Harmony’s Commitment to Microcredentials: A Close Look at their Professional Learning Experience

Launching an altogether different model for shifting from professional development sessions to a professional learning culture is a desire of many edleaders. And as we’ve discussed this spring, it’s more essential than ever to keep up with new variables affecting our practice. Getting to a place of continuous and iterative improvement that is personalized to the educator’s aspirations and contextualized to their practice can happen in our schools, however. It takes a commitment to establish a system replete with natural opportunities to invest in a teacher’s career advancement and Harmony Public Schools has made that commitment. As Harmony’s Robert Thornton said in his recent post, starting a microcredential track is often born out of a very near-future desire to close a gap in one’s practice. For Harmony’s leaders, the microcredential program surfaces the inherent and emerging talents and skills within the team.

Harmony teachers and administrators have earned 815 microcredentials since launching the program with funding from a TIF grant and technical assistance from their vendor partner, Bloomboard.

As we’ve discussed in prior pieces of this series, finding the path forward involves shifting an overall attitude about assessment and priority for self agency—just like with our students. Harmony has put systems and processes in place to facilitate this shift, and as the team has adapted to it, recognized the value of the program, and applied the work in their practice with their students, it’s perpetuated a culture of striving and growth, motivating each other to make the investment in Harmony’s overall quality of teaching and learning, one microcredential at a time. Harmony’s leaders realize this is not easy. It’s a rigorous process to consider approaching a microcredential offering, seeing a manner to apply it in your classroom or school, and developing an approach in conjunction with your respective administrator or coach. Director of Instruction for the school system Burak Yilmaz says, “this is a portfolio assessment… they get quality feedback on every piece they submit.”

Jason Fletcher, Math Department, Harmony Science Academy, Waco, TX

Former Harmony Teacher of the Year and instructional coach Jason Fletcher has become known as “Mr. Microcredential” amongst his peers at Harmony. After earning a few in the early days of the program, Jason started to encourage his fellow teachers to participate. As an instructional coach, Jason helped his peers find a way to honor the expertise they’d been accruing informally in their practice. In fact, it was a natural transition for Jason to start aligning his coaching sessions with the microcredential options, suggesting to his teammates which ones would be most relevant. His peers joke that he should wear a shirt that says, “there’s a microcredential for that.” Advocating for the program was easy for Jason because of his commitment to improving his own practice. “I liked having an avenue that I can control, regarding my career advancement.”

Amber Conner, Science & Social Studies Department Chair | 5th & 6th Grade Science Teacher, Harmony Science Academy – Austin

Teachers coming to Harmony after working in other school districts know they are having a different experience in professional learning. Amber Conner is a Harmony teacher of six years who has noticed how Harmony’s professional learning program has improved her ability to respond to leadership opportunities in her school and across the Harmony network. She’s served as a department head, a PLC leader, and a system course leader, writing common assessments and providing instructional guidance to her peers. She says, “I would rather be in a system that values growth than one that has stagnated… I feel supported. If I wanted to advance up to a different position, Harmony would support it.”

She likes how this professional learning aligns with what she’s learned in her experience as well as in her own pursuit of an M.Ed. It supports her teaching philosophy of being the lead learner before her students. “I’m a student, just like you!” Amber says. It gives her a chance to share her own approach to learning and motivate her students by example. “Having a teacher that enjoys learning helps students realize that they can enjoy learning too.” She has appreciated the microcredentials that have immediate application, such as improving her understanding of how to use Google’s G Suite for Education with her students.

Kimmi McClure, Assistant Principal and Dean of Academics and her teammates at Harmony Science Academy, Cypress, TX

Learning new techniques from the program can be rewarding for an immediate return, but being able to routinely promote from within is one of the most invaluable benefits for Harmony. Kimmi McClure is yet another teacher turned administrator, serving for her third year as an assistant principal at Harmony Science Academy in Cypress, Texas. Now in her tenth year with Harmony, Kimmi is actively growing as a leader. She touts Harmony’s shared value of distributed leadership for building great culture because teachers no longer need to rely solely upon the principal for guidance.

For Kimmi, the microcredential program came about while she was still a classroom teacher with these growing leadership aspirations. She earned credits in short sprints, conducting research, recording evidence, and reporting on her findings with her students. Kimmi noticed other teachers were encouraging her to pursue more credits in the realm of education leadership. “As I became a district PLC leader, the microcredential program came up again, and working with Teach Plus, it really opened my eyes as to how to be a leader among adults.” Earning her last one in supporting teachers with high-quality feedback opened a door for others in her school to approach her for help on that topic. Kimmi is currently continuing her career advancement towards a vision of being principal of her own school some day.

Mehmet Cellik, Assistant Principal, Harmony School of Endeavor in Houston

Mehmet Cellik, an Assistant Principal in Harmony Houston’s middle school, came to the U.S. from Turkey in 2009, learning English along the way. He has an energetic and sincere personality with a clear heart for serving the students and families of Harmony. Over a decade later, Mehmet has served in a number of Harmony’s schools, earning his master’s degree along the way while mentoring new teachers, serving as department chair, and leading various clubs and competitions for Harmony students. But it’s his continued pursuit of microcredentials that keep his edge sharp, whether the track he’s working on is about education leadership or data-informed instruction.

He sees that participating in earning these microcredentials has prepared him overall to be a more effective educator. Mehmet said, “they helped me be more organized and more specific,” that “…using data correctly is very important for differentiating our lessons and also reteaching.” Another track taught him how to better serve ESL/ELL students after studying data from the TELPAS assessment, Texas’s language proficiency tool.

These are just a few stories from Harmony’s journey thus far. As an evolving professional learning experience, the value for the entire Harmony community cannot be understated as they continue to improve the education they offer families across the network.

In the next post of the series, we hear from one of the Harmony microcredential program leaders, Burak Yilmaz, as he explains the broader work of designing career pathways and how the program is evolving for Harmony.

Additional Resources:

This post is part three of a five blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Competency-Based Career Advancement at Harmony Public Schools” produced in partnership with Harmony Public Schools (@HarmonyEdu). 

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Arguing for Agency: One Student-led Classroom Debate at a Time

By: Les Lynn and Eric Tucker

Understanding the ins and outs of the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult—information changes almost daily, and public health guidelines shift, too. For schools grappling with these changes, it can be confusing. But it’s also a powerful learning opportunity for students: a chance to foster critical thinking skills and engage students in informed decision-making.

Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (LAB) has partnered with renowned Chicago-based firm Argument Centered Education (ACE) to develop a suite of free, publicly available resources to encourage teachers, students, and families to have discussions and debate about different aspects of the pandemic and appropriate responses and protocols that can minimize risk and keep communities safe and healthy. Our goal is to help school communities work through available evidence and take ownership of public health informed, equitable choices along the way.

Our strategy is simple: Responding to the pandemic ultimately is about changing norms, behaviors, and priorities, and that means our community of students and families must shift how they operate. We are challenging our community to argue for its agency—to take ownership of good decisions based on factual information. According to ACE, “debatifying” the curriculum, as we are doing in this project, gives students an opportunity for deeper learning because it builds their agency by exercising their criticality. They are exploring different points of view, challenging each other’s assumptions, and debating the options regarding what constitutes the best solution.

Guided by ACE, Brooklyn LAB has identified two different projects that revolve around COVID-related “debatable questions.”

The first question deals with COVID-19 protocol enforcement and discipline: Should schools implement and enforce common coronavirus mitigation policies at the staff member or administrator level, or should students and teachers be called upon to act responsibly and self-enforce? The second question focuses on in-person school: Should schools restore full or hybrid in-person learning before a COVID-19 vaccine is available?

By doing research, developing positions, and then debating all sides of these questions, students not only learn about the scientific, public health, and public policy questions that swirl around COVID-19, they learn to apply critical literacy skills and to develop their own views. This kind of evidence-based argumentative discourse strengthens student voice.

The project also illustrates how there’s not always one right solution. The first question is a good example of that: students can make strong arguments on both sides. At its core, this challenge has to do with the best way to build a culture in a particular community, top down or bottom up? Our teachers and students have noted that the underlying question is similar to ideas that propelled restorative justice practices in schools: the possibility that administratively enforced suspension and code-of-behavior policies, while more direct and certainly more traditional, may not be as effective as student-enforced credos.

“Sure, mandates might get people into compliance, but schools also might be able to build a community culture around the response to COVID-19 if they are intentional about putting students in the actual forefront,” said LAB Academic Director Bennison Ntsakey. “Making arguments on all sides of this issue is a way for students to test and possibly apply progressive education theories in the context of the current pandemic that is so directly affecting their lives.”

We have seen how this issue queues up various practical questions of school governance that students are invited to think through. Should schools create student panels for enforcement of COVID-19 mitigation? What should punishments be if students or other constituents are caught violating protocols? Should violators receive a warning? How will the solution to this problem affect the way a school solves other complicated issues down the road?

The second project is a bit more straightforward, but it allows students to explore different points of view based on their research and their lived experience, which creates a nuanced debate. Students can pull information from the headlines, whether it’s a recent Nicholas Kristof column in The New York Times or perspective from the American Academy of Pediatrics about how in-person learning is best for the mental health of most American students.

For this question, students have a chance to make equity-based arguments, noting that when kids are in school for eight hours a day, every student in the school essentially is on a level playing field. On the one hand, having all kids in school serves this crucial and fundamental goal of public education. On the other hand, it may further spread the virus.

As students dig through and weigh the evidence to develop their arguments, they have a chance to consider the conditions under which either approach should be applied.

ACE supports students and teachers with a slate of resources for each question. For instance, Media Lists organize primary and secondary source material into three categories: background information, sources favoring one position, and sources favoring another position. LAB has supplemented ACE tools with materials compiled by teachers.

Because argument-centered instruction is so active and student-centered, it gives students more agency over their education, which can be more effective in promoting learning, particularly among students with higher needs. MAPS Corps Executive Director Dr. Nia Abdullah put the point this way, in a recent Education Post article:

As the former principal of a small urban, high-needs, extremely trauma-impacted high school, and later a comprehensive, majority Black and Brown suburban high school, I have witnessed firsthand the power of classroom-level debates on controversial current events to heal wounds, while simultaneously engaging African-American males in rigorous academic instruction that prepares them for college, career, and civic life.

Sure, it’s unlikely that members of our community will be called upon by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offer their insights on pandemic response. But they are examining and sifting and weighing for themselves the critical information on COVID-19, and then making their own decisions. By facilitating an environment in which students and families use credible data to inform their own perspectives, we believe we can create a more informed community that is willing to do what it must to protect its members.

At LAB, we are applying an argument-centered approach to a crucial current issue in our students’ lives in order to educate and empower them. Together, we are arguing for agency, one debate at a time.

For more, see:

  • Preparing for a Healthy and Safe Return to School: Public School Facilities Planning in the Era of COVID-19
  • The Better Arguments Project
  • Educating All Learners Alliance Launches Flagship Site, Shares Personas Educators Can Use to Understand Students’ Lived Experience During COVID-19
  • The Debatifier, Argument-Centered Education
  • Schools Need a Success Coach for Every Learner
  • Resolved: Debate Can Revolutionize Education and Help Save Our Democracy, Robert Litan (Brookings Institution, 2020)
  • Preparing to Reopen: Six Principles That Put Equity at the Core
  • They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, Cathy Birkenstein & Gerald Graff (W.W. Norton, 2019)
  • To Reopen, America Needs Laboratory Schools
  • How to Reopen Schools: A 10-Point Plan Putting Equity at the Center
  • Reopening Schools: A Scheduling Map for Educators to Plan the Who, What, When, Where, and How of Learning this Fall
  • The Front Porch: A New Approach to Support the Health, Safety, and Well-Being of Our School Communities
  • Safeguarding Back to School: Preparation for a Healthy Return to School in Downtown Brooklyn

Les Lynn is the founder and director of Argument-Centered Education. Since 2013, Argument-Centered Education has been helping districts, networks, administrators, and teachers become effective in organizing and implementing instruction around engaging, balanced, and arguable questions at the center of the high school and middle school curriculum

Start Smart: Resuming Learning After COVID Learning Loss

By: Lynelle Morgenthaler

As educators, we never thought it would be like this. A pandemic. A massive school shutdown. The American public has learned to speak our language: virtual learning, blended learning, in-person learning, rotation model, cadres. At any other time, that would be an amazing achievement. But at the moment, we are finding these terms used generally in an op-ed piece about parental frustration.

It’s difficult to chart a course in an environment of tremendous change and upheaval. As one of those dedicated to helping educators put tools in their utility belt before they leap into the fray, I’ve dug into state recommendation, analyzed education news, and combed through educational research to provide a cohesive picture of recommendations and best practices that can serve as the backbone of an instruction plan for the 2020–21 school year.

