Hybrid Instruction Creates More Time for Formative Assessments

The classrooms of fall 2020 have changed a great deal from those of late winter/early spring 2020. Many of the physical classroom spaces have only a teacher in them who is working virtually with students. Others have less than half the regular number of students in them. Where we once had students working together in small groups and pairs, we now see tape on the floor and across tables to ensure social distancing. Often the stress felt in the need to change pedagogical practices by teachers is palpable. The focus of the need for change is most notable in teachers asking about how to do student assessments in all virtual or hybrid classrooms.

When probing at whether teachers are looking for assistance with formative or summative assessments, the majority or asking how to give a “test” – summative assessment or a formalized diagnostic type of assessment.  The focus on formative assessments is not always paramount in the teacher’s minds, yet there is nothing we do as educators that is more powerful than a formative assessment. These daily or at least bi-weekly assessments help to determine what instruction should happen next in classrooms and what content needs to be taught and retaught. However, as teachers work face to face with students only 2 days per week or only virtually, the role of formative assessments becomes more critical than ever.

Creating a hybrid classroom that is rich in formative assessments is a necessity that is not that time consuming but will produce information about the progress of each student that will be more essential to the “in-person” classroom time than in prior years. For teachers to create classrooms that support hybrid learning involves working with teachers on developing a flipped learning mindset. Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach where the concept of new learning is done in an individual space rather than a group space. The group space time (in person in the classroom) becomes a dynamic space whereby students spend their time in the application of the new learning along with having time with the teacher to engage in creativity and group “think” about the learning.

Flipped learning changes the way teachers approach the planning and delivery of instruction. Planning times means creating resources for students to be exposed to the new learning through videos, computer applications, and other resources that will replace what the teacher has known as the “lecture” or “In-person delivery of new knowledge”. This concept often overwhelms teachers, but it doesn’t have to. We need to provide teachers with permission to use already existing high-quality instructional materials from others, including teachers, publishers, and software applications that can assist with reducing the burden of creating a new video done by the teacher for every class.

Once teachers have tried flipped learning, they find that they have much more time for formative assessments and are able to spend time working with students more at the individualized instructional level of each student.  These formative assessments may take many forms. There are the in-person traditional approaches of tickets out the door, short quizzes, classroom discussions, and questions and answers. In a hybrid classroom, the teacher may use these more traditional approaches but can also use online formative assessments like those inside applications such as Kahoot, NearPod, Flipgrid, Padlet, and Socrative. These are just a few of the apps that are available and all of these are free to educators. Each of these allows for the creation of electronic formative assessments that students may do online and during flipped learning as well in the classroom with technology support. Providing students with online formative assessments during their in-home/virtual classroom time allows for immediate feedback to the student and the teacher and helps the teacher maximize the focus of the in-person learning time.

Imagine your classroom with students coming in with background knowledge and at least exposure to the concepts that you will be working with them today. Allowing students to watch a video or explore a presentation before coming to class creates at least a foundation for moving students from the knowledge level to the application level at a more rapid pace. Further, imagine that after watching the video or exploring the presentation students completed a formative assessment that captured the level of retention of new or enhanced knowledge about a topic that allowed you to spend your in-person classroom time focused on just what students need to create knowledge at the application level that will ultimately move them more rapidly to mastery. Ah, hybrid instruction, I think I really like you!

For more, see:


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


Portrait of a School Wide Project Launch

When it comes to bringing happiness to a child, there may not be anything more universal than a toy. In an effort to engage in the power of toys, teachers at iLEAD Agua Dulce are challenging their TK-6th graders to a very ambitious school wide project: ‘How Can I Spread The Joy of Toys?’

The Purpose, The Vision

As a school, iLEAD Agua Dulce has already established the tradition of doing a school wide project at the beginning of the school year for a variety of foundational reasons. These are, according to Director Lisa Latimer, at the heart of what makes their learning community very special and successful. “Facilitating a school wide project creates collaboration, community, and sets the standard for the rest of the year,” said Latimer. “The learners understand their why and learn to be part of a real learning culture.”

This collaborative spirit is not only evident in the learners, but also in the facilitators. Through the school wide project, Latimer said the staff becomes more adept at problem solving, communication, and embracing an overall common mission. “The facilitators end up doing better work together overall and become part of a healthier facilitator culture,” said Latimer.

Fourth Grade Facilitator Chris Bojorquez-Engelhardt concurred with the benefits of implementing a school wide project early in the year. “It demonstrates the school synergy to both learners and facilitators, as well as community,” said Bojorquez-Engelhardt. “New facilitators have support on their first project since all facilitators are engaged in a similar pursuit.”

The Driving Questions

There are many ways individual grade levels can address the driving question. At iLEAD Agua Dulce, here is what ‘How Can I Spread The Joy of Toys’ looks like by grade level:

  • TK/K/1st/2nd Grades: How can we design toys that help kids stay connected?
    • Purpose: Learners will engage in the engineering and design thinking process to keep them connected with one another in order to create a sense of joy and normalcy during these unprecedented times.
  • 3rd Grade: How can we design toys that bring joy to other children?
    • Purpose: To connect learners with the idea of “paying it forward”, through philanthropic ideas and engage in engineering and design thinking.
  • 4th Grade: How can we use our knowledge of supply and demand to become more creative consumers?
    • Purpose: Learners will identify and interpret the multiple causes and effects of consumerism through the exploration of toy products and engage in the engineering and design thinking process.
  • 5th Grade: How can we design and market an innovative toy through a successful business model?
    • Purpose: Learners will understand the entrepreneurial spirit by exploring different ways to create a successful business through the exploration of toys.
  • 6th Grade: How can we use the evolution of toys/games to design and market an adaptable product for the present day?
    • Purpose: Learners will demonstrate their resourcefulness by utilizing their engineering and design thinking skills to create a toy/game and a successful marketing strategy that is adaptive for the present day pandemic.

