom? For the last five years, 3D printing has been an important part of my classroom because it encourages an innovation mindset, exposes students to elements of design thinking, and fosters self-directed learning.

How 3D Printing Works

3D printers extrude melted filament onto a build plate, one horizontal layer at a time. Here’s how the 3D printing process works, from start-to-finish:

  1. Design an object: Use 3D design software such as Tinkercad or SketchUp (both free) to create an object. Unlike inkjet or laser printers, 3D printers cannot print files directly from these software programs.
  2. Export the object for printing: To print an object, the file will need to be exported from the 3D design software, typically as an STL or OBJ file.
  3. Slice the object: The STL or OBJ files do not contain printer-specific instructions for how to print the object layer-by-layer, which is called slicing. Free software such as Cura or Slic3r creates and saves these instructions in a file format supported by your printer. Some printing platforms, such as the Polar Cloud, take the STL or OBJ file through a built-in slicer behind the scenes.
  4. Print the object: Upload the file to your printer, and watch the layers print!

Ideas for Integrating 3D Printing into Your Classroom

Where can you integrate 3D printing in your class? Anywhere!! If you currently have a lesson or project where your students create or build something by hand, you can easily alter the assignment to allow 3D printing as an optional or required medium. If your school does not have a 3D printer, programs such as the GE Additive Education Program are making it easier to acquire one.

Here are some lesson ideas for your students, by discipline:

  • Geometry: Create an object, then draw its orthographic projection; Create a shape, compute its volume, and physically verify the volume; Design a shape that has a specific volume and verify the volume; Print objects and find the center of gravity or turn them into a mobile and find the center of gravity; Design shapes that satisfy the Golden Ratio; Design tesselating shapes.
  • Algebra/Pre-Calculus/Calculus: Use software to rotate a function around an axis and print the resulting shape as either a solid object or hollow vase; Use estimation or calculus to compute the volume of the solid or hollow vase and physically verify the volume; Print polynomial, exponential, trigonometric, polar, or parametric graphs and hang them in the classroom.
  • History/Social Studies: Research, design, 3D print, and decorate an ancient artifact or tool and write about its origins, use, and history.
  • English/Language Arts:  Link 3D printing to a book project. One of my colleagues asked her students, who were reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, to create a device to help the main character carry out her everyday activities. Some students 3D printed prototypes of their device.
  • Science: Design a phone case that survives a fall from a given height; Create models of molecules or crystalline structures; Design blades for a small pinwheel or windmill; Design simple gears that turn together; Design objects and find their center of gravity.
  • Art: Model work from an artist who currently works in 3D printing. Check out this article about how 3D printing has changed the art world.
  • Design Thinking, Engineering Design: With 3D printing, inventions or ideas can quickly become prototypes, giving students time to fix designs that fail on the first try.
  • Additional resources for ideas: Thingiverse, Makerbot Educators Guidebook, Ultimaker Educator Resources, STEAMTRAX curriculum.

Tips to Make Your 3D Printing Project Run Smoothly

1. Get familiar with the basics of 3D design software.

If you are new to 3D design software, spend some time learning how to navigate so that you can assist your students with basic questions. You do not need to be an expert, but it is helpful if you can suggest useful videos for students to watch when they need assistance.

2. Explain to your students how 3D printers work.

When students understand how 3D printers work, they design objects that have a better chance of printing without issue. Some 3D printing problems can be avoided by rotating an object so that it prints in a different direction, or by dividing it into several parts and printing each part separately. Slicing software can also build temporary supports as an object print. This time-lapse video shows a dragon as it is printed, with supports that are removed after the print completes.

3. Provide plenty of rulers.

Before starting, know the size limitations (length, width, and height) of your 3D printer. When students ask, “Is 10 millimeters long enough?”, hand them a ruler and let them figure it out themselves. If students don’t ask about measurements, remind them to check the dimensions of their design to ensure it is an appropriate size.

4. Plan extra time in your project timeline for the 3D prints to complete.

Your slicing software will estimate the print time of each object. I typically add several weeks to the project timeline to allow me to complete the prints. We move on to other topics during that time, returning to the project when printing is complete.

5. Consider placing size restrictions on the objects.

For some lessons, I plan to print one object per student. In this case, I give students a size restriction or scale their objects so that the print takes no longer than 30 minutes.

6. Consider asking each student to design their own object.

Some of my 3D printing projects are individual projects. I typically schedule these in the beginning of the year so that everyone learns how to use the software, watches their object print, and sees the impact of their design choices on the 3D print. As time permits, I allow students to redesign and reprint their object if the print fails the first time.

7. Keep track of student objects.

It is very easy to lose track of objects and files, especially when there are multiple versions of each. To prevent confusion, I ask students to include their name and version number in the 3D printing filename. As objects finish printing, I immediately write student names on them with either tape or permanent marker.

8. Be flexible and have fun!

Everyone gets excited when they see designs quickly coming to life. If something doesn’t work right, brainstorm a solution with a class. The successes AND failures are equally important learning!

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Building the Cognitive Muscles to Thrive in the Automation Age

The Information Age was a four decade long global sprint to incorporate information technology; the World Economic Forum calls it the Third Industrial Revolution. It changed how we live, work, play, and, just in the last few years, how we learn.

We’ve entered a new era with new learning priorities and opportunities. We’re only a few years into this automation age (WEF calls it the Fourth Industrial Revolution) but it is becoming clear that it’s changing the nature of work and skills required for contribution.

Living in this new era requires us all to learn for a lifetime and, starting at an early age, to take charge of our learning, and direct it for life.

A few intrepid educators spotted the potential for technology-enhanced learning in the 1990s: productivity tools (word processors and spreadsheets), computer games, digital curriculum, and, perhaps most profound, online research. Search tools on the World Wide Web flipped the education challenge from scarcity to abundance, from memorize to synthesize. Instead of a few people sorting limited choices, it’s often up to individual learners to weigh the veracity of claims.

The first online programs extended access to students and families that need new options. As portable computers became available, early adopters created blended and personalized learning environments. Adaptive software helped chart individual learning journeys.