An Instructional Model for This School Year

As Vice President of Learning Design at Edmentum, a national online education technology company that works with over 8,000 school districts in all 50 states, I knew it was imperative to prepare educators with an overarching picture of an instructional model for school reopening. We released a report called Start Smart: Reopening School After COVID Learning Loss that breaks down three key concepts: social-emotional learning (SEL) and an equity focus are at the heart of learning, a Universal Double-Dose Plan and an Acceleration Plan are the instructional spine; and training for educators, learners, and families make these components work together in school and at home.

For the purpose of arming educators with an academic plan, I want to focus on the Universal Double-Dose Plan and Acceleration Plan for school reopenings.

What is a Universal Double-Dose Plan?

In the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model, students in Tiers 2 and 3 receive additional support, sometimes referred to as a Double-Dose model. Looking at the data based on other forms of interrupted school, researchers are predicting that all learners will have learning gaps to some degree due to the unanticipated school shutdown in Spring 2020 and the current brick-to-click learning environment (in-school and at-home learning, planned or unplanned.

A Universal Double-Dose Plan basically proposes that students will need Tier 1 instruction—starting on grade level immediately for all learners—and simultaneous learning-gap diagnosis-instruction for all learners. And they’ll need to do all of this in a rapid-learning environment. A term that educators have typically associated with rapid learning is acceleration.

One of the key benefits of a Universal Double-Dose Plan is that it avoids the stigmatization that occurs by identifying a subset of learners as those who need extra help. If you’re working with a diagnostic-based Acceleration Plan, students who are accelerated in performance will receive exactly what they need, as well.

So how do we achieve acceleration during instruction? We focus on essential knowledge, the things kids most need to know.

What Does an Acceleration Plan Look Like?


Pre-COVID Slide

Student %

Likely Fall 2020 Post-COVID Slide Student %
1 80% 60%
2 15% 15%
3 5% 25%

Edmentum’s research scientist created a data model using information based on other periods of interrupted learning to project the likely increase in Tier 3 performance levels this fall.

A big part of the Universal Double-Dose Plan is a solid plan for acceleration. There are a couple of important factors in accelerations: identifying priority standards, which I like to call power standards, is key. You can’t go fast unless you’re doing the important stuff.

The next aspect of a strong assessment plan is identifying what kids need to learn and already know—and that means a diagnostic assessment. A diagnostic assessment will identify where kids are currently performing in a given subject area and, often, where they are in each domain within that subject area.

Naturally, once you know this information, you want to put that information to its best use by learning exactly what each student needs to know. That’s where a concept called mastery learning comes in.

Acceleration Learning Plan

Mastery learning, also known as competency-based learning, ensures that students learn what exactly they need to learn, skip over what they know, and receive additional support for concepts in which they struggle. Assessment identifies the skills students need to master and those that are already mastered so that they don’t waste instructional time on what they already know. 

Mastery Learning: Assessment-Powered Velocity

I hope that by focusing on the academic piece of the puzzle doesn’t lead you to think that the other elements—social-emotional learning, equity, and robust training—will be less important than academics in this coming school year.

They are all incredibly important aspects of school and learning preparedness in this pandemic and hybrid-learning environment. Without these fundamental building blocks, an academic plan does not have a solid foundation.

For more, see:

Lynelle Morgenthaler is the Vice President of Learning Design at Edmentum.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

5 Ways to Support Students’ Personal Brand Equity

In the professional world, our colleagues have always had opinions about us and our work. This is now known as Personal Brand Equity and is a collection of thoughts based on the perception of someone. It’s usually about one’s professional capabilities, knowledge, experience, skills, talents, and distinguishing characteristics.

In a more globalized, tech-infused, mobile, and ever-changing economy, our Personal Brand Equity has become invaluable. All of us can learn to craft and develop who we are, what we have to offer, what makes us unique, and how we might communicate any of this to others. This is not about self-promotion, but rather about maximizing our best self to others. For students, how can we teach this invaluable concept long before they start their careers? Here are five primary ways:

1. Portfolios

Forget AP scores, weighted GPAs, and SAT scores. We are now in a portfolio world and economy. Our students are going to spend a lifetime sharing/selling their ideas and working to add value to others. Portfolios are the Personal Brand Equity onramp.

Students can organize, share, and feature elements of their Personal Brand Equity on digital portfolios. There are literally dozens of free commercial sites (see The 21 Best Free Website Builders). All of these have commercial upgrades, but are not required in order to have a fully-functioning site and portfolio.

To me, we cannot allow any more students to graduate from our K-12 systems without a professional, digital portfolio showcasing their best work, projects, skills, and unique attributes.

2. Publishing (Blogs/Vlogs/Video Channels)

Publishing used to be reserved for those that could justify their content through a myriad of ‘experts’ that had to bless the work. In this DIY era, that has changed. People can launch new careers, ventures, and successes sometimes in minutes. We have the technology where everyone can play in the big digital world. The challenge for education is to demonstrate to students that this is not just about personal interests, but rather about work and ideas that they create, develop, and share with the world. It’s natural for English teachers to use blogging as a means for students to not only publish, but also learn to reflect, summarize, identify voice, and ultimately receive feedback. But publishing of some sort is really appropriate for all subject areas and projects. With over 80% of the online content consumed being video, we need to teach our students the power of using video to tell their story, as well as share projects, tutorials and so much more. YouTube dominates in many ways, but here is just one example of a list of others that are free: 7 Free Video Sharing Sites to Watch & Upload Videos.

3. Contests/Competitions

Challenging students to enter their work into contests is just one more avenue that allows people to gain notoriety and success based on talent implementation. Those in athletics and the performing arts have long enjoyed participating in various local, regional, national, and even international contests. Career Technical Education realized long ago that contests—such as Skills Challenge USA—were just one of the many ways to engage students, as well as make their work seem more real, relevant, and applicable. Well, we can now add or create the contest, or competition, in all areas of student work if we choose. There are literally thousands of online contests for almost every imaginable endeavor. Sometimes we just need to include this as an option or make our students aware.

4. Work-Based Learning/Service Learning

In the end, our Personal Brand Equity has to have significant content. In order to connect to our long-term professional Personal Brand Equity, as well as continually seeking that in which we can emerge as unique, we need to create the opportunities for our students to engage in high quality work-based, and service learning. These types of experiences not only allow us to network, be mentored, and connect skills and work to our learning, but they also create the quality content we need to share to increase the quality of our Personal Brand Equity. Nothing speaks more to the world of work, as well as higher education, than that of students engaging in significant real work (paid or otherwise) in our communities. This is where students can demonstrate value and differentiation.

