A New Kind of Gold Rush: Personalized Learning in Lindsay, California

Posts from WOL - 10 hours 45 min ago

Julius Orton was born in 1825 in Richland County, Ohio. Orton later moved to Missouri and in 1859, accompanied by his wife and two small daughters and driving a small herd of cattle west in search of gold, he settled along the Tule River southwest of Lindsay, California. Orton became a part of Lindsay history in the 1880s when he took up a 160-acre homestead, the town’s second landowner, and was credited with planting the first orange trees in the Lindsay district, giving rise to the motto, “Central California’s Citrus Center.”

Against a back drop of the Seqoia National Forest, Lindsay, California is in the the heart of the Central Valley. Though Orton hoped to strike it rich in the gold rush, historically, Lindsay gold is actually orange. The entire community is in some way connected to the orange trees grown in Lindsay and showing up in grocery stores all over the United States.

But what Lindsay is known for is changing.

In the words of Lindsay Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Rooney, Lindsay didn’t just “tweak” their education system. They “dismantled” it. What sets Lindsay apart from many districts that aspire to a more personalized learning approach is that they didn’t just talk about doing it, they did it. They asked themselves big questions (“What kind of learners do we want our students to be?”) and in the 2003-2004 school year, began implementation of a competency-based approach that has gone on to transform not only their education system, but their entire community.

Jaime Robles, Director of Human Resources at Lindsay Unified School District, insists that, “Graduating from high school is no longer the best day of their lives for Lindsay students. It is a great day, but one of many great days in their lives.”

So could it be that now, Lindsay gold is education? Visitors from around the United States make their way to Lindsay and leave in awe. A large contingent from Grand Junction, Colorado, visited recently and are now creating the platforms needed to lead the change for their learners. After their visit, a smaller group from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are hard at work figuring out how to implement competency-based education in their own community. One cannot leave the Lindsay community without thinking, “What can I do to make changes for learners?”

Perhaps personalized learning could be a modern-day gold rush.

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Want real change? Visionary leadership isn’t enough.

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-02-04 12:40

As I sat and watched the Iowa caucuses roll in, I couldn’t help but think of all the Election 2016 education policy articles I’ve been reading throughout the past month.

And there have been some good ones. Education Week’s Policy K-12 blog has a great series on the five key things you need to know about the leading candidates in Iowa.  Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire, on The 74, wrote about how Michael Bloomberg might be the education candidate we’ve been waiting for.  And Rick Hess wrote a great round-up of where the candidates stand on edpolicy.

But as the results poured in, I couldn’t help but think: “Who even knows where the candidates stand on today’s real education issues… much less the education issues we will face in the future?”

A few weeks ago, Matt Williams and I joined Greg Landsman on a Saturday morning radio show to talk about education policy. As we discussed the passage of ESSA and what it means for districts, Greg asked me what disposition is most important for a district leader to possess in order to achieve the kind of results we expect from our partner schools. The answer was not what he expected: while district leadership is crucial in creating change, a single district leader is no more important than a presidential candidate if we want that change to be sustainable.

Visionary leadership is crucial for systems change… but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
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Don’t get me wrong. Visionary leadership is important in systems change. That’s why we launched educationplaybook.com to help our presidential candidates think and crucially and talk critically about learning in a new way. But a presidential candidate or a district leader can’t single-handedly solve the problems our current education system is facing. These are wildly complicated social problems that many of us, including me, struggle to understand, much less solve. These problems need foresight, courage and collaboration throughout the system. In order to solve these problems, people from all corners of society – not just our leaders – have to be part of the solution.

We explored sustainable systems transformation in District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling Personalized Education. In order to achieve this kind of change, we need leaders from districts, higher education, business and the community, along with students, parents and the nonprofit community to come together. We need everyone’s best thinking to create the complex solutions required to fix the wildly complicated social issues we’re trying to resolve.

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Visionary Leadership in Action

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-02-03 13:47

Recently, I received this email from a colleague who leads an education nonprofit:

Hi Katie,

I’ve been madly reading and downloading the papers you suggested from the KnowledgeWorks site. A couple more just arrived in my email. The vision and scenarios make so much sense to me. Given the intransigence of systems change, particularly in education, how do you see the mechanisms for change? 

If that message had appeared in my inbox a few days earlier, my response likely would have claimed that the forces re-shaping our society are too strong even for the most established systems to resist and that change is unavoidable. I probably also would have lamented that transformational change is, in general, the result of existential threat instead of carefully designed and bravely executed action, which means we may end up with a new system that’s different, but no better, than the old one.

Instead, because of a recent workshop that Jason Swanson and I facilitated, I was able to tell him the story of a team in New Mexico that is actively working to transform its district.

‘Considering the future is part of this district’s daily work.’ #FutureEd
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Las Cruces Public Schools invited us to help their administrators deepen their understanding of the changes described in our most recent forecast and their implications for the district. The half-day workshop was optional for the staff, yet about 30 principals and district leaders chose to join us.

We detailed the drivers of change moving us toward a new era of partners in code, and they worked through how that new era might influence their district priorities, defining success and the steps to reach it. The activities sound standard, but I can assure that you the results were not. We saw visionary leadership in action.

