Tag Archives: Innovation

ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence (Day 1)

I am fortunate to be able to attend ASCD’s annual conference for teaching excellence held this year in Denver, Colorado. I’ll share my thoughts here on this blog along with some of the interesting things I have seen and heard. Today is the first day of the conference with many fantastic sessions planned–I was able to get to four of them.

Session I: Using guided inquiry to promote equity in the math classroom

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Steele), Productive Group Work (Frey), Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Dweck), Mathematical Mindset (Boaler)

In this session, Nick Counts who is the math chair at Culver Academies in Indiana shared some of the things he has done to make math accessible to all students regardless of race. Nick shared four books that have made a fundamental difference on how he understands math instruction (right). Of the four, I am familiar with Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindset but have not read the others. They seem like interesting books and are worthy of checking out. Nick also shared some of the strategies he uses to ensure all students remain interested in math.

  • Make the problems relevant to your students–ensure the questions asked of students will engage all of them.
  • Decide as a group of math faculty what you want to see when students are working in groups. During group work, expectations for each group should be visible for all learners.
  • Assess group work using rubrics. Teachers should assess how students work in groups, not just the final product.

The PowerPoint from this presentation can be found here.

Session II: Making real-time formative assessment moves that make a difference

This session was hosted by Brent Duckor, a professor at San Jose State University, and Carrie Holmberg, a researcher also at San Jose State. I was looking forward to this session as I am familiar with Dr. Duckor’s books on formative assessment and a 2014 article he wrote in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine (link here). This session focused entirely on the role formative assessment should play in the classroom. We have focused a great deal on formative assessment in our school district over the past few years so I was interested in hearing from these two experts. These are some key takeaways:

  • Brent and Carrie started the session by having everyone fill out a 3×5 card asking attendees to write down a “burning question.” They both used these questions later in the presentation. I thought this was a great way to start a presentation at a conference.
  • Both Carrie and Brent were high school teachers earlier in their careers which gave them credibility to speak about how assessment can be realistically used in the classroom.
  • Formative assessment was a term coined in the late 1990s.
  • Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black’s 1998 essay on formative assessment “Inside the Black Box” is considered the beginning of formal studies on formative assessment. (I already had read this article so shout out to me).
  • Hattie found that formative assessment is top 3 out of 138 educational influences on learning. “We have hard data that soft data in the classroom matters.”
  • We should chart how many students we have 1:1 interaction with during a class period.
  • This slide was shared and I thought it nicely summed up what this presentation was about:

In short, this was one of the best conference presentations I have attended. It was very impressive.

Session III: Coteach SMART: Coteaching and the highly engaged classroom

This session was presented by Susan Hentz who is an educational consultant. She presented on effective models for classroom delivery with an emphasis on coteaching. Throughout her presentation, she modeled the effective communication that general education and special education teachers must have. Both must learn to communicate. When looking at coteaching, conversation and planning has to start before the class period starts.

“What value are you bringing into the room as a special educator?” –Susan Hertz

Susan shared some key strategies that I thought were important to consider when developing a coteaching classroom:

  • Use color or bold print on your handouts and slides to make sure important words or concepts jump out.
  • Both general education and special education teachers must focus on executive function. Coteachers need to be aware of how every child’s disability impacts learning and make proper modifications/accommodations.
  • Coteachers need to listen to each other. Oftentimes, people do not listen to understand; people listen to respond.

Session IV: Making teachers better, not bitter: Balancing evaluation, supervision, and reflection

This session featured Tony Frontier who is a noted author on educational topics and Paul Mielke who is a superintendent in Wisconsin. Both presenters spoke about the current evaluation process and how it does little (in their opinion) to encourage and support expertise.

Here are the session notes from Tony and Paul.

Please excuse typos as I have been typing fast during each session.