5. Social Media

Many of us have long been advocating for education to view social media as one of the new literacies. First, more and more colleges, as well as employers, are looking at candidates’ social media profiles to make decisions about them. It can certainly be a problem if someone has lots of negative social media activity (profanity, racism, sexism, drugs and alcohol, sex). But I would argue that it’s also a problem if someone has no footprint whatsoever. Students inherently view social media as primarily social. It’s our job, as educators, to show them the true, exponential power of social media.

Let’s face it, every company, organization, or any variety of other groups are all using social media. It’s really not optional professionally. What if all students shared their best work on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and others? Indeed, not only would that be a hands-on way of developing digital literacy, but also a way for people to drive other people to their work. If we’re producing videos of our work, competing in professional contests, and participating in work and service-based learning, then we should have great content to share on social media.

Personal Brand Equity For All

This is an invaluable concept to teach all our students long before their careers are solidified. We owe them not only the knowledge and power of Personal Brand Equity, but the best chance for them to optimize their best self for their lifetime of professional pursuits.

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Invention Opportunity: Creating a Shared Reality

The Internet was supposed to create a shared reality but social media reinforced information gullies that have widened into canyons of difference with competing facts interpreted through tribal logic models and resulting in distinctly different realities.

We can’t blame it all on Facebook and Twitter, big differences were there–and have become more painfully aware with the trifecta of a pandemic, racial injustice, and climate crisis all impacting the least advantaged in society–but it’s clear that rather than serving as a unifying force, social media has become a wedge that divides.

The fundamental problem is one of communication, “The problem of persuasion, the problem of getting people to agree on a shared consensus view of reality, and to acknowledge basic facts and to have their probability assessments of various outcomes to converge through honest conversation,” explained neuroscientist and author Sam Harris.

He acknowledges that “our failure to fuse cognitive horizons through conversation is reliably derailed by politics.” He adds religion as a second ideology that shapes individual views of reality.

Founding Olin College president Richard Miller sees truth as a discipline that can be learned, a constructive skepticism that results in opinions based on facts–not the number of followers. With all the disinformation out there, teaching critical consumption must start in elementary school.

Complexity confounds the problem. The interrelated problems we face don’t have simple solutions and their early data sets haven’t yielded conclusive answers. Nonetheless, it’s hard to make progress without starting with a common fact base and a shared sense of reality.

Shared reality is the necessary first step of leadership whether that’s a school, a company, or a country. Shared reality starts with the facts but because those are open to interpretation, the shared reality is most likely to emerge within the identity of membership– citizenship of a city or stakeholder of a school system. You’ve got to invite people into a system to have a shot at a shared reality.

Shared Reality as an Invention Opportunity

Access to quality learning for the (soon to be) 8 billion of us depends on inventing combinations of new tools and agreements that will expand access to powerful learning and lives of opportunity.

Our list of invention opportunities starts in an unlikely place–a shared set of facts and ways to interpret those shared facts that will enable communities (and countries) to move forward together. Creating a shared reality–a common situational awareness that enables collective action–requires shared facts, shared values, and shared models.

1. Shared Facts. Shared reality tools will, in some ways, be the opposite of current versions of social media which have crafted self-reinforcing information gullies and propagated difference and viral hate.

A July meeting between civil rights leaders and Facebook executives surfaced these shortcomings and when the company failed to act, it spurred a widespread advertiser boycott of the platform. A September celebrity boycott on hate speech urged Facebook to clean up its act. Ironically, while the external version remains a mess, Facebook decided to moderate the internal version to promote informed dialog.

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications_Decency_Act created liability protection for platforms and enabled the explosive growth of user content but, unlike Wikipedia which has guidelines that create a virtuous cycle toward truth, created for social media a vicious cycle that rewarded outrageous, fallacious, and fabricated content.

Jevin West, UW prof and Director of the Center for an Informed Public, just published a book on the art of skepticism where, in addition to outlining tips for critical consumption, suggests regulation of social media to beat misinformation.

Deep fakes and new synthetic content applications are emerging challenges to building a shared reality. A combination of machine and human vetting will build dynamic fact bases with editing more like Wikipedia than Twitter’s public interest notices or tweet hiding.

2. Shared Values. Humans interrupt facts through complicated values-based filters that are shaped by groups we associate with. This tribal psychology motivates how we behave to fit in with our peers.

“At times, since belonging goals are so vital to our survival, we value signaling that we are good members of our tribes much more than we value being correct, and in those circumstances, we will choose to be wrong — if signaling we believe wrong things seems like it will keep us in good standing with our peers,” said David McRaney about why some people don’t wear masks in a pandemic.

As a result of these thick and influential group memberships, just laying out the facts isn’t enough to create a shared reality. It requires involvement and enrollment in shared values.

Journalist Jad Abumrad realized that “hammering at a scientific truth when someone has suffered, that wasn’t going to heal anything.” He began thinking of his job as leading “people to moments of struggle because the truth is no longer just a set of facts to be captured. It’s become a process. It’s gone from being a noun to being a verb. Increasingly in this confusing world, we need to be the bridge between those differences.”

In the Central Valley community of Lindsay California in 2007, Superintendent Tom Rooney illustrated this idea of shared values as a verb by engaging the community in a new plan that led to 10 shared values and 10 beliefs. They continue to guide the work in one of America’s most innovative systems.

Launched as Denver School of Science and Technology and now a 15 school network, DSST is “a values-first organization said Founder and CEO, Bill Kurtz. Shared values are visible environment, culture, and learning.

These education examples suggest that facilitating shared values are key to doing important sustained collective work. However, as a verb, values dynamic, integrated, and sustained.

3. Shared Models. Three days before landfall, the National Weather Service predicted the time and the location Hurricane Laura would hit the Louisiana coast (see featured image). Scientists at the National Hurricane Center blend information from a half a dozen computer models to achieve super-accurate forecasts. These models save lives and reduce property damage by driving collective action.

Shared realities will be based, in part, on the collective adoption of predictive models. Because they model complex systems, most come with confidence intervals like the UW COVID model below (a snapshot from July which proved pretty accurate.

The challenge for collective action is being told to take precautions when it doesn’t appear warranted by local circumstances. It runs counter to our “gut feeling” about what we should do. We’re just not very good at living on a curve and thinking mathematically. And when federal leaders failed to act on shared values and shared models, it eroded trust and drove inconsistent behaviors that led to disastrous results.

In another example of failing to use predictive information, a growing number of models suggest it is likely that global warming will push past the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold widely considered to be catastrophic (with an envelope of 1.8° to 4.0° Celsius).

So models are increasingly important to a shared sense of what’s about to happen–adoption and consistent use are key.

Invention Implications

It turns out it’s hard to facilitate a shared reality–but it looks more important than ever for moving forward together for communities and countries. A shared sense of what’s happening and what that means is critical for collective action.

