Saturday, August 31, 2013

Digital and Media Literacy: How Can It Support 21st Century Learning?

How can teachers use digital and media to support academic achievement in all subjects and content areas? The answer to that question is essentially what Renee Hobbs tackles in her book Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom.

Hobbs begins answering the question of supporting academic achievement with digital and media by outlining the rationale for engaging these two in 21st century instruction. Basically, that rationale includes:
  • Digital and media motivates students and that makes them a means to reach today’s learners.
  • Our students today have digital and media needs: 1) They need knowledge and guidance in using digital and media effectively, 2) They need to know how to evaluate the multitude of digital and media messages they receive, and 3) They need the integrity and ethical center to be good citizens in their use of digital and media.
After providing the rationale for using digital and media to support learning, Hobbs then turns to describing what she calls “A Process Model for Digital and Media Literacy.” This process model she describes involves “5 Communication Competencies or Steps” that can employed across all content areas. These are what she terms as “the essential dimensions of digital and media literacy.”

1. ACCESS: According to Hobbs, “access” is the first step in digital and media literacy. It involves “finding and sharing appropriate and relevant information using media texts and technology tools. Students need to be able to effectively locate and identify relevant information to the task or issue with which they are engaged. To do that, they need access competencies.

2. ANALYZE: This second step Hobbs points to involves “using critical thinking to analyze message purpose, target audience, quality, veracity, credibility, point of view, and potential effects or consequences of messages." In other words, students need to be able examine the messages and information they receive from digital and media and analyze for the common components of rhetoric and communication. This competency makes students effective consumers as well as conveyors of digital and media messaging.

3. CREATE: The third step involves “composing or generating content using creativity and confidence in self-expression, with awareness of purpose, audience, and composition techniques into the world of digital and media.” Students need to be able to not only effectively consume information, they also need to be able to be effective content creators in digital and media. In the 21st century, with all the myriads of digital tools available, those who excel are content generators, so our students need this competency as well.

4. REFLECT: Reflecting involves examining the impact of media messages and technology tools on our thinking and actions in daily life. It also involves “applying social responsibility and ethical principles to our own identity, communication behavior, and conduct.” Students need to reflect on the digital and media messages they send and think about the effects of these on their lives. This skill of reflection helps our students become humane consumers and creators of digital and media content.

5. ACT: The fifth and final step or competency is “working individually or collaboratively to share knowledge and solve problems in the family, the workplace, and the community.” It means participating in local and global communities. According to Hobbs, this step involves getting students in the classroom connected to the world, providing support for their leadership development and collaboration, and developing integrity and accountability as they take their place as global citizens. Students need to engage in using digital and media in solving problems and at the same time take advantage of global connectivity. Because the 21st century world is a much smaller place, our students need to be able to "act" using their digital and media skills.

Throughout the remainder of Digital and Media Literacy, Renee Hobbs expands these steps or communication competencies and provides extensive discussion and information on the implementation and incorporation of them into the classroom and across subject areas. Each chapter is structured to take a closer look at these 5 dimensions or competencies, and how they might look in the classroom. Hobbs' book is a must-read for teachers, administrators, and district as well as state education leaders who are trying to tackle the question, “What do we do with students with all this digital and media?”

Other strengths of this book include:
  • A thorough and comprehensive review of what digital and media literacy should look like in classrooms and in all content areas.
  • A practical implementation knowledge with sample lessons that can be used to design learning that captures all 5 of the digital and media competencies or steps.
  • A review of the 5 challenges teachers face when trying to “develop student voice in digital and media formats.”
  • A powerful, concise discussion of digital citizenship and on becoming ethical digital and media consumers and creators.
  • Useful information on how to incorporate current events into classroom activities.
  • Some focus on how to engage in what Hobbs calls “Responsive Teaching.”
I’ve read a great deal on the topic of digital and media technologies and how to integrate those into instruction, but Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom provides something unique. First, it gives educators a framework of digital and media competencies and shows them how to engage students in learning those competencies using the technologies. Secondly, it provides examples of real classroom practice through narratives and sample lesson plans. Finally, its focus on implementation makes it great for a book study by a faculty wanted to explore how to use digital and media the way it should be used in the classroom.

Digital and Media Literacy is a must read for district and state leaders, classroom teachers, technology directors, and anyone interested in how we can embrace the enormous task of using digital and media to support academic achievement in the classroom.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Knowmia: Tool to “Flip Your Classroom” Is Getting Even Better!

Knowmia is a website and an iPad app that allows teachers to create, share, and view instructional videos for students. It might be just the perfect solution for the teacher looking for a tool to help them implement “Flipped Classroom” instruction.

Recently, Knowmia has been working on three knew features to add to their product. I think teachers and students will find these enhancements useful.

