Summer Camp for Educators

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-08-11 10:35

I just got back from summer camp and it was awesome! Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly summer camp, but it was close:  MasteryCon, “the ultimate K-12 event for mastery learning and formative assessment,” boasted mountains, coonskin caps, s’mores, and mastery learning sessions. I couldn’t have asked for more.

With 4 keynote presentations and over 40 information-filled sessions, I learned how teachers are using MasteryConnect to facilitate mastery learning in the classroom. I also learned how ESSA is reshaping how school districts support students and just how easy assessment building, sharing and reporting can be in MasteryConnect.

Some insights from MasteryCon that can help you develop tools and strategies for the implementation of a learner-centered classroom:

  1. Growth mindset is the understanding that the process of learning, comprehension and mastery is more important than a letter grade. Educators should focus on the processes of learning and the effort utilized by the student to achieve content understanding. Treating effort as a positive skill breeds perseverance, which ultimately creates optimism and opportunity.
  2. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) help define and create structured behavior that help resolve classroom issues and free the educator to do his or her duties. By involving students in the creation of the SOPs, the educator is generating transparency and buy-in while also giving the students a voice. The gradual release of control creates classroom accountability and accountability leads to high commitment.
  3. Learner voice and choice is at the heart of competency-based education. Learners access, engage and express learning in a myriad of different ways, so why not give students options for learning? Student agency refers to the level of control (pace, subject, approach, environment) a student has in the classroom and competency-based education is the answer to achieving higher student agency while building accountability and supporting mastery for all students.

If you would like a better understanding of what MasteryConnect is and what it can do for you, please check out the video here.

Photograph courtesy of Tearra Bobula of Carson City School District.

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Five Steps to Reimagine Your Learning System

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-08-10 08:00

The politics of a school district can be hard. The politics of merging five school districts into one? And transforming the education system to a competency-based model at the same time? Challenging for sure. But when Virgil Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer for KnowledgeWorks, shares his experience doing just that in an article for Seen Magazine, he doesn’t focus on the challenges. He sees replicable lessons. “By focusing on the local context, we can make it a reality for students throughout the country. Here are five steps to reimagine your learning system.

Hammonds shares five step to reimagine your education system:

1. Establish a vision with the community.

“The merger was the perfect opportunity to start fresh. Each community learned more about the neighboring towns and had honest conversations about their new identity as a whole.”

2. Secure commitment, not buy-in, from the larger community.

“The community needed to make that decision; in order for CBE to be successful [in the school district], it couldn’t rest only on the shoulders of our teachers and schools. Instead, the entire community needed to lift up learning, support teachers, and encourage students to learn both in and out of school.”

3. Determine expectations and outcomes.

“Clearly defined competencies gave students, parents and teachers a road map, allowing learning to be based on mastery rather than seat time.”

4. Reimagine classroom practices.

“With personalized learning, educators and students had room to innovate, collaborate and lead, which is something many of them wanted before we switched to a student-centered environment.”

5. Empower students to own their learning.

“Through CBE, learners became advocates for their work. Now, students make each competency relevant to their own interests, talk about taxonomy levels and prove their mastery.”

Get a lot more detail from Hammonds’ full article in Seen Magazine: Moving to Competency: How We did It.

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Increasing Rigor by Increasing Relevance: A Case for Making Babies

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-09 08:00

Guest post by Leigh Feguer, NBCT, a member of the Living Environment Smart Scholar Team at Schenectady High School

Let’s just say, for fun, that I stood in front of my class of ninth grade biology students and told them that in addition to notes, I am assigning three chapters in a textbook and 25 new tier 3 vocabulary words for a unit test in two weeks.  I would not be met with cheering and high fives. There are no teachable moments or memorable events in this lesson plan. I would imagine students would binge on information followed shortly after the unit test with a complete purge before the next unit.

In my fifteen years teaching in an urban public school, I have come to realize that what motivates my students each day is different. They have never walked through my classroom door proclaiming their excitement for learning the correct definition of “gametogenesis” and how to use it in a sentence. Those textbook chapters and 25 new vocabulary words would hold very little relevance for them. But because I want my class to be one the reasons they come to school each day, I am constantly challenged to increase the relevance of my lessons with the aim of having my students look forward to the experiences in my class instead of dreading the workload and demand of their time on something that they perceive as unimportant or insignificant.

“I have come to realize that what motivates my students each day is different.” #studentmotivation
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Instead of the textbook chapters and vocabulary words, I choose to stand in front of my class and tell them that over the next two weeks they will be paired up with another student “making babies.” This announcement is met with cheering, nervous energy and excitement. They are engaged, but it’s not what they – or you! – are thinking.

Over the course of a week students are assigned tasks to complete before the “baby making“ process can begin. Each student is required to develop a family pedigree using their actual family, assign genotypes for a list of characteristics and determine if the student themselves are “male” or “female” based on a simulated karyotype activity. Only after all of the tasks are complete can students produce a sex cell with their own genetic information to pass on to their child. In the final stage of this activity students combine pedigrees with their partner to simulate mating. They represent conception by combining the genes from their sperm or egg cells and through the magic of biology, they have made a baby complete with their own inheritable characteristics.

At the end of the project, students make a child complete with inheritable traits from the mother and father similar to what we would see in nature, a karyotype of the child showing the genes from each parent, a pedigree of the child with information from both sides of the family and a description from each of the parents outlining the child’s characteristics and any gene or chromosome mutations that they developed and how their life might be affected by it.

