Framing a Classroom Around the Future of Work

After reading numerous reports about the future of work, I made the decision to frame my entire school year around this important topic. I analyzed the teaching and learning in my classroom in the context of takeaways from future of work reports, and chose the strategies outlined below to educate and prepare students for the future workplace.

Learn about the Future of Work. Many reports and studies about the future of work are available, including:

Learn a New Skill. In the future, workers will frequently have to learn new high-order skills in their jobs. What better way to show students the joy of being a lifelong learner than sharing your experiences from learning something new? I start every school year in my classes with a discussion of growth mindset and how brains make connections. This year, I joined my students in a reflection on mindsets and effective learning strategies as I thought about my experiences with learning a new skill. We all agreed that Carol Dweck’s explanation that “nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time” was refreshing.

Educate Students and Parents. One of my top takeaways from the Still Hiring Humans report was the need to educate families about the future of work. High school students are between four and eight years from starting their adult careers. Now is the time to inform them what the future workforce is predicted to look like.

I share direct excerpts from various reports with both students and parents, including this powerful quote from the Still Hiring Humans report: “It’s been estimated that today’s young people might change jobs as many as 15 times over the course of their lifetimes—and many of those jobs will require work that hasn’t been invented yet.” The reaction to this quote is profound—it gets both parents and students thinking.

I take advantage of parent nights, family events, and conferences to share future of work learnings with families. At parent night, I explained my class content and structure in the context of my top takeaways from future of work reports. For example, future workers need both soft skills and technical skills in the workplace, so I explained how the activities in my classroom were designed to give students opportunities to develop both skill sets.

Engage Teams in Problem-Solving Activities. Because leading and effectively working in diverse teams are critical future of work skills, I provide more opportunities for team problem solving in my classes. To further connect these activities to the future of work, I also show students the result of Google’s Project Aristotle, which identifies characteristics of successful teams. In addition, I use resources from Jo Boaler, Stanford Professor and author of many books including Mathematical Mindsets, to teach students how to work effectively in teams.

Integrate Coding & Computational Thinking. In the workplace, students must both understand technology and be proficient in using it. Computational thinking, which includes finding patterns, solving problems, and making or finding abstractions, can be explored in any classroom. In math, my students explore coding, computational thinking, and technology such as 3D printing. Coding in history or English class could involve creating interactive texts using Twine or creating novel-based games. Many online resources, including Ohio State University’s STEMcoding Project and CSandMath, provide ideas and activities for science and math teachers. Teachers of any discipline can search Code.org, Code with Google, Microsoft MakeCode, and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to find activities.

Work in the Makerspace. Taking students to work in a makerspace, or running a quick maker project in the classroom, provides them a great opportunity to practice future of work skills. With a maker project, students can learn new skills and content, show their creativity, embrace an innovation mindset, practice entrepreneurism, and work through the engineering design process. When running maker projects this year, I hope to help students improve their communication skills by providing them with a framework for planning effective presentations and by giving them feedback on their presentation plan before final work is due.

Conversations with Colleagues. During meetings or professional development sessions, I share related takeaways from future of work reports with my colleagues. I also seek opportunities to work with colleagues on cross-curricular activities. Great learning happens when we identify problems in the community that a diverse group of students can solve by showing empathy, listening, asking questions, collaborating with others, and presenting a solution.

Framing the school year around the future of work has encouraged me to think more broadly about my role in preparing students in the subjects I teach. It has informed my conversations with others about opportunities that are offered to students and the type of skills that we encourage students to develop both inside and outside of the classroom. Parents and students have been especially interested in the topic.  I’m excited to be part of the continuing future of work conversations in my school community.

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Jamie Back is an Upper School STEAM Teacher & Makerspace Coordinator at Cincinnati Country Day School. Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jmeb96.


Hands Down Voices Up: An Invitation to Practice Good

“As students, we’re asked to raise our hand every time we need to use the restroom, get a drink of water, or stretch our legs,” said Lucy Streeby, the teen board chair of One Stone, a Boise nonprofit (pictured above).

“Hand raising is a tool to help one person speak at a time, but how can we also empower students to use their voices? Self-advocacy, supporting others, making the future one we want to live in—none of those things require us to raise our hand and wait our turn,” added Streeby.

“We need to raise our voices and put our hands down. Hence the Hands Down Voices Up summit,” explained Streeby.

The interactive gathering in Boise encouraged young people to share stories and strategies to inspire, organize, and lead a national movement to empower positive change in the world.

Chelsea Schiller kicked off the conference by talking about her work in global health. “When we listen to the world’s needs we will know,” said Shiller. “And once we know, we cannot unknow.”

Honing social empathy—an openness to the needs around us—inspires movement. The next step is imagining how things could be better. “You must be able to imagine a future state,” said Schiller.

Chelsea, who chairs the advisory board for Women in Global Health Seattle, said, “We create a vision to remove the constraints of the present and begin moving to a state of abundance.”

What issue do you want to tackle?

Software engineer and One Stone alumni Tanner Johnson asked the gathered youth, “How do you want to impact the world?” He encouraged them to find those things they “must do,” as opposed to the “things other people think you should do.”

Tanner is co-founder of CSbyUs, an open source platform for educators to access, share, discuss, and adapt lesson plans in the field of computer science.

“Find your other, the people who share your ‘must do,’ and start doing it now. Cherish the connections, surround yourself with people who care,” added Johnson.

