Metanoia- the journey of changing one’s mind, heart, self, or way of life (basically what #edu is all about!)

5-Sigma Education Conference February 20-22, Colorado

The problem with education reform is that we keep attempting to change surface level systems and hoping for deep systemic change as a result. What we actually end up with is new standards, new curricula (usually replacing one one-size-fits-all with another one-size-fits-all), new technology initiatives, more professional development, added “rigorous” expectations, new standardized tests, new assessment systems, and new buzz words. If you’ve been involved in education for any amount of time, you begin to see a pattern emerge. As a society, we seem to be always searching for the next best thing that is going to “fix” education; it quickly begins to feel like a broken record. I’ve often heard education veterans lament about how this is, “just one more new program.” It will get hyped, change the way everything is done, but the end result will be the same: countless professional development dollars will have been spent, there will be additional pressure and stress to get everything changed over to the “new” way of doing things, and lives and schools will be turned upside down and inside out. In the end the “new” push will end up with all the others: shoveled to the side when the next latest and greatest idea comes on the horizon. This has been the case for as long as I’ve been in education (30-year+ veterans tell me that it is nothing new). When this is the education landscape, you really can’t help but to feel jaded and wonder what the point of all of it is.

The trouble is, in all of these initiatives we never really change our minds about what education is and what it needs. We continue thinking about and approaching education in exactly the same ways, put a new cover on it, and act as if it will finally be THE thing that changes everything. If we keep looking at education with the same assumptions, no matter what comes our way, the end result will be the same. Swirl. The circling around solutions that aren’t really solutions. We have to change our minds. We have to identify the assumptions that we make about education and divorce ourselves from them enough to gain a new perspective.

Assumptions that we make in education (this is just a sampling, but you’ll get the idea):

  • Everyone needs to exit the school system with the same skill set and knowledge.
  • Academic success can be measured and assigned a number.
  • Tests show progress in learning.
  • Kids should move through learning at the same pace and, if they aren’t, there is something wrong with them.
  • That classrooms are places with desks, whiteboards, and paper/pencils.
  • That education should be rigorous.
  • That teachers deliver learning.
  • That homework is a necessary part of school.

When the above assumptions are the mind-set that we operate from, no new initiatives layered on top of them are going to make the systemic change we hope for.

We have to change our minds first. We have to begin designing from within.

As people tour through Anastasis, I often get the feeling that they are overwhelmed. What we do looks very different from the school that they operate within. There is this pause generally followed by, “we could never do this! ” There is red tape, naysayers, not enough money, and hurdles of every sort. They realize that what we do would take a fundamental shift in the way things are done at their school and that feels BIG. Unattainable.

When we change our minds, ditch the assumptions, it is truly a starting over.

As educators and decision makers, we often try to make shifts in educations by bring in a new program, adding the newest technology, changing one curriculum for another. But the truth is, to change education, we have to work at it a bit more abstractly…we have to change our minds. The real change has to happen within each of us as educators. We have to identify our assumptions, step back and take a look at education and learning from a new perspective, a new lens. This is a shift in how we think about education and the lens we consider it under.

How do we change our minds? NOT by adding “new” programs (that as it turns out have the same view of education/learning and have just altered the packaging). The more I’ve reflected on the education reform puzzle, the more I’ve come to believe that this has to start with administrators and teachers. We have to begin by identifying assumptions and then taking a fresh look at education apart from those assumptions.

An illustration of the change of mindset:

I started a school that is technology rich. We have a 1:1 iPad environment from k-8. We also have Chromebooks, projectors, robots, etc.

Do you know that I have never provided my staff with professional development to learn how to use this technology?


I didn’t even ask them how proficient they were at using technology when I hired them.

When I gather my staff for professional development, we talk about the kind of learners we want our students to be. We talk about the learning habits we want them to develop, the character qualities that we hope they leave Anastasis with. We talk about philosophy and pedagogy, and how to learn. We design for learning. All of the tools that we have available (technology included) get utilized, not because I’ve spelled it out for my staff, but because we’ve dreamed together. We’ve changed our minds and focused first on the learner and the journey that they will take. We ditch the assumptions and try new angles. The fun happens when we start to discover (together) how technology can enhance that journey. You’ve never heard so much excitement over new apps discovered, or the exclamations of “did you know it could do this?!” Suddenly my staff remembers what it is like to be a learner. They again enjoy engaging that journey and they recognize that I (the administrator) am not the holder of knowledge. They don’t have to wait on me to learn or create something new. There is freedom in that changed mind-set! When teachers realize that they don’t have to wait, they begin to help their students realize that they are on their own learning journey. They no longer feel the need to be the holder of all knowledge, but apprentice students in the art of engaging the learning journey.

