A Year in Review: High-Quality Project Based Learning

Projects are an easy way to engage students in authentic challenges but delivering all of possible benefits requires well constructed, sustained and supported experiences. Earlier this year, a new Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) was developed to help teachers better prepare young people for contribution in the innovation economy.

As we look back, it is evident that project-based learning not only increases student engagement, it helps students develop academic and social and emotional skills for life and careers.

Over the year, we visited 8 schools where students are having HQPBL experiences, here is what we discovered:

Case Studies

HQPBL Case Study: Katherine Smith School. Over seven years ago, Aaron Brengard came to serve as principal of Katherine Smith Elementary, a 55-year-old Title I school within San Jose’s Evergreen School District. Despite its location in Silicon Valley, the school seemed a world apart from the region recognized globally for entrepreneurship and innovation.

From the very beginning of his tenure, Brengard championed a school redesign that would better prepare students for the real world. The lessons learned from this journey toward High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) remain relevant, as they could potentially be applied to public schools across America (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: Energy Institute High School. In east downtown Houston, you’ll find the nation’s first high school devoted to preparing students to enter careers in the energy field. Energy Institute High School is a STEM-focused magnet program with project-based learning at its core. The school began with an acknowledgment of local businesses and the demand for students to enter the ever-growing energy industry in the Houston area. It has since become a place of learning where “students are exposed to engineering and technology typically reserved for college-level courses, and they also receive instruction from teachers as well as industry professionals.” Daily students are having HQPBL experiences and growing their real-world industry savvy (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: ACE Leadership High School. Northwest of downtown Albuquerque, there is a high school of about 400 students, ranging in ages from 14-20, that is proving Project Based Learning really is for all students. ACE Leadership High School primarily serves students who have already, or seemingly were on their way to, dropping out of high school. On average, students at ACE have been enrolled in three or more high schools and many claim that school wasn’t working for them. Many hold jobs, sometimes even two, and typically come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The founders of ACE knew that high quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) was an antithesis to the type of learning experiences these students were used to receiving; instead of trying the same methods with already disengaged and frustrated youth, HQPBL experiences would provide them with intellectual challenge, collaboration, management skills, public presentation skills, tactile feedback and reflection. Perhaps most important to founders of ACE, the approach would provide authentic and meaningful learning experiences (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: Liceo Pablo Neruda. When asked where the most advanced approaches to K-12 instruction are taking place, educational experts often point north toward Scandinavia. Yet one of South America’s coastal countries is showing a forward-thinking stance that would rival the world’s leading educational systems. In a variety of school networks across Chile, facilitating high quality project based learning student experiences has gained momentum toward becoming a national movement.

With a population of nearly 18 million and per capita income hovering around $15,000, the country faces plenty of challenges in terms of providing services to its citizens—education included. As K-12 education is compulsory, the majority of current students are children of parents who have completed high school. However, fewer than 10% have gone on to attain a college degree.

Project Based Learning is connecting communities, foundations and corporations; students, parents, and educators at the K-12 and postsecondary levels are engaging in projects and training that will impact this generation and those to follow. The assignments are authentic in that they enable students to engage with and address relevant local issues that matter to them, culminating in a public presentation and reflection period in which lessons learned are articulated and discussed. These highly collaborative, well-managed projects exemplify HQPBL student experiences and demonstrate the country’s progressive stance on education (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: Albemarle County Public Schools. Without a doubt, Project Based Learning in Albemarle County Public Schools is there to stay. From impressive outcomes, both in project products and on state assessment measures, teachers, students and families are seeing the results of high quality PBL (HQPBL) student experiences. Most projects in ACPS are tied to the local area, a region of the country rich with history and culture, and invite students to explore their own community.

From Elementary students at the local schools investigating attractions and writing to the Mayor — all the way up through high school where students are considering what makes memorials important to society — there is no lack of authenticity and collaboration. Students not only work on projects tied to a real cause or community issue, but they also engage with the community and solicit feedback, advice and expertise to improve their public products (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: The MET School. “Working on high quality projects is at the core of the The Met… actually I’d like to rephrase that and say doing real-world, meaningful work is at the core. Projects are the vehicle for how students at Met get that done,” shared The Met Co-Founder Dennis Littky. Located in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, the The Met is part of the Big Picture Learning network and was designed based on the idea that students thrive when they are engaged in real-world work and are able to integrate internships tied to their passions into in-depth, integrated high quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) experiences.

Projects at The Met are connected to individual student goals, and each project includes specific skills students need to address. How does it work, exactly? Students are grouped in small cohorts (or essentially small communities), each with a bonding name like Unity or Liberty. Cohorts collaborate to tackle problems, support each other, and collaborate on projects (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: School21. If you walk the halls of the lively School21 in London’s Stratford neighborhood, you easily might hear dozens of languages being spoken. Many of the school’s more than 1000 students have immigrated from other parts of the world, and as such, enter their grade levels with varying degrees of experience with English.

In this intensely diverse environment, it might be challenging to meet every student’s academic needs; thankfully, the students share a common lexicon when it comes to Project Based Learning, and new arrivals are quickly brought into the fold by their peers and teachers (Read Case Study).

HQPBL Case Study: Thrive Public Schools. At Thrive Public Schools in San Diego, California—a school network with a strong focus on high quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL)—projects are a necessary part of reaching the diverse population served by the school. About half of Thrive students are eligible for free or reduced lunch; as many as one in four are identified as ‘exceptional learners’, and nearly 30% of students speak a language other than English at home.

With students coming from 45 different zip codes—including families of Somali refugees as well as San Diego’s most affluent families—there are some who travel over an hour each way in order to study at Thrive. They make up a religiously, ethnically and neurologically diverse cohort. The Thrive community views this diversity as one of their greatest strengths (Read Case Study).

Do you have good examples of HQPBL in your school? Share them below in the comment!

For more, see:

This blog is a part of the HQPBL Campaign supported by the Buck Institute for Education and sponsored by the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. For more, visit hqpbl.org and follow @hqpbl and #hqpbl on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 5th C May Be the Most Important of All

I didn’t have much need for cultural competence growing up in an all-white working-class neighborhood of Boston. Everyone was either Irish or German or Irish-German. And poor.

That changed when I landed my first teaching job, a gritty posting in an urban Los Angeles middle school. On the first day of class I looked out at 35 faces, few of them white. I was teaching a group of kids whose parents had immigrated from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, France, Mexico, Vietnam, Russia, and the Philippines. More than 80 percent of my students were Latinos who spoke English as a second language. And poor.

The ideas of James Banks, which I had avidly consumed while reading Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society, came to life every day in my classroom. I quickly learned that I and every other teacher would have to develop cultural competence in order to be successful with diverse learners.

