Wednesday, January 30, 2013

5 Cs to developing your personal learning network #PLN

Thinglink is a cool tool that brings ideas into a nice visual graphic. Check out this one based on my article, "The 5 Cs to developing your personal learning network."

How Kids Really Learn to Write

Patricia Zaballos shares some radical notions about how kids can become writers in her article in Life Learning Magazine. These notions share little resemblance to what writing looks like in schools today. 

Though she has extensive experience as a public school student and teacher, her insights are drawn from her fifteen years spent homeschooling her own kids and watching them become writers as well as more than a decade of facilitating writer’s workshops and the twenty years she spent becoming a writer.  

In her article Zaballos explains what kids do and don’t need to become writers.   You can read the thinking behind each do and don’t at the original article or on her blog.  Below are the highlights.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Research says social media is easier to recall than textbooks

Scientific American recently reported what many innovative educators instinctively know.  
Image: Katie Sayer/Flickr
"Humans are better at remembering information if it appears as a social network post." 
The article reveals that recollecting Facebook posts is easier than recalling the same information in a book. It also takes less effort to remember posted matter than someone's face, according to new research.

All the more reason for teachers to consider creating Facebook groups for their students so they can have great conversations about ideas, articles, and videos moderated and facilitated by a professional teacher.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

7 ways to support your child in being digitally responsible without contracts

Parents and educators agree that in the age of “Generation Text” it is important to be prepared to help children become responsible citizens of the digital world. What they don't agree on is how to go about this. While some flocked to follow the advice of the overbearing mom whose iPhone gift came with contractual strings, other parents, educators, and teens alike were appalled by the disrespect and contempt conveyed by such an approach. Ensuring our children are safe and responsible online does not require heavy-handed, authoritarian rules to be forced upon them. Instead, being involved in your child’s digital world can be fun. It can also help you and your child develop an open an honest relationship that will help you to grow closer rather than causing a wedge.  
Here are ideas to get you started on peacefully being supportive of children in their online lives.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

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.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mainstream television features kids growing up without school

Dayna Martin is a mother of four who is raising her children without school, textbooks, standards, or a curriculum. Instead her children's passions, talents, and interests drive their learning.

Check out Dayna's interview below on the Jeff Probst Show as she explains why she's unschooling her kids, and what her role is in their development and education. 

For more information about Dayna, visit her website. To connect with other parents who are raising their children without school join this group. To connect with schoolfree teens join this group.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Embracing social media use in schools with a toolkit for administrators

Looks like more and more cities are following the lead of NYC and embracing the use of social media in schools. Most recently the Chicago Public Schools has put together toolkit of resources—video, documents, and links to other sites—for principals and staff who want to use social media to connect with their school communities. 

The toolkit, has useful resources that will be helpful regardless of what city or town you work in. It highlights creative and effective social media use by schools with a focus on Twitter and Facebook.

The toolkit includes:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

High school dropout pursues passions and becomes a multimillionaire

David Karp began learning HTML at 11 and soon after was designing websites for local businesses. Unlike Nick Perez who spent years being drugged and tortured in a school that didn’t understand his particular passion, Karp attended high school for one year before dropping out.  This allowed him to focus on doing projects that enabled him to pursue his passions. 

He also knew this would be a good way to impress colleges. As was popular in America prior to the days of compulsory schooling and the infantalization of youth, Karp worked on projects he loved, found mentors, and began apprenticing in areas that aligned with his passion. Ironically, Karp didn’t need to impress colleges since after taking ownership of his learning he realized he didn’t need school for success.  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

3 lessons from Finland and a surprising warning

Finnish Lessons book asks "What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?"  Written by Pasi Sahlberg, PhD, with a forward by Dr. Andy Hargraves.Innovative educators know that looking to Finland as the golden standard for education because of their test scores makes little sense for a number of reasons. This includes the fact that if we adjust for poverty and speakers of other languages in our nation, their results are no more remarkable than ours.  Internationally, these tests are no more than a measure of poverty and ability to speak the national language in any given country.   But  even when we take the tests out the picture, we should recognize Finland because 80% of the taxpayers trust their public school system and 75% of the citizens think that their publicly funded education system is their most significant accomplishment since independence. Those are laudable accountability measures to hope to live up to.  
Pasi Sahlberg, author of the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award winning book, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? warns us, that even if we wanted a system like theirs, we probably couldn’t have it because many of the successful aspects of Finland's education system are rooted in cultures and values that are a not a part of the U.S. For example, high levels of trust in people and institutions, pursuit of equality and fairness in society and life, and willingness to pay taxes for common good. But they do suggest, that despite this, Sahlberg says we can learn some concrete lessons. These lessons are built on the premise that rather than over-standardize teaching and learning in schools by prescribed curricula and frequent high-stakes testing, three other aspects of education should be standardized instead.