In these two weeks students meet most of the state standards for genetics, intimately learn about the negative and positive impacts of mutations in a person’s genes and confidently apply over 25 tier 3 vocabulary words. Is this a textbook approach? Not even. But because students are working with their own genetics, because the approach feels personal and allows them to make a few jokes, they don’t want to miss a single class. They also go above and beyond what’s required in class, doing research outside of the classroom and involving parents and friends in the tasks and fun.

While I believe that we should always strive to increase rigor in the classroom and appropriately challenge our students, without paying attention to relevance, lessons will not be nearly as effective. When we can engage students with activities that feel relevant and get them invested in learning, that is when we can make the greatest progress toward their understanding.

“Without paying attention to relevance, lessons will not be nearly as effective.” #EdChat
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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust a Trustless System

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-08 08:00

Recently, my colleague Katherine Prince and I had the pleasure of speaking at the World Future Society’s annual conference World Future 2016, a gathering of futurists, thought leaders, and innovators all sharing their research on the future. Our session at World Future 2016 was dubbed “The Learning Revolution,” and we had the honor of co-presenting with Dr. Parminder Jassal of ACT Foundation. Katherine and I shared our research from our most recent publication, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?,” while Dr. Jassal shared ACT Foundation’s research from the Learning Is Earning project.

Though our presentation and Dr. Jassal’s had slightly different points of focus, the common underlying theme was blockchain and education. Katherine and I explored potential impacts of the driver of change that we call smart transactional models, which considers the social trend away from hierarchal authority alongside the emergence of encryption technologies such as the blockchain. Dr. Jassal explored the potential for blockchain to help working learners record progress and earn income while engaged in learning. She also previewed Seek, a platform that promises to help learners map skills and explore careers based on their interests, education, and experiences, including hobbies and other activities.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with blockchain, it a distributed, encrypted ledger technology that tracks and verifies basic transactions. Its distributed approach to verifying transactions means that the blockchain is not reliant on a trusted third party or centralized authority to verify a transaction or grant access to resources. This makes the blockchain a trustless system. It assumes that actors will try to cheat or game it. Blockchain’s verification process means that the nodes in the network must come to a majority consensus as to the historical accuracy of the records it holds. For example, to authorize a purchase, all nodes must verify that the person wishing to buy something does in fact have the necessary funds in their account. Once there is a majority agreement, the transaction is allowed to occur, and the network records the transaction.

 Distributed authority on the blockchainFigure 1: Distributed authority on the blockchain

As our session came to a close, Katherine, Parminder, and I were asked how one would come to trust a trustless system. The answer might be deceptively simple: you don’t need to trust it.

Blockchain was designed as a sort of truth machine. Its approach to distributed authority ensures that participants cannot be cheated during the transaction process. It also makes the blockchain immutable. Because the computers involved in a blockchain network must continuously agree about the current state of the ledger, if anyone attempted to alter a transaction, the network would no longer arrive at a consensus and would reject the altered record.

This distributed approach to transactions is very different than most of the systems on which we currently we rely. The vast majority of today’s trusted systems, such as banking, e-mail, and IT systems, use highly centralized approaches to security. We see them as trusted third parties that help process transactions and keep our data secure. However, a quick scan of recent news headlines reveals that even secure, centralized systems are vulnerable, as evidenced by a New York school district’s recent hack of school records; the Panama Papers, a leak of 11.5 million files from Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm; and the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail.

Going forward, we may have to become increasing comfortable with the idea of trusting a trustless system, especially for education. Beyond simply needing more secure storage of student data, the act of learning is becoming increasingly decentralized. Schools are no longer the sole purveyors of knowledge.

As education systems attempt to keep pace with changes in learning, the blockchain could provide a new architecture for tracking and organizing learning. The distributed authority that the blockchain provides could redefine how educational organizations are governed. Being immutable, blockchain-based coordination systems could provide increased levels of transparency about how schools and other learning organizations are run and could also log and verify self-directed experiences.

To be sure, the notion of trusting something labeled as trustless feels like a leap; however, the odds that you will have to interact with a trustless system such as blockchain in the future seem high. The benefits that blockchain-based systems could provide education systems are many, and the research that KnowledgeWorks and ACT Foundation have both done merely scratches the surface of possibilities.

What possibilities do you see for applying blockchain to learning, and are they enticing enough for you to starting trusting a trustless system?

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Classroom Management: Turning a negative into a positive

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-02 08:00

Guest post by Eric Loudis, a Math Teacher at Schenectady High School

In our schools, there are always those students who stand out to us because of attention-seeking behavior. As teachers, the way we approach these students can “make or break” a class, so to speak. There is a reason (or perhaps several) why students act out in classroom and it is up to us as educators to figure out a way to bridge the gap between behavior and educational lessons.

I teach math at Schenectady High School in Schenectady, New York. Throughout the first few weeks of class each year, I aim to identify which of my students need extra help or are proving to be a challenge in the classroom so that I can make it a point to work with them on a daily basis.

As a teacher, it is important to take some time out of your day to talk with your students. Often, our students just want to feel heard. Having these discussions can give you insight as to why students are acting out or struggling in class. Talking with my students, I’ve learned that many have to babysit their siblings all night long. Some have no bed to sleep on. Some are in living situations where drug and alcohol abuse is more than common occurrence. The list goes on and on. It’s important for teachers to make connection with their students – and keep it going throughout the school year.