This need is self-evident today. It is impossible to have a conversation with educators and not address the topics of cultural relevance, cultural understanding, and culturally responsive instruction. However, there has been a slight pivot over the last 20 years. The cultural competence movement has linked arms with the crowd promoting global competence, so ably described in Teaching for Global Competence in a Rapidly Changing World by the Asia Society and OECD.

This interest in cultural/global competence is not restricted to the U.S. I participate in similar conversations around the world because most countries are afraid their young are losing interest in their own national culture or are ill-prepared to work in a globalized economy. The Chinese offer the most illustrative example of the dichotomy at the heart of current thought on cultural competence.

In the U.S. the conversation focuses on developing the skills and knowledge of teachers and students so they can interact effectively with people from other religions, cultures, political views, languages, and social traditions. In China and much of the world, the conversation focuses on cultural competence as a means to develop a deep appreciation for national traditions.

When I was CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills we were approached by a partnership group from China that involved SKT Education, the METEN International Education Group, and Beijing Normal University. The Chinese team had completed its own research on the 4Cs (posted on this Google doc; English and Mandarin version combined).

Their conclusion: The 4Cs were not sufficient to meet Chinese educational needs. They wanted to add a fifth C, which they call “cultural competence.” According to the Chinese, the fifth C trumps them all: “Cultural competency is the fundamental value of every Chinese and provides guidance for the other four aspects (skills).”

At first, the Chinese view of cultural competence was internally focused. The government was fearful that younger generations were being subsumed in world culture.  To the Chinese, a culturally competent learner was one who knows and values Chinese history, language, art, music, food, traditions, etc.

Our U.S. team asked the Chinese to expand their understanding of cultural competence to encompass both inward-facing and outward-facing modalities. Yes, a culturally competent learner in China must know and appreciate Chinese cultures, but he must also know and appreciate cultures from around the world. Chinese workers no less than American or French workers must be culturally competent – the global economy makes it so.

With a nod in that direction, PISA launched a global competence assessment in 2018 that is outward facing. The Chinese, who avidly compete in all international benchmarking, declined to participate, keeping good company with the Americans, Germans, and British. China, however, launched its own competitions that focus on the inward facing modality of cultural competence.

In February in Guangzhou, the Chinese qualifying rounds for the United States Academic Decathlon featured a pilot assessment in which teams of high school students were tested on their knowledge of Chinese culture and history. In November at the China Education Innovation Expo in Zhuhai, a new competition called Hi! China was unveiled.

Hi! China required student teams from middle school and high school to submit a documentary, essay/report, or stage a live performance that tied the historical importance of the Silk Road to China’s new One Belt, One Road initiative.  More than 30 teams came to Zhuhai to perform or display their work and face a panel of expert judges who ensured that students knew the historical underpinnings of their work. The competition in Zhuhai was in part patterned after National History Day.

Interestingly, the main stage was surrounded by four competition areas in which individual students or teams of students completed activities that tested them on their ability to communicate, collaborate, critically think, and create. The standard 4Cs met the new 5th C in one small space in the vast halls of the Zhuhai Convention Center,

As always, I’m interested in the transferability of lessons learned. Schools in the U.S. are making an effort to teach and assess the 4Cs. Everyone understands that these skills are critical for success in college, career, and life. But perhaps we should take a cue from China, which has added the all-important fifth C. We’re doing a decent job of preparing students to interact effectively with the world. I’m just not so sure how good of a job we are doing of imparting the cultural values and traditions of America. These inward and outward modalities of cultural competence are not mutually exclusive.

For more, see:

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Fake News and Digital Literacy: Why Today’s Students Need Video Skills

By: Jeff Rubenstein

The term “fake news” has become a permanent part of our lexicon. As it becomes increasingly clear that Facebook and Twitter feeds can be easily manipulated, we’re facing new challenges in educating our citizens on how to tell what’s actually true. After Jordan Peele’s video edit this spring of Obama saying things he never actually said, it’s clear that it’s more important than ever that people better understand the use of video and what it’s capable of.

With this, it’s no surprise that a recent survey titled The State of Video in Education 2018, shows that 97% of education professionals surveyed felt that it was important to raise the level of digital and video literacy among teachers and students. Also, 95% of them saw video as an important part of digital literacy. As video becomes increasingly part of how information and opinions are communicated online, making sure students are prepared for a video world is becoming an increasingly important goal.

But how can teachers help their students think more critically about the video they consume? The same way generations of teachers have helped students learn to think critically about texts. Some of this is about providing students with examples, breaking down the language of video, similar to how previous generations taught the differences between statements of fact and statements of opinion in texts. We can start by showing examples of straightforward and disingenuous video messages, pointing out how editing, camera angles, and music choices can influence emotion, and teaching how to build a logical argument and break it down again.

We should be active about teaching video as we do with literacy, not just by providing them with the available resources but, pushing them to construct their own arguments. The venerable five-paragraph essay is taught for a reason and helps students think about how to craft an argument and then how to support that argument. While we teach them how to argue their own opinions, it’s also important to  challenge arguments and understand how they are supported, and the same needs to be done with video

Today’s younger generation already are creating their own videos, in an endless supply, but with this they need to be taught more advanced skills. They need to learn how to use the visual power of video to be more persuasive. They need to experiment with what can be added—and hidden—through the magic of editing. They need to see how video can sometimes be less a straightforward recounting of fact, and more a specific viewpoint. Teaching them to actively, critically think about the video they consume will help them become  better citizens.

It will also be an incredibly powerful skill for tomorrow’s workforce. Video is increasingly becoming part of the working world. Today’s students will need to have advanced video skills in order to compete in many different industries. They’ll use video to make sales pitches. They’ll use it to demonstrate procedures to their coworkers. They’ll use it to help their customers, to make announcements to their employees, to interview for their next jobs. And yes, they’ll use it in tomorrow’s classroom to teach the next generation of students.

Survey results also showed evidence of a growing active use of video by students. Students using video for assignments is on the rise, at 69% this year, up from 59% in 2017. We’ve also anecdotally been seeing more schools requiring students to create their own videos in the last few years. Pharmacy students give presentations by video as a replacement for assessments, proving not only their knowledge, but their communications skills. Business students refine their personal pitches through repeated iterations. Nursing students demonstrate practical skills. Language students record multiple presentations to show their progress in fluency. Students are sent out into the community, cameras and phones in hand, to record oral histories. Instructors are finding ever more creative ways to challenge their students to improve their video skills.

Today’s students already live in a video world. To build an informed citizenry, it’s critical that we give them the tools combined with the knowledge they need to navigate that world. Fortunately, today’s schools are already starting to rise to the challenge, and we hope to see more hop on board.