Here they are:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

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 page views. 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.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Overcoming the Six Biggest Objections to Project- Based Learning #PBLchat

Join BAM radio's Rae Pica for a discussion about overcoming the biggest obstacles in project-based learning.  

While interest in project-based learning continues to accelerate, this approach to teaching has its share of skeptics and detractors. In this segment we lay out the benefits of project-based learning and dispelling the concerns, doubts and objections. 

Joining Pica are the following: 
  • John Larmer a Director of Product Development at the Buck Institute for Education. 
  • Nikhil Goyal a 17-year-old author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School. 
  • Nicholas "Nick" Provenzano a high school English teacher and writes thoughts on education at 
  • Lisa Nielsen (Me!), author of the book Teaching Generation Text and a long time public school educator. 
In the program I share the work of teacher Pauline Roberts who brings project-based learning to life which you can check out here
You can listen to the program on the BAM radio site here!

Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag  #PBLchat

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This is how Democracy Ends Part II: Dispelling 6 Common Myths of the #CCSS

By Kris Nielsen Originally posted at Middle Grades Mastery
This is the second installment in the This is How Democracy Ends series. Part one is here.  This is How Democracy Ends–Part II –Reality Check–will give an abbreviated version of why the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) is worse than we think and why it has been pushed so hard on states, districts, and schools.  Hopefully, Part Three will be my ideas for action, and my proposal for an alternative to the current reform movement, based on a humble teacher’s perspective.

Let’s look for a moment at a majority (yet shrinking) consensus among professional educators and the perspective that the public has accepted has been fed regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

This is part of a comment left by a professional educator on the first article in this series:
 I have a hard time believing that the whole thing is a ploy to destroy education and teachers. I doubt that our country would maliciously and hurt our children.
I post this comment because it’s a good start to a list of things that teachers and parents have been told to believe and talk about–the first of which speaks to that commenter–we are supposed to trust our educational and government leaders.  They would never hurt our kids or allow our kids to be hurt.  First, let’s talk about what the Common Core State Standards Initiative is and what it isn’t.  Then, I’ll come back to discuss our trust in our country.
Here’s a non-inclusive list of myths about Common Core and standardized tests that professional teachers have all been prescribed (ordered) to accept.  I will touch on why each one is not a truth or a benefit to our kids and the future of our country.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What should be standardized?

I've been thinking about all the things that should be standardized in life but aren't.  Here are the most annoying ones that come to my mind. 

Phone chargers (Really iPhone 5???)
On/off switches on computers (Push, slide, front, side?)
Television remote controls (How do you turn this dang thing on?)
Carry on luggage (Forget the sizers, just give a standardized stamp or seal!)
Laptop plug hole (Left? Right? Back?)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Where can kids go on opt out of tests days?

Students from Palms Elementary in the photography galleries at the Getty CenterMore and more parents are opting their children out of standardized tests. In a recent opt out group discussion, parents shared they were told that if their child attended school, but did not take the test, they would have to sit at their desks and do nothing. They would not even be allowed to read but rather sentenced to sit and stare into space.

Rather than waste children’s time, one parent asked, “Wouldn't it be amazing if there was an educational opportunity available in communities during testing days for those students who were opting out?”

Yes. Of course it would.

Why not use testing days as community learning days? It wouldn’t be that hard. Here are some ideas to get started.

Activities for students who #OptOut of #StandardizedTests

Many innovative educators realize that there are better ways to assess than standardized tests. As a result, they are supportive of students whose parents have decided to opt their children out of tests. 

This leaves teachers with a dilemma. Rather than sit and stare, what can those students do while their classmates take the test. This can be difficult considering most schools allow student to only have pencils, scrap paper and a testing booklet on their desk.