What does this change of mind mean for professional development? It means that my job is to create opportunities for my staff to engage in learning together. Sometimes this means that we take a cooking class or go paddle boarding together. Other times it means engaging in meaningful conversations over drinks at the end of the day or breakfast at Snooze. When you help people step away from their assumptions by actually modelling what that looks like, a transformation happens. It is empowering. It can be scary. The end result isn’t always obvious. If you can push past the fear of the unknown, and realize that we are all learners on our own “metanoia,” the results are staggering! This is how we get the BIG sweeping changes in education. This is where culture and community are built and students learn to properly manage freedom in learning.

We would love to share with you how we design learning at Anastasis, but more than that, we want to help you change your mind. February 20-22nd you can join us for a conference unlike any you’ve ever attended. Get fired-up, iterate with world-changing thinkers, and make plans that you can launch with a tour of Anastasis Academy, a series of keynotes and break out sessions from leading visionaries, panel discussions, and adult learning excursions. At the 5-Sigma Education Conference, we will help you change your mind and offer pragmatic, applicable insights that will help you transform your own space in education. Teacher, administrator, superintendent, district leaders-this conference is for all of you!

We choose the moon: assessment without labels

“With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once; the impossible takes a bit longer.”- unknown

Yesterday, @Kevreadenn shared the quote above with me on Twitter. It had me thinking about assessment and John F. Kennedy’s, “we choose the moon” (embedded above – you should watch it again). The declaration that we WOULD send a man to the moon, that we would do the impossible, seemed like an unworkable task given the technology of 1969. It is astounding to me that the technology I hold in my pocket is significantly more capable than the technology that sent a man to the moon. Kennedy inspired a nation to dream together, to achieve the impossible using the resources that were available. How can we inspire kids in this way as they quest for learning? How can we help those students who look at the goal of reaching the moon and think, “this is impossible, I only have 1969 technology,” to be inspired, to look at their resources in new ways and believe that they can do the impossible?

Everyone wants to know that they are “winning” and contributing to something meaningful. The declaration that a man would go to the moon was a lofty goal. It seemed incredibly  important, as a nation, that we achieve this goal together.

It strikes me as strange that the majority of assessment that we focus on in education only shows lag data. The lag data reveals to us where a student landed in a given moment, but doesn’t offer any opportunity for course correction. It also doesn’t take into account outside influences (not enough sleep, home struggles, lack of nutrition, friendship stresses, etc.). If our goals are lofty, and we want learning to be better, we will stop focusing on the lag data as the most important, and instead focus on the lead data. Lead data shows us what leads up to the learning, it gives us insight in the journey and process so that we can adjust as we go.

The majority of grading systems fail to compel action from students because they show historical data only. Students are left believing, “I’ve failed, and now I have to move on knowing I already fall short. Now I have to continue forward from a deficit.” Or they may be left believing, “I aced this, I already know it all, I don’t have anything more to learn.” Traditional grades tend to end learning. Traditional grades also measure students against everyone else with the goal being a perfect score. (Notice that I did NOT say that the goal was learning.) This comparison can be demoralizing for students who know they will fall short of the perfect score. They begin to label themselves as “stupid” and often arrive at the apathetic stance of, “it’s not even worth trying.” The other scenario is the student that believes the goal of the perfect score signals that they learned everything they need to know. For these students, apathy comes in already having hit the mark. “I know everything I need to about x.” This line of thinking closes down creativity and the drive to learn more. Apathy is the killer of learning. It matters not if you are a straight A student, or a D student, traditional grade systems breed apathy and don’t encourage kids to go for the lofty goals. There will be no choosing the moon.

Grading systems need to be upgraded so that they engage students in the process of reaching lofty goals. When students are able to help set their own goals and the assessment happens as a part of learning, students are continually pulled forward in their learning. Each small win adds learning momentum that begins to snowball into something bigger. For those who struggle, the small victories reveal that they can win and they are making forward progress. This gives the confidence that all learning is possible and worth engaging (even when the end goal feels impossible). The students who find that learning comes easily aren’t halted by artificial ceilings. They aren’t left believing that the learning has ended and are encouraged to keep moving forward.