Specifically, I saw Las Cruces’ leaders acting out John Kottner’s 8 steps of leading change and exploring the levers of change outlined in KnowledgeWorks’ “Innovating toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem,” likely without realizing it. The sense of urgency on issues such as learning structures, educator roles and human capital, and community ownership was palpable, and the workshop ended with Stan Rounds, the superintendent, inviting others to join him in a guiding coalition that would make decisions and allocate dedicated resources to make their visions for the district’s future a reality.

When Jason and I mentioned how readily the teams dove into grappling with complex issues, pushing their thinking beyond today’s realities and finding opportunities amid the prospect of turbulent change, Mr. Rounds joked that it’s probably because they hear him talk about the future all the time. In a way, he’s right. Considering the future is part of this district’s daily work, and that makes them exceptionally positioned to shape it.

The type of vibrant, equitable learning ecosystem that we envision will not occur as the result of social forces and disruptions alone. We need courageous leaders willing to engage with uncertainty and challenges, to examine their own assumptions, to hold steadfastly to values of equity and student-centeredness, and to create a culture that empowers everyone to be a decision- and change-maker. Not every district is as ready to transform itself as Las Cruces Public Schools seems to be, but anyone can begin with a simple question: What role will you play in shaping the future?

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What it Takes to Learn

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-02-01 13:24

As an educator, I never thought I would be the parent that struggled to support my own children with homework. I envisioned using my teacher tool kit to support numeracy, literacy, scientific inquiry, and strong habits of mind. Little did I know how powerful the attitude of a 6-year-old could be.

In the learning communities KnowledgeWorks supports, we discuss supporting the personalization of learning by empowering children to understand the depth of knowledge outlined in the standard. When learners understand just how deep their knowledge needs to go, they can create, present, and support a piece of evidence that proves their understanding while providing agency into how they do so.

Having served in learning communities that give children the opportunity to personalize their learning at the appropriate cognitive level in Lindsay, California and RSU2  in Maine, we’ve started to do this same work at home. The best time for my daughter and I to practice and learn together is before school as we wait for her bus. One morning as I was reviewing my day’s schedule, I noticed some huffing and puffing from my daughter. She was scratching her head in frustration as she practiced new sight words. As any good father would do, I told her to quiet down so I could concentrate. Her aggravated response to my sarcasm?

“Daddy, this is so level 2. I need to practice to get to level 3. You just don’t get it.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle.This was one of my proudest moments as a father and an educator. My 6-year-old daughter understood that to prove mastery of the standard, she had to acquire this basic set of skills and words. She was determined to persevere, and understood that this was the first step in reaching her goal – and was sure that I couldn’t possibly understand what it meant to her to achieve mastery.

With a proud smile I said, “Maya, I laugh because I get that you get what it takes to learn.”

She was not amused.

“Are you going to help me or not?”

So you’ll have to excuse me while I support my daughter, and other learning communities, in designing learning structures that empower children through competency.

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Find Your Fit in the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-28 08:59



How might you contribute to the future learning ecosystem? Time and again, KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight work invites readers to look ahead, explore possibilities, and consider what role you might play or how you might fit into the future of education.

With today’s launch of VibrantED, a simulation job recruitment site from the year 2025, that question just got a lot more personal. By highlighting fictional job announcements as if they were openings for which someone could apply, the site brings to life possible future educator roles based on our August 2015 paper, “Exploring the Future Education Workforce: New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystem.” It imagines that the learning ecosystem has expanded beyond today’s understanding of school and that educator roles have diversified to support learners in new settings and fill new ecosystem-level needs.

vibrant-ed-logoThe world that VibrantED inhabits is highly customized, highly personalized, and just might have an unexpected place for you.

Sure, you can simply scroll through the job announcements, keep an eye out for new postings over the coming months, and follow the activity of a cast of fictional characters on Twitter. But you can also find your fit in the expanded learning ecosystem by taking an interactive quiz. Might you thrive as a learning pathway designer? A social innovation portfolio director? A micro-credential analyst? A data steward?

Take the quiz to explore your fit and then check out the fake job openings associated with your ideal role. Ask yourself:

  • How might your current experience translate to the new role?
  • What new skills and competencies might you need to develop?
  • In what ways does the recommended role surprise or dismay you?
  • Is there another role that interests you more?
  • If so, how might you broaden your experience or hone how you describe it?

By providing an immersive experience of a possible future education ecosystem, VibrantED aims to spark conversation and lead to change in how we support learners. It’s one thing to read about future possibilities in a paper. It’s another thing to talk about them in a workshop, to ideate about what you think might be ideal, or to strategize about how to stretch toward new goals.

#FutureEd ‘just might have an unexpected place for you.’ @katprince
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Entering a future world can help us feel the future more directly. Immersing ourselves in future possibilities, if only for a few minutes, can help us shift our thinking and challenge our assumptions about what education has to look and feel like. It can also help us sit with both the positive and negative implications of alternative approaches to learning.

So take a moment to immerse yourself in the world of VibrantED. See what you come back thinking, feeling, ruminating on. See what new questions or new answers emerge. And most of all, enjoy your trip to 2025! Does 2016 look different upon your return?

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Todd Rose on the Myth of Average

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-22 14:42

Today, I had the pleasure of hearing Harvard Professor Todd Rose talk about the myth of average.  If you haven’t heard him or read his work, below is a video to his Ted talk.  It speaks to the teaching and learning work we do at KnowledgeWorks. Happy learning!

