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Sorting Through the Common Core (more to the story than Facebook)

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 26-06-2014

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In the past few months, “Common Core” has become a hot button issue for parents, educators, news media, and celebrities alike. Facebook feeds have been flooded with absurd worksheets, kids homework, and disparaging remarks about how the “Common Core” will ruin us all. The problem is, the “Common Core” really refers to two things. One is the standards and the other is curriculum. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but are being used interchangeably as if they are one and the same.

In recent months, I’ve had parents ask for clarification about what the Common Core is. They want to be reassured that their kids aren’t anywhere near the absurdity that they are seeing online, in the news, or in the new Common Core documentary. Because there has been so much confusion, I created the video above to help explain what the “Common Core” is. I tried to keep it short so that it was manageable to watch without getting lost in the details and losing interest. I recognize that there is a LOT more to this topic than what I laid out. My goal with the video above was to help others understand what the “Common Core” is and what it isn’t.

Common Core Standards are different from Common Core Curriculum. As I said before, the two are not the same. The problem is that news media outlets, Facebook feeds, and celebrities use “Common Core” to describe both the standards and the curriculum. Sometimes they even mistakenly refer to the curriculum as Common Core Standards.

The standards are the United States attempt at bringing more continuity to learning foundations for kindergarten through twelfth grade students throughout the states. They are intended to ensure that all students receive the same base skills to build on in English Language Arts and Math. Most of the United States has adopted these standards and is making adjustments to accommodate the new standards. In the past, individual states each had state created standards. This led to a lot of disparity between the states about what was learned and at what stage it was learned. The result was a chasm between what students in one state learned that a neighboring state had not.

The standards were developed in partnership by a group made up of governors, chief state school officers, education groups, and corporations and foundations. The funding for the development of the standards came from the federal government (part of Race to the Top money) and the corporations/foundations involved. In the video, I show a Common Core Standards “family tree” that breaks this down a bit more. While I don’t love the idea of corporations funding the standards, I recognize that the money to make them happen had to come from somewhere. I wish that the “somewhere” wasn’t tied so closely with the publishing companies who make curriculum. I also noticed that the educational groups were labeled as “advisory.” It seems to me that the government agencies and the corporations/foundations should have been “advisory” and the educational group should have been the chief designers. Because I wasn’t right in the middle of the creation, I can only speculate how this went and hope that it was a true partnership where educators had a large hand in the outcome. Included in the creation were: Achieve (which includes Alcoa, Exxon Mobile, Microsoft), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Govenors Association, Council of Chief School Officers, David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba (who sold an educational startup to McGraw Hill), the National Education Foundation, America Federation of Teachers, National Council of English Teachers, and National Council of Math Teachers.

Standards are not a bad thing. They give a baseline and frame of reference to work within. As an educator, I see the importance of having a baseline of foundational skills that we can count on. The standards are written very generally. They are just over 60 pages long (k-12) and when you read through them you will see, they are pretty underwhelming. I like the generality of the standards, they leave schools and teachers open to using a wide variety of methodologies and resources to ensure that students get those foundational skills. They aren’t prescriptive of HOW to teach, they are just a guideline of what should be taught. Do I agree on the every single standard being totally necessary for every single child? No. But I do recognize the value in a society having a common set of baseline skills, the standards are a good beginning for that. One of the biggest problems I do have with the standards is the language used. If these goals are intended for students, shouldn’t they be written in student-friendly language that is easy to understand? Instead they are full of eduspeak and jargon. That should change!

I’m sure you’ve seen these floating around (and more like it):

Common core math problem Common Core

 

This is Common Core Curriculum. The writers of the Common Core Standards do not endorse any curriculum. Anyone can label the curriculum “Common Core Aligned.” ANYONE. This curriculum is designed by publishers. The alignment to the Common Core Standards is a way for publishers to sell more. Publishers know that in the frenzy of states adopting Common Core Standards, there will be an urgency to get schools and students on the same page quickly (after all…testing). They also know that if they stamp “Common Core aligned” on their curricula, schools are more likely to purchase it so that their students are ready for the testing that is sure to follow. Here is the problem, publishers design curriculum to make money. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the money overshadows what is best for kids. The other problem: the same people who write the curriculum, write the tests. This forces a school’s hand to purchase the curriculum so that their kids can pass the tests (which is then incentivized by programs like RTTT). When they don’t pass the tests, the publishing companies conveniently come to the rescue with the latest and greatest new curriculum. The cycle repeats. This is not a new cycle within education, but it is one that is becoming more and more transparent. In 2012 Pearson, the largest publisher of curriculum, developed Common Core Standards tests.