In starting Anastasis Academy, we quickly found that no traditional grading system could adequately assess students as they were learning. We ditched formal A-F grading and instead used standards based grading. The idea was that if we assessed students based on standards (which we used as some of our learning goals), stakeholders would be able to better map progress as they went. We use standards differently, at Anastasis the standards aren’t organized by grade levels, they are simply a continuum of foundational skills. It didn’t take long before the standards based grading was also falling short. There is SO much more to learning than simply meeting the standard. We were interested in helping students understand how their attitudes toward learning impacted academic progress. We wanted to help them understand how character spills into everything else that they do. We wanted them to see that more important than a “Math” grade, was the ability to think like a mathematician. We wanted students to be able to “choose to go to the moon” and contribute to something meaningful. We needed something more holistic that helped students see the intricacies of how learning works. We wanted them to be able to make correlations between their attitudes toward learning and the outcomes that they could see.

Anastasis Report Card

This is the “report card” that I created. It is our attempt to help kids better understand what contributes to learning. It is a helpful way to show students that they aren’t “stupid in math,” but instead help them realize that they aren’t risk takers in math. The aversion to risk taking in math is what really holds them back.

The Latin root of Assessment is assidere, which means “to sit beside.” At Anastasis, we believe that assessment is more than just a measurement, it is an opportunity for apprenticeship, a time for us “to sit beside” and guide. We’ve used various tools for assessment in our short history, our search was for the assessment tool that would offer a more holistic picture of learning. We’ve used Mastery Connect and Jump Rope, but they fell short in giving us that holistic picture because they were tied to Common Core Standards alone (and limited by grade levels). What our students do at Anastasis every day is SO much bigger and deeper than these standards, and yet we didn’t have a good way to demonstrate that. Beginning in January, we rolled out our own grading system. We call it UpGrade because that is what it felt like, an upgrade!

Our goal for feedback on the UpGrade report is twofold:

1. To give students feedback that causes them to think, engage, and reflect on their own learning process as they learn.

2. To give families a detailed account of the student’s learning journey and forward progress.

The UpGrade reports are designed to explain what students know and are able to do, rather than determining grades based on point averages. This kind of grading allows teachers to more effectively tailor instruction to students based on what they actually know and can do, no floors and no ceilings.

The UpGrade report contains the proficiency marks 1-5 (explained below). These numbers are intended to demonstrate the process of learning, students move through the levels of proficiency as learning progresses. A “1” indicates that a child is new to the learning or requires a lot of guidance. A “5” indicates that the student is able to apply the learning to new situations and make connections to other learning.

1- Novice Concept and/or skill is brand new, student is just getting started in the learning. Student requires much teacher guidance and prompting.
2- Apprentice Some prompting or guidance is needed for the new concept and/or skill.
3- Practitioner Concept and/or skill can be done consistently and independently. Student may require occasional prompting or guidance.
4- Scholar Student can apply concept and/or skill to new and/or different situations with little guidance. Student is ready to build on the learning (next level of standard). 
5- Change Maker Concept and/or skill come second nature and can be used to make connections with other learning. Students understand concept/skill and can apply, evaluate, analyze, and create using the skill/concept. Student can use skill/concept for in-depth inferences and applications.

Of course when you create a report card that looks like this, you also have to craft a grading system to populate the report card. Dang it.

This is where I had to get creative and use my limited resources to make something (that seems impossible) work. I used Apple’s Numbers as the method for creating the grading system. It is tedious work, the user interface is messy, but it allows lofty goals and the impossible.

On the back end, teachers can fill in rubrics, or learning evidence pages. These compile and end up as the final 1-5 on the image that you see above. Why did I use Numbers? It is the only spreadsheet program robust enough to incorporate the graphic above. The evidences of learning (assignments) and scores are the easy part. Getting the rubrics to work the way I wanted them to, not so much! I sent out a call for help the other night on Twitter and had some AMAZING spreadsheet ninjas step in to help me find solutions. I promised to share what I figured out…for those not interested in the technical bits, feel free to skip ahead. 🙂

Anastasis self-grading Writing Rubric in Numbers

This is the rubric that I was working on. I wanted it to “self grade” and then for the score to transfer as a learning evidence. It seemed like it should be simple, but this honestly stumped me for days. Thankfully my PLN stepped in to point me in the right direction!