Here are some ideas:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Union supports standardized tests boycott

The Seattle Times reports the teachers union  shares concerns the faculty at Garfield High has raised about district-required standardized tests.
As a result, the Garfield teachers announced that no teachers at the school would be giving the tests this winter, even though the district requires them to do so.  Nearly all the faculty signed a letter to the district saying they’re not against testing, but they think their standardized exams (MAP) is a flawed test that fails to help them or their students and waste valuable class time. It seems the innovative educators working in those schools know there are better ways to assess students

Saturday, January 12, 2013

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.

Dear overbearing phone mom - No thanks!
Jan 6, 2013, 35 comments
Why no school is the best school if you can't affo...
Jan 6, 2013, 14 comments
This is how Democracy ends — Apology from a former...
Jan 3, 2013, 1 comment
Why the flip’s a flop
Dec 11, 2012, 13 comments
The hottest post of 2012 on The Innovative Educato...
Jan 5, 2013, 1 comment
How will you help datapoint students who are stand...
Jan 4, 2013, 1 comment

Friday, January 11, 2013

Is the common core sending children over an educational cliff?

Guest post by TimeOutDad

As an aspiring school leader, as an educator, as a parent, I am deeply worried about the education of our children.  There’s been a lot of buzz about the Common Core Standards and how they’re supposed to somehow get our children college and/or career ready by raising the standards for all.   Sounds great, right?   Well, the message that seems to have been sent to the test-makers is, “Let’s make these high-stakes tests harder than ever.”  Since higher scores in the past haven’t gotten our students ready for college, then we need to “raise the bar” even higher with even harder reading passages and even harder math problems.  That’ll create more success, right?   REALLY?

Imagine yourself as a third grader.  Eight years old.  Now, let’s click on the latest Sample 3rd Grade English Language Arts sample questions (from, a New York State Education Department website that provides resources for educators and parents) and scroll down to the first reading passage written by Leo Tolstoy.  After reading the passage, go ahead and take a look at the sample test questions.  Go ahead.  Give it a try, and come back when you’re done…

So, what did you think?  Reasonable?  Fair?  How about some math?  That’s our reality.  Our children.  Anyone else see an educational cliff?

(In case you want to see other sample tests for other grades...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Respect: It’s not just for adults anymore

by Amy | Edited version. Original posted on Unschooling NYC on January 7, 2013

Is it respectful to post an iPhone contract of rules regarding the use of a gift given to a child by his parent? Is it respectful to post a photo of a child’s room taped off with duct tape and marked as hazardous & then say you had to do it to get the kid to clean the room?

Embedded image permalink

Such were the issues at the heart of a recent Twitter/Facebook firestorm.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Make your Race to Nowhere movie!

Parent Guide to Fixing SchoolsVicki Abeles, producer of the film Race to Nowhere is asking for innovative educators to take a minute or two to tell your story in front of a camera. Please share what actions -- big or small -- you, your family, or your school taken to break out of the “Race to Nowhere."  Think about the small steps you've taken. Did you sign a petition, ask for homework-free holiday breaks in your school, speak to a teacher or administrator about homework,  testing or the school schedule? Did you make changes in your home, change the conversation with your family and friends, attend a school board meeting or advocate for more time for recess? Did you make changes to support more balance or time together as a family? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Public ed is only a right for the compliant

The powerful and wealthy in our country pay to send their children to schools that are not testing factories, but for those who can't afford this luxury, children are used, abused, chewed up and spit out of the system if they are not compliant. Even if it means they will get hurt or sick.

It's sort of like one of those alien movies where those in power feel they have the right to run these tests on aliens because they are sub-human. But this is not a movie and our children aren't aliens.

This story played out recently when 12-year-old Anthony Hererra's mother, Gretchen, followed doctors orders  which she shared with the school and allowed her son to opt out of the test.  As reported in Education Week, what came next was a letter waiting for her from the charter school her son attends. The letter said Anthony was no longer welcome because by opting out he
 violated his learning contract so he was being withdrawn from the school, effective immediately.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dear overbearing phone mom - No thanks!

You may have read the post from an overbearing mom who was trying to control her kid because she purchased a phone for him. The level of contempt this mom shows for her son is disheartening. Fortunately, this mom’s whole desire to impose lessons upon him falls short if he rejects her gift. Teaching your child that money equals control is a shameful and dangerous lesson.  We can respect children and help them become responsible without such control.  
Here is the letter from this mom followed by what a hypothetical teen (based on real conversations with teens about the issue) who doesn’t accept her gift might say.