Why This Resonates

Launching a school wide project needs to connect with learners, facilitators, and the school community. Facilitators agreed that this project resonated immediately with them intellectually, emotionally, and personally.

Outdoor Classroom Facilitator Aidan Bybee believes that this project speaks perfectly to childhood, as well as with the school’s play-based learning philosophy. Bybee said she can’t think of a more authentic project that could engage all learners. “The driving question connects to a personal aspect for learners and will capture their attention in a variety of aspects,” said Bybee.

Third Grade Facilitator Rhonna Horney thinks this project connects her service and philanthropic experiences, as well as the desire for the learners to give back. “This clicked with me because I’ve been very fortunate to experience the joy of giving,” said Horney. “I think it will resonate with my learners as well because they enjoy ultimately giving to others.”

Impact & The Joy Of Learning

Whether students are learning about marketing, service aspects, or even the design process, Bojorquez-Engelhardt loves how this project ultimately models for learners how to address needs in the community. He also sees this project as having endless potential products, pathways, and public outcomes. “I’m very excited to see the creativity learners are going to bring to this project,” said Bojorquez-Engelhardt. “I want them to see the why behind it.”

This project is a great vehicle for learners to really experience service, empathy and connection to others, according to Horney. “Facilitating life lessons, compassion and empathy are important values to instill in the future generations and one of my favorite aspects of teaching,” said Horney.

Latimer sees this specific project, as well as school wide projects overall, as a means to accomplish so much in a very global, collaborative effort. “This project sparks curiosity and inquiry, while being relevant, personalized, and engaging. It not only embodies design, engineering, entrepreneurialism, and philanthropy, but encompasses all areas of the curriculum,” said Latimer. “More importantly, it allows our learners to have the autonomy to have voice and choice on how they want to present their creative product, speak their thoughts, and have their opinions valued.”

For more, see:


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


Bringing STEM into Every Classroom Space

In today’s world, we need to bring STEM into our curriculum and our classrooms. Regardless of whether we are in the physical classroom or virtual space, there are many options available. The benefits of embedding STEM activities into the content that we teach is that we help our students to develop the essential skills needed now and in the future, regardless of their next steps after high school. According to the World Economic Forum, the job outlook for 2022 focuses on skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and emotional intelligence. There will be an increasing need for STEM skills, as it has been reported that the United States will need to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025.

As many schools may have to transition throughout the year, We need to have some options available that will work well during these times. Bringing in new ideas and innovating is something that will help to keep students engaged during what might continue to be a challenging year.

In implementing a STEM curriculum, many options require specific equipment or access to certain websites, but there are a lot that are available free to educators and students that can be used regardless of where learning is happening. Just taking a strategy like genius hour provided my eighth-grade students with an opportunity to explore a topic of interest and engage in designing something. The benefits are that the topics covered and ideas shared in class will go far beyond simply just the curriculum. It will also help students to collaborate more and build their knowledge in more meaningful ways because they are learning from and with their peers.

Helping students to understand concepts like coding or computational thinking, artificial intelligence, or augmented and virtual reality, are STEM/STEAM-related topics. As a language teacher, I never thought that I could bring these topics into my classroom until I began teaching my eighth-grade emerging technology course and connected it with the language arts. Once I did that, I realized that I needed to create more opportunities that will help students to be prepared for whatever their next steps may be. To do so, I must be willing to try new ideas, to innovate, to take risks, and be open to learning from the students and letting them lead more.

Here are seven resources that I plan to bring into my STEAM course and Spanish classes this year.

1. Ashtrix.Provide students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, coding, artificial intelligence, and more. Available to more than 4,000 students in over 20 countries. The resources are available to students in elementary through high school and even for college-level students. Through Astrix, students can explore these different topics and engage in more interactive and hands-on learning. Astrix offers an Android app developer program for younger students.

2. Code Wizards HQ. Online coding classes available for students ages 8 through 18. With Code Wizards, students can enroll in three week accelerated courses or a twelve-week regular schedule coding class. There are three different grade bands with multiple levels within each that end in a Capstone project for students. Code Wizards also offers an AP Computer Science preparatory course and a high school internship program.

3. Cubit. Provides hands-on learning opportunities for students regardless of grade level or content area. Cubit is focused on project-based learning and provides teachers with resources including sample projects and curriculum to get started with STEAM concepts in the classroom. It offers a drag and drop programming system that makes it easy for anyone to get started right away.

4. Daily STEM. A platform created by Chris Woods where educators and families can find many ideas for exploring STEM activities. One of the features is a “STEM everyday” post where educators share their ideas for STEM activities, a quick way to find ideas in this new school year. Daily STEM also has a podcast that features how educators are bringing STEM into their classrooms.

5. Microsoft. There are several resources available for free for educators to choose to bring the STEM curriculum into the classroom. The options include Minecraft education, Make Code, and Hacking STEM. Educators can find guest speakers, engage in free training online through courses offered, and explore Microsoft partners such as Micro:bit, Kano, and NASA for additional STEM resources.

6. Spinndle. Educators can explore the resources available for implementing project-based learning (PBL), design thinking, social-emotional learning (SEL), and STEAM-related activities into the classroom. Spinndle provides free downloads for student-led learning experiences related to passion projects, STEAM activities, and inquiry-based learning. Choose any of the topics available and have an outline, activities, and materials to get started.