The current version of social media may be irretrievably damaged by the built-in reliance on ad revenue. It may take the invention of new trusted curated sources of truth (have you noticed TV stations and newspapers claiming to be the source of truth lately?) and a sustained commitment to practicing and teaching critical consumption.

Trusted facts and models will only be widely adopted and used where leadership facilitates shared values. But here’s the rub–there is probably no shortcut to enrollment and no substitute for sustaining these values over time. Shared values take trust and trust takes time.

Leadership preparation programs in education and business should focus on building cultures of shared values and purpose. We should elect local and national leaders that commit to mutuality and shared values. With a shared reality, we can begin to build better agreements–but that’s the next #InventionOpportunity.

For more, see:

To help inform and deliver new agreements, new practices and new tools Getting Smart and eduInnovation are exploring the Invention Opportunity thanks to support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundations.

This post was originally posted on Forbes.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Lining Up Career Dreams with Reality

By: Dr. Suzette Lovely

Offshore wind farmer, app designer, drone photographer, an UBER driver are all jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago. Today these occupations are on the rise. In our variegated labor market, job opportunities and requirements change on a dime. The question for educators is: How do we build exposure and aspirations around careers no one is able to imagine?

Out of Sync

The roots of Career and Technical Education (CTE) date back to 1917 when the federal government first began funding vocational education. At the time, skill development was centered on agriculture, homemaking, industrialization, and post-war job training.  By the middle of the 20th century, astronaut and rocket scientist had emerged as the dream jobs of the future. Since that time, an array of state and federal grants have been offered to expand CTE access to K-12 students.

Despite this surge in CTE coursework, a recent report in Ed Week noted that the dream jobs of today’s youth mirror the dream jobs from twenty years ago. For example, in 2020 high school sophomores said they aspired to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, business managers, architects, and police officers. Separately, girls identified nursing, psychologist, designer, and veterinarian among their top ten dream jobs. This reflected a slight change from the girls’ 2000 list, which included hairdresser, writer, and secretary. Boys, on the other hand, identified information and communication technology (ICT) professionals, sportspeople, and mechanics as their top ten dream jobs, which is exactly the same as it was in 2000.

Over the last two decades, CTE programs have been rebranded and millions of dollars have been spent to ensure workforce readiness meets the demands of regional economies. Yet, the career interests of teenagers have remained static. Clearly, students need authentic experiences to envision an array of occupations that not only generate excitement but are also within reach. Raising aspirations has to start early.

Ready for Anything

So what should students be learning in the age of robotics, artificial intelligence, global pandemics, and myriad social justice issues?  According to employers, the lessons students need for their future are less about reading, writing, and arithmetic and more about influencing others, seeing beyond the obvious, adapting to changing environments, and engaging with others across time zones. Our graduates have to differentiate themselves by rising beyond average and bringing a spark of imagination to whatever they do. It’s hard to envision how a student trained in passive listening will be ready for anything.        

Opening Doors to Work-Based Learning        

Work-based learning is a growing trend that can synchronize students’ career interests with emerging economies.  While countries like Germany and Austria have infused work-based learning programs into their schools, the United States is still trying to find the sweet spot between participation and outcomes.

In 2015, a consortium of fifteen school districts and five community colleges in San Diego County joined forces to build a career development program focused on robust employer engagement. With a $13 million Career Pathways Trust Grant (CPTG) in hand, our imperative was to ensure efforts focused on the needs of the regional workforce. To that end, a continuum of work-based learning experiences was developed to fully immerse students in a field of interest by the time they left high school. Through direct interactions with career professionals, students would be able to learn about work, through work, and for work.


As lead superintendent of the consortium, I listened to concerns from industry leaders like Qualcomm, Cox Communication, NRG, and others about the haphazard way business-school partnerships were formed. Individual teachers, principals, and school foundations inundated companies with requests for support. Yet, there was no centralized way to track requests, evaluate needs, or align resources with corporate goals (Lovely, 2020).

To streamline collaborative efforts, an eportal was developed with the help of ConnectEd Studios and the Linked Learning Alliance. The goal of the eportal is to connect students with transformative work experiences using a one-stop-shop. Not only does the eportal provide a plethora of resources to improve how students learn about careers, but it also links teachers and students to industry professionals who help design authentic projects, assess student work, and engage learners through job shadowing, mentoring, and internships.

This catalytic use of on-line and offline tools has helped bridge academics with the world of work throughout San Diego County. Curriculum, classroom activities, and school projects offer students a foundational understanding of available job opportunities. This is coupled with firsthand interactions with industry professions that give learners a bird’s eye view into the ‘dream jobs’ within the region. Not only are these jobs in high demand, but they also pay well too.

Conclusion: The Sandbox Manifesto        

While the K-12 landscape is dotted with collaborative undertakings between industry and education, efforts have shown mixed results. Absent a framework for disparate groups to come together, educators and industry professionals will struggle to work in unison. Forming alliances with people who aren’t accustomed to playing in the same sandbox require new rules and tools. Consider four tenets to work better and stronger together (Lovely, 2020).

  1. Get the right people in the room: Before forming any type of coalition, make sure the right people are in the room. Everyone should agree on the issue and goals of the partnership before proceeding.
  2. Use structure over strategy: To build momentum, educators and the business sector have to collectively see, learn, and do together. Rather than create a running list of activities, focus on how teachers and industry professionals will engage with one another over a given period of time. When structure precedes strategy, it builds a foundation on which group efforts and behavior are framed.
  3. Enroll partners to your cause: While many outside professionals want to help schools, don’t assume they’ll automatically include your organization in their cause. To enroll local industries in work-based learning, develop a compelling story, invite prospective partners to participate in key school events, and involve students in the ‘enrollment’ process. Industry experts who make an emotional connection with your work are more eager to play on your team.
  4. Share credit: In any joint venture, sharing credit is far more important than taking it. Draw attention to industry contributions through mutually reinforcing activities and public relations campaigns.

No matter what ‘dream job’ students might pursue, our responsibility as educators is to make sure they’re ready.

For more, see:

Dr. Suzette Lovely spent 35 years serving K-12 schools in every capacity from instructional aide to teacher to principal to central office administrator. During her role as Superintendent in Carlsbad, California she spearheaded several efforts to bridge classroom learning with career readiness. Dr. Lovely’s latest book Ready for Anything builds a new world of meaning for educators in preparing students for college, career and a good life.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

15 Invention Opportunities in Learning

“The arc of human history will be bent by learning–specifically, the proportion of the seven billion people on the planet who have the knowledge and skills to support their family, make thoughtful choices and participate in self-governance.” I made that claim, noting that “learning is the most important subject in the world,” a decade ago in Getting Smart.

