Friday, August 31, 2012

Transform education by measuring what matters. Hint: It's not test scores.

There’s been a lot of talk about the ethics behind corporations running schools and thus profiting off students. But if we’re really concerned about folks profiting off our kids why aren’t we spending more time focusing on assessment? If we do away with measuring success with test scores the result would be billions saved that could go toward resources and personnel dedicated to support students.

Let’s face it: Teachers know and parents are waking up to the fact that these tests are one of the most expensive and least effective ways to measure student or teacher success. So why are we willing to let policymakers forcibly impose this corporate-driven assessment from companies like Pearson upon our children even if it makes them sick???

What if instead we measured success in things that really mattered to students, parents and teachers.  

For example...

Students have:

  • A plan to find and develop their passion(s).
  • A team of mentors, guidance, and/or advisors to help guide them in discovery and development of their passions.
  • Customized success plans that they help design.
  • Advisors who are deeply involved in and responsible for their lives and their success.
  • An opportunity to learn about what they are interested in the world with real world experts.
  • Reported they are satisfied with support they receive from the school.
  • An authentic portfolio that can be used for career, academic, or civic pursuits.

Teachers and schools are measured by:

  • Success is moving students along to
    • Career
    • College and/or
    • Civic endeavors

that enable them to achieve their plans and goals for personal success.

Pie in the sky?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is compulsory education really necessary?

Editor’s note: This post was born as a result of a #StuVoice chat that addressed the teaching characteristics most conducive to learning. In the chat I responded to a Tweet that stated, “If we're going to keep students in school, our technology needs to catch up!” I responded, “Why keep students in school if they can learn w/out it?” Elliot Hallmark had several insightful responses to that question. I asked him to expand on his thoughts and thus the following post was born. 

Guest post by Elliot Hallmark 
Staff member at Clearview Sudbury School in Austin, Texas 

There are many examples where compulsory education has been unnecessary such as un-schoolers, home schoolers, hunter gather societies, non-western modern cultures, and graduates of radical deschooled institutions. Yet the claim that school is unnecessary strikes many people as unfounded. After all, the circumstances of these various groups, privileged families and members of non-industrial societies, is not representative of everyone. 

So, the thinking persists that abolishing compulsory education would be ultimately abandoning most children, leaving them directionless and struggling fiercely to achieve even an adequate living. Underprivileged children especially would be left completely without the tools they need to succeed. Already, the correlation between family socioeconomic standing and success in school is striking. As funding to public schools decreases, the achievement of the underprivileged drops even further. To make attendance of public school voluntary would be madness! We must take steps to increase the effectiveness of schooling, which is surely the most influential tool we have to ensure the education of children. 


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Blended Workplace

Standardized tests are not the only thing in education that is outdated and wasteful.  The other thing is having central and district offices.  Sure they were necessary last century, but this century??? 
Back in the 90s when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers we got rid of an entire building in Manhattan and moved to something called "hoteling." You worked from where you were and if you had to come in for a meeting or something you checked in that day (like you would in a hotel) and got an office or conference room. This saved the company MILLIONS. 
Seth Godin addressed this in his article, "Goodbye to the Office" and when you think about it, this would not only be a great way to save money for the business office, but also for school districts.  Imagine what the savings could go toward for our students!
Will school systems ever catch up?
I don't know.

I've spoken with folks who run online schools who are worried about buildings for their teachers.
Forget the building the classes are online! Give em a laptop and a wireless port (or money toward internet) and you don't need to waste that money on an office! I bet you could even tack on an extra half hour to the work day in saved commuting time.  
Seth poses these questions:
Why go to work in an office/plant/factory?
  1. That's where the machines are.
  2. That's where the items I need to work on are.
  3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.
  4. There are important meetings to go to.
  5. It's a source of energy.
  6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.
  7. I need someplace to go.
  1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.
  2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.
  3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.
  4. How many meetings are important? If you didn't go, what would happen?
  5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.
  6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?
  7. So go someplace. But it doesn't have to be to your office.
School systems can do this now and save money that could go toward student resources,  lowering class sizes, and so much more.  

