100 Podcasts You Should Check Out

Updated January 2021

It’s been roughly 15 years since the beginning of podcasting—a media format that, despite a slow start, has risen to peak popularity in the last few years. Things began to pick up for podcasting when Apple included a podcast player on the iPhone. Then, the format really gained traction when suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, Serial, the story of the disappearance of a popular Baltimore teen, went viral in 2014. Now in its third season Serial has been downloaded more than 340 million times.

Fast forward five years and there are now a couple million podcasts. More than half of Americans have listened to a podcast, and a third listen monthly. Maybe it’s a reflection of our busy lives—podcasts fit into the spaces in between: while working out, while commuting to work, while waiting in TSA pre-check lines (which are now longer than general boarding), and while cooking dinner.

Here’s an updated list of our favorites.

By and For Educators

Getting Smart Podcast: Check out more than 230 great conversations with innovative educators.

The 180: From Turnaround for Children, guests like Todd Rose and Linda Darling Hammond discuss using 21st century science to promote whole child learning.

Ed Chat Radio of BAM Radio Network: Focuses on a wide array of education topics with an equally diverse pool of hosts. Make sure to explore BAM’s library of podcasts. The volume and frequency of programs will keep you listening for a long time.

Harvard EdCast: A series of conversations with thought leaders in the field of education that serves as a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.

Educate from APM: Stories about education, opportunity, and how people learn.

edYou: This podcast, coming in February 2020, is hosted by teachers, for teachers and covers current classroom research, trends, and ideas.

Iowa BIG Podcast: This podcast interviews key stakeholders, board members and faculty of the innovative Iowa Big School, sharing learnings, lessons and more.

EdPolicy

Education Gadfly: Weekly policy and research review.

EdNext Podcast: This weekly podcast includes stories, interviews, and discussions of the latest developments in education from ESSA to teacher professional development. Be sure to also check out the Education Next Book Club podcast where Mike Petrilli interviews authors of new and classic education books.

The Education Exchange: This podcast from Education Next is hosted by Paul Peterson and covers education policy.

Higher Education

Times Higher Education: For our international listeners, this weekly UK HigherEd-focused program describes itself as the podcast “at the heart of the higher education debate.”

Future U: Michael Horn (@MichaelBHorn) and Jeff Selingo (@jselingo) discuss higher education.

EdTech

EdSurge: Weekly podcast on edtech covering K-12 and higher ed (owned by ISTE).

Trends and Issues in Instructional Design: Abbie Brown and Tim Green review clips of the week and peer into their crystal ball.

Tech

Tech News Weekly: A great hour roundup of tech news (check out the whole TWIT library of tech pods).

Tech News Briefing: A daily briefing on tech news from the Wall Street Journal.

Marketplace Tech: Another daily briefing on tech news.

User Friendly: Weekly podcast from Deloitte on tech and business trends.

a16z Podcast Network: A group of podcasts on tech and venture from Andreessen Horowitz.

Leadership & Entrepreneurship

Tim Ferriss Show: Every week, Tim (4 Hour Work Week) posts a long interview with leaders in tech and entrepreneurship.

Trail Blazers: Walter Isaacson hosts a Dell-sponsored podcast reviewing historical innovations.

Curious Minds: Leading innovation podcast with authors, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

The Knowledge Project: Shane Parrish helps you master the best of what other people have already figured out.

Startup: A show about startups from Gimlet.

HBR Ideacast: A weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in business and management.

The Pitch: Shark tank-style podcast, also from Gimlet Media.

Akimbo: Seth Godin’s podcast on entrepreneurship and leadership.

Killer Innovations from Phil McKinney: Focuses on innovations in technology and leadership.

How I Built This: Startup stories from NPR.

80,000 Hours: Long form inspiration for mission-oriented careers.

Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman: How do companies grow from zero to a gazillion? Reid Hoffman tests his theories with famous founders.

The Learning Leaders Show: Each week Ryan Hawk interviews well known leaders or authors on sustaining excellence.

That Made all the Difference: Brought to you by Bank of America, this show talks to doers about the things that made an impact on their journeys.

The Between Worlds Podcast: This podcast, hosted by Mike Walsh, focuses on the future of work—what’s a threat, what’s an opportunity, and how can we navigate the space in between.

People I (Mostly) Admire: Hosted by Steve Levitt from Freakonomics, where he has conversations about with “wildly intelligent people […] who are a little bit off the rails”.

The Michelle Obama Podcast: Michelle Obama sits down with friends and family to talk about leading, loving and relationships.

Markets & Economics

Marketplace: Daily podcast on markets and popular economics.

Make Me Smart: Ky and Molly from Marketplace host a giggly weekly recap of tech and markets.

Freakonomics: Weekly economic topics discussed in a way that will make you say, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.”

Planet Money: Life and money and markets from NPR.

Exchanges at Goldman Sachs: People from across the group share their insights on developments shaping markets, industries, and the global economy.

Smart People Podcast: Picking smart people’s “oversized brains” is what this podcast is all about. They interview people from various industries to bring their listeners episodes that satisfy those of us with insatiable curiosity.

McKinsey Podcast: Weekly discussion of economics and business leadership.

Conversations with Tyler: The smartest people on the planet interviewed by polymath Tyler Cowen, from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Equity: An end of week recap on venture capital news from Techcrunch.

AI & Big Data

Learning Machines 101: A gentle introduction to machine learning from Richard Golden.

Future of Life Institute: Weekly podcast about everything that could go wrong. Podcasts series including AI Alignment and Not Cool, a climate change series.

The Future of Everything: A weekly podcast from the Wall Street Journal.

A Glimpse Into the Future: A podcast on the global economy and fourth industrial revolution from the World Economic Forum.

Language

Poetry Off the Shelf: One of many podcasts by the Poetry Foundation, this podcast extends past the reading of a poem to discuss trends, history, and identity.

Poetry Unbound: A new podcast from OnBeing Studios that breaks down a poem in-depth and revels in the magic and mystery of poetry.

The Slowdown: A daily podcast where former Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith thoughtfully reads a daily poem.

News & Views

BBC World Service: Browse through podcasts about psychology, science, technology, or politics. The episodes are available for 30 days and updated weekly.

Fresh Air: An NPR classic hosted by Terry Gross, who interviews authors, thinkers, musicians, and other creatives in a no holds barred quasi-talk show with no time limit and no BS.

Fareed Zakaria GPS: Best “news and views” show on TV, via podcast.

Longform: This podcast interviews longform journalists about process, reporting, and much more.

The Intelligence: A daily global news show from The Economist.

Up First from NPR: This podcast from NPR is a great place to get 15 minutes of daily news, to help you make sense of what is going on.

Why We Do What We Do

On Being: Krista Tippett boldly takes on the question that we all ask at one point: “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” On Being is a Peabody Award-winner and Webby Award-winner.

Hidden Brain: Social science research brought to life (from NPR).

You Are Not So Smart: More social science (a staff favorite of Getting Smart), featuring interviews on topics like tribal psychology, narrative persuasion, and active information avoidance.

The Moth: Storytelling at its best. The Moth is a platform to record your own story, and listen to stories told by storytellers at Moth events. It’s a community for people who love telling it how it went down, and how it is.

This I Believe: With roots in Edward R. Murrow’s show with the same name, this podcast transforms essays from all walks of life into podcasts. You’ll definitely find something that inspires you with the 100,000+ library of stories.

This American Life: An hour of stories every week about living in America.

How to Save the Planet: This podcast, from Gimlet media, features stories, tips and science to help combat climate change.

How to Citizen: A podcast where host Baratunde “reimagines the word citizen as a verb and reminds us how to wield our collective power.”

Brené Brown Podcasts: Brené Brown has two podcasts: Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead, unique conversations and interviews that focus on being human and a modern way of leading.

STEM & Maker

How Stuff Works: You never know what you’re going to get with this podcast. Expect topics that range from cars to food to pop-psychology.

Mindscape: Author and physicist Sean Carroll has accessible and fascinating conversations with some of the world’s best thinkers.

TED Talks Education: Our team has yet to listen to a TED talk that didn’t inspire or ignite us with new energy for an idea or topic. Subscribe to TED’s education podcasts to hear from some of the brightest minds in academia today.

TED Radio Hour: Consolidates various TED Talks. Tom loves the episode on Memory and Jessica loves the Why We Collaborate episode.

Radiolab: Podcasts for the curious mind. Broadcast on over 300 radio stations across the United States, Radiolab explores science, philosophy, and the human experience.

Flash ForwardRose Eveleth explores potential and alternative futures.

Astronomy Cast: This website offers a weekly podcast centered on astronomy concepts like planets and cosmology.

Big Picture Science: Takes on big questions by interviewing leading researchers and weaving together their stories of discovery in a clever and off-kilter narrative style.

Distillations: Produced by the Science History Institute, this podcast explores the human stories behind science and technology, tracing a path through history in order to better understand the present.

Math Mutation: Short podcasts that explore mathematics. Topics cover strange and quirky concepts that aren’t normally taught in school.

NASA Science Casts: These video podcasts are short, fun, and bring unusual science topics to light. Podcasts are based on historical space missions completed by NASA.

StarTalk Radio: A podcast series that focuses on all things extra-terrestrial. Topics include stars, the big bang, space travel, black holes, and more.

The Naked Scientist: Cambridge University researchers and physicians are behind this podcast filled with humor and levity as they explore a diverse set of science topics. Their goal is to strip science down to its bare essentials.

Climate One: Host Greg Dalton talks with environmental scientists, policy makers, and everyday people about the state of our climate and the ways to navigate climate change.

History

British History: For history buffs, this website hosts regular podcasts that focus solely on the history of England from the ice age forward.

The History Chicks: A fresh look at history through factual and fictional characters. Podcasts go into detail about the time period, culture, and typical lifestyle of the person highlighted in each episode.

Revisionist History: Malcolm Gladwell’s “journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood.” Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time..

Food

Splendid Table: A slightly more process- and idea-oriented take on a food podcast.

A Taste of the Past: This show goes long on food origins and food cultures, and is obsessed with following humankind’s tastiest traditions.

Milk Street Radio: Christopher Kimball answers questions and tells story about something that unites us all… food.

The Dave Chang Show: Celebrity chef Dave Chang chats sports, food and culture in this longform podcast.

Culture

Song Exploder: A rare peek behind the curtain of musicians and songwriters on process.

WTF: Marc Maron, one of the best interviewers around, interviews everyone from comedians on the comedy club circuit to Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen.

Armchair Expert: Hosted by Dax Sheppard, this podcast interviews guests about being human.

Nice White Parents: This podcast from The New York Times focuses on the ways parents shape schools — for better, and for worse.

What did we leave out? What podcasts should we check out to support our learning, teaching, and knowledge in general? Please comment to build and grow this list.