7. Tinkercad. A free online web-based resource for use by educators, students, or anyone looking to get started with some coding, 3D design, and more. Tinkercad is a great option for beginners or anyone looking to build their design skills using 3D objects, even circuits, and additional choices. It is also good for promoting collaboration between students when educators create their classroom space for students to join. There are eight different categories of lesson plans available for areas such as art, design, engineering, language arts, and technology. Lessons come with rubrics, overviews, standards, and a list of materials needed for completion.

As we start the new school year and try to embrace the challenges that may come with it, I think it is important to take some risks with trying new ideas and bringing new learning experiences in for our students and ourselves. When we give students opportunities to engage in more student-driven, independent, hands-on learning, it attaches more meaning and authenticity to the work that they’re doing. It sparks curiosity for their own personal interests and of course, their specific needs can be better met. It also gives students a chance to engage in something different and helps them to build the types of skills that they will need moving forward.

For more, see:


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


Empowering Families to Teach Coding at Home

By: Marina Umaschi Bers

With many schools around the country offering distance learning, families are preparing to play a dual role as parents and educators. While they may be comfortable supporting literacy by reading with their children, when it comes to STEAM topics like coding, most of them lack confidence.

A national survey of 2,000 parents conducted by The Toy Association in 2017 revealed that 85 percent of parents consider coding to be a valuable skill for their young children. However, 72 percent of parents indicated that their perceived lack of understanding of technology made it difficult to jointly engage in coding activities with their children. So how can educators empower families to be creative coding partners with their kids? Shift the focus to exposure, rather than knowledge.

Here are a few fun ways that families can collaborate with schools to teach their children coding concepts.

Finding Flexible, Approachable Tech Tools

For parents (or even teachers) who don’t see themselves at tech experts, I recommend a low-floor, high-ceiling approach, meaning that the programming languages are accessible enough for users of all ages and abilities to pick up quickly, and engaging enough so that students can build expertise while creating their own personal projects and learning more complex concepts with time and experience.

For children under the age of 8, the KIBO robotics kit and the ScratchJr app, which were born from over a decade of research by my team at the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University, are both examples of this concept. KIBO uses a programming language based on physical blocks that students can understand even before they have learned to read. ScratchJr, a collaboration between my team and the LifeLong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, uses blocks on a screen.

In our current school situation, the most effective technology will allow both teachers and families to explore coding concepts with students regardless of the setting: remote learning by videoconference, blended learning, in reduced-occupancy classrooms, or homeschooling.

The goal is to have a fun, creative experience that involves child-directed and parent-supported playful learning. These experiences can also begin with items that most families have around the house: smartphones, LEGOs, or even knives and forks.

Teaching Coding Concepts Through Everyday Activities

Teachers should encourage families to wake up their inner children and become playmates for their kids. This time is an opportunity for adults and children to explore together the things they usually don’t have time in their daily lives to explore: They could go around the house and take pictures of objects, then use ScratchJr to create a scavenger hunt or other game.

The key is developing relationships: sitting down with your child, creating together, making a joint project together, engaging in meaningful conversations. If you’re using any kind of technology, it’s important to have a schedule. Even devoting 15 minutes a day can be a great start. The learning can certainly extend beyond those 15 minutes, though. Families can bring computer science ideas into everyday activities. For example:

  • Sequencing can be taught through songs or stories that use repetitions and patterns in which order matters. Once the child learns the idea, they can use it to program a robot to carry out a sequence that navigates it through a maze of household objects or stuffed animals.
  • Modularity is when you break a very complex task into small chunks and then you reuse those chunks. Let’s say you have the kids helping you set the table. You can create a module called “place-setting” that involves putting a fork, a knife, a plate, and a cup in their proper place. That’s a module that you can reuse at every meal and a concept that will carry over into coding lessons.
  • The design process is the iterative cycle of having an idea, making a project to convey that idea, improving it, trying it out again, and sharing with others. For example, children can use LEGOs to create a piece of furniture for their favorite stuffed animals. They can start with an idea, make a prototype, test it out with their teddy bear, and improve the process until they think it is ready to show it to other family members.

Of course, families can’t be teachers all the time, and children need a balanced diet of activities: being outside, interacting with others, even having some time to be bored—because from boredom comes creativity.

Empowering families as creative coding partners doesn’t mean asking them to be experts. Instead, it means helping them see their home as a creative space where they can come together and code together.

For more, see:

Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor and chair at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, with a secondary appointment in the computer science department at Tufts University, where she directs the DevTech research group. She is the author of the book Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom, and is the co-founder and chief scientist at KinderLab Robotics, Inc.

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


Making the Most of Distance Learning

By: Lindsay Hayward

The distance learning schools are experiencing is much different than what happened in the spring. When schools shut down, districts were in crisis mode, racing to do something that had never been done before. The primary goal of emergency distance learning was to check-in, engage students, and make sure they were safe.

Virtual learning and distance learning can be far more robust and engaging when teachers have time to prepare for it. For the fall, teachers are developing lesson plans, integrating technology, and working to create something that more resembles what students would experience in a classroom.

As they develop their academic plans, teachers also need to prepare their students to learn again, acknowledging the significant trauma they experienced. Schools can’t ignore what happened in the spring, as they consider the social and emotional learning component. In a survey of parents and guardians conducted by LPAred, LPA’s research team, 65% listed their children’s “feeling of isolation” as the main reason they wanted students to go back to school.

In our discussions with parents and educators this summer, they’ve talked about how teachers will need to work even harder to create a welcoming environment for students who may be reacting in different ways to recent events. Responses will be very different at different age levels. But specific themes emerged from the talks with educators, as they look to get students back into learning mode.