Following behavioral incidents in my classroom, I work with students on behavioral contracts. This has been a hugely successful method for connecting with students. Students write the contract on their own and then it is shared with all of their teachers. The contract might include terms such as being to class on time every day, not cursing in the classroom, and keeping their cell phone put away. Students complete routing slips for each class period with sign-offs from their teachers stating that they did well for the period and didn’t violate the contract. At the end of a perfect week, students are rewarded with a something like food or even a call home letting parents know about the accomplishment.

Forming personal relationships with your students can guide your classroom management and enhance your instruction. In the world of mathematics, having a negative is not always a bad thing. But in the world of teaching, finding a way to convert your negative to a positive could make all the difference.

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I received my invitation to college as an infant. Too many people never receive one at all.

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-01 10:37

I don’t remember when I was first invited to college because it happened when I was still an infant. My godmother and my grandparents gave me college bonds as gifts at my baptism. My parents started purchasing government savings bonds through a program with my father’s employer to start saving up for college tuition. There was an assumption early on that college was in my future.

My dad was a first-generation college goer and my mom didn’t attend college. They envisioned a future where attending college wasn’t a question for their child … their children. It was an assumption. And that assumption worked. All four of their children have graduate degrees. We received the invitation to college young, knew we were welcome and RSVP’d with a resounding yes.

An assumption of college going is an invitation. But sometimes the invitation is just that. An invitation.  No matter how you look at it, too many children receive neither the assumption nor the invitation, and the result is often that college is never considered a viable option.

In England, more and more children are getting an invitation to college and the results is that more low-income students there are in higher education than in the US, according to a recent article in The Atlantic.

Les Ebdon, a former university vice-chancellor now working as the National Director of Fair Access to Higher Education in England, said in the article that he sees the possibility for the same thing to happen there as happens in the US, which is that too often the least academically successful wealthy students have better college-going rates than the most academically successful low-income students. He cites the same problems affecting low-income students in both countries: “poor advising, little knowledge of the system among parents who didn’t go to college themselves, high cost, and aversion to debt.”

So what are they doing differently than us? Well, for one, they’re inviting students to college at a very young age, helping them establish early on that college can be part of their future.

Starting as early as age 9, students in England are receiving information about universities, college swag and an invitation to visit a college campus.

Peter Doyle, who is trying to get more children under the age of 16 exposed to the University of Liverpool, is quoted as saying of the visits, “It takes down barriers.”

Over and over throughout the article people reiterate this point. Being exposed to a college campus, seeing what college is all about, meeting students who are successful at college and seeing what they’re like … being invited to college – it breaks down barriers and makes college a legitimate option.

Stuart Moss shared how important is was for someone to make college a real option for him. A foster child, he thought his future was predestined to be working a trade. Then he met students at the University of Liverpool and his destiny was altered.

“‘I didn’t decide to go to university till the university invited me,” said Moss, who now is on his way to a master’s degree in mathematics. He, too, now goes out to local schools to encourage other students to consider college.”

I, like Moss, didn’t decide to go to college until I was invited. I, due to life and family circumstances, just received my invitation earlier. I love what’s happening in England because they’re negating potential barriers created by life and family circumstances. They’re leveling the playing field. They’re mailing out invitations to college to everyone.

Read the full article from The Atlantic: “Why Are More Poor Kids Going to College in the U.K.?”

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Exploring Blockchain and Learning on GettingSmart.com

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-07-29 09:15

What if blockchain could expand beyond the financial sector to help personalize learning in the classroom?

Katie King, our former graduate intern with the strategic foresight team, explored the topic in her recent guest blog on Getting Smart: “What Powers Project-Based Learning? New Technology Provides the Answer.”

“Most people think of blockchain and smart contracts as financial technologies: innovations that allow for more secure and seamless transactions around money and other assets,” she writes. “Yet some organizations are beginning to consider their potential application in education.”

Check out the blog to explore three ways blockchain and smart contracts could help power personalized learning and project-based learning.

Last month, KnowledgeWorks released a new future of learning resource that explores blockchain’s potential to impact the education sector.

The paper, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?”, considers both cultural and technological trends to explore four possible scenarios reflecting how blockchain may or may not enable new avenues for personalized learning.

It also emphasizes the need for educators and other stakeholders to think through all possible impacts – both positive and negative – blockchain and smart contracts could have on the future of learning. Bringing in the educator voice is crucial to steer the conversation about how these technologies may be developed and employed in the future.

Download the paper to explore the possibilities.

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Could Pokémon GO impact #FutureEd?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-07-28 13:40


We’re just one Pokéstop away from the future of learning.

With more than 75 million downloads, Pokémon GO has changed the way we think about and use gaming apps – and it’s potentially altered the trajectory toward the future of learning. We turned to Jason Swanson for some further insight on the gaming platform and his thoughts on how it could impact the education sector.

What is Pokémon GO? And why is it so popular for students?

Pokémon GO works on a platform most students have (smartphones), providing an activity that is gamified and project-based. This has attracted many users, as demonstrated by the number of downloads since its launch. Because it’s interactive and utilized by exploring your actual community, it has the potential to induce flow states in users, as evidenced by users crashing cars into a police car and a tree.

Ok, but how could a game like this be used in the future of learning?

Looking ahead, apps like Pokémon GO give us a glimpse into how education might leverage new digital technologies to deepen student learning and understanding. Our future forecast, “Education in the Era of Partners of Code,” examined the use of AR in what we call Learning Biomes. You might think of these as physical learning environments, such as a class room, that actually respond to the needs of the leaners who are in the room. Such environments would make use of augmented and virtual reality tools, as well as ubiquitous sensor networks that would provide feedback based on what the learner was doing, their emotional state, level engagement, etc., in order to create new forms of immersive experiences for learners.