While access to quality education remains vital, this year–with the collision of a pandemic, racial injustice, and climate crisis–made clear that we don’t just need to upskill, we need a new set of agreements about how we get along and how we share the challenges and opportunities of our time.

Sharing the benefits of the innovation economy requires that we take apart and reconstruct old agreements, policies, and institutions that were inherently racist and inequitable. For learning institutions, a few of these outdated agreements include school funding based on local property, grading and sorting based on compliance, curriculum based on WASP history, college entrance requirements based on skills that no one actually uses, and hiring based on degrees that didn’t certify job skills.

Setting the stage for an age of invention is the rise of artificial intelligence which is enabling teams to use smart machines to do what would have been computationally impossible just months ago. AI is quickly being incorporated into every aspect of learning and systems that support learners–with the opportunity to extend access to powerful learning.

Access to capital, both private and philanthropic, has never been better. While inequitable, it is easier for anyone, anywhere to capitalize on a good idea. The widening recognition that diverse talent benefits teams (and that traditional pedigrees are less valuable) means equitable employment, as well as equitable entrepreneurial opportunities, are possible.

The Invention Opportunity

The education and development systems that help people grow and contribute face 15 great challenges that block global progress in learning. The first third is socio-political, the second third is the building blocks of learning design, and the last third is technology tools.

The pandemic quickly shifted modalities and use patterns. It resulted in new capabilities and stretched perceptions of possibilities. It also revealed flaws, inequities, and gaps in learning systems and tools. In a few well-funded edtech categories, product road maps were accelerated by a few years. But the big gaps aren’t just accelerated product features, they are new ways of provisioning public education–new agreements around new experiences and tools. Many likely require public-private partnerships where communities, schools, and tools work together in new ways.

Our draft list of 15 big invention opportunities are outlined below.

Community Agreement Challenges

  1. Shared reality: improved access to facts, better preparation in digital literacy, better tagging of synthetic content, visual and logic tools for building a shared reality.
  2. Agreement crafting: process skills and tools for facilitating rapid community conversations yielding agreements for iterative development.
  3. Broader aims: articulating a shared purpose of education that moves beyond narrow skill definitions/metrics to success skills, wellbeing, and contribution.
  4. Equitable foundation: supporting equitable access to education with weighted and portable funding, thoughtful talent distribution, and intentional locations and enrollment policies.
  5. Accountability 2.0: new ways of measuring success including making use of cumulative validity across broad learning goals and comprehensive records.

Learning Design Challenges

  1. Learner experience: how to use learning science to craft engaging and effective learning sequences.
  2. Credentialing capabilities: how to credential demonstrated skills (especially success skills that are context-dependent) to reduce friction in talent transactions.
  3. Competency-based progressions: combining individual progress with effective use of cohorts and teams (and what that means for scheduling students and staff).
  4. Personalized talent development: portable system of microcredentials and employment benefits.
  5. Nimble formats: how to enable the benefits of comprehensive systems in small safe secure and personalized environments.

Data and EdTech Challenges

  1. Motivational profiles: identification and use of the factors that motivate persistence and achievement to design learning environments and experiences.
  2. Personalized and localized guidance: relationship-based advising informed by personal and local data.
  3. Portable records: learners/guardians/teachers draw insights from comprehensive records drawn from teacher/partner assessments (with interoperability); learners tell their story with portfolios and portable. credentials, the permission access and receive offers from employers and postsecondary institutions.
  4. Wellness: how to incorporate a healthy dose of the quantified self and build access to health, wellness, and nutrition supports into education.
  5. Tech stack: integrated learning and administrative tools designed to support specific learning sequences.

All of the above opportunities for invention work to address roadblocks for meaningful learning and, in turn, work to include and empower the most marginalized among us. However, the paradox of innovation is that it, at least initially, introduces new inequities to systems. This series will attempt to not only describe the 15 big invention opportunities but discuss how they can be brought to scale to address fundamental inequities in the United States and globally.

If you have additions to or comments on the opportunities discussed above, we’d love to hear from you (write [email protected]).

Let’s invent for equity. We have a new, compelling opportunity to offer every person on earth access to high-quality learning. With new tools and new agreements, we can empower all learners and their communities with the tools and skills needed for a future that is already here.

For more, see:

To help inform and deliver new agreements, new practices and new tools Getting Smart and eduInnovation are exploring the Invention Opportunity thanks to support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundations.

This post was originally posted on Forbes

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Supporting English Language Learners in Math During Distance Learning

By: Liz Ramirez

Knowing and using math is about more than calculating and evaluating. It is also about engaging in sense-making and using language to negotiate meaning. This calls for a language-rich environment where there is space for all students to participate in argumentation and explanation.

While virtual learning platforms have made it possible for some live instruction to continue during school closures, this type of learning environment presents additional challenges for students who are learning English. Many language supports and resources that students rely on in the classroom are no longer accessible, including teacher gestures, word walls, and turning to a partner for clarification.

How can teachers support students who are gaining proficiency with English during distance learning? What do math conversations look like when students and teachers are no longer sharing physical space together?

To enhance access for ELLs, it is important to create an environment that supports both receptive and expressive language functions.

Receptive Language

Receptive language skills include listening, reading, and representing ideas. Whether a student can follow instructions or respond to questions, for example, relies on receptive language skills.

Here are a few quick tips and practices to support these skills in a virtual learning environment.


  • Mute all microphones, except for the person who is speaking, to limit extraneous noise.
  • Read all directions, questions, prompts, and slide contents aloud.
  • Repeat important information such as directions and vocabulary.
  • Provide independent think time. Give students time to make sense of what they are being asked to do, time to do it, and time to figure out how to communicate what they are thinking.
  • Encourage students to ask questions and press each other for details to support their understanding.
  • Remind all speakers to speak clearly and slowly.

Reading and Representing Ideas:

  • Maximize the use of visuals.
  • Use screen sharing to view slides, documents, worksheets, and other visuals.
  • Give students access to slides and other resources. As appropriate, allow them to preview content or refer to the materials after a lesson.
  • Use live annotation to help make student thinking visible.
  • Record sessions and make them available to students.

Expressive Language

Expressive language is the ability to communicate—to put thoughts and ideas into words and sentences. To build these skills in a distance learning environment, it is important to provide multiple opportunities for students to produce verbal and written language. The following are a few ways to do so.