Create Structure

Consistency and routine are important. Teachers should start each day with a greeting. They need to make sure students see them and are connecting. Have a check-in question or an icebreaker ready and watch for individual responses. In-person, a student’s behavior, body language, and expressions are relied on to see if they are thriving or struggling. This becomes more challenging in a virtual environment. It is important to continually evaluate which students need extra attention.

Throughout the course of the day, teachers are looking for ways to emulate the structure of a traditional classroom. If there is a reward system in the physical classroom, they are finding virtual equivalents, such as a homework pass or a class virtual movie party. If there were classroom traditions such as journal writing or show and tell, those can be recreated in the digital world. Create a sign off ritual to help build that sense of routine.

Establish Expectations

Teachers will need to make it clear what is expected of students—and what is not. Don’t assume everybody understands the nuts and bolts of how things will work in this new classroom format. Is video-sharing required or not? It’s not a simple question. Some students may not want to broadcast their home environment. What about muting microphones or using chat? Should they raise their hand to ask questions?

Everyone in the class will need to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not in order to feel comfortable in this new environment. And that process should be evaluated. Students should be provided with the opportunity to give feedback on how it’s working.

Find New Ways to Connect with Students

Educators should look for creative ways to engage students. In the virtual classroom, it will always be a challenge for students to consistently provide their attention. Giving students the ability to share their screen during a lesson or making an extra effort to ensure students are participating will be essential.

In recent weeks, I’ve heard many stories of phenomenal teachers taking the extra step to stay in touch with students. In some districts, teachers are calling every student for one-on-one discussions at least once a week. But the connection can take many forms. An e-mail note or a drive-by visit can renew that personal connection. A birthday celebration for a student can take on a new importance when students are physically separated.

Build School Spirit

In this digital world, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Educators will need to create a sense of community and togetherness. Without that social and emotional wellbeing connection, it will be difficult to engage the academic side of their brain.

Many of the educators I’ve talked to have discussed the challenge of creating that sense of what a school and a classroom feel like in a virtual realm. We all know what school spirit means on a physical campus, but what does it mean in a virtual world? At least for the foreseeable future, we know that community won’t be about Back to School Night, weekly assemblies in the gym, or school dances.

The challenge facing educators is to create a sense of community when you can’t gather in the traditional sense. In “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters,” Priya Parker writes about the need to focus on the purpose of why we gather. In this new learning environment, that “why” takes on different meanings, as educators look to support students in ways that go far beyond traditional school spirit.

Plan Fun

Recreating the school day also means making sure there is time for play and some form of social interaction. One administrative leader said teachers and staff at her school are scheduling time together to play games, essentially as a group, to promote that sense of normalcy.

The time, activities, and focus will vary for different grade levels, but educators are recognizing the importance of social check-in time and the importance of social interactions. As they analyze their minutes and create that virtual classroom, they are setting aside time for play.

Be Supportive

In this new environment, educators should look to support students as they deal with all the issues swirling around their return to school. Don’t assume disruptive behavior is solely for the sake of being disruptive. Why are they being disruptive? What is going on at home that may be causing a bigger issue?  Is a family member sick?

If a student is not signing in every day, it could be due to multiple issues. Maybe there is an issue with childcare or their siblings. Maybe there is a technology issue. Teachers will need to reach out to investigate what is really going on and better understand the issues. And it will be essential to actively involve resources like counselors, administrators, and technology support to respond to a student’s individual needs.

These are unprecedented times. We build environments every day that are meant to support the social and emotional wellbeing of students. In real-time, educators have an opportunity to consider what that image of a supportive community means in a digital world, and it won’t look the same for everyone.

For more, see:

LPA Project Designer Lindsay Hayward is focused on developing innovative and effective K-12 campuses.

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


How Interviewing an Innovator Can Expand A Student’s Network

By: Kevin Anselmo

Students certainly need to graduate with skills that are transferable to the workplace. But without a network, those skills can’t be used in an optimal way.

Many are eloquently making the case for enhancing students’ social capital – access to human connections that supports their career goals. In the book Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks, authors Julia Freeland Fisher and Daniel Fisher brilliantly articulate the case that opportunity sits at the cross-section of what students know and whom they know. As their book highlights, schools are not putting enough emphasis on the “who”.

“We need to provide students with experiences that are connected to the community and have real-world meaning,” said Emily Liebtag on episode 247 of the Getting Smart podcast.

One way to make such connections a reality is by having students, based on their own interests, interview innovators – professionals and entrepreneurs who are creatively solving problems to different challenges. Based on the interview, the student should then write and publish the article online. I have put together a process that guides students through this process in Interview an Innovator, an experiential, eight-module online course that is part of my Global Innovators Academy initiative.

Six different college students and one high school senior have gone through this course over the past month. Their articles are published on the Global Innovators Academy website. I have seen first-hand how their social capital has been impacted. Here are the benefits that are possible when schools enable students to interview professionals and write content online.

1. Inspiration

Imagine you are a college student interested in working in the fashion industry. You interview an entrepreneur who started a clothing retail brand that now has over 100 stores around the country. You engage in a meaningful conversation with this entrepreneur before writing an article online highlighting this individual’s journey, advice for young people, and your key takeaways. This is exactly what Haley Panessa, a student at Rollins College, experienced when she interviewed Kevin McLaughlin, the co-founder of the clothing retail brand J.McLaughlin (here is the article).

“This gave me the confidence and knowledge as to how I can work on my professional growth during these early stages of my life,” she said.

Cali Carper is an aspiring community leader who used the course experience to interview two different political leaders in her home state of Wisconsin.

“The opportunity to interview different leaders and write a story offers the potential to imagine our future,” she explained. “The journey starts with curiosity. Then, our imagination motivates us to create new connections, ask thoughtful questions, and form new beliefs. We have to imagine a future for ourselves and our work and then ensure we find the proper steps to make that vision a reality!”