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


31 Can’t-Miss Education Conferences in 2020

Updated March 16, 2020

Our team spends a lot of time traveling to conferences around the country to learn with and from experts, facilitate sessions, and cover various conference happenings. Throughout our travels, we continue to curate and update a list of our favorites that we think everyone should attend.

Here is the latest list of can’t-miss education conferences for your 2020 planning:

1. FETC

January 14-17, 2020; Miami, FL

FETC is the largest national independent edtech conference discussing tech trends, strategies, and best practices for student and school success. 2020 marks the 40th annual event focusing on the Future of Education Technology and gathering a group of dynamic and creative education professionals from around the world for an intensive and highly collaborative event exploring new technologies, best practices, and pressing issues.

2. BETT

January 22-25, 2020; London, England

With almost 35,000 attendees from 130 countries, representing countless companies, edtech start-ups and exhibitors demonstrating the latest in edtech, BETT is the world’s largest edtech conference. Taking place in London, BETT believes in creating a better future by transforming education. This conference is premium, inclusive, and game-changing. BETT’s 36th annual conference will focus on six themes: innovation, wellbeing, empowering teaching & learning, inclusion, social mobility and SEND, future tech, and trends and skills.

3. LearnLaunch Across Boundaries

January 30-31, 2020; Boston, MA

In its 8th year, the Across Boundaries conference hosted by the LearnLaunch Institute brings together the edtech community—educators, administrators, entrepreneurs, investors, education companies, and tech innovators—to drive innovation, transform learning, and increase achievement using digital technologies. The conference has grown to over 1,200 participants from 33 states and an agenda full of engaging keynotes and informative breakout sessions.

4. TCEA

February 3-7, 2020; Austin, TX

Spanning five days with over 8,000 attendees, 1,000+ sessions and workshops, and 450 exhibiting companies, TCEA is the largest state convention and exposition in the US. This year’s event will feature nationally-recognized experts with topics catering to every educator.

5. National ESEA Conference for the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA)

February 4-7, 2020; Atlanta, GA

This year’s National ESEA Conference hones in on equity through over 100 different sessions on topics such as policy, leadership, and instruction. This two-day conference features a varied panel of education experts, authors of education materials, US Department of Education staff, and much more.

6. Habla Teacher Institute

February 21-23, 2020; Merida, Mexico

This year at the Winter Institute, join an experienced group of passionate international language teachers focused on community building, student-centered teaching, and arts integration. This year’s gathering, “Words in Motion,” will offer transferable, implementable, and engaging activities and best practices for reimagining the language classroom.

7. Digital Learning Annual Conference

February 24-26, 2020; Austin, TX

This is the second year for the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) and it’s sure to be worth attending. The three-day conference will not only explore online learning, digital learning, and the use of technology in education, but will be focused on the exploration of where attendees are relative to their educational goals, and how digital learning can be used to reach the next level.

8. Green Schools Conference

March 2-4, 2020; Chicago, IL

The Green Schools Conference & Expo is the only national event to bring together people who lead, operate, build, and teach in green U.S. schools. Through their 7 sustainability objectives, The GSCE is focused on minimizing negative environmental impact while being driven by a desire to improve the future for all children.

9. SXSW EDU

March 9-12, 2020; Austin, TX
This event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

The tenth annual, internationally recognized SXSW EDU will include four days of sessions, workshops, learning experiences, mentorship, film screenings, policy discussions, and so much more all aimed at impacting the future of teaching and learning. The event hosts over 16,000 attendees, 1,200 speakers, 500 sessions, and 200 expos and continues to stand out as a true thought leadership summit. Check out our recap of SXSW EDU 2019.

10. ASCD

March 13-16, 2020; Los Angeles, CA
This event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Next year’s theme for this professional learning experience is “Empower20.” LeVar Burton, Kimberley Bryant, and Henry Winkler will be amongst the session speakers. This conference is “for every educator,” aiming to gather the best minds in educational leadership including teachers, principals, superintendents, instructional coaches, university professors, and central office staffers and delivering a revolution in education.

11. CoSN

March 16-18, 2020; Washington, DC

CoSN is the conference to attend if you’re a district tech director or leader. The 2020 event will be themed around “Breakthrough Mindsets.” There are plenty of opportunities to network, share ideas, and maximize professional development at breakout sessions, workshops, and pre- and post-conference events.

12. CUE Conference

March 19 – April 5, 2020; Palm Springs, CA
This event has been made virtual due to the coronavirus outbreak.

CUE is the largest and oldest edtech conference in California and is targeted towards educators and EdLeaders looking to advance student achievement by using technology in the classroom. The conference has been a go-to event for educational innovation for almost 40 years and provides a best-value, three-day experience for over 6,000 educators.

13. School Redesign in Action 2020

March 23-24, 2020; Norwood, MA
This event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This years theme for the 11th annual SRIA conference will be “Equity in our Classrooms, Schools, and Communities.” The conference will be a gathering of success stories, best practices, and lessons learned from educators and other learning stakeholders on creating a culture of equity for all.

14. Deeper Learning Conference

March 25-27th, 2020; San Diego, CA
This event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

DL2020 is the 8th annual gathering of educators and leaders focused on creating more opportunities for students to learn deeply. Attend this conference to experience deeper learning hands-on through interactive workshops, maker spaces, and deep dives. Here’s a recap from our time at the DL2018.

15. Personalization 2020

April 2-4, 2020; Providence, RI
This event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Formerly the Blended & Personalized Learning Conference, Personalization 2020 reflects a new emphasis on relationships, culturally responsive instruction, and 21st century skills to develop self-directed students capable of tackling rigorous work. Hosted by Highlander Institute, this practitioner’s conference convenes innovative teachers, coaches, school leaders and district administrators from around the country to lead sessions on high-impact strategies, lessons learned, and new directions. School and community site visits are particularly valuable conference features. At the 2019 conference, there was attendance from 35 states and four countries, making it the most diverse one yet.

16. Boost Conference

April 28-May 1, 2020; Palm Springs, CA
This event has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Join the largest, most recognized and comprehensive global convening for after school, expanded learning, and out-of-school time professionals. Set in a retreat-like atmosphere, this annual, extraordinary event will rejuvenate your passion, boost your direction for quality programming, and provide tools and resources that will inspire you to create change.

17. NewSchools Summit

May 6-7, 2020; Oakland, CA
This event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Next year’s event will be the 20th year for this annual, invitation-only gathering hosted by New Schools Venture Fund which brings together more than 1,300 entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders, funders, and policymakers to share ideas on reimagining schools to prepare all students, from every background for the future. We’re eager to see what next year has to bring.

18. Personalized Learning Summit

May 13-15, 2020; Austin, TX

In its 6th annual summit, Education Elements is bringing together 750 innovative district leaders. Participants can expect engaging and dynamic sessions, as well as professional development and networking opportunities. Here’s a look back at the 2019 summit.

19. Horizons

June 9-10, 2020; New Orleans, LA

Horizons is a bi-annual conference that brings together trailblazers from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to shape workforce and education transformation. With a focus on lasting change, the future of work and equity, Horizons is a conference with a finger on the pulse on the most important problems of our time. Here, you will be able to network with Fortune 500 companies, foundations, policymakers, leading educators, and game-changing entrepreneurs who dream big for a better tomorrow.

20. PBL World

June 16-18, 2020; Napa Valley, CA
This event has been made virtual due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In its ninth year, PBL World is the premier project-based learning conference, bringing together dedicated teachers, instructional coaches, and school and district leaders who want to connect and learn more about PBL. Rather than a conference with short sessions by various presenters, this event is an institute where participants go through a continuous, multi-day experience. The conference, hosted by Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE), stands by the belief that PBL transforms students and PBL World transforms educators.

21. National Charter Schools Conference

June 21-June 24, 2020; Orlando, FL

NCSC is the best learning and networking event for school educators, leaders, and advocates. At the 2019 event, attendees had an opportunity to connect with over 5,000 others in over 130 breakout sessions, 10 charter talks, two networking lounges, and three general sessions. Participants walk away with an incredible learning experience and opportunity to share ideas and strategies for growing and improving charter schools. Registration opens in December!

22. ISTE

June 28-July 1, 2020; Anaheim, CA

As the “epicenter of edtech,” ISTE Is where educators and school leaders go to learn about new tools and strategies. With over 1,900 sessions this event boasts endless learning opportunities perfect for industry reps, teachers, tech coordinators/directors, administrators, library media specialists, and policymakers.

23. Big Bang

July 20-23, 2020; Hollywood, Florida

Hosted by Big Picture Learning, this conference is for school leaders and educators looking to discover strategies and best practices for advancing student-centered learning, student voice, learning from the community, equity, and activism. Big Bang has grown to over 600 attendees from around the world and perhaps our favorite part is that most of the panels are led or include students from the Big Picture network. This is one you will not want to miss in 2020!

Did we miss one of your favorites? Tweet us at @Getting_Smart so we can check it out!

24. OLC Innovate

July 21-24, 2020; Chicago, IL
This event has been rescheduled and made virtual due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hosted by the Online Learning Consortium and Merlot, OLC Innovate’s theme for 2020 is “Education Reimagined.” Attendees will challenge their teaching and learning paradigms, reimagine learner experience, and ideate on how disruptions in education today can shape the innovative classroom of tomorrow through a ‘Now’, ‘New’, ‘Next’ framework.

25. Distance Teaching & Learning Conference

August 4-6, 2020; Madison, WI

This conference attracts a broad range of professionals in distance education and online learning. In over 30 years, the conference has grown to over 800 participants and 130 sessions. Attendees can expect to connect with online learning leaders from across the nation and around the world and discover innovative ways to teach and support online learners, as well as best strategies, practices and solutions. We are staying tuned for more information on next year’s event.

26. ASU+GSV Summit

September 29 – October 1, 2020; San Diego, CA

This annual conference is the “only conference during the year where you’ll have access to the smartest and most influential Learning & Talent Tech minds from around the world.” The three-day event hosts over 1,000 of the best and brightest in business, entrepreneurship, higher ed, and education innovation. Here is our recap of the 2018 summit.

27. CloseIt Summit

October 12-14, 2020; Santa Fe, NM

This three-day summit is a highly recognized gathering of education entrepreneurs and thought leaders in policy, HR, tech, and foundations. Renowned for the awesome networking opportunities and future forward approach, it’s a great one to add to the list toward the end of the year!

28. 2020 Aurora Institute Symposium (formerly iNACOL)

October 25-28, 2020; San Antonio, TX

The annual conference held by Aurora Institute is the leading event for K-12 competency-based, blended, and online learning. With over 200 sessions, it brings together over 3,500 experts, EdLeaders and educators to explore next-gen learning for K-12 students. Here are 10 reasons to attend.

