Can After-School Programs Bring Blended Learning to the Masses?

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McNair Middle School’s 1:1 experience

It is clear that school is not the sole provider in a community’s educational system and after-school programs play an integral role in extending the learning day for many students. Given the flexibility around content and program model, out-of-school time (OST) providers often have the unique ability to innovate more quickly than traditional public schools. These innovative after-school programs can drive better blended learning adoption, bringing effective personalized learning opportunities to students beyond just those in charter schools

I witnessed this first hand during my time at Citizen Schools, a nonprofit founded back in 1995 with the mission to revive the apprenticeship model and bring relevant, project-based learning opportunities to students after school. In California, they have forged strong partnerships with prominent tech companies such as Google and Cisco to introduce students to web development, creating Android apps and the BizWorld entrepreneurship program. 

Tinkering with the Model

Over the past few years Citizen Schools has experimented with various blended learning approaches, drawing on best practices from tech-focused charter schools to bring personalized instruction to more students. In California, pilots began in 2010 using  TenMarks and Khan Academy during homework help sessions. Those early informal trials showed the potential for these online tools to augment math instruction without it feeling like ‘more school.’ This year Citizen Schools is continuing with pilots at two sites, Ronald McNair Academy in East Palo Alto and Bronx Writing Academy in New York, with plans to expand pilots to approximately ten schools this fall.

Leadership, at the school and program level, is integral to running an effective site. In launching the program at McNair this year, Citizen Schools recruited Adrian Breckel who was formerly Academic Dean at Rocketship, a leading blended learning charter network. Breckel has worked tirelessly with Ravenswood School District and McNair’s Principal, Jen Gravem, who have been cautiously optimistic about how the Citizen Schools team can help implement this model.

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Let Me Upgrade You

The shift to blended learning at McNair has been in the works for years. In 2011 the school received a School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the Department of Ed, which they used to fund a major technology upgrade which included going 1:1 and and installing state of the art projection and sound systems in each classroom. This tech overhaul also included an investment in selecting iReady as their core software system. Breckel shares that “the usage of this technology (hardware) is fairly integrated throughout the day in different ways; teachers use projectors and doc cams fairly regularly and also assign homework that includes using the districts portal and tools such as the internet and Google Docs.” However, the usage of online software is inconsistent since there is not official guideline or push on how to integrate iReady into instruction. This is where Citizen Schools stepped in to help integrate iReady and create more consistent personalized learning opportunities.

Early Signs of Success

Though the blended learning pilot just launched back in November there have been some clear signs of effectiveness. The iReady dashboard and other software tools help streamline communication between the school day and after-school educators, making it easier to meet student needs. Another benefit is teachers have more flexibility with flipped classroom approaches, including assigning homework via Google Docs, knowing the kids will have access to laptops and the network after school. (This is such an important piece of this work in communities where most kids do not have access to devices and internet at home.) Beckel is most excited about the ability for her educators to conduct small group instruction, which was a crucial aspect of Rocketship’s model.

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One class’s system for tracking time and success on program

The district recognizes that creating a culture of experimentation during the after-school hours enables them to test other approaches, such as the new computer-based assessment coming from SmarterBalance. The District’s STEM Coordinator, Robert Pronovost, who has extensive knowledge of blended learning has been a strong ally. Pronovost and colleagues from the district, Soloman Hill and Liz Gordon-Stoll, have gone above and beyond to show their support by teaching apprenticeships themselves. Hill, the Director of Technology, combined his own passions to design an apprenticeship entitled “Jedi Consulting” which allows students to learn about many new technologies and become consultants for school districts who are looking to implement technology successfully. This apprenticeship requires that students gain an intimate knowledge of different aspects of tech tools including usage, pricing, success rates, functionality, as well as assessing school needs.

This type of collaboration between the school, district and Citizen Schools is instrumental in making the program successful. This marriage between integral entities in the school system models how after-school providers can bring much-needed energy and talent to help schools create effective blended learning environments for more students.