The adoption of Common Core Standards does not require districts and states to collect more data. Unfortunately, the Race to the Top initiative incentivized the collection of more data. You see where this all starts to get really messy. Race to the Top also paid out $350 million to create computerized testing to more efficiently collect data on students. The downfall is that there are many, many schools across the United States who aren’t even well enough equipped with technology to give these tests.

Standards are not evil, but when coupled by unreasonable expectations of a one-size-fits-all system, they can be disastrous.

We use standards at Anastasis Academy, they are a framework that we can build on to ensure that our students are getting foundational skills that will carry them on in their learning. Instead of using boxed-curriculum, we approach the standards through the lens of inquiry, and build our own learning experiences based on the individual needs of every single student. Is it the most efficient it could be? No. But we are dealing with humanity, not widgets. This approach uses the standards in a way that truly does make them the floor and not the ceiling. They are a starting point, but they don’t restrict us. We choose not to use any of the “Common Core aligned” boxed curriculum. The one-size-fits-all isn’t what we want for our students. It doesn’t take into account the individuals that we teach. We choose not to give our students piles of worksheets, but instead give them learning opportunities that engage them as learners and leaders. Our goal is to apprentice our students in the art of learning. This is a very different goal than simply trying to get them through the textbook each year!

I encourage you to read through the Common Core Standards for yourself. You will quickly get an idea of how general they really are. When you see the popup of the Common Core, ask yourself if it is one of those standards that is the problem, or if it is the curriculum that is being used. If you are a parent, I encourage you to get involved with your school. Ask what curriculum is being used and why. Don’t feel bound by the tests (they are a poor measure of who your child is anyway). Encourage your school to look at ways that they can meet standards without being bound to curriculum. When those Facebook posts popup, speak out about the problem with better specifics “this curriculum is ridiculous, where is the real learning experience?!”

If you are a teacher, I get it-sometimes you don’t get to make the choice. If you have wiggle room and aren’t using a completely scripted curriculum, take advantage of it! Connect with other educators who are doing things differently. Look for ways that you can build foundational skills that aren’t tied endless worksheets and practice drills for the next test. Help your kids fall in love with learning. Be transparent, show them why you are passionate about learning.

Host an RSCON4 Meetup Party- Introduce Colleagues to Your PLN!

Posted by admin | Posted in collaboration, education reform, Grade Level, inspiration, Reform Symposium Conference | Posted on 01-10-2013

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Reform Symposium Free Worldwide Conference

If you have never attended an online conference, you should definitely take the opportunity to try one out on October 11-13 for the Reform Symposium Conference.  The line up of keynote speakers, presenters, and panel discussions is FANTASTIC.  It is like traveling around the world for inspiration from the comfort of your living room.  I really can’t say enough about how excited I am for this awesome weekend of learning!  Please join us for as much as you can, you will not be disappointed!  Plus, what could be better than learning with a bunch of friends from your living room?  You don’t even have to worry about what attire you should wear (I’ll be in PJs for sure!).

Be sure to join @michellek, @nancybabbitt and me for our session Connections Through Inquiry on Sunday! We’ll be talking up strategies that we use at Anastasis Academy as teachers and learners.  Check out the online schedule in your timezone and plan to join us!

If you are an online conference regular who is constantly working to get other teachers at your school to attend (with no luck), why not consider hosting a Reform Symposium Conference meetup party?  If they won’t engage in online community on their own, bring the community to them!  This would be a great way to help those who are less tech savvy get involved in some professional development in a way that feels ‘safe.’  Choose a location with good wifi (this could be a room at school, your living room, a local coffee shop), load up on fun snacks, invite some friends and learn together!  I have done this in the past with great success! It is all kinds of fun and adds a level of safety for first timers.  Use this event as an opportunity to introduce your offline colleagues to your online PLN (personal learning network).  I find that people are more likely to engage online for learning when they feel like they have a connection to others going in.  When they start a great conversation during a session, help them continue it by signing up for Twitter.