Creating a Maker Culture

“The emergence of maker culture depends a great deal on our understanding that different people learn through different means. Some are auditory learners, and some are visual learners. Yet another group learns best by doing. These are the makers.” –William Craig in Forbes

Over the past few months I have written about our efforts to turn a room in our district’s high school into a makerspace. While the makerspace will always be evolving with the addition of new materials and technology, we can say for now that it is done and ready for use. The first order of business once the room was completed was to begin instilling in our students an idea that can best be summarized as the maker culture. As William Craig explained in Forbes magazine, the maker culture leans heavily on a constructivist approach to

Students work with littleBits to create a city.
Students work with littleBits to create a city.

education–that is the notion that learning is best done through doing. In a sense we all probably understand that one of the best ways to learn something is to do it yourself. Trial and error and intellectual risk taking are all part of this makerspace learning experience. American history is filled with stories of makers who tinkered around, explored how things work, and ultimately changed the world forever. From Edison to Wozniak, the maker culture has been an important part of the American experience. As educators, we need to ensure our students are familiar with this. The maker culture in schools is one that encourages students to explore new technology, to collaborate with others, to use materials in new ways, and to ultimately learn by doing. Maker culture is about breaking down barriers and making new technology and ideas accessible in a low-risk environment. Since our makerspace opened, we have been working hard to bring this maker culture mindset to all our students.

To open the makerspace we planned for a series of Saturday morning makerdays for students in our school district. We have invited elementary and middle school students to come into the high school’s space and make. With support from our board of education and education foundation, we have hosted two of these makerdays for students and can see a maker culture beginning to develop. For elementary students, we created a challenge where teams of students had to learn about circuits and the electricity grid, then build their own cities powered by littleBits. Our young makers had a blast and built some amazing cities as you can see in this gallery.

We also hosted a makerday for middle school students that featured three engineering design challenges using an old invention–the popsicle stick. Students were tasked with creating a catapult that can fire a marshmallow the farthest, building a bridge that can hold the most weight, and finding a way to protect an egg so it will not break when dropped from fifteen feet high. The pictures below show some of the amazing bridges students were able to build in forty minutes using only popsicle sticks, glue, and about two feet of string. The winning design spanned over fourteen inches and was able to hold about thirteen pounds of sand!

We will host additional makerdays this year with the goal of creating a district-wide vertically articulated makerspace culture. Like all makers, we have learned a ton in the process of putting these events together. Not everything has been perfect, and we will continue to refine our makerday approach. The one constant has been our talented students who are able to work collaboratively to make amazing inventions. They are beyond impressive. We hope they will be influenced by their time in the makerspace and continue to embody the maker culture by tinkering, exploring, and inventing.

Our Makerspace

A panoramic view of our makerspace.

I am proud to announce that our high school’s makerspace is now open for business. Called STEAMWORKS, this space is for students to build and explore new technology (and even take apart old technology). We have spent the last few months finding a space, funding, and materials to bring the maker movement to our students. We were inspired by many of the top schools in the country that have built makerspaces on their campuses. UC Berkeley, Case Western University, Cornell University, and MIT are a few that now have makerspaces for students to explore emerging tech. Overall, recent estimates put makerspaces in 60 colleges throughout the nation where students can do things like learn to print in 3-D or build a drone.

“The Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing.”

–Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager in Ed Week Teacher

John Booske, a professor and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Madison-Wisconsin had this to say about makerspaces in a recent article: “We’re going to see more and more adoption of makerspaces as institutions are able to. They are one model of a larger trend which is moving towards active learning.” For Booske, makerspaces are part of the trend in education “towards personalized and blended learning, the flipped classroom model and a more collaborative learning environment.” This trend can be easily seen in the student-run makerspace lab on the campus of MIT called “MakerWorks” that opened last year. This lab is a place where “students, faculty, and staff are allowed to work freely on any project they choose” and “consists of prediction, prototyping, and validation tools to support a wide variety of projects.” MakerWorks has become a popular place on MIT’s campus as students have embraced the open culture and accessibility of the technology it contains. It’s imperative that schools begin to offer places where students can direct their own learning while having access to resources not encountered during the traditional school day. Learning to work with classmates, teachers, and members of the community can help inspire students to take charge of their learning while also preparing them for the types of experiences they may encounter in the future.

Below are pictures of our new makerspace. We will offer our first makerspace camp this Saturday morning for elementary students in our school district (it “sold out” in a few hours).