For more, see:

Jeff Rubenstein is VP of Business Development and Product Strategy at Kaltura. Connect with him at @jeff_rubenstein.

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Representation Matters

                                                                                                                                                                              Yet, even with 22 years as a teacher and school leader, the study’s evidence is compelling. If a black student has just one black teacher by third grade, that student is 13 percent more likely to enroll in college – those who had two black teachers were 32 percent more likely. This bolsters the research team’s 2017 study that found a low-income black student’s probability of dropping out of high school is reduced by 29 percent if that student has one black teacher in grades 3-5.

These results may speak to the impact of teachers who can relate to students and role models, as well as teacher expectations. The bottom line is, representation matters. But, it doesn’t just matter for feel good, soft skills reasons, it matters for kids’ academics.

The Gap Matters

In philanthropy, it’s our business to see the opportunity in gaps. Currently, only 2 percent of all teachers are African American and male; 80 percent of teachers are white and female. The entire lens of which a child receives an education is mostly through the perspective of white women. Addressing the imbalance among the teaching core is an obvious way to improve educational outcomes for ALL students.

When I was a child, I don’t think I really ever thought about it. As a white person, I suppose that is part of my privilege, that I didn’t think about it because I didn’t have to think about it. Most of my peers in the Catholic schools I grew up in were white. Most of my teachers were nuns – white women. I never had a teacher of color in college or graduate school.

As the mother of a young, black woman, my experience is very troublesome to me. So, far, her teachers have been much like mine – white and female – and I can’t help but think about how it makes her feel, how it will impact her, and all the ways she might be underestimated because of the color of her skin.

In our education system today, we can’t ignore this gap. If you’re a kid of color and you had a teacher of color in preschool through fifth grade, you’re 39 percent more likely to persist through high school. That is a powerful number that is statistically significant. We can’t be ignorant to the impact diversity and representation has on students of color, but also on the wide diverse spectrum students represent. We must raise expectations to acknowledge that a lack of representation creates missed opportunities to form bonds of understanding within the school community and within the future citizens we are teaching.

Expectations Matter

Expectation is everything – especially from teachers. For young kids, when they’re being formed and molded and taught and crafted, someone believing in them is what pushes them to be their best. When you don’t believe in them, they know it and they act accordingly. It’s true for adults as well. It’s human nature. We rise to the level of expectation all the time.

The recent study on teacher expectations found that while teachers are generally overly optimistic about the college potential for all students, white teachers are significantly more optimistic about white students than they are about black students. The higher expectations given by black teachers, the study finds, leads to higher grade-point average, more time spent on homework and can raise black students own expectations for their educational attainment.

Listening Matters

It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I truly understood how representation mattered. The first school I ever taught at was in Chicago, where I was the only white teacher. I was 22, and thank goodness colleagues leaned into me and, rather than make me feel dumb and terrible, or feel like a bad person or teacher, they were just like, “There’s a bunch of things that you could learn, and we’ll help you.”

Lots of the teachers who I taught with were from the same neighborhood where we taught, so they knew the long, rich history of what had happened in that neighborhood, including discrimination and all the things that I probably didn’t think about until I was graciously guided by some of these older teachers.

I watched veteran teacher Henry Martin. He had attended the elementary school where we taught and still lived in the neighborhood. The way he talked to children and the way they related to him, while it was always professional, it always felt more like he was their uncle.

He was family to those kids. That gives you different leverage than when you’re “just” their teacher. I’m always going to be a white woman, so it wasn’t exactly something I could aspire to, but I learned, especially as I became a school leader, that there were other ways I could make an impact.

As an ally, we can actively support and pursue hiring and developing people with different perspectives, different color skin, different genders and different beliefs. Kids get whatever lens the teacher shows up with, and if that is the same in every classroom, we’re not giving kids a variety and a way to think differently.

We can emphasize professional development for all teachers. It wasn’t called “culturally responsive curriculum” when I was a principal, but it was about meeting kids where they are and making connections, home-to-school connections, and being part of the community. All teachers were expected to go visit the families of their students. Supporting educators to serve our increasingly diverse classrooms is paramount to their success – and their students’ success.

I think my most important role now, and the most important role of majority teachers and leaders, is to listen and not make assumptions that we know how to lead this work. We need to listen to be partners in this work with our teachers of color counterparts. I don’t think many of us really understood how much we benefited from systems that were set up for us, and by us, for so many years.

We need to make sure we are fierce advocates for other people, not to be their voice, because they have their own voice. We need to be side-by-side with our counterparts of color to make sure their voices are amplified.

For more, see:

This post was originally published on www.kauffman.org.

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Building School Culture With Gratitude

By: Michael Fauteux

Maria* tries to hold back tears halfway through the interview. “Are you ok?” I ask. “Yes,” she says, continuing, “I just didn’t realize some of these people even knew who I was.” I am interviewing Maria about her experience using an online tool that I created called GiveThx, an app that helps students send thank you notes to each other to build relationships. After a long silence, she looks up and finishes, “I feel like they see me–and they actually appreciate the things that I do.”

Maria is a 9th grade student at Leadership Public Schools (LPS) based in Oakland, California, which recently completed a four-week gratitude pilot program using GiveThx. Her words moved me: every student deserves to be seen and appreciated for who they are.

I’ve worn many hats at LPS – first as a teacher, then school administrator, and now innovator in residence. In my time here I have come to believe that school culture, in a word, is about relationships. Walk into any classroom or school hallway and you’ll see community values and behaviors on wall posters, written across whiteboards, and as slogans on team t-shirts. To build healthy peer relationships schools communicate expectations to students with words such as kindness, patience, and inclusivity. For academics, the language shifts to perseverance, curiosity, and honesty.

A school culture founded on healthy relationships is a prerequisite for the engagement, vulnerability, and risk-taking necessary for academic and personal growth. It’s the reason LPS has 99% of its students accepted to college each year, students who come from high-needs, high-trauma communities.

The challenge LPS and all schools face is: how do we communicate, develop, and monitor the behaviors essential to creating healthy school culture?

Why Gratitude?

LPS uses a variety of routines to define, reinforce, and monitor the behaviors that make up the DNA of our culture. We believe these behaviors support healthy interpersonal and academic relationships and need to be explicitly taught and practiced on a daily basis. We believe this is most effective when students and staff practice them together. And of all the practices we use to build our culture, our experience, student feedback, and research lead us to believe gratitude is the most important.

“I’d like to shout you out Lucas for making time to listen to me yesterday even though you had stuff you needed to do. I’ve been dealing with some difficult things and you taking the time means a lot to me.” Josh sat back down in his seat in my advisory class.  Expressions of gratitude by students and staff like this occur regularly in advisory and other academic classes at LPS. Sometimes students focus on personal issues, other times they speak to academic behaviors. Student participation is voluntary and authentic.