If you want to get really fancy, share my Twitter posters as a party gift.  Help those who haven’t signed up to sign up and connect to those they met during the conference.  Following the conference, send others at your school a “Learning Moment of the Day” along with a link to the community (member) that shared it with you.

Sometimes all it takes to connect people is a new approach to the invitation delivery. :)

 

We are still looking for volunteers to help with the conference!

Volunteer to Moderate Sessions for the Reform Symposium E-Conference (RSCON4)

RSCON would not be so inspiring without a highly devoted group of volunteer moderators to keep the conference running with as few hiccups as possible. Moderators play one of the most important roles by jumping into various sessions and helping presenters and participants have a great experience. Additionally, volunteers get to meet our inspiring presenters and introduce them to the audience. To become part of this super amazing team, sign up at http://www.futureofeducation.com/group/2013-rscon-volunteers and use the booking calendar to schedule volunteer time, http://rsconvolunteers.youcanbook.me

Also, attend one of our Blackboard Collaborate training sessions so you are familiar with the platform, http://bit.ly/rscon4trainingpg

Thank you for helping us inspire educators worldwide!

If you have questions about volunteering for the conference, one of our volunteer organizers would be happy to help!  Tweet your questions to one of the awesome organizers listed below!
Peggy George (@Pgeorge), Marcia Lima (@Bamarcia), Chiew Pang (@AClilToClimb), Jo Hart  (@JoHart), Phil Hart (@PhilHart)

Free worldwide conference: Reform Symposium (#RSCON)

Posted by admin | Posted in Classroom Management, collaboration, education reform, Grade Level, inspiration, professional development, Reform Symposium Conference, Teacher Resources | Posted on 23-09-2013

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Reform Symposium Free Worldwide Conference

In conjunction with Connected Educator Month, I’m excited to share with you all the 4th (!!!) annual Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON).  In case you aren’t familiar with this OUTSTANDING conference, it is a FREE online three-day event that brings together educators, students and innovators from all over the world.  Mark your calendar right now for October 11th to 13th (2013). 

Full disclosure: I’m one of the organizers for the Reform Symposium Conference.  You might call me the very worst organizer. :)  I have been seriously falling down on the job this time around!  I seem to have overly lofty goals for my weeks.  It looks manageable on the calendar and then kids, parents, school must-solve-problems crowd in.

The Reform Symposium Conference is so dear to me and such a big part of my story in starting my own school.  The conference started the year before I left the classroom and has stretched into me starting my own school.  As a result of this conference, I grew in ways I couldn’t imagine.  I made strong connections in my personal learning network and connected with educators around the world.  What better way to celebrate Connected Educator Month?!

The Reform Symposium Conference is a global community initiative to transform teaching and learning.  This is a highly inclusive and engaging online event that will encourage you toward transformative approaches toward teaching and learning.  To attend this year’s conference and keep up with the latest conference news and updates, please join this network.

Exciting news for this year’s conference: 

  • Sugata Mitra is the opening plenary you guys!!  Sugata is the 2013 TED prize winner and instigator of the Hole-in-the-Wall experiment.  You will not want to miss it!
  • Internationally renowned electric violinist Steve Bingham will conduct a live performance.
  • There will be 10+ international keynotes.
  • 4 Panel discussions that feature distinguished experts in education.
  • More than 100 presentations by educators around the world (something for everyone to learn and grow in their practice!)

If you would like to help out with this awesome event, you can volunteer here.

 

I’m honored to have been a part of this incredible conference since year 1.  I hope that you will join us for an incredible weekend of connection, learning, laughing, inspiration and growth!  Sign up now!