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An Interview with Erin Kennedy About the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-01-19 08:00

As part of my ongoing series of interviews with students about the future of learning, I sat down Erin Kennedy. Erin is in her second year at the University of Cincinnati, where she is studying graphic design in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Erin is currently a graphic design co-op with the Communications Team at KnowledgeWorks.

When you think about the future of learning, what makes you excited?

I am excited to see the role that new technology will play in the lives of students, especially when it comes to individualized learning. Hopefully in the future technology advancements will allow for more students to experience learning at their own pace.

From a current student’s perspective, what do you find the most troubling about the future of learning?

I am most troubled by the role that standardized tests and the collection of data on students may play in both their primary education as well as their potential for gaining a secondary education. As a some-what recent high school graduate I have seen and been affected by the monstrosity that is standardized testing. Many of my teachers would format their lesson plans based on what was going to be on the state-mandated test. Often times their student’s scores determine their ratings as teachers.  I have also taken both the ACT and SAT, and have both stressed and watched my fellow classmates and younger sister stress over their results. What is the impact of an education that places so much value on test scores and not the gaining or retaining of information that will benefit the student later on in life? I am concerned about how this testing mentality may evolve in the future. Will even more of our education system become based on giving learning and ability numeric values as individual data collection becomes easier to accomplish and track? My hope for the future is that the growth of technology will not take the human, non-numeric quality out of learning and education.

What do you feel is the biggest uncertainty to the future of learning?

The biggest uncertainty for me would probably be if our education system will actually prepare students for their future lives and the jobs that will be available. Technology is advancing so rapidly, and I sometimes wonder why there aren’t more classes offered for students to take advantage of the new advancements that are being made. For example, maybe a class on the understanding of computers could become a requirement for graduating high school. A basic understanding of general computer programs and coding could help students succeed in an ever-changing world that is becoming even more computer and machine oriented.

What trends do you think are influencing the future of education?

As I have mentioned, technological advancement will have a major influence on the future of education. Technology can and should change the way we learn, teach, and work.

We are currently exploring the implications of artificial intelligence in education, such as a wearable device for students that has built in AI. How do you think this might change education?

Personal, artificial intelligence devices will help the idea of personalized learning become even more of a reality. Devices like these may be able to assist in students learning at their own speed and level, and may allow teachers to better monitor their students to identify areas of weakness.

What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

Personalized learning to me means learning that is targeted towards the individual and their specific needs, interests, and learning styles. Everyone learns differently, and at a different pace, so why would we teach every student in exactly the same manner?

“Everyone learns differently, so why would we teach every student in exactly the same manner?”
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What will personalized learning be like in the future?

Hopefully personalized learning will help students become excited and passionate about learning in the future. If each student could learn subjects at their own pace, school would probably be more widely enjoyed and looked forward to by students. This development of a love of learning in students is really important, because their opinion or mentality on learning may stick with them for much of their lives. I want to see students excited about what they do and ready to learn and grow as much as possible, not dreading every day of class because they are uninterested by the material, unengaged by the class and/or the teaching style, or because the material is presented to them either too quickly or too slowly.

“I want to see students excited about what they do and ready to learn and grow as much as possible.”
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What is your own vision for the future of learning?

I would like to see an education system run by the people who understand it best and know their student’s needs: the teachers. I would also like to see an education system with minimal standardized testing and more value placed on the gaining and retaining of valuable information that can help students later on in both their professional and personal lives. Finally, I would like to see a system that places a greater importance on teaching students skills that they will need for the rest of their lives, especially when it comes to the evolution of technology. I hope to see the development of some sort of life skills course that teaches students how to pay taxes and bills, manage a budget, interview and apply for jobs, etc. A course revolving around technological advancement, computer skills, and coding would also be very beneficial.

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Education is Too Important to Gloss Over

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-15 14:23


Education made a brief appearance, a cameo, if you will, at last night’s presidential debate. As my colleague, Mary Kenkel, noted yesterday, education has been all but absent in both the Republican and Democratic Presidential Debates. In fact, there have been more than 175,000 words spoken between candidates and moderators in all of the debates going into last night. Only 64 of those words were “education.” 98 of them were “college.” Four times the word “graduation” was spoken and the term “early education” was used once. This is hardly the debate that we need in our country on such a foundational issue as education.

Last night’s discussion centered more on Governor Christie’s conservative credentials more than it did education. Senator Rubio essentially was questioning the conservativism of the Governor of New Jersey using the Common Core State Standards as a litmus test for conservatism. The Governor responded that the Common Core had been eliminated, which is only partially true. The standards are currently being reviewed which will lead to changes but the reality is that the standards will, more than likely, look quite similar. This is the same practice other states have used, e.g. IN, SC. (Check out Education Week’s PoliticsK12 blog for more insight on the Common Core debate spat.)

Was the debate on a key issue like education standards substantive? Nope. Did we dive into a vision for education? How education is a foundational to systemically solving issues such as national security, economic development and viability, immigration, or poverty? Nope. Did we hear how in a global, interconnected world we need to transform our system to not only remain competitive but lead? Nope. Did we hear about programs that the candidates have put in place in their states or through Congressional action? Nope.

Isn’t it time the candidates, in both major political parties, to address this key issue? We believe so. The issues of today are obviously pressing and consuming.  Without a robust vision for education in our nation, the bedrock for our children’s and grandchildren’s well-being, our collective future is, at best, unclear and at worst, perilous. Education is foundation for national transformation.