Dear Gregory

Merry Christmas!  You are now the proud owner of an iPhone.  Hot Damn!  You are a good & responsible 13 year old boy and you deserve this gift.  But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations.  Please read through the following contract.  I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it.  Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.

I love you madly & look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the days to come.

Dear Mom,

I appreciate gifts, but this is not a gift. A gift does not come with strings attached so I don’t choose to accept this.  Below are my responses to your strings.

Why no school is the best school if you can't afford an independent school

A friend recently asked what school/districts I recommend near New York City. When my boyfriend and I discussed this a few years back I rattled off numerous schools and districts like this one.  Back then my job consisted in part of supporting schools with something called the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) which honors students passions, talents, interests, abilities and learning style. My advice today is very different.

What learning looks like for the children
of the wealthy or highly educated.
Those SEM schools are gone for the most part, though some hang on by a thread with an after school program.

Priorities have changed.

Gone are the days when we saw our children as creative, unique individuals and educators as the ones who could help them discover, explore, and develop their passions.

Today our teachers and students know they are nothing more than mere datapoints who will be fed a pre-packaged, curriculum that is measured by numerous One-Size-Fits-All tests that line the pockets of publishers like Pearson, fill the egos of politicians who don't know better and hurt our children.
Penelope Trunk, a wildly successful career advisor explains it this way:
"Test-based curricula is irrefutably ineffective and bad for kids. I'm not even providing a link, because it's so widely reported. However no one can think of a better way to run such a large and diverse public school system as the one we have in the US, so test-based curricula will persist for a long time."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The hottest post of 2012 on The Innovative Educator

Another year is behind us as 2012 has come to an end. Before you get to the list of the hottest posts of the year, I want to say thank you to all the educators, parents, and young people who’ve spent it here and in The Innovative Educator group thinking and learning with me. I think more broadly and more deeply because of  the feedback and advice you have provided to me throughout the year.

Friday, January 4, 2013

How will you help datapoint students who are standing up and speaking out

Noa Rosinplotz at Spelling Bee via Flickr
More and more students are waking up, standing up, and speaking out against standardized testing.  Most recently 6th grade student Noa Rosinplotz posted the following story on her Facebook Page aptly named Datapoints. 

The Little Datapoint and the Big Bad Test

Once upon a time, there was a little datapoint named Rosin Plotz, Noa. Her friends called her by her ID number, 9------, or 9 for short. She liked her job-most of the time. But 6 times a year, or 19 days in total, came the Big Bad test. The Little Datapoint completed the test dutifully each time, mulling the possibilities of Paul Revere's horse's emotions and checking her work not once, but twice. She and the other Datapoints together formed a Chart, which was their Job. The Little Datapoint felt very proud at having been a part of such a great endeavor. Then one day, the Little Datapoint felt a different emotion. The Little Datapoint felt ANGRY. The Little Datapoint thought: Is this all I am good for? Providing data on tests? That can't be all there is to life, can it?. These questions are dumb, thought the Little Datapoint. I should not spend my life answering these questions. Paul Revere's horse will never change the world, she said to herself. Paul Revere's horse is dead. But I can still change the world. And I will never do that by answering these questions, day after day, year after year. And that Little Datapoint did not answer her questions. That Little Datapoint RIPPED UP HER TEST AND THREW IT INTO THE DEEP DARK RECESSES OF THE TRASH CAN TO FESTER AND EVENTUALLY DIE A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH LASTING FOR ALL ETERNITY!!!!!!!!!"

But that's not all.  She also wrote a letter which Diane Ravitch recently posted on her blog here.
Noa is not alone.  Last year I shared two letters from students in grades five and six speaking out against tests.