Showcase a Teacher Profile
Teachers can create a profile and endorse other Knowmia teachers. Profiles will be used to describe you to all students and other teachers who are using Knowmia. It’s also a way for the Knowmia community to see all of the great lessons teachers have created. Click here to learn more: Knowmia Blog

Build Interactive Assignments
Teachers can use the Assignment Wizard to create assignments that include video lessons, slides and questions for your students. Most importantly, they can monitor your students’ progress in real-time, assess comprehension and provide them with feedback. Click here to learn more: Knowmia Blog

Empower Students to Benefit from Our Free ToolsStudents can now use the free Knowmia Teach iPad app to create video projects and demonstrate what they’ve learned. Student lessons are completely private and secure. Click here to learn more about student content:Knowmia Blog

Coming soon! Students will be able to register for an account without an email address. Click here to learn more:

PlayScience II: iPad App for the Science Classroom

PlayScience II is an interesting iPad app that covers all essential topics in Grade 2 Science, such as Plants, Animals, Earth, Weather & Sky, Matter and Motion & Energy. It also has several activities such as a memory game, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords etc. along with animations, voice over and interaction that make learning fun for children. Because it caters to the entire Grade 2 syllabus, it can be used by parents to complement what their children learn at school or can be used by elementary teachers in their classrooms. The app does not require internet connection, and can be used anywhere - at home or at school. The makers of PlayScience II currently offer a "Lite" version for free and the paid version for $7.99.

For more information about PlayScience II check out them out in iTunes here.

PlayScience II Interface

Spellex Offering New Speech Recognition Solutions for Dragon Dictation

Spellex Corporation has announced the release of a powerful dictionary enhancement for those who use Dragon Naturally Speaking software. With this enhancement, users can easily dictate and correctly spell in the healthcare, legal, and bioscientific fields as well as with engineering words and phrases.

According to the company, the benefits of their dictionary enhancement product includes:
  • It allows users to update standard English speech vocabularies with comprehensive medical, legal and/or bioscience vocabulary dictionaries.
  • It increases user accuracy while saving time and enhancing efficiency.
  • It is effective for both the student and the seasoned, experienced professional.
  • It allows users to more easily create professional looking documents.
  • I allows users to verify both the common English language and specialty terms simultaneously.
  • Finally, it is compatible with both Windows and Mac speech recognition programs
According to Spellex, their product is available in 3 editions:

Spellex Dictation---Medical:  It provides a medical enhancement for your speech recognition software and includes more than 70 medical specialties to correctly dictate medical and pharmaceutical words with far greater speed and accuracy than previously.

Spellex Dictation---Legal: It is a legal terminology add-on to enhance your favorite dictation software. You can accurately dictate thousands of legal terms from 35 legal specialties varying from Administrative law to Wills and more.

Spellex Dictation---BioScientific: It is a bio-science enhancement for your speech recognition software. You can quickly and accurately dictate thousands of bio-scientific words covering more than 50 different bio-science, physical science, engineering, and technology fields.

For those seeking to expand the capability of expanding their Dragon Dictation software, this sounds like an excellent solution.  To request product information, contact Spellex Corporation at 800-442-9673 or 813-792-7000. You can also visit

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What to Do When Facing the Stress of a New School Year

“The Sacred Pause is the practice of creating a moment to respond more consciously---such as by breathing, attending, waiting, and considering things objectively---before reacting.” Lama Surya Das
In the rush of beginning a new school year as an administrator or a teacher, it is so easy to get caught in the busyness and bustle of all the things that need to be done. I confess, I find myself becoming frazzled and short-tempered in those moments at year’s beginning when I am faced with what seems like a thousand choices and decisions to be made at once. For example, ten parents send you emails wanting their children’s schedules changed, even though those changes are nearly impossible due to full classes. Someone from the central office sends multiple reminders to complete a survey that you've yet to find time to complete. The custodian rushes in and asks when you are going to order more paper towels for the third of fourth time. The cafeteria manager calls and wants to know when you are going to get the lunch count to them. And so goes the list of demands of a typical day as administrator. It is too easy to let the frustration take hold and become angry, yelling, “Hold on, there’s only one of me. I’ll get to it as soon as I can!”

It is in these times, practicing what Lama Surya Das calls the "Sacred Pause” becomes a key to making sure that instead of reacting with anger, that you’ll later regret does not happen, your respond with wisdom and understanding. Practicing the “Sacred Pause” will ensure that you give yourself time to become fully conscious of what is happening now so that your response is wise and in line with current reality.

How do you practice the “Sacred Pause?” Here's my version that I've found helpful, but obviously not foolproof.

1-Begin with the intention and commitment to work by being present and mindful of your actions. Commit to being present as much as possible. Of course, when you slip up, don’t bash yourself for messing up. Just return to your commitment to acting and working mindfully.

