“What if we started a school?” – Come see us in action!

Professional Development that lets you see with new eyes

So often I see the same sentiment from educators involved in education dialogue, “Wouldn’t it be nice if a school were doing ____.  I would love to see a school who actually implemented _______, instead of just talking about it.”

As an educator, I felt the same. I would be energized by discussions with colleagues at conferences and then again each week during Twitter chats; I was inspired to do something better, but unsure of where to start. Equally disheartening, I rarely had the examples of schools doing really transformative things to share back with my own school.

It was as a result of these types of interactions that I started my own, “what if we…” school. What if we redesigned assessment and ditched tests? What if we had a school with a no homework policy? What if we got rid of all boxed curriculum? What if we took kids on learning excursions every week? What if we built a true community of learners? What if we got rid of classrooms that looked like classrooms and used space differently? What if we had 1:1 technology?

I want to invite you to come see what this kind of, “what if we…” school looks like. For all of you who have dreamed a different kind of school, a different kind of education, this conference is for you.

5Sigma Edu Con  is not your typical conference. Our goal isn’t to show you all of the latest and greatest apps that you can use in your classroom (although you’ll likely learn about some new ones while your here). Our goal isn’t to inspire you (although inspiration will be here in abundance). Our goal is to give voice to all of your, “what if we…” dreams. To show you what it looks like to start that school, and then empower you to launch some of those dreams in your own classroom.

The conference begins with a Keynote by Jimmy Casas followed by a tour of Anastasis Academy led by our students. You’ll get a learner-eye-view of this “dream” school.  You’ll get a variety of sessions by the very people who have inspired us along the way. Sessions that go beyond your typical sit-and-get. Sessions that inspire you and then empower you to launch change in your classroom.

You’ll also get a closing keynote by the awesome Sarah Thomas, panel discussions, an adult field trip (to a brewery…because it is in Denver!), and the most amazing burger and tots you can imagine (seriously, ask anyone who has been to a 5Sigma Edu Con and they will tell you that this alone is worth the price of admission!)

If you need help getting the PD dollars to attend 5Sgima, customize this template letter to request help from the Powers-That-Be (AKA your administration or development committee). Just copy and paste the sessions that interest you most.

Below are just a few of the sessions you can look forward to at this year’s 5Sigma Edu Con. Space is limited, so make sure to reserve your spot today! If you want to bring a team from your school, please email me at info@anastasisacademy.us and I will be happy to work out a group discount.
Simplify: Becoming a Carry-on Teacher in a Checked Baggage Classroom
-Kevin Croghan
In teaching, we have a bazillion things to do every day, but that doesn’t mean we need to have a bazillion things.  Brass tacks: I like minimalism, I dig gadgets and tools that I can keep on my person, and I love going mobile.  This session will provide sample minimalist philosophies, ideas for everyday items to carry, and time to craft our own personal teaching toolkits to manage our workflows.  The concepts apply to all teachers and are particularly valuable for those who share space.

PBL and Tech: Tools to Support Inquiry Based Learning    
-Jennifer Anderson
Explore tools and apps useful to teachers and students in an inquiry based learning environment. Facilitator and participants will share what they know or learn about tools that support engaging student interest through inquiry, research, project management, and creating artifacts of learning.

Shades of 1:1 – What Models Work Best to Transform Classrooms
– Ben Wilkoff
How does a 1:1 environment change the way we plan lessons to create more engaging learning tasks? How does it support and empower students? If we haven’t answered these questions, why should we hold it up as the ideal? In this session we will interrogate the notion of 1:1 and explore alternative ways of supporting Blended and Personalized Learning in our schools.

Let Them Lead! Student-Owned Learning Environment (re)Design
-Jessica Raleigh and Chris Moore

How might children be leaders and highly engaged learners throughout all phases of a student-led learning environment design (or redesign!) cycle? This session explores the question with a variety of adult and student facilitators from McGlone Academy, guided by a backchannel and planning documents for a learning space (re)design.