Speaking and Conversing:

  • Hold students accountable for listening. Call on them to restate what they hear from each other, either verbally or in the chat window.
  • Use choral repetition of new or important words and phrases to give all students an opportunity to practice and produce language.
  • Use virtual breakout rooms for small group conversations. Make certain that students understand the prompt, how much time they have, and what they will be expected to report back on when they return.


  • Invite students to share a response or idea, or ask questions in the chat window. This allows for multiple students to produce language at the same time.
  • To preserve independent think time and limit distractions, direct students’ focus to the chat window at strategic times, and give them explicit instructions for when to share.

Math Language Routines (MLRs)

MLRs create opportunities for students to converse with others about math. They empower students to share their thinking around mathematical ideas in ways that foster understanding. A key benefit of using MLRs in distance learning is that conversations can span longer periods of time, which gives students and teachers time to reflect and be purposeful about language.

Here are some sample strategies for making use of a couple of MLRs to foster mathematical discourse in synchronous and asynchronous learning environments.

The Clarify, Critique, Correct routine invites students to analyze, reflect on, and improve upon a sample piece of mathematical writing that is not their own. More than just error analysis, this routine engages students in considering the author’s mathematical thinking as well as the features of their communication.

  • Synchronous: Display a sample response (or actual student work) as part of the lesson synthesis, and ask students to clarify, critique, and correct in the group chat. Then give feedback to each student’s corrected response, focusing on the language the student used.
  • Asynchronous: Include the sample response for students to clarify, critique, and correct as part of the assignment. Then have students review each other’s corrected statements in a shared virtual document.

In the Compare and Connect routine, students make sense of mathematical strategies by relating and connecting other approaches to their own. It can be used to support discourse around a problem that can be approached and solved using multiple strategies or representations.

  • Synchronous: Ask students to use screencasting tools or send a picture of their work ahead of time, then select strategies for them to compare and connect. Share selected pieces of student work and ask them to identify what is the same and what is different. Ask students to identify where the quantities or relationships are expressed in the different strategies.
  • Asynchronous: Ask students to submit an image of their work, such as a screen capture or a photo of paper and pencil work. Then share selected pieces of student work (or teacher-generated samples based on student work) in a document or discussion board post for students to respond to. Ask students to identify what is the same and what is different across the selected pieces of work.

Whether teaching synchronously or asynchronously in the distance learning environment, there are a variety of ways to strengthen opportunities and support for mathematical discourse orally, visually, and in writing. By focusing on language, teachers give students a way to go beyond describing their own process or answer. Students can explore connections between their thinking and the thinking of others. They can reflect on their reasoning and comparisons between their work and the work of others. This allows them to engage in sense-making, optimize output, maximize linguistic and cognitive meta-awareness, and cultivate conversation—whether or not they are in the room with the teacher.

For more, see:

Liz Ramirez is the Director of Access and Supports at the nonprofit organization Illustrative Mathematics (IM). IM is the developer of IM Math, a problem-based core mathematics curriculum for grades K–12. Before joining IM, Ramirez devoted her career to teaching students and supporting educators in New York City Public Schools.

Mathematical Language Routines adapted with permission from work done by Understanding Language at Stanford University. For the original paper, Guidance for Math Curricula Design and Development, please visit https://ell.stanford.edu/content/mathematics-resources-additional-resources.

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

New Possibilities: The Role of Research in 4.0’s New Normal Fellowship

By: Hassan Hassan

For most of our history, when asked about our impact, 4.0 Schools has pointed to the people, communities, and stories that show that the changemakers we invest in are making a real, human difference. We haven’t wanted to reduce that impact to oversimplified numbers.

But we are coming to understand that our feelings of hope and confidence simply aren’t enough. To honor our commitments to change, 4.0 owes its entrepreneurs and communities—as well as our own investors—real data about whether what we’re doing is actually working. Or, in the words of one investor, “How do we know you’re not selling impossible dreams?” How can we demonstrate that our entrepreneurs are not only doing good, but ensure that they are not doing harm? 

We’ve resisted formal research and evaluation on the grounds that it’s expensive, time-consuming, and accessible primarily to the wealthy and the white. Developed in ivory towers far removed from schools and communities, research had seemed rarely useful or practical for our early-stage entrepreneurs.

We have also resisted the tug of philanthropy toward backing only educational ideas that meet the “gold standard” of randomized controlled trials (RCTs)—the most expensive and challenging of all research standards to meet. Funders who make RCTs or similar research a requirement, bias themselves towards established organizations, and this bias pulls resources away from those closest to the challenges they seek to address.

Our goal at 4.0 is to provide resources to help our fellows test their ideas so they can build their credibility from the ground up. As such, 4.0 is now pioneering new approaches to research and evaluation that combine rigor and accessibility. We believe it’s time to redefine the relationship between early-stage entrepreneurship and research to ensure that kids and communities are benefitting.

The Evolving Approach to Research at 4.0

4.0 is developing new approaches to research and evaluation that honor the wide variation in needs that our entrepreneurs are addressing and approaches they are taking to tackle those needs. Like other early-stage education investors such as LeanLab, LEAP Innovations, and NewSchools Venture Fund, 4.0 is working to “right-size” research. To us, “right-sizing” means collecting the most rigorous data possible to evaluate the demand and efficacy of ideas given the early stage of the small tests our fellows are running.

One key step we’ve taken is the establishment of a Measurement & Evaluation (M&E) Collaborative in which our fellows define success for themselves, rather than relying upon researchers alone to dictate approaches and metrics. The M&E Collaborative connects our fellows with a network of researchers who provide hands-on coaching to our fellows to help them craft logic models and metrics that fit their approach. These researchers have also run a peer review process to collaboratively vet entrepreneurs’ measurement approaches in ways that balance research rigor with practical value.

This strategy allows entrepreneurs to validate their own metrics through the best practices of the researchers and through direct experience with their own communities. This also helps shift the balance of power between community-led ventures and academic institutions. In this work, we draw inspiration from anti-racist approaches to evaluation, as well as frameworks for applying a DEI lens to evaluation. Certainly, research expertise has its place, but we believe our underserved communities need and deserve the ability and capacity to define and measure their own success.

Evaluation in Our New Normal Fellowship

The COVID-19 crisis has caused a range of economic and cultural changes, from joblessness to distance learning, that are placing additional strain and anxiety on our most struggling students and families. At 4.0, in the face of uncertainty, we tend toward optimism and action, so we quickly launched a New Normal Fellowship in the spring that gives 49 alumni teams stipends and coaching to help them run COVID-19 relief projects in their communities.