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Preparing Educators to Blend Learning

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One of the most important aspects of creating successful blending learning environments is preparing educators to effectively manage the students, data and tools available to them. In this final post in the 3-part series on Zaya.org, Soma Vajpayee, Co-Founder & Director of Training, shares some insights on how they are identifying and preparing educators to run Zaya Learning Labs in India.

I’m baffled by how we prepare educators to create personalized, differentiated learning environments by asking them to all sit through the same 6+ hour training session and then hand them a binder of materials to review on their own. (Isn’t this exactly what we want tech to help change in our current learning processes?) Luckily more and more players in the edtech space recognize that in order for tech integration to truly impact learning outcomes, educators need to be prepared to lead and guide students through these new learning experiences.

The key to blended learning is the ongoing feedback, which I believe is actually more important than the content itself if we see the goal as developing critical thinking skills and not just  knowledge acquisition. We are wired to learn by doing and responding to immediate feedback, which educators need just as much as the students do.

Improving teacher PD is a major issue and even startups that are not specifically targeting the K12 space are taking on this challenge. Coursera has a growing number of Teacher Professional Development MOOCs geared towards educators looking to improve their understanding and instruction in their rapidly evolving classrooms. Last fall Vajpayee and I attempted to participate in their Blended Learning MOOC, but unfortunately neither of us made it past the first couple weeks. (This hints at the core issue with purely online PD as my early optimism waned quickly.) With this in mind, she recognizes that while there are numerous resources online, her ability to engage her instructors during their offline sessions is critical.

Adding to that, a growing number of educators are participating in self-directed PD, supported by tools such as Sanderling and Twitter chats that encourage educators to connect and share their experiences. Vajpayee created the Zaya Learning Community group on Facebook to organize and stimulate sharing within the Zaya community.

Vajpayee shares some of her thoughts from the past year of recruiting and training the first set of Zaya educators.

How did you recruit the educators to run the first set of Zaya Labs? 

Identifying the right educators to lead our programs is an important part of our process. Zaya has partnered with Teach For India (TFI) and other women’s empowerment programs like SNEHA and to selectively screen candidates who have the knowledge, passion and energy to pilot these early programs with us. Our most effective early educators have been TFI teachers as they are a bunch of motivated and young people who are mission aligned to improve the education standards by using technology as an accelerator.

How are you blending the training sessions for your educators?

Once we’ve identified those individuals they participate in a 3 day, in-person orientation conducted in a blended learning fashion using the rotation model. From the very beginning we model for the educators what we want them to be doing with the students and believe this is incredibly powerful for them. They themselves experience the new learning style we seek to create for the students.

The initial teacher training program was formulated based on detailed competency required for a Zaya teacher like pedagogy, technology and classroom management, which includes reviewing case studies from Rocketship, KIPP and learnings from other blended learning sites. We are also creating our own library of resources which includes research on blended learning and “how to” technology related videos and feedback/ideas videos from our advisors.

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During first two months of implementation we invest a significant amount of time coaching and monitoring each class. Using a detailed teacher rubric (formulated by a volunteer from UCLA) we are able to measure at a micro- competency level where each teacher stands. This is done more frequently at the beginning of the session and then once more at the end.

Based on early feedback we are developing self-paced modules for the teachers to refer to on a regular basis. We are curating the content from free resources and making our own videos with expert teachers.

Even with all the high-quality content we’ve made available online we directly see the importance of face-to-face time. We meet once a quarter to hold small discussion sessions and share success stories. This is an iterative process and will be refined as the platform becomes stronger and Zaya will be more attuned to working with more diverse group of educators.

What could be done to share learnings across different sites and even programs beyond Zaya?

The real magic in blended learning is collecting and analyzing the data effectively to improve instruction, and doing this well is extremely difficult. Even at the top blended learning sites in the Bay Area I observed some of the challenges they face given all the different software tools that don’t communicate with each other.