Students are speaking out. Parents are speaking out.  Teachers are speaking out. We know these tests are not what's best for children. 
"Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up." (Au Contraire, Nov 2012) - Gary Stager
Nothing will change if we allow the government to impose these destructive practices upon children. It may not be easy, but doing what is right and best for the oppressed often is not. Our children don't need these tests. Our teachers don't. Our parents don't. The only ones who do are the politicians and multi-billion dollar testing industry. We must stand up to this Goliath, take back the learning and put it where it the hands of children, their parents, and the teachers who have their student's best interest at heart.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

This is how Democracy ends — Apology from a former teacher

Recently Kris Nielsen, the Teacher Dropout I featured on my blog last month, wrote this to me on Facebook:
A while back, I asked you if you saw any redeeming qualities about CCSS. Your answer got me thinking. Since then, you could say I've seen the light. To follow is the post he wrote that appears on his blog Middle Grades Mastery

Almost a year ago, I offered my time to the middle school at which I was employed to give a two-night presentation that promised to ease parents’ concerns about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP).  I was given kudos by my boss, my coworkers, and many of those parents.  We talked about the future, the upcoming tests by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and we even did some hands-on math demonstrations.  It was a good time for me, and I hope those parents can say the same.  My message was simple: trust us–we got this!
Some of them were still skeptical, and they should be praised for that skepticism.
First, I want to offer you my apologies.  It wasn’t long after my presentation that I had a crushing realization that the entire thing (minus the hands-on stuff) was completely misguided.  I felt like a flip-flopper, but I’ve always valued the truth more than feeling good.  So, I’m here to clear the air.  The truth hurts and it should start scaring the hell out of you, because your children are your most precious gift and you will do anything to protect them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Extraordinary education happenings in 2012

17-year-old Nikhil Goyal nails it with his take on the Best of 2012: The Five Most Extraordinary Things to Happen in Education for GOOD magazine.

Goyal hits on five transformative developments effecting education this year.  The one I'm most jazzed about for innovative educators is how students were able to use the power of social media to have a voice in the education conversation.  

From Goyal:

The Students Speak Out: 
Students around the nation have seized the national microphone and have begun articulating their voices in education. With hundreds of student protests documented, young people are no longer willing to sit idly on the sidelines. In September, I published my first book on revolutionizing education from a student’s perspective. Earlier this month, Stephanie Rivera and few other college students launched Students United for Public Education in an effort to stop the takeover of public education in America. The group even had a protest. 
And this past summer, Zak Malamed founded the StuVoice movement, corralling student leaders onto one platform, giving spotlight to their voices, and making some dents in education policy. For one, Malamed, Matthew Resnick, Joshua Lafazan, myself, and a few other students signed a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo demanding that students be added onto the New York State Education Reform Commission. With the power of social media, we will not stop petitioning, marching, protesting, and rallying until our voices are heard and represented. As educator Diane Ravitch once said, “When the students awaken, the national conversation will change.”
One of the most import jobs of innovative educators is empowering our students to have their voices heard and represented. It is imperative that we ensure students are prepared to effectively use the tools of their world to change their world.  
Read the rest of Goyal's extraordinary happenings here

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Start the New Year with a new way to look at students who don't seem to care

There is more than one way to look at someone.
"My students don't know how to learn.  They don't know how to succeed.  And, it doesn't seem like they care to change any of that. " -Crystal Kirch, My biggest struggle this year High school math teacher Crystal Kirch’s biggest struggle of 2012 was met with both cheers from those who could commiserate as well as jeers from those who were concerned that students were not the culprit, but rather the victims of a system that set them up for failure.  Earlier this year, Kirch found it so difficult to consider feedback from those who saw things differently that she censored comments calling them "intense attacks" and blocked those who made them on Twitter. Kirch isn't the only one who refuses to learn from those outside the echo chamber. Ira Socol recently had a similar experience when offering an alternate perspective to a teacher about a student and parent that opposed forced classroom testing.

But here's what these closed-minded educators are missing.

Gary Stager explains what those offering an alternate perspective to these student-blaming teachers were doing: 
"Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up." (Au Contraire, Nov 2012)
When I initially wrote the post explaining that a personal learning network was not an echo chamber, readers questioned my assessment of the comments that Kirch censored. Some thought, maybe Kirch was being honest and they were attacks. Maybe the comments on Kirch's blog from others who blamed students weren't that troublesome. 

As requested in the comments, I'll let readers decide for themselves. If you were one of those teachers that think students don't know how to learn and don't care, perhaps you'll think again about how you look at these students after reading some alternate perspectives.

To follow are reactions from teachers who shared frustration over the struggle of kids who they felt don't want to learn followed by insights Kirch called "intense attacks" from those who defended children and challenged this point of view.