With philanthropic support, a few advocacy groups including iNACOL led the information age learning revolution, first with online learning, then blended and personalized learning. Contributions included field building, convening, and pointed to quality and equity.

The New Opportunity in Student-Centered Learning

Six global trends are framing the new opportunity for student-centered learning. They build on the progress made in blended, personalized, and competency-based learning and add updated goals and learner voice and choice.

Narrow goals: often limited to literacy and numeracy, which are necessary but insufficient for success in college and careers Broader aims: a graduate profile that incorporates the knowledge, skills, and habits of success
Fixed mindset: beliefs and biases that result in different expectations for students and often become self-fulfilling prophecies Growth mindset: an appreciation that capability grows with effort
System-centric: education is done “to” students, rather than placing the student at the center Learner agency: students are engaged in their own success, their interests and skills are incorporated into the learning process
Time bound system: advanced students are bored, struggling learners advance unprepared for what’s next Personal progress: learners get time and support to succeed and move on after demonstrating mastery
Mixed messages: grades are often averages over time combining effort, achievement, and extra credit–not a reflection of mastery Clear feedback: learners receive frequent and detailed feedback on growth
Confined education: learning is primarily confined to the four walls of the classroom Community learning: learning happens at school, home and in the community anytime

Nellie Mae Education Foundation says student-centered learning engages students in their own success—and incorporates their interests and skills into the learning process.

This new era requires that we build student agency–that we put learners in the driver’s seat–for three reasons:

Worksheets don’t build growth mindsets, entrepreneurial mindsets or social and emotional intelligence. These new-era cognitive muscles are built through extended challenges, community-connected work, and a culture of strong supports and rich feedback.

Developing new and transformed learning environments will require thoughtful leadership, rich professional learning experiences, and networks of educators committed to working together for student success. It’s time to build new community agreements in support of student-centered learning–it’s the new opportunity.

For more see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.

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Data Interoperability: Applying Playground Principles to EdTech

This post was originally published by LearnPlatform.

Share. Play nicely together. Get along with others. For most of us, these lessons are imparted at a tender and impressionable age in order to lay the groundwork for our development into successful adults. While the ability to grasp these concepts quickly can turn us into popular and well-liked children on the playground, the long-term benefits of embodying these seemingly basic ideals cannot be overstated. Individuals that solidly identify with these traits often find themselves in desirable positions later in life, whether they be related to career fulfillment, financial success or status in their community.

If these concepts are so fundamental to our development from a young age, and so obviously beneficial to our success, why is it that we struggle to incorporate them in the methods and standards we employ when collecting and disseminating data on the edtech being used in the same classrooms that imparted this essential wisdom in the first place? This “get along with others” approach to edtech tools and platforms is commonly known as data interoperability and is a key concern in edtech management, and an opportunity for developers to apply lessons learned about sharing and cooperation into effective use.

Better Interoperability = More Useful Data

Whether you approach edtech evaluation from the lens of a school administrator, a government official, a teacher or a product company, it’s clear that the demand for actionable data on the technology used in our schools is impossible to ignore. Accurate usage data is critical to assessing the impact of an edtech tool and for making informed decisions. In classroom day-to-day operations, school- and district-wide purchasing, and federal reporting requirements stipulated by ESSA, edtech decision-making has become increasingly data-driven.

The demand for data is high, but the usability, comprehensiveness, format and accessibility of this data are not yet where they need to be. Student data is being captured by thousands of edtech products through a wide variety of methods. Not all data capture is aligned, not all data is made actionable and, when it comes to quality, not all data is created equal. Achieving data accessibility and standardization is essential for the complete interoperability of all edtech products.

These interoperability demands aren’t going anywhere and a number of organizations have taken notice by making real efforts to comply with standards designed by IMS Global Learning ConsortiumEd-Fi Alliance and Project Unicorn, among others. These groups are defining the standards for schools, districts and vendors to follow for optimum interoperability.

While we have seen a number of product companies work steadily toward data standards compliance within a successful and open edtech ecosystem, there’s still a long way to go before we get where we need to be. So, to borrow a phrase our CEO is fond of, “We ain’t as good as we wanna be. We ain’t as good as we gonna be. But we’re a damn sight better than we was.”

Interoperability Makes it Easy for Districts to Say “Yes”

Product companies that are pursuing a path of interoperability are already beginning to reap the benefits. While an altruistic drive to better the overall education ecosystem motivates many companies, the good vibes can also be felt on the bottom line. In the long run, a commitment to interoperability results in major savings for school districts and increased revenues for product companies. In an increasingly data-driven marketplace, edtech purchasing decision-makers are beginning to rely heavily on research and evidence that can support the effectiveness of those products in the classroom. The easier it is to access that data and run analyses on it, the better armed these decision-makers are when it comes time to justify purchasing decisions or license renewals.

According to Project Unicorn, “72 percent of districts say interoperability is a concern that influences procurement decisions.” Larger companies are starting to take notice as well, due to competition from many new and nimble organizations that are ready, willing and able to meet these data standards. Their responsiveness and ability to provide accessible and usable data can be the defining factor when it comes to purchasing considerations. In an article by Michelle Davis of Education Week, “Smaller vendors that deliver on interoperability can find themselves winning contracts over much more established education companies. Vendors that ignore the issue may not have their existing contracts renewed.” These companies may suddenly find themselves with a leg up, when previously they may not have stood a chance.

Data is Used to Make an IMPACT

Accurate usage data is critical to evaluating the impact of an edtech tool. That’s why we developed LearnPlatform’s IMPACT™ Analysis, our rapid-cycle evaluation that integrates data from multiple sources including educator feedback, pricing data, product usage and student achievement data to produce evidence-based reports and dashboards on product effectiveness. Schools and districts run IMPACT Analyses in order to get actionable evidence that can advance the quality of teaching and learning with digital technology. Of essential importance is the fact that these insights are not only high quality and inaccessible elsewhere, but districts get them fast (within hours), so they can be used to inform purchasing and implementation decisions.