Chalkstar to Rockstar: Revolutionary Ideas in Learning

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, Grade Level, inspiration, Podcasts, professional development, Teacher Resources | Posted on 05-09-2013

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Holy. Cow.  School has started in full force!  I absolutely love having kids back in the building. It feels alive again, kids bring an energy that can’t be matched.   If you are a teacher, you know that there is an enormous amount of work that goes into starting a year.  It’s a good thing that the kids bring energy, because mine is depleted!  I blame it on the constant stream of school related dreams that happen at the beginning of the school year.  It’s like I never leave that place!  I hope that those of you who are beginning a new year are off to a great start.

Chalkstar to rockstar Anastasis Academy Podcast

I get a lot of questions about Anastasis Academy.  People usually start off with jaws dropped and some disbelief in their eyes, “wait a minute, YOU started a school?”  After some convincing that this AMAZINGNESS really does exist, the litany of questions begin.  How did you do it?  Where did the money come from?  What is different about your school?  In less than 6 months you started the school, seriously?  Recently @michellek107 and I shared the story of Anastasis Academy with @bennettscience on a brand new show called Chalkstar to Rockstar.  Check out this great new show here!

Knowing Everything and Students with Names

Posted by admin | Posted in Blooms Taxonomy, inspiration, professional development, Teacher Resources, Technology | Posted on 18-07-2013

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This post is in response to a Newsweek article titled “What if You Could Learn Everything”

“Imagine every student has a tireless personal tutor, an artificially intelligent and inexhaustible companion that magically knows everything, knows the student, and helps her learn what she needs to know.”

 

Jose Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton, has made this artificially intelligent companion a reality for k-12 students.  He has partnered with three curriculum companies including Pearson, MacMillan, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as part of his vision for making Knewton the adaptive learning tool that will make textbooks obsolete.   This “adaptive learning will help each user find the exact right piece of content needed, in the exact right format, at the exact right time, based on previous patterns of use…  Knewton, at base, is a recommendation engine but for learning. Rather than the set of all Web pages or all movies, the learning data set is, more or less, the universe of all facts. For example, a single piece of data in the engine might be the math fact that a Pythagorean triangle has sides in the ratio 3-4-5, and you can multiply those numbers by any whole number to get a new set of side lengths for this type of triangle.”

Knewton works as you might suspect, it begins with a test to see what a student already knows.  Content is pulled in the form of reading and videos to teach the student the things that they do not know.  This is similar to what many other “personalized” adaptive learning systems are doing.  What makes Knewton stand apart is the way that the technology “reads” the student.  As the student is learning, the technology is recording timing, confidence, tabulating each keystroke, and whether the student is guessing or taking their time to answer questions.  So, the more that a student interacts with Knewton, the smarter it becomes and the better that the study recommendations get.

When I see technology like Knewton, it astounds me.  I am always excited about technology that has the potential to improve learning and that feels seamless for humans to interact with.  While the geek in me rejoices that someone is tackling a project this substantial to increase learning, the educator in me is disappointed.  Knewton is all about knowing things. It is about facts.  But, is it really worth all of the effort for technology to train humans to be computers?  I mean, that is essentially what this is doing, no?  We are creating a new factory model, this time the technology is programming us.  Ironically, this is exactly what Knewton’s CEO is working to overcome.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are worth knowing.  Important, foundational things that shape the rest of what we are able to do.  But, who gets to determine what is foundational and essential for a student to know?  As far as I’m concerned, most curriculum companies are already overreaching in what every single child MUST know.  So, with the vast amount of knowledge available in the world, how do we determine what is really critical for us as a society to know?  The rest of it, while interesting and important, is not necessarily worth forcing.  Even the title of the article, “What if You Could Learn Everything?” makes me cringe.  I don’t want to know everything.  I don’t want to be so crammed full of facts that I can rock a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I can’t actually DO anything useful.

My bigger problem is that once again, we are introducing a tool into education that intends to personalize the learning experience for the student, and in doing so, strips away their humanity.  You see that don’t you?  This is turning children into computers and fact recallers.

But students have names.  They have stories.  Teachers have a different kind of urgency to make things better because we begin and end with students who have names.  This goes beyond the altruistic, “wouldn’t it be great if education worked better” motivation of politicians and curriculum companies who have the ultimate goal of improving our  rank in math and science.  As a teacher, you deal in humanity.  You are concerned with the life that is being shaped.  You want kids to know that they are more than the collection of facts that they have memorized.  The are unique and have something important to offer the world.  That they matter.  Humanity.