We, as KnowledgeWorks, are going to raise the level of debate on education in this country. Check out our website for the Education Playbook for the Next President of the United States and download our recommendations.


(Photo credit: Flickr)

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The ‘Education’ Debate Tally

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-14 15:10



So far, there have been five Republican and three Democratic presidential debates. Most of them were at least two hours; a few even lasted upwards of three hours. There were more than 175,000 words spoken between candidates and moderators.

Yet only 64 of those words were “education.”

And only 58 of them were “college.”

Only 4 of them were “graduation.”

1 was “preschool.”*

It’s time to start talking about education. It’s time to start talking about how to best prepare our students for life beyond high school – a life where many of them will be competing for jobs that have yet to be created.

175,000+ words spoken in debates, but ‘education’ has only been mentioned 64 times. @knowledgeworks.
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That’s why we launched EducationPlaybook.com. To get the ball rolling. We know it’s just the beginning. We know there is real, grassroots work to do. We know there are endless challenges in ensuring that all children have access to quality learning that supports their needs.

But we also know that we need a leader who’s not afraid to stand up to those challenges.

Join us by starting the conversation in your network. Share EducationPlaybook.com with on social media or through email. Tweet to the candidates to ask your #EdDebate questions.

Let’s join together to put education where it belongs – in the center of the debate.



*Based on keyword searches of debate transcripts thus far. The word counts include all mentions of education, while most were included in anecdotes, in minimal discussion of higher or vocational education, or in mention of the Department of Education.

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Campaigning 101: How Obama’s Education Agenda Will Impact Future Presidencies

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-13 10:10

Last night’s State of the Union address was unusually short, setting the tone for what it sure to be an underwhelming legislative year. But before we hit pause until Election Day, it’s worth a quick look back on President Obama’s two terms in office to see how it will forever change education policy in our country. What have the past seven years taught us about the next four?

Productivity is Possible with a Little Creative Interpretation of the Law

When Congress could not agree on a path forward for reauthorization of the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Obama Administration decided to write its own script. Tired of sitting on the sideline, U.S. Department of Education staff took advantage of a loosely written ESEA provision to create a comprehensive waiver opportunity that helped states circumvent many of the law’s onerous provisions. While the outcome was a mixed bag, everyone can agree that this strategy represents a new way forward for future administrations.

Trust Your Team, The Bully Pulpit is Overrated

While the President and Secretary of Education hold coveted positions, they are by no means the only players on the team. State and district leaders hold equally important positions that come with their own set of political challenges. Future administrations must respect their role, trust their input, and let them lead when it makes sense. The Obama Administration learned this lesson the hard way as it faced battles over issues such as common core standards and teacher evaluations.

Innovation is More Than a Buzz Word

The Obama Administration was remarkably successful right out of the gate with its series of competitive innovation programs including Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation program. States, districts, and education organizations catered to federal requirements in hopes of securing resources to advance their agendas. Although most of these competitive programs fell victim to politics, the spirit of innovation remains strong across the country. States are now following suit with a flurry of education innovation bills, programs, and even innovation divisions within state government. The next President should capitalize on this energy.

Education is a powerful campaign issue. Americans care about the future of their children.
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An Idea is only as Good as it’s Evidence

The best messaging and communications specialists in Washington, D.C., are no match for education media and advocates that are eager to find fault with an education proposal. The past two presidential terms are marked by negative headlines pointing to lack of evidence for key education initiatives including Obama’s teacher effectiveness proposal and his infamous school improvement models. Even recently the media is quick to point out that his victory lap over record high graduation rates is unfounded as scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) fell for the first time in two decades. Candidates and elected leaders must backup ideas with solid evidence of success.

Education is the Great Uniter

Education is a powerful campaign issue. Just ask Congressional leaders who finally passed a bipartisan reauthorization of ESEA late last year at a time when political leaders could agree on nothing – and I mean nothing. Americans care about the future of their children, the state of the economy, and their national security, and they seem to get that it’s all tied to the strength of our education system. Presidential candidates should raise the level of debate in this country by talking about education issues on the campaign trail. We encourage them to start with a quick read of KnowledgeWorks’ presidential playbook at www.educationplaybook.com for ideas and concrete recommendations to strengthen our education system for the challenges of tomorrow. A strong education platform will pay dividends in the voting booth.

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Raising the Level of Education Debate

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-13 09:27

It’s time to raise the level of education debate throughout the country. It’s time to discuss how to best educate students for life beyond high school as they enter an ever-changing, increasingly innovative, interconnected workforce where many of their future jobs have yet to be created.

It’s time to think forward. It’s time to close achievement gaps and help all students succeed. It’s time for America’s students to once again compete on an international stage.

And it’s time we ask those running for President to rise to the challenge.