Beyond that, are we even collecting the right data? We should think more about how data is being mined for “student interaction” with the content and how they are learning it. We need to be able to look beyond which videos students watched and the exercises they completed.

Lastly, we need a uniform tagging nomenclature followed by content providers and shared across schools, content providers and teachers that are mutually agreed upon so that students benefit. The US seems to be moving towards this with the Common Core but there is still quite a ways to go.

Beyond Tech in the Classroom to Deeper Blended Learning

This is a follow-up post to Zaya.org: Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid.

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Soma Vajpayee, one of the co-founders from Zaya.org made her way to the Bay Area last September to observe some top-performing blended learning schools in action and is now working to incorporate those methods into their work on the ground in India. Zaya’s approach to blended learning in India is two-fold: 1) implementing blended learning in low-cost private schools and 2) creating new blended learning centers through their Learning Labs model. She optimistically recognizes a shift taking place from simply having technology (mainly tablets) in the classroom to actual blended learning practices that include dramatically different instructional practices with deeper emphasis on improving learning outcomes.

Vajpayee shared more of her insights and what she’s bringing back with her to Mumbai.

What were your expectations for the blended learning school visits?

My goal for this trip was to observe a few blended learning classrooms in the Bay Area, as it has been the fountainhead of innovation in education technology. At Zaya we have been researching various blended learning models, such as Rocketship, KIPP and Alpha Schools and it was inspiring to meet with those school leaders and hear some insider perspectives.

We have incorporated approaches from these models into our initial teacher training sessions to introduce our educators to new instructional practices and set expectations for these new learning environments.

What were some highlights from speaking with these people who are pioneering innovative teaching/learning practices?

I was so grateful to meet with some of the thought leaders in this space, including Greg Klein from the Rogers Family Foundation and Jennie Dougherty from KIPP. Given my focus on teacher training it was great to hear some of the innovative approaches around preparing teachers for effective blended learning instruction. Many people are focusing on developing the software and devices that is fueling this movement, but we believe developing educators to run blended learning environments is the key to successful outcomes for students.

Dougherty shared that KIPP’s seen early success “by creating ‘blended learning champions’ in each school who in turn trains the other teachers in the school.” Similarly, Klein has built a strong teacher feedback loop for his network of Oakland sites, with a few blended learning experts that provide on-going tech support and coaching. While these innovative schools are experimenting with different PD models, I noticed that a scientific and structured way to measuring the teachers performance seems to be missing.

Beyond teacher preparation, John Glover, Principal of Alpha Schools, shared that his key issues are data collection from the various learning programs they are using in the different subjects and also the accurate tagging of skills and competencies to the content.

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What struck you as the biggest differences between blended learning sites in the Bay Area vs. India?

The investment in hardware and infrastructure in the US is astounding. While I’ve read a bit about 1:1 methods it was another thing to walk into a classroom and see each student with their own Chromebook. Beyond the hardware, the investment in the connectivity was significant with one KIPP school sharing that their broadband setup cost ~$1M. These systems are all still very basic in India and it is unlikely to see schools make this type of investment.

With regards to the educators, they were extremely competent and it helps a lot that the typical charter school teacher is young and relatively comfortable using technology. In India, we see a huge variation in the quality of teachers and even fewer teachers who are proficient in using innovative ways of teaching. An interesting revolution that has started for the last 5 years is the influx of young and motivated individuals who join the workforce for two years of focused teaching at the bottom of the pyramid, through Teach for India. They create a change in the way teaching works in their isolated classroom, however, as you can imagine the bigger challenge is to sustain positive change beyond those isolated classrooms.

As for students, charter schools in the US serve a similar population of students as Affordable Private schools in India, so I noticed that there is a similar hunger to learn. The use of technology in the classrooms has instilled a new sense of engagement in their own learning which is really motivating our work.