Know Your Place: Using Placemaking and Storytelling to Make Meaning & Change the World
-Noah Geisel
We are preparing students for successful futures in a world of automation and outsourcing. This session investigates and unpacks skills that people do better than machines and that can’t be shipped to other countries. Let’s be human and state making meaning together.

Learning  > Assessment: Embedding Stories that Empower Learning
– Kelly Tenkely
How might we re-imagine our assessment practices to better embed stories in the data? How might we give our assessment practices an “upGrade” to better empower students as learners? In this session, we’ll explore the purpose of assessment and identify those elements that help us better tell the stories of learning. We’ll start from a clean slate and re-imagine assessment from the ground up.

What is Sacred in Education? Building a Foundation for Agency
-Kelly Tenkely
What is the first step for agency in education? How might we use a Learner Profile to build a foundation and culture for agency in our schools? Together we’ll explore the pieces of the Learner Profile that we use at Anastasis, as well as how this step into agency seeps into every decision we make as a school.

Passion-Based Learning Through Inquiry- “An Inquiry Inception”
– Michelle Baldwin
Students are often asked to find answers to problems created for them by adults; frequently, these concepts are introduced with little to no context as to how they relate to the students. We want learners to feel empowered to explore ideas that make them wonder, discover problems to solve, ask questions, and demonstrate what they’ve learned in ways that help them make sense of the world around them.

Empowered learners follow their curiosity past mere engagement to discovery and “light bulb” moments in learning. Through an inquiry model, students are able to explore new concepts and follow their passions to a higher level of learning. This results in increased ownership, deeper levels of understanding, and the ability to assess their own progress through reflection. As student agency increases, their learning becomes more meaningful and relevant!

In this session, participants will learn the inquiry model through inquiry – Inquiry Inception! We’ll explore passion-based learning and inquiry methods to learn how to guide students into discovering their passions within any classroom.

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Literature-Map: Help students find new authors to fall in love with

Literature Map: Help students find new author to fall in love with

What it is: Literature Map is a literature recommendation system. It is really easy to discover a new author. Start by searching for an author you enjoy, and magically a map of names will appear based on what other readers of that author have read. The closer that two writers are on the map, the more likely it is that you will like both of them. Click on any name on the map to travel further and find more recommendations.

Literature Map- find your next favorite author

How to integrate Literature Map into the classroom: It’s a common problem, a student falls in LOVE with an author and devours everything the author has ever written. Then they come to the end of their journey and a sort of sadness hangs over them, there is nothing more. Enter Literature Map. Students can easily enter the name of the beloved author and discover others they are sure to love, leading them down a rabbit trail of reading utopia! Students can discover new voices, genres, and keep the love of reading alive. Literature Map is a great site to bookmark on classroom computers, in the library, or on student devices.

If your students do an author study, this site could be useful for helping them find related authors and then using Wolfram Alpha to compare the authors they find side by side.

Tips: Hat tip to @michellek107 for sharing this with Anastasis staff this week!

Aurasma: Create Augmented Reality Experiences in Under 2 Min.

Create augmented reality experiences for your classroom in under 2 minutes

What it is: Aurasma is an app (also a website) that allows learners to quickly create augmented reality experiences for others. Augmented reality is the mix of technology and the real world. Probably the most popular or, at least the most commonly used, augmented reality is the use of Snapchat filters. Funny faces and masks are overlaid on top of the real world (i.e. whatever you are taking a picture of). Aurasma makes it simple to quickly create these types of experiences for others. Learners start by uploading, or taking, a “Trigger” photo. This photo is what the Aurasma app will look for to trigger the event that has been layered on top of the photo. Next, learners add overlay images. These are the images that will popup when the Trigger Photo is within the camera viewfinder. It might sound cumbersome, but it really isn’t! It is like having QR codes embedded right in any environment…without the QR code!