The amazing thing about Pokémon GO is that it already has learning components embedded throughout the game. Users must navigate the world around them to participate. No longer can they sit at a gaming console in the privacy of their homes. While exploring the neighborhood and community, the app has embedded historical sites and facts, all of which are gamified in some way. This shows how the app uses augmented reality and learning overlays for that more immersive learning experience.

Are there any limitations with the app?

Pokémon GO is currently limited by issues of data caps and battery life in phones. These limitations will be corrected in time as smartphone technology improves.

Another issue with the game is data tracking, which is a big concern for the education sector. As we consider how things like Pokémon GO will be applied in learning, this will be a huge hurdle to get around. It will be necessary to create better, more clear policies about student data protection to truly utilize something like Pokémon GO in the future.

What excites you the most about this game’s potential?

Already, Pokémon GO players are gathering for meet-ups, bar crawls, picnics and more. Just last week, more than 9,000 gamers met up in San Francisco to catch and train Pokémon throughout the city.

The technology in Pokémon GO might also be used to create learning swarms, another concept we explore in the forecast. In these swarms, learners might gather together to complete a project, solve a problem, or finish a task. They could gather through GPS or user data in their phones and then disperse when finished. The technology could help leverage the human aspect of education, allowing learners to meet up and work in the same way that Pokémon GO seems to encourage strangers to socialize. For learners, this could mean more human interaction thanks to technology – rather than less. The app could curate a cognitively diverse swarm of learners, helping to expose learners to different perspectives, world views, learning styles, and backgrounds.



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Let’s Make It Count: Competency Education According to Students

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-07-27 10:02

When four groups of high school students were challenged to create an application built on the tenets of competency-based education to greater personalize learning in mathematics, they brought their A game.

Or maybe their x game? I’m sure there’s a math metaphor here I’m not taking advantage of. But math, not surprisingly, was not my best subject.

Students participating in the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati summer camp had the morning at KnowledgeWorks to build out their proposals. They had to consider not only how the software would function and how it might be widely adapted in schools, but also how it might change the experience for teachers, and whether they, as students, would use it for themselves.

During their presentations before a panel of KnowledgeWorks’ judges, students got personal about their struggles in the classroom. One group began their presentation describing what it was like to fail to grasp a concept when the rest of your class is moving on: you’re “freaked out,” and the notion of raising your hand and admitting you need a little extra help is mortifying. Conversely, they described feeling stuck when you’re ready to move on, growing bored and tuning out when you’ve already mastered the content your teacher is covering. And, according to one group, the worst part about all of this is that teachers might not know who’s who until after they’ve graded the test.

The mobile apps – and cross-platform accommodating websites – that all of the student groups created tried to get at the heart of the competency-based education model: offering personalized learning supports to accommodate many different learning styles and challenges, and creating the transparency necessary for students to take ownership of their learning, see the progress they’re making, and know what’s next. Nearly all of their creations began with an assessment that isolated how individual users best learned. They also offered students and teachers the opportunity to collaborate. There were video lessons, dynamic questions that were generated based on your performance and learning style, and opportunities to take the learning outside of the classroom. Educators would have access to their students’ progress and performance throughout the semester, rather than just on test day.

Open assessments allowed students to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways, prompted creative thinking, and created a forum for real-world applications of the concepts students were learning. When I asked what this might look like, one of the participants suggested that students studying perfect squares would have the opportunity to use the mobile app to capture examples of perfect squares in nature. This sounds about a thousand times more fun than any math assignment I can remember.

Student presenters affirmed that their products would “put the learning into the hands of students,” insisting that “your education is the one thing that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Let’s make it count.”

Yes, let’s.

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A Roadmap to Better Assessments

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-26 10:04

After years of opt-outs and complaints about standardized testing, states now have an opportunity to pilot and scale better assessment systems that capture meaningful information about student learning so stakeholders can improve teaching and learning in real-time.

This opportunity, the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority authorized in the newly-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will give states an opportunity to pilot and scale next generation assessment systems so we can all learn more about what is possible if we push the envelope on traditional approaches to assessment.

While the long-term benefits of this opportunity are significant, it will require states to put in a lot of time, hard work, and resources to build a system that is better than what they have today. Many states have expressed an interest in this opportunity, but they often feel overwhelmed when they consider the long list of application requirements. Fortunately, no state has to do this alone.

KnowledgeWorks and the Center for Assessment launched a new web resource at www.innovativeassessments.org to support states as they begin to prepare for this incredible opportunity. The digital resource identifies seven State Readiness Conditions that are essential to a successful application and implementation process. States can already access detailed briefs on three of those issues with the remaining four to be released over the course of the Summer and early Fall. These briefs include key design considerations, important questions for state and local leaders, and rich state examples that will help policymakers engage in a thoughtful planning and design process.

Here’s the list of the seven State Readiness Conditions for the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority. Sign up here  (in the right column) to receive updates from KnowledgeWorks and the Center for Assessment on this project including release of the remaining briefs and key updates on the federal opportunity.

Visit www.innovativeassessments.org for more information.

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The Trend We Need in K12 Ed Tech? Student-Focused Courseware

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-26 08:00

Too much of the technology being proffered up to K12 is missing the mark. By a lot. Big Ed Tech companies? I’m talking to you.

So many of you folks in the higher education space (the most lucrative sales base for EdTech software) are extending into K12. The why I think I understand. It’s the how I’m not thrilled with.