However, the urgent nature of the project led us to take a very different approach to research and evaluation. Rather than have fellows choose their own metrics in consultation with researchers through a peer review process which can take several months, we chose to partner with the Center for Research in Education and Social Policy (CRESP) at the University of Delaware to evaluate the impact of fellows’ pilot projects on participants’ social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. Although there are drawbacks to relying on a large research institution, this approach was the best way to allow fellows to launch pilots quickly and gather uniform data in the midst of an unprecedented moment in the lives and learning of children. This approach allowed us to deliver coaching and capital to pandemic-responsive entrepreneurs without sacrificing our research strategy completely.

Our partners at the University of Delaware have designed surveys (passed by the university’s Institutional Review Board) that gather data about SEL skills and will connect those outcomes to implementation through surveys of fellows and of site leaders/instructors, where relevant. The aggregated data that fellows receive about their own program and others will help them refine their programs over time.

The Goal: Right-Sizing Research

For many of our entrepreneurs and the marginalized students they serve, numbers have been used to judge, take away, and punish, but 4.0 is working with our fellows to change that by arming them with data about their strengths. “For black girls in Chicago, data is often a pathologizing force, but I want to use it as a positive force,” says Johnaé Strong, who piloted her Black Girls Restore(d) curriculum for teen changemakers as part of 4.0’s Tiny Fellowship back in April and will expand it this school year as a New Normal Fellow.

During the shelter-in-place, Strong was forced to adapt to an entirely online model while testing her curriculum with an initial cohort of 10 participants, which set her up to strengthen and expand her program to reach a larger group of 100 participants across the city this fall. She will administer the University of Delaware-developed pre- and post-program surveys that will help measure the impact of her program on participants’ SEL skills. She is also considering conducting focus groups to gather additional qualitative data about how programs like hers can influence black girls’ self-perception and confidence.

Like Strong, we are trying to flip deficit thinking on its head by embracing research that quantifies the strengths, assets, and growth in our communities. We hope to replace the impractical “gold standard” with what research consultant Kirsten Lee Hill calls an “aluminum standard”—flexible, inexpensive, and just strong enough to give entrepreneurs confidence in the data they are gathering about their work, but without the unnecessary shine of gold.

Ultimately, our charge at 4.0 is to support our fellows and their communities to quantify their impact on their own terms. That’s a dream we think just might be not only possible but necessary.

For more, see:

Hassan Hassan and his mother immigrated to the U.S. sixteen years ago through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery. Today, he serves as the CEO of 4.0, a national incubator that connects, coaches, and invests in 100+ leaders every year to pilot their visions for promising learning models. Hassan is a Pahara and Education Pioneer alumnus. Follow him on Twitter at @hassantwice

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Four Ideas to Support Student Expression in the Digital Age

At the beginning and throughout the school year, we need to get to know our students and continue to build those relationships so that we can provide the best support for them in our classrooms. With a greater focus on social-emotional learning (SEL), we need to provide opportunities for students to develop their self-awareness, while also developing social awareness as they work together with classmates. Especially now, with so many changes in the way school looks and the experiences that students are having, we must be intentional about providing the right spaces for students to develop SEL skills and learn to navigate in the physical and digital space.

There are many different activities and tools that can help students share who they are, however, not all students may feel comfortable with each option we provide. Whether we ask them to speak in front of the classroom, answer questions during class, or engage in activities like icebreakers or other team building activities, some students may have fears or develop anxiety about these types of activities. Some adults have the same fears, as I was someone who did not like speaking in front of my own peers or responding in class for a long time. However, we need to be able to get to know one another whether we are in our physical classrooms or working together in digital spaces, so we need to have a few different options. What can we do to help reduce and ideally eliminate those fears that hold our students back from sharing who they are and telling their stories?

There are many options available to create our social presence by leveraging tools in the virtual space. Something that came up during my own online coursework and at the end of the past school year, was just how important it is to feel connected to others in the classroom and in life. We need something in place that will help to foster those connections throughout the year, especially as we transition between school and distance learning spaces if needed.

Here are four ideas to help students express themselves in the digital age.

1. Blog and creative writing.  Sometimes students simply prefer to write or draw as a way to introduce themselves in class or express how they are feeling. Whether using a traditional notebook or a blogging tool like Kidblog or Edublogs, blogging can be such a helpful way for students to express themselves and build comfort and confidence in learning. It provides students with a digital space to build their presence and be able to exchange ideas with their teachers and peers. Other tools such as Book Creator can provide a collaborative space for students to introduce themselves and tell their story in what becomes a class book!

2. Video intros. Students could use their phone camera or another device to record a short introduction and share with classmates or just their teacher. For students who hesitate to be on the camera, they can start by using fun tools like Tellagami or Voki, or for older students, Snapchat or even with Flipgrid which enables them to change the background and add stickers to their video. There are always students that just don’t feel comfortable truly sharing who they are or expressing how they believe they are doing in class. My students have often told me how much more comfortable they are using tools like these to become more comfortable speaking in class and with classmates. Building comfort in the digital space has transferred into our physical classroom space too.

3. A photo story. Using tools like Animoto or Adobe Spark, students can quickly share photos or find images that represent who they are and quickly create a short video to share with their classmates. With these options, they don’t have to record themselves talking or anything, it can just solely be images added together to create a short video clip. This was really effective in my eighth grade STEAM class for students who were very nervous about introducing themselves to classmates. When they had the chance to create using Animoto and didn’t have to stand in front of their classmates or even talk, it actually led to more conversations between them! It proved to be a fun activity for everyone and a really good way for them to get to know each other and build connections.

4. Collaborative Google slides. We definitely want to build digital citizenship skills when we are using technology in our classrooms and what better way than to have students working together in a collaborative space such as Google slides. Create a template and instruct students to add their own individual slides to the presentation. They could share some icons of their favorite activities, or family photo, or a video clip, whatever it is that they could fit onto one slide that would help people get to know who they are. When it’s all completed, you have a slideshow of your class that you can always go back and look at throughout the year. A fun way to see how things have changed and the relationships that have formed in that time. There are many other ways to use the same concept, we’ve used it for activities like project-based learning and genius hour.

For students, having a space to interact makes a difference. These are just a few ideas to consider and depending on your grade level, there may be even other options such as having students create a video, a collaborative book, or give them the chance to share who they are in a way that meets them where they are. We need to create those spaces where we can keep the learning going and be able to check in with our students because this will be vital. Especially with our in-person social interactions limited, it is critical that we find ways for students to engage in meaningful experiences that promote the development of social-emotional learning skills and empower them to connect regardless of the learning “space.” We have an opportunity to innovate and reimagine learning as we embrace the new year.

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.