Ask students about the culture at LPS and many will say it feels like family. The choice to regularly express gratitude in advisory, whole-school family meetings, and class is an outsized contributor to this feeling. As staff at LPS we intentionally built gratitude into our schools for two reasons. First, positively recognizing someone for their behavior makes that person feel seen and appreciated, nurturing the relationship between the giver and receiver. And second, a strong way to teach positive behaviors is through recognition of them as they occur.

Giving thanks accomplishes both of these things, a conclusion backed up by research. Gratitude practice has a positive effect on academic achievement and social integration. It directly supports prosocial behavior between individuals and in communities. Put simply, gratitude helps students make friends, feel safe, and ultimately perform better in school.

Increasing Access and Coherence

Lessons Learned

Despite its success in building culture, our LPS gratitude practice had shortcomings around access and coherence.

  • The public shout-out format created access issues for shy students, language learners, and young men who felt anxiety participating. This was particularly true for young men because, as research shows, their participation might be viewed as a sign of weakness.
  • There wasn’t enough time in class for more than a few people to participate with shoutouts.
  • Journaling alone doesn’t facilitate saying thank you to someone else or reinforce their positive behavior.
  • The staff wished there was a more intentional and systematic way to use gratitude to introduce, reinforce, and monitor specific behaviors across the school over time.

These challenges prompted the creation of GiveThx, an online tool to build school culture and belonging. With GiveThx:

  • Students and staff practice gratitude by sending and receiving Thx notes to recognize positive behaviors.
  • The digital notes are one-to-one and can be completed in less than 4 minutes to maximize safety and participation in ways our shout-out practice could not.
  • The system captures evidence of positive actions in the form of Thx notes, data that previously disappeared as soon as a person finished sharing it verbally. This allows the school to introduce and monitor progress of specific behaviors and overall culture on a daily basis, filling in the blanks between months-apart surveys.

GiveThx enhanced the LPS gratitude practices by increasing access and coherence for all students. However, there was a need for strong curriculum to compliment the tool and give staff a more intentional way to introduce gratitude with students.

Combining Curriculum, Practices, and Technology

Last year, I collaborated with California State University Dominguez Hills professor Giacomo Bono, a professor of psychology and expert on gratitude. Dr. Bono and I believed that pairing a gratitude curriculum he created with the GiveThx digital tool would both provide teachers with a structure to teach about gratitude and give students a safe and easy way to practice it. Preliminary findings to be published in spring 2019 show that, together, they increased students’ emotional well-being and life and friendship satisfaction. Additionally, it decreased students perceived stress and symptoms of social anxiety.

How to Use Gratitude to Build Culture

Schools looking to start the work of using gratitude to build their culture can draw upon a variety of resources. These resources include specific practices, lessons, and tools to help provide access and coherence to the implementation.


Greater Good Science Center – Gratitude Practices

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley is an authority in gratitude practices and research. These practices are modular and organized to be easy to implement with students.

Character Lab – Gratitude Playbook

Character Lab, founded by Angela Duckworth, has produced playbooks to support teachers implementing lessons to develop character.  Their most recent playbook is the Gratitude Playbook, which includes activities and resources to start a classroom gratitude practice.

BetterLesson – Gratitude Sharing & Reflecting

BetterLesson’s library of Instructional Strategies is an easy place for teachers to identify and implement field-tested strategies, tech tools, and research. Their curated suggestions for gratitude are particularly well suited for younger students.


Tremendousness – Science of Gratitude – Video 2:07

This two minute video is a great starting point for introducing the concept of gratitude, particularly the science behind it and how gratitude changes the brain.

Greater Good Science Center – Youth Gratitude Program

The Greater Good Science Center has two curricula available on it’s website, one for a K-8 audience and the other for middle and high school students. The curricula include age-appropriate activities, facilitation notes, and resources for thoughtful and effective implementation.



A curriculum and web app that builds school culture and belonging using gratitude. Students and staff send digital thank you notes and complete teacher-led reflections to recognize and reinforce positive behaviors.


Thnx4 is an online, sharable gratitude journal from the Greater Good Science Center that helps people express gratitude for the goodness in their lives.

Every Student Deserves to Be Seen, Appreciated, and Belong

“I like it because we get to get in touch with people we usually don’t talk to and it makes us feel better and like we are more a part of our community,” said Jose*, a 2nd grade student at All Souls Catholic School in South San Francisco, one of the first schools to pilot GiveThx in Spring 2018. His neighbor Veronica* put her hand up as he finished and started speaking excitedly at the same time, “I like how I get to tell people how I feel about them but don’t have to tell everybody out loud.”

My time with Jose and Veronica’s school confirmed a few important things for me. First, people from all backgrounds, young and old, student and teacher, have the same desire to be appreciated and feel like they belong. Their relationships are the fertile ground for their personal and academic growth. Second, gratitude is for everyone and ideal for building school culture. Making the practice accessible for all students is important for building positive relationships, self-esteem, and community.

Many schools wrestle with creating a healthy culture that supports student wellbeing and achievement. The success LPS experienced using gratitude in safe, accessible, and effective ways makes the case for other schools to add gratitude practice to their culture-building toolkit.

For more, see:

Michael Fauteux is the Innovator in Residence at Leadership Public Schools and the Co-founder of GiveThx. You can follow him at @mikefauteux.

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Looking Back: Versatile Tools That Made a Difference

As part of my yearly practice, and ongoing reflection, I like to look back over the year and the changes that I have made in class, the tools used and what helped me to provide a more diverse and engaging learning experience for my students. I can break it down into different categories of tools that, even though they might have been created for a specific purpose, really are quite versatile when it comes to their use in the classroom, by teachers and students.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

This year, I feel that one of the biggest areas of growth in terms of technology has been with the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in the classroom. It’s been an amazing year in my classes as we have explored some of the new apps and technologies that have come out. If you are looking for up-to-date information about these topics,  I recommend #ARVRinedu, created by my friend Jaime Donally as part of her weekly chat on all things related to Augmented and Virtual Reality in education.

Augmented and Virtual Reality tools provide powerful ways to immerse students in learning and for students to explore places and objects more closely, which gives them more control as they “travel” around the world. We can use these tools to encourage students to create, and develop the skills of critical thinking, problem solving and have fun learning and creating their own experiences.