Here’s how I imagine it:

Maybe you’ve taken a look at your existing product line and called your execs around the table to plan the next move. You’re thinking the same way you did when you ran software companies in the commercial sector. “How can we expand, Bob?” you say. Bob says you need to find a new vertical – a new sector of customers – and tap into a new revenue stream. One that requires a minimum of changes to the product to keep costs down. “There are two choices – corporate training and K-12,” says Bob. Bob, you’re promoted.

And off you go.

Corporate training goes okay. It’s a crowded space, but you only have to remove or hide functionality for your LMS-type software to work as a corporate training tool. You don’t really have to add much. Bob and his recommendations are looking pretty brilliant.

K12 looks easy too. Students are students and teachers are teachers, right? They’ll just ignore annoyances like credit hours and enrollment tuition and grade approval workflows. Hmm. That beta group of pilot high schools was a vocal bunch. This is looking like a significant rewrite and a different product altogether. Bob!

This story typically ends the same way. It’s too expensive to customize for K12 once the full extent of user needs are discovered, so the product continues on with only a few tweaks here and there. Your sales force sells to a district or an ESC and teachers are told to get on board. Adoption’s terrible.

It’s time to stop.

It’s time for Ed Tech to realize that K12 is a fully distinct, separate market. Its requirements are fundamentally different. Software that truly supports a personalized learning model, which is where many districts are headed, is not just a quick adaptation of a college course management application.

Courses are not the center of a learning environment and they shouldn’t be the center of supporting technology.   In reality, students are at the center.

Learners may not learn in a linear fashion. They may be working on concepts and objectives from a higher level section in math than they are in language arts. They may work on a learning target that shows up across several different academic subjects, such as developing a writing theme or exhibiting critical thinking. They may be working on subject matter at one level this week and advance to a very different level next week. Student supports are also different. They may need ELL intervention, or a tutor, or be on an IEP. And they certainly need a different level of parent and teacher engagement than they will when they get to college.

I have a 20 year background as a Silicon Valley executive and IT leader. I understand the business model and strategy driving some of the products we see on the market. But I also understand education, and those of us in education are desperate for Ed tech to catch up with other education trends. So please, stop giving us courseware and start giving us studentware.

Keep students at the center. It works with the learning and it works with the technology supporting the learning. Companies that don’t realize that will be quickly left behind.

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History is not a term relegated for moments of the past

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-07-21 17:45

When I think of history, I think of studying what’s happened long ago. Of learning about everything that led up to now. In grade school, I spent a lot of time learning Ohio history. In high school, I learned about American history. In college, I made up for some notable gaps in earlier studies by specializing in African American history.

Having knowledge of the past is a necessary step in my approach to learning about the present. But I think I might have limited myself by spending so much of the time looking backwards.

A recent reading of a biography of the Wright brothers had me marveling at the speed at which advances were made in flight. For a stretch, the inventors were literally setting and breaking new world records multiple times a day. They were making history in real-time and everyone knew it. History for them wasn’t the past but the present.

Last night I attended the 101st NAACP Spingarn Award Dinner, part of the 107th Annual Convention of the NAACP. The Spingarn Award is given for “the highest or noblest achievement by an American Negro during the preceding year or years.”

Past winners of this award include W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson, Richard Wright, A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Medgar Evers,  Sammy Davis, Jr., Hank Aaron, Rosa Parks, Lena Horne, Colin Powell, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier.

Those history classes I was so intent on taking? These are people I learned about.

Judge Nathaniel Jones was awarded the Spingarn Award this year. Jones has been a vocal proponent of civil rights in both the U.S. and South Africa. He served as Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland and later as Assistant General Counsel to President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission. For nine years, Jones served as NAACP general counsel, which had him arguing cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Jones, after an appointment from President Jimmy Carter, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for 23 years.

Jones has earned a space in our history books, but he’s more than just a figure of our past. He is still advocating for civil rights through his work on the Board of Directors of KnowledgeWorks. Through the publication of his recent biography, Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America, he’s helping to inform the present and future by sharing lessons of the past.

In his acceptance speech of the Spingarn Award, Judge Jones said, “Let me pledge to you tonight that as long as I have breath in my body and my lungs are functioning and I can speak, my advice will be to all of us to stay focused on the real threat, and to resist all efforts to nullify the gains that have been made, the remedies that have put in place that give meaning to the laws that the constitution permits to be enacted.”

The Spingarn Award might have been in recognition of Jones’ past achievements, but the effect his work is still occurring. He’s still writing history. In real-time.

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Passion and Trust: Milestones for Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-07-21 09:48

Corey Golla is the Director of Curriculum and Learning at the Menomonee Falls School District in Wisconsin. Learn more about the district here.

In the Menomonee Falls School District, our vision of personalized learning includes the student voice at every level of the improvement process. Teachers work actively with students to establish a mission statement and classroom norms. With those items in place students are engaged in each phase of the PDSA process, a part of continuous improvement that requires users to “plan, do, study and act.”

With an understanding of their learning targets students participate in classroom and personal goal setting and monitor their progress with the teacher. This partnership continues as they develop a shared plan of action for the teacher and student to meet the next target.

The celebration of success and the action planning are all integral to the collaborative work of students and teachers. It is our contention that the student voice is most important since it is their learning and future that is at stake.

Our aim is to improve every part of our system. We have a lot to be proud of since beginning on the journey over five years ago under Superintendent Dr. Pat Greco’s leadership. All that said, we are not there yet. Our work is challenging, and we want to share with others what works in the relentless pursuit of excellence.

Start with Passion

A clear vision of the end is important, but inspiring staff to embark on the journey in the first place is critical.