Are they too stuck in their old ways or do you think there are some that'd give this a whirl?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Help for educators who want to differentiate student learning this school year

Innovative educators know we can help students learn most effectively when we differentiate learning in ways that enable them to draw upon their personal strengths and talents. However, some teachers groan when anyone talks about using this method of teaching because it can seem overwhelming to assess and evaluate the skills of each student and then design a customized program for optimum learning conditions.  

While there are programs like School of One that do this work by hand, it can be costly and overwhelming. It is important to provide tools and resources that make it possible to help each student achieve and demonstrate deeper learning. Fortunately there are more and more adaptive technology programs like Renzulli Learning Systems or Dreambox that can be used to support educators in doing this work. You can 
click here to see how teachers are using such tools to differentiate math instruction.  

Here are ways you can get started with differentiating learning in your classroom.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Make writing, speaking, and listening more fun with Voki

Guest post by Willyn Webb | Cross posted at Teaching Generation Text

Students come to Delta Opportunity School for many reasons, but the one they all have in common is that they are credit deficient. Most feel incapable of writing even a basic essay. Thus every student has an individual learning plan focusing on their needs. In the small group English class there are students ranging in age from 15 to 20 as they are grouped not according to their grade level in school, but according to their ability level. The students love working at their level. So many have been passed along due to their age and many have missed important skills due to multiple moves, crisis in live, or nonattendance. 

Efforts towards improving reading, writing, speaking, and listening are always at the forefront of learning for students. Making writing fun, using the skills they do have (such as texting and talking on the phone), and learning from each other are goals that teachers have in the classroom. To meet that goal, teachers have incorporated a tool called Voki and the use of student-owned devices to help improve these skills. Students who had never written a personal experience essay found themselves writing and enjoying it after first practicing with texted notes and calling Voki either at home or at school.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The hottest posts that everyone's reading!

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

Aug 21, 2012, 17 comments            2211                                                                                                                      
Aug 20, 2012, 0 comments               1882                                                                                                                      
Aug 19, 2012, 3 comments               1527                                                                                                                      
Jul 18, 2012, 1 comment                   1222                                                                                                                      
Aug 23, 2012, 2 comments               1216       

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Preparing Students for Success Means Budgeting for a Tech Coordinator - Agree?

Guest post by Nick Fier | Cross posted at A Tech Coordinator for Elementary Schools

Editor's note:  As we approach this school year and the Office of Educational Technology for New York City fades quietly into the ether, this post by tech coach, Nick Fier is timely and relevant.  

We tend to spend more money on "things" than we do on "people."  Though there is a great amount of disparity out there, it does seem clear that schools today are filling up with technology.  What they are not also filling on is a dedicated person who has the job to coordinate the technology throughout the building.  I do not mean a technician, or I might say I don't mean only a technician.  What I mean is that every building needs an expert educator who will coordinate the use of technology for Students, Teachers, Parents, and Administrators.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Innovative Educator hosts keynote student panel at 9 pm EST tonight!

What happens when students are kept prisoners of their teacher's past?

For today’s youth life outside of school is a fast-paced, connected environment where students have the freedom to learn in the spaces and with the tools they love. Once inside school walls however, digital devices and resources are often banned, collaborating is viewed as cheating, tools of engagement are seen as weapons of mass distraction, and students are prohibited from accessing the very sites and resources necessary for real-world success. 

During the Learning 2.0 Live Virtual Event I spoke to a panel of tech savvy students devoted to education reform. We discussed:

  • Problems that result when we restrict students from using technology
  • Some of the flawed logic for doing so, and
  • Solutions to overcome these obstacles  

Listen to the session here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Here's what our standardized tests are really measuring. Shame!

Seth Godin does a great job of explaining why doing well on standardized tests does not a great nation make in this video.  

Listen as Godin explains how the founders of public school worked to preserve the interests of corporations (Andrew Carnegie) and government (Woodrow Wilson). Godin quickly outlines that to which those like John Taylor Gatto has devoted hundreds of pages. 

We needed public school for two reasons:
1) We were afraid we'd run out of good factory workers.
2) We were afraid we'd run out of folks who wanted to buy stuff.