Empower students to create their own augmented reality experiences

How to integrate Aurasma into the classroom: Because learners can create augmented reality experiences for any environment, the possibilities are seriously endless. Below are a few ways I can see our teachers and learners using Aurasma:

  • A few years ago, our students explored How the World Works through the PBS series, and book, How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. As a result of their learning, the students decided to build a Domino Museum (you can read about that here). At the time, they put QR codes all around their museum. Some QR codes explained how the museum worked, and others expanded on the information that was presented on each domino. Aurasma could take an experience like this to the next level by allowing students to embed information and instructions all around the museum. As people walked through their Domino Museum with the Aurasma app opened up, additional information would have automatically populated based on where they placed Triggers.
  • Anastasis students are SUPER creative in presenting their learning at the end of an inquiry block. During the last block, one of our students explored the history of dance. In one of our learning spaces she created a time machine that students could get into. Then she themed other learning spaces for each time period. With Aurasma, she could have had the students actually see the dancers/costumes/etc. of each time period as if they were really in the room, using the room as a trigger.
  • In a foreign language class, students could use objects/items in the room as triggers for vocabulary overlays. As students look through their iPhone/iPad/Android’s camera in the Aurasma app, all of that vocabulary would pop up as others explored the room.
  • Our students go on a field trip on average once a week. They explore all kinds of incredible places for learning in context. Often, another class might end up at the same location later in the month or even in another year. As students visit somewhere new, they can overlay their learning on a place. When other classes, or another year’s students visit, they can see the learning that took place when others visited. (How cool would it be to get a network of schools doing this so that we could all learn together!)
  • We have a strong social justice component at Anastasis. Last year, our Jr. High kids spent time at Network Coffee House. During their time there, they spent a day in the life of a homeless person. They held cardboard signs on street corners and panhandled, they met other homeless, and got a tour of where these people sleep, get warm, etc. Afterward they had incredible reflections about their experience. It would have been a neat exercise to have them end the day by taking pictures of landmarks at the various stops around their tour as Triggers. When they got back to school, they could have created an augmented reality reflection tour for others.
  • In art class, students could take a photo of their creation and then overlay an explanation about how they created their art, their inspiration, etc. During a school art show, those in attendance would get to experience the heart behind each piece.
  • In social studies, students could snap a photo of a place on the map, and then overlay their learning on top. As others explored the map with the Aurasma app, all of that information would populate as they explored the map.
  • Learners could take a photo of the cover of a book (or book spine) that they just read. They can overlay the trigger image with their review of the book. As students are searching the library through the Aurasma app, they will see the reviews that other students have left behind.
  • Teachers can use Aurasma to embed instructions or norms around their classrooms. I’m imagining this being useful for special equipment use in a maker space or science lab. This would also be a great way to embed instructions when you have different learning happening in the classroom in a center like environment. Multiply your reach by layering the instructions or a demonstration of each center at its location in the classroom.
  • Teachers could also use Aurasma to amplify the usefulness of posters or bulletin boards around the classroom. Snap a photo of either as your trigger and then layer additional helpful information over top.
  • It could be fun to “hide” a writing prompt or brain teaser in your classroom each day. Just snap a photo of something in the classroom so that when students look through their camera with Aurasma, the overlay pops up with instructions.
  • This would also be a fun way to lead students through problem solving of a mystery where they are discovering clues and following directions. At the beginning of the year, you could create a tour of the school or scavenger hunt around the school to help students get acclimated to their new surroundings.
  • Sooo…the possibilities really are endless with this one!

Tips: Learners can create augmented reality experiences from the Aurasma website, but to actually view the augmented reality, an iPhone/iPad/Android device with the Aurasma app is needed.

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Adobe Spark: Easily create and share videos, images, and newsletters

Adobe Spark: Create videos, images, and newsletters in a snap!

 

Adobe Spark: Easily create videos, images, and newsletters in a snap!