Tools to Try:

  1. CoSpaces: One of the best new features of CoSpaces is the “collaborate” feature. Students can create different spaces and work together in a group to come up with a story, or a game, or anything they want. It promotes more authentic and meaningful learning and can be used in any content area, to have students design a more immersive story together. Students can collaborate on projects and build their collaborative and digital citizenship skills as well. They can add relevant objects, animations, sounds, and code using Blockly to animate the characters and make it a fun way to explore in VR, especially when they are able to explore in the spaces created by their peers! Recently added was the Merge Cube add-on, making it an option for students to hold their space in their hands!
  2. Metaverse: Use it to have students create an interactive “experience” which includes different characters, GIFS, thousands of objects, 360 images or videos, portals, Google Vision options and more. Metaverse can be used for assessments and for helping students to learn about augmented reality. It is easy to get started with the tutorial videos or by exploring the thousands of “experiences” available in the library. Students enjoy creating their experiences and testing them with their classmates!
  3. 3D Bear: Teachers can have a class account and use 3D Bear for students to design different spaces with 3D objects and animations, choosing from a variety of objects and themes. It is a great way to tell a story in augmented reality and for students to show learning by creating a narration to go along with the environment they create. There are lessons available for use with grades 1-6 and up, in ELA, Math, Social Studies, Science, and STEM/STEAM-related topics. A nice feature is that teachers can get started fast as each lesson comes with links to other reading materials, resources, and even worksheets.

Virtual Field Trips

When we can’t take students out of the classroom to explore faraway places, or we don’t have enough resources to make those trips happen regularly, technology can be used to bring the world of learning into our classrooms. Being able to let students explore different places through virtual field trips, rather than simply watching videos or looking at images in the book, has been a great benefit this year with the different tools available for exploring the world from the palm of your hand. No worry comes with using these tools as they are easy to get started with and like many others, already have a lot of lessons available for teachers to start using right away.

Tools to Try:

  1. Skype: Joining in the Microsoft community, opens teachers up to connect with other classrooms and even experts from around the world. If you are teaching about a place or learning about a concept, find a way to bring students in contact with people from these places by using Skype or even Mystery Skype. Students can learn so much more when you’re able to connect with the people and places in our learning about it.
  2. Google Expeditions: If you ever wanted to be a tour guide and lead students in the exploration of a place you are studying or even closely explore an object in AR, then Google Expeditions is an easy way to get started. There are more than 100 objects to view in augmented reality and over 800 tours available to choose from. The “guide” has access to scripts, questions to ask and more resources available within each tour, quickly downloadable to your device.
  3. Tour Builder: Students asked earlier this year while using Google Expeditions if we could create our own trip. After a little research, I learned about Tour Builder. Teachers can create tours and have students explore on their own and then add some other activities or links to enhance instruction or enrich the content in some way. You can also have students create their own tours and then share all of the tours with the class, to provide even more authentic learning and resources for students.

Interactive Lessons and Presentation Tools

Looking for more ways to involve students in learning beyond the school day or even working at their own pace during station rotations in class? The following tools open up a lot of possibilities for providing more authentic practice for students and faster feedback for teachers to use for planning. Some of the benefits are that these tools integrate with Google Classroom, can easily be shared with a link and available to students when they need it. You can create a blended lesson or flip your classroom.

Tools to Try:

  1. Nearpod: A versatile tool that could fit into each of these categories, but the main use was for providing students with a lot of options for practicing, all housed in one tool with one link. It includes virtual reality tours and even 3D shapes to explore, that can be easily added to a lesson for students to immerse in learning. Activities to add into the lesson include collaborating, polls, open responses, drawing, matching pairs, memory test, even adding in web content and videos. It is easy to find lessons to get started with, search by content area and grade levels, or based on topic. You can also add the Chrome Extension or create a Google Slides presentation, then convert it into a Nearpod lesson!
  2. Formative: With Formative, you can create an interactive lesson which includes a variety of question types, multiple choice, short answer, audio response, drawing, graphing and other content which enable students to have different ways to show what they know and can do with the material. There are sample lessons available and it is easy to create a lesson fast.
  3. Buncee: A versatile tool for educators and students that can be used for creating a multimedia presentation with animations, drawings, emojis, stickers, 360 images, and safe search videos to embed within the presentation. Recently Buncee added templates, making it easy to get started creating right away. There are different categories to choose from including: awards, bookmarks, business cards, flyers and events, printable worksheets, scrapbook and photo albums, social media banners and much more. You can save time by starting with the template and then making it your own.

Game-Based Learning

There are several game based learning tools that provide a more personalized and often engaging way for students to practice with the content. These tools are a good way to enhance the learning experience and adding them into your classroom toolbox, and they create additional ways for you to not only assess students but also to give them an opportunity to be more actively learning in class. And for some tools, it can be a good opportunity to have students create their own games which provides more personalized practice and adds to the resources available to all students in the class.

Tools to Try:

  1. Gimkit: Created by a student enrolled in a project-based learning school, this was a huge favorite of my students when we started playing it back in the spring. It is easy to create a “kit,” which is a game, within only a few minutes, especially if you are using words from a Quizlet account. You can also upload your own sets of terms. While students enjoy playing this game for the competition, the thing they noticed the most is that it recycles the words and they feel like they know the words even better after playing a game. It also provides teachers with an overall breakdown of responses and individual student summaries. Keep watching the new features that come out as it is continuing to evolve.
  2. Quizizz: This platform has continued to add new features and offer more for students and teachers when it comes to assessments and game-based learning. It provides a different way for students to practice the content and have access to immediate feedback and opportunities for additional review. Students can now create an account and when they are logged in, they can access other games they have played in the past. Being able to go back to games played makes their review even more personal because they have choices available to them to get the practice when they need it.
  3. Kahoot!: If you haven’t had the chance to try Challenges, you can “challenge” students to complete one of your games by sharing a code with them, just as you do for the live games but students can log into it within the app on their phones. Students can challenge one another on different topics that they find in the app. It creates a good way to provide additional practice for students outside of the classroom, where they don’t have to rely on the Smartboard to see the questions and have everything available on their device. Also new this year was the “Nickname Generator” which gives students 3 spins and creates fun and unique usernames such as Majestic Eagle and Rockstar Panda. Going with the name generator cuts down on time lost while students try to come up with their own creative names!

It is always a lot of fun to explore the new tools as they come out or even check out the new features from the tools that you have been using. The main thing to keep in mind is to always keep focusing on the “why” behind using one of these digital tools.

Thinking about these tools and how they impacted my students over this year, and also taking into account the student feedback, I have seen the benefit of having a variety of tools to choose from. Deciding what to use based on student interest and of course, always focusing on what I am hoping to accomplish by using the tool. If you haven’t used one of these or if you haven’t used one of them recently, then I encourage you to check them out, especially when starting the new year.

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Top Education Trend of 2018: Active Learning Spaces

The top learning trend in K-12 learning in 2018 was active learning spaces–from double classrooms in old buildings from California’s Central Valley to the west tip of Texas in El Paso and multiage pods in new spaces from Redwood City to Charlottesville.