2. Be aware of when the stress level starts rising and pause to breath deeply, counting your breaths for a few moments. This action will start to move your attention away from the stories your mind is creating around the stress, and refocus it on the now. You don’t want to make decisions based on the “stories” your mind creates, so breathing takes you out of the those stories and brings you back to the moment.

3. Once you’re back in the present, acknowledge and accept your emotions of stress and frustration. It is OK to feel all of these things. They are not a sign of things gone bad. They are part of the business of being a school leader. Give yourself permission to feel frustration and stress; just do not engage in all the stories surrounding those feelings.

4. Finally, once you feel back in the present, “engage the next moment without an agenda.” This means responding by using all your wisdom and understanding, instead of reacting out of anger and frustration.

In these busy times at the beginning of the year, one does not have to be Buddhist to recognize the need to practice the “Sacred Pause.” Practicing the "Sacred Pause" will mean the difference between making a bad situation worse, or engaging life with wisdom and understanding.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Here's Some Wise Advice for the New School Year for All Educators

Sometimes there is nothing to add to the wisdom offered by others. I have been reading The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out by Ogyen Trinley Dorje. In this book he offers this advice to us about our livelihoods or jobs. I think this wisdom can go a long way to helping us keep ourselves centered and focus on what really matters.
"Whatever work you do, you have to give yourself opportunities to just be. Even if it is only once a day, you should find a moment to just be yourself in the course of each day. This could be through a short period of meditation or quiet reflection in the morning or in the evening, or in whatever way best suits you. The point is to reconnect with yourself. Otherwise, the whole day you are running around and busy, and it is easy to lose yourself. To guard against this, you should make efforts to return to yourself and recollect what is essential for you."
As you begin this new school year, take time to reconnect with who you are and why you do what you do. Wise advice for the new school year.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ASCD Welcomes New Teachers and Offers List of Educational Resources

ASCD, welcomes new teachers to the education profession and offers a variety of educational resources to ease new teachers into the teaching profession. 
“As a former teacher myself, I remember vividly the concerns and questions I had when embarking on my first year of teaching,” said Dr. Gene R. Carter, executive director and CEO of ASCD. “This is why we here at ASCD are committed to providing educators the tools they need to thrive this upcoming school year, and throughout their years as educators.”
Here’s a big list of resources that ASCD offers new teachers.

Complete Reading Assignments at Home
ASCD Books – ASCD has hundreds of books that address the biggest topics in education. For example, Robyn Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students shows how any teacher can become a master teacher and presents seven principles for getting started.    
ASCD SmartBrief – Sign up for this free daily e-newsletter that provides a briefing on the top stories in K–12 education, including policy issues, ASCD resources, and education employment opportunities.
Educational Leadership magazine – Written by educators for educators, this summer’s free online-only issue, “Reflect, Refresh, Recharge,” is intended to help teachers plan the upcoming school year. In addition to in-depth articles, readers will find video segments from ASCD authors. Educators can also download the new EL app from iTunes, Google Play, or the Amazon Appstore.

Continue Learning with ASCD’s Professional Development Tools
PD In Focus® – The award-winning PD In Focus online application provides educators around the globe with anytime access to high-quality, on-demand professional learning videos that show effective teaching in action. For new teachers, this platform provides instant tips and assistance through hundreds of videos, including, “Differentiated Instruction,” “Understanding by Design,” and a series on the Common Core State Standards.
Webinars – ASCD’s webinars provide free ongoing learning for new teachers by bringing in education experts to talk about timely topics, such as Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning strategies, and closing the achievement gap. Each webinar is archived so educators never have to miss a topic and can access the large catalog of past webinars. Educators can also access ASCD webinars through the association’s iTunes U Channel by searching “ASCD” on iTunes.
EduCoreTM – This free online resource portal has materials intended to build teachers’ knowledge around the Common Core State Standards. Here you will find current, relevant, and evidence-based tools and professional development to smooth your transition into a new era of teaching and learning.

Join ASCD in the Blogosphere
ASCD Inservice – As ASCD’s official blog, Inservice stimulates conversation by covering the biggest topics in education today and offers insights, information, and resources that empower educators. Readers will find policy updates, details of conferences, guest posts from education experts, and more.
ASCD EDge – Join ASCD’s free social networking tool and connect with friends, colleagues, peers, and mentors. This award-winning platform gives educators opportunities to network with colleagues through groups, join professional learning communities, share photos and videos, and read influential blog posts from other ASCD EDge members.
Whole Child Blog – The Whole Child Blog helps educators ensure that each child, in each school, and in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. New teachers can benefit from the free resources, contributions from experts in education and ASCD staff, examples of what a whole child approach in education looks like, and more.