It is hard to fathom any sort of typical in-class lecture or presentation that can generate such student feedback.

2. Digital networking

Many reading this have probably experienced the benefit of doing an informational interview – “picking the brain” of a professional over coffee. I consider the process of connecting with a professional and then writing an article online to be the “informational interview 2.0”. By publishing an article online, the student practices real-life communications skills and showcases their work to a public audience. The individual who is interviewed reaps the benefits of positive exposure and thus is more likely to take part.

Anybody who has ever created content online has probably benefited from new connections. This has certainly been the case for the students I worked with this summer. The articles are highlighted on the students’ individual LinkedIn profiles, liked on Facebook, and retweeted on Twitter. Many of the interviewees promote their articles through online platforms, and the Global Innovators Academy’s social media channels also shine a spotlight on the students’ content. As a result, students connect to many new individuals. Just as important, if any future recruiter searches any of these students online, they would come across thoughtful, well-written content that showcases their different skills and aspirations.

“I had the pleasure to speak with a successful businesswoman,” said Ashley Gunter, a rising junior at Rollins College. “I wrote an article about this experience which not only aids in self-promotion and networking but also serves as a resource for others.”

“Students and young professionals need to consider how they can enhance their marketability on a digital platform,” added Carper. “I used to think it was daunting to market myself online. The experience of interviewing an innovator gave me confidence and taught me important content marketing principles, interview best practices, and professional communication tactics.”

3. Global connection
Yejin Sohn, a rising senior at Perry High School in Arizona, went through the course experience. She did an interview and wrote an article about an entrepreneur literally located halfway around the world in Seoul, Korea.

Andrey Alipov, a student at Penn State University, is currently in Russia and is in the process of writing two different articles based on interviews with U.S.-based entrepreneurs whose businesses are in the video production space, an area that he would like to work in one day.

We certainly need to educate students to be global citizens. Giving students the means to interview individuals who are located in other parts of the world gives them the opportunity to hear different perspectives.

In addition, providing a platform for students to publish content potentially provides a global audience. As opposed to just a teacher evaluating a student’s work, now an audience located anywhere in the world is able to consume the content and provide feedback.

COVID-19: An Opportunity to Facilitate Connection

Never in our lives has there been as much uncertainty about the start of the school year – both at the K-12 and higher education levels – due to the pandemic. One certainty is that online learning will increasingly be part of education.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Winston Churchill once said. The disruptions caused by COVID-19 are an ideal time to actually make progress in fostering connections for students. This may sound counterintuitive as so many students and teachers feel more isolated than ever. Pre-, during, and post-pandemic, a world of connections waits at our fingertips. Let’s use the disruptions caused by the pandemic to provide students with meaningful experiences to connect with other individuals they aspire to be like one day.

For more, see:


Kevin Anselmo is the founder of the Global Innovators Academy and creator of the Interview an Innovator course experience.

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


How Schools Can Help Cultivate Learner Identity and Agency

By: Anna Perry, Kim Carter, Chris Liang-Vergara, Eric Tucker, Sean Talamas, and Elliot Luscombe

COVID-19 is creating unprecedented challenges and demanding more of students, who must play an even greater role in managing their own education as they navigate in-person, hybrid, and virtual learning in varying measures throughout the year. To succeed, students will need to authentically know who they are, what they value, and where they want to go. They’ll need to leverage resources to navigate obstacles and create positive change in their education and life, investigate their interests, reaffirm their identities, drive their own learning, and grow self-motivation and resiliency.

In short, students will need opportunities to develop and cultivate a strong sense of identity and agency.

As educators, we must strive to support our students in this process. In collaboration with World Class Education (WorldClassEdu), Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (LAB) asked leading educators and thinkers how schools and teachers can support students in this process: How can we help students develop their identity and agency to shift the locus of control and successfully navigate complex life and learning transitions?

Here, we provide an overview of responses from experts in sociology, psychology, special education, educational equity, social justice, and student-centered education. You can access the entirety of the contributions in our Back to School Learner Identity and Agency Guidebook.

Dr. Anindya Kundu: Fostering Social and Cultural Capital

Dr. Anindya Kundu, a sociologist of education, defines agency as “a person’s capacity to leverage resources to navigate obstacles and create positive change in their life” (Kundu, The Power of Student Agency, 2020). Dr. Kundu emphasizes two resources students need in order to foster a healthy sense of agency: social and cultural capital.

  • To help students foster social capital—which includes mentors, networks, and help-seeking behavior—educators can proactively encourage students to ask for help. For students from underprivileged backgrounds, who may fear they’ll get in trouble approaching adults and others in positions of authority, it’s important to make sure these sources of social capital are safe.
  • To help students cultivate access to cultural capital—the mentors and teachers who understand and affirm a student’s background and identity—educators can start by recognizing and paying attention to forms of giftedness that aren’t always appreciated in traditional education settings. Dr. Kundu shares the example of a student named J. Stud, whose teacher noticed his talent for writing rap lyrics. She arranged for J. Stud to record one of his songs in a real studio, where he ended up securing an internship.

Q.E.D. Foundation: The Importance of Emotion in Learner-Centered Education

At Q.E.D. Foundation, Executive Director Kim Carter and her colleagues are focused on a learner-centered approach to education, which recognizes that learning is responsive to the individual learner’s needs and strengths. Without the freedom to investigate their own interests in school, students might struggle to remain fully engaged and motivated. Standard curricula can prevent students from deep learning that fosters the development of their sense of identity, agency, and self-motivation skills that will be useful throughout their lives.