29. SETDA Leadership Summit & Education Forum

November 16-28, 2020; Arlington, VA

SETDA looks ahead to its 20th year. As one of the most important convenings for state edtech officials, SETDA brings together leaders from over 40 state departments of education to join leaders in edtech, assessment, instructional materials, and professional development to collaborate and engage in in-depth dialogue. Take a look back at the event archives.

30. ExcelinEd’s EdPalooza

December 1-3, 2020; Virtual

For more than a decade, ExcelinEd has been a part of the movement across America to transform education. With the massive challenges created by the global pandemic—and renewed resolve to address educational equity—this year sounds an urgent call to action on behalf of students and their future. EdPalooza will ignite ideas, inform decision making and inspire change. This virtual gathering is designed to bring together everyone who believes that now is the time to retool education—and wants to get it right.

31. OEB 2020

December 2-4, 2020; Berlin, Germany

OEB is a global, cross-sector conference on tech-supported learning and training held in Berlin. The 2019 OEB conference focused on “incorporating learning technologies,” and giving insights on opportunities and challenges that are changing the world of learning. Attendees can expect to learn from over 2,300 participants from over 100 countries in over 100 hands-on workshops, plenaries, interactive breakout sessions, debates, labs, and demos.

 

Getting Smart offers a variety of interactive conference services including strategic advising, podcasting, media coverage and social media amplification. To learn more, email [email protected] and place “conference media” in the subject line.


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2019 Holiday Gift Guide for the Learners on Your List

‘Tis the season to keep learning and to be giving, so we’ve put together a list of some of the coolest educational toys for eager learners. The list ranges from brand new innovations to old school classics and we made sure to find something for everybody. We ho-ho-hope you find just what you’re looking for.

Ages 0-3

Budding Builders. For little hands and… improving coordination. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Guidecraft Grippies™ Better Builders 30 Piece Building Toy: These are large enough for little hands and encourage tactile exploration and magnetic play, providing a fun first experience with geometry and engineering.
  • Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set Building Kit: Suction construction set.
  • Baby University Board Book Set: Get a jumpstart on scientific concepts, seriously. This collection of expert-authored science books is a wonderful introduction for babies … and adults.
  • Loveevery: Beautifully crafted play kits that make simple toys for the most effective developmental activities. Operating as a subscription model, Loveevery is dedicated to making the perfect toys for babies everywhere.
  • KiwiCo Panda Crate: This subscription crate provides developmental activities for ages 0-2. This is just one of many inspiring and educational KiwiCo crates which range from ages 0-104.

Cute Little Counters. At this age, most “counting” is more memorization than a deep understanding of quantity, but kids are never too young to play with numbers, even if they are really just increasing awareness:

  • Munchkins Letter & Numbers: You have to do bath time, why not throw some letters in there? Not only does foam stick to the bathtub, it also floats. As kids get older, playing with letters and numbers can increase to identifying colors & building order. Extra bonus: While in the tub, throw some measuring cups in there so that they can play with volume and measurement.
  • Geometric Animal Shape Puzzles: Speaking of bath time. How about helping your little one learn geometric shapes while in the tub?
  • Learning Resources Jumbo Magnetic Numbers: Just like the foam building blocks, putting numbers on the refrigerator (and then taking them back off) is great for building fine motor skills.

Abstract Artists. You may not be able to tell what it is that they have created, but giving toddlers the space to make is important and fun. The key to picking your “first” art supplies is all about what they will be able to control and hang on to:

  • My First Crayola Crayons: The shape of these crayons make them perfect for little hands to hold and they don’t take much pressure to work which makes them just the right first crayon for your little one. Here’s a star-shaped option as well.
  • VTech Musical Rhymes Book: Classic nursery rhymes, piano sounds, improved motor skills, stories … the list goes on. This bright and musical interactive storybook is engineered to keep your child busy for hours.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These “oldies but goodies” are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing”:

  • Melissa and Doug Abacus: The calculator owes a lot to this item.
  • Fat Brain Toys Shape Sorter: This classic shape shorter creates many opportunities for conversations with your little one about shapes, colors and is a great way to build hand-eye coordination

Ages 3-5

Creative Construction. This age is where you may actually start to recognize the things your toddler is creating. From tools to blocks to art supplies, they will love transforming their ideas into reality—make sure they are set up with all the supplies they need to do so (and don’t forget to head to the recycling bin for lots of free inspiration):

  • PicassoTiles: Take building to the next level by starting to construct 3D shapes through these magnetic tiles.
  • Educational Insights Design & Drill Activity Center: Power tool sets are great, and a blast for this age, but can sometimes be hard if they don’t actually get to build anything. This is a great option for kids to use tools to design and create.
  • Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears!: Take a different spin on building with these colorful gears that promote reasoning and problem solving while putting together moving objects and shapes.
  • idoot Magnetic Blocks: These magnetic blocks encourage creative thinking and help kids learn how to solve complex problems through playing. Plus their multi-color design and fun magnetism make every structure a true work of art.

Optimistic Observers. For young explorers, the world is full of surprises. These toys are designed to help them take their observation skills to the next level:

Robots for Rugrats. Stu Pickles shouldn’t be the only inventor in your house. Even though robotics toys tend to be aimed at middle and high school, there are lots of great resources for the young robotics enthusiast that can help support building an innovation mindset:

Terrific Tablets. Sick of sticky finger smudges on your tablet? Here are a couple of options just for them (all under $100):

  • Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet: The fastest Amazon Fire Kids yet. It includes a two-year worry-free guarantee, a Kid-Proof Case with a built-in stand and one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited—with access to over 20,000 apps, games, books and educational content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney and more
  • LeapFrog Epic: Parental controls that allow you to manage what, when and how long each of your children is playing (for up to three profiles) and also includes the LeapFrog Just for Me Learning technology that personalizes the experience for each kid.
  • LeapFrog Scribble and Write Tablet: This super fun tablet teaches kids to write letters, numbers and everything in between. There’s also a mode that provides instant progress! With captivating tracing lights, this toy is sure to keep your child’s attention.

Can’t Forget the Classics.

Ages 6-8

Mini Makers. A quick search online will yield more maker kits than you can count. They vary in complexity and cost, but no matter what your budget there is definitely something for your mini maker:

  • Marbleocity Mini Coaster: This is a great option for beginners as they follow illustrated instructions to piece together wooden parts to build the ultimate roller-coaster marble run experience.
  • Osmo Genius Starter Kit: Five games that incorporate an iPad to develop skills such as visual thinking, problem-solving and creative drawing.
  • littleBits STEAM Student Set: A toolbox containing LEGO-like electronic building blocks that connect via magnets to build basic functional technology. Buy a kit to make a space rover, synthesizers, a gizmo and gadgets kit and much more. For more check out our review.
  • Makey Makey: A simple invention kit designed for beginners, experts and everyone in-between.
  • ZOOB BuilderZ S.T.E.M. Challenge: Design and build cool, wacky creations such as a catapult, zip line, trampoline and more.
  • Handy Famm: Handy Famm is a fun, bird-shaped tape measure with innovative features, such as a built in leveler and angle finder, that helps engage kids in the joy of DIY projects and infuses their interest in STEM at a young age.

Creepy Crawlers. You may not love bugs, but chances are your kids do. If that is the case, here are a couple of options that let your kids explore and observe, but keep the bugs well contained:

  • BugWatch Boxed Set: This set includes a Double-Viewer cone and scope, three collecting jars with magnifying lids and two pairs of tweezers. Great for collecting and viewing insects and other small creatures.
  • Celestron 3D Bug Specimen Kit: These are real bugs encased in crystal clear resin for easy viewing. You can choose from 3 different kits, each containing a different set of insects.

Dare to Design. No matter what the age, there is a series of tools that help young people design, build and create. Find one that’s perfect and unique so that they love the experience:

  • Roominate: Building kits designed specifically for creative girls.
  • Chalktrail: This allows kids to turn their bikes into art tools.

Captivating Coding. Our kids will need to learn to code, but it is for more reasons than you might think. As Grant Hosford puts it, “Computer science is the perfect gateway to 21st-century skills. The logical problem solving and algorithmic thinking at the core of computer science force kids to think about thinking—a process referred to as meta-cognition that has proven benefits related to self-monitoring and independent learning:”

  • Move the Turtle: This app teaches the general idea of coding by completing step-by-step tasks that move the turtle around on the screen. Successful completion means that newer and more complicated tasks are introduced (think next-gen frogger).
  • Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit: Electrical parts provide students with hands-on experience designing and building models of working electrical circuits.

Can’t Forget the Classics.

Ages 9-11

Ask About AI. There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) will have a major impact on the lives and livelihood of our kids. Here are a couple of examples of how AI is already working its way into our kids’ toy boxes:

  • The Wild Robot: This wonderful book (see our review) tells the story of “Roz,” a robot who washed up onto the beach to find remote island wilderness after the cargo ship transporting her and dozens like her sank.
  • Anki Overdrive: This is the next generation of racing cars. Not only can you use a smartphone to control it, but you can choose whether you want to race against friends or AI-controlled cars.
  • Cozmo: What’s better than an AI that always wants to play games? Not much. With Cozmo, your child can learn to code with Code Lab, play games, learn how to navigate a robot and much, much more.
  • Let’s Start Coding Ultimate Kit 2: “Coding is the new literacy” is the slogan for Let’s Start Coding, a company focused on getting kids accustomed to coding early. In the latest revision to their Ultimate Kit, it’s gotten bigger and better—now boasting over 110 projects, no extra tools required and the ability to create custom circuits. This is a great gift for anyone 10 years of age and over.

Maker Mindsets. We are big believers that allowing students to create, construct, and value their unique passions is a great way to get them to think critically about the world around them. Makers make the world a better place and these gifts encourage the mindsets needed to do just that:

  • Monthly Maker Kit Subscriptions: Make tinkering and creating a regular family event with a subscription from Creation Crate or Tinker Crate. Each month you will be mailed everything you need for the perfect at-home maker experience.
  • K’NEX Education Intro to Structures Bridges Set: KNEX has a ton of great sets, but this one is particularly cool as you are set up to build 13 fully functioning replicas of real-life bridges. Builders learn about infrastructure by demonstrating key bridge types, such as truss, arch, cantilever, beam, suspension, movable/bascule and cable-stayed bridges.
  • Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Science and Building Kit: Get your kids to build moving machines that solve real problems. This kit comes with 80 pages of instructions, 33 LEGO pieces, instructions for 10 modules, 6 plastic balls, string, paper ramps and other components.
  • POWERUP Paper Airplanes: Ever wanted to give a paper airplane a boost? Now you can. POWERUP 2.0 is an electric paper airplane kit that uses quick charging to boost your airplane for 30 seconds of flight time. Handmade paper bodies enable tons of options for creativity and customization.
  • Brilliant, a subscription-based online puzzle platform that’s sure to test your brain no matter what age.