What do you want to make?

What Does The Future Hold for Schools?

The New Media Consortium (NMC), a community of hundreds of leading universities, colleges, museums, and research centers, has issued an important report called the Horizon Report: 2015. The report examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in schools (access the report here). The driving question for the report is “What is on the five-year horizon for K-12 schools worldwide?” A team of experts engaged with the report agreed on two long-term trends: “rethinking how schools work in order to bolster student engagement and drive more innovation, as well as shifting to deeper learning approaches, such as project- and challenge-based learning.” The report is a must read for any school district personnel looking to map out the next five years in terms of where they see technology and instruction heading.

Makerspace education also has the potential to empower young people to become agents of change in their communities. (The Horizon Report)

I’m still working my way through the study, but one part that caught my eye was the analysis of the future role makerspaces will play in schools. A makerspace is a place where anyone interested in learning something new can come together to design, create, and build projects of their choosing. In short, makerspaces are where learners can explore their curiosity in a low-risk environment. “Makerspaces are places where anyone, regardless of age or experience, can exercise their ingenuity to construct tangible products,” write the authors in their report. “Schools are turning to makerspaces to facilitate activities that inspire confidence in young learners, and help them acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world.” The report shares a number of makerspace success stories from around the world that are particularly inspiring and also provides a host of links to examples of makerspaces currently in use in K-12 education.

The growing global makerspace movement has influenced our district to begin the creation of makerspace areas in our schools. We have spent a fair amount of time visiting other makerspaces in the area, researching best practices, and creating implementation plans. It’s clear that makerspaces are going to be a vital component of a modern learning environment. “The turn of the 21st century has signaled a shift in the types of skillsets that have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world,” asserts the authors of the Horizon Report. “In this landscape, creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational considerations, as tools such as robotics, 3D printers, and web-based 3D modeling applications become accessible to more people.” A makerspace can bring these tools to students while encouraging the use of skills they will need to compete in the 21st century. The Horizon Report is packed with anecdotes from case studies and external links to additional resources. It’s a must read for any educator wondering what the future holds for their students.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 10.35.36 AM
A graphic representing the challenges and developments facing K-12 education. Source: The Horizon Report


Fail Fast

The engineers and venture capitalists of Silicon Valley have embraced the mantra “fail fast” in their relentless pursuit of the next big thing. Failure, which for so long has been something schools did not advocate, is becoming more and more popular in the tech world. To fail fast means that people should fail early and often on their way to a great idea. Failure is now something cool. And it should be. The reality is, we all learn from failure as it’s an essential component in trial and error.

But while the Web has made it easier and cheaper to start up and succeed, it has also made it easier and cheaper to fail.

–Eric Markowitz in “Why Silicon Valley Loves Failures”

Dave McClure is a venture capitalist in a startup incubator in Silicon Valley called 500 Startups. It’s more commonly known by its alternate name: the fail factory. “The alternate name we came up with for 500 Startups was ‘fail factory,'” explains McClure in Fast Company. “We’re here trying to ‘manufacture fail’ on a regular basis, and we think that’s how you learn. Getting used to that, bouncing back from that, being able to figure out what people hate and turn that into what people love…if you’re not willing to take the risk of failing and not experience failure, you’re never going to figure out what the right path is to success.” The reality is, failure has not traditionally been embraced, but this is starting to change. Eric Markowitz of Inc.com hypothesizes that many factors have led people to embrace failure today. “The first, and most obvious answer, is that failure has become inexpensive,” Markowitz writes. “Decades ago, starting a business typically entailed borrowing capital from a bank, friends, or family. Opening a physical storefront required lots of capital. Today, the Web has democratized the process for starting up–building a website and hosting its data, even for e-commerce, are relatively inexpensive.” For these reasons–at least in the the technology world–failure is embraced as it is a necessary part of the learning process. In fact, there is now a global conference series dedicated to studying and celebrating failure called FailCon.