We focused on two critical points: we worked to help staff come to the understanding of what is at risk for students who do not have the basic knowledge needed to survive in today’s economy, and we also spoke of the need for every teacher to be committed to the improvement process so all students have equal access to an enriching learning environment. Understanding that students who do not earn a diploma are twice as likely to live in poverty than those who have some college experience is basic knowledge that makes teachers understand exactly what is at stake for their students. Every classroom must work together. Simply put, the success of a student should not be dependent on which teacher fits into a student schedule for a given subject.

Teachers entered this field to make a difference for their students – and that happens when they understand they belong to a team.

Trust Your Professionals

While we came to the table with a clear framework and guide books for teachers, we did not accelerate the change process until we conveyed our trust in teachers to make this model work for their unique set of students in their unique learning environments. The core principles and components of the framework were a non-negotiable but the change agents were those who adapted the model to succeed for their students.

Demonstrating this trust empowered teachers to work hard to adapt the framework to their needs and in the end led to improvements in our system practices. Our staff also came to understand the importance of failing forward: our greatest learning likely came as a result of our biggest challenges.

Despite the wicked problems of intense cultural shift, the changing political landscape in public education, and constant budget constraints we were able to see measured improvements for students and adults.  Our staff engagement scores have steadily increased over the past four years placing us above the 95 percentile of all Studer Education partners.  We have seen steady growth in Math on our ACT scores, nearly 10% growth in the number of students demonstrating college and career readiness in reading, and doubled our participation in Advanced Placement courses. Suspension rates have been reduced to a fraction of what they were five years ago. This is because our students and staff are engaged in the improvement process.

Leaders cannot come to seasoned staff members with a prescriptive model and require change. Leaders must be clear with their vision and expectations, then trust their professionals to implement the change successfully for the school and the students that they know best.

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Always Know Where You’re Going

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-07-18 09:20

Competency education allows fourth grader Breton Lucas to dream of becoming a photographer in a big – and pretty unbearably adorable – way.

I hope it’s not in any way belittling his hard work and accomplishments to call it cute, but hearing him speak to KnowledgeWorks’ Vice President of Communications and Marketing, Cris Charbonneau, about conducting research, taking photographs, and synthesizing his ideas and work into a complete story melts my heart. Breton says he writes “every night before bed,” and benefits from having a teacher who is “a really amazing writer, too.”

When he speaks about a story he researched and wrote about goats – including taking his own photographs and printing and packaging it to share with teachers, friends, and family – it’s pretty cool to watch him make the connections between various disciplines. He also explains how having the opportunity to master and blend them prepares him for his dream of becoming a photographer.

Competency-based education has given Breton the opportunity to take ownership of his learning. He checks his learning plan at the beginning of every day of the week, and can meet challenges and see his own progress.

“You can always know where you’re going,” he says.

Seems to me like he’s headed for a bright future.

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Congratulations to Judge Nathaniel Jones!

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-07-15 08:00

KnowledgeWorks heartily congratulates Judge Jones on receiving the NAACP’s prestigious Springarn Award. His long, distinguished career as a judge, attorney, civil rights champion, and community leader is legendary, and his impact on every aspect of civil rights law is undeniable. This highly-coveted award is perhaps the culminating recognition of Judge Jones’ incredible life of service and commitment to equality.

As a member of KnowledgeWorks’ Board of Directors for the past 14 years, Judge Jones has humbly and unselfishly shared with us his incredible insights, wisdom and experience. His is a consistent voice for young people who struggle in their education journey, and he always reminds us that we exist to insure equal access to high quality education for all. He serves KnowledgeWorks and many other organizations with the highest levels of integrity and purpose. Our community and our organization owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Judge Jones for his incalculable contributions toward our mutual well-being.

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Meeting Students Where They Are

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-07-13 10:30

Natalie Matthews is a kindergarten teacher at Newell Elementary School in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. She provided her expertise for our latest policy resource, “The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.” To learn more about the district’s work in personalized learning, visit here.

Two years ago, I began a very typical day with a staff meeting. Everything about that day felt normal until my principal announced that our school was applying to be a part of the first cohort of personalized learning schools in our district, and he was looking for volunteers to be a part of a team to lead some work over the summer. Our initial reaction was, “Oh no, something else to do,” and the intense looks of fear spread the notion that “something is changing.” Very little details were shared beyond needing to assemble this team to attend a week long personalized learning institute in July. My day had shifted to slightly atypical and slightly uncomfortable, but my interest had also been peaked, so I volunteered.

Prior to that week, I’d always wanted to be “in the know.” I was the teacher. I run the classroom. I say what goes, who, how and when. And as I entered the institute, I brought that attitude with me. I also, however, brought as much of an open mind as I could.

Throughout the week we learned more about what personalized learning could be, what best practices might fit under this umbrella, and had a lot of conversations about what this could and should look like at our school and throughout our district. We worked as a team of 15 schools, ranging from kindergarten teachers to calculus teachers, principals to facilitators, each with a wide range of student populations, to develop a definition and foundation for personalized learning that we could all grow and build from.

This was not an easy process, especially not for someone like me who wanted to “be in the know.” I found it difficult to create a vision based on a philosophy rather than a program. As teachers, we were used to being mandated to use different programs to teach, and this was truly a unique and foreign opportunity. We explored, discussed, and analyzed our collective philosophies of best practices. We were given the freedom to create what was best for our students. After this collaborative week, my mindset was forever shifted. Although it was quite scary to begin implementing personalized learning, my mind was eased by the culture my principal had fostered throughout the school. He had established a culture in which it was safe to try to new things and fail as long as we were moving forward and doing what was best for kids.