Smart Scientists. Science class can be really fun, especially when you actually get your hands dirty. These gifts bring the science lab home and allow you to dive into and explore deeply scientific principles:

  • SmartLab Toys Ultimate Secret Formula Lab: This formula lab comes with 40 experiments that teach kids about scientific principles such as air pressure, fluid dynamics, acids and bases by exploring chemical reactions with different substances from around the house.
  • Edible Chemistry Kit: Enough said.
  • ThinkFun Gravity Maze: Putting the “maze” in “amazing,” this game tests your child’s reasoning skills, visual perception and so much more. With over 60 different challenges, this is a marble run game for the ages.

Can’t Forget the Classics

Keep an eye out for a different type of gift guide in early December—the best experiential gifts to give this season. In the meantime, what’s your favorite educational gift? Share in the comments section below!

For more, see:


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Getting Started with High School Redesign

Green Schools

The climate crisis is the most complex challenge mankind has ever faced. It will require collaboration, shared truth and innovation at a scale that has yet to be realized. We’re covering what edleaders and educators can do about it. 

Invention Opportunity

An exploration of new agreements, new practices, new tools and new opportunities with support from the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Difference Making

Focusing on how making a difference has emerged as one of the most powerful learning experiences and how in this current moment it’s never been easier, or more important, to make a difference.

Microschools

New learning models, tools, and strategies have made it easier to open small, nimble schooling models. We unpack the benefits and the challenges of these intriguing new models.

Power of Place

A comprehensive and compelling case for making communities the locus of learning for students of all ages.

The Future of Work

This series is dedicated to highlighting contribution and young people learning how to make a difference. In our exploration, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare.

What If?

This series asks weekly What If? questions to reimagine what learning and education could be. 

Schools Worth Visiting

The result of our hundreds of yearly school visits where we get the opportunity to see high-quality teaching and learning in action. We share stories that highlight best practices, lessons learned and next-gen teaching practice.

View more series…


Smart List: 22 Coding and Computer Science Resources

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 1.4 million computing jobs but only 400,000 computer-science graduates with the skills to fill them. Looking toward a future of work that includes automation, artificial intelligence and programming, there is no better time to introduce coding to your students. Earlier this month we celebrated #CSEdWeek, an annual program dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science.

Building off of that, here are 22 resources for students and educators:

Coding & Computer Science Resources for Schools

1. AI4All is an organization dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in AI education, research, development, and policy. Their summer education programs are “an entry point into artificial intelligence and computer science for underrepresented high school students.

2. AI4K12. In May, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) launched the AI for K-12 Working Group (AI4K12) to define for artificial intelligence what students should know and be able to do. (see our latest feature)

3. Black Girls CODE is a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching girls ages 7-17 about computer programming and digital technology.

4. Code.org is an organization dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Start here for coding resources such as games, apps and courses. (see feature on CS4RI)

5. CodeHS is a teaching platform for helping schools teach computer science. They provide web-based curriculum, teacher tools and resources, and professional development.

6. CodeAcademy is an online catalog of coding course ranging from web development to programming.

7. CS for All Teachers is a virtual community of practice, welcoming all teachers from PreK through high school who are interested in teaching computer science. It provides an online home for teachers to connect with one another and with the resources and expertise they need to teach computer science in their classrooms.

8. The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) is a membership organization that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science. They provide opportunities for K–12 teachers and their students to better understand computer science and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn.

9. Exploring Computer Science is a year-long, research-based, high school intro-level computer science curriculum and teacher professional development program that focuses on broadening participation in computing. They support teachers and districts through the implementation of the course regardless of school resources.

10. The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science to show that anybody can learn the basics. However, In 2014, the executive committee of Computing in the Core (ACM, CSTA, NCWIT, IEEE-CS, Google, and Microsoft) voted unanimously to maintain the Hour of Code theme as the centerpiece of #CSEdWeek and just one year later it became the “largest education campaign in history” reaching 100 million “hours served.” (see feature on CSEdWeek and Hour of Code)

11. Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that helps learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. (See their catalog of computer science courses)

12. Project Lead the Way provides learning experiences for PreK-12 students and teachers across the U.S. They create a hands-on classroom environment and aim to help students to develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Additionally, they provide teachers with the training, resources, and support they need to engage students in real-world learning.

13. Raspberry Pi is a UK-based charity that works to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world. They do this so that more people are “able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.”

Coding Tools and Toys for Kids

14. Coding Express, presented by Lego Education, this game explores early coding concepts (we recently reviewed the Coding Express train, see our feature here)

15. Code Piano & Code Rocket are games designed to teach real C++ coding through hands-on electronics (see feature).

16. Fisher Price Think and Learn Code-a-pillar: A great first start to coding. Depending on how you put this guy together, it changes his course. Set a target and then build him to hit it.

17. LittleBits: is an education startup that invented the electronic building block. These magnetic “Bits” snap together to turn ideas into “inventions, transforming the way kids learn so they can grow up to be tomorrow’s changemakers.” (see feature)

18. Modular Robotics, creators of Cubelets robot blocks and the MOSS robot construction system. The toys they design aim to give young minds models for understanding and manipulating complex systems. By integrating learning and play, we hope to create a new generation of problem solvers that can better handle complexity and the problems that stem from interconnected systems.

19. Root, described as “a little robot with a lot of possibilities,” Root is “an educational robot that teaches coding, creativity, and problem-solving skills to kids from pre-readers through high school.” (see feature)

20. Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. (See our feature on their coding cards)

21. Tynker helps kids learn to code using visual code blocks that represent real programming concepts. They progress to text languages like JavaScript and Python as they continue to play through 2,000+ interest-driven activities. (see feature)

22. MakerBot, founded in 2009, sells a variety of affordable, easy-to-use, wireless-enabled 3D printers and recognizes the revolution that 3D printing can bring to education. (see feature)

There are so many other great educational toys available if you’re doing any last minute shopping or planning for other special occasions in 2019. Check out our latest gift guide here.

We’re sure we missed some great resources. Which would you add? Share in the comments section below.

For more, see:

Disclosure: Tom Vander Ark is an advisor for AI4K12.


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27 Can’t-Miss Education Conferences for 2019

Our team spends a lot of time traveling to conferences around the country to learn with and from experts, facilitate sessions and cover various conference happenings. Throughout our travels, we continue to curate and update a list of our favorites that we think everyone should attend.

Here is the latest list of 26 can’t-miss education conferences for your 2019 planning:

1. 2019 iNACOL Symposium 

October 28, 2019 – October 31, 2019; Palm Springs, California

iNACOL’s annual conference is the leading event for K-12 competency-based, blended and online learning. With over 200 sessions, it brings together over 3,500 experts, EdLeaders and educators to explore next-gen learning for K-12 students. Here are 10 reasons to attend.

2. SXSW EDU

March 4–7, 2019; Austin, TX

The ninth annual, internationally recognized SXSW EDU will include four days of sessions, workshops, learning experiences, mentorship, film screenings, policy discussions and so much more all aimed at impacting the future of teaching and learning. The event hosts over 16,000 attendees, 1,200 speakers, 500 sessions and 200 expos and continues to stand out as a true thought leadership summit. Check out our podcast from SXSW EDU 2018.

3. ASU+GSV Summit

April 8-10, 2019; San Diego, CA

This annual conference is the “only conference during the year where you’ll have access to the smartest and most influential Learning & Talent Tech minds from around the world.” The three-day event hosts over 1000 of the best and brightest in business, entrepreneurship, higher ed and education innovation. Here is our recap of the 2018 summit.

4. BETT

January 23-26, 2019; London

With almost 35,000 attendees from 130 countries, representing 850 leading companies and 103 edtech start-ups, and thousands of exhibitors demonstrating the latest in EdTech, BETT is the world’s largest EdTech conference. Taking place in London, BETT believes in creating a better future by transforming education. This conference is premium, inclusive and game-changing. At every level of education, the themes for BETT 2019 are based on the real needs of the education community, from the tech nervous newbie to the cool geeky early adopter. BETT themes at the heart of education.

5. NewSchools Summit

May 8-9, 2019; Oakland, CA

Next year’s event will be the 20th year for this annual, invitation-only gathering hosted by New Schools Venture Fund which brings together more than 1,300 entrepreneurs, educators, community leaders, funders and policymakers to share ideas on reimagining schools to prepare all students, from every background, for the future. We’re eager to see what next year has to bring.

6. National Charter Schools Conference

June 30-July 3, 2019; Las Vegas, NV

NCSC is the best learning and networking event for school educators, leaders and advocates. At the 2018 event, attendees had an opportunity to connect with over 4,700 others in over 100 breakout sessions, 17 meet-ups, eight charter talks and five networking lounges. Participants walk away with an incredible learning experience and opportunity to share ideas and strategies for growing and improving charter schools. Registration opens on November 8th!

7. ASCD

March 16-18, 2019; Chicago, IL

Next year’s theme for the 74th annual professional learning experience is “Empower19.” Ron Clark, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Ashton Kutcher will be amongst the session speakers. This conference is “for every educator,” aiming to gather the best minds in educational leadership including teachers, principals, superintendents, instructional coaches, university professors and central office staffers and delivering a revolution in education.

8. ISTE

June 23-26, 2019; Philadelphia, PA

As the “epicenter of edtech,” ISTE Is where educators and school leaders go to learn about new tools and strategies. With over 550 companies, 1,000 sessions and 16,000 educators attending, this event boasts endless learning opportunities perfect for industry reps, teachers, tech coordinators/directors, administrators, library media specialists and policymakers.

9.  Digital Learning Annual Conference

April 1-3, 2019; Austin, TX

This is the inaugural year for the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) and its sure to be one worth attending. The three-day conference will not only explore online learning, digital learning, and the use of technology in education, but will be focused on the exploration of where attendees are relative to their educational goals, and how digital learning can be used to reach the next level.

10. CoSN

April 1-4, 2019; Portland, OR

CoSN is the conference to attend if you’re a district tech director or leader. The 2019 event will be themed around envisioning 2030: leadership for learning, exploring how we can provide the class of 2030 with the skills they will need for success. Sessions will cover three focus areas of ubiquity and access, vision and leadership and pioneering innovation. There are plenty of opportunities to network, share ideas and maximize professional development at breakout sessions, workshops and pre- and post-conference events.

11. SETDA Leadership Summit & Education Forum

November 3-6, 2019; Arlington, VA

With the 2018 event wrapped up, SETDA looks ahead to its 18th year. As one of the most important convenings for state EdTech officials, SETDA brings together leaders from over 40 state departments of education to join leaders in EdTech, assessment, instructional materials and professional development to collaborate and engage in in-depth dialogue. Take a look back at the event archives.