What it is: Adobe Spark is a collection of fantastic (free!) creative tools available online or as an app download.

  • Create social graphics that are stunning and easy to share (you know the kind: flyers, memes, posters, ads). The example above took under 2min to create and share! 🙂
  • Make beautiful web stories for event recaps, newsletters, photo journals, portfolios, etc.
  • Produce and share impressive videos for storytelling, projects, or to share to social media.

If you (or your students) are feeling a lack of creativity, there is even a bank of inspiration that will get you started! This is particularly helpful for your students who struggle with a place to start but are brilliant with a little nudge. Whether you begin with inspiration or not, you’ll be feeling an extra burst of creativity in no time.

How to integrate Adobe Spark in the classroom: The collection of tools in Adobe Spark are perfect for students and teachers alike. Students can use these tools to create book reviews, to document science experiments, for storytelling, to explain their inquiry process, as an eportfolio, to illustrate math concepts, and so much more! These tools will help your students take their learning and present it in a way that is both visually powerful, and easy to share.

Teachers, you can use Adobe Spark to create a weekly newsletter (SO easy to share home with parents!), create photo journals of class events or field trips, to create writing and thinking prompts to share with students, quotes, presentations, and announcements. The photo journal would be a great way to give families a glimpse into your classroom, if you’re like me, your phone is FULL of pictures at the end of each week! If you have a class social media channel on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube- Adobe Spark is about to take it to the next level of awesomeness!

I love the way that Adobe Spark has made digital storytelling that much easier to create and share. This is a site that you’ll want to bookmark for easy access, and put on all of your students devices if you have a one-to-one environment.

Tips: If you have laptops, the web version of Adobe Spark is best, otherwise download the app!

Building Student Agency: Multiple Intelligence Strengths

What it is: The Learning Genome Project started nearly 8 years ago in response to a sense of urgency to make education more about those it serves: students. In the process of building the Learning Genome, I came to a realization that even if this perfect tool existed, there wasn’t the infrastructure in schools to fully utilize it. This led to the start of a school, Anastasis Academy. Our primary goal as a school is to recognize the humanity in each of our students, to get to know them as individuals. Beyond the trendy “personalization” or “individualization” we seek to know identity. More than that, we want students to know and love their own identity.

It’s a large undertaking, but one that I’m proud to say that we do really well. Our teachers know who are students are on a deeply personal level. In turn, we are able to help our students know who they are, and love that person and the contribution they make to the world.

We don’t get it right in every moment, but it is a journey we are committed to as a community every day.

How do we do it? We start each year by building a Learner Profile for each student. This Learner Profile is the beginning of helping students build this kind of agency. It is the start of the journey. During this important meeting, our teachers ask interest/passion questions to help us get to know students better…you can download those for free here. Next, we go through the Learning Genome card decks. This is the first of the card decks. Through this one-on-one “game” students are able to tell us more about who they are. For shy or introverted students, the cards are a wonderful catalyst for opening up and sharing without feeling like they are in the spotlight. For those who have no problem sharing stories about themselves, these cards give those stories direction. The Multiple Intelligence Card Strength card set will help you to better identify the strengths that your student’s have as a learner, but my favorite part of using this card deck is all the incidental information that you get along the way. As students interact with the cards, they inevitably begin to tell you stories that reveal parts of their personalities, their family dynamics, their deepest joys, and fears. As they place cards, you will start to understand places where they feel weaknesses or vulnerabilities. You’ll see them hesitate over where to place a card and hear stories that fill in the blanks.

Before you even begin teaching these students, you will see them for the incredible, unique individuals they are. Rather than being “students” (as if we could categorize an entire population with one word!), you’ll see them. Hopes, dreams, and flaws. Learners. Students with names and identities.

If you are interested in the Learning Genome Project Card Sets, you can find them here, the Learner Profile spreadsheet I talk about is available as well!