Connect with ASCD via Social Media
Twitter – Connect with @ASCD and fellow educators on Twitter. Stay up-to-date with education happenings in real time through articles, blog posts, videos, and more.
Facebook – Like ASCD’s Facebook page to continue the conversation and connect with fellow educators through ASCD’s posts.
Pinterest—On this visual social network, you’ll find informative infographics, inspiring quotes, ASCD book recommendations, education technology tips, and more.
ASCD provides expert and innovative solutions in professional development, capacity building, and educational leadership essential to the way educators learn, teach, and lead. Like ASCD’s resources? Become a member and gain full access to all ASCD has to offer.
For more information on ASCD’s programs, products, and services, or to join, visit

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bloomboard: Free User-Friendly Teacher Observation-Evaluation Web Tool

One of the hottest topics in educational leadership right now is teacher evaluations and observations. Finding an effective tool to do this is problematic, especially when trying to find the right solution that gives teachers the right kind of feedback and support. Some states, like my own, have custom-designed observational tools already in place, but I am sure there are school leaders looking for tools to collect teacher evaluation data. BloomBoard is a answer for those looking for such an observational tool, and best of all, it is now free and used by over 100,000 educators.

In a recent post on the blog Getting Smart, BloomBoard is described as a tool for providing “school districts and states with user-friendly tools to collect educator effectiveness data---and then recommend personalized training for each teacher based on his or her particular professional needs.” BloomBoard is an observational-evaluation tool that allows school leaders to identify teacher weaknesses and then provide customized support to help that teacher improve.

BloomBoard Interface

I recently took BloomBoard for a trial spin, and here’s some of the positive features I immediately noticed:
  • Simple to use interface. Some evaluation software, in its zeal to provide users with tons of options, makes the user interface complicated and non-intuitive. Not so with BloomBoard. Upon logging in, the interface is sleek and intuitively simple to use.
  • There are options to sign in as an administrator, instructional coach or teacher.
  • The learning curve for BloomBoard appears to be quite simple. Those who consider themselves “technologically challenged” will find this software easy to use.
  • Best of all, once the observation is complete, the administrator is provided with a page full of resources to address specific needs identified.
BloomBoard is a solution that school leaders will find quite useful in helping teachers grow in their practice. If North Carolina did not have a state mandated solution, I could positively see using BloomBoard to help teachers grow professionally.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Brickflow: Interesting Web Tool for Turning Social Media Content into Visual Stories

As educators and administrators, we are always looking for new web tools that have the potential allow our students new ways of creating and publishing content. Brickflow is an interesting, new tool that allows users to turn social media content into slideshows, and is now available for free trials.

Brickflow is an interesting, new web tool that allows users to turn social media content into visual stories. It also allows users to create a slideshow based on a hashtag. The creators of Brickflow say creating content is as easy as playing with Legos. After toying with their interface, I would say I agree.

Story-creation on Brickflow begins with a zooming whiteboard interface and content is assembled by simply dragging building blocks of content components next to each other. Additional content can be added from sidebar selections that include being able to add additional hashtag content, your own content, and designated favorites. The sources of content are: Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.

Brickflow provides teachers and students another tool for assembling content to create visual stories. To check out Brickflow and to sign up for a free account, visit their web site here: Currently, Brickflow is entirely free without limitations.

Here's an experimental Brickflow mix I created.

As you can see, once the presentations are created, they can be embedded into your blogs as well. For those teachers seeking additional ways for students to assemble and present content, Brickflow is an option.

Making Better Decisions as School Leaders: Fighting 4 Villains of Decision-Making

Are you faced with making a major decision or decisions as the school year begins? In our educator roles, the excitement and anticipation of the new year comes packaged with anxiety and worry about decisions we face. Being "decisive" means making the right choices in these situations, and authors Chip and Dan Heath offer school leaders just the right advice on how to be decisive in their new book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. It is must-have addition the library of anyone tasked with making significant decisions for their school or district.

According to Chip and Dan Heath, what complicates our decision-making are what they call "The Four Villains of Decision Making." These four villains are:
  • Narrow Framing: According to the Heaths, narrow framing is "the tendency to define our choices too narrowly, to see them in binary terms."  This narrowing of options is automatic and causes us to fail to see options that might be better than the ones currently in our "spotlight."
  • Confirmation Bias: According to the Heaths, confirmation bias is "probably the single biggest problem in business. It causes even the most sophisticated to get things wrong." In confirmation bias, we seek information that bolsters our current beliefs, which causes us to fail to see perfectly valid information that might help us make better decisions.
  • Short-Term Emotion: The villain "short-term emotion" is simply when we allow our impermanent, short-term feelings influence our decision-making. This villain causes us to make rash decisions that often make situations even worse.
  • Overconfidence: The Heaths say overconfidence is when we "place too much faith in our predictions." "People think they know more than they do about how the future will unfold." The truth is, as the Heaths point out in their book Decisive, people are more often wrong in their predictions than they are right, yet we display overconfidence in how we think things will turn out.
How can we minimize the effects of these four "villains of decision-making?" What are some strategies to ensure that we can counteract them? According to Chip and Dan Heath, there are groups of strategies that can help. Their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is full of strategies that they group together under the acronym WRAP. The letters WRAP stand  for the following groups of strategies:

Widen Your Options: These are strategies designed to get you to look for options you are missing due to narrow framing. Strategies suggested by the Heaths include: multitracking, finding someone who's solved your problem, laddering, and looking at analogies from related domains.