12. BbWorld

July 23-25, 2019; Austin, TX

2000+ thought leaders, educators and other great minds from around the world join to “exchange ideas, share best practices and address today’s toughest educational challenges.” Next year’s Austin event will host over 150 valuable sessions, 50 technology partners and access to Blackboard resources, offering participants a chance to walk away with tools to foster success at their institutions.

13. PBL World

June 18-20, 2019; Napa Valley, CA

Pre-conference June 17

In its eighth year, PBL World is the premier project-based learning conference, bringing together dedicated teachers, instructional coaches and school and district leaders who want to connect and learn more about PBL. Rather than a conference with short sessions by various presenters, this event is an institute where participants go through a continuous multi-day experience. The conference, hosted by Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE), stands by the belief that PBL transforms students and PBL World transforms educators.

14. Deeper Learning Conference

March 27-29, 2019; San Diego, CA

DL2019 is the 7th annual gathering of educators and leaders focused on creating more opportunities for students to learn deeply. Attend this conference to experience deeper learning hands-on through interactive workshops, maker spaces and deep dives. Here’s a recap from our time at the DL2018.

15. New Tech Network Conference

July 15-19, 2019; Orlando, FL

NTAC gives principals, teachers, and staff the opportunity to sharpen skills, share best practices and network with like-minded professionals from around the country.

16. Big Bang

July 22-25, 2018, Detroit, MI

Hosted by Big Picture Learning, this conference is for school leaders and educators looking to discover strategies and best practices for advancing student-centered learning, student voice, learning from the community, equity and activism. Big Bang has grown to over 600 attendees from around the world and perhaps our favorite part is that most of the panels are led or include students from the big picture network. This is one you will not want to miss in 2019!

17. ExcelinEd National Summit on Education Reform

Date TBD

ExcelinEd is currently wrapping up their 10th annual conference and we’re excited to see the plan for 2019. The best and brightest policymakers, education leaders and advocates from around the nation will meet for the premier gathering of education reformers to share information on evolving laws, new trends, successful policies and the latest innovations transforming education in the 21st century. Last year’s event was attended by over 1,000 education leaders from 47 states. Here’s a video archive from this year’s summit.

18. FETC

January 27-30, 2019; Orlando, FL

FETC is the largest national independent EdTech conference discussing tech trends, strategies and best practices for student and school success. 2019 marks the 39th annual event focusing on the Future of Education Technology and gathering a group of dynamic and creative education professionals from around the world for an intensive and highly collaborative event exploring new technologies, best practices and pressing issues.

19. TCEA

February 4-8, 2019; San Antonio, TX

Spanning five days with over 8,000 attendees, 1,000 sessions and workshops, and 450 exhibiting companies, TCEA is the largest state convention and exposition in the US. This year’s 39th annual event will feature nationally-recognized experts with topics catering to every educator.

20. CUE Conference

March 14-16, 2019; Palm Springs, CA

CUE is the largest and oldest EdTech conference in California and is targeted towards educators and EdLeaders looking to advance student achievement by using technology in the classroom. The conference has been a go-to event for educational innovation for almost 40 years and provides a best-value, three-day experience for over 6,000 educators.

21. Personalized Learning Summit

May 14-16, 2019; Atlanta, GA

In its 5th annual summit, Education Elements is bringing together 750 innovative district leaders. Participants can expect engaging and dynamic sessions, professional development and networking opportunities, and even tours of some of the most innovative companies in the Bay Area. Here’s a look back at the 2018 summit.

22. Blended and Personalized Learning Conference

April 4-6, 2019; Providence, RI

Educators, leaders and innovators can enjoy this three-day conference because it gives them an opportunity to discuss blended and personalized learning as it exists today in their schools and classrooms. At the 2019 conference, the Highlander Institute and The Learning Accelerator will be showcasing the best classroom, school and district implementers from across the country.

23. Distance Teaching & Learning Conference

August 6-8, 2019; Madison, WI

This conference attracts a broad range of professionals in distance education and online learning. In over 30 years, the conference has grown to over 800 participants and 130 sessions. Attendees can expect to connect with online learning leaders from across the nation and around the world and discover innovative ways to teach and support online learners, as well as best strategies, practices and solutions. We are staying tuned for more information on next year’s event.

24. Annual Conference for Middle Level Education

November 7-9, 2019; Nashville, TN

A valuable and comprehensive PD conference for educators and administrators working with middle school students. AMLE features over 300 sessions in 30 topic areas with hands-on and meet-and-greet opportunities. Because AMLE knows everybody learns differently, the conference caters to the needs of every educator with a multifaceted approach—various session types and styles, opportunities for one-on-one discussions with the leaders, explanations and explorations of technology, and networking—for a most valuable and comprehensive professional development event.

25. OEB 2019

December 2019; Berlin

OEB is a global, cross-sector conference on tech-supported learning and training held in Berlin. The 2018 conference, OEB focused on “incorporating learning technologies,” and giving insights on opportunities and challenges that are changing the world of learning. Attendees can expect to learn from over 2,300 participants from over 100 countries in over 100 hands-on workshops, plenaries, interactive breakout sessions, debates, labs and demos.

26. LearnLaunch Across Boundaries

January 31 – February 1, 2019; Boston, MA

In its 7th year, the Across Boundaries conference hosted by the LearnLaunch Institute brings together the edtech community – educators, administrators, entrepreneurs, investors, education companies and tech innovators – to drive innovation, transform learning and increase achievement using digital technologies. The conference has grown to over 1,200 participants from 33 states and an agenda full of engaging keynotes and informative breakout sessions.

27. OLC Innovate

April 3-5, 2019; Denver, CO

Hosted by the Online Learning Consortium and Merlot, OLC Innovate’s theme for 2019 is “moving mountains in digital, blended and online learning.” Attendees will challenge their teaching and learning paradigms, reimagine learner experience and ideate on how disruptions in education today, can shape the innovative classroom of tomorrow.

Did we miss one of your favorites? Tweet us at @Getting_Smart so we can check it out!

Getting Smart offers a variety of interactive conference services including strategic advising, podcasting, media coverage and social media amplification. To learn more, email [email protected] and place “conference media” in the subject line.


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60+ Education Gifts to Add to Your List

Still finishing up your holiday shopping? Tired of your youngsters or family members being excited about gifts for a few weeks then getting bored of them? Well, we’re here to help! This year, give the gift of knowledge with toys and gadgets that support learning and are sure to excite youth all year long.  

Webster defines technology as “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems.” This means that experiences that ignite a love of STEM are not limited to computers, tablets, and smartphones, but instead can be focused on creating, inventing and making.

This list is designed to be more than just your typical list of bots and batteries–this is a set of gifts for kids of all ages that help in the development of skills such as observation, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and persistence.

Ages 0 – 3

Budding Builders. The basic idea here is building sets for toddlers, which means they are designed for little hands and require limited coordination. A couple of options to check out:

Cute Little Counters. At this age, most “counting” is more memorization than a deep understanding of quantity, but kids are never too young to play with numbers, even if they are really just increasing awareness:

  • Munchkins Letter & Numbers: You have to do bath time, why not throw some letters in there? Not only does foam stick to the bathtub, but it also floats. As kids get older, playing with letters and numbers can increase to identifying colors & building order. Extra bonus: While in the tub, throw some measuring cups in there so that they can play with volume and measurement.
  • Geometric Animal Shape Puzzles: Speaking of bath time. How about helping your little one learn geometric shapes while in the tub?
  • Learning Resources Jumbo Magnetic Numbers: Just like the foam building blocks, putting numbers on the refrigerator (and then taking them back off) is great for building fine motor skills.

Abstract Artists. You may not be able to tell what it is that they have created, but giving toddlers the space to make is important and fun. The key in picking your “first” art supplies is all about what they will be able to control and hang on to:

  • My First Crayola Crayons: The shape of these crayons make them perfect for little hands to hold and they don’t take much pressure to work which makes them just the right first crayon for your little one. Here’s a star-shaped option as well.
  • ALEX Jr Finger Paint Party: The great thing about finger paint is that there is nothing for little hands to hold on to. Keys to remember: they WILL want to eat it the first couple of times so don’t forget to check for washable and non-toxic. You can also find bubble bath options for bath time.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These “oldies but goodies” are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing:”

Ages 3 – 5

Creative Construction. This age is where you may actually start to recognize the things your toddler is creating. From tools to blocks to art supplies, they will love transforming their ideas into reality–make sure they are set up with all the supplies they need to do so (and don’t forget to head to the recycle bin for lots of free inspiration):

  • Picasso Tiles: Take building to the next level by starting to construct 3D shapes through these magnetic tiles.
  • Educational Insights Design and Drill Activity Center: Power tool sets are great, and a blast for this age, but can sometimes be hard if they don’t actually get to build anything. This is a great option for kids to use tools to design and create.
  • Learning Resources: Gears! Gears! Gears!: Take a different spin on building with these colorful gears that promote reasoning and problem solving while putting together moving objects and shapes.

Optimistic Observers. For young explorers, the world is full of surprises. These toys are designed to help them take their observation skills to the next level:

Robots for Rugrats. Stu Pickles shouldn’t be the only inventor in your house. Even though robotics toys tend to be aimed at middle and high school, there are lots of great resources for the young robotic enthusiast that can help support building an innovation mindset:

  • Fisher Price Think and Learn Code-a-pillar: A great first start to coding. Depending on how you put this guy together, it changes his course. Set a target and then build him to hit it.
  • Kids First Robot Engineer Kit and Storybook: They call it a “build along adventure.” Start by reading the story and build as you go. This Robot Engineer teaches kids about simple machines and gear trains
  • WowWee COJI The Coding Robot: This guy teaches the basics of coding through the language of emojis.
  • LEGO Coding Express: Inspire early learners to start exploring coding concepts such as looping, conditional coding and sequencing, while also developing their problem-solving skills, critical thinking and social and emotional skills. Check out our recent review.