Q.E.D. has developed a set of tools to remain connected to their students remotely and sow the seeds of agency and self-advocacy. For example, to create space for emotion and help students remain emotionally connected to school, Q.E.D. has created an “end-of-day portal” as a standard part of its English curriculum. At the end of every day, students are expected to journal. They can write about whatever they like, and Q.E.D. hopes they use the portal as a means to advocate for themselves: to complain, negotiate, challenge, and celebrate. Q.E.D. has set a target of getting 80 percent of students to submit journals, which the writing faculty can access to acknowledge and comment on specific points made by their students. In this way, the faculty and students are forging bonds of mutual trust and understanding.

National Center for Learning Disabilities: Cultivating Self-Advocacy by Students with Disabilities

At the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), Director of Innovation Ace Parsi asks: “How can a student who comes from a position without privilege learn to advocate for themselves to a person who has privilege?”

NCLD concludes that self-advocacy consists of four components:

  1. Knowledge of yourself and your needs
  2. Knowledge of your rights
  3. Communication of your needs and rights to those in power
  4. Advocating for the rights of your group

The struggles of marginalized students are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, racialized violence, and the economic downturn. In a traditional classroom setting, these students might get by by “faking it,” which Parsi said is a sign the educational system must change. Instead, the system should provide avenues for these students to understand and communicate their needs. Parsi and his colleagues recommend schools apply a set of guidelines called Universal Design for Learning (UDL) from CAST. These ensure flexibility in how students access material, engage with it, and show what they’ve learned.

The Center for Black Educator Development: Ensure Equity in Recruiting, Training, Hiring Diverse Educators

To cultivate stronger student identity, students must be able to see their lived experience reflected in their educators, says Sharif El-Mekki, CEO of The Center for Black Educator Development (CBED), whose mission is to ensure equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators who reflect the cultural background and share the socio-political interests of the students they serve.

El-Mekki and his colleagues are creating a workforce of diverse Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) educators through a four-part program that focuses on the pathways to teaching, professional learning, culturally informed pedagogy and policy changes. As part of its educator training, CBED targets 5 professional learning outcomes:

  1. Achievement: What are the skills and competencies I need to meet that are aligned to my work and role?
  2. Cultural Competence: What is my history and my current experience? What is the history and current experience of those around me?
  3. Critical Consciousness: What is structural inequality and oppression? How have I and others contributed to it?
  4. Servant Leadership: How do I act as an individual and as part of a collective to enact social justice for those who have experienced structural inequality and oppression?
  5. Healing Practices: How do I bring restoration to those who have been oppressed, even when I have contributed to the oppression? How do I pursue and receive my own healing?

These core competencies are beneficial to Black students and all students because they help educators acknowledge and lift up student identity.

Equity x Innovation (eXi): Student-Led Solutions

Within the same lens of racial identity and agency, Dr. Temple Lovelace, an associate professor of special education at Duquesne University, has devoted herself to providing opportunities for youth to organize and redesign inequitable programs, policies, practices, and spaces in their schools and communities. She and her team developed a teacher-powered, youth-led model called Education Uncontained, which follows three key steps: First, there’s a learning exchange, in which students and teachers engage together around issues of equity, relationships, school structures, and activism. The next step is dedicated to exploration and design, where students take the lead in designing and prototyping a project identified and defined by students. The final step is implementation: when students pilot, roll-out, and then promote the project.

In this model, teacher-powered, student-led, real-world projects can help students feel represented and foster agency. This process can create novel solutions in this time of uncertainty and the new challenges of COVID-19.

Character Lab: Building Learner Identity and Agency Through Character

Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania researcher and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, co-founded the nonprofit Character Lab to help educators understand the conditions that support social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being for young people. Character Lab believes that character—the strengths of heart, will, and mind that we use to help ourselves and others—is a critical component of student agency.

Character Lab has developed a series of Playbooks that teachers can use to help students strengthen their character. Each Playbook, authored by leading scientists, contains definitions of different traits, with tips on how to begin conversations with students, and additional resources and supports to help implement changes. The Playbooks contain lessons on everything from how to cultivate purpose—how to make a meaningful contribution to the world—to how to cultivate curiosity and build self-control.

The Montessori Method: Cultivating Agency in Young Students

Often, discussions about building agency focus on older students, but educators like Anna Perry, executive director of Seton Montessori Institute and Schools, have discovered the importance of cultivating the inherent agency of even the youngest of learners. In Montessori classrooms, children become self-regulated through concentration on stimulating self-chosen tasks, or “works,” that they can pursue.

Montessori educators have developed a set of three approaches to foster agency in young students. Through mixed-age groups, teachers look at each student as an individual, and peers are empowered to become one another’s guides. Through individualized education, teachers focus on what individuals students (rather than the cohort or the label) need to learn and grow. Through the concept of “independence, situated within interdependence,” students learn responsibility for themselves while maintaining respect for others.

A Strong Foundation for a Challenging School Year

This may be the most challenging year school communities have ever experienced. As educators, we need to equip students with a strong foundation to face the many uncertainties and changes they’ll need to overcome. A strong sense of identity and greater agency will help all students, especially those who tend to be most marginalized by education systems.

As educators, we should be asking ourselves how we can ensure that students can access the resources and tools they need. How can we help them achieve a strong sense of self and cultivate in them the strength and agency to advocate for themselves and ask for what they need?

As the Q.E.D. Foundation’s Carter says, “The best antidote to hopelessness is being able to take some action.” We hope the Back to School Learner Identity and Agency Guidebook serves as a foundation to take actionable steps that help improve learning experiences for all students and deliver a more equitable educational experience during this unprecedented time.

For more, see:


Anna Perry is Executive Director of Seton Montessori Institute, a professional school and research organization that prepares new educators and provides continuing education to Montessori professionals in the United States and throughout the world.