Lastly, what innovative practices have you observed in India that could be shared to the US?

This is an interesting question since most of my focus has been bringing innovative practices to India. We at Zaya are working on an education solution which is an on and offline delivery model outside of the traditional school system. Our Learning Labs create blended learning environments where there is no internet or even electricity, and even space is a constraint. This innovative “class in a bag” package is definitely a scalable and shareable model.

Zaya.org: Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid

I first met Neil D’Souza in the fall of 2011 after hearing him speak at the Global Education Conference which just wrapped up this year’s sessions last week. As he shared his story of leaving his comfortable job at Cisco to travel to Mongolia and Indonesia to prototype ideas around improving educational opportunities for low-income kids, I was compelled to learn more about his approach. Even with the explosion of free online/OER content Neil was struck by all the hardware (remember OPLCs?) that sat around, under-utilized. One of the main reasons for that being lack of connectivity.

In just two years what began as D’Souza’s early experiments as Teach-A-Class in orphanages in Mongolia has evolved into Zaya.org, reaching 1200 students through 5 schools in 4 countries. EdSurge recently profiled Zaya’s progress in Mumbai, contrasting their slow approach with the tumultuous journey of the now infamous Indian edtech startup Educomp.

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Zaya’s long and patient approach represents their deep focus on improving learning outcomes for low income students in a sustainable manner. To help support work in this sector the Zaya team has recently published a whitepaper (pdf), Overcoming Challenges to Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid, which explores some of the pain points they are tackling in implementing blended learning at affordable private schools in Mumbai, India. Some of these issues include “unreliable electricity, limited or no access to the internet, and a lack of funds to maintain technology.” Beyond the resource limitations and logistical issues, the report cites the main issues are knowledge gaps where “many school leaders and teachers do not understand how to use the technology, much less how to implement it.” Sound familiar?

The report goes on to outline a case study of overcoming some of these resource and connectivity issues by implementing the Zaya Lab Kit at an affordable private school (APS) in Mumbai. However, as with many edtech endeavors, the key challenge lies in overcoming the knowledge gaps by providing educators and school leaders with the training and on-going support they need to integrate the online content in a meaningful way. One of the co-founders, Soma Vajpayee is solely focused on the Professional Development (PD) piece; recruiting and preparing a team of educators to build the first set of Learning Labs. Zaya’s partnership with Teach For India (TFI) helps attract bright and energetic educators looking to experiment with blended learning practices in their classrooms, but training them to successfully run Learning Labs is a crucial and often over-looked step in the process.

In an effort to bring best practices around blended learning instruction to India, Vajpayee recently made her first trip to the US to meet with practitioners and observe schools experimenting with blended models. In the next two of this 3-part series I’ll cover Vajpayee’s tour of key blended learning schools in the Bay Area, including visits to Alpha Schools and the newly opened KIPP high school in San Francisco. I’ll share her insights and global perspective on blended learning, including what translates between learning environments in India and California and what is needed to prepare teachers for this “new” style of teaching.

What Does Blended Learning look like for Educators?

Last night I began my first Coursera MOOC (massively open online course) entitled Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students, taught by some of the key folks who are driving this movement. I watched the four short videos for this week, participated in the quizzes and poked around in several of the already active discussion forums. The first homework assignment (which I haven’t done yet, don’t judge me) is to post your own definition of blended learning. While it would be premature to make any meaningful assessment about this particular course, I’m struck by how much of the conversation around blended learning for students is about personalization, self-paced instruction with some component of creating/making, while much of the professional development I’ve seen for educators is not.  While MOOCs have a certain appeal to some, if you don’t learn well from watching video lectures, then you’re pretty much out of luck as self-paced is not the same as personalization.