Terrific Tablets. Sick of sticky finger smudges on your tablet? Here are a couple of options just for them (both under $100):

  • Amazon Fire Kids Edition: While this is currently out of stock, it’s worth adding to your list for future gift ideas! The Kids Edition includes a free year of FreeTime Unlimited (a library of 10,000 vetted and kid-appropriate apps, ebooks and show) plus a protective case, a comprehensive 2-year warranty against accidents, and best-in-class parental controls.
  • LeapFrog Epic: Parent controls that allow you to manage what, when and how long each of your children are playing for (up to 3 profiles) and also includes the LeapFrog Just for Me Learning technology that personalizes the experience for each kid.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These oldies, but goodies are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing:”

Ages 6 – 8

Mini Makers. A quick search online will yield more maker kits than you can count. They vary in complexity and cost, but no matter what your budget there is definitely something for your mini maker:

  • Marbleocity Mini Coaster: Fat Brain Toys is a great starting spot for unique, maker type sets for kids of all ages. This is a great option for beginners as they follow illustrated instructions to piece together wooden parts to build the ultimate roller-coaster marble run experience.
  • littleBits STEAM Student Set: A toolbox containing LEGO-like electronic building blocks that connect via magnets to build basic functional technology. For more check out our review.
  • Makey Makey: A simple invention kit designed for beginners, experts and everyone in-between.
  • ZOOB BuilderZ S.T.E.M. Challenge: This kit gives all the tools needed for kids to design and build creations to solve challenges provided such as hitting targets, making a ball bounce and more. Encourages and helps learners apply important STEM principles.
  • Osmo Genius Kit: This is great for families looking to change up their iPad routine. Osmo Genius kit transforms your device into a hands-on learning tool fostering skills in math, spelling and visual thinking.

Creepy Crawlers. You may not love bugs, but chances are your kids do. If that is the case, here are a couple options that let your kids explore and observe, but keep the bugs well contained:

  • BugWatch Boxed Set: This set includes a Double Viewer cone and scope, three collecting jars with magnifying lids and two pairs of tweezers. Great for collecting and viewing insects and other small creatures.
  • Celestron 3D Bug Specimen Kit: These are real bugs encased in crystal clear resin for easy viewing. You can choose from 3 different kits, each containing a different set of insects.

Dare to Design. No matter what the age, there is a series of tools that help young people design, build and create. Find one that’s perfect and unique so that they love the experience:

Captivating Coding. Our kids will need to learn to code, but it is for more reasons than you might think. As Grant Hosford puts it, “Computer science is the perfect gateway to 21st-century skills. The logical problem solving and algorithmic thinking at the core of computer science force kids to think about thinking–a process referred to as meta-cognition that has proven benefits related to self-monitoring and independent learning:”

  • CodeSpark: This app teaches the ABC’s of computer science while igniting curiosity and allowing kids to learn at their own pace. The curriculum follows the Common Core Standards for Mathematics and the Computer Science Teachers Association’s Computer Science Standards.
  • Move the Turtle: This app teaches the general idea of coding by completing step by step tasks that move the turtle around on the screen. Successful completion means that newer and more complicated tasks are introduced (think next-gen frogger).
  • Daisy the Dinosaur: This is a free app that uses a drag and drop interface to make Daisy the dinosaur come to life while teaching the basics of objects, sequencing, loops and events.
  • PloBot: Get in early by supporting this Kickstarter campaign. PloBot is a robot companion that teaches programming logic through storytelling and play–with cards instead of screens.
  • Brilliant: Master key ideas in math, science, and computer science through problem-solving.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These oldies, but goodies are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing:”

  • Stomp Rocket: An old favorite of many of ours, except this one glows in the dark!

Ages 9 – 11

Root Robot. So who is Root and what can Root do? Described as “a little robot with a lot of possibilities,” Root is “an educational robot that teaches coding, creativity, and problem-solving skills to kids from pre-readers through high school.”

Lets Start Coding. You’ll want to be sure to check out the Code Rocket and Code Piano. You may remember our review of the coding a car and a fishing tackle base kit. Fast forward to today and the latest products to spark our interest from electronic coding kit maker Let’s Start Coding are the newly launched Code Rocket and Code Piano.

Ask About AI. There is no doubt about it that Artificial Intelligence will have a major impact on the lives and livelihood of our kids. Here are a couple of examples of how AI is already working its way into our kids’ toyboxes:

  • The Wild Robot: This wonderful book, recently reviewed by our own Carri Schneider, tells the story of “Roz”–a robot who washed up onto the beach to find remote island wilderness after the cargo ship transporting her, and dozens like her, sank.
  • Anki Overdrive: This is the next generation of racing cars. Not only can you use a smartphone to control it, but you can choose whether you want to race against friends or AI controlled cars.
  • Genibo SD Robotic Dog Artificial Intelligence Pet Robot: This smart robot puppy can even recognize its owner with its eyes, although I am not sure that that makes it quite worth its hefty price tag.

Maker Mindsets. We are big believers that allowing students to create, construct and value their unique passions is a great way to get them to think critically about the world around them. Makers make the world a better place and these gifts encourage the mindsets needed to do just that:

  • Monthly Maker Kit Subscriptions: Make tinkering and creating a regular family event with a subscription from Creation Crate or Tinker Crate. Each month you will be mailed everything you need for the perfect at homemaker experience.
  • KNEX Intro to Structures: Bridges: KNEX has a ton of great sets, but this one is particularly cool as you are set up to build 13 fully-functioning replicas of real-life bridges. Builders learn about infrastructure by demonstrating key bridge types, such as truss, arch, cantilever, beam, suspension, movable/bascule, and cable-stayed.
  • Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit: Get your kids to build moving machines that solve real problems. This kit comes with 80 pages of instructions, 33 LEGO pieces, instructions for 10 modules, 6 plastic balls, string, paper ramps, and other components.

Smart Scientists. Science class can be really fun, especially when you actually get your hands dirty. These gifts bring the science lab home and allow you to dive into and explore deeply scientific principles:

  • SmartLab Ultimate Secret Formula Lab: This formula lab comes with 40 experiments that teach kids about scientific principles such as air pressure, fluid dynamics, acids, and bases by exploring chemical reactions with different substances from around the house.
  • Edible Chemistry Kit: Enough said.

Can’t Forget the Classics. These oldies, but goodies are the toys we all remember and still love. These were the things we were playing with before STEM was a “thing.”

10 Gifts that Cultivate SEL

  1. Inside Out (Movie | all ages). This year, Pixar melted our hearts once more with a film that gets you right in the feels by teaching kids and adults to recognize and honor their emotions. Here are 12 ideas on how to use the movie Inside Out to Teach SEL and get through life’s ups and downs. For an added bonus stock up on the book set as well.
  2. “What to Do When __________. “ (Book | upper elementary through middle school). Magination Press has published a series of “What to Do Guides” (e.g. What to Do When You Worry Too Much, What to Do When Your Temper Flares) that come in a graphic-friendly workbook. The books include strategies for kids (and adults!) to apply when they feel angry, worried, stuck and/or downright grumpy.
  3. Happify. (App | middle school and up). This app walks kids and parents through activities that are “de-stressors.” Thanks to Happify, games such as “Negative Knockout” provide fun ways to practice gratitude, learning breathing techniques and enjoy a sense of calm. Happify is targeted primarily towards adults, so this is best for older kids.
  4. Worry Woos. (Books + stuffed animals | birth – elementary ) The WorryWoos book series  and accompanying stuffed animals make emotions real for kids in such a way that make them excited about expressing their feelings.
  5. Cooperative Games. (Games | all ages): Rather than focusing on the competition, cooperative games, like Forbidden Island (ages 10 – 12) and Race to the Treasure (ages 5 – 8) are great ways to build collaboration and teamwork as they require teams to work together to problem solve. They encourage and teach valuing a variety of perspectives and utilizing individual contributions to achieve success as a team.
  6. Lego Today I Feel Emotion Chart (Printable | elementary): This free printable from And Next Comes L allows kids to practice identifying how they are feeling, which in turn will support personal well-being and relationship building.
  7. Worry Eaters. (Stuffed animal | preschool – elementary): The zippered mouths of these worry eaters are designed to gobble up kids’ concerns all well teach kids how to better communicate and develop effective coping methods. Kids write or draw their worries and concerns and place them in the worry eaters mouth (a zipper pocket) — imagine these as the next generation of worry dolls.
  8. Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings. (App | Preschool): This free app from PBS Kids lets kids explore feelings through games, drawing, songs and even a photo booth that helps them connect facial expressions to the way they are feeling.  
  9. American Girl WellieWishers. (Toys | upper elementary): The WellieWishers are a group of dolls who, just like the traditional American Girls, each have a storyline of their own (and enough accessories to keep plenty busy). However, they are a little different in that the focus of these girls is a dedication and commitment to being good friends.  
  10. Children’s Books. (Books | all ages): There is no shortage of children’s books that focus on feelings and the qualities of becoming a good friend or a confident individual. Books like Spaghetti In A Hot Dog Bun, My Many Colored Days, Stick and Stone, What if Everybody Did That and Rude Cakes are great ways to ignite powerful conversations with kids. The adults might learn some helpful tips as well.

What’s your favorite educational gift? Share in the comments section below!

For more at-home resources check out:


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15 School Districts Worth Visiting

Leading a public school district is difficult and complicated work. But done well, there is no other job that can change how a community thinks about itself, its children and its future. The following are 15 districts that are changing the trajectory of both education and their communities by working on personalized and competency-based learning. They are making career preparation—including communications, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration–a priority. They are big and small, urban and rural, east and west, and as such are representative of the American education challenge.

Encouraging Innovation

1. Microschools & Talent Development. Kettle Moraine School District, west of Milwaukee, is a small district working on personalized and competency-based learning. The district has authorized four charter schools including three themed flex high schools (check out our podcast with superintendent Patricia DeKlotz as well as our most recent feature).

2. Makerspaces & AI Ethics. Montour School District (Pittsburgh airport) is a great place to see a student-first, growth-mindset learning culture. They are a leader in active learning with an elementary Lego Makerspace and a Minecraft lab. A new middle school AI program features exploration and ethics (Follow @JustinAglio for more).

3. Computational Thinking. South Fayette School District, south of Pittsburgh (and next door to Montour), has four schools on one campus and a P-12 focus on computational thinking (developed with CMU). Students learn to code, to attack complex problems, analyze data and sprint in teams to public products (see feature).

4. Student Engagement in Multiage Environments. Albemarle County Public Schools serves just over 13,000 students in Charlottesville, Virginia. They provide extensive project-based and maker opportunities. Spectacular and versatile multiage spaces, like Woodbrook Elementary (below), are added as schools are renovated (See 9 lessons, a case study, and podcast with Pam Moran).

Competency-Based Leaders

5. Early Leader. Chugach School District, serving remote Anchorage-area villages, kicked off the modern age of competency-based education 20 years ago (Read an iNACOL report).

6. Growing into a Framework. Mesa County Valley School District 51 serves 21,000 students in 44 schools in Grand Junction Colorado. The district is in the middle of a thoughtful transition to competency-based education where schools have been invited to grow into a framework with pilot schools showing the way (See our podcast and seven-part series from CompetencyWorks).

7.Using Data. Lindsay Unified School District, in California’s central valley, is a leader in competency-based (they call it performance-based) education—“Students work at their performance level and advance through the curriculum when they have demonstrated proficiency of the required knowledge or skills.” See how they are “leading the global shift to competency.”