This is why KnowledgeWorks created the Education Playbook for the Next President of the United States. This set of policy proposals was developed with a lens towards transforming our education system and not just tweaking the status quo. With that lens, we believe by using strategic foresight and partnering with educators in both traditional and innovative environments, we have developed five key policy proposals which drive innovation and results:

  1. We encourage support and flexibility for States that want to voluntarily develop and improve systems of competency based education. These systems, will allow students to learn and master the skills and knowledge they need to be successful through a personalized learning approach that is geared toward the needs of each and every individual learner.
  2. We recommend support for States to develop digital registries of personalized learning opportunities that utilize innovative partnerships with business and postsecondary institutions. This effort would spur educational innovation by accessing the learning and instructional power in schools, higher education, and out-of-school organizations to develop and validate successful learning opportunities and pathways to college and career readiness.
  3. We recommend support for partnerships of States and institutions of higher education to improve certification and develop a new pipeline of educators that can implement personalized learning approaches. This will harness the educational power across the spectrum, from community volunteers to full-time classroom teachers.
  4. Our nation’s federal student aid system should be redesigned to pay for the actual acquisition and demonstration of knowledge and skills, not simply covering the costs of credit hour courses that may not lead to any actual learning. This approach would allow students to access their total amount of Federal aid at any time during their academic careers, allowing them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the workplace at a pace that works for them.
  5. We recognize the need to support a new approach to investing in education technology through a competition to spur new ideas and approaches. This support can incent technological innovation away from simply digitizing print media, and instead focus on new ways to impact learning.

I invite you to engage with us and with our Education Playbook and spread the word if you’d like. Join the conversation using #EdDebate and visit www.educationplaybook.com to learn even more.


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Beef with Grit(s)

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-08 13:35

I have to admit, I came up with the title “Beef with Grit(s)” before I came up with the content for this post. I actually came up with the title about a month ago, when I decided it would be great to write about why I struggle with prioritizing student “grit” in the classroom. But then I got distracted, forgot to write the post, and was left nothing but a catchy title.

Does that mean I don’t have grit? Let’s check. As published in a recent Atlantic article, a student’s level of grit is often gauged by using prompts like “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones,” “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one,” or “I finish whatever I begin.”

If the quality of my grit is based on the first two questions, I severely lack it. I’m easily excited by new ideas, as evidenced by the 27 tabs I currently have open on Chrome to read.

I’ve always considered myself a rather driven person, but I’m never quite sure where that drive is going to lead me… in other words, I change my mind. Is that so bad? To some people, it is. But this is where I have privilege. I would argue that because of my race and class, society is set up for me to succeed, which allows me some leeway. I have grown up with support systems that keep me moving ahead, who understand that, though I may come up with a title and forget about the post for an entire month, I am adding value to work and relationships in other ways Not so coincidentally, this same privilege and support has enabled me to develop grit over time. (More exploration on that in a future post.)

When we talk about having grit, or not having grit, in the classroom, we often prioritize it as a one-size-fits-all concept. We are imposing middle class, “bootstraps” values for diverse student bodies that include student with myriad abilities, some of which don’t include sitting still at a desk and completing a project start to finish no matter the struggle.

When we talk about grit in the classroom, we often prioritize it as a one-size-fits-all concept.
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We also easily leave behind children who come from different cultural perspectives. For instance, some cultures value community over individuality. If a student wants to work in a team and let others lead, they may not have “grit” the way it is defined now. Does that mean they are a poor student? (Spoiler alert, I don’t think so.)

Many students work to overcome obstacles even before they get to school. The grit they display may look completely different than the grit prioritized in the classroom. Does the student who had to cook breakfast and dress their four younger siblings every morning, but can’t quite finish that report have less grit than the student whose mom drove them to school today and finished the report in a week? Absolutely not. So then why are we assessing them that way?

Tyrone Howard, PhD, associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA, offers alternative scaling questions that expand what student engagement means in a classroom and views the whole student at a deeper level. Some of his scaling questions include, “I always have bus fare to get to school.” “Whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor.” “I have at least one teacher who cares about me.” Dr. Howard argues heavily in favor of an academic climate that is as mindful of the prompts in the second category as much as those in the first grit scale.

As schools begin to focus more on social emotional development, it seems to me that we need a careful review of what type of social emotional learning we prioritize in the classroom. (And what policymakers determine classrooms should prioritize.)

Districts should consider perhaps personalizing social emotional development and assessment. With the reauthorization of the ESEA, schools are now measured on performance that can include school climate or engagement. There is a tie between the soft skills students learn and how they engage in school, so social emotional development should be culturally competent and personalized to reflect each student’s development.

Social emotional development and trauma-informed teaching / learning are extremely important topics to me. Here are some questions I’ve been considering as I start this blog series on the topic, and I hope they make you stop and ponder as well.

What kind of “grit” are students showing by simply coming to school? What type of resiliency are they already showing? How can practitioners (teachers, social workers, other students) show empathy around each student’s experience?

What other social emotional skills and qualities can we teach students in the classroom that help a student succeed and become an independent learner? How does grit still fit in?

How can we adjust our thinking to include a more trauma-informed approach to a student’s education? How will that affect our view of grit?

How does social emotional learning intersect with accountability systems? Is it “good” to quantify and scale social emotional development?

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Learning, CryptoEconomics & the Open Culture Movement

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-07 14:50

Imagine if students, teachers and parents could track experiences throughout the learning ecosystem, using cryptoeconomics and new blockchain database technology to continuously improve. Or if students could have access to their own universal record with comprehensive data on their educational experiences from preschool through college and beyond. And imagine if learners could use smart contracts with transportation systems, food service, and other community supports to enable them to pursue learning beyond the walls of the traditional school.

And with new encryption technology, student-level data would be protected through mathematical proofs that provide high levels of security.