Sample IMPACT Analysis in LearnPlatformWe offer schools and districts sample language to facilitate utilization data requests for product companies or offer our direct support by reaching out to companies on their behalf. The best situation occurs when we are able to connect product companies together with our customers to have a conversation. An increasing number of product companies are happy to engage with our team on behalf of their clients and are eager to learn more about how their products are working for educators and students. Different sources of data are used for various analyses and reports, and most companies are able to share usable data when we engage them in the process. Sources include usage, pricing, achievement and covariate data and study group assignments to run either utilization, cost or IMPACT Analyses. Learn more in our data use guide.

A Standardized Approach Will Accelerate Edtech Innovation

It’s time for us to make strides toward meeting data standards, or risk floundering in an environment riddled with guesswork. Many product companies are not only on board, but are the driving force for adopting standards. In an article published by EdSurge Stephen Laster, Chief Digital Officer at McGraw-Hill Education, stated, “By committing to a more open, collaborative future, we can accomplish our goals by putting students and educators in a better position to achieve theirs. This is not just an imperative for companies—the entire ecosystem needs to adopt these standards too. School districts building their own content, well-meaning philanthropists who are funding developments, policymakers and the Department of Education all need to endorse and insist on these standards. It will create a better world for us all.” This is a perspective that everyone working with edtech can get behind.

For more, see:

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What Does Space Exploration Look Like in K-12 Education?

“Shift our efforts in space from low to high gear,” was a sentiment given weight in President John F. Kennedy’s Moon Speech at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962. Over a half of a century later, on April 16, 2018, the White House gave NASA a new direction to refocus exploration efforts on the moon with international and commercial partners on three core domains: low Earth orbit; lunar orbit and surface; and Mars and other deep space objectives.

As space exploration is currently being refocused, it is also a good time for education to refocus its approach to space exploration. Space exploration could be linked to almost every subject in K-12 education. For example, Public Policy and Law in relation to asteroid mining, moon and Mars colonies (who owns/controls what), politics of satellites (sensing, warfare, etc.), and space debris. Connections could also be made in Biology through rapidly evolving cell and molecular biology technologies, and Material Science through 3D printing. Below, I share a few recent announcements from the last week or two that demonstrate just how many new programs, products and projects are being created that are increasing access to space exploration as an academic subject.

Student-Centered Exploration

High school students at Montour School District are offered three unique experiences in astronomy – a course focused on stellar astronomy, a course focused on planetary astronomy, and a course titled Welcome to the Universe, new this year.

Welcome to the Universe is a course that forces students to think outside the box. Students use a non-traditional textbook, Welcome to the Universe (Tyson, Gott, & Strauss, 2017) and self-select chapters of interest, and present to the class. Students are responsible for leading discussion, providing outside resources, and providing content. Students are limited only by their own creativity.


(Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“What has blown me away is the level of detail the students put into their presentations, and also the topics they chose. As a teacher, finding ways to engage students in labs focused on these challenging topics has required some thinking outside the box too. It isn’t uncommon to find jars of beans, beach balls, or balloons in my classroom on lab days. We’re rounding out the year with a study of the life and work of Stephen Hawking and developing our own planetarium shows, with a little help from the Buhl Planetarium team at the Carnegie Science Center,” said Dr. Katie Mercadante, Astronomy Teacher at Montour High School


A full-dome planetarium at Montour School District is utilized with all students in the district. Specifically, high school students are engaging with the planetarium’s capabilities by not only viewing shows, but creating their own shows. Dr. Mercadante is currently collaborating with ELA students on creating a show related to Romeo and Juliet.



(Photo Credit: Lego Education)

On April 18, at the FIRST Championship in Houston, LEGO Education and FIRST unveiled two new, exclusive space sets, along with a couple of new challenges. The MISSION MOON Challenge will reach over 86,000 students, ages 6-10 from 41 countries and the INTO ORBIT Challenge, will invite more than 280,000 students, ages 9 to 16, from nearly 90 countries to explore, challenge and innovate in the demanding space field.


Students will not only use the new space-themed sets to compete in skills-based challenges, but students will be Getting Ready for the Jobs of the Future by facing complexity, and working together as teams. The teams will design, build and code an autonomous LEGO MINDSTORMS robot to perform a series of space-themed missions on a playing field. They will also research a problem they identify and design an innovative solution to that problem.

On April 20, Lockheed Martin announced that they will collaborate with 3D printing experts Stratasys and the engineering firm PADT to 3D print more than 100 parts for NASA’s new crew capsule, Orion–so many classrooms and schools these days are incorporating 3d printing that this could easily make for fun project inspiration.

Virtual Reality

Until we have the capability to fly students to space for a field trip, Google Expeditions (a virtual reality teaching tool that lets teachers lead or join immersive virtual experiences) allows students to explore the Solar System to understand its enormous scale. Students can observe the relationships between planets, their relative sizes and their distances from the Sun. They also learn about each planet’s orbiting time.

On April 19, The National Geographic Channel revealed the first 3D, 360-degree video of space as a part of its new documentary series “One Strange Rock.” The virtual tour takes viewers alongside astronauts aboard the International Space Station while hearing their thoughts on the enormity of space, and it left me speechless.

Space Exploration as Career Exploration

On April 17 Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) and Astrobotic announced an agreement to collaborate on delivering a roadmap of innovations that support organizations carrying out operations on and around the Moon.

This announcement is one example of how the Future of Work is shifting on Earth and catapulting to space.

In Conclusion

What can we do as schools better to prepare students to think beyond Earth for future career exploration? Below are several additional resources to help schools think through the normal curriculum and school day:

NASA Education: Discover NASA education programs, events and resources.

National Science Foundation: This collection of lessons and web resources is aimed at classroom teachers, their students, and students’ families. Most of these resources come from the National Science Digital Library (NSDL).

Space careers: A universe of options: Studying the effects of gravity on the human body. Building the next generation of telescopes. Explaining discoveries about the solar system in understandable terms.

These are just a few examples of the projects that workers undertake in jobs related to space exploration.

For more, see:

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Creating New (and Unexpected) Opportunities for Equity

Feature image: Former Woodland Hills football star Wes Lyons (right) oversees a sale at Cakery Square, a new bakery that he co-owns in Homestead. 

