Category Archives: Uncategorized

Valentines Day: Showing Love and Care of Others via Technology

The bad things kids (and adults, too) do with technology seem to get a ton of press. Kids “hacking” their school devices, playing games instead of doing learning activities, going to inappropriate sites, intentionally damaging equipment…

Platform for Good blog

So it was quite refreshing to find a post called “14 Ways People Showed Love Online This Year” (but, then again, what would you expect from a blog called A Platform For Good?!).

Besides, it's Valentines Day, and it's nice to remember that love isn't reserved for our partners and our families, but is also represented by how we show care for others.

So take a few minutes to explore this article.

And maybe think about:

  • How might we shift focus in the public from kids being bad (especially with technology), to how they can also be very, very good?
  • How do these examples give us ideas for our own classrooms?
  • How can we engage students in academic content, while they get to contribute to something they find to be of social significance?
  • How else might we leverage technology to show love and care for others?

Happy Valentines Day!


“How Is Technology Changing Schools?” is The Wrong Question

I keep hearing people ask the question “How is technology changing schools?”

But I think that's the wrong question.

I think the right question is “How is technology changing learning?”

I see technology (outside of school) playing a critical and ubiquitous role in how students learn what they want to know. (And, for that matter, how adults and organizations learn and grow.)

Maybe the real question is “Will schools respond to those changes?”

(And I worry the subtext will become, “or if we don't, will we (schools) become less and less relevant to students?”)

How will we respond?


The Real Power of Technology in Schools – Focusing on the Right Thing

I worry when I hear schools talking about their (often new) technology, and simply describe the tools (word processors, blogs, social networks, apps, etc.) that they are teaching their students to use.

And I fear that they have wasted their money, because they have totally missed the point about technology's role (and potential!) in school.

The true value of technology lies not in learning to use the technology, but in using the technology to learn.

Early on in MLTI, Maine's 13 year old statewide, middle grades 1to1 initiative, there was a discussion about the focus of our PD. Should we have workshops on spreadsheets, for example. But we decided, instead, that we would do a data collection and analysis session, and participants would leave also knowing how to use spreadsheets.

After all, why bother creating spreadsheets? Certainly not just for the sake of creating spreadsheets. They are a tool in service to some other purpose.

As an aside, I have heard some make the “prerequisite argument,” that is, the need to learn spreadsheet creation in order to be able to analyze data. But that's using logic when we should be applying psychology. Because the irony is that people learn better, understand better, can apply better, and remember longer skills they learn in the context of some immediate, authentic need, rather than in the absence of any context other than the abstract (and uncertain) “you'll need it in the future.” I have had to reteach too many lessons when the students now had an actual need to know, that I had already taught once “in case” they needed to know in the future… How'd that work for me? “Need” first, “tool” second, not the other way around.

So I am thankful to kindred spirits, such as the author of Technology Is a Tool, Not a Learning Outcome, (and is credited with the image in this post) who also work to insure that we focus on the right thing when we bring technology into our schools.

So I wonder, when districts struggle with their technology, like LA Unified has recently, if they are focusing on the right thing…


Learning to Use the Common Core

A friend recently asked what teachers are doing to align with the new Common Core curriculum.

She wrote:

As I am working with teachers on the ELA CCSS, some are asking about examples of how the other content areas are using the standards in their curriculum. They are meeting with some resistance re: looking at their curriculums in light of the standards and are “waiting for their content associations” to publish new standards.

Educators being reluctant to put too much energy into the “New Best Thing” isn't surprising, given the speed with which innovations come and go in schools. But the notion of being clearer about what we are teaching and increasing the consistency of what is taught across classrooms, schools, and districts is not new, and is enduring enough that having a “new” curriculum is a good opportunity to be deliberate about getting better at that. (Now, if we could only get as strong and enduring a focus on quality instruction!)

We are working on transparency of teaching and integrating the Common Core in my district, and I shared with my friend what we are doing:

Introducing and Starting to Use the Common Core

In keeping with approaching implementing Customized Learning in phases, we are looking at using the curriculum differently as a phased implementation. I think I would label those phases as something like: Awareness, Models, Practice, Implementation.

Awareness: Have teachers do what they're doing now, but make sure that students know what the learning targets are for their activities that day (regardless of which set of standards teachers are using). At the same time, see if the teacher can identify which Common Core standards the activities they are doing that day are most closely related to. Some of this phase should be devoted to doing a 10,000 ft crosswalk between the curriculum they are used to using and the Common Core, to help identify how they are the same and how they are different.

Models: Have teachers visit (in person, on line, or in print) some examples of folks teaching from the Common Core in ways we might label “high level of implementation.” The goal, of course, is to help teachers find exemplars so they can experience what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, smells like, etc. Part of this phase is reflecting on how they might organize their teaching, lessons, or units differently to bring them more in line with the Common Core.

