May and June: As important as September


Finals, projects, end-of-year activities and celebrations…and the incredible push to get it all in. This is often a wonderfully exciting, yet very stressful time for kids.

But not only for kids. Yesterday, one of our Principals responded to an email from my partner. It simply read,  May is trying to murder me.

My partners response brought to mind all of the students, teachers and building leaders working to “get it all in” before the close of the year, and without losing site of or compromising the real reasons we do what we do each and every day. Her response was something like this:

“May will not get you…  Nor will June… Keep your eye on the prize and all that you do in the name of kids and learning.  Remember, this is the time of year when those who sometimes seem to be the hardest to love are the ones who need you the most. You represent love, security, a ready-made ally, and someone who is always there for them. Just breathe…”

As this school year draws to a close, how are you reminding yourself to “just breathe“?

Hack Assessment: Connecting Practice with Purpose


Image by Annie Spratt 

Visualize a student you know – a child, relative, family friend, or student.  And picture her as an adult in the world where only the most gifted and passionate have successful careers.  The rest cobble together a living through part-time gigs. Struggle to pay bills. Hold off on having a family because of financial worries.  Never build savings.  Can’t retire at age sixty-five.

Now imagine this student with her own support team – resources that make her more productive than any adult was in 1980. With the productivity advantage, imagine what she can do – start a nonprofit, invent new products, discover cures, create dazzling art, contribute to her community or employer in a myriad of ways.

Today, motivated students can become experts in days, not weeks or years.  They can ask questions to people all over the world and get answers in minutes.  They can ask ‘dumb’ questions without risk of embarrassment.  So what kind of classroom experience will be important to kids with this powerful support team? Sitting passively in a chair listening to someone lecture about content? Memorizing math formulas and science definitions? Memorizing names and dates of historical events? Worrying about the placement of accent marks when writing in a foreign language?  These century-old classroom tasks are obsolete, and – other than inertia – there’s no reason for students to drill endlessly on things when, in the very best case, they’ll be “almost as good as a smartphone”.

While innovation poses challenges, it creates breathtaking opportunities.  Our education system needs to help kids accelerate their potential in the innovation era, not hold them back. With well-designed pedagogy, we can empower kids with critical skills and help them turn passions in to decisive life advantages. The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn – in a world that rewards the innovative and punishes the formulaic.”  Wagner, T., & Dintersmith, T. (2015). Most Likely to Succeed. New York, NY: Scribner.

Traditional assessments might be an acceptable form of evaluation for more traditional tasks, such as memorization and comprehension, but they are decidedly less so for the powerful learning opportunities suggested by Wagner & Dintersmith.  In the past, when and if assessment of application was done, it was most often project-based and all students were doing the same thing, or a one-off version of the same project.

Consider the student blog, the stop-motion video, or a different example from your own practice, as you grapple with and respond to the following questions:

  1. How will formative assessments have to change if the process is given the same value as the product?
  2. How will assessment have to change if students are doing different things, if the problem/challenge/project is truly unique or if students are digging into a new area of learning, exploration or discovery?

The “Why?” And “What If..?” of Tomorrow

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Two questions for today that inform tomorrow: “Why?” And “What If…?”

Jeff Utecht recently published his thoughts around ideas we’ve been playing with since the inception of organized education:  Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking.  In his post, Jeff revisits the 4 C’s based upon significant changes in our world.  The underpinnings of each are defined the same way, but how these underpinnings are applied to our global learning community is critically different.  Jeff took these pieces from a conceptual framework to a living, breathing manifesto of practice.  This manifesto creates an undeniable sense of urgency to understand how to actualize these principles in everyday practices of teaching and learning.


Considering the 4 C’s,  please share one professional practice in which you engage that mirrors the efforts and mindset that Jeff describes.

    Why do you do this?  (Why bother?)

 Which one of the practices described inspires you?  Which might inspire your learners?

     What if…you implemented this in your professional practice?

                 The Four C’s of Learning via Jeff Utecht


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Then & Now: Shaping the Start of the Year

At the close of a school year, we are often asked to consider our individual learning journeys and construct words of wisdom for folks following in our footsteps.  The responses below offer insight gleaned from a team of teachers we had the privilege of learning with over the past year:

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

Letting go of control is hard but giving kids ownership over their learning makes it worthwhile.”

“There is tremendous value in the process!”photos-7398484@N02-potter

This is not too complicated for students or teachers. This process allows you to see your classroom instruction and your students in a new and developing way. Be open to it!

Consider skills students will use in this process and create opportunities for students to practice these skills in everyday learning. Practice will build their confidence and fluency!

It won’t be perfect. Give yourself time to figure it out. You are learning with the students!

“Let the students guide the research, even if you are not sure their ideas will work.