By Jason McKenna

One of the greatest opportunities afforded to me as the Director of Education for Robomatter is the chance to engage with educators all over the world. It turns out, that in all corners of the globe – including here in the US – the pervasive problem of equity in education is real and growing.

In search of answers to such a big and complicated problem, some equity and achievement researchers focus on race and all its implications. Others look to a faster-growing gap – the “poverty” achievement gap – for clues. And yet, after combing through research and traveling the globe, solutions to such a disturbing trend may actually be revealed in a bakery in Pittsburgh, PA, decorating cupcakes.

“I wanted to work at my dream job,” Wes Lyons said, “I wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.” Before becoming the creator of The Pursuit educator program and author of The Pursuit with Patience, Lyons achieved an ambitious dream, and is quick to point out how common and engrained the “success through sports” path is in underserved communities; mimicked over and over by those areas’ youths who view sports as the most viable escape.

As a college football star who also found success in the NFL, Lyons lived the sports dream, but pushed himself to create a difference far beyond it. He parlayed the sports success into an opportunity to provide local youth with alternative options and skills they could use to define success.

“Growing up, my mom had to work 3 jobs, so she never had the time to teach me things that we would now call 21st century skills. When they are presented in schools, often it is not done in a way that the students can relate to,” Lyons explains. “That’s why I created my program NAME, I can bring instant credibility to the students because of my background in sports and also because I came from the same community that they did.”

Lyons comments about the importance of authenticity and the power of social factors that can be seen in many of life’s arenas, including STEM, where issues of perceived – and real – accessibility, applicability and motivation are pervasive. Educational thinker Mark Guzdial offers a solution that mirrors Lyons.

Guzdial writes about the concept of “a community of practice” in his Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education: Research on Computing for Everyone.

Situated learning helps to explain why we can’t fix ills in the computing industry through teaching. Sometimes, practitioners will suggest “we can get programmers to use this paradigm (e.g., object-oriented programming), if we just teach it to them from the start,” or “most programmers have these bad coding habits, so let’s teach students to program differently from the first class.” That doesn’t really work because students want to learn what’s really used. Students want to know what is in authentic practice. They’re not interested in learning the things that aren’t being used yet. They want to join the community of practice, not create a new kind of practice. Students are less likely to study CS if they don’t see people like them succeeding in CS, if they don’t see value in learning computing, if they don’t see that they will be welcomed, or if they don’t think it fits into their view of themselves in their community.

Guzdial’s discussion of a community of practice has applications far beyond CS education. Lyons drew these very same conclusions about social pressure and the need for important subjects to be integrated into existing frameworks students might actually embrace. But in considering his ingenuity at reaching students, it could be argued that presenting true, paradigm-shifting authenticity is beyond schools and the classroom, which brings us back to the cupcakes.

“When I first started 6 years ago, I was the ‘sports guy’,” Lyons admits. “But then, I became an author, and then I started creating curricula and it gave me more ways to relate to more students.”

But Lyons didn’t stop there; he reached students outside the sports field and the classroom. He turned his enterprising abilities into a viable business in his hometown while using that venue to share his savvy and enterprising wisdom.

He built a thriving bakery – complete with a thriving workforce.

“At the bakery, we are very diverse and I value their opinions about what they think would help the business,” Lyons says. “It also gives me an opportunity to talk about money and finance with them, as it relates to building a business and the paycheck they are taking home.”

Engaging with business owners and providing students with opportunities at Cakery Square is an innovative way to establish relationships and authenticity with students; a profoundly creative way to combat the poverty and racial achievement gaps for students. But what about those teachers that do want to do more during the school day? Teachers can’t change what they look like and their life experiences. But, they can change their awareness. ­

“Culturally Responsive Pedagogy is not about what you are teaching, but it is instead about how you are teaching it and the audience that you are teaching it to,” says Dr. Philip Woods (@pk_woods), a high school principal at West Mifflin High School, equity coordinator and a strong and compelling voice in the conversation around equity  in education. “The essential question is, how do I connect instruction to the relationships I am trying to build with my students? In education, there are barriers to learning. My goal, as an educator, is to break down those barriers. The first step in that is to get students to trust you, so they can begin expressing to you their thoughts, interests and goals.”

Personal Photo provided by Dr. Woods

Any successful school intervention needs to include training and support for teachers. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy applies that same concept to the greater issue of equity that we have been describing, and Dr. Woods only further emphasizes how vital it is for teachers to be aware of these, often less noticeable, dynamics.

“Students in classrooms where the teacher doesn’t look, talk or resemble them in any way… often they will just shut down. I refer to them as imploding. They won’t cause trouble or be boisterous, but if they know they just sit there quietly, they will be left alone, and that is what they want because they feel no connection to what is going on inside of the classroom.”

For more, see:

Jason McKenna is the Director of Educational Strategy at Robomatter, Inc. Follow him on Twitter: @McKennaJ72

Feature image by Tory Parrish, 535MEDIA; first published on TribLive.com.

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Author Todd Rose: Learning is Personal, So is Success

Almost all of the human development systems on planet earth–from preschool to job training–are based on a century-old view of the average person. And they’re wrong.

In his 2013 book, Square Peg, Todd Rose tells the story of how a high school dropout became a Harvard professor in educational neuroscience. He learned four things along the way:  

  • variability is the rule: perceptions and reactions are much more dynamic and diverse than previously thought;
  • emotions are important: emotional states influence learning;
  • context is key: circumstances affect the behavior; and
  • feedback loops determine success or failure: small changes making a difference.
2016 bestseller

In his 2016 bestseller, The End of Average, Rose poured gasoline on the personalized learning wildfire sweeping American education. He illustrated that we are frequently measured against the “average person,” judged according to how closely we resemble the norm. “The assumption that average-based yardsticks like academic GPAs, personality tests, and annual performance reviews reveal something meaningful about our ability is so ingrained in our consciousness that we never question it.” But, as Rose argues, the assumption is spectacularly wrong.

“We’re headed for an era of radical personalization,” said Rose. “We’re moving away from feeling anonymous, towards a “me” that matters, in every field,” said Rose.