So, while I find the concept behind Knewton fascinating, it isn’t what I want for education.  It may fill a need for a piece of the puzzle (namely the foundational knowledge piece), but it isn’t going to make education better if it becomes education.  Being educated is more than just knowing facts (and I’ll remind you again that we already have computers for that).  Being educated means that a child can make connections, synthesize, analyze, evaluate, apply, create something new.  It is learning that is applied.

Technology will play a critical role in the evolution of the classroom.  The role will be different from what Knewton offers.  Instead of assuming that all kids need is facts, the technology will recognize and embrace the humanity.  It will offer more than one way to learn, because while some kids will really enjoy sitting and reading, watching videos and taking an online multiple choice test, others will want to try out a concept through experimentation.  They will want to build something new with their knowledge, or launch further investigation into a concept, or take a field trip and see the learning for themselves.  Learning cannot be reduced to a computer.  This changes the recommendation engine and relies heavily on skilled educators.  This takes into account who a student really is and makes learning recommendations based on that.  The recommendations aren’t relegated to a computer, they can be field trips, videos, apps, projects, activities, experiments, books, and anything else that can be used to learn.  This is utilizing technology for personalization beyond pacing and content exposure to pass the next multiple choice test.  This is empowering teachers to truly shape the learning experience for each student.  This is recognizing that students should have a say in how and what they will learn.  This is why I created the Learning Genome Project.

The Learning Genome Project recognizes that learning is more than just a collection of facts.  It embraces humanity and rejects the idea that humans should be computers.  It will be transformative because it works to make each student the best that they, individually, can be.  It works to strengthen the WHOLE child, not just the fact reservoirs in the brain.  It goes beyond remembering content and challenges students to do something with their knowledge.  I can’t tell you how many students I have met that know their multiplication facts inside and out, but have no idea why finding area requires multiplication.  Knowledge is useful when it can be applied.  The Learning Genome Project urges students to go beyond knowing into the other, rich areas of learning.  Blooms Taxonomy is a useful for thinking through what it means to learn.  Knowledge and understanding are a portion of the learning, but so is the ability to analyze, evaluate, apply and create.  Learning is multifaceted and alive.  It can’t be so neatly all contained in this sort of adaptive learning technology.  Education should utilize technology (I tend to believe this will be the Learning Genome Project) in order to reach the individual.  It must reach outside of itself and meet that student with a name.  It must be able to recognize a student’s need without demanding that the need be met with a predetermined question/answer set.

This post took me some days to think through and write.  It spurred some new thinking for me.  It made me go back through the Learning Genome Project wireframes to dig out any hidden corners that may harbor something that would strip the humanity.  It caused me to think of a new Bloom’s Taxonomy image.  I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Hat tip to @alexbitz for sending me this article!

**If you know an investor who might be interested in the Learning Genome Project, I’d love an introduction!

12 Days of Dreaming #12DOD

Posted by admin | Posted in education reform, For Teachers, inspiration, professional development, Teacher Resources | Posted on 03-12-2012

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I love this time of year. Everything seems so full of possibility and optimism.  @Mr_Brett_Clark took hold of that feeling and started Education Dreamer: 12 Days of Dreaming.  Today was the big launch!  From Brett: “There is no greater time than now to share our dreams for education. Everything great that has ever happened, started as a dream.
Education Dreamer will post a new post on Monday through Thursday the first three weeks of December beginning December 3rd.
You can support this project by sharing out the post using #12DOD, adding a badge to your website, and leaving comments.”

I fully support this 12 days of dreaming and added my own dreams which were posted on day number one.  Lucky me!

Follow along, dream with your fellow educators and be inspired to make those dreams a reality!

My contribution is called: Dreaming of a Better Education.  Click the link to have a read.

Thank you for including me Brett!  Happy Everything :)

Shocking! The real purpose of your life! or What are we preparing for?