Kim Carter is Executive Director of Q.E.D. Foundation, an organization of adults and youth working together to create and sustain student-centered learning communities. Find Kim on Twitter at @KimQED.

Chris Liang-Vergara is Founder & Partner of World Class Edu, an organization dedicated to spreading the joy of learning to every person in the world through collaboration, innovation, and equity. Follow Chris on Twitter at @LiangVergara.

Sean Talamas is Executive Director of Character Lab, a nonprofit organization that connects researchers with educators to create greater knowledge about the conditions that lead to social, emotional, academic, and physical well-being for young people throughout the country.

Elliot Luscombe is Director of Strategic Partnerships at Character Lab.

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


Reimagining Learning for Students with Disabilities: A COVID Crisis Silver Lining

By: Karla Phillips-Krivickas

My daughter is returning to school next week after five months at home, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m glad Arizona, where we live, has given parents a choice in how to educate their children as we emerge from the COVID crisis, and I support parents who are exploring online and homeschool options to keep their children safe and on track with learning until they are comfortable going back on campus. But the truth is that the choices facing parents of students with disabilities transcend school choice. We know that our children need the intellectual, therapeutic programs and skilled teachers that only can be delivered in person and at school, but we have no idea how that will work.

As I ironed out the details for my daughter’s transition to middle school with her special education teacher, I was overcome with appreciation for the time, attention, and detail the school has invested in preparing to support my daughter. She has Down Syndrome and has been fortunate to attend a school that prioritizes inclusion and has set high expectations for her. Even so, this will be a school year unlike any other.

Parents of children with disabilities are particularly challenged by school re-openings. They need their schools, but many will find their children returning to understaffed, underequipped and underfunded programs, a problem only exacerbated by COVID. But their challenges don’t end there. Much of the state’s special education model is outdated and in desperate need of a revamp. Additional resources alone won’t solve the problem. As our country contemplates this new school year, it should also open the door for schools to reimagine education for students with disabilities. 

RE-OPEN SCHOOLS TO MEET THE NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS

In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman have allocated initial CARES Act funds to support school reopening plans, compensatory education for students with disabilities, and student safety.  Encouragingly, they also have dedicated monies to support innovation. Likely, many of your state’s leaders have made similar decisions. As the state’s guidance continues to evolve and as boards and departments begin to review school re-opening plans, both our states and our schools should consider the following ways to address the needs of special education students:

  1. Make special education a focal point in state and school reopening plans. Educators have long acknowledged that the strategies that work for special education students are best practices for all children. Now is the time to act on this knowledge to benefit all students.
  2. Seek feedback from and provide support to families of students with disabilities. Our students need the experienced and dedicated professionals a school provides along with therapeutic support to boost learning and achievement. However, the reality is that remote learning for students with disabilities is, in fact, parent-facilitated learning. They need to be engaged and supported along every step.  
  3. Prioritize inclusion. Schools must guard against increased isolation or segregation of students with disabilities in reopening plans. Inclusion in a digital environment certainly presents challenges, yet it is more important now than ever.
  4. Address learning loss. The state’s digital learning plans require details on this year’s benchmark assessments and instructional methods, but schools also need to develop plans to accelerate learning and prevent achievement gaps from widening.
  5. Balance local control with state support. Local decision-making has never been more important, but the state plays a crucial role in monitoring and evaluating school plan implementation. This monitoring should, clearly, not be for the purpose of compliance or enforcement but to identify trends and areas needing increased support and technical assistance.

SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY TO REINVENT LEARNING

It has become glaringly obvious that students with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by the shutdown of our nation’s schools due to the COVID pandemic. Beyond the dilemma of ensuring device access and connectivity, schools are struggling to convert their special education programs and related services to an online environment.

This unprecedented challenge could present an unprecedented opportunity for Arizona to reboot its approach to special education. Rather than replicating existing models online and contemplating modifications and accommodations later, this is the time to flip the paradigm. Now is the time to empower school leaders to reinvent the design and delivery of special education services and supports, knowing that it will benefit all students.

Each state has the ability to distribute new sources of federal funding and provide guidance and flexibility to schools as they consider the best way to put students at the center of learning. As deliberations regarding additional federal funding continue, states can respectfully request that Congress preserves the flexibility for governors to prioritize their state’s needs and allocate funds to build a new comprehensive plan and unique, game-changing initiatives for students with disabilities.

As we rethink our approach to this upcoming school year, let’s start with our students with disabilities. Let’s make sure they are at the center of every school’s re-opening and let’s use those plans as the foundation for a new statewide approach to special education.

With additional federal relief funds, we could create something big, bold, and transformational that will outlast this pandemic and change the trajectory for generations of students.

And that is exactly what our kids deserve. 

For more, see:


Karla Phillips-Krivickas is the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy for KnowledgeWorks. She has over 20 years of national and state education policy experience in legislative, executive and non-profit leadership roles. As a mother of a child with a disability, Karla is channeling her experience and opportunities to passionately advocate for students with disabilities.

This article was originally published on Chamber Business News

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


Welcome To Human-Computer Co-Creation: What GPT-3 Means For Education

It’s a super auto-completer. With a little training, it’s a writer, coder, composer, translator, and puzzle solver. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of AI from OpenAI, a San Francisco R&D shop set up to guide a path to safe artificial general intelligence and funded by Microsoft, Reid Hoffman, and Vinod Khosla.

Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) is a deep learning language model that produces human-like text. The third-generation model “is the most powerful language model ever,” MIT Technology Review.