Rose recognized that with the rise of artificial intelligence we’ve entered a new era. He worries about the transition. He asks “Who will get the benefits?”

To make the case for individuality, Todd Rose and Parisa Rouhani cofounded Populace, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that the shift to personalization truly benefits all of society by equipping the public to participate in the change and driving transformation in social systems. In addition to large-scale public engagement work, they also pick projects with partner organizations, typically one or two years in duration, that “will produce bright spots for the public and help drive systems change.”

As part of the partnership, Populace provides these organizations with scientific, practical, and communications support. The well-funded new nonprofit brings investment and capacity to the work.

Redefining Success

Rose and Rouhani have been listening to America, crisscrossing the country, surveying, and holding focus groups. They’ve made some interesting observations.

“Everyone wants individual patients to benefit from personalized medicine,” said Rose. “Yet when you talk about education and human potential, they get that their kids would benefit but when asked if everybody would benefit, responses plummet, most people don’t believe that all kids wouldn’t benefit.”

There are two likely reasons for this disturbing belief about other people’s children. First, speculates Rose, most people don’t think that everyone is capable. And, second, the current social system is perceived to be zero sum (e.g., there is one valedictorian and entrance to the best universities is highly limited).

Like the big social platforms, Rose and Rouhani are “obsessed about the promise and pitfalls of using data to understand individuals.” What makes them different, said Rose, is that they come down firmly on the side of people. “We are not interested in using data and insights from the science of individuality simply to make systems smarter about individuals; we want to put this knowledge directly in the hands of the public so that they have greater control over their own lives.”

The listening tour yielded shifting views on success. Sixty years ago, when researchers starting studying this stuff, American’s held an industrial model of success based on wealth, status, and power. But people today want more meaning, purpose, and fulfillment–a broader conception of success. What parents want most for their children is a sense of confidence. This is particularly true of parents with middle-grade children.

Personal Success Project

In addition to his listening tour, through his laboratory at Harvard Rose and his research director, Ogi Ogas have been studying iconoclastic success stories, people that charted their own path to impact. These dark horses achieved unexpected success.

Rose and Ogas discovered a reliable path to excellence that is rooted in your own individuality. It begins by knowing what personally drives you, making choices around that priority, and building a pattern of strength around the things you care about most. Like the survey results, these dark horses prioritized fulfillment.

A new book by Rose and Ogas, Dark Horse (HarperCollins, 10/18), summarizes hundreds of these stories of success. They conclude that a fulfilling life is not dependent on connections, money, or standardized test scores. The secret is consistently making choices that complement their unique interests and abilities. In other words, it is not the pursuit of excellence that leads to fulfillment but rather the pursuit of fulfillment that leads to excellence.

Rose and I advise a couple important initiatives including the Digital Promise Learner Positioning System (see background paper) and the recently announced Whittle School & Studio, a global effort to personalize learning for future leaders.

Todd is the most important advocate of appreciating individuality. He has helped millions of parents and teachers understand how to better help children learn and grow–and helping a generation of young people become more aware of their talents and passions. His new research suggests this is not just important for learning but the key to a life of purpose, authenticity, and achievement.

For more see

This post was originally published on Forbes.

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Reflections on the ASU+GSV Summit: Injecting Innovation into Charter Schools Through Public Charter School Boards

By Nina Rees, Tom Vander Ark, Nick Driver, and Carrie Irvin

For the past nine years, Arizona State University and venture capital firm GSV have hosted an educational technology conference that looks at future trends and connects investors to educators, with the ultimate goal of improving student outcomes. This year’s ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego offered a wide array of sessions and speakers focused on elevating innovation in education and inspiring action among its 4,000+ attendees. We left the summit sufficiently inspired, and reminded of how much work there is to do if we are to see the dramatic improvements and innovations in PK-16 education that we know we need to ensure that students are prepared for a secure and productive future.

From our different seats in the education ecosystem, the four of us work closely and interact regularly with charter schools–their leaders, staff, board members, and stakeholders across the sector. We were energized by our time at ASU+GSV, but were also struck by a disconnect between the urgency, energy, and excitement in the room and the daily work going on in many charter schools.

Unlike traditional public schools, most public charter schools are governed by a nonprofit volunteer board. This is perhaps the most disruptive, innovative feature of charter schools: they operate outside the political incentives and boundaries of traditional school systems, and they are governed by groups of citizens who are accountable to the authorizer, the taxpaying public, and most importantly to the students and families in their school. Because they are not part of large and often unwieldy systems, charter schools can be more innovative, more nimble, and more responsive to both the needs of their students, and the changing nature of the world into which those students will graduate.

Our collective research and experiences across the country underscore another truth: most of the thousands of people serving as charter school board members, and leaders, bring talent and expertise to the board, but may not have the time or access to see the big picture. They are generally focused on their individual school rather than the scale of the challenge, the size of the achievement gaps, and the relatively slow pace of progress in student outcomes. In addition, many are not in professions or positions that expose them to information about the magnitude of the current and coming shifts in the economy, the kinds of jobs that will drive economic growth and revival, and what skills and competencies today’s students need to become tomorrow’s workers, and tomorrow’s leaders.

They may not have the opportunity to go to ASU+GSV Summit or similar gatherings to understand how exciting ideas in education, technology, and innovation can positively affect their schools. They also may not have the information needed to understand what’s needed to drive dramatic improvement in education outcomes, what’s possible, and how to align the most effective solution for their schools with the realities of their budgets and capacity.

Bolstering charter school and CMO boards with new talent and with information about innovation and opportunity could be an incredibly powerful lever to address that disconnect. Charter boards are ultimately accountable for school performance and student outcomes. Empowering board members to gain this perspective and expertise will deepen the partnership between board members and staff, and allow schools and CMOs to hone their vision of what is possible, as well as set a strategic course to get there.

Our interactions with Summit participants and speakers led us to wonder how powerful it would be if we could connect these entrepreneurs and innovators to public charter school boards around the country. Imagine what could happen for students if each, or even most, of the more than 4,000 attendees were to join the board of a public charter school, bring her/his skills and experience and wisdom and passion to bear, and make it her/his personal mission to do whatever it takes to dramatically improve quality, equity, and outcomes for that school. That would be a pretty powerful way to channel the energy around innovation, edtech, investment, disruption, and capital of all kinds in ways that directly and immediately impact students.