I started out by creating a highlighting rule. This is simple in Numbers, just click on the cell(s) that you want the rule on and in the “cell formatting” pane, choose “Conditional Highlighting.” In each cell where teachers could leave a score, I wanted the cell to highlight when the score was added. I chose to add the rule “Text contains” and then the number that corresponded to the row of the rubric. Then I chose a color to highlight.

Next came the tricky part. In the cells full of text, I wanted the last cell to recognize when a teacher had typed in a number, and to add up all the numbers of the row so that we could get a total that would populate on the Learning Evidence sheet. I could find all kinds of ways to accomplish this in a Google Spreadsheet or in Excel, but none of the solutions seemed to work in Numbers. I kept getting a syntax error. I finally solved it by using the following format: =COUNTIF(B2:H2,”=*1″) In each row, I changed the number to reflect the score that it would count. This got me most of the way to what I needed, but it was only giving me a count of how many of the number were in the row, not giving me the sum (=SUMIF didn’t work). SO, I added another column to find the product of the “Countif” with the row number. Success! I’ll hide these two columns for the final grade system and just have the total at the bottom show up. This total is easy to then transfer to the Learning Evidence sheet.

THANK YOU @mathlioness @katieregan88 @mrmatera @alicekeeler @royanlee @jasonschmidt123 @benlouey @malynmawby @thomascmurray, you all are truly wonderful for spending time to help me solve this. I am seriously elated that there was a solution! Anastasis teachers will be thrilled as well! 🙂 YOU ARE NINJAS!!

When people ask about Anastasis, they are usually curious to know how we’ve broken past the barrier of labels. We have students who are dyslexic, twice exceptional, have struggled in school, are gifted, know how to play the game of school, etc. Everyone of these kids chooses the moon. They choose to do the impossible and keep moving forward. They aren’t stifled by the learning labels. They know they are more than an “A” or “F.” They start to understand that learning is not the same as a grade. They begin to understand where their hangups actually are and can work on adjusting those instead of believing they are failures.  It is amazing what happens when you take away the labels and help kids understand that no matter where they start from, there is something to be learned, forward progress to be made. They choose lofty goals. They do the impossible.

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

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.

Piktochart: Create your own infographics

What it is:  Piktochart is a great web app that makes it easy to create your own infographics.  Piktochart has free and premium options.  With the free version, there are a handful of themes to choose from.  Premium themes are also available, if you are so inclined.  After you choose a theme, the next job is to change the mood and edit the information on the chart.  Students can add shapes, graphics (uploaded), theme graphics, and text to the infographic.  Students can add a chart where they manually input data or upload a cvc file.  This is especially helpful if they have been data collecting in another program.   There are some features that are only available to pro users.  Not to worry, there are enough available for free that you can make a pretty rockin’ infographic that gets the point (or data) across.

How to integrate Piktochart into the classroom: Piktochart is a superb way for students to work on those statistics/probability standards.  Being a visual learner myself, I love the way that infographics seem to make data easier to digest.  Piktochart can be used to display any type of statistical or mathematical data in new ways.  Students can show what they are learning in history, about the world population (miniature earth), science, in the book they are reading, geography statistics, etc.

The way that infographics allow students to blend learning across the subject areas is fantastic.  It isn’t just math; it is math, and art, and science/social studies/history/geography/technology.  Any time we can help students recognize the overlaps that exist in learning and subject area, it is a win!

A few weeks ago, students at Anastasis discovered that America’s biggest export is trash. They started digging and found statistics about the amount of trash Americans throw away each day (7lbs/person) and how much was recycled vs. what ended up in a landfill.  They also looked at statistics of what receiving countries like China and India did with the waste being imported.  It was fascinating!  Students created infographics showing what they had discovered in their research.  It was eye-opening when they translated that trash per person into a year’s worth of trash and figured out how many football stadiums that it would fill.  When they could see it graphically, it had an impact on their thinking.  The result was: “it is up to us to change this…”

Pretty amazing when the conclusion to learning is transformation…change.

Tips: In the free version:  Basic themes, 5 image uploads, Piktochart’s watermark. Pro version ($29.00/mo): 80 themes (and growing), additional customization, more image uploads, no watermark.

Leave a comment and tell us how you are using  Piktochart in your classroom.