One Stone student Kylie Casper asks big questions

Breakout sessions at the two day conference asked What is good? Why does good matter? How can you do good? Skill building sessions covered empathy, ideation, and collaboration.

Students from coast to coast cataloged the great issues of our time and settled on ten. Teams explored the issues and developed a case for change. Pitches covered climate change, child neglect, education inequality, gun control, female hygiene, suicide prevention, race inequality, mental health, and false imprisonment.

Sudiksha Mallick, Rhode Island, made the case for climate action

Hands Down Voices Up closed with an invitation for “Do Good Day” on April 15, 2020. All participants were provided a Do Good box with essential items to celebrate Do Good Day and to continue to share their good work in advance of  #dogoodday2020.

One Stone Backstory

For young people visiting Boise for the conference, it may have been the first time that anyone asked them, “What breaks your heart?” For young people enrolled at the One Stone lab school or after school program, that’s a regular topic of conversation.

Nonprofit One Stone is a student-led (a majority of the board members are teens), student-centered organization that helps high school students (some full time, some part time) graduate with a sense of purpose and a track record of making a difference.

They use design thinking to attack new and complex problems and develop solutions valuable to the community. Students collect evidence of growth across 32 competencies that are shared in a final Curation of Me presentation and a mastery transcript.

Enrollment in the tuition-free lab school is by application. The students, some academically gifted and others who have struggled, respond to what they are passionate about and how they hope to create good in the world.

While design labs might be the signature learning experience at One Stone, relationships with coaches (teachers) is the transformational ingredient. They ask young people to show up as a whole person—to invite them into relationship and to be part of a community where they are known, cared for, and encouraged to change the world.

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Design Thinking For School Marketing: Empathize With Your Community

School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other. In this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think non-linearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Empathize With Your Community

Design thinking is a unique framework due to its emphasis on two phases that many other frameworks/mindsets don’t address: empathize and define. When these steps are overlooked, leaders often end up missing the core problem due to poorly diagnosing the needs of their intended audience. When your audience/community is different from place-to-place, as is the case within the education space, a “one size fits all” approach is likely to fall short. As micro-schools and personalized learning continue to grow and school districts shift to fit the modern age, it has become more urgent than ever to immerse yourself and tailor your strategic marketing plan to the specific community that you are trying to serve.

Empathizing means walking in the shoes of another to gain an understanding of their feelings and perceptions. Applying this to the marketing of schools, it comes down to understanding the potential of your community as well as putting in the legwork to see opportunity the way they encounter it on a daily basis. Leading with empathy oftentimes indicates having a “design mindset” which combines an understanding of the customer/community with the agility and problem-solving know-how of practiced design thinkers.

It is important to note that there must be an underlying understanding of your community before launching an effective community-building initiative. The desire to figuratively tear down walls and make the community the classroom is exciting and well-intentioned, however, it can be misguided when not well-informed about the people you are trying to reach and serve. Initially, asking yourself some questions may not only serve as a valid litmus test for how well you understand your community but may also spark some campaign ideas as well:

  1. Where are prominent places in your community where people go?
  2. Are you a part of these places? How might you be more involved?
  3. How might we better engage with our local businesses?
  4. How might we take students into the community?
  5. Are there opportunities for breaking bread with the community?
  6. How might we re-imagine our communication methods to encourage more contributions from the community?
  7. How might we empower new leaders and advocates within our community?

If getting to know your community starts with an event or a campaign, be sure you are capturing contact information! Once you have a good database of contacts, don’t be afraid to strategically send out a survey or hone in on local concerns and trends to figure out the questions that are being asked. It is important to remember that the impact can be varied, and many “solutions” are a first step in unraveling some of the more difficult problems. A framework from the Reform Support Network identifies how it is possible to move up the ranks from Inform, to Inquire, to Involve, to Inspire. Inspiring and positioning as a catalyst for growth is the true goal of all great educating and community building.

Some communities are fortunate enough to have passionate community builders already committed to breaking down the perceived barriers between schools and the community. Should your town be fortunate enough to have a pre-existing program or organization, talk to them! Some compelling and effective examples of these that we’ve seen are DC Pave, Kindred and Valley High School.

The empathy phase doesn’t stop, and like the rest of the design thinking framework, it requires consistent diligence and iteration. Developing a good understanding of the underlying concerns, habits and successes of your school community is essential to differentiating, driving enrollment and maintaining school satisfaction in the age of choice.

For more, see:

This is the first post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking.

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


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The Education Revolution Revisited: Chugach 25 Years Later

For a few hundred education explorers, visiting Alaska’s Chugach School District in the late 1990s was the first exposure to a high functioning competency-based system.

The district is headquartered in Anchorage but serves remote villages. The largest town, Whittier, used to be only accessible by train if you were on the road system. The other much smaller towns are located on islands that are not connected by bridges. Towns and villages that are not accessible year-round (usually requiring small aircraft for transportation) are not uncommon in the biggest state of the union.

A small band of educators built a system to support the widespread tiny multiage schools. Richard DeLorenzo, chronicled the journey in, Delivering on the Promise: The Education Revolution.

Doug Penn, the District Principal, expressed that instead of expounding on their district and past rewards, he would most like to share how fortunate the district is to have so many wonderful new colleagues in the field of competency-based education. After attending an iNACOL Leadership Conference in Denver two years ago, he was astounded to learn how many other systems had joined this work and how helpful it was to have a network.