Practice: Teachers use the Common Core to design their teaching, lessons, and units, and try them out. Both feedback from knowledgeable, trusted others, and self reflection guide the revision and improved implementation of that teaching. The goal is to know you won't start out perfect, but that you are working to get better. Teachers here, in Cohort districts, would also be using the curriculum more and more to have students monitor their own progress.

Implementation: Teachers have gotten pretty comfortable with the transition and pretty good at teaching with the Common Core (these teachers don't have to be perfect or outstanding, just competent). Teachers in this phase become both places to visit and coaches (knowledgable, trusted others) for teachers in more novice phases.

Teachers in a builidng don't have to be all at the same phase at the same time. In fact, it's really helpful to have those teachers who are a phase or two ahead and can work with the more novice teachers.

We need to help teachers move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset (the ability to learn and adapt as things change and evolve around you), possibly by having them all read the book Mindset. You need to build a common language around Growth Mindset, and talk about it often to keep that idea in the forefront of their minds while struggling through change. Parallel to this is helping teachers know that the new constant is change, and we must learn how to constantly adapt to productively respond to new challenges and requirements.

And lastly, I suspect part of what is giving teachers a hard time is not the Content Knowledge piece, but the focus on higher order thinking and the application of knowledge (changes away from sacred cow units of study aside). I think getting them involved with the Cohort's Complex Reasoning curriculum (essentially Marzano and Pickering' Dimensions of Learning) would give them a concrete way to apply and leverage higher order thinking to their content…


Life-Long Habits of Mind: Curriculum for Customized Learning

Districts in the Customized Learning Consortium have expanded their curriculum model beyond simply content knowledge. Lesson planning and unit development happens at the intersection of Content Knowledge, Complex Reasoning, and Life-Long Habits of Mind. Life-Long Habits of Mind is the third domain of our curriculum model.

The Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum is where Customized Learning schools will be addressing the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students, built around foundational work, such as the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets. All students must be guided in developing the “soft skills” that are so often left dormant in our populations (e.g. resilience, self-confidence, mental toughness).

Districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are working with Bea McGarvey to create a Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum.

Educators collaborating on this writing effort, will create teacher materials for Life-Long Habits of Mind in a similar format to the Dimensions of Learning: Teacher's Manual, used for the Complex Reasoning curriculum. Also as with the Complex Reasoning curriculum, instruction in the Habits will progress from helping students develop an understanding of the “habit” through examples, to providing students with written guidelines and graphic organizers, and then to lots of modeling. Once the teacher materials are developed, the curriculum may be organized into the Marzano curriculum framework, to facilitate the tracking of students' development of thes skills.

The current draft outline of the Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum includes the following:


Reflective Learner (Understanding Oneself)

  • Understanding One’s Learning Style
  • Cultivating Creativity & Imagination
  • Maintaining a Growth Mindset
  • Responding Appropriately to Feedback


Self-Directed Learner (Improving Oneself)

  • Meeting Quality Standards
  • Persevering
  • Setting and Monitoring Goals
  • Managing Impulsivity


Collaborative Worker (Working with Others)

  • Working Toward Team Goals
  • Listening With Understanding/Empathy
  • Seeking To Be Understood
  • Seeking to Resolve Conflicts

This approach of looking at the intersection of Content Knowledge, Complex Reasoning, and Life-Long Habits of Mind allows student to not only master critical academic content but to also develop skills and traits important to career and life readiness, such as goal-setting, teamwork, perseverance, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and problem-solving.


Complex Reasoning: Curriculum for Customized Learning

The second domain of curriculum for Customized Learning is complex reasoning.

Lesson planning and unit development happens at the intersection of content knowledge, complex reasoning, and life-long habits of mind. We want learners to be – doing these reasoning processes – with this content knowledge – to practice getting better at these life-long learning habits.

Not only is the focus on complex reasoning a key component of Customized Learning, but represents the higher order thinking that is one of the Focus 5 strategies for motivating students.

We are using Marzano's framework for higher order thinking. The Complex reasoning curriculum includes the following:

Complex Reasoning Curriculum

Comprehending Knowledge

  • Symbolizing
  • Integrating

Analyzing Knowledge

  • Comparison
  • Classification
  • Error Analysis
  • Deduction & Induction
  • Perspective Analysis
  • Constructing Support

Using Knowledge

  • Decision Making
  • Problem Solving
  • Experimental Inquiry
  • Investigation
  • Invention

The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning has partnered with Debra Pickering and Bea McGarvey of Marzano Associates and are using the curriculum outlined in the Dimensions of Learning: Teacher's Manual as the foundation for our Complex Reasoning curriculum.

The plan is to organize it into the Marzano curriculum framework of measurement topics, learning targets, scopes, and scales, just as the content knowledge curriculum has been. Teachers will be trained to explicitly teach students the strategies. The instruction in each strategy would happen when students might logically apply the strategy (not in an out-of-context separate class), and includes helping students develop an understanding of the process through examples, providing students with written guidelines and graphic organizers, and modeling, modeling, and modeling.