Trained by supercomputers with 175 billion parameters–an order of magnitude more than prior models–applications for GPT-3 have the potential to increase productivity and creativity including:

The API for GPT-3 represents a sector advance more than a breakthrough. It performs like a clever student trying to fake their way through a course. But it’s massive memory makes it more versatile with less training than any prior model.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Last week, college student Liam Poor heard of GPT-3. By the end of the week, he posted a fake blog under a fake name. “It was super easy actually,” he says, “which was the scary part.”

GPT-3 will accelerate fake news and the production of fictitious content. It will accelerate the use of biased data to reach bad conclusions. It will be used for malicious purposes.

Implications of GPT-3 for Education

After crunching massive amounts of data, GPT-3 requires less training than similar applications and will lower the barrier to producing beneficial AI-powered products. GPT-3 will be integrated into learning applications this fall making them smarter. In the next few years, most edtech products will have AI (GPT-3 and many other machine learning models) baked in making them more personalized.

In the meantime, educators should pay attention to this development. Starting in upper elementary school, it’s critical to teach digital literacy and critical consumption. Middle school is a good time to introduce AI ethics and begin the conversation about what it means to co-author with a machine.

High school leaders should create opportunities for high school students to use machine learning tools to make a difference in their community. This could happen in a computer science course, a tech class, or after school program (see AI4All).

While innovative artists have been exploring the human-machine boundary for years, 2020 is likely to go down as the widespread beginning of co-created content, art, and music–it’s a wonderful terrifying starting line.

Tools like GPT-3 expand human capability while challenging our conception of intellectual property and reshaping views on what is authentic and human-made.

For more, see:


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


4 Ways Leaders Can Support Teachers In Challenging Times

With many schools starting the year all remotely online, many teachers are looking for support from their leaders. Certainly, leaders can be offering various professional learning options for teachers who want to expand their skills, ideas, and pedagogy for high-quality online learning. But additionally, what can leaders continue to do to support teachers during not only the online school situation but throughout this pandemic? Here are a few ways leaders might be able to support their teachers, while also modeling how teachers can lead and facilitate with their students:

Take Things Off the Plate

Education is notorious for adding, not subtracting. We add new initiatives, programs, technology, standards, assessments, expectations, and events rarely without taking anything away. Naturally, teachers need – and even want – expectations. Think about the stress level of teachers starting the school year with so many unanswered questions. How powerful could it be in so many ways to take things away? Last spring, while the entire country was in distance learning all online, we witnessed large, previously immovable objects be removed. Think about how quickly states, districts, county offices, and others let go of standardized tests and scores. We watched as higher education put temporary, if not potentially permanent nails, in the SAT/ACT admissions process. So, what if leaders examined many of the things that are often viewed by teachers as compliance – submitting lesson plans, unnecessary surveys, or smart goals – and gave them a rest? Teachers will be doing and learning a lot…and that’s ok. But with that in mind, let’s focus their time on the most important elements of learning, especially in the virtual space. If we want our teachers to connect with students regularly, support their students’ social-emotional well being, and facilitate meaningful online learning, then maybe anything that doesn’t directly correlate with supporting those should be benched. We might even realize that some traditional activities or lessons weren’t that impactful in the first place. School is going through a forced redesign and evolution. Not everything we’ve known, or even held dear, will emerge on the other side. And that’s possibly a good thing.

Model Everything

One of the best examples here might be the variations between synchronous and asynchronous learning. Zoom meetings have value and we do need to connect with one another in real-time. But since we are going to undoubtedly have our students working in both synchronous and asynchronous learning modes, we need to do the same with our teachers. If we’re asking our teachers to do some heavy lifting in terms of thinking, designing, redesigning, adapting to new tech, we need to consider how we support their learning. More and more leaders are looking for ways to support their teachers asynchronously. Let’s face it, education traditionally has been overly dependent on meetings. Indeed, meetings often circumvent or even prevent real work from taking place. Yes, let’s meet and connect. But let’s also model for our teachers how to use time, space, and choice efficiently. And if we’re asking our teachers to go above and beyond, we need to do the same for them.

Challenge Them Take To Take Risks

This may seem counterintuitive to some. However, creativity and innovation are the means of success, especially in unchartered waters. Once we can free people up from the constraints of over-compliance, we can then unleash the individual potential for innovation. We know that learning, especially deeper learning, comes from pushing ourselves to new places, skills, and experiences. Our leaders need to be warm demanders while having our teachers be the same with our students. This is the time to try something new – projects, pedagogy, technology, feedback methods, assessments, accountability, outcomes and so much more.

This challenging period that we’re in is helping us redesign learning in real-time. That redesign is going to have all of us – including students – examine what learning is and what matters. We used to discuss things like the ‘zone of proximal development.’ We now are hearing about ‘productive struggle,’ Both are good. Both are acknowledging that all learners – students, teachers, leaders – need to be challenged while being supported. Our teachers and students need lots of extra support right now. But that support can come in many forms including letting them dream up something big and then go after it. New models and best practices will emerge from this push for innovation.

Find and Share Success Stories

Educators always need inspiration. Heck, we all do right? But maybe more than ever given the multiple crises we’re facing currently in our country and culture. So, talk to your team and find ways for them to share those individual stories of success they might have with individual students. This could be anything. Maybe a reluctant or reticent student finally engaged. Maybe the teacher tried to learn and practice a new tech application with their students. Maybe they launched a creative project. Whatever you can find, your job is to share it as best you can. Stories inspire us. Find the stories we all need to hear and then leverage your social media, or the school and district’s social media, to broadcast the success. In doing so, you’re also modeling media literacy for all stakeholders.

As one might predict, there are indeed dozens of ways our leaders can support our teachers, especially during these uniquely challenging times. However, this is a great time to examine our leadership mindsets. Focusing on what really matters should influence our approach.

For more, see:


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