Earlier this week I participated in a small discussion at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) with school leaders, funders and entrepreneurs who are really thinking about blended learning PD for educators. KCI, which has been serving K12 educators since 2000, offers one of the best edtech PD workshops in the country, the MERIT program. While it is not explicitly teaching educators how to manage ‘flex/station/rotation’ blended learning environments, it is empowering educators with the knowledge, confidence and support system to experiment with various tech tools and strategies. KCI also offers some less popular online courses that they themselves admit are not as effective. While KCI has an incredibly effective offline experience if MERIT teachers want to engage online they do so on their own through Twitter and other online communities where educators gather. It seems that most PD opportunities for educators still fall in one camp and have yet to be blended.

During my session at KCI I was introduced to the TPACK Model.
TPACK Model
This visual representation really captures the complexity in developing ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)’ where teachers seek to understand how their knowledge in the three areas of tech, teaching and content shapes their teaching practice. I think we can all agree that this will not be achieved through teacher PD MOOCs alone, while they may be one valuable piece of the blended learning puzzle.

Gay Krause, Founder of KCI, acknowledged a real shift in thinking amongst school administrators.  Where previously school leaders required convincing, often asking ‘why do we need to this?’, now more often they are asking ‘how can we implement technology effectively?’.  Demand for blended PD exists and is growing.

If the blended learning movement is to truly become mainstream and lead to learning gains for students in schools beyond high-functioning charters (like the 3 highlighted in this MOOC), then we must provide personalized, high-quality blended learning for our educators. And let’s remember the exciting aspect of effectively blending instruction is that it will free up time for students to make stuff; work on projects to stimulate deeper learning. In a recent post from KQED MindShift on empowering educators, they highlight the importance of collaboration and creating opportunities for educators to be makers as well.

For a majority of students their teachers are the gateway to their learning experience, so if we do not adequately prepare and support educators I doubt we’ll see high-quality blended learning really take off.

What do you think? Have you participated in any exceptional blended PD? What has been your experience with PD MOOCs? Please leave your comments below or tweet me @Jessie_Arora.

#EdUnderground: Finding your Herd

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As I continue to grow the TeacherSquare community, I’ve been inspired to find other local efforts around the country that are bringing together innovative educators to deepen their knowledge and comfort with using technology to change teaching and learning. One such organization is the EdUnderground, a group of ~20 educators in Rhode Island who have come together to learn from and inspire each other. As the co-founder, Shawn Rubin describes, “we are group of wild horses looking for our herd, feeling a lack of exploration and innovation in our existing school cultures.”

Rubin, Director of Technology Integration at Highlander Institute, is exactly one of those wild horses who has always been “looking for ways to do transformative things inside and outside the classroom,” and is cultivating that spirit of tinkering through the EdUnderground community. “I see the EdUnderound as equal parts edCamp + Apple Store + Fab Lab. A space where there are crazy-inspiring tools, with a balance between being polished while still encouraging tinkering and knowledge sharing.” Through his role at the Highlander Institute, he realized he had this unique acces to hardware and software tools to stimulate that tinkering and invited 7-8 educators to join him. Fueled by some Rhode Island state grants to support PLCs (professional learning communities) this group quickly doubled and is continuing to grow, with geography playing a role in that growth as well.

Being a small state with 11k teachers and 150k students, Rubin quickly found there were lots of ways educators were experimenting with different tools and strategies in a very small geographic area. In addition, Rubin shares that being “uniquely positioned between New York and Boston, we serve as a testing ground for those edtech ecosystems who are all incredibly interested and eager to get access to this engaged group of RI teachers.”

EdUnderground session

The group currently hosts regular meetups and workshops to share best practices and experiment with various edtech tools. Up next, Shawn is working on building a lending library of hardware and software for teachers to bring these blended learning experiments back to their schools. Shawn and his team were also just awarded a significant grant to build a Blended Learning Institute (as part of Highlander Institute) to showcase blended learning(BL) in action and create a space for educators to explore various BL methods.