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, video | Posted on 26-11-2012

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Today @lancefinkbeiner shared this video with me.  It is too good not to share!  Now…how to make this the reality of what learning is really about in schools.  I can’t tell you how often in education that the answer for why something is done is, “we are preparing kids for…”  For example, we give 3 hours of homework to elementary students because we are “preparing them for middle school.”   In middle school we give additional homework and weekly tests because we are “preparing them for high school.”  High school has it’s own set of ridiculous standards in preparation for college.

My question: when are we preparing kids for life?  When are we preparing them to engage in the world around them?  When are we preparing them for healthy relationships with others?  When are we preparing them to ask good questions and seek answers?  When are we preparing them for what to do with failure?

The problem for preparing kids for the next system they will encounter is that the next system isn’t really the goal.  That goal is this imaginary place we call “success” and “perfection”.  Neither exist.  How do we prepare kids to live honest, meaningful lives?  THAT is what I am interested in preparing for.

The Making of the Learning Genome Project

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, Blooms Taxonomy, education reform, For Teachers, Grade Level, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Subject, Teacher Resources, web tools, Web2.0, Websites | Posted on 28-10-2012

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So many of you have offered tremendous support, donations and a megaphone to spread the word about the Learning Genome Project.  I am so grateful!  Today I thought I would lift the curtain just a bit and share a behind the scenes look at the Learning Genome Project.  My plan was to do this in video form using Screenium or Screeny. Those plans were foiled when NEITHER worked even with updates.  #sigh  Instead, I’ll write out my story and take you on a picture journey of how it all took place.  If you haven’t had a chance to lend a helping hand, it is not too late.  Honestly, even $1 makes such a BIG difference!  If everyone of my readers gave just $1, this would be taken care of tonight and we would be able to start the next phase of development. Click here to help out now!

I come from a family of entrepreneurs.  If it doesn’t exist or it can be done better, that is what you do.  This mind-set can be a bit of a curse…once I get an idea in my head, it is like a broken record that plays over and over until I do something about it.  My dad is prime example of this, he started Koostik with a styrofoam cup and an iPhone. Once the idea was there, it stayed until he saw it realized…in this case that means a growing company and product in Restoration Hardware and Red Envelope.  He is awesome.

For me this process started as I dug through curriculum and worked to supplement it with technology tools.  The idea was to “fill” the gaps with technology tools that would make the curriculum work better for students.  As I went through publisher after publisher, I started realizing that the problem wasn’t a lack of technology (if you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know that is a BIG realization for me). The real problem was that we were trying to address the needs of an incredibly diverse population of kids with a one-size-fits-all curriculum.  The troubling thing for me was that I sat on the committees that made the curriculum decisions.  I was sold (just like everyone else) on the premise that these curricula had “differentiated” instruction.  I have come to hate that term.  You know what it means?  It means that curriculum companies can sell more curriculum because they add in a highlighted section that says “differentiation!” and gives a one-size bigger or one-size smaller approach to the exact same problem.  As I went through all of this curriculum, I couldn’t shake the feeling that adding in a bit of technology wasn’t going to solve the problem.

As a computer teacher, I taught 435 students every week.  I taught the same 435 kids for 6 years.  I saw them grow up, learned what made them tick, watched the frustration grow when they didn’t understand a learning objective.  These kids were amazing. They were brilliant. They all had strengths and weaknesses that made them special. They all have a different understanding and approach to the world.  We were stripping all of that uniqueness away and making them learn everything the same. We were expecting that they would learn the same things, the same way, and at the same time.  Ludicrous! Nothing in life or growth and development happens this way, and yet that is what our education system is built on?  This was really troubling for me.  I couldn’t shake that it shouldn’t be that way.

In 2010 I took a year away from teaching for health reasons.  During that year, I acted as an educational consultant for many area schools.  This period of time re-emphasized those stirrings that I was having about education. This curriculum wasn’t working because it assumed too much sameness. I saw brilliant, gifted kids losing their passions because it wouldn’t get them into the swanky private high school (that looked just like every other school). How sad that we ask kids to give up their areas of gifting to get to the next level of learning.  Something is wrong!  One day I was working my way through curriculum, supplementing the holes with technology tools.  I was listening to Pandora Internet radio.  A song came on that I had never heard before, by an artist that was also new to me.  I frantically searched for something to write on so that I could remember this new find.  I remember thinking, “how amazing that we have come to a place in history where we can use technology to predict something as personal as music.”  I was truly amazed that I could put in one piece of information and through a series of algorithms, Pandora could predict other music I would like.  If it can work with music, surely it could work with curriculum.