“We have been implementing this model for 25 years and while we have had lots of success with our students and communities, we have been working and learning through this without a lot of opportunity for sharing and learning from others.  Some of that is due to our geographic isolation, but mainly it has been due to the fact that there just weren’t many other schools implementing this model…[we are] so grateful to now be able to have our staff network with other educators in the field of competency education and help us continue to grow and help our students in ways that we would never even have considered without the amazing perspective of others who are on our same path.”

Last year and this year, Chugach School District will be presenting and learning at the annual iNACOL Symposium.

I was an Alaskan teacher at the beginning of this ground-breaking work and taught in partner districts that supported with Chugach. Several years later, in 2002, many of us would open a charter school in Anchorage, called Highland Tech, that was fully competency-based. This school is just north of Chugach School District and we were fortunate to visit the district and work alongside some of these amazing educators.

The Promise Revisited

After a recent visit with members from Chugach School District, I was particularly interested and then inspired by the Voyage School, a unique boarding school located at the district office in Anchorage.  I was able to meet with Stephanie Burgoon, who leads the school.  I was inspired by the flexible way in which this district has responded to unique circumstantial needs while keeping learning engaging and powerful. She shared that the “ultimate goal is for each student to leave Voyage School with exposure to a variety of careers, an understanding of their own interests, strengths, and opportunities for improvement, a toolbox of strategies for self-care and community living.”  Essentially empowering learners to leave with a clear plan of next steps to achieve the career and life that they desire.

The short-term boarding school is not just for Chugach learners–it is available for all Alaskan students and mostly draws from districts that are not connected by a road system, and additionally has a handful of homeschooled children. This makes for a great mix of learners across the state.

In two-week learning sprints, referred to as phases, students come to Anchorage and can experience career pathways and bunk at the school. They can sign up for courses such as First Responder, STEM, Community Health, Mechanics, Early Education and Culinary Arts. These courses, called phases, can provide certifications as well as internships.

One of the phases, Snow Science, embeds science with multiple areas of interest. Snow safety, such as avalanche awareness and building snow shelters, can also be mixed with careers such as medical support and snow removal equipment.

There is also a course on Driver’s Education, which may seem out of place unless you are familiar with the Alaska landscape. Many of the small towns, often referred to as villages, do not have road systems or do not have access to road systems. There may be boardwalks, trails and makeshift roads but there are not two-lane roads, traffic or traffic lights.

Two certified teachers support the 25 students in academic work and instructors, often outdoor leadership certified, help lead the evening activities and support career pathway access. The schedule for the school allows for a week between sessions for reporting learning to home schools, planning, and prep for the next session and for the facility to be ready for the next group.

In addition to the career path exposure, learners also become part of a community that participates in group chores such as preparing for and cleaning after meals served family-style and cleaning the bathroom. During the phase sessions, learners start with a morning focused meeting and end the day with closing reflection as a team. The daily schedule is represented in this chart.

The Voyage students also have scheduled evening activities, that can include trips to the community swimming pool or local theaters. In addition to the credit they receive while at Voyage School, part of the evening and day time is reserved for core learning that they have either brought from their home school or have selected.  Some of the students are from competency-based districts and they may have selected work that aligns with their Voyage school experiences.

Chugach School District, known for rethinking learning approaches and personalized learning, has in the Voyager School an innovative model that is continuing their commitment to not just serve their learners but extend their reach to include learners outside of their district. Chugach School District continues to be an innovative district in the face of challenges, creating new and innovative ways to solve them.

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How New Models are Preparing Students for the Future of Work

Today’s students will be an integral part of tomorrow’s workforce.

This statement is no truer now than it was 20 years ago, or in 1980, 1960, 1940 or 1920. Yet the characteristics of this group have drastically changed over time, evolving with (and sometimes in anticipation of) societal shifts due to political, technological and cultural influences.

The newest generation to come of age—Gen Z—is currently engaged in studies from middle school through college, or just beginning a career. Though infrastructure issues or socioeconomic disadvantages mean that a digital divide persists for some, these young people have largely been accustomed to technology from an early age. This is the first generation that hasn’t had to be introduced to the Internet; they have grown up with it at their fingertips. Like the Millenials before them, Gen Z has become immersed to the point that they are creators versus passive consumers.

And while much has been written about the impact of entrepreneurship education on K-12 students, the variety of ways in which they’re currently engaging with content, with educators and with one another are enabling them to acquire practical foundational skills for the future of work—a future that is increasingly distributed, diverse, device-agnostic and asynchronous in nature.

Digital project management

The online portfolios students are building and the collaboration tools they’re using to work with one another aren’t unlike those of today’s knowledge workers. Though technology will undoubtedly morph over time, the interfaces students are familiarizing themselves with will impact their ability to navigate future programs. From an ideological perspective, the skills students are gaining as they manage digital projects—from an understanding of technical logistics to planning, organization, problem-solving and negotiation—will serve them well in a world where many workers will potentially be located miles (if not time zones) apart from one another. Those who choose to become entrepreneurs will be able to use this foundational knowledge to more easily construct global businesses and manage distributed teams.

Time management

In elementary and secondary schools employing what’s been called the ‘factory model’, students follow rigid schedules and work on content in lockstep with one another. Models that instead encourage personalized learning and student mastery are upending this centuries-old system, and with them, students are assuming more active roles in their own education. Competency-based programs that emphasize mastery are empowering students to consume material at their own pace. Other programs, such as those that follow a Hero’s Journey, promote student agency by enabling kids to choose their own paths. Each is possible at scale through the use of edtech. These individualistic approaches to education have resulted in a personalized experience that supports a variety of learning styles and needs. With time management in the hands of each student, they’ll be prepared for careers that grant them more autonomy than their parents and grandparents likely experienced.