YouCubed: Think like a Mathematician

YouCubed: Help students think like a mathematician

What it is: Do you know about Stanford’s YouCubed? If you are a math teacher (and even if you aren’t) you need to know about this awesome resource! It is packed full of goodness for teachers and parents alike. Fantastic (and approachable) articles about brain science, mathematical thinking, and mindset. Outstanding ideas that you can use RIGHT NOW! Links to really wonderful math apps and games, videos and radio shows, tasks (also known as mathematical brain teasers), and visual mathematics resources. My favorite portion of YouCubed is the Week of iMath. There are 5 days of lessons, each one comes with a lesson plan, video, and list of materials needed.

How to integrate YouCubed into your classroom: There are SO many resources that can transform your classroom! I love the articles and research as references to send parents throughout the year. These are also great for reading with your older students who may assume that math is not their gig. The articles and research included show that math is for all of us, but our mindset may need a bit of a shift! What I love about the articles is the way they quickly dispel so many myths about maths, I guarantee you’ve heard all of this from parents over the years and now you have research to share to help them understand the truth about mathematical thinking and brain science.

The links to math games and apps is really helpful. You’ll find some old favorites, but likely be introduced to something new to use with your class. One of my very favorites listed is an app called Dragon Box…it is truly so brilliant for teaching students algebraic concepts and math thinking without any numbers or mathematical symbols at all!

The iMath section gives you a wonderful inspirational math lesson for each day of the week. These lessons go far beyond your typical math drill/skill/learn-a-new-formula. Instead, they are all about helping your students develop a growth mindset when it comes to math, and arming them with the necessary tools to think like a mathematician. Depth of learning! The approach in each lesson is playful and inquiry driven, it encourages risk taking and mistake making as they work with numbers, patterns, and relationships between concepts. I cannot say enough about this section of YouCubed! Each lesson is broken down into grade ranges so that no matter what age you teach, you can find the fit for your class.

Tips: This is an ideal site to start the year with, and then use as a reference all year long! You should also be sure to check out Jo Boaler’s books and articles. If you’ve ever felt under prepared/qualified to teach math, Jo will help you shift your own mindset and equip you to teach math like a master!

Free Download: Learner Profile Survey

Learner Profile Survey Free Download

 

At Anastasis Academy, our year begins by building a Learner Profile for every student. Before we’ve even ventured into the school year, we know a tremendous amount about our students. This is the first step for building student agency. Our Learner Profile is made up of six parts:

  1. The Learner Profile Survey (student’s interests/passions)
  2. Multiple Intelligence Strengths
  3. Learning Style Preferences
  4. Brain Dominance
  5. Parent/guardian hopes and goals for the school year (both social/emotional and academic)
  6. Strengths finder results (we like Thrively!)

We get a lot of requests for our Learner Profile template. Today, I’m sharing the first piece: the Learner Profile Survey. These are the questions we ask our students each year to get a better understanding of who they are, what makes them tick, what their vulnerabilities are.

To download this resource for FREE, just enter your information below and you’ll receive an email with the Learner Profile Survey PDF!

The complete Learner Profile template is free with purchase of the Learning Genome Project Card Sets that help you determine multiple intelligence strengths, learning style preferences, and brain dominance.

FREE Learner Profile Survey Download

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To learn more about the how and why of Learner Profiles, check out the related posts below:
And, if you just can’t get enough Learner Profile goodness and want to see these live and in action, be sure to join us in February for the 5Sgima Edu Conference!

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A conference about what is sacred in education: 5Sigma Edu Con

should I go to 5 Sigma:?

There are a lot of options for professional development. Hundreds of conferences, workshops, MOOCS, edcamps, professional journals, blogs, the list seriously goes on and on. If you’re like me, your inbox and mailbox have a pretty consistent stream of offerings. I’m about to tell you about one more…

The 5Sigma Education Conference holds a special place in my heart because it gives me the opportunity to invite you to come meet the incredible people I work with every day! I have to say, they are seriously SO amazing (only a little biased)!