Since it is not practical to hope that all education entrepreneurs will join a public charter school board, we might also suggest that these talented edupreneurs find other ways to help connect charter school leadership into their networks. A few ideas:

  • Sponsor a charter school board member or school leader to attend convenings like ASU+GSV
  • Provide work-based learning experiences for students in public charter high schools (such as job shadows, internships, and apprentice programs)
  • Partner with schools to support out-of-school entrepreneurial learning experiences

Encouraged by their boards, charter schools can also proactively connect to the innovation economy in ways that can directly help their students:

  • Identify convenings that board members can attend, such as ASU-GSV, SXSW EDU and the National Charter Schools Conference.  Ask a board member to attend one, or to connect the board with someone who has, and report back to the board with ideas for discussion and action
  • Seek partnerships with businesses that verify competencies and provide work-based learning opportunities
  • Ask board members to read reports that focus on the future of work, and set aside board meeting time to discuss how to use the information to drive innovation and improvement in the school; such reports might include Getting Smart’s Ask About AI: The Future of Work and Learning, America Succeeds’ The Age of Agility, and MyWays from Next Generation Learning Challenges
  • Hold a school community conversation to reconsider your student learning goals; see KnowledgeWorks’ Facilitator Guide to Redefining Readiness and Battelle For Kids’ Portrait of a Graduate
  • Visit good schools, particularly those with a focus on design, entrepreneurship, and new Career and Technical Education pathways (see 100 middle and high schools worth visiting)

We left San Diego both inspired and also sobered, knowing there is still much to accomplish, and that the hard-working people on the front lines running schools cannot do it all themselves. As we look forward, we are confident that both current and future charter school board members will be able to further empower and support their schools by driving innovation and improvement in their own environments, and in PK-12 education at large.

Nina Rees is President and CEO of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Connect with her on Twitter .

Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Getting Smart. Connect with him on Twitter @tvanderark.

Nick Driver is Board Chair of Education for Change Public Schools, and VP, Strategic Development of CSMC.

Carrie Irvin, CEO and Co-Founder of Charter Board Partners. Connect with her on twitter .

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

How to Balance Teacher Buy-In With the Need for Innovation

As educators, we continue to grapple with the how much teacher “buy-in” is needed to successfully begin a tech-driven learning initiative. In an article I wrote last year entitled (provocatively enough) Greatest Lesson: Teacher Buy-In is Overrated, I explained that “the digital transition is not a fad or something we might be able to get to, but rather, an immediate necessity that cannot always wait for optimum levels of teacher buy-in.”

Since the publication of that article, I’ve heard feedback about the value of buy-in from teachers and school administrators across the country. Some educators agreed with my suggestion that school leaders can’t wait for 100% teacher consensus on change before moving forward with a tech-driven learning initiative. Others disagreed with my position, arguing that only when their entire teams are on board with a learning initiative does the initiative have any chance of being implemented equitably, with fidelity, and ultimately, successfully.

I believe the shift from hardcover textbooks to digital core instructional materials should intrinsically change classroom instruction. The shift to digital content can provide all students equitable access to content. It changes the student engagement quotient and it empowers educators to more easily differentiate instruction. And these are just a few of the benefits of the shift to digital teaching and learning.

However, making this shift and realizing the benefits of the transition to digital resources requires investment. Yes, the appropriate technological needs must be accounted for, but more importantly, the digital transition requires an investment in the teachers expected to use these new resources.

The classroom teachers in a school system undergoing the digital transition need to learn new skills and pedagogical content knowledge as they evolve their classroom practice. In addition, teachers beginning the digital transition need time to rethink and redefine instructional practices to ensure they are truly building modern learning environments and maximizing their new digital resources.

Often, teachers’ concerns over these types of issues are viewed as impediments to achieving buy-in, when in fact they should be viewed as prescient warnings to possible roadblocks on the road to a successful digital transition. School leaders need to remember that teachers are asked to wear many hats each day, including instructor, coach, mediator, therapist, medic, disciplinarian, cheerleader, and many, many more. Our incredibly busy teachers’ time is valuable, and they are right to be skeptical of changes or new initiatives that don’t immediately impact their students.

But teachers must continue to evolve their practice so they can meet the ever-changing needs of students. We know today’s students are different; they are used to interacting with digital content in their daily lives. Even more importantly, our world is changing. To deny children digital learning experiences is to deny them opportunities to acquire the very skills and competencies students needed for success beyond the classroom.

So, how do school leaders balance buy-in and the need to make the digital transition?  They get started on building dynamic digital classrooms and they develop buy-in along the way. Here are three concrete ways school leaders can get started on this process:

1. Employ the concept of “boorish redundancy” to the promise of digital. When Rick DuFour reshaped our thinking about the importance of collaboration through professional learning communities, he emphasized the need to share this vision with boorish redundancy. Mike Schmoker followed up in his Results-Driven Handbook with the need to develop the vision for a guaranteed and viable curriculum with boorish redundancy. The promise of digital also requires a vision shared with boorish redundancy. The digital transformation doesn’t occur overnight. It requires a thoughtful, planned and shared vision that begins with leaders who articulate the why and how boorishly, over and over again. In order for teachers to embrace the investment of time required, they need to know that this plan won’t fall into the “last year’s new thing, this year’s new thing” category.

2. Learn the research, then follow it where it leads. This is a broad statement, but it has very specific implications, particularly in three areas: the research on buy-in, the research on effective professional development and most importantly, the research on effective digital pedagogy. Interestingly, the research on buy-in, especially when it comes to school reform initiatives like digital transformation, is clear that teachers become more positive when they better understand an innovation. This, of course, points directly to the need to implement effective professional development to ensure that understanding. The research is equally clear on the power of professional development. Sustained, rigorous, job-embedded professional development that is directly linked to what teachers do in their classroom works will help educators acquire the instructional skills and strategies necessary for a successful digital transition. Finally, those leading the digital transition must understand the research on effective digital pedagogy, and must continue to participate in sustained professional development. Leaders need to understand digital pedagogy so they can help teachers employ those resources effectively in the classroom. Today’s students are different, and so are the tools at our disposal to serve them—why shouldn’t the way we teach change?