So we created public schools to serve two purposes:
1) Train people to be compliant factory workers who were great at sitting in rows and following instructions.
2) We needed to teach people that if they wanted to fit in they needed to buy the stuff we told them to buy.

Our standardized tests measure our success in accomplishing these goals.
That's why people like Yong Zhao who heads Global Ed for University of Oregon explains countries like China are not proud when their students do well on these tests.  They know they kill innovation and creativity.  

Parents, teachers, administrators, do these test scores really make you proud?  If not, what will you do about it?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why going to school to learn is no longer necessary

was recently interviewed for “Class Dismissed,” the first full-length documentary devoted to exploring homeschooling as a viable alternative to the industrial school model. Class Dismissed will challenge its viewers to take a fresh look at what it means to be educated, the difference between education and schooling and speak to the many misconceptions that surround homeschooling, while offering up a radical new way of thinking about the process of education.

In this video excerpt I explain why we no longer need to go to school to learn what we need for success.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Would you take classes if you weren’t forced?

I recently began wondering how people learn best. Specifically, how do people choose to learn when they are not forced to take classes because they want a job that required certain pieces of paper. Would classes be the method of choice and if not, what was?

So, I put my question on Twitter.

Lisa Nielsen @InnovativeEdu
If you didn't NEED a class to get that piece of paper (i.e. degree/diploma) is a class really the way you'd choose to learn? #edchat

I got a response.

Kelly Vaughan@luciente11
@InnovativeEdu Yes! I actually PREFER learning many/most things in classes. More engaging, social, accountability to process & others...

Then several more which you can read here and then a blog post.  

I thought about it.  


Some people really like classes, but I do not.

As an adult, aside from the classes I needed for my teaching and administrative licenses, have I taken classes to learn?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The hottest posts that everyone's reading

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

Not good for the gander?
Aug 12, 2012, 11 comments, 2535 views
Will you dare to disagree?
Aug 14, 2012, 1 comment, 2035 views

Free tool for flipping the classroom
Aug 16, 2012, 4 comments, 1914 views
Homeschoolers outperform publicly schooled youth ...
Aug 10, 2012, 14 comments, 1424 views
8 Real Ways Facebook Enriched Ms. Schoening’s Firs...
Jul 15, 2010, 23 comments, 1377 views
One question reformed & revitalized schools...
Aug 15, 2012, 1 comment, 1334 views
Ensure "back to school" doesn't mean "back to tests...
Aug 13, 2012, 1311 views

Friday, August 17, 2012

Break the barriers of IEPs and test scores to bring music to the ears of ALL children

Editor's note: John Skelton shared with other parents and educators in The Opt Out of Tests New York group the actions he took to restore the ability of a student with an IEP to participate in music class. I'm sharing here in hopes that it will prove useful for others who want to do the same.

Guest post by John Skelton | Parent and Teacher

To put this story in the proper context, I must first tell you a few details. I teach orchestra at a public middle school about an hour north of New York City. Orchestra is a regularly-scheduled class during the school day, just as math, ELA, and other such subjects are.

Obviously, one difference about what I teach compared to something like math is that students choose to take my class. While that does mean that I don't need the compelling force of a governmental curriculum to motivate my students to learn, it also means that music, as a discipline, is treated as less important. You know..."just an elective" (as if choice were a bad thing).
This past year, I had a 6th grade violin player who was really quite advanced. I was expecting great things from him because he was easily one of the best players in the group. He studied privately. He performed conscientiously. He was eager to take part and show what he could do. However, he also had the misfortune of having an individual education plan (IEP) which required him to be in an academic intervention services (AIS) class for a specific number of hours. I first noticed this when, about two weeks into the school year, he stopped showing up at my class. When I asked him why, he showed me his schedule which had AIS where Orchestra used to be. He told me both he and his parents were none to happy about the change.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Free tool for flipping the classroom

ScreenCameraIf you’re flipping over the flipped classroom, you may also be looking for a tool that can record and broadcast real-time screencasts in your chosen platform (i.e. Skype, MSN Messenger, UStream) that you can use for capturing webcasts, tutorials, and more.