Online communication

Whether scrolling through social content, product descriptions or recent news items, even the most reluctant readers are navigating through a world based on text (or hypertext). With face-to-face work environments no longer the sole option for professionals, written communication has taken on a higher level of importance. Knowing how to clearly and concisely offer feedback via email or instant messaging programs—or to more effectively search for information on the web, for example—have placed communication at the forefront of critical 21st-century skills. Much of the communicating in knowledge work will take place in the digital space. Add to this the global and multigenerational nature of the knowledge economy, and students will be expected to take a nuanced approach to communicating with those of other cultures and mindsets.

Cultural sensitivity

Educators are increasingly able to open their classrooms to the world. Through the use of free or low-cost digital programs like social media networks and video-sharing platforms, they can invite synchronous and asynchronous interaction with members of their own communities, with industry professionals and with those in academic institutions around the world. Large foundations and enterprises like Google are also supporting classroom exchanges that cross time zones and borders. Exposure to different cultures through dialogue provides students with a deeper, more personal understanding of the experiences, backgrounds, and motivations of those who may live lives that appear to be very different from their own. In a more globalized society, students who possess the ability to interpret, understand and respect cultural differences will have an advantage.

Lifelong learning

Today’s students have more opportunities than those of previous generations to guide their own learning at a manageable cadence. They also will be expected to adapt faster on the job than those who came before them. These two situational aspects in turn will orient today’s students toward a lifelong love of learning, as the focus is on acquisition and aptitude versus a forced timeframe for completion or set interaction points. Moreover, as the various types of tools, systems and technologies students use are fluid, they grow in adaptability and flexibility. When polled, employers currently cite these two characteristics as being highly valuable, both for onsite and remote work.

High school and college studies don’t have to provide a focus on specific disciplines in order to be powerful springboards for students’ future success. Opportunities to enable and empower young learners with skills to serve them and society at large in the as-yet-unknown future of work are readily available and accessible to educators today. 

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Kristi DePaul (@reallykristi) leads Founders Marketing, a remote content marketing firm that serves organizations focused on the future of learning and the future of work. 


ConnectEd Links Learning to Career Pathways

Want to improve the outcomes of your big urban high school? ConnectEd has a bundle of common-sense reforms that improve graduation rates and college and career preparation.

The formula includes clarifying what graduates need to know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and life, build support systems and implement college and career pathways to help teacher teams create coherent applied learning for a cohort of students.

The program, called Linked Learning, was designed by the staff of the James Irvine Foundation and launched with a $100 million grant awarded to nine California districts.

ConnectED has taken the program national through long-term often grant-funded district partnerships. This month we observed two of these partnerships in action.

Clairemont High, San Diego

In the northern suburbs of San Diego Clairemont High School (@clairemont_high) serves 900 students. More than half live in or near poverty.

With support from the Moxie Foundation in 2015, the Clairemont staff implemented career pathways in 2015. Students in the four academies–business, engineering, health and IT– take a sequence of core and career classes together in a 4×4 schedule. With the help of industry partners, teachers use project-based across the curriculum.

With a menu of options, the staff is aggressive about involving business and community partners in career exploration, work-based learning, client connected projects, and school and student supports. Partnerships were the big push in the second year of implementation (2017-18).

Eleventh graders have a monthly meeting with a career path mentor (4 students to each business mentor). Interns visit their career path site three times a week for 10 weeks. Employers receive a handbook and some training for how to best support and supervise their youth interns.

Elizabeth Rush, the Academy and Linked Learning Coordinator, created a step by step process for managing mentorships and internships. Systematic preparation ensures that every student has a productive experience.

Elizabeth Rush explains Clairemont’s intern program

Students build a portfolio of work, culminating with a senior capstone, that showcases essential career skills, ethical behavior, civic duty, and fiscal responsibility.

Mark Colombo, pictured in the blog feature image, teaches stock market investing in his 11th-grade finance class in the business academy. Business students also take UCSD extension courses that result in a business management certificate.

Freshman in the information technology academy takes an introduction to IT. The day we visited, the freshmen were critiquing games designed by 11th graders. Juniors take a class in Unity, the leading game development platform (and they can earn a certificate if they take and pass the test).

Business Academy Video Production teacher Daren Sparks

Taking Linked Learning National

In 2014, ConnectED began expanding outside of California with major initiatives in Detroit and Houston.

Beginning in 2016, ConnectED (with Jobs for the Future and Education Systems Center)  supported high schools in four regions in the upper Midwest through the Joyce Foundation sponsored Great Lakes College and Careers Pathways Partnership (GLCCPP). Case studies show the increased representation of students of color and those with special needs in college and career pathways; more students earning college credit, and more students on track for graduation.

ConnectED is also supporting college and career pathway initiatives in Boston, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon.

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It’s a New Dawn as iNACOL Becomes Aurora Institute

At the opening keynote for their annual symposium, iNACOL started the week with a big announcement! iNACOL is now Aurora Institute.

“We think it’s a powerful metaphor about the potential and promise embedded in K-12 education. An aurora signals a fresh start, a new beginning, and hope for the future.”    Susan Patrick, President & CEO

This new brand better represents the evolution the organization has undergone with regards to the mission, vision and values adopted by the board of directors in 2017.