KnowledgeWorks’ newest forecast, “The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code”, marks the organization’s fourth comprehensive forecast on the future of learning. Our new forecast explores what learning might be like as we transition into a new era wherein our economy, our institutions, and our societal structures continue to change at an accelerating pace.

Our new forecast seducation-blockchaineeks to imagine what learning might look like as part of this new era by exploring the future through the lens of five drivers of change:

  • Optimized Selves: Discovering new human horizons
  • Labor Relations 2.0: Negotiating new machine partnerships
  • Alternate Economies: Finding the right niche
  • Smart Transactional Models: Creating self-managing institutions
  • Shifting Landscapes: Innovating in volatile conditions


All of these drivers are equally important, with each serving in its own way to shape the future in general and the future of learning specifically. However, one driver in particular, Smart Transactional Models, feels as if it has been receiving a lot of press as of late.

In our forecast we describe Smart Transactional Models as follows:

As part of a growing open culture movement, the authority to distribute assets, access permissions, and gain rights to resources is shifting from hierarchical institutions to communities. At the same time, innovations in encryption technologies are ushering in more transparent and distributed models of structuring transactions. Together, these developments promise to reconfigure institutions by enabling both the development of flexible value webs comprised of many organizations that operate with minimal, if any, management. Smart contracts that automatically execute the terms of agreements once specific conditions are met promise to bypass layers of administration and expand possibilities for true local control of schools, school districts, and other institution.

It’s hard to read the news and not see this driver throughout the headlines.  Looking at the open culture movement, we are seeing the desire for increased transparency and access to data as reflected by sites such as Data.gov, a central repository for U.S government data and part of President Obama’s effort to create a more open government. We also see the desire for openness through concerns about data ownership  and surveillance, both at the governmental level, as witnessed by the reaction to domestic spying, all the way to the consumer level, with recent headlines about privacy fears in connection with the the high-tech Barbie, which records  the conversations that children have with the toy and sends them to the cloud, where algorithms orchestrate responses. We see similar fears about Amazon’s in-home robot, Alexa, centering on concerns about what Amazon might do with the data generated from the interactions between Alexa and its owners.

Encryption technologies, more specifically the blockchain technology being used to power the crypto-economy, are also receiving a lot of media attention. Blockchain, the digital ledger that supports bitcoin, can be thought of as a chain with many links. When a transacation is made with bitcoin, the blockchain records the transaction, creating a new link in the chain. The algorithms that run blockchain operate on thousands of computers, creating a distributed database. Because the transactions are recored as a chain, the data is unmutable. Blockchain has been the subject of countless articles ranging from speculation to its use in voting; to the creation of self-managing organizations which require minimal, if any, human guidance;  to actual use cases of blockchain being used to verify and authenticate academic records and to create self-executing wills.

Looking across these trends, what might the Smart Transactional Models driver of change mean for the future of learning? Our forecast highlights several possibilities:

  • Learning ecosystems could make use of blockchain technology in conjunction with new data flows to allow ecosystems to improve themselves automatically and continuously.
  • A universal student record consisting of comprehensive student data could follow the learner through the education lifecycle.
  • Smart contracts that connected learners with distributed transportation systems, food service, and other supports could enable them to pursue learning experiences beyond the walls of traditional school.

As these images of the future suggest, Smart Transactional Models has the potential to make a significant impact on the future of learning by changing the ways in which we struture and manage institutions. In fact, we think that blockchain has such potential to disrupt education that we are taking a deep dive into the topic for a publication due out later this year.

In what ways do you see Smart Transactional Models affecting education? Do you think the open culture movement and innovations in encryption technologies have the potential to change learning in significant ways?


Photo credit (top): Perspecsys Photos

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5 Necessities for an Ideal High School, According to College Freshmen

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-06 09:31

If you ever want to be amazed; if you ever want to challenge your perceptions; if you ever want to think differently about learning… talk to students about what they think and wish “school” could be.

We had the opportunity to talk to some college students and pick their brains about their educational journeys so far and what they wish for future students. Specifically, we asked them questions about how they learn, what challenges students are facing today, what their ideal high school would look like, and how adults and local community members could play a role in learning.

Here are some of the ingredients for an ideal high school, according to college students:

  1. A welcoming environment. “If the school has a loving, respectful environment, chances are that the majority of students will be respectful too. I’ve seen low-income students bullied for wearing the same clothes every day, and I’ve heard teachers talk about those students and make fun of them, as well. Even though high school students are close to being adults, they still follow by example. Building a welcoming environment is one of the first and more important things a school could do to foster students who will passionately serve their community.”
  2. A focus on students’ futures beyond school. “A school should help students realize their values and guide them through their transformation into adulthood. Everyone involved needs to work to help students get where they want to go. That’s really all schools need to do. … I would want a school not to have a ‘just-get-them-out-the-door’ approach, but instead have a ‘set-them-up-for-success’ mentality toward student learning.”
  3. Opportunities for real-world experiences. “School should value opportunities beyond the classroom. In an ideal learning experience, one half of the day would be spent in the classroom learning core material and the second half of the day would be spent in the field, at an internship, co-op or something that applies the concepts learned in the classroom. I feel like this would be the best approach to fully master something.”
  4. Less importance on testing; more importance on comprehension. “We should have greater value on understanding the material than doing well on standardized tests.”
  5. Greater emphasis on working as a team. “Ever since graduating, all the work I’ve done has included teamwork. There’s a need, not only to foster this type of environment in the classroom, but also to build value and understanding for teamwork throughout the school and student body.”