As TeacherSquare evolves, I have been looking to connect our community with others, like the EdUnderground, to create a national network of entrepreneurial educators to continue their edtech explorations together through on and offline interactions. If you’re interested in getting involved or starting a similar group in your community, please feel free to reach out to Shawn (srubin@highlanderinstitute.org) or me (jasmit@gmail.com.)

Space Matters: Creating a Tinkering Lab for Education

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One of my current projects is a partnership between TeacherSquare and the San Jose Tech Museum to create a still-to-be-named tinkering lab for education. The goal is to create a cutting edge space that matches the energy and enthusiasm of the edtech startup world, with a specific focus on empowering educators and school leaders to understand the trends and tools, and offer clear systems to support thoughtful technology integration. The energy behind this work is based on supporting tech integration that specifically impacts learning. (If you have time, this somewhat lengthy post from one of the founders of the Digital Harbor Foundation outlines some reasons why we’ve just barely begun “to scratch the surface when it comes to education in the era of the Internet.”)

The growing buzz around education technology has led to a boom in the number of edtech companies launching products designed to help improve teaching, learning and frankly how we ‘do school.’  While these efforts are incredibly promising on multiple levels, it has created a new gap in the education space- the information and implementation gap. Millions of dollars are being invested in the creation of new edtech companies/tools as well as supporting those entrepreneurs; however, very little resources (read time, energy & money) are focused on how to effectively integrate these new tools into current learning environments.

Creating a tinkering lab for education is not a new idea, and frankly with all the activity in the education space in the Bay Area I’m surprised we don’t already have more spaces to support experimentation around implementation that are specifically optimized for the educator perspective. A place where startups can conduct focus groups with teachers and demo their products, tech directors can host PD sessions for their teams, educator incubator programs can facilitate their design thinking workshops, community members can host hackathons…this list can go on and on.

Much of this work is based on existing ideas that have been floating around in education discussions for a while now. Drawing on Alex Hernandez’s idea for a Fab Lab for Education, we aim to create a highly flexible and customizable space to provide educators with the environment and resources to prototype and “try amazing, new ideas without ‘re-tooling’ a whole school.” (You can read more about how schools are rethinking designing their learning spaces on this School Design 101: Space Learnist board.)

A recent op-ed piece on EdSurge from Wikispaces co-founder on How to Succeed in Education Technology captured what’s driving these efforts, stating that “when you empower teachers to use technology effectively, it magnifies the impact they can have on their students.” Currently much of the experimenting with education technology is taking place within charter schools, because they have flexibility to create cultures of experimentation. This project seeks to extend that culture of exploration and experimentation to traditional public schools by providing educators a delightful and engaging space to test ideas as well as a connected community for ongoing support and learning.

TeacherSquare is prototyping this work in San Jose and I plan to document all our learnings so we can bring this experience to other regions. I’d love to hear from you, the edu community, on this topic. What would you most like to see from this community and physical space? What would be most beneficial to support educators?

If you’re interested in getting involved in this work, please let me know.

Education: Thinking Beyond School

Seth Godin recently gave a thought-provoking TED talk that has been making its way across the web. He explains how the current school system, which hasn’t changed much since the Industrial Revolution, is optimized for generating interchangeable units of people, and is “the thing we built to indoctrinate them into obedience.” Godin pushes us all to ask, what is school for?

Inspirational talks like this get me fired up about my own work to help improve education, redesigning the future of teaching and learning to rethink what is possible in schools and communities. Here is another great short film, also featuring Seth Godin, that celebrates the potential of how technology will revolutionize education. (Note that this one is focuses more on specific mobile tech solutions as it was produced by Ericsson.)

While these videos definitely help bring awareness and energy to modern education reform efforts, I often feel that they skip over two very important aspects at the root of why there is such education inequality in the US: motivation and culture.