“To drive the transformation of education systems and accelerate the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all.”

The Aurora Institute name and brand show the shift the organization has made to focus on broad-based systems change in our education system, rather than just addressing the form or delivery method.

NACOL was formed in 2002 and a few years later started hosting the annual symposium and publishing quality standards. In 2010, after conducting the first international study of best practices the organization became iNACOL. As personalized learning models started to emerge, iNACOL joined the effort to promote next-generation learning. In 2015, they hosted the first summit on competency-based education and founded CompetencyWorks. For the past few years, iNACOL had been focused on supporting the shift in pedagogy towards personalization with learner-led approaches.

Moving forward, Aurora Institute will support building capacity for systems change and educating policymakers on transformation.

“I hope you are as excited as I am, to think about the future possibilities, not just to you and to I, but also to our learning communities across the country,” shared board member Virgel Hammonds.

The organization will continue offering the following services and networking opportunities:

  • The Annual Symposium
  • Publications and Webinars
  • Technical Assistance to Policymakers and School Districts
  • CompetencyWorks
  • Networking and Partnerships
  • Field-Building

Stay tuned for more on what this means for Aurora Institute and their work. The Getting Smart team will be bringing you content and podcasts from this year’s annual symposium. If you missed our podcast with Aurora Institute President & CEO Susan Patrick listen now!


Curating Content for Classrooms, Families and Students

Educators today have a lot of responsibilities when it comes to teaching. We have lessons to plan, curriculum to write, assessments to create, and information to share. Because there is so much information being exchanged between home and school, there can be a lack of consistency or it can become confusing with knowing where to access everything that is needed. Technology provides many options for facilitating these tasks and has served to streamline a lot of the workflow in our classrooms and schools.

Teachers now can use a variety of apps and web services for sharing information, delivering content, providing resources, and connecting with families. Teachers may choose to use their own resources or a personal Google Drive to store documents and for managing these tasks, but it can become a challenge to balance between the different platforms. Sometimes the choice is made when teachers are part of a school that uses Microsoft or Google. Having a way to streamline the workflow when it comes to sharing information, providing resources, accessing student projects, and providing students with options for showing evidence of learning, would definitely be a benefit, especially with time being a challenge.

While there are different tools that we can use, there are some that educators continue to find new ways to implement them into the classroom and also into daily life as well. Many of the digital tools that we use in our classrooms can be used by our students and their families for purposes beyond education, which is something that I try to stress in my classroom and when I have time with parents. Finding a tool that serves multiple purposes is highly beneficial in education today.

One tool that has continued to be used more in my own practice and that has educators creating new and innovative ways to use it is Wakelet. This versatile tool can be used for more than just content curation. It can be used to create a flipped classroom, provide access to different activities and resources for students to use when completing a lesson and much more. It is a great tool for curating content for students or to collaborate with colleagues.  We can also have students create their own Wakelet collection to save articles and websites they gather from their research. Beyond serving the underlying purpose of content curation, it builds student skills in digital literacy and learning to process information.

For students who need to create a multimedia presentation, doing the research and putting everything together into a presentation tool can be time-consuming and possibly overwhelming for some. However, when using a tool like Wakelet, students can simply place or curate all of the resources for their project into one collection and then share the link with their teacher, who can then create one class collection. A class collection helps students to gather their information and store it in one digital space that is easily accessible and also promote collaboration. Using digital tools in this way is great because the discussions don’t have to end when class does. These tools provide ways to get students talking and sharing their ideas, so that classroom collaboration can occur beyond the physical space and time.

What Can You Do With a Wakelet?

It is always fun to learn about the new features of digital tools we are using in class, whether we happen to come across them on our own or other educators share how they are using the tools in their own practice. With Wakelet, the team is invested in improving their product and does so by continuing to seek feedback from educators as it grows and explores new ways to help educators and students. One recent update that I really like is the creation of Mood Boards.  A mood board is a more visual way to organize Wakelet collections. It increases accessibility by enabling the collections much easier to view depending on a person’s preferences.  I

In Wakelet, there are now four different ways to display information: Grid View, Compact View, Media View, and Mood Boards. My personal favorite is grid view because as a visual learner, I process information by focusing on distinct patterns and layouts and this makes it easier to find what I need. It is easier to look at the images, make comparisons between resources, and quickly find a specific resource because it is easier to navigate. If you want more resources with less space taken up on the page, the compact view shows the link and includes a brief description.

Using the mood board makes it easier to personalize the board in a way that makes sense for you and your students. Media view is great for telling a story, creating a lesson plan with resources, and working on projects together. If you use other tools like Flipgrid, or YouTube, you can play these videos right from the Wakelet page which definitely saves time if presenting material in a classroom.

Ways that I have used Wakelet

1. Brainstorm Ideas: Teachers can create a collection and enable collaborators to post an idea, share thoughts, or ask students to share and create their own resources. It is a quick way to create a collaborative space for brainstorming, problem solving and creativity!

2. Curate Content: There are a lot of different materials I use for my classes in addition to keeping track of the blogs, podcasts, videos, and other websites that I explore for my own research. Wakelet makes it easy to save links, especially with the Chrome extension. It is easy to create Collections and to choose the best layout to meet your needs.  I also enjoy saving bookmarks to the Wakelet page.

3. Project-Based Learning: For PBL, my students added their presentations and resources to our class collection which gave them the opportunity to look at the other students’ work. It was a good way to also share with our global classroom peers who could explore different interests and topics.