The flexible spaces facilitate project-based learning and competency-based progressions. Students move from project teams to skill groups to activity centers building skills and developing agency and self-management.

Flexible seating is a big part of this trend. Not everyone can afford to remodel or build new facilities, but many schools added new seating options this year giving students choice in how and where they work. Options often include a mix of high and low top, hard and soft.

Couches are back! We saw them in Kuna Idaho (above) in a middle school working with Summit Learning.  We saw them in Singapore at Quest (feature image), a project-based microschool at Singapore American School.

In preparation for rebuilding and remodeling the entire SAS campus, model classroom pods called Pathfinder Spaces were developed to illustrate the future learning environment and to investigate specific options regarding groupings, dividing walls, furniture, lighting and air conditioning systems.

“These flexible learning spaces are different than the open concept of the 1970s,” said superintendent Chip Kimball. “The goals, strategies, practices, equipment, and materials are different–teachers are actualizing the four questions of PLC (professional learning community) in real time,” added Kimball.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum School (below) uses a mixture of high and low tables and soft seating in big flexible spaces that looks like a Google or Steelcase office. “We’re working hard to add personalized learning to project- and place-based learning this year,” said principal Christopher Hanks.

Valor’s new high school in Nashville features big flexible spaces and an upstairs lounge (below) where advisors can meet with groups of students and where individual students can work at high tops or in comfortable chairs.

Grand Rapids furniture maker Steelcase is helping to drive the trend in active learning spaces with grants (applications due 2/1/19) and convenings (like the November meeting below)

Competency: The Trend to Watch in 2019

A year from now people will be talking about competency frameworks–how learners progress as they demonstrate mastery.

The shift from marking time to measuring learning will be generational in length, but our landscape analysis suggests several interesting signs of progress that will be evident in 2019:

  • In the most interesting merger of the year, LRNG, the leading youth badging platform, joined forces with SNHU, the leading online university. Look for badges capturing in and out of school learning that stack into college credit.
  • More schools, like Purdue Polytech, will embrace project-based learning and competency-based progressions with support from XQ, NGLC funds, and NewSchools Venture Fund.
  • More platform partnerships where districts/networks are working in development cycles with platform providers (e.g. Brooklyn LAB and Cortex, Purdue Polytech and Course Networking, Lindsay USD and Empower).
  • More artificial intelligence is showing up in learning platforms improving personalization, formative feedback, and student scheduling.
  • More demand for interoperability will be evident as a result of efforts like Project Unicorn.

It’s going to be a good new year. Find a couch or pull up a bar stool–your choice. Work on a badge or microcredential, it’s likely to be more widely recognized next year.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

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Helping Students and Teachers Embrace Engineering

Dr. Reid Whitaker

Failure to learn. Upon first glance, this might sound negative — as in a student’s failure to learn something.Sometimes, however, a student needs to experience failure in order to learn. This is particularly true in subjects like engineering.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrate engineering design into every grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade. Engineering design is an iterative process in which students learn by attempting to solve a problem. If they fail, they take what they learned and try again. This requires them to take intellectual and creative risks, which can seem scary at first.

Teachers, too, can experience anxiety and lack confidence. Even though most elementary and middle school teachers don’t have backgrounds or training in engineering, they are responsible for educating and inspiring the next generation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals.

Here are five ways to help students — and teachers — overcome a fear of failure and learn to love engineering design.

Think different(ly).

Engineering design is different from other subjects, and it requires teachers and students to think differently. While science and engineering practices have much in common, they are different fields with different purposes, processes and products. In the realm of scientific inquiry, scientists ask questions about the world and create explanations based on observations and data. In the world of engineering design, engineers define problems to be solved and design or optimize solutions. There may be many paths to an engineering solution — and there may be more than one solution.

Develop a clear understanding of the process.

A common misconception is that engineering is simply about building something. It’s actually much, much more. For that reason, it’s helpful to ensure that teachers and students understand the engineering design process.

  • Define a problem. To start, students might ask what the problem or need is, who has the problem, and why this is important. Criteria and constraints are also identified.
  • Brainstorm. Students imagine, conduct research if needed, and gather ideas for a solution.
  • Plan a prototype. Students evaluate all the ideas and choose one. They make a drawing or model of their solution and identify the materials needed to carry out their plan. They can also journal each step so they can go back and revise at any stage.
  • Build. Students use their materials and follow their plan, making sure they stay within the criteria and constraints of the problem. It is helpful to remind them at this stage that their solution is a first draft; it might not be the final.
  • Test. Students test their design solution, gather data on how well it works and identify any issues. If it didn’t solve the problem, then they redesign. If it solved the problem and met the criteria and constraints, then they share and critique.
  • Redesign. Students ask themselves how they can solve the issue and make their solution better. They may have to plan, build, test and redesign several times — and that’s okay!
  • Share and critique. Students present how they solved the problem. They can also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of everyone’s solutions. This sharing also reinforces the idea that one problem can have many solutions.

As illustrated above, taking risks and learning from failures is all part of the process, and mistakes can be helpful to learning. When a design fails, students learn what doesn’t work, which puts them that much closer to finding what does. These experiences can also remove the stigma of failure from the classroom and reinforce the idea that it is, indeed, a place for learning.

In addition, the engineering design process helps students build college and career readiness skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills. It helps them learn the value of effort and persistence, also known as grit because they learn first-hand that they can set a goal, overcome obstacles and failures, and come up with a solution. These experiences help them build confidence and a willingness to take risks, fall down, and get back up again.

Transform the classroom into an authentic makerspace.

A makerspace is a place where students can gather to create, tinker, explore, build, innovate, and collaborate around the “making” of something. It should provide students with real-world learning experiences or questions to relevant, local, community-based problems. The materials, supplies, and tools provided should spark student inquiry and hands-on creativity. The task that students perform in the makerspace should be relatable and relevant and connect culturally to their experiences to make the learning truly authentic.

Makerspaces provide teachers with an effective, hands-on way to integrate engineering into the classroom. For example, using the Deconstruct, Imitate, Vary, and Explore (DIVE) method, which is used by real-world engineers, teachers can teach engineering design principles in an authentic makerspace and encourage students to think like an engineer. Using DIVE, students take apart and examine a working prototype (Deconstruct); reverse engineer and make their own version (Imitate); analyze what they created and brainstorm ways to make it different (Vary); and solve the original problem in a new way or apply their solution to a new problem (Explore). These experiences give students practical, inquiry-based educational experiences that encourage exploration and inspire ingenuity.

Create a positive environment.