This was the birth of that niggling thought that wouldn’t go away.  This was the beginning of the Learning Genome Project.  I had recently been introduced to a programmer (@ianchia) through @Doremigirl on Twitter.  Ian and I had shared many conversations about what education apps could look like.  This time it was my turn to ask a question.  I wanted to know if it was possible to program what was in my head.  “Well of course.”  Ian introduced me to some wireframing tools and I was off and running.  Over the next months, I dreamed up how the Learning Genome would work.  I thought about the students that I wanted something better for. I thought about the frustrations I had as a teacher. I dreamed about a tool that would make the whole process easier.

Teachers share something in common: we all want the very best for our students.  There are a few problems with this.  First, we don’t always get to choose what we will teach. Many times our school or district hands us the curriculum and says, “go.”  This is not conducive to doing the best we know how for every child.  Second, we don’t always know that their is a tool/lesson/resource out there that could make all the difference for each student.  Third, we have a limited time to search for that perfect tool/lesson/resource.  A lot of system problems to overcome.  If Pandora can do this for music, I can do it for education.

I started researching how Pandora works, what happens in the background that makes my experience possible?  Pandora is called the Music Genome Project because it used the Human Genome Project as its inspiration.  In the Human Genome Project, genes are mapped out.  In the Music Genome Project, the “genes” of music are mapped out.  I called my version the Learning Genome Project.  Together, we will map the genes of education, those attributes that help us find commonalities that match the right content to each student at the right time.

First, we need to collect information about the learner. If we don’t know the learner, we can’t know what content best fits their needs.  This is, in short, the best student information system ever.

Next, we have to know enough about the school and the classroom to make recommendations. It does us no good to recommend an iDevice app if the school has no access to that device.

We also have to know something about the lead learner (the teacher).

After we have the profile information, it is critical to know where students are in their learning. What needs to be learned?  This is the individualized learning plan…each student has one.

 

From within the ILP, teachers, students and parents can create and have input on the learning goals.  These learning goals inform what happens in the hub of the genome.

When the learning goal has been identified, the genome “hub” comes into play. This is where resources (lessons, videos, apps, experiments, activities, etc.) are matched and recommended for the student.  Much like Pandora, a learning channel is created.

Teachers (and students) can expand the results to view more information about the recommendation.  From here it can be added to teacher and student planners, and materials for the curriculum can be selected.

Teachers can see all student assignments within their planner. Here they can create groups for overlaps of student learning.  They can also create whole-class events.

After a student completes an activity, they record it within their ePortfolio.  This is all completely integrated.  Within the portfolio they can keep notes, documents, pictures, video and badges.  Badges help students have a bread trail of where they have been in their learning.  Portfolio’s are forever associated with a student, from year to year it travels and grows with them.  Students can also have the option of downloading their portfolio for offline viewing.

In addition to portfolios and planners, the Learning Genome Project includes wiki, blog and photo tools.

Community tools keep students, teachers and parents in collaboration.

My brother and I had many of the same teachers growing up.  We are very different people with 5 years separating us.  My favorite teachers were not his.  We had very similar experiences, the same outstanding teachers. But some teachers connected better with me than him.  How do we help every child have influence of a “favorite” teacher?  I created Twitacad.  Even if that teacher isn’t in the child’s school, there is a blended learning component that makes that connection possible.

Twitacad offers teachers and students a platform for sharing, communicating, and learning.  It is all tied in to the Learning Genome. Everything works together.  Virtual teachers are listed as teachers for parents, students and other teachers to interact with.

The Learning Genome Project has assessment tools built in.  Assessment is based on mastery of a skill or concept.  This is directly related to what is happening in the student portfolio so that students, teachers and parents can view evidences of the learning.

How does content, resources, tools, lessons, apps, videos, etc. get into the genome?  It gets tagged with its learning attributes by incredible teachers around the world like you.  We all contribute to this project and we all benefit from it.