4. Collaboration: It facilitates better collaboration between teachers, whether in the same school or for providing materials for substitute teachers or co-planning. Wakelet provides an accessible and versatile space for teachers who want to collaborate and share resources between their department or within a school. We can also empower our students to build their collaborative skills by using these digital tools in their own learning paths. It is really easy to promote anytime, anywhere collaboration with this tool.

5. App Smashing: One thing I learned about recently was the use of Listenwise and the ability to app smash these two tools together. I recently started using Listenwise in my classroom and you can create a Wakelet collection which includes Listenwise stories within the resources that you have. It’s a nice way to give students access to different content and provide options for writing, evaluating or making comparisons between the different resources or primary sources. Also, try Flipgrid shorts videos with Wakelet for a combo that offers a lot of possibilities. Create a video right within Wakelet for providing an opinion based on the theme, offering feedback on a project or discussion, or provide a more detailed explanation for a concept.

6. Student Presentations and Storytelling: Have students create their own Wakelet collection that can be used for a variety of options to build skills in the content area as they gather information. Rather than using the traditional presentation formats, whether tech or no-tech, students can add images, videos, audio, links, text and more into one easily accessible space for class. Students can also tell a story or collaborate with peers to write a story and include various formats to make it more engaging.

7. Group Projects: Finding time to work in the same physical space can be a challenge, which is what makes having tools like Wakelet even better. Whether as part of a group research project or for use as a weekly collection to store all the projects for easy access to display in the classroom.

8. Scavenger Hunts: My friend Laura Steinbrink (@SteinbrinkLaura) came up with the idea to create a scavenger hunt using Wakelet. She gave instructions and added relevant resources to the collection. Using this can be a way to engage students in more active learning and provide a variety of learning materials beyond the traditional ones used in class.

9. Blended Learning: Whether students cannot be in class because of schedule conflicts on certain days or if a substitute teacher is in the classroom instead, Wakelet can help to create asynchronous lessons and used for blended learning. Design the collection with the resources needed and directions for steps to take and students can have a more personalized learning experience and will be able to continue learning on days when a substitute teacher is in the classroom.

10. Digital Portfolios: Students can add samples of work they have done and be able to share it easily with one link. Whether students have projects done using digital tools, want to upload images of non-tech evidence of learning, or record videos, there are many possibilities. A good way to show student growth as they progress through school.

Find out more by checking out the Wakelet website or following on social media with the #WakeletWave. There are many ways to use tools like Wakelet and other platforms.

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Centering Dialogue in the Classroom: It’s about WE, not ME!

By: Michael Kokozos, Ph.D. and Maru Gonzalez, Ed.D. 

Given the current political climate marked by an increase in school-based hate crimes, engaging students in authentic conversations related to the social, cultural or political—without fear of alienating those who hold different opinions and ultimately compromising curiosity, openness, and critical thinking—can seem like a near-impossible task. Further, educators often express a lack of pedagogical confidence to effectively navigate challenging topics in the classroom, particularly when the conversation veers toward matters of identity, power and privilege.

Amidst this backdrop of hostility and division, we have an opportunity—through dialogue—to push our students outside of their comfort zone, beyond the constraints of familiarity, past the limited purview of their own lived experiences, and into a place of real growth, understanding and empathy. This is in contrast to another method of communication in the classroom, debates, whereby a controversial topic is introduced and students are tasked with arguing the merits of their side with the aim of “winning” their case. Debate culture, which values righteousness over understanding, permeates beyond the classroom; it is reinforced by political pundits and news outlets, reflected in our social media feeds and present in our interpersonal exchanges. By contrast, the practice of dialogue is intentional, as it goes against our socialized individualistic tendencies.

Dialogue is about moving beyond the ME and opening oneself to learning from and about the experiences of others with the goal of a deeper connection and mutual understanding. At the core of debate vs dialogue is the ME vs WE dichotomy: students in debate come to believe they have the answers, and the best results will be achieved if others agree with them. WE students, on the other hand, believe that results come from exploring possibilities, assessing and evaluating options, and agreeing upon a course of action. Indeed, research demonstrates that dialogue can motivate attitude change and improve relationships across social identity groups. Among youth specifically, participation in dialogue has proven effective in fostering a more critical understanding of social justice and social change, driving civic engagement, and nurturing cross-cultural communication.

While dialogue can take different forms, shared among the various approaches are the following components, outlined below: creating the space, promoting active listening, raising critical consciousness, and nurturing collective action. Dialogue is further enriched when it is integrated throughout the semester and when educators have the necessary tools and training to serve as competent facilitators. The dialogic process is both linear and iterative; for example, creating the space must precede the other components, but efforts to facilitate active listening, critical consciousness and collective action are continuous and enriched by a supportive and trusting space.

Create the Space

You have likely heard about safe spaces. You may have heard about brave spaces. What’s important is for the facilitator to collaborate with students as to what they would like the space to become—what values are central to dialogue that can be treated as guidelines if ever the dynamic were to go awry. Establishing trust is an essential first step in cultivating a culture of connection and understanding across differences. To build trust, students and educators must work together to engender a dialogic space where empathy, understanding and compassion thrive. Creating a set of collectively established guidelines for supportive dialogue, often called community agreements or ground rules, at the beginning of a new school year or before an emotionally-charged lesson is one way students can express what they need in order to feel comfortable speaking authentically in the classroom. In addition, community agreements help a group transition through difficult conversations by detailing how they will work respectfully and effectively during conflict. Such a process enables cooperation because everyone has input and the teacher, rather than dictating expectations, can focus on empowering members of the group to hold each other accountable. The example below illustrates how a process of posing a few questions, such as  ‘what would make this space productive and constructive for learning? ’ and ‘when problems arise how will we handle them?’ can quickly generate consensus.