According to the National Institute for STEM Education (NISE), the classroom environment must be a safe place for students so they feel comfortable taking risks and engaging in the learning experience. Consider these questions to help create a positive, productive environment for learning engineering: Does the engineering design project have an academic focus? What are the learning goals? Are there practices in place to encourage positive student-teacher interactions and student-student interactions? Is the physical space safe and accessible, and can it accommodate student interactions? Are routines and procedures in place for cooperative learning, group work, argumentation, and discourse? Are there defined roles and responsibilities for students? Will these roles and responsibilities help each student contribute to and feel ownership in the engineering design process? Is there an appropriate response to risk raking and failure?

Create cross-curricular connections.

Engineering can be integrated into a variety of content areas, including those in which teachers and students already excel, such as English language arts or social studies or math. In addition, students can utilize the process of engineering design in many contexts connected to other subjects. For example, in English language arts, they can read a book where there is a dilemma or plot point that makes them try and think about what will happen next in the story. Students can design or develop their own solutions to the problem. They can then read further to see how their solutions are similar to or different than the ones described in the book.

When teachers take an interdisciplinary approach and incorporate engineering into topics they’re already covering, it no longer feels like “one more thing” to do. Instead, it becomes a way to make lessons even richer. It also provides a way to create real-world connections so students can see how relevant engineering is to their daily lives.

Solving problems now — and into the future.

The implementation of the NGSS marks the first time U.S. schools have integrated engineering standards and practices into expectations for K-12 students. Engineering design is now viewed as an essential element of science education — and that’s a good thing for all students, especially underrepresented populations. Engaging children in engineering reinforces the fact that STEM professions can and should be pursued by students of any socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, and gender. It provides opportunities for hands-on learning, which gives students who are English learners, students with diverse learning styles, and students with special needs the chance to demonstrate their skills and abilities and skills in different ways than traditional instruction does.

In a makerspace, students are developing skills that will help them be successful in college and careers, even if those careers have nothing to do with engineering or STEM. Indeed, by learning to identify and solve problems, students will be able to contribute to their schools, communities, and the world in unprecedented ways.

Reid Whitaker, Ph.D., is the founder and Chief Academic Officer for Accelerate Learning. You can find Reid on Twitter at @reidwhitaker.

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Top 20 Posts from 2018

2019 is just around the corner and we can’t wait to see what the new year holds for education innovation. We’ve learned, reviewed, shared and experienced over the last 12 months. We can’t believe 2018 is already over. We’ve curated our top 20 blogs from 2018 to help inspire you to reimagine the future of learning:

1. 7 Real-World Issues That Can Allow Students To Tackle Big Challenges – Michael Niehoff

How can we creatively collaborate, critically think and communicate in ways that will make our world a better place to live? Letting our students practice thinking about and working on these seven big issues can present hundreds of relevant challenges that can be a big step toward that future.

2. Mindset, and the Power of “Yet” Jamie Black

For Jamie Black, the “Power of Yet” poster has been a powerful strategy, a simple reminder to persevere can be the difference between a student who gives up and one who routinely concludes that understanding will come with more effort, questions or use of additional strategies.

3.  Artificial Intelligence: Implications for the Future of Education – Rachelle Dene Poth

AI can increase the time available for interactive lessons, allow students to lead, free up more time to focus on relationships in the classroom and truly provide students with a world full of opportunities, personalized to their needs and instantly available.

4. The Implications of Gartner’s Top 10 Tech Trends of 2018 for Education – Jim Goodell, Liz Glowa and Brandt Redd

Education often falls behind the business world in realizing the potential of new technologies. There are, however, a few bright spots where the timing might be right for the tech trends in the business world to have a positive impact on education sooner rather than later.

This is our opportunity to reflect on 2018’s tech trends and hypothesis what trends will emerge in 2019.

5. Working with Special Needs Students: What Do All Teachers Need to Know? Rachelle Dene Poth

All teachers need to be invested in providing for all students. We also need to make sure that the families have access to the information and resources they need in order to provide support at home as well. By setting up a means of communicating with our colleagues, the families and continuing to look for and share resources, it becomes easier to facilitate the best possible learning opportunities for all students.

6. A Blended Environment: The Future of AI and Education – Kyle Wagner

For many of us, using AI in our schools seems light years away. But by slowly and consciously embracing it, we can start to make the shifts necessary for the 21st-Century classroom.

7. 12 Digital Tools to Try in 2018 – Rachelle Dene Poth

Rachelle Dene Poth had her own list of the tools that she found made a big difference in her classroom but decided to ask her students for their input. Here are the top 12 tools she and her students thought made the biggest impact.

8. Homework or No Homework? Maybe We’re Asking the Wrong Question (Part 1) – Erin Gohl & Kristen Thorson

Academic studies on homework have shown a spectrum of results spanning conclusions that homework is the key to academic success to those saying homework is a waste of student time that damages home life. But what if homework was different?

9. Kindness Starts with One: Random Acts of Kindness Week 2018 – Mary Ryerse

Random Acts of Kindness Week 2018 featured developmentally appropriate, standards-aligned lessons that taught kids important social-emotional skills. Take a look to get inspired early for RAK Week 2019.

10. Introducing a Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning Tom Vander Ark & Emily Liebtag

Projects are an easy way to engage students in authentic challenges, but delivering all of the possible benefits requires well-constructed, sustained and supported experiences. This new Framework can help develop such experiences.

11. 6 Emerging Technologies Supporting Personalized Learning – Meredith Allen

If we know what successful personalized learning looks like in schools and we understand the urgency of providing these opportunities to our learners, we need to start the engine.

12. 15 School Districts Worth Visiting – Getting Smart Staff

Leading a public school district is difficult and complicated work. But done well, there is no other job that can change how a community thinks about itself, its children and its future. Here, we look at 15 districts that are changing the trajectory of both education and their communities.

13. Whittle School & Studios: Transforming Education for Global Good – Getting Smart Staff

To develop the Whittle School, a world-class staff, informed by a global academic advisory board and leading-edge partners, developed a school model that incorporates 10 important innovations that set the new standard for quality education.

14. The Benefits and the Limitations of Machine Learning in Education – Will McGuinness

The classroom is a complex environment and will always contain an essentially human element that no computer can replace. Here, we look at why this is the challenge at the heart of efforts to engrain machine learning and AI in the classroom.

15. 3 Ways To Model Collaboration and Partnership in Schools and Classrooms – Michael Niehoff

Our challenge as educators is whether we walk the walk. We ask our students to collaborate, or partner, but do we truly do it ourselves? How can educators model true collaboration and partnering to our students?

16. The Entrepreneurial Mindset – Amy McGrath

More and more young people are starting to build their own businesses. Mark Greenberg is the founder and CEO of BuildEd. He uses his experience as an entrepreneur in industries ranging from consulting to real estate investment to develop entrepreneurship courses for partners like ASU Prep Digital and several K-12 programs.