“It’s okay to FAIL (teachers & students), as long as you are sure to regroup and reroute!”

As you reflect on your own learning experience and efforts, consider the impact they have had on your everyday practice.  In what way(s) have you & your students started this year differently?

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Considering the Diagonals… (pt 2)

In our previous post, Doing More or Doing Some Things Differently, we considered the shifts in our professional learning and practice, and the implications each had on the learning practice of our students.  More specifically, what were we doing more of and doing differently as teachers?   And what were our students doing more of and doing differently, as learners?

Doing More:

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– What are you doing more of?
– What are your students doing more of?
– To what benefit?
– At what cost?

Doing Some Things Differently:
– What are you doing differently?
– What are your students doing differently?
– To what benefit?
– At what cost?

As we considered our responses and dug further beneath each implication, we wondered about the relationships between them.  What connections surface when we consider the diagonals of our efforts?

Growing the Culture of a Learning Community


image source: Ben Grey

Crossposted at BalancEdTech

We’ve been doing a lot of talking about Professional Learning Communities, and the intentional efforts of some to create communities of purposeful learning.  The activity linked here is one we recently crafted for a team of teachers who have been given one day each month to explore, test-drive and share elements of practice, as they relate to shifts toward student-owned and global learning.

Given this gift of time and opportunity, I wonder…

  • What might they need to consider as they learn toward their goal of student-owned learning and global connectivity?
  • What professional & pedagogical process changes will be most important to consider?
  • What do they need, or need to avoid, to make the most of this opportunity?
  • How can we best support their efforts to create a culture of professional learning?

Doing More or Doing Some Things Differently?


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My partners and I have been noodling around with the ides of “less is more” in the context of education, but most especially when it comes to teaching and learning.  In fact, we’ve facilitated several discussions and workshops with teachers and learners from around the world, centered on the idea of Less (Teaching) Is More (Learning). 

Thinking about our educational landscape and the wide range of things pulling at our time and attention, it’s not a wonder why even the smallest shifts often seem nearly impossible.  Are we constantly trying to do more, or are we working to do some things differently? Is there a time when each has merit?

Please consider and share your efforts just over the past few months…

Doing More:
– What are you doing more of?
– What are your students doing more of?
– To what benefit?
– At what cost?

Doing Some Things Differently:
– What are you doing differently?
– What are your students doing differently?
– To what benefit?
– At what cost?


Creating Edutopia


Creating Edutopia

IMG_0254cross posted at

New Things, New Ways

In his article Shaping Tech for the Classroom, Marc Prensky outlines what is considered to be the typical process of technology adoption.

1. Dabbling – doing what we’ve always done, pretty much how we’ve always done it

Example: I recall a conversation I had with my Grandma, shortly after my Uncle set up her e-mail account. She was fascinated with the new ‘electrical mail’, and explained how she had already written several letters to us. Thinking I had missed something, I checked my e-mail account again…nothing.

“Gram, I don’t think we received them.”

“Oh, I haven’t sent them, yet. I just typed them and need to figure out how to get them out so I can put them in envelopes.”

2. Doing old things in old ways – communicating and/or exchanging information digitally

Example: Seven other teachers and I taught at the same grade level, in the same building, but on different schedules. To support our communicative efforts, we constantly shared ideas, lesson plans and other resources using email, googledocs & wiki pages.

3. Doing old things in new ways – video & animated demonstrations; writing on blogs, wikis, etc.

Example: One of my 3rd grade students taught himself how to use Scratch, then used the software to create an animated video about a particular aspect of energy conservation

Example: Students use Inspiration or another graphic organizer to create story webs of selected anthologies

4. Doing new things in new ways – creative & innovative, ‘next-step’ teaching

Example: Students chose to create blogs to develop and strengthen their understanding of a particular topic. They used the blogs to host links to articles, videos, images and podcasts that supported their learning. One way the new,new component surfaced was through student investigations of professionals in various fields. Students identified professionals, invited them to ‘speak’ on their blog, respond to their posts and become members of their learning network. By “reaching out and pulling in”, exchanging ideas, questions & resources with so many experts beyond the walls of their classrooms, students were doing new things in new ways.

Example: Teachers use digital tools to reach outside our immediate circle of experience and knowledge, and to engage in significant discourse about a wide variety of professional topics.

Our goal by the end of the year is to have a range of things that fit into stages 3 and 4

Working with your partner, please consider and respond to each question below. As always, you are welcome and encouraged to use any tools at your disposal to share your thinking (audio or text responses, links to student work, or other examples).

1.  What have you done or planned that you think would fit into category 3?
2.  What have you done or planned that you think would fit into category 4?
3.  Are  there any activities or projects that might qualify as a 3.5?