What do you think? What would an ideal high school look like to you?

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Designing for Education — TapTapSee

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-01-05 09:26


Could your mobile phone be a learning tool for the blind and visually impaired? Absolutely.

KnowledgeWorks’ Jordan Crone interviews Julia Gallagher, the Community Relations Associate at the aptly named TapTapSee, a mobile camera application designed specifically for blind and visually impaired iOS users. The app utilizes the iDevice’s camera and VoiceOver functions to photograph objects and identify them audibly for the user. Just double tap on the device’s screen to photograph any two or three dimensional object at any angle, have it accurately analyzed, and defined within seconds. The iDevice’s VoiceOver then speaks the identification audibly to the user.

Read the full interview to find out her thoughts on the future of learning, designing for education, product development in the education space and the company’s roadmap.

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Working for what is right for students in Lindsay, California

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-01-04 11:34

“We don’t want a better version of bad. We want a good version of right.”

Jaime Robles said that during a recent visit to Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California. “That’s what people do. They try to improve the traditional system. As good as you can make it it’s still a flawed system. This is not about improving the traditional system. It’s about completely getting rid of it and creating a system that truly meets the needs of all learners.”

There’s been a lot of positive attention focused on Lindsay because of the changes they’ve made over the last five years to move from a traditional education system to a performance-based system, or competency education model.

This shift started with school and community leaders acknowledging what we all inherently know. Kids learn at different paces and in different ways. The traditional education system doesn’t allow much flexibility for that.

“We don't want a better version of bad. We want a good version of right,” said Jaime Robles from the Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California.In Lindsay schools, work is evaluated by performance and mastery of a subject. Students get to take ownership of their education. They move at their own pace, select projects that best fit their learning style as well as display subject mastery and know at all times not only how they’re doing in school but also what they need to do in order to make it to the next level.

“We know that ensuring that the rest of their life is the best of their life begins right there, while they’re still curious, while they still love learning, while their brains are still able to capture the growth mindset concepts, while they still can be taught to dream big,” said Robles, former Principal of Lindsay High School and currently the Executive Director of Human Resource for Lindsay Unified School District.

And so he, along with other Lindsay community leaders, parents and school staff have been working to ensure happy, successful futures for their kids.

“Whatever you choose, we’re going to make sure you have the skills to make it,” said Robles.

Learn more about Lindsay Unified School District. Find out how KnowledgeWorks can bring personalized learning and competency education to your school district.

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Designing for Education — MATH 42

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-12-28 11:24

What if there were an app that could help with math homework? K – 12 and college level math test prep? One that offered elegant, intelligent approaches to solutions presented step-by-step to accommodate every learner? These are the aims of MATH 42, an app available on iOS and, hopefully, on all platforms in 2016.

KnowledgeWorks’ Jordan Crone interviews one of MATH 42’s founders, Maxim Nitsche, who was just 15 when he and his team began development. Interested in the full story? Explore Nitsche’s thoughts on the future of learning, product development in the education space, and the company’s roadmap.

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Winter break reading list for every mood

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2015-12-22 10:55

The best part about lazy vacation days? Reading. If you disagree, I will somewhat accept Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime/name-your-favorite-platform marathons, but for the most part, I will still think you’re a little wrong. In light of compromise—hello, upcoming presidential election year—I’ve added one mini-series to my list of winter reading. While last year’s list focused heavily on education reads, this year’s list takes a broader, social policy approach and includes options for the whole family. Finally, from one book lover to (hopefully) many others, do what you do best and send me your recommendations.

If you want an education drama.

the-prizeThe Prize, Dale Russakoff

A little more than a year and a half ago, The New Yorker published a fascinating piece by Dale Russakoff on the attempt at reforming Newark’s schools, supported by Superintendent Cami Anderson, Senator Cory Booker, and Governor Chris Christie, and bankrolled by Mark Zuckerberg to a tune of $100 million. I was thrilled when I learned that she went on to publish a book on the topic earlier this year. If it’s anything like the New Yorker piece, it’s a deep dive into the background of Anderson, Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg and the circumstances that led to what many see as an epic failure.

Read if you need a refresher on how money and good intentions alone don’t transform complex systems.

If you want to challenge yourself.

between-the-world-and-meBetween the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

I first heard about Ta-Nehisi Coates when I began my long and unfinished journey into better understanding cultural competency, identity, and institutionalized racism, three areas that, interestingly enough, I anticipate are likely drivers behind the struggles seen in numbers one and three on this list. Coates’ work has challenged me and led me through some powerful self-reflection, not to mention lively dinnertime conversations. In fact, I recommend taking a time out from reading this immediately to Google any of his work. Written as a letter from Coates to his son, this National Book Award winner arrives at a timely moment in our country’s history.

Read if you want to better understand how race and identity shape our experiences.

If you want to learn about something new.

Show-Me-A-HeroShow Me a Hero, HBO

Nearing the top of my list of shows to binge watch is the six part miniseries Show Me a Hero, a miniseries set in Yonkers, New York, based on Lisa Belkin’s non-fictional book (See? Books really are where it’s at.) about the tension between a white middle-class neighborhood and a newly mandated public housing development. While I spend my days neck-deep in education policy, I also know that there are so many social policy issues that are directly linked to this field. I don’t often have the luxury of digging into the stories behind those issues, so even though this will only begin to scratch the surface of the complexity of housing policies, it’s a good step out of my edu-comfort zone.