5Sigma has a lot of incredible features, but our main focus is always that which is sacred in education: students with names. This is what else you can look forward to:

  • A tour of Anastasis Academy, led by our students- this gives you an inside view of our unique model. Anastasis is the school I started 6 years ago. With the help of an incredible staff, we’ve created a place where: we begin with students, inquiry rules the learning process, learning is hands-on and experiential, we have a living curriculum, we use space as a ‘third teacher,’ we help our students excel by eliminating tests/grades/homework, we’ve transformed assessment, we customize the learning experience for every learner. We do all of this with the same per-pupil expenditure as the public schools in the area!
  • This year our sessions and keynotes will be centered around student agency. We’ve found this to be the single greatest factor that impacts every other part of learning. When we support each student to recognize that they are unique in the course of history, we empower students to engage the world now.
    • When we help students embrace their identity they also are ready for:
      • freedom to direct their own learning, how they learn, and where they learn it;
      • learning powered by questions through inquiry;
      • exploration through thoughtful risk-taking and permissive learning;
      • community and a healthy-school culture where students encourage each other in the learning journey, and inspire one another to be themselves; and
      • meaningfully engaging larger issues like diversity because they are better equipped to recognize the strengths, humanity, passions and culture of others.
  • A large part of our program is full-immersion learning. We take students on weekly learning excursions. At 5Sigma, we invite you to do the same. On Sunday, February 19th, the day is dedicated to learning in context through adult learning excursions. Last year we went to GrowHaus, an aquaponic farm in town followed by a brewery tour. Stay tuned for this year’s options!

In short, this is a conference that will do more than inspire you, you will be empowered to launch in your own classrooms, schools and districts!

If something above resonated with you, and you thought, “this is MY topic of passion,” you should definitely propose a session. Proposals are due November 15th!

We hope that we will see you here in February!

 

P.S. If none of the above topics are of interest to you, but you really like to eat…you should come for lunch on Saturday alone. El Toro the Tot has the MOST incredible burgers and tots. Ask @yourkidsteacher it is worth the price of admission!

3 Steps to a Living Curriculum

3 Steps to a Living Curriculum

Boxed curriculum does exactly that: it boxes in learning, narrows the scope of possibility, and leads kids to believe that learning is a chore. Living curriculum does the opposite: it unleashes learning, opens up possibility and adjacent possibility, and leaves kids excited to continue learning. Living curriculum grows and adapts for a richer, more meaningful learning experience.