PCWinSoft is offering readers of The Innovative Educator free licenses for ScreenCamera (normally $49.95) to do just that.  

ScreenCamera enables you to choose to record a section of the desktop, the whole desktop, the area around the mouse cursor or an ‘exclusive window’. The exclusive window is where the program will continue capturing the chosen a Window even after it is not the active or the topmost one. ScreenCamera can also take snapshot images and it can also work as a normal screen recorder. Once you record the video you can save it on your computer. ScreenCamera works on PCs that have Windows 2000 and newer.

Try it out for free, by simply visiting this link to get the activation key.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One question reformed & revitalized schools and communities

One person with one idea from one small town asked herself one question that changed everything.

Can you find a unifying language that cuts across age and income and culture that will help people help themselves to find a new way of living, see spaces around them differently, think about the resources they use differently, interact differently?

The answer would appear to be...

The result would appear to be a town that transformed 

from this...

to this...

from this...

to this...

from this...

to this...

...and the language would appear to be...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will you dare to disagree?

Margaret Heffernan does an amazing job of revealing why we need those rare people who are willing to publicly disagree with the prevailing thinking in a system or organization...even if they are a part of it and want it to succeed. 

While most people instinctively avoid conflict, Heffernan shows us in this TED Talk that good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) how the best partners, employees, and/or team members aren’t echo chambers. She explains how great research teams, relationships and businesses not only allow but also embrace, foster, and acknowledge the importance of those who deeply disagree with the status quo. These indeed are often the ones who have the courage to say what so many others are thinking.

Watch this video below and think about how we can do a better job of fostering this in the education system.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Help ensure "back to school" doesn't mean "back to tests."

Editor's note:  John Skelton shared with other parents in The Opt Out New York group the steps and documents he took to successfully opt his child out of tests. I'm publishing this article here in hopes that it will prove useful for others who want to do the same.
Guest post by John Skelton, parent & teacher
My daughter will be entering 3rd grade in the Fall. As an educator (I teach middle school music), I am well aware of the travesty that is state testing. In fact, not only do I see how harmful it is to education in general, I experience directly how much it destroys programs like mine that arguably are just as vital to the development of a child. So in June, I decided to contact my daughter's principal with the following email:
Hi Dr. XXXX,

I would like to schedule a meeting with you at your convenience to discuss my daughter, XXXX. She will be entering 3rd grade next year and I would like to opt her out of the high stakes standardized state tests that are administered at that grade level. I believe such tests are counterproductive to a quality education and lack validity as a measure of learning. On the other hand, I understand firsthand the position that educators are put in by testing mandates.

I'd appreciate the opportunity to discuss alternative assessments as well as the logistics involved in not having her sit for these tests. As this is for next May, I am in no immediate rush. However, since this is a complicated issue, I'd like to give ample time to consider the matter conscientiously.

Thank you so much!
I did end up sending a follow-up about a month later to which he responded with suggestions for meeting times. As advice to those who are looking to opt their children out, I need to stress three things at this point:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Not good for the gander?

During a recent Digital Age Learning conference, participants were asked to bring an artifact to to represent the completion of one of these sentences.  

  • I learn best when....
  • My favorite new idea is...
  • I know I understand something when....
  • When I need help I...

Everyone was asked to reveal their artifact and find three people who were given questions different than themselves and discuss why they choose the artifact they did.  I was very pleased with my choice and ready to open some eyes.
What happened next both surprised me and caused me to smirk.
Nearly every person had the same artifact. Sadly, though, like the teacher’s edition of a textbook, this artifact that many adults choose learning, understanding, getting help and new ideas, is off limits to students today.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The hottest posts that everyone's reading

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.
Aug 5, 2012, 4 comments     2512                                              
Aug 9, 2012   2296                                                              
Aug 8, 2012, 1 comment      2001                                              
Jun 24, 2012, 5 comments   1947                                              
Aug 7, 2012   1883                                                              
Aug 6, 2012   1642                                                              
Jul 15, 2010, 23 comments  1396                                              
Mar 21, 2008, 4 comments   987  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Homeschoolers outperform publicly schooled youth on traditional measures

I've become interested in home education after discovering how amazingly well home educated children are learning. Once I dug a little deeper I began learning about families who were home educating following a philosophy that leans more toward unschooling also known as learning naturally via a life without school. As a result many of the myths I had been lead to believe about learning were quickly shattered.