3. KNOW. As school leaders, we need to just know — not all the answers, but the questions, the needs and what we are willing to do to ensure that all students are future ready. As you plan for a successful digital transformation, one where buy-in will eventually come, remember to:

Keep the focus on your students.

Nurture the coalition of the willing; in time, it will expand.

Open the doors of your classrooms to show the process of innovation.

When in doubt, remember the power of the reflective question “Where are we now and where do we need to go next?”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, school leaders need to keep in mind the idea that teacher buy-in is a mutual agreement earned by promoting the benefits of a particular course of action, not through top-down pronouncements. Sometimes, individuals are incredibly stalwart in their positions and are not open to change, but it is incumbent as school leaders to make an effort to change their minds.

The strategies above are three ways school leaders I’ve met are working to achieve educator buy-in as they begin their digital transitions. What are some of the ways you are building “coalitions of the willing” among your teachers? Send a note to [email protected] and let me know–I’d love to hear from you.

For more, see:

Dr. Karen Beerer is Discovery Education’s Senior Vice President of Teaching and Learning. She began her career as a classroom teacher, but also served as a reading specialist, an elementary school principal, and as a Supervisor of Curriculum and Professional Development. Prior to joining Discovery Education, she served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in the Boyertown Area School District (PA) for 8 years.

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Coaching Yields Better Formative Assessment in Tulsa

By Tom Vander Ark & Mary Ryerse

“I’ll take as many strategies as you can give me,” Alison Keeter told her coach. As one of 20 Tulsa Public School teachers to volunteer for the formative assessment project, Keeter receives coaching from Tamara Hall

In Keeter’s third grade classroom at Mitchell Elementary, Dr. Hall is scouting for overt evidence of student thinking: what are students are doing, saying, writing, or making?

“I want to see evidence of learning goals,” said Dr. Hall. “I want to see what students know.”

The formative assessment coaching helps teachers to shift their thinking from the teacher role to the student role within the classroom so that students become more involved in, and responsible for, learning.

A typical coaching cycle begins with pre-conference sessions where teachers share various aspects of their lessons, their goals and where they would like the coach to focus regarding specific feedback. Accordingly, Hall and Keeter huddle for 10 minutes to discuss a lesson plan. Keeter explains her plan for whole group math lesson on Zearn. She explained how the lesson will be sequenced and what interactions she plans.

Keeter launches the lesson with Hall keenly observing everything in the classroom. In addition to mastering the foundational formative assessment dimensions of setting learning goals, establishing criteria for success, eliciting evidence of student learning Alison has a long-term goal of improving student-to-student peer feedback among her students learning.

To that end, Hall is observing classroom interactions to help Keeter along the progression. Scribbling on an iPad in coaching shorthand, Hall is recording the number, type, and quality of student interactions.

The lesson includes some single student responses, some turn and talk, some stop and jot. Hall is pleased to observe 100% of the students were writing their responses on their whiteboards when the teacher asked a question, providing evidence of student learning.

Hall explains that the goal of her coaching is to help Keeter become more intentional and deliberate with eliciting evidence of student learning, then be more able to make instructional decisions based on that evidence.

Dr. Hall is a former principal in Dysart, a high performing Arizona district. As a School and District Improvement Facilitator for WestEd, she draws on the protocols and resources of a rich coaching practice.

Coaching concludes with a debrief. Hall recaps all of the observed student interactions and evidence of learning. “During my classroom visit with Alison, I gathered data around identified goal areas, which included eliciting overt evidence of student learning. Alison, has embraced the coaching process around the implementation of formative assessment practices within her classroom, of which will result in improved student learning.”

Recalling all the new strategies now incorporated into her repertoire, Keeter said, “I’m hands down a better teacher.” She expressed gratitude for the specific skill building she was receiving through the coaching, “It was like receiving a toolbox and Tammy was filling it up.”

Tammy Hall reflects, “During my classroom visit with Alison, I gathered data around identified goal areas, which included eliciting overt evidence of student learning. Alison, has embraced the coaching process around the implementation of formative assessment practices within her classroom, of which will result in improved student learning.”

Principal Bryan Gibson supports the formative assessment coaching and sees it well aligned with the goals of their weekly professional learning community meetings where teachers bring evidence of student learning.

How I Know in Tulsa

Under the leadership of Dr. Deborah Gist, Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) is the second largest school district in Oklahoma, serving over 42,000 students in 96 schools. TPS serves a highly diverse population of students – 72% FRL, 18% students with exceptional needs, 30% who speak a language other than English – that need to be engaged in learning in different ways.

TPS is part of a three-district collaborative project: How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment Practice. #HowIKnow was created in an effort to improve and impact formative assessment for teachers and students in three pilot districts (Dallas Independent School District, Austin Independent School District, and Tulsa Public Schools).

“We wanted to create proof points, and build know-how and skill in the district,” said Gist about joining #HowIKnow.

Through the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation sponsored initiative, these districts will identify, scale and share successful approaches for designing formative assessment practice in classrooms. Their learning and strategies will be shared through the How I Know Website.

“Our goal is to build a student-centered community in which all students are learners, contributors and designers who grapple joyfully with complex ideas, texts and tasks that prepare them for the greatest success in college, career and life,” said TPS project coordinators Martin Greene and Erin Lester. “Effective, aligned assessment practices will help students, teachers, and leaders drive us to our goal.

Schools involved in the How I Know Initiative include: Anderson Elementary, Mitchell Elementary, Rogers College Junior-Senior High, and Zarrow Elementary.

Green and Lester bring the 20 teachers together between coaching visits for collective learning. They also coordinate the district’s grant from Assessment for Learning Project (ALP).

“We believe that our Students Can. We know that Teachers Make it Happen,” said Greene. “We have an exciting opportunity to support our teachers and leaders to design learning experiences that enable our students to deeply engage in their education and own their learning.”