Reality-Test Your Assumptions: Because confirmation bias causes us to look for "skewed, self-serving information" we need strategies to counteract that bias. According to the Heaths, those strategies include: asking disconfirming questions, zoom out/zoom in, and "ooching."

Attain Distance Before Deciding: To counteract the villain of short-term emotion, they suggest a group of strategies that help you attain distance before deciding. These strategies include: shifting perspective, 10/10/10, or clarifying core priorities.

Prepare to Be Wrong:  As an antidote to overconfidence, the Heath's suggest three strategies: prepare for bad outcomes(premortem)  and good outcomes (preparade), look at what would make you reconsider your decision, and set tripwires to trigger attention.

Chip and Dan Heath's book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, methodically takes readers through these groups of strategies with clear descriptions and lots of informative examples that help you make much better decisions by defeating the four villains of decision making. It is the straightforward advice we've come to expect  from the same authors of the books Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

ASCD PD Opportunities For Educators Heading Back to School

As students head back to school for the start of the 2013–14 school year, ASCD—the international education association—offers a new selection of professional development opportunities to enable educators at every level to support the success of each learner.

New professional development opportunities include

ASCD Arias (publications): Educators are encouraged to pick up all of ASCD’s new short-format publications. These convenient and succinct publications offer the expertise of education thought leaders, experienced practitioners, and researchers. Each Arias title is 48 pages in length and will answer a crucial and timely “How do I…?” question. ASCD Arias contains original, standalone content that can be read in one sitting and then immediately applied to practice. The first four publications in the imprint are Fostering Grit by Thomas R. Hoerr; Teaching with Tablets by Nancy Frey, Alex Gonzalez, and Douglas Fisher; Grading and Group Work by Susan M. Brookhart; and The 5-Minute Teacher by Mark Barnes. All titles will be released in August 2013 and are available now for pre-order in print ($12.99) and e-book formats ($6.99).

ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership (event): On November 1–3, 2013, join ASCD in in Las Vegas, Nev., for the 2013 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership. The conference promises to guide educators of all levels to add new ideas to their leadership knowledge base, focus on what matters most in leadership, and connect them with global education leaders. The conference will feature more than 90 sessions, including three General Sessions: “Leading with the Brain in Mind: Five Approaches to 21st Century Leadership” with Eric Jensen; “College and Career Readiness: What We Know, What We Can Do” with David Conley; and “Passion-Driven Leadership: A Commitment to Student Success” with Salome Thomas-EL.

Closing the Attitude Gap by Baruti Kafele (book): As educators head back into the classroom, ASCD encourages them to pick up this motivational guide for all educators of underperforming students, Closing the Attitude Gap. This new book by Baruti Kafele, available now for pre-order, helps readers understand how to achieve remarkable results by zeroing in on their attitude toward students, their relationship with students, their compassion for students, the learning environment, and cultural relevance in instruction. “Before we can close the achievement gap, we must close the attitude gap and help all students develop a foundational ‘attitude of excellence,’" explains veteran educator Principal Kafele. Known nationally for his success turning around Newark Tech High School in New Jersey and his ASCD best-seller, Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life, Kafele continues to pursue his mission to help all learners succeed with this practical and inspiring book.

Additionally, ASCD’s blog Inservice will be featuring “Back to School Week” August 19- 23. Visit during back to school week for advice and information relevant to the beginning of the school year from ASCD’s leading voices.

ASCD is the global leader in providing programs, products, and services that empower educators to support the success of each learner. Enjoy ASCD’s resources? Become a member. ASCD membership offers more information and ideas about learning and teaching than any other single source. Multiple membership levels offer an increasing number of valuable benefits and resources, including online membership.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New ClassDojo Sharing Feature Allows Teacher Collaboration to Improve Student Behavior

"New feature allows teachers to collaborate around students’ behavioral and character development and improve behavior consistently across the school day"
Today, ClassDojo, the free behavior management platform for teachers, students and parents, is launching ‘Class Sharing’ feature: the ability for teachers to share their classes with other teachers at their school. This enables teachers to collaborate in order to build positive behaviors and character strengths with their students across classrooms, through the school day. This is the first step towards helping teachers break down the walls separating their classes, and providing them the easiest way to consistently improve behavior with students as they move through classes during the school day.