3 Steps to a Living Curriculum:

  1. Know your students! This seems like a really obvious first step, but honestly, if you don’t know your students it will be impossible to break free of the box(ed) curriculum. How do you get to know your students? At Anastasis, we dedicate our first days of school to getting to know our students and building a learner profile. We ask all kinds of interest and passion questions, we play a card game that helps us identify their Learning Style preferences, Multiple Intelligence Strengths, and Brain Dominance, and we build a Learner Profile. To take students beyond pre-fab curriculum, you have to know them first. What are their strengths as a learner? Where do they find struggle? All of this information will make you a better guide in the learning. It will also allow your students to understand themselves as learners and their classmates as learners. It will change the ecosystem in your classroom!
  2. Break free of the box. You have to break free of the boxed curriculum before you can truly experience a living curriculum. Boxed curriculum is like teaching students through paint by number. Or like exploring the world via a map. Sure, maps are a predictable. You can see the whole landscape in a simple, two dimensional layout. They give us answers and a 10,000 foot look at a landscape. They allow us to gather some information about the world: where major landmarks are in relation to other major landmarks, what rivers/lakes/mountains we might encounter. With a map, we can chart a course and head a direction. But it isn’t living. Looking at a map is not the same as exploring the world. With inquiry, you may have a guidebook that helps along the way, but it is actually all about the journey. Where boxed curriculum is about answers, inquiry is about the journey to the answer. Living curriculum is immersive learning where students get to create their own map including the features and nuances that are important to them (this is why knowing them is step 1!). Learning is too complex and beautiful to be captured by boxed curriculum. When students are immersed in the journey, they can appreciate the scale of a mountain, the wildlife and ecosystem of a river. A living curriculum is not prescriptive, it is an autobiography of learning written by the student as they learn. A living curriculum uses inquiry because the path to learning is more about following a direction than arriving at a destination. Each year, I create a new set of inquiry guides for our teachers and students. The main inquiry questions stay the same every year (we love the PYP questions!): “Who We Are,” “Where We Are in Place and Time,” “How We Express Ourselves,” “How the World Works,” “How We Organize Ourselves,” and “Sharing the Planet.” Then, under each line of inquiry, I come up with a direction for our inquiry block and additional suggestions for different lines of inquiry that students could follow. Each block has a Pinterest board where we can collect resources for learning during the block. These are books, videos, apps, lesson ideas, articles, experiments, field trip possibilities, etc.
  3. Invite teaching partners and students to collaborate. This is the LIVING part of living curriculum. This is where the curriculum actually comes alive and changes and adapts organically as the learning process unfolds.  Pinterest is a great place for this to happen and, be honest, you are there anyway! Using our Pinterest boards, I start gathering resources I think might be useful, then I invite teachers and students to collaborate with me. As they follow a direction in inquiry, inevitably it leads their learning in unexpected places that I couldn’t have imagined. Inviting teachers and students who are doing the learning to collaborate, the curriculum comes alive. It adapts and changes and grows with us. Living curriculum. Our learning becomes fully immersive, and rich. Students are creating their own maps as they explore learning.

Want to see an example of Living Curriculum in action? Check out this example from Anastasis!

Where to find the card game we use to build our learner profile: The Learning Genome Project

Follow me on Pinterest to see our Living Curriculum grow!

Digital Badges: credentialing the things that make us fully human

Two weeks ago, I attended the Digital Badge Summit in Denver, CO.

I’ve been somewhat hesitant to jump into digital badges world (despite knowing the digital badge ninja, @senorg) because I feared that digital badges were just one more way to categorize and label kids, another carrot to dangle in the classroom. I must admit, that some of this hesitation comes from experience with digital badges within EPIC Kids books, an app we love at Anastasis.

Our students (and teachers) have long been fans of EPIC! because it brings us so many books and expands our classroom libraries and feeds our students desire to read. Toward the end of the school year, EPIC added digital badges. Each time a student reads a book, they earn a badge within EPIC. Pretty quickly our students stopped actually reading the books they had so loved just weeks before. They discovered that if they stayed on each page for a few seconds before flipping, they could get through books really quickly (without actually reading them) and still earn a badge. As educators, we watched our student’s love for reading dissipate in favor of a digital badge. We watched kids go from discussing the books they read, to competing to see who had the most badges. You can read about the full break down on @michellek107‘s blog here.

You can see why it was with some trepidation that I embarked on the Digital Badge Summit, but knowing @senorg as I do, I knew there would be more to digital badging. The Summit was led by Aurora Public Schools who has been on the front end of the digital badge movement. I’m so impressed with the way they have thought about, and are rolling out badging. It is not a replacement for assessment. The badges are not content specific, or task specific. Instead, the APS badges are being used to credential preschool-12th grade students in 21st Century Skills. APS has also partnered with more than 20 Endorsers who are facilitating a currency wherein students who earn endorsed badges, can use them in order to unlock opportunities with employers. Students can earn badges in any order and through a variety of disciplines, making them very customizable to each student’s individual needs, strengths, and experience.