Through How I Know and ALP, “we will partner with our teachers to learn alongside them as they craft and personalize life-changing formative assessment practices for their classrooms,” added Greene.

Tulsa’s Path Forward for Formative

One unique aspect of the initiative is that data regarding current practice is gathered prior to determining specific growth goals.

With the support of the WestEd coach, TPS identified the following three targeted areas for professional development: 1) Learning Goals 2) Criteria for Success and 3) Eliciting Evidence of Student Learning (which happen to align with the foundational goals).

In addition to the professional learning goals, TPS has identified the following goals for growth during the How I Know Initiative.

District Level Goals

  • Comprehensive Assessment Approach Tied to Learning: We need to more clearly understand our assessment system (both formal and informal) and how to think about this as a comprehensive approach to inform and support student learning
  • Shared Understanding of FA: Develop a shared understanding of FA, the FARROP rubric and how these practices support our Vision for Learning.
  • Equip Principals to Support and Lead: Provide our principals with the tools to lead and support. They are the front line in supporting our teachers through coaching and reflective practices in order to lead to improved student outcomes
  • Culture of Experimentation: We need to understand that it’s okay to experiment and fail forward.  We expect that of our kids and likewise, we will allow our teachers  the time and space needed to explore and experiment

Classroom Level Goals

  • Professional development. As featured above, TPS is working with their WestEd coach to ensure teachers are focusing on the following formative areas: criteria for success, peer feedback and self-assessment.  In addition to the F2F coaching support, teachers and school leaders are working on an online learning platform through a 4-week learning cycle.
  • Structures to support growth and implementation. In addition to the PD, we plan to provide space for our teachers to collaborate on problems of practice in monthly PLCs, encourage their use of Canvas for collaboration, and provide guiding protocols for providing feedback on their progress.

Greene reflects, “We know that working alongside our teachers as learners, contributors, and designers to live out Assessment for Learning in all classrooms, we will help all TPS students evolve into 21st century learners who are prepared for the greatest success in college, careers, and life.”

For more on formative assessment, see:

For more on Tulsa area schools and ImpactTulsa see:

This post is a part of a series focused on the “How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment” initiative sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. See the  How I Know website (www.formativeassessmentpractice.org) and join the conversation on Twitter using #HowIKnow or #Formative Assessment

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

How Project-Based Learning Helps Special Needs Students Collaborate and Connect

By Jill Koenemann

I’m a special needs high school teacher at Monroe ISD, which is a regional education agency in Michigan that supports nine school districts. At a PLC meeting last year, my colleagues and I started talking about how to teach 21st-century skills like collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving in a classroom where students have a range of abilities.

We were looking for a curriculum that would move beyond teaching the classics and would help students connect what they were learning with their own lives. The conversation quickly shifted to project-based learning (PBL). This approach suits children with learning difficulties because it allows them to work at their own levels of differentiated learning. For collaborative projects, teachers can pair higher- and lower-functioning students, who will then work together to accomplish a common goal that is often bigger or better than what they could have done on their own. And PBL can be fun: students have the opportunity to collaborate with their friends and share their final project at the end!

It’s one thing to talk about changing the way you teach, and another to actually try a new approach in the classroom. I was new to PBL, and setting up projects that would engage my students was a challenge. To be honest, I had some trouble setting up my first project, and as a result my students got impatient, regardless, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel; rather, I was even more committed to improving on our next project.

For my second project, I included six special needs students with varying disabilities. It focused on the challenging topic of survivor’s guilt. We started by reading the short story “The Seventh Man” by Haruki Murakami, which is about a man whose best friend dies when he was 10. In the story the man tells how he dealt with survivor’s guilt and PTSD for the rest of his life. We tied this story in with an op-ed entitled “The Moral Logic of Survivor Guilt” by Nancy Sherman, as well as coverage about the Parkland school shooting and how those kids had to return to school without their friends. The goal was for the students to create a visual representation of how the stories connected and how they were different, to see how fiction and non-fiction go together.

I didn’t set out to make this project such an emotional one, but the shooting in Florida happened to coincide with us starting a unit called “Survival,” and this project brought our class together at a difficult time.

Using a visual collaboration platform called Project Pals, students structured their thinking and through collaboration tools like the built-in messenger feature, students were able to brainstorm in a collaborative space and visualize each others’ work. This prompted other ideas from their partners that they may not have come up with on their own.

In addition, they were able to share ideas electronically and build on each others’ work to create argumentative essays. Working this way also supported our pedagogical shift towards infusing technology into all of our lessons, following the SAMR Model. For this project, students gathered all of their resources and put them in the platform to produce something that was much more than a pencil-and-paper report. Not only did the platform guide me through the process, their team was generous with their time and collaborated with me to ensure this project would be an improvement from the last. While I was still a bit apprehensive, I was extremely excited to dig in with my students.

The results of our project have been nothing short of astounding.  The essays and projects submitted by my students were fantastic; I attribute this sudden increase to the power of connecting learning with real life, providing students with the opportunity to collaborate in a controlled environment as well as my shift to a PBL approach.

Best Practices for PBL

Now that that I’ve gotten through this project and another one about World War I, I’m excited to pass on what I learned from the process with three local special needs teachers so that we can begin using PBL in more SPED classrooms. Here are some of the best practices that I’ll share with them about getting started with project-based learning:

  • Go to technology conferences. Seeing what’s out there really opens your eyes.
  • Get involved with a supportive group of people. Collaborative teaching supports collaborative learning!
  • Choose a platform with strong customer support, because PBL can be daunting at first. If you’re new to PBL like I was, consider looking for a platform that will help you design your first couple of projects.
  • Visualize the process of how to structure each project before you get started.
  • Time is an issue for every teacher, use PBL to work smarter, not harder.

PBL certainly took some getting used to, but I firmly believe that it is the future of SPED education, because ALL kids need 21st-century skills to succeed in school and in life.

For more, see:

Jill Koenemann is a high school special needs teacher in Monroe ISD. Find Jill on Twitter at @jillkoen.

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