The hub (resource aggregation) portion of the Genome is free to everyone.  Every child deserves an education tailored to them.  Additional portions of the Learning Genome Project (planners, ePortfolios, blogs, wikis, Twitacad) will be a subscription based service.

The Learning Genome Project is not curriculum.  It is a sorting tool that pulls the best options for every child.  Teachers will be able to sort results based on price, Bloom’s Taxonomy level, standard, subject, and type of resource.  This will tell you what curricular resources will best meet every child’s needs.  Every time a resource is used, it gets rated by both student and teacher. Resources that are highest rated will be recommended first.

This is truly a quick overview of the Learning Genome project.  There are so many intricacies and features that will make it revolutionary to education.  The one hang up? I need help funding it!  Sure, I could go and get some venture capitalists to fund it. The problem: I want the force that drives what happens to the Learning Genome Project to be what is best for kids…not what best impacts the bottom line.  I believe that if we all put a little into this project, that we can create something revolutionary.  We can all have a part in transforming education for the world.

I hope you will join me.  I hope that you will realize that $1 and a few minutes is a small price to pay for a resource that has the potential to reach every child in the world.  This is a small price to pay for our future.  We can do this.  Please click here and donate now…then spread the word to everyone you know and encourage them to do the same.

Meducating…it’s just easier

Posted by admin | Posted in education reform, inspiration | Posted on 13-10-2012

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I recently saw this bit on the Colbert Report...it would be funnier if it weren’t accurately reporting something that is actually happening.  It is unbelievable to me that we, as a society, choose to medicate (meducate) instead of challenging the system and fixing the problem.

My goal is to fix the problem.  I need your help!  It is possible to personalize education for every child. It is possible to help children find their passion in learning without drugging them.  Help me to make this a reality!  Medicating children to get them through school can’t be the answer. The Learning Genome Project. 

 Excerpt from “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School”

by Alan Schwarz New York Times, page 1, October 9, 2012

full text available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/health/attention-disorder-or-not-children-prescribed-pills-to-help-in-school.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&emc=eta1

When (American paediatrician) Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall (a mixture of four amphetamine salts1)…

Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools. “I don’t have a whole lot of choice…We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”…

Dr. Anderson’s instinct, he said, is that of a “social justice thinker” who is “evening the scales a little bit.” He said that the children he sees with academic problems are essentially “mismatched with their environment” — square pegs chafing the round holes of public education…

About 9.5 percent of Americans ages 4 to 17 were judged to have it (ADHD) in 2007, or about 5.4 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2

According to guidelines published last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics, physicians should use one of several behavior rating scales, some of which feature dozens of categories, to make sure that a child not only fits criteria for A.D.H.D., but also has no related condition like dyslexia or oppositional defiant disorder, in which intense anger is directed toward authority figures. However, a 2010 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggested that at least 20 percent of doctors said they did not follow this protocol when making their A.D.H.D. diagnoses, with many of them following personal instinct…

Dr. Anderson said (ADHD diagnostic criteria)…were codified only to “make something completely subjective look objective.”…

“This is my whole angst about the thing,” Dr. Anderson said. “We put a label on something that isn’t binary — you have it or you don’t. We won’t just say that there is a student who has problems in school, problems at home, and probably, according to the doctor with agreement of the parents, will try medical treatment.”

He added, “We might not know the long-term effects, but we do know the short-term costs of school failure, which are real. I am looking to the individual person and where they are right now. I am the doctor for the patient, not for society.”

Core of Education Podcast

Posted by admin | Posted in Anastasis Academy, education reform, inspiration | Posted on 08-10-2012

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Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Rod Berger of RANDA solutions for The Core of Education podcast.  We had a great chat about education reform, personalizing education and a bit about my personal journey in education.  You can listen to the 20 minute podcast here: The Core of Education.

Thank you for your time today @DrBergerAtRANDA!

I mention some bloggers in this podcast, it you are looking for inspiration, look no further than this list of AMAZING educators and bloggers.

You can find Anastasis Academy here.

You can find the Learning Genome Project campaign here.