An example of community agreements, outlined on chart paper.  Image source: Flickr

Promote Active Listening

Once trust has been established, opening one’s self up in a group setting can be a powerful experience. It allows students to connect with others on a deeper level and find the common threads that exist in all human stories. Much in the same vein, inquiry and reflection help shape the structure of dialogue and set the foundation for meaningful exchange. In this sense, the two concepts are very much connected; that is, inquiry necessitates reflection while reflection generates a more intentional and authentic level of inquiry. Combined, they allow students to explore complex issues—including and especially those related to oppression and social identity—at a more profound level. Within the classroom, there are numerous strategies educators can employ to promote active listening such as think-pair-share, fish bowls, the jigsaw method and journaling.

Think-pair-share, for example, is a collaborative learning strategy. Teachers begin by asking a question and giving each student time to think about what they know or have learned about the topic. Then, pair off students to share their thoughts or responses.  Finally, reconvene the class by giving each pair an opportunity to share before leading a larger discussion. This simple strategy gives students time to develop their ideas, which increases their confidence, testing them out with their peers who are expected to listen carefully. Also, each student learns from their partner as they brainstorm and begin integrating multiple perspectives. Educators can complement this task by providing each student with sticky notes or message balloons so that they can jot down some of their initial ideas and then post them, if desired, to see how their initial thinking has evolved. This same benefit is also offered through padlet, a personalized online bulletin board. Students can add an individual virtual post-it and then a pair post before the entire class reflects upon a tapestry of comments (or photos, documents, weblinks, videos, if that mode of expression is preferred).

If you need a think-pair-share place to start or practice, check out conversation starters.

Two white message balloons. Image source: Pexels

The jigsaw method also promotes collaboration by breaking the class into groups and assigning students a unique role or task so that the groups’ overall effort is dependent on the contribution of each member. The method has roots in ameliorating racism (i.e., Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist, applied the method in response to the tensions that erupted after school desegregation in Austin, Texas) by facilitating intergroup communication and teamwork. Teaching Tolerance has a lesson created to honor that history; students apply the method as they identify and analyze the underlying causes of structural racism and the manifestation of racial disparities.

Here are even more advanced discussion strategies and variations that promote active listening, engagement and equity in the classroom.

Raise Critical Consciousness

Raising consciousness refers to creating awareness and critical understanding of the dynamics of power, socialization, and social inequality across social identity groups. Integrating the stories and experiences of marginalized populations into the curriculum can further aid in disrupting dominant and misguided narratives about said populations, thereby reducing prejudicial attitudes and behaviors. The personal sharing of stories is another effective method for raising consciousness and cultivating connections across differences.

Digital storytelling, which includes the use of audio and video podcasts to tell stories, is especially engaging for young people. #PassTheMicYouth—an innovative, critically grounded youth-led program out of North Carolina State University aimed at amplifying youth voices—affords young people the opportunity to submit their written and digital stories to the program’s podcast or blog. Each blog and podcast episode includes questions for extended dialogue that educators and youth-serving professionals can use to further explore featured narratives and how they connect to broader themes of social justice. Additional resources for developing critical consciousness are also outlined on the program’s website.

Nurture Collective Action

Once students have developed a more critical understanding of difference, they will be prepared—and likely motivated—to move from awareness and analysis to informed collective action. Students should be encouraged to participate in coalition building across identity groups and engage in social change initiatives such as advocating for policy change, attending a protest, or creating awareness about social justice issues. Involving and motivating students in both the execution of the project and its knowledge production as a means to foster positive social change is necessary to demonstrate the power of WE.

The dialogic process necessitates introspection and intentionality. It calls on us as educators to shift the climate in our classrooms from one of competition to one of cooperation, respect, authenticity and openness. Dialogue requires a personal commitment on the part of the educator to learn, to share and to fully participate in the collective transformation—however challenging and messy—that takes us from the ME to the WE. Even during this chaotic time, dialogue provides the WE an opportunity to convene and collaborate rather than exclude and alienate stemming the tide of polarization and bridging the deepening divide between YOU and ME.

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Michael Kokozos is a high school and college social science instructor in Miami, Fla. earning his Ph.D. in education, culture and society and specializing in critical curricular and pedagogical theory and applications.

Maru Gonzalez, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the Youth, Family and Community Sciences program at North Carolina State University. Over the course of her career, Dr. Gonzalez has worked with youth in various capacities, including as an educator, researcher, intergroup dialogue facilitator and school counselor.

This posts featured image is courtesy of the co-hosts of #PassTheMicYouth, a youth-led podcast and blog aimed at amplifying youth voices.


5 Ways to Make All Students Lead Learners

It has been established long ago that the highest form of learning is teaching. When one is put in the position to teach others, one learns the content and concepts at the highest applied level in order to successfully communicate it to others.

This reality has led many educators to turn much of the instruction in their classroom over to students through student presentations, projects and more.