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Using the Common Core Standards Scandalously to Bring Freedom to Learning

At Anastasis Academy we use the Common Core Standards as a basic framework to start from.  We don’t purchase ANY boxed curriculum. At all.  At least not in the typical fashion.  We tailor learning to meet the needs of our students.  All of the resources we purchase are purchased with specific students in mind.  So, if a piece of curriculum meets the needs of a student, we purchase that.  If a lesson plan, or a video, or a book, or an app helps that child to be successful in learning, we purchase that. The Common Core Standards act as our guide not our goal.   I know, scandalous.

We don’t see the Common Core Standards as needing to be prescriptive of when and how a child should learn.  Instead, we recognize that there are some foundational, basic skills in learning that help students in other learning, discovery and creativity.  Quite frankly, the Common Core Standards are underwhelming. They leave SO much to be desired if they are viewed as the learning objective. If viewed as a baseline, a door to other learning opportunities, everything changes.  There is freedom in that.

At Anastasis, we don’t have grade levels.  Instead we group students based on developmental level taking into account academic abilities, the social/emotional and maturation.  In any given class, we could have up to a 3-4 year spread.  We recognize that children don’t develop at exactly the same rate.  They must be given flexibility in their learning and not forced through a curriculum based on an artificial pacing guide.  We believe the same is true for the standards.  While the standards give a nice framework, there is no reason why a 6 year old should be expected to master all of the standards in first grade.  There is no reason why a 6 year old should be limited by the standards in first grade.  I’m sure that we don’t use the Common Core Standards quite like anyone else.  We pay little attention to the grade level of the standard.  Instead, when a child has mastered a standard, we move them to the next level of challenge regardless of the grade level the standard falls in.  Because every child in a class could be working on a different combination of standards, we have a very low teacher/student ratio.  We have 12 students to every teacher.  This allows us to truly work with students where they are at.  We use Mastery Connect to help us keep track of student progress.

Our students are involved in the process of coming up with learning goals.  I know in most cases this responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of the teacher or the curriculum company.  Students should have a say in their learning.  If they don’t, we are doing a disservice to them.  The problem we quickly ran into: students couldn’t easily read and understand the standards so that they could weigh in.  Have you read the Common Core Standards? They are ridiculously full of eduspeak BS.  I mean honestly, do they have to make everything sound so convoluted? I ended up rewriting the standards in student friendly language so that our students could work with teachers to create learning goals for each block (five week period).  Below, you can see my re-written versions for first-sixth grade standards.  I’m going back through the seventh and eighth grade standards for some additional tweaking.







Our students are so brilliant in the way they plan their goals for each block.  One of our intermediate students showed me a video yesterday that he put together to show which standards and goals he had set for himself and his action steps to get there.  It is seriously creative.  As soon as he has it uploaded to YouTube I’ll share. Whoever decided that standards should be printed out and posted during the lesson that addresses them should be ashamed.  Who is that for, honestly?  The standard cards that get posted are full of the eduspeak. They aren’t for students.

Standards have gotten a bad reputation in the education community.  The way they are being used is distasteful to say the least.  Standards are being used to make every learning experience look exactly the same regardless of the child. They are being used to sell curriculum.  They are being used to help students pass a test. They are being used to judge teacher abilities. They are being used to determine funding. They are being used to churn out a generation of kids that have the exact same skill set.

I like standards.  I like that there are food standards that ensure that the food I eat is safe.  I like that those standards don’t dictate which dishes end up on my table. I like that they don’t hinder chefs from being creative with food.  I like that there are standards for the safety of children’s toys.  I like that those standards don’t dictate how creative a toy maker can be.  I like that they don’t dictate how a child can play.  I like that there are standards in the construction of my house. I like that those standards don’t keep me from personalizing my house.  I like that those standards leave plenty of room for creative architecture and design.  Standards that are used as a framework and baseline allow for freedom.  They give us a starting place and let us create and work all the way around them.  When you view the Common Core Standards this way, they aren’t mind numbing, they are freeing.  They help us empower students with the building blocks of learning so that they have freedom in learning. They give students enough of the skills and foundational understandings to build on in any direction they would like.

I realize that this view of the Common Core Standards isn’t where most of you are.  For most of you the standards are very prescriptive. Very limiting. A very narrow view of what it means to be educated.  My hope is that by sharing the way we scandalously use the standards, other classrooms and schools will be able to make changes toward freedom in learning.  My hope is that more schools would break free from the boxed curricula and testing.  Students should experience freedom in their learning.  All teachers should experience the freedom that comes with really being a teacher (as opposed to script reader and test giver).