Content Knowledge & Curriculum Organization for Customized Learning

The first of the three domains of our Customized Learning curriculum model isn't very sexy, nor interesting, and is what most folks already think of when you say “curriculum”: Content Knowledge. (But there is some interesting stuff a little further down this post!)

Like most states, Maine's education standards are determined by law (we call ours the Maine Learning Results). These standards, as recently updated, identify the knowledge and skills, as the DOE likes to say,essential for college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century.” As you'd expect, Maine has specific sets of standards for each of eight subject areas:

  • Career and Education Development
  • English Language Arts
  • Health Education and Physical Education
  • Mathematics
  • Science and Technology
  • Social Studies
  • Visual and Performing Arts
  • World Languages

Maine has incorporated the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts into the Learning Results, and Maine is one of 26 states participating in the development of Next Generation Science Standards.

So, where curriculum gets interesting is in how we organize it to support Customized Learning.

The curriculum from these standards needs to be articulated and organized in a way to facilitate proficiency-based learning. What are the measurement topics within each subject area? What are the learning targets and learning progressions within each measurement topic? What are the scoring guides for each learning target that allow a student to assess their progress and teachers to provide formative feedback?

Educators from districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning have collaborated to organize the curriculum into Marzano's curriculum framework. The framework breaks each content area into a group of Measurement Topics. Each Measurement Topic has a scope, that is a progression of learning targets, and represents the learning required for mastery of that topic. Each level in the scope has a scoring guide, called a scale, that clearly identifies the proficiency target for that level.

In the process of revising how the content knowledge standards are organized and written, some changes have been made. In some cases, what has long been thought of as Content Knowledge, such as scientific reasoning and the experimental process, was moved over to the Complex Reasoning domain because of the nature of the knowledge or skill.

We have also pulled all assessment language from the standards (e.g. ”write a report to demonstrate…”) and left just the pieces that were the actual content knowledge in the standard. Part of Customized Learning is the premise that students should be able to demonstrate mastery in what ever way they choose and deem best (multiple pathways to learning and mastery).

Currently all 8 content areas exist in this framework and are being piloted in classrooms across Maine. Feedback from the pilot classrooms will allow the curriculum teams to revise and update the Content Knowledge curriculum framework. These frameworks will be reviewed and revised annually by the educators who are actually using them.

And all of curriculum frameworks are stored in a learning progress monitoring/management system (Educate) that make it infinitely easier for both students and teachers to know where students are in their learning, what they need to learn next, and to identify a diversity of resources and activities to learn it.


Curriculum and Customized Learning

We are one of the 29 districts who make up the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. Together, we are on a journey to implement Customized Learning. Further, Maine statute now requires that, by 2017, students in Maine will graduate based on demonstrated mastery of the State's rigorous content knowledge standards, rather than by course credits (seat time).

When you start changing how you organize school for performance-based learning and recognizing that people learn in different ways and in different time frames, you quickly realize that the center of school shifts from courses to the curriculum and where students are within the curriculum.

How you organize the curriculum becomes critically important.

You need an explicit model of curriculum.

Curriculum Model

The model we have adopted views the curriculum as 3 overlapping domains – Complex Reasoning, Content Knowledge, and Life-Long Habits of Mind (“Use these reasoning strategies to learn this content knowledge to develop these habits of mind.”).

So this is the first in a series of posts that hopefully will shed light on how Customized Learning districts are using and organizing the curriculum. Future posts will include not just how we're organizing content knowledge, but the Complex Reasoning curriculum, the Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum, and learning progress management.


What The Union Did Say (And I Was Glad They Did)

A while back, I wrote about what I wish the Union had said. I was responding to the announcement of Maine’s new education strategic plan (which I’m excited about) and the press coverage of the Union, which seemed like mostly they were poo-pooing the plan. Unions can and do a ton of good, but I’m frustrated with that public image that seems to say “Don’t ask us to change. Don’t ask us to be held accountable. And don’t you dare remove that teacher, even though she can’t do her job.” Some of that is the press and what they choose to focus on, and some of it is political expediency (let’s blame teachers and the union for all our economic and educational woes). But some of it is how the Union crafts it’s own public messages and how they respond publicly to real challenges in in our schools.

So I was really pleased, then, when I saw them post this. A great message about how they “don’t just say ‘no,'” and the various ways they work to develop and support teachers and the profession.

I still wish that the public saw and heard more of this kind of message. I believe that this was a newsletter that just went to members (I don’t think I could even find a direct link to it on their website).

They do support developing quality teachers through things like the Professional Issues Conference on March 24th. (I’ll be presenting there on Motivating Students and on Auburn’s Literacy and Math iPad Initiative.) You’ve got to register by March 9, if you’d like to attend.

Supporting teachers working toward National Board Certification. Taking the lead on quality teacher evaluation and accountability systems through their Instruction and Professional Development Committee work. Their Professional Issues Conference. These are the kinds of things that the Union needs press on also.