The company is offering a limited number of ‘early-access’ slots, which teachers can get here:

ClassDojo’s ‘Class Sharing’ feature delivers on teachers’ most requested update: collaboration with other teachers across classrooms. ClassDojo was initially designed to allow a teacher to build positive behaviors in a single classroom; the team then discovered that teachers also wanted to work together on growing their students’ behavior. With this newest feature, several teachers in one school can now collaborate around a class of students to deliver consistent experiences that emphasize building positive behaviors and character strengths like like participation, hard work, persistence, curiosity, risk-taking, and helping others. Teachers can now let other teachers provide feedback to their students by giving them ‘full access’ to the class; alternatively they can provide each other ‘view only’ access if they just want to share progress reports.

“Real-time reinforcement of positive behavior, especially when provided consistently by all the people who care about a student, influences future behavior and makes a lasting impact on a child’s development,” says Sam Chaudhary, a former teacher and co-founder of ClassDojo. “We've seen tremendous results as a stand alone teacher tool, and are excited to add to that success with increased collaboration across whole schools. When a student leaves a classroom, it’s not just that teacher who cares about their development, there are other teachers, administrators, and parents who want to be involved. We’re trying to bring all of these people together.”

Sign up for ClassDojo:

ClassDojo’s mission is to address the ‘other half of education’ that goes beyond just building good test scores, to actually helping students develop the character strengths that are essential for lifetime success. The company is a graduate of the ‘Y-combinator for education’, ImagineK12, and is now one of the fastest growing education startups in history.

Thanks, ClassDojo for providing the information regarding this update.

Reminder in Midst of the Negativity in Education About What's Important!

Most of us have repeatedly been reminded by the media and politicians about how bad the state of education is in our country. They've blamed teachers. They've blamed teacher-education programs. They've blamed administrators. Usually, those who make those inferences base them on test scores, which we all know is only a small piece of what we're really about as teachers. In case you're feeling a bit down about what you do as a teacher and educator, perhaps this will provide you with a bit of an uplift in spirit. This video from the New York Times reminds us what is really important in teaching and in life.

Is Your School or District Ready for PBL? 12 Deep Changes Needed for Implementation

"Schools must embrace a new pedagogy today that will engage 21st century students and enable them to acquire and master 21st century skills. Once they embrace the necessary changes in pedagogy, they realize the need for change in the physical learning environment." Bob Pearlman, "Designing New Learning Environments to Support 21st Century Skills"
In response to the Common Core State Standards many school districts and schools are discussing moving toward 21st century models of instruction like Project-Based Learning and other forms inquiry-based teaching and learning. The problem is, if school leaders do not ask the right questions and do not commit to deep changes in how their schools currently look and operate, attempts to move to a transformative pedagogy like PBL is going to be for naught. Project-Based Learning is not a teaching strategy that can be effectively "bolted" on current or existing school structures and operations. For it to be successful, there needs to be some fundamental deep changes in both thinking and in the way schools carry out the business of teaching and learning.

What then, are those deep, underlying changes that need to be considered to move a school or district to an effective project-based learning model? While these are mostly based on my personal observation and reading, Project-Based Learning is a type of "personalized learning" which means it is at its core in direct conflict with the standardized, one-size-fits-all model of schooling we call the :factory model of education." Simply put, you can't successfully implement Project-Based Learning by bolting it on top of a factory model.

Deep Changes Needed for Effective PBL Implementation

1. There has to be a fundamental and deep change regarding what teaching and learning looks like. At the school level this means that teaching can no longer be seen as "imparting knowledge" or "subjecting students to learning treatments." Learning is no longer viewed as something to which students have done to them. Instead, teaching is more about coaching, guiding, and personalizing learning experiences. Learning is more student-centered and student directed. Students have more choice and freedom in what kinds of content they explore and in how they demonstrate their learning. Everyone, from the superintendent down to the classroom teacher assistant must see teaching and learning differently.

2. There must be a deep and fundamental change in the role of the teacher. Teachers in PBL schools do not see themselves as "imparters of knowledge." They take on the role of "facilitators" of learning. They basically have to turn over most of the work of instruction and learning to students. They give up the role of chief information officer in their subject areas. There is little room for "professors" in the PBL classroom. Becoming a facilitator and guide means letting go of the image of the teacher as expert.

3. The way classrooms are designed and laid out must be reconsidered. Classrooms with desks neatly arranged in rows with a teacher desk at the front are not functional in PBL classrooms. Classrooms laid out in this manner communicate clearly who's in control of the learning. It may be efficient for factory-model learning processes, but the PBL classroom requires flexibility. Students seated at tables for collaboration purposes are a must. Free aisles for movement as students move about the room are necessary. Ample technology needs to be available as well. Move the computers out of computer labs and into the hands of students and in the classrooms. Furniture that can moved and arranged easily is a must in a PBL classroom. Spaces devoted for student meetings and conferences as well as independent work areas are needed. Rethinking how space is used in a PBL school is a must.