8. Personal Plans. In the hops fields west of Boise is the tiny Wilder School District where every student develops a personal learning plan with their mentor. Students have voice and choice in learning; they can choose the best way for them to learn: in class, online, or through projects (See 10 more things we liked about Wilder). With 18 other districts, Wilder joined the Idaho Mastery Education Network two years ago.

9. “Retooling while flying.” Windsor Locks Public Schools, just north of Hartford Connecticut, is “Trying to become more student-centered as well as competency-based,” said former superintendent Susan Bell (who now directs school engagement for the Mastery Transcript Consortium).

By making learning targets clear, Windsor Locks teachers have been “Putting the power in the child’s hands and helping them become self-directed learners,” said Bell. Rising juniors, the Class of 2020, will be the first class in Windsor Locks to graduate with a mastery-based diploma.

Frequently mentioned but not yet visited are Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, RSU2 in Maine, and 12 districts in Iowa working together.

Career Education

10. K-8 Leader. Cajon Valley, east of San Diego, introduces career options to elementary and middle schools in 54 K-8 experiences called the World of Work Program. It’s the best organized and implement K-8 career education program we’ve seen (Kendra Olson tells Superintendent David Miyashiro about the civil engineering unit in first grade below).

11. Systematic CTE. Santa Ana USD, the dense urban center of Orange County California, offers well developed secondary career pathways. They are coordinated districtwide to ensure an equity of offerings (Check out our November trip report).

Using Networks to Innovate

12. Leveraging networks. Evergreen School District in east San Jose serves a predominantly low-income Hispanic community. New Tech Network is a district partner—notable project-based schools include Katherine Smith Elementary,  Bulldog Tech, and Lobo School of Innovation (See our November trip report).

13. Test Prep Turnaround.  El Paso ISD is a great turnaround story–from test prep to active learning. Earlier this year, we followed superintendent Juan Cabrera on school visits, including several schools that belong to the New Tech Network (See our feature on the district and superintendent commentary on learning spaces and on the role of trustees).

14. Incubating Networks. Denver Public Schools has sustained the most aggressive improvement and innovation agenda of any city with an elected board including incubating and scaling quality school networks including DSSTStrive Preparatory Schools, Roots (below), and Beacon (see feature). (See our recent portfolio summary and our chat with the superintendent and school board).

15. Innovative Staffing. Charlotte Mecklenburg serves 148,000 students in 175 schools and is widely recognized for academic achievement and innovation. Project LIFT and Success by Design are projects that leverage teacher leadership in innovative staffing models.

For more districts worth visiting, see:

We’re sure we missed hundreds of districts doing some great work. Who would you add? Share in the comments section below, and check out other Smart Lists at our Smart List Series Page.


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70 Elementary & Middle Schools Worth Visiting

Here at Getting Smart, we believe school visits are the best form of professional learning. Based on a couple thousand school visits, and with help from colleagues and readers, we’ve compiled a list of elementary and middle schools that can give educators a better sense of what’s possible. This list includes schools that achieve extraordinary results for underserved communities, create powerful learning experiences, and/or have innovative school models.

Elementary Schools

1. Horace Mann Elementary School in northwest Washington D.C. is a student-centered personalized learning environment serving a diverse student body. The modernized facility reflects thoughtful values: Collaboration and Connection, Sustainability and Stewardship, and Choice and Invention. (See our feature and listen to our podcast with principal Liz Whisnant.)

Horace Mann's Building exterior, one of our schools worth visiting

2. Ingenuity Prep (@IngenuityPrep) in Washington, D.C  is an NGLC winner that serves P-5 students. The culture is positive and purposeful. Ingenuity Prep’s staffing model is built around a teacher career pipeline, providing for at least three highly qualified teachers in each classroom that support blended and personalized learning.

3. Bricolage Academy (@BricolageNOLA) in New Orleans is a new, diverse, active learning elementary (K-4 growing to K-8) school founded by Josh Densen. A recent Mini Maker Faire builds on an innovation culture.

4. Success Academy is redefining success in public education with 25 elementary schools, 12 middle schools and one high school in New York City. Visit to learn about sophisticated teacher development, inspiring science instruction and a powerful culture.

5. Achievement First operates 36 schools in Brooklyn, Providence and Connecticut. The flagship Amistad Academy “opened in New Haven in 1999 to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their affluent suburban counterparts.” A K-3 school (growing to K-4), AF Providence Mayoral Academy, is worth a visiting to see “joyful, student-centered, rigorous instruction.”

6. Bracken STEAM Academy is an award-winning magnet K-5 school in north Las Vegas. Grade level teams coordinate a long list of digital resources.

7. Cornerstone Madison-Carver Academy is a K-6 school in Detroit. Cornerstone features a lab rotation in primary grades and a class rotation in intermediate grades, and a strong culture and well-developed character development program for all students.

8. KM Explore is one of four interesting district-sponsored charter schools west of Milwaukee. The open-plan multi-age blend features high engagement projects. They also figured out what to do with those old textbooks. (See 10 leadership lessons from Kettle Moraine.)

View image on Twitter

9. Hartland School of Community Learning (profiled here), also west of Milwaukee, is a grade 3-5 multi-age charter school that uses trimester targets to help students set weekly and monthly academic goals for themselves to guide their learning. Each day, students stop, drop and reflect for the last 40 minutes of the day.

10. Hanley Elementary is one of five Aspire Public Schools schools in Memphis. Their proven “College for Certain Model” offers a “rich STEM-focused education, individualized technology-rich learning opportunities, and explicit instruction in computer coding skills.” For the full story read Liz Arney’s book, Go Blended.

11. Quitman Elementary School in Newark, NJ, is making good strides in a tough place by starting with great expectations.

12. Randle Highlands Elementary in Washington DC supports 100% economically disadvantaged students with 90 minutes of blended math instruction and 120 minutes of blended ELA instruction combined with student-led hands-on activities and lots of community partnerships.

13. Lake Forest Elementary School, part of Fulton County in Atlanta, is a high poverty, high mobility, high ELL school. It’s a great example of blended learning, student-centered instruction, personalized professional development (in PLCs), and a great school culture.

14. Roots Elementary in Denver is an innovative primary charter school featuring a quickly paced rotation model in a big multi-age space (featured here). Students build conceptual understanding and benefit from small reading groups.

15. High Tech Elementary (@HighTechElem) is an innovation school in Denver that is part of the Stapleton redevelopment. Housed with DSST Conservatory Green Middle School, High Tech Elementary blends small group instruction with project-based learning around a beautiful set of core values.

16. Rocky Mountain Prep (@RockyMtnPrep) is a growing network of elementary public charter schools in Denver. The RMP Creekside campus serves P-5 students in a class rotation model (featured here). Teacher fellows can earn a Masters in Teaching from Relay while working with a lead teacher.

17. Barack Obama Charter School in Compton is part of the Ingenium network and uses the personalized, standards-based model first developed in Chugach, Alaska (see seven-part series). Teachers serve as coaches in the system where proficiencies as assessed, verified and documented.

18. Hawk Ridge Elementary in Charlotte was transformed through the development of a shared vision of personalized learning, a culture of trust, and a lot of professional learning. Key features of the school model include a Genius Hour, personalized pathways, team teaching and opportunity culture staffing (profiled here).

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19. Encinitas Union School District, north of San Diego, features nine K-6 schools focused on personalized learning, health and wellness.

20. Herrera Elementary in Houston is an IB school tech magnet that offers dual language. The walls are covered with student work and vibrant with bright colors. There was a blend of individual, partner and group work apparent in every classroom. The kids love the farm animals in the courtyard.

21. New Emerson Elementary School is a demonstration site for Mesa County Valley School District 51, a district featured by CompetencyWorks for their high engagement transition to personalized and competency-based learning. Principal Terry Schmalz explained, “It is a powerful process when community members and parents and educators come together to create a shared vision for a school. It took us a year because we wanted rich participation. We don’t do buy-in, we do shared leadership.” (Listen to our podcast with their district leaders.)

22. Mukilteo Elementary, north of Seattle, makes great use of The Leader in Me program to empower student leadership. They finish each year with a family portfolio picnic where they review quality student work. Students also help to develop a nature preserve with trails and an outdoor classroom (see feature).

23. Rocketship Spark Academy in San Jose is housed in a beautiful building opened in 2013 and authorized by Franklin-McKinley School District. The 19 Rocketship schools combine personalized learning, parent involvement and talent development to unlock potential.

24. EPiC Elementary in Liberty Missouri (north Kansas City) strives to be “an innovative, project-based learning community designed to inspire students to be creative and think big.” Serving 300 learners in the renovated district office, the EPiC architecture features double classrooms and partner teaching. Check out our feature and an iBook that tells their story.

25. KIPP AUSTIN Communidad and KIPP Austin Obras are K-4 dual language schools that feature a station rotation model in Spanish and English. They both promote character development and are part of a high functioning K-12 system.

26. Agnor-Hurt Elementary and Woodbrook Elementary in Albemarle County (Charlottesville) Virginia feature student-centered learning. New inviting multiage spaces provide a variety of configurations and seating options. (See feature and podcast).

27. Shamrock Gardens Elementary is one of 40 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in the Success by Design initiative (supported by Opportunity Culture) that uses new staffing strategies to leverage teacher talent. Success by Design is a key talent development and retention strategy for CMS and it enables schools to meet or exceed School Improvement Plan goals.

28. Napa Junction Elementary serves an economically disadvantaged community south of Napa California with engaging project-based learning. It was one of the first elementary schools to join the New Tech Network (see feature).

Elementary & Middle Schools

29. Cornerstone Academy Preparatory School, San Jose, was high performing elementary school founded in the Building Excellent Schools network that joined forces with Alpha Public Schools in 2016. The K-7 school offers personalized learning and is getting strong results with a high percentage of low income and English learning students.

30. Design39, in Poway Unified School District north of San Diego, is a spectacular K-8 school featuring design thinking and personalized learning (featured here and in a podcast here).

31. West Belden is a K-8 school in Chicago’s Belmont-Cragin neighborhood and part of the Chicago International Charter School network. The NGLC grant winner (see profile) personalizes learning using flexible environments, learner profiles, personalized learning plans and competency-based progress.

32. Cesar E. Chavez Multicultural Academic Center is a neighborhood P-8 in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood on the south side. Despite nearly 100% poverty and nearly half of the students new to English, the school has been a top academic performer in Chicago for the last five years. Principal (and data ninja) Barton Dassinger was a teacher at Chavez and has kept a veteran staff focused on getting better every year.

33. National Teachers Academy in Chicago, managed by AUSL, is a high poverty school that serves as a training academy. (See EdWeek feature on the first chromebook classroom in Chicago Public Schools.)

34. Aspire ERES Academy serves a low-income Hispanic community in Fruitvale (Southeast) Oakland. It puts all students on a path to a four-year university and is part of Aspire, one of the nation’s highest performing low-income school networks serving 16,600 students in 40 schools.