For a long stretch in the twentieth century, learning theory was dominated by the work of Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner–a man many consider to be the most influential psychologist of the twentieth century. Skinner advocated a theory called “errorless
learning.” In Skinner’s model, learners were spoonfed new material in small bites and immediately quizzed on it while it remained in short-term memory. As the authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning point out, students in Skinner’s model had virtually no chance of making an error. As the two renowned psychologist-authors of Make It Stick reinforce throughout the book, errors are an integral part of the learning process–especially with new material. “Yet in our Western culture, where achievement is seen as anlogo indicator of ability, many learners view errors as failure and do what they can to avoid committing them,” the authors write. “The aversion to failure may be reinforced by instructors who labor under the belief that when learners are allowed to make errors it’s the errors that they will learn.” We know today that this belief is misguided. Freedom from “errorless learning” has so empowered people that a group from Finland has created the Day for Failure taking place next week. It’s a chance for people to lose their fear of messing up. People can participate by tweeting their failures to #dayforfailure.

Fail fast, manufacturing fail, fail factory, FailCon are terms that help capture the mood of the technology and venture capital world today. However, the idea of celebrating failure is not likely something you see embraced in daily life. One way schools can embrace failure and teach perseverance is by encouraging self-directed learning (and yes, failure) by giving students a place to invent and learn from their experiences. This is why we are beginning the process of putting makerspaces in our schools. A makerspace is a place where students come together with expert faculty to design, create, and build projects using material and technology they might not come in contact with during the regular school day. Exploration in a makerspace is student driven. Makers are limited only by their imagination.

A makerspace is a place to tinker and explore. It’s a place where you can build with legos, print in 3-D, or even learn how to fly a drone. In a makerspace, failure is expected as is learning from mistakes. The reality is, as you explore new ideas and technology, you will always make mistakes. On this blog, I’ll chronicle our makerspace journey as we move from concept to reality. Besides, don’t you want to learn how to fly one of these?

More from our iPad Pilot Program

This post is by Bree Valvano


Skitch and ThingLink

As I continued to explore ways to utilize my classroom iPads, I came across two apps that I believe will help make the classroom experience more interactive and fun for my students. After viewing a professional development webinar on using iPads, I learned about Skitch and ThingLink. Both of these apps allow users to pull images from their saved photos and make them interactive.

Skitch allows the user to annotate images. Users are able to upload an image and add text,Skitch Image and Link arrows, stamps, and other annotations. The app could be used to annotate a passage from a novel with students in the English classroom, identify the different parts of a model plant cell in a science classroom, label a map in a history classroom, or record the steps of an equation in a math classroom. The app is easy to use and takes models and annotations to the next level. When users finish adding their notes to the image, they are able to share it via social media or email. While I believe this is a valuable tool, the next app, ThingLink, is just as cool.
ThingLink allows users to take a photo and add videos. Similar to Skitch, users can upload
an image. However, ThingLink allows users to add video content to the image. Users could use the iPad to record a video explanation to add to the picture. They could upload a prerecorded video, or they could search for a video on YouTube to upload to the image. After adding one or more videos, users can share their creation with others.
What is ThingLink?
While I think teachers could use these tools to create engaging content for their students, I envision students using both apps together when completing a project. For example, when
studying a poem from the Harlem Renaissance, students could start by taking a screenshot of the poem. Next, they could annotate the text in Skitch, making notes and identifying rhetorical devices. After they save the image,  students could upload the annotated poem to Thinglink and add videos about the author, time period, and/or theme. Finally, the students could share their presentations with the class and/or upload it to Blackboard or other social media sites to share with others. The same process could be used in different disciplines when researching or studying a scientific process, a historical event, or a variety of other topics. I am pretty excited to try these new tools out in the classroom, and I hope others try out these new tools too.

Bree is an English teacher at Randolph High School

#innovateNJ Twitter Chat Recap

innovateNJ logoDid you miss our #innovateNJ Twitter chat on Wednesday? Here is a recap of the chat in about thirty tweets. For more information about innovateNJ, here is the January newsletter. The community will be meeting at Rider University for the winter convening on January 24th. The application to join the community is open until February 18th and can be accessed here.

Topic: What does an innovative leader look like?

Continue reading #innovateNJ Twitter Chat Recap