We’ve all heard the rationale behind the current school system’s batch-processing model designed for military and/or factory based models to create many of the same type of person/consumer. This message is not new. We know this model doesn’t align with our growing emphasis on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. So, let’s assume for a minute that we actually can shift to a student-centered, project-based learning school system. Continuing this dream, let’s then assume that teachers and schools automagically have the tools and resources (money) to support this type of individualized system. Would this solve the problem?

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to get to this type of system, which I think is necessary, but I don’t believe we can have a conversation about true education reform without acknowledging what is happening outside of school. Seth is a genius and outlines an ambitious goal for all of us to ask ‘What is school really for?’ yet I wish he, and others who give talks like this (Ken Robinson, etc), would take it a step further and address the role that motivation and culture play in the learning process and how much that actually matters when we compare the US education system (mainly through test scores) to other nations.

Families and communities establish important cultural norms for kids, which directly influence their motivation and willingness to engage in school, no matter what that system looks like. We cannot talk about addressing comprehensive education solutions without talking about parents and what is happening at home and in neighborhoods.

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. I think the true role of education is to help learners discover ongoing opportunities and feel competent to pursue them. We must realize this goes beyond just what is happening in schools, and that it is our collective responsibility if we want an educated society.

TeacherSquare takes Tech Talks on Air

As the TeacherSquare community continues to grow, I have been thinking about the best way to open our conversations to a larger audience. Last night we hosted our first Teacher Tech Talk on Air using Google Hangouts and despite minor tech issues on my end, we had a lively discussion on formative assessments and how some cloud-based tools are making this more of a reality in many classroom.

Thanks to Jack West (Braincandy), Tim Burke (Gooru) and Trenton Goble (Mastery Connect) for sharing their perspectives as educators and edtech entrepreneurs and leading this important discussion. Additional appreciation goes out to Andrew Coy (Digital Harbor Foundation) and Steve Taffe for their participation and for sharing their insights.

TeacherSquare plans to continue both on and offline discussions just like this so if you have any feedback or suggestions for future topics I’m all ears.

Re-engineering Summer Camp

The most exciting (and challenging) aspect of flipping the classroom is figuring out how to bring real hands-on learning activities back into the school day. Khan Academy, often at the center of the flipped classroom conversation, is exploring some interesting project-based learning efforts during their Discovery Lab Summer Camp. A few members of the team are in the middle of running 3 2-week long sessions at the International School of the Peninsula for middle school students and I got a chance to stop by for a bit this week and observe their lesson on reverse engineering.

The ~20 students in the group were asked to bring in pretty mundane household items, ranging from an old-school telephone to a toaster (one student even attempted to take apart an iPhone), to reverse engineer. One of the newest KA team members, Karl Wendt, shared his example of deconstructing a hair dryer and identifying the various parts, their functions and the materials used to construct the object.

While it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from a brief observation session, it was clear to see the students were engaged in the work and doing some interesting research to understand the mechanics and history of their products. Creating this experience in a 2 week summer camp environment reaching ~ 100 kids is great. Integrating these projects into classrooms across diverse schools and communities during the school year is a massive challenge.

People have strong feelings about Khan Academy, and even the assumptions behind the flipped classroom model. (I think we should acknowledge that people often have strong feelings about a lot of things and move on to what really matters.) To appropriately address this massive challenge of making learning engaging and relevant for all students, we need to continue to attract all forms of energy and talent to create solutions.

I think the best ideas often come from diverse teams bringing new and creative ways of approaching the problem. This is what excites me most about the recent surge in energy and attention focused on the education space, which has brought more people into the conversation who typically wouldn’t want to take on the massive challenge of fixing what’s not working in schools right now.

Personally, I am drawn to solutions that come from entrepreneurial teachers, however I believe we should embrace that diversity of perspective, focusing more on the solutions and their potential for future impact, rather than rejecting approaches that come from ‘non-traditional’ sources. I think that’s the best way for us to collectively re-engineer the future of education.