4. The concept of using predominately "seatwork" must be abandoned. PBL requires students to move about the entire campus and beyond. Students need to be able to go to the school courtyard to shoot scenes for a video. They need to be able to walk down to the mayor's office in town to interview her about an issue they are researching. They need to be able to get in their car and drive to the local history museum to view an exhibit. Seatwork, by its nature, is designed to keep students sitting in their seats quietly. As Ron Nash puts it, we need give students "feetwork" not "seatwork" in our PBL classrooms. Learning in the PBL classroom is not a spectator sport.

5. The whole idea behind "seat time" or having distinctive "blocks of time per subject" must be modified. The old equation 1 hour = adequate learning or 2 hours = even more adequate learning needs to be abandoned. PBL sets the conventional and long-held wisdom that learning happens only in classrooms on its head. Learning happens where students are and what students are engaged in. Classrooms are no longer the centers of learning in our students' lives. The idea that students must sit in biology for 90 minutes every single day to learn is no longer true, if it was ever true. The idea of seat time simply betrays the thinking that learning is something students must be subjected to rather than something they engage in. PBL is about engaging in learning personally, not sitting in a desk, having  it imparted to you in prescribed, discrete time period every day.

6. School operations and procedures and rules must be modified. To put it simply, PBL implementation plays havoc on the classical orderliness of a school. When students are engaged in projects, they are potentially everywhere on campus. They may be off campus shooting video of an interview with a local CEO, or they may be in the hallways rehearsing a skit or play they have written. Rules like students must remain in their seats until the bell rings are ridiculous in PBL classrooms. Rules such as students can't leave campus during the school day are obstacles to powerful project-based learning. The ways schools operate under PBL must be modified and the rules must be examined and modified to allow for the often messy and chaotic nature of learning under the PBL model.

7. Efforts must be made to demolish traditional boundaries of subjects and grade levels. In high school this means the death of organization by departments. PBL by subjects and by departments falsely compartmentalizes knowledge. In the real world, when workers solve problems, they work interdisciplinary. Solving a town water problem is never just a science problem; it is also a civics problem, a communications problem, and most likely a math problem. Schools adopting PBL must be willing to dissolve departmental and subject boundaries. Traditional high school teachers must give up their turfs and kingdoms and work collaboratively across subject areas. In elementary schools, the idea of devoting time to subjects needs to be abandoned in order to focus on projects that have no subject-area boundaries. In PBL school knowledge is not falsely compartmentalized by subject area.

8. The idea of having one set schedule for all students needs to be reconsidered. Schedules with ringing bells are fossils from the factory model of education. Yes, they do efficiently move students about the building during the school day, but too often they sacrifice effectiveness for efficiency. The whole idea of a discrete schedule for all students all the time can hamper or restrict PBL implementation. Students must be able to leave campus to visit museums, places of business, and governmental centers. Schedules most be modified to allow for learning to extend beyond the classroom walls. To do this, the whole idea of static schedules needs to be re-examined.

9. Administrators must be more tolerant and willing to encourage much risk-taking. PBL requires teachers to be willing to give up a great deal of control over student learning. School leaders must be willing to allow teachers to experiment and explore too. Administrators who try to exert too much control over the immediate environment of the school stifle true exploration. It comes down to the question of whether the desire for strict orderliness outweighs the value of the learning experience. For PBL to thrive, school leaders must be willing to let go of their desire to control everything too. Mistakes are causes for learning, not something to be avoided. Administrators in PBL schools must change their desire to control what is essentially a very messy learning model, yet still maintain safety and operational effectiveness.

10. Teachers must move to interdisciplinary, collaborative learning communities. PBL requires teachers working together. Planning projects effectively forces teachers to work together. They must be willing to use processes like "critical friends" to obtain feedback on their project plans. In a PBL school, teachers must be willing to give up ownership of both time and space. Students in their classes may need to go down the hall and work in a lab or down the street to city hall. Teachers may also need to allow students in their classes throughout the day. Implementing PBL requires collaboration among all staff, including those in the central office.

11. Professional development in PBL is not a one-time, sit-and-get endeavor. It must be embedded, consistent, and perpetual. I fear those talking about implementing PBL are thinking about subjecting entire schools or even their entire districts to PBL training and then calling it a day. Or, even worse, they subject all teachers to the training, provide administrators with "gotcha" lists to then go out to the classrooms and force teachers to engage in PBL. To truly move to PBL requires buy-in. It takes time and lots of support. Teachers must be provided with all the materials and resources needed to effectively implement. School leaders must be willing to provide ample time for common planning during the school day and school year. Professional development must involve a  long-term commitment to provide constant and ongoing training during an implementation period and beyond.