35. Burley School is a Chicago literature, writing and technology magnet school. Visitors see students discussing, reading, thinking, exploring, questioning, experimenting, creating and collaborating.  Students have access to iPads and laptops and a full art and music program.

36. Acton Academy is a student-centered microschool in Austin. When we visited, 35 middle school students, with no adult supervision, were designing an electric grid for a smart city. There are 110 global replications with more to come. (See our feature.)

37. Caliber Beta opened in 2014 in Richmond, California, with personalized learning plans, a flexible rotation model for math and English and project-based learning for science and social studies. Students participate in computer programming, engineering and robotics classes. 

38. Washington Elementary School in Lindsay Unified School District (@Lindsay_USD, east of Fresno) is doing great things with personalized and competency-based learning. They use multiple resources to assist students in pursuing personal learning plans and students transition as they demonstrate competency at the course level–a great example of developing and engaging student agency and social-emotional learning. (See our recent feature.)

39. Magnolia Montessori for All is a champion of both blended learning and the potential of a school dedicated to true college and career readiness for all its students. The school opened its doors as a public charter in the fall of 2014 with grades pre-K through 3. It will reach full capacity in 2019 with students through grade 8. It is a unique blend of Montessori practice and the high expectations of the “no excuses” charter model.

40. Environmental Charter School at Frick Park in Pittsburgh uses their theme to build systems thinkers, explore complexity and develop problem solving skills.

41. Bella Romero Academy is a K-8 school on two campuses in Greeley Colorado. The 6-8 classrooms launched a personalized learning model across all subject areas with support from their platform partner Education Elements. The instructional model looks different in each grade level as the teachers gradually release more responsibility to students each year.

42. Arthur Ashe Charter School in New Orleans is operated by FirstLine Schools. They have a great garden and teaching kitchen.

43. Dolores T Aarons Academy is a P-8 school operated by ReNEW Schools, turnaround specialists in New Orleans. Intermediate blends adaptive software and performance groups in reading and math. Middle grades feature 1:1 Chromebooks and big integrated blocks.

44. Urban Montessori Charter School, an NGLC in Oakland grantee, combines Montessori’s pedagogy with Design Thinking and Arts Integration.

45. Crossroads Academy-Central Street in Kansas City is a K-6 blended and project-based school that embraces the opportunity of an urban setting.

46. St. Ann School, a P-8 school of Archdiocese of New York, is known as The Personal School. They combine personalized learning, character formation, and extended day opportunities to meet the needs of every student.

47. Mandarin Immersion Magnet School in Houston is a must-see with a state-of-the-art facility, cohesive culture, blended learning, and student supports.

48. Gilroy Prep is a high-performing K-8 and the anchor of Navigator Schools. You’ll see a data-driven combination of direct instruction and blended learning.

49. Thrive Public Schools was launched with an NGLC-winning P-6 school that combines project-based, blended and social-emotional learning. The Thrive network serves two low-income east San Diego neighborhoods, and is now P-11. Learn more in this feature and this podcast.

50. St. Louis Language Immersion Schools (@STLGlobalKids) is a K-8 school founded by Rhonda Broussard in 2007 that runs language immersions programs in Chinese, French and Spanish on two campuses.

51. Cajon Valley Union School District east of San Diego is the best example of systematic K-8 career exploration in the country. The World of Work (#CVWoW) is the organizing principle for engaging student-centered and community-connected learning. (See recent feature.)

Middle Schools

52. Messalonskee Middle School in Maine, gives students Learning Goal Time every day, with a full two hours once a week to work on assignments and get the extra help they need. (Featured in this CompetencyWorks brief.)

53. Saluda Trail Middle School in Rock Hill South Carolina features active learning with a STEAM focus. (See P21 Case Study.)

54. Spurgeon Intermediate School in Santa Ana integrates project-based learning with lab rotation in a newly rebuilt flexible learning space. Lathrop Intermediate is another example of a high-challenge Santa Ana school integrating career education across the curriculum.

55. Advanced Learning Academy is a Santa Ana USD-sponsored lab charter school. It’s a STEM-focused project-based school serving grades 3-10 (featured here).

56. Whittemore Park Middle School was designated in need of improvement, and launched a turnaround process in 2013. This Horry County School (near Myrtle Beach) is a great example of community collaboration and student-centered learning that won an NGLC grant.

57. Achievement First Bushwick Middle School in Brooklyn is blending 90 minutes of math instruction and more than two hours of reading instruction every day. AF Bushwick is home to Empower, an intensive program serving students with disabilities.

58. Piedmont Middle School, a rural school between Atlanta and Birmingham, is an NGLC and Verizon Innovative School winner that has completely restructured their day. The model has three main goals: advanced mastery, relevance and student ownership (read the NGLC profile).

59. KIPP Prize is a 5-8 school in east San Jose featuring personalized learning, character development and cultural enrichment. As one of 14 Bay Area KIPP schools, it was named a Top Bay Area Public School for Underserved Students. (Many of the KIPP schools on our list last year ‘graduated’ to K-12 systems but all remain well worth a visit).

60. Grant-Beacon Middle School is a transformed middle school in Denver featuring blended learning, character development, and extended learning opportunities (featured here). Kepner-Beacon Middle School is the second school in the innovation zone (featured here). Both have great student ambassadors.

61. Fruita Middle School is one of two model professional learning communitiy (PLC) schools in Colorado and a leader in Grand Junction’s District 51 transition to performance-based learning. (See PLC video and podcast with district leaders).

62. Valor Flagship and Voyager are middle schools on the same campus feeding a new high school. Valor Compass is widely considered the best character development program in the country.

63. VIDA is a 6-8 magnet school in the Vista Unified School District focused on interdisciplinary project-based learning, design thinking and career exploration. (See our feature.)

64. DSST Byers was the top academic middle school in Denver in 2016. DSST is one of the best high-poverty STEM networks in the country with a culture based on shared values (see feature).

Elementary + Middle Pairs

65. Mesita Elementary in El Paso is a dual language P-5 program on two campuses. The Connecting Worlds/Mundos Unidos curriculum is delivered through the integration of dual language immersion methodology and gifted and talented instructional strategies. The program uses a 50/50 design in which students receive half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English in all subject areas. Laila Ferris has been principal at Mesita for 20 years and now leads district-wide dual enrollment programs.

66. Bulldog Tech (below) is a purpose-built middle school with double classrooms ideal for integrated team taught project-based learning common across the New Tech Network.  (See our feature and listen to Bulldog teachers and students)

The project-based movement began in the Evergreen School District in east San Jose with Katherine Smith Elementary, a joyful project-based school with the best student ambassador program we’ve experienced.

67. AF Greenfield Schools includes Elm City College Prep Elementary, a Connecticut School of Distinction and Elm City College Prep Middle. They are piloting the Cortex platform, and student-centered and technology-enhanced learning.

68. Strive Prep Ruby Hill, a fifth-year elementary school, and Strive Prep Federal, a 6-8 middle school, are part of the Strive Prep network of 11 schools serving 3,700 students in Denver. The personalized learning network is building out K-12 feeder patterns in three low-income neighborhoods. (see podcast on the Denver portfolio.)

69. DC Prep is a network of high performing P-8 schools in Washington DC focused on rigorous academics and character development.

70. SPARK Schools in Johannesburg and Cape Town South Africa feature blended and extended learning, design thinking (featured here), and teaching core values (featured here).

Can’t Wait to Visit

For more see:

We’re sure we missed hundreds of great schools. Who did we miss? Share in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check out our other recent Smart Lists at our Smart List Series Page.

Is there a resource you would add to the list? Share in the comments section below, and check out our other recent Smart Lists at our Smart List Series.

This Smart List was developed by Getting Smart, who helps schools, districts, and impact-oriented partners design and implement powerful learning experiences and forward-leaning strategies, and thought leadership campaigns. Learn more about how we can help you extend your impact.


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


50 Resources for Makers and Creative Classrooms

If you’re anything like us, you’re always looking for new inexpensive (or better yet, free) resources that can introduce more students to STEM and maker education. There are a lot out there, but the really useful ones can be hard to find.

Here, we’re excited to share 50 resources that we think are doing a great job of expanding access and pushing the envelope.

Maker Resources

Books for MakerEd

  • Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds, by Dale Dougherty‎, Tim O’Reilly (Foreword),‎ and Ariane Conrad (Contributor)
  • The Kickstart Guide to Making GREAT Makerspaces, by Laura Fleming
  • Maker-Centered Learning, by Edward P. Clapp,‎ Jessica Ross,‎ Jennifer O. Ryan, and‎ Shari Tishman
  • The Space: A Guide for Educators, by Rebecca Louise Hare and Robert Dillon
  • STEAM Makers, by Jacie Maslyk
  • Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School, by Laura Fleming
  • Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces (The Nerdy Teacher Presents), by Nicholas Provenzano

Regional STEM Networks

  • Arizona STEM Network: Led by Science Foundation Arizona
  • California STEM Learning Network: Bringing together a wide range of stakeholders in California
  • Colorado STEM: A community-driven effort to develop and implement the Colorado STEM Education Roadmap
  • DC STEM Network: Inspiring and preparing all DC youth to succeed, lead, and innovate
  • Educate Texas: Public-private network of seven T-STEM Centers and 60+ Academies
  • Idaho STEM Action Center: Connecting resources, students, teachers and businesses
  • Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council: Increasing STEM interest and achievement
  • I-STEM Resource Network: Working to reform K-8 science education in Indiana through the Indiana Science Initiative (ISI)
  • North Carolina SMT: Created in 2002 to help provide students with the resources, knowledge and skills to excel in STEM
  • NYS STEM Education Collaborative: Coalition of 10 regional New York networks
  • Ohio STEM Learning Network: Anchored by Battelle and Metro, a great Columbus STEM school
  • Remake Learning: a Grable Foundation-sponsored network of 250 organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania focused on engaging, relevant and equitable learning (see Getting Smart feature)
  • S²TEM Centers SC: “Wants learners to experience the “WOW” of STEM, everyday, in and out of school”
  • STEM Action Center Utah: Drives research and implementation of STEM education best practices across Utah
  • Tennessee STEM Innovation Network: Promoting and expanding the teaching and learning of STEM in K-12 schools across Tennessee
  • T-STEM: Public-private initiative of Texas academies, professional development centers and networks
  • Washington STEM: Seven regional STEM networks in Washington State

Is there a resource you would add to the list? Share in the comments section below, and check out our other recent Smart Lists at our Smart List Series.

This Smart List was developed by Getting Smart, who helps schools, districts, and impact-oriented partners design and implement powerful learning experiences and forward-leaning strategies, and thought leadership campaigns. Learn more about how we can help you extend your impact.