Digital Badges: an autobiography of learning

APS issues badges using Credly. Credly is an end-to-end credential and badge management system. It seamlessly integrates into social media and Open Badge compliance and has an Open Credit API. Badges are fully customizable, it is easy to issue badges to recipients, includes identity verification (to ensure credibility and authenticity), and allows students to share achievements on a variety of sites.

Perhaps my favorite moment of Digital Badge Summit was the bold declaration that digital badges could be a great equalizer in education. @npinkard talked about learning deserts and how digital badging can help us better leverage a youth ecosystem to meet students where they are at (school, community, home, after school, etc.) Students move across multiple learning spaces constantly. These are spaces defined by where learning happens, not a school address. People put their time into learning things that have social capital. Digital badges can be a tool for social and economic justice. They can be a door opener to a successful future.

An APS student spoke toward this reality as he described his own education. As a student with learning needs, he often received a report card that revealed all of the places that he was failing within his education. It revealed every struggle and none of his brilliance. When APS began issuing badges, this student, for the first time, was able to capture and share his brilliance. While he may not be good at the school game, it did not mean that he didn’t have strengths, places where he truly shined. The badges gave this student a way to capture and celebrate what he was good at and share that with others. Now, he is able to take his accomplishments and share with future universities or employers all of the things that make him a standout candidate even if his grades don’t necessarily reflect that. Digital badging can give students a language to promote their skills and experience to future employees or schooling. Digital badges can also be used to facilitate meaningful relationships between students and mentors, they can be used to help guide and motivate students.

A distinction was made between standards (expecting a high-quality) and standardization (repetition, everyone being a cog in the system). As @dajbelshaw said, “I don’t go to two separate Michelin Star restaurants expecting the same dish, but I do expect the same high quality.” This is an important distinction, and one I don’t think we make enough in education. It is also the difference between prescriptive pathways and descriptive pathways. Badges shouldn’t be prescriptive, they should be descriptive of what a student has done. A learning autobiography of what has been accomplished rather than the charted path. “Keep badges weird. Don’t replicate the system we have now with ever more high stake credentials.”-@dajbelshaw

We also heard about how badges can make an e-portfolio more interactive, when badges can be linked directly to learning evidence, students have a powerful map of their learning that is searchable and shareable. Anastasis uses e-portfolios together with our assessment system to help students remember and reflect on their learning journey. The badges can act as a bread-crumb-trail of sorts so that students can go back through and reflect on where they started and all the steps along the way that led to accomplishments. Like growing older, learning often happens as such a pace, that you don’t always know it happened until you look back at pictures. It is only through reflection that you realized that you’ve changed at all. Students need a way to celebrate their small and big wins alike. Badges can help students see the richness of skills that have been learned that isn’t easily captured otherwise.

Several Colorado organizations shared about the ways that they are using digital badging to help students capture learning including the Denver Public Library, Colorado History Museum, and Colorado volunteers. The programs are impressive to be sure, but one of the things that became apparent is that there needs to be a common language in the Digital Badge space. Currently those who are issuing badges are often doing so within their own ecosystem. There isn’t a common ‘currency’ where badges are created and shared. In order for them to reach their full potential, badges need to be more universally shared and accepted so that they exist in a common space. The struggle here is in, “who defines knowledge and gives it a value?”- Paulo Frier This is an important consideration! Badges shouldn’t be controlled by one organization, but rather open, transferable, stackable, and evidence based. Every learner should be able to control their identity and therefore their badges.

“Badging can help credential all things that make us fully human.” @dajbelshaw

Reports and certificates show a very narrow view of what it means to be human. Digital badges open up a wider ability to help us describe who we are and what makes each of us unique. That badges can help us speak toward what makes us more fully human is the reason I left the Digital Badge Summit hopeful. Hopeful that rather than diluting learning with another “carrot” dangled, that digital badges can be a way for students to share their uniqueness, what makes their identity different from anyone else. Used properly, badges can be used to reveal and celebrate our individual humanity. Thanks @senorg and APS for putting on a truly spectacular summit!