I spent the rest of my summer researching and trying to figure out where exactly I wanted to start my personalized learning journey with my kindergarteners. To others faced with the same prospect, start by building your classroom culture and really focus on the whole child cornerstone. Once you have this as a foundation in the classroom, everything else is easier to implement and establish.

Luckily for me, the year prior to our personalized learning journey, we had implemented a 30 minute morning meeting, and I could now use this time to build the culture and help shift my students’ thinking from a fixed mindset to a stronger growth mindset. We discussed goals, norms, learning styles, how we all learn differently, what makes us unique, and everything in between. I believe because of the culture and learning environment my students and I built together, they were more willing to take risks with me and take more ownership of their own learning.

Throughout the school year I tried many things. Some things worked extremely well, while others were a complete failure. During these successes and failures, I had those honest conversations with my students on why I thought this worked and why this might not have worked. Even at 5 and 6 years of age, children can handle these things and engage in this level of conversation, especially when they are trying new things.

Many visitors spent time in our classroom that first year. The novelty of what we were doing was a big draw. My biggest “aha” moment came to me when a newspaper reporter visited, and after interviewing me proceeded to speak with one of my students, Sammy. He asked Sammy what he was working on, and Sammy, ever so nonchalantly, shared his choice board and said, “I’m working on these letters.” The reporter then asked him why he was working on these particular letters and not others. Sammy’s response?

“I already know those letters so I don’t need to practice them, duh!”

It was at this moment that I realized I had been teaching all wrong for years. Personalized learning is just what my students needed for me to embrace and understand so that I could meet them where they are and provide them with the best educational experiences that I could.

Up until this point, I had still been a little nervous and skeptical about personalized learning, but when my 5-year-old student told an adult he already knew something and didn’t need to waste his time learning it again, it all clicked in my head. As adults don’t want to sit through material we have already learned, so why should our students have to spend time with material they have already mastered? Doesn’t it make more sense to meet the student exactly where they are?

Ultimately, for me, personalized learning is a collection of best practices and just makes sense. Our adult world is more personalized all the time, so if our goal is to truly prepare students for the future, their real world, then we should begin to personalize their learning, too.

For more insights into personalized learning, download our latest resource, “The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.”

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6 Resources to Engage Students and Energize Educators

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-12 08:00

Our technical assistance coaches recently gathered for their annual Coaches’ Camp – a time when we can all come together in our own Professional Learning Community to reflect on the school year and advance our own learning.

We instituted a new protocol this year, something we’re calling, “Lightning Round Learning.” We asked each participant to bring one new article, video, book, tool, etc. that the coach thinks is a game changer for our work. Each person presented the game changer during “lightning rounds.” Participants shared their resource in pairs or trios, with each person having 5 minutes to share.

We previously shared their 8 game-changing book recommendations. This list is the second half of the list of resources our coaches tapped as “game changers” for the learning environment, for both young people and adults.

“5 Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning”

This 6-minute video from Edutopia provides a great overview of project-based learning (PBL) and focused on 5 key aspects for designers. It compares what learning looked like in the past to what it can look like with PBL.

“Digital Reading Poses Learning Challenges for Students”

In this article for Education Week, Benjamin Herold explores if reading comprehension suffers when students read on digital devices. He quotes Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, saying, “We have to move into the 21st century, but we should do so with great care to build a ‘bi-literate’ brain that has the circuitry for ‘deep reading’ skills, and at the same time is adept with technology.” This article offers good insight to teachers and administrators as they looks at literacy plans in their districts.

“Never Say Anything A Kid Can Say!”

An article by Steven Reinhart in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, suggests that leading math teacher to do less telling and more facilitating. The article shares 16 specific strategies for teachers to implement in classrooms, beginning with “never say anything a kid can say.”


As teachers look for new ways to incorporate formative assessment into their lesson plans to gather data and help move achievement, one app worth exploring is Plickers. It uses technology without requiring that each student have access to technology. With Plickers, students hold up cards in response to questions and teachers can quickly scan the room for quick results.

“The Iceberg Illusion.”

When we see an image of an iceberg, we’re usually only seeing what is above the waterline. What lies beneath might be much larger than what’s on the surface. That’s the idea behind this post about success. “People only see the end goal, the glory, the monumental win. They don’t see the dedication, hard work, persistence, discipline, disappointment, sacrifices, and many failures it takes to reach ‘success.'”

“What the Heck is Design Thinking Anyway?”

The creators of the Results May Vary podcast, on which design thinking is the common theme, wrote this simple explanation of design thinking for Medium. The describe design challenges and design thinking in a different way, outlining the four phases of the process as:

  1. Getting focused
  2. Getting inspired
  3. Getting scrappy
  4. Getting smarter




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The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-07-11 10:49

In late summer 2015, I sat at my desk with a list of names, email addresses, and a task that I was certain would be impossible. Just days before schools across the country would open their doors to a new school year, I needed to set up interviews with teachers to learn more about the innovative work they were doing. Thinking back to my own years teaching in the classroom, I doubted that any of these teachers would have time for a two-minute bathroom break, much less a one hour phone call with someone they had never heard of.

To my delight, two months later, I had 100 pages of notes from interviews with 77 teachers and administrators from all over the country. Not only had these teachers squeezed spare time out of planning and after-school meetings, they had inspired me with a joy and enthusiasm that is often expected to be lacking in conversations about the teacher profession.