Watch if you never thought you would willingly learn about housing policy (because if you would, you’ve probably already seen it).

If you want a feel-good story.

zen-shortsZen Shorts, Jon Muth

The last two on my list take a significant turn to the light-hearted. What’s better than a story about a panda named Stillwater gently imparting life lessons on his new neighbors? That’s right, nothing. Don’t shy away just because it’s a picture book! Back when I was teaching, I loved reading this one just as much as, if not more than, my students.

Read if you want a story about the importance of kindness and generosity that won’t get the Grinch’s theme song stuck in your head.

If you want something adorable. 

the-mittenThe Mitten, Jan Brett

Let’s be honest, this needs no explanation; The Mitten is the perfect book for winter. If you’ve read it, I’m willing to bet just seeing the cover gives you warm fuzzies. If you haven’t, just wait for the excruciating cuteness and the surprise twist at the end.

Read  if…seriously, just read it. It takes less than five minutes.


Cue the countdown and get those library holds ready for some lazy (and hopefully at least a little snowy) vacation reading!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Top 5 Things Schools Can Do to Implement Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2015-12-21 10:32

When the way we’ve done school hasn’t changed for more than a century, implementing a system as revolutionary as competency-based education, just one of the many avenues for personalized learning available to schools, can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

I caught up with Virgel Hammonds, KnowledgeWorks’ Chief Learning Officer, formerly a superintendent of RSU 2 and a principal in the Lindsay Unified School District, to pin down the five things communities can do to get started.

  1. Define what the picture of a graduate looks like in your community. Are they a collaborator? A leader? Prepared academically but also civic-minded? Chances are communities want their graduates to be all of these things, which is why it’s important to get everyone at the table to have this conversation.“Even before we start talking about competencies, we need to talk about how we’re going to support our vision for the future of education in our community as a community,” says Hammonds. “And the conversation doesn’t end there. We don’t want a strategic design binder we’re going to put on a shelf. How do we make our vision something that we live, eat, and breathe each day?” The picture of a graduate should stand behind every learning decision.
  2. Look at what’s working in the community now, and amplify it. While many districts are understandably weary of new initiatives, every district is bound to have something new working somewhere. Thinking about what’s a good fit for your community and expanding those practices will benefit everyone in the long run. Initiative fatigue is real and present in every learning community.  But  focusing on what works is critical for success. Any learning initiatives that aren’t resulting in  desired outcomes should be reflected upon, learned from, and dropped.
  3. Forget what you think you know about education. Okay, maybe not all of it. But, according to Hammonds, we all think we know what we need to know about education because we’ve lived the system. “Our traditional education model has not allowed us to think differently about how we support children, let alone do anything about it,” says Hammonds. “When we live in a world where vendors are customizing their processes to appeal to consumers, when technologies adapt to users, it’s past time to think. It’s time to act.”
  4. Develop transparent learning outcomes. Can you clearly define what learning outcomes you want each graduate to have, and at what depth of knowledge? Though Hammonds knows that this is “the hardest part” for many communities, holding your picture of a graduate accountable is vital – and holding individuals within the community accountable for supporting them is, too. Ensuring each student is held to the same standards and providing them a personalized path to achieve mastery is the key to an equitable education.
  5. Believe that a highly personalized, mastery-based education system is possible. “If we continue to think that it doesn’t exist and it’s not possible, it won’t,” insists Hammonds. “We’re surrounded by people who think it’s possible, because it is. Though it is difficult redesigning our century-old learning system, our children are worth the investment.” A majority of states allow for personalized education and flexible assessment, and powerful states where it’s happening now are engaging policymakers to see it implemented on a larger scale.

Hammonds is optimistic about the work. While he knows there are some big hurtles to overcome, the writing’s on the wall. “When push comes to shove with community members who aren’t ready to take the plunge into highly personalized learning, I ask, what do you want for your kid?” Hammonds says. “If we know that kids tie shoes and ride a bike all in their own time, why don’t we structure schools that way?”

Why, indeed.

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Discussing the Future of Learning on EduTalk Radio

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2015-12-17 12:59

KnowledgeWorks’ new Future Forecast was the focus of today’s interview on EduTalk Radio. Host Larry Jacobs spoke with Katherine Prince and Jason Swanson on the Strategic Foresight team at KnowledgeWorks about changing trends in education.

“Every few years we step back and say, ‘What are the emerging trends in the world and what they might mean for education?'” said Prince. “We really offer our forecast to the field to help education stakeholders of many kinds of roles look ahead and decide how they would like to [spearhead] the trends to shape the future, as well as be prepared for the many possible futures that could unfold.”

Some of the changes the Forecast explores are changes in teacher training, where learning occurs, how technology and humans interacts and more.

Explaining the title of this Forecast, “The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code, Swanson said, “We took the position with this forecast of really exploring the changes that are happening outside of education. The idea of “an era of partners in code” really stems from this thinking that one of the big drivers is this kind of exponential acceleration of technology, especially digital technology. This text era of human and digital co-evolution is really leading us into a whole new era of living and working.”

To learn more about the Future Forecast and the future of learning, listen to the complete interview on EduTalk Radio and download the Future Forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code.

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