17. Why The Four Cs Will Become the Foundation of Human-AI Interface – David Ross

The P21 skills framework was conceptualized with human-to-human interaction as the default assumption. David Ross reflects on the need for organizations to rethink what the 4Cs mean with the advent of AI.

18. 10 Classroom-Ready Computational Thinking Resources for K-12 Dacia Jones

Computational thinking can help prepare the next generation for the future of work. It teaches students to process information like a computer would. It’ll guide students through a series of steps, similar to an algorithm, to solve open-ended problems.

19. Early Childhood: What We Know, and What’s Possible Emily Liebtag and Janice Walton

We know early learning matters… and it matters a lot. We also know that all early learning experiences and are not created equal, nor are they available to all students and families. This post is the first in a series looking at how we can do better.

20. Teaching Students How to Work Together – Jamie Black

The group work structure and opportunities to practice collaboration may prove to be invaluable for students to learn how to work effectively with others so that they can succeed in the future workforce.

We are looking forward to 2019. If you have a favorite blog from 2018, 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 voice, we’d love to read your draft and consider it for publishing. Thanks, and Happy New Year!

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Diploma Networks: A New Way to Help Schools Adopt Broader Outcomes and Next-Gen Learning Models

Standards-based reforms of the last 25 years stressed grade-level proficiency in basic skills. Recognizing that success in life requires more than basic literacy and numeracy, many schools are defining and adopting broader measures of student success and building personalized learning supports to help students achieve them. These supports include transparent systems to track progress across academic and non-academic competencies, more opportunities for choice and voice, real-world, applied learning experiences, and intentionally designed structures and schedules to nurture deep relationships. Diploma Networks offer schools and districts a promising solution to move in this direction.

Diploma networks share goals, systems and supports:

  • Goals: A common definition of success and shared approach to assessing learning and measuring progress for learners and schools (new graduation requirements, school success metrics that go well beyond standardized tests, etc.);
  • Systems: A learning model with signature experiences and shared tools that support student learning and the transparent tracking of student progress towards graduation; and
  • Supports: Integrated resources and implementation support for new and existing schools adopting the model.

International Baccalaureate is an example of a diploma option available to motivated students. With the 10 elements of the learner profile and the curriculum requirements, IB represents a comprehensive outcome framework but is short of a schoolwide model with strong systems and supports.

Diploma networks that share goals, systems and supports on a schoolwide basis have the opportunity to extend deeper, authentic learning experiences that prepare youth for contribution in college, careers and citizenship. As schoolwide models with strong supports, they also have the opportunity to extend equitable outcomes. By organizing around a common set of goals and using the same systems, supports and vocabulary, schools can seamlessly participate in improvement networks that will guide and improve practice over time.

Building 21 is an example of a diploma network with shared goals, systems and supports (what NewSchools Venture Fund calls a Model Provider). Another example is the Place Network, sponsored by Teton Science School, an affiliation of rural microschools.

Most diploma networks will charge membership fees for coaching services and digital resources. Examples of commitments and benefits follow.


These emerging Diploma Networks share common student success and outcome frameworks such as the XQ Learner Goals or MyWays from NGLC. These next-generation student success measures cannot be assessed simply through traditional standardized tests or siloed academic grades. As a result, diploma networks will utilize more comprehensive and balanced assessment systems that require students to demonstrate mastery of critical academic and non-academic competencies, mindsets and skills.

Rather than a minimum number of traditional course credits, diploma networks are moving to a more robust, competency-based set of graduation requirements that entail signature experiences– compelling, real-world performance tasks that push students to offer evidence of learning outcomes. For example:

  1. Publish 20 reviews (or original works), half in science, half in the humanities (individual).
  2. Publish two major works: papers, books and/or sites (as a team). Topics could include the implications of artificial intelligence, a proposed solution to a health challenge, or a strategy to extend social justice.
  3. Produce and present two works of public art (as a team).
  4. Plan and launch a business or sustainable initiative with a web presence; secure and serve a customer.
  5. Demonstrate success on workplace competencies in two work settings.
  6. Visit two of the world’s greatest cities (at least one international) and compare approaches to sustainability.
  7. Gather and analyze data to address a local problem, prototype a solution.
  8. Complete at least two college courses (one could be online).
  9. Apply to a valuable postsecondary experience.
  10. Create a post-secondary plan for life after high school.
  11. Develop and present a plan and budget for life at age 25.

Requiring students to demonstrate mastery of academic and nonacademic skills and competencies multiple times in multiple contexts while also requiring them to complete several signature experiences along the way promotes deeper learning and reduces the likelihood of students racing through a checklist of competencies. Experiences are specific enough to promote desired learning outcomes while flexible enough for school communities and individual learners to exercise voice and choice.

Some diploma networks will support the development of comprehensive learner profiles (a comprehensive record of growth and demonstrated capability), a transcript (a summary of achievement) and a portfolio (artifacts of personal bests).

Schools that are members of diploma networks will also have to meet state graduation requirements (typically expressed as credit requirements but increasingly as competencies).


Diploma networks will likely share a personalized and competency-based learning model including goals (above) and:

  • Learning resources: units of study, personalized learning applications and project authoring tools linked to the outcome framework on a learning platform with opportunities to contribute to the network.
  • Competency systems:  a complete set of competencies, assessments, and learning
    progressions aligned with a graduate profile, and a policy guide for promotion and graduation.
  • Administrative tools: may include a student information system, LMS, data systems, structures and schedules, human resource and finance systems.


Diploma networks support new and transformed schools with:

  • Planning: scope and goals; budget and resources; sequencing and timelines;
  • Policy decisions, scheduling and crediting;
  • Talent development system including a system of microcredentials or teacher competencies;
  • Role descriptions, hiring and onboarding strategies;
  • Change management;
  • Network collaboration opportunities;
  • Coaching teachers and administrators around design and implementation of deeper learning experiences;
  • Navigating state and district policies; and
  • On-site and online coaching.


Schools require incentives to join diploma networks. The primary value proposition will be an easier pathway to implementing personalized and competency-based learning than going it alone. Network goals, systems and supports create sources of value compared to do-it-yourself approaches.

States could reduce (and eventually eliminate) summative testing requirements for member schools of networks with assessments systems proven valid and reliable.

Over time, diploma network transcripts and portfolios will become widely recognized and valued for admissions by postsecondary institutions and for hiring priority by employers.

Grants for schools joining diploma networks could help to subsidize the change costs and membership fees.


By reducing complexity and increasing supports, diploma networks will offer schools a promising approach to adopting new outcome frameworks and learning models. For students, diploma networks will offer rich learning experiences and priority access into postsecondary and early employment. Comments and suggestions on this proposal are welcome below.

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This post was originally published on Forbes and includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.