12. Schools and school districts must be flexible. Public schools in the United States in my experience aren't known for being flexible institutions. They demand conformity, not creativity. They demand adherence to policies and rules, often at the very expense of the teaching and learning. Sure, schools as institutions need policies and rules, but these should never exist for their own sake. They need to be flexible to meet the fast-changing environment that is fostered when schools truly move to a 21st century learning model like PBL. Forcing PBL instructional models on inflexible institutions will not work.

Those schools and school districts thinking they can just "bolt" Project-Based Learning onto their existing structures and existing operations are doomed to making the same mistake those who advocated and pushed for the "Open Schools" concept in the 1960s. They built enormous buildings with classrooms without walls and simply put teachers, teaching the way they always have into these spaces and told them to get at it. Naturally it failed. They did not seek fundamental changes to how teachers engaged in teaching and students engaged in learning. They did not change their own deep understandings of how learning should happen in those spaces. If schools are going to successfully implement PBL, they must be willing to engage in a deep rethinking about education and how it is carried out.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

6 Practices for Creating a 21st Century Engaging Classroom

“Teachers who are willing to experiment and take risks on behalf of kids are in a much better position, regardless of their age, to meet their students where they are, and my experience is that students appreciate the effort.” Ron Nash, From Seatwork to Feetwork: Engaging Students in Their Own Learning
A new school year is upon us, and the decisions we are making now as educational leaders and classroom teachers will determine whether our students are engaged learners, or are passive learners. In other words, our decisions now will determine whether education is something we do to our students or whether education is something into which we actively engage them. The time for "Planning for Student Engagement" is now.

As you and your teachers ponder questions like:

  •  How do I arrange my classroom or classrooms this year?
  • What kinds of technologies will I use? 
  • What materials will I use?
here are some practices for moving your students from active to passive learning mode in the 2013-2014 school-year.

1. Rearrange your classroom to facilitate collaboration and cooperation, not conformity and standardized learning. How a classroom is arranged communicates to students what they are expected to do. It screams loudly to them if desks are arranged in rows in front of teacher’s desk, “I am the teacher, the imparter of all knowledge and wisdom, and you are my students, the receptacles of all my knowledge.” Take the time before school starts to really ponder your classroom arrangement. If you want student interaction and student-driven learning, you may want to move your teacher desk out into the hall (Just kidding. I know the fire marshal would have a fit). With your classroom arrangement, purposefully create places for collaboration and talk.

2. Change your mindset from “curriculum or content coverage” to a mindset that engages students in in-depth, relevant learning. In a test-driven school culture, it is easier to “cover content” rather than really examine what you are asking students to do and have them actively engage that content. Covering content means just that, and fosters a teaching attitude that says, "Well, I taught it; it's the kids responsibility to learn it." The trouble with that thinking is clear: no, you didn't really teach it. You covered it. Engaging students in content deeply means teaching that asks students to apply that content in some deep and meaningful way. The old factory maxim that puts students in the role of recipients of knowledge rarely is engaging anymore. Take on the mindset of engaging students in learning not covering content standards.

3. Take instructional risks this year. Don’t sacrifice creativity and innovation to obtain orderliness and conformity. Instructional risks, as Ron Nash aptly points out, are really appreciated by students. They are excited when teachers try new ways of teaching and learning, and teachers who try new ways of instruction are excited too. Recharge your classroom and your students by trying instructional methodology and pedagogy you haven’t done before. It will re-energize your teaching and your classrooms.

4. Accept that real student engagement and student learning is most often messy and chaotic. Places where students are actually engage in learning are often noisy places. At first glance, these chaotic and messy classrooms and schools don’t appear to foster true learning, especially if you view them through the lens of 20th century, factory-model education system. Laughter and loud talking are not necessarily a sign of off task behavior. Students who are engaged make a lot of noise. Don’t dampen their excitement by insisting on silence or sitting in seats. Let the messiness of true student engagement begin on the first day. Embrace the chaos and messy nature of student engagement.

5. Choose your tech tools wisely. Choose the tools that get students engaged in the learning you want them to engage in. Using technology because it allows students to engage content in new and novel and effective ways means you look for the tools that fit the kinds of learning you want students to do. Having students “Do PowerPoints” is often not an engaging activity by itself anymore, and having to sit through someone flitting through slides in monologue is even less so. Choose your tech with a eye to risk and to what you want your students to do with that tech.

6. Pay attention to relationships. Students behave better for teachers that care about them, period. They are more engaged in the learning and are more involved in classroom activities. Teachers who focus on relationships with students "teach students not math, or science, or social studies." Take some time this year to build solid relationships with your students. Doing so creates a climate of safety where risk-taking and mistake-making are acceptable.

As you plan out your school year, there are decisions that will greatly have an affect on whether your classrooms are places of engagement or places of boredom and passive learning. Perhaps these six classroom practices will help you transform your classroom into true 21st century classrooms where student engagement is the rule.