At KnowledgeWorks, we’ve spent the past few years researching how to support an education system that puts individual student needs at its foundation. We’ve been actively shaping federal policies that enable personalized learning. We’ve learned from districts that have been leading the movement towards student-centered instruction. We’ve also worked with school districts to identify which state policies are barriers or enablers for scaling personalized learning.

This work opened the door for us to partner with the National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) and to consider the implications of personalized learning on another level of the education system: the teachers who spend every day with our students. We wanted to understand how the personalized learning actually plays out in a classroom, and we wanted to know what it takes for teachers to shift practices that have been the norm for generations. After several months of interviews, poring over the interview notes, and identifying big picture implications for the teaching profession, we are eager to release a paper summarizing our findings today. You can download the paper here.

The teachers who contributed to the research included veteran teachers who were re-energized by their new approach to teaching, cautious teachers who weren’t sure about new approaches their colleagues were taking, and grab-the-bull-by-the-horns teachers who took professional risks and devoted a significant amount of personal time to finding new ways to reach all of their students.  In conjunction with the paper’s launch, we are reconnecting with several of the professionals interviewed and making space on our blog for them to share their story in their own words. We look forward to the conversations that will emerge as education professionals across the country consider the cost and benefits of a transformed system that strives to meet the needs of every single student.

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Answering the Call

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-07-06 09:20

At our most recent board meeting, we celebrated the 90th birthday of KnowledgeWorks board member, Judge Nathanial Jones. Jones is a retired federal judge and served as the general counsel for the NAACP during the 1970s. He is a giant in the fight for civil rights in this country and in South Africa. He a recipient of the Springarn Medal along with such luminaries as George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the first African-American appointed assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in 1962 and served as Assistant General Counsel for President Johnson.

In honor of his birthday, former President Clinton wished him well over video and President Obama sent him a letter, both expressing their gratitude for his life of service. Judge Jones is an icon. He is a gentle, contemplative warrior for justice. He has a quiet, unwavering force to him. He personalized a note on the inside cover of his autobiography, Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America, to each senior staff member at KnowledgeWorks. Judge Jones wrote the following in my book:

Note from Judge Jones

I’m fortunate to know this man, but for this man to write me a personal note about my work is incredibly movingand unexpected. For him to call me a “strong advocate for improving education for all children” is beyond humbling and something I will cherish.

Like Secretary Riley about whom I wrote recently,  I feel truly honored to know Judge Jones and to have gotten to observe  and  learn from him. Both Secretary Riley and Judge Jones have made KnowledgeWorks a better place, but more importantly for all of us, they have spent their lives making America a better place.

One of my favorite quotes from Robert Kennedy comes at the end of his message on the evening of April 4, 1968, the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated,

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

Each of these men dedicated themselves to this exact charge and I’m exceedingly grateful for their dedication.

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8 Game-Changing Books to Accelerate Learning

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-05 08:00

Our technical assistance coaches recently gathered for their annual Coaches’ Camp – a time when we can all come together in our own Professional Learning Community to reflect on the school year and advance our own learning.

We instituted a new protocol this year, something we’re calling, “Lightning Round Learning.” We asked each participant to bring one new article, video, book, tool, etc. that the coach thinks is a game changer for our work. Each person presented the game changer during “lightning rounds.” Participants shared their resource in pairs or trios, with each person having 5 minutes to share.

Eight books topped the coaches’ list. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Better Conversations Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected by Jim KnightBetter Conversations Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected by Jim Knight

This book offers powerful and intentionally reflective professional development for how to improve conversation skills with others so that relationships continuously improve. Conversation is the lifeblood of any school. Key themes throughout this book are are trust, empathy, questions and beliefs and author Jim Knight offers resources for going deeper.

Daring Greatly by Brene BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do us just show up! This book explores themes of vulnerability and opportunity, authenticity, shame, truth, courage, transparency, and whole-hearted living. Rather than focus on winning, this book teachers the value of courage.

 Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher EmdinFor White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … And the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin

Christopher Emdin challenges the perception that urban youth of color can’t succeed in the school. The book addresses teaching approaches that often hurt youth of color and offers food for thought on how to counteract them. He reimagines a classroom where students own their learning.

 Strategies for Teaching the Students who Challenge Us the Most by Jeffrey BensonHanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students who Challenge Us the Most by Jeffrey Benson

Author Jeffrey Benson shares detailed student stories; strategies for analyzing students’ challenges and creating personalized plans; recommendations for teachers and support team; and advice for administrators on how to stick with students until they “get it.”

 Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking by Todd Nesloney and Adam WelcomeKids Deserve It: Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome

The authors of this book hope to encourage and challenge you to get unstuck and break out of that rut. They ask, “What if learning was exciting and students felt important and empowered every time they walked into the building?” Lots of ideas!

 16 Essential Characteristics for Success by Arthur Costa and Bena KallickLearning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick

In this book, Aurther Costa and Bena Kallick share “a repertoire of behaviors that help students and teachers … navigate problems in the classroom of real life.”  Nearly ten years old, the insights from Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick still hold up. This book contains rubrics for competency-based education.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua HammerThe Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Joshua Hammer shares the story of a race to save literature that will have readers asking, “Would you risk your life to save a book?” That’s what faces the people at the center of this story about saving precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda. Hammer provides a poignant reminder of the importance of literacy and literary works.

 Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill GeorgeTrue North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George

This book is a collection of stories from leaders (CEOs, political leaders, etc.) about finding your true leadership style. The common thread throughout is that all the stories are about failure and overcoming that failure – ultimately resulting in triumph.


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