That being said, too many students still never have the opportunity to become lead learners where they learn at the highest level by having the responsibility of teaching others. Here are five ways all educators can expand the opportunity for all students to learn at the highest level by all becoming teachers:

1. Student As Professional Presenters

Students have been giving presentations, in many cases, for years in certain courses. I suppose even the early years of Show & Tell were intended to have every student present or tell a story. We need to challenge all of our students to become master storytellers and presenters. All students need to have multiple opportunities to become an expert in various research-based deeper learning activities where they get to present their findings, conclusions, and innovations all in a professional environment using professional applications and technology. Additionally, we need to teach the explicit skills required to deliver a professional presentation. Too often, we assign presentations that only focus on the content instead of the delivery as well. Or, if we focus on the delivery, we don’t actually teach the requisite skills. We all know Death By Powerpoint. Let’s teach students to avoid this. There are dozens of resources, but having students get exposed to things such as Nancy Duarte and Slide: logy would be appropriate. In addition to getting all students to be master presenters and storytellers in order to achieve the highest levels of learning, these presentation skills will be used repeatedly in job interviews and professional environments for a lifetime.

2. Student Roles

Again, we have had students in various school roles for years. We have had Teacher Assistants, Cafeteria Volunteers, Attendance Monitors, Class Monitors, Drum Majors, ASB Officers, and many others. But it’s time to ratchet this up a bit – or even a lot. For example, what if one’s class or program had a Media Coordinator responsible for coordinating the video work? Or a Social Media Coordinator handling the class Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter Accounts? How about a Project Coordinator responsible for calendars, roles, timelines, and deliverables? One could keep going with a Design Coordinator, Social Coordinator, Web Coordinator, YouTube Channel Coordinator, Community Coordinator, and many others. How about Peer Coaches? If it’s good enough for adults, why not students? It’s not about titles for title sake; although students do respond to positions. It’s about students taking greater responsibility for the strategic roles in the classrooms. It’s about allowing students to bring their expertise and experience forward for the greater good, while also enhancing their skills, resumes, and portfolios.

Another former school of mine created the Student Project Coordinator as a means to expand the role of students. Students who were advanced in a given curricular area, or showed tremendous enthusiasm and skill, could apply for this position that had students in the role of facilitator of learning. Instead of Teacher’s Aide, or gloried gopher, a Student Project Coordinator led sessions, coached small groups, organized model lessons and demonstrations, and much more.

3. Portfolio Presentations / Defense of Learning

We need to create systems where students have to not only do regular presentations but also practice reflective learning in regular semester or annual presentations. These not only get them to present their best work and learning but also teach them again and therefore continue to learn at a higher level. If it’s good enough for graduate students and doctoral candidates, it’s good enough for all students. Many classes, programs, and schools have started to have their students do Final Reflective Oral Presentations – Defense of Learning – in order to capture this deeper learning experience. My former school, Minarets HS, designed a year-end portfolio presentation students would do each year entitled the Personal Brand Equity. This culminating project not only required them to analyze and assess their learning and best work but also do the same for them as a growing, learning and ever-improving young adult (skills focus). See More on the PBE Presentations From Minarets. Reflection, presenting and teaching will represent the highest form of learning these students can both experience and demonstrate.

4. Students As Experts

All students need the opportunity to become experts; experts in various focused areas of their content studies, as well as experts in professional areas of choice. As our educational pedagogy becomes more project-based, students will have greater opportunities for deeper learning like this. In their core and other courses, teachers and students will collaborate to design challenges and areas of inquiry where students focus deeply on specific aspects of the content and its application. PBL expects that students will have voice and choice on what they study deeply and how they will demonstrate their learning. In that spirit, many teachers are discovering the tremendous opportunity to make their students experts through choice projects such as 20 Time Projects or Genius Hour pursuits. These are in-depth and often long-term project pursuits specifically based on a student’s interest. They choose what they want to learn more about and how they will again demonstrate it. It’s the ultimate version of Student Voice and Choice. But again, it clears the adult or teacher out of the way giving the student full rights and means to become the expert, to become a teacher and to ultimately the lead learner in this given area. Not only does this lead to learning at the highest or deeper levels, but it also relates to the skills our students are going to need in the gig economy. They will often have to create their own work. For more, please visit 20Time.org and GeniusHour.com.

5. Culminating or Capstone Projects

Again, educators need to explicitly design project opportunities that are culminating, capstone type projects for our students. This is not a new idea. We have had senior projects at the college and secondary levels for years. However, these can take a 2.0 to them as well where students have a chance to choose areas in which to pursue their culminating learning experience. At Minarets, we created the Senior Legacy Experience. This was our version of a senior project. Students could choose an area that they were advanced in throughout their four years (AG, Arts, Athletics, AP, Academics, Media, IT, Core Subjects, etc.) and then pursue something that would impact the school and community. Check out a Sample SLE Project from Minarets HS. Unlike the portfolio, reflective quality of the Personal Brand Equity or Defense of Learning presentations, these are, again, more about student choice, expertise, passion, and deeper learning. These are also often opportunities for students to see that their learning and work have an impact beyond themselves. These could be applied well beyond the senior experience. Maybe we do them at least as we move from elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to post-secondary, etc. There are many ways and reasons to design these capstone experiences. So, instead of another template, think about how we can create these for all of our students in our courses, programs, and schools.

As usual, I’m not pretending that this list is all-encompassing. However, I would like to challenge all of us to think of our students as teachers, experts, and lifelong lead learners. They can all teach and therefore learn at highest, deepest levels. What ideas am I missing? What do you do at your school to support lead learners? Leave your ideas in the comments below.

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