Why is this important for someone who is passionate about public education and in fact has been a part of the system for more than a decade? Because educators have a lot to learn about learning from home educating families. In fact, if we don't, we are doing young people a disservice and moving further and further toward the irrelevance and disconnection that leads so many young people toward tuning out or worse, dropping out with rates around 50% in cities like those in which I've lived (Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York).

One belief educators and parents often come back with is that home education can't possibly be the best for learning because young people deserve highly trained professionals, not just their parents, to best support their learning. Here are some reasons this belief is flawed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Open Education Resources (OER) Brings Free and Affordable College Options Closer to Reality

I’ve been critical of the "Generation Debt"-producing “College for All” mantra in pieces like The College Myth: Why College isn't Worth the Cost for Many Careers Today.  However, Online learning and OER  (Open Education Resources) have tremendous potential for  driving down college costs.

In particular I’ve featured colleges like Harvard and MIT who are placing their classes online and organizations like University of the People and School of Everything who are sharing a variety of online learning opportunities. All of these options are being offered at little or no cost.  

In many cases students are able to take the reins and move through the courses on their own.  In other cases they use study groups like  Peer 2 Peer University or tutors to support them especially in some of the more difficult subject areas like Algebra or Physics where they may want or need additional support.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Back to school doesn't have to mean back to homework

When I suggested to Chris Anderson, the creator of TED Talks and now TED-Ed, that he might want to reconsider using the term "Flip" for all his teacher-created videos, he looked puzzled. Flipped classroom, or flipped video in this case, refers to the practice of doing homework in class and watching the instruction at home. I explained, that the power of video doesn't have to be relegated solely to work that happens at home. Instead, these videos can be powerful in school learning tools as well. 

He asked why teachers and parents wouldn't want to watch these great videos for homework. I explained that there is a growing movement against homework among parents, educators, and students. Kids already spend about 6 hours a day with academic pursuits chosen by other people. More and more people feel time at home should be chosen by the child and his/her family. 

When we do this we empower and trust families to decide what they want to do when they leave school. Instead of homework, they may want to:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Flip your classroom and more with TedEd videos

Guest post by Shawn Rubin

TedEd is a a new resource from TED talks with a focus on the flipped classroom model. The idea behind TedEd is that teachers can take the best of YouTube or create their own videos then flip them, which means adding titles, directions, questions and links to other resources.

These videos then live on the TedEd website. They each have their own unique URL and can be sent around to the general public for viewing and learning.

The beta version is quite useful for teachers looking to enter the flipped classroom space. Educators should note that there are a few missing features that will hopefully be addressed in the future, but until then, users should note that you don’t have the ability to create or edit the “Quick Quiz” section when you flip your lesson and once you flip your lesson you cannot edit it any further.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Preparing students for success without tests and textbooks

Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South BronxIn this TED Talk by South Bronx teacher Stephen Ritz we see how this innovative educator took a nontraditional route to lead his students to success. In his story, you will notice that when the focus is moved from subjects to students the results are amazing. You will also not see a single test or book report anywhere in sight.

As his recent TED Talk reveals, Ritz believes that students shouldn't have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one. Ritz and his kids grow lush gardens for food, greenery -- and jobs. He is bringing generations of students successes they have never imagined while also reclaiming and rebuilding his community where they have grown more than 25,000 pounds of vegetables.

Rather than decorating class walls with the traditional carrots and sticks (grades and test scores) Ritz’s walls are edible generating enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals. His students have gained the skills that have lead them to become the youngest nationally certified workforce in America traveling far and wide earning a wage and for some opening their family’s first bank account.

Watch the video below to discover out how one educator is growing a movement that is changing lives and rebuilding communities. Like what you see? Visit the student-run Green Bronx Machine Facebook page at