If I could change one thing about the Common Core Standards it would be this: get rid of the grade level separation of standards.  Let it just be a continuum of learning.  It is so silly to think that children should be able to master learning because according to the standard, they are the age for it. It is so silly to think that a student couldn’t possibly master standards well above their age.  I call BS on both. We have students who exist in both camps.

Our goal is to empower students as learners.  Our goal is to do what is right for every child.  Our goal is freedom in learning.



Learn Zillion: Learning without limits

What it is:  Today I learned about a resource called Learn Zillion in a Skype conversation with Sam Schillace, creator of Google Docs.  Learn Zillion has a tagline that resonates with me: Learning Without Limits.  This is why I love technology, it enables learning without limits.  One of the things I have dreamed about, is a world where the very best teachers around the world could be connected with the students that need them.  Learn Zillion does just that through asynchronous video lessons organized by the Common Core Standards.  Learn Zillion was started by E.L. Haynes public charter school who had a passion for sharing best practices across classrooms and to connect students with just the right lesson, at just the right time.  The site started small and grew along with the passion that every child should have access to incredible teachers and resources.  Learn Zillion is now a place where teachers can learn by “sitting in” on other teacher’s lessons, and students can get a playlist of lessons that meet their needs.  Pretty awesome!
How to integrate Learn Zillion into the classroom: It has always bothered me that I only had access to the teachers I had access to.  Let me explain that a little: I had some really incredible teachers growing up; my first, third, and fifth grade teachers were beyond exceptional.  I think about them often and model my own teaching based on what they did.  I had an incredible creative writing teacher in high school.  I had an Algebra teacher who made me believe that I was a gifted math student (I’m average at best).  I also had years with so-so teachers, teachers who didn’t really inspire the best in me.  That is not to say that another student didn’t connect with them and remember them years later.  It always irked me that I didn’t get to pick ANY teacher in the world to be my teacher.  I knew that there were amazing teachers out there, why didn’t I get to learn from them?  Would my education have been different if I was matched up with the very best teachers in the world?
Learn Zillion is the first step in this direction.  It may not be the rich experience you get from clicking with someone on a personal level AND learning from them, but does give students the ability to learn a concept in a new way from a teacher who may “click” with them educationally differently than you can.  Sometimes it is just a matter of being able to pause, rewind and repeat a concept at will that makes all the difference.  With class sizes that are growing out of control, the ability to work one on one with students is diminishing quickly.  Learn Zillion allows every child to enter their learning at the right level, it is available on demand (day or night), it utilized fantastic educators from around the world, and it helps teachers create custom playlists of learning for students.  Using this technology, students can get the extra support they need with foundational concepts.
Learn Zillion would make a fantastic support center in the classroom.  Students can visit the center to find out where they are in their personal learning journey, watch videos and practice new skills and concepts.  Because the videos are based on Common Core Standards, your students will get extra support for the foundational skills that support additional learning.
Learn Zillion is a nice resource in a “flipped” classroom where homework looks a lot more like preparation for practice that happens in the classroom.  Students can watch the preparation video at home and come to class prepared to practice and explore using the new knowledge.  The great thing about a flipped classroom is the ability to offer students support where and when they need it-in the practice and honing of skills.

Tips: I’m impressed with the quality and organization of Learn Zillion.  Be sure to take some time to explore some lessons and dream up how you might use it with your students or even as a learning tool for yourself.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Learn Zillion in  your classroom!

Mastery Connect Widget: Common Core Standards at Your Fingertips

What it is:  That serendipity that I spoke of yesterday continues today.  Mastery Connect just keeps getting better and better, this recent little goodie is very handy.  Mastery Connect has released a little widget that can be embedded on any blog or website.  The Mastery Connect app sits neatly on your sidebar until you are ready to reference a Common Core standard and then *BAM* just like that it is at your beck and call.  SO handy I tell you!  The app has all Language Arts and Mathematical standards in an easy-to-use little website widget.  You can catch a glimpse of this widget app in my sidebar —->

How to integrate the Mastery Connect App into the classroom:  At Anastasis Academy, we use the Common Core standards as a rough framework and guide of where to take learning next.  We don’t constrain students to just one grade level of standards (they are all developing skills and mastery at different rates, we move as students are ready to move).  Because we don’t use ANY boxed curriculum, the standards act as an outline and guide through learning.  The Mastery Connect App is a great little help for students, teachers and parents.  The widget makes it easy to embed in a classroom blog, website or wiki.  Just copy and paste the code and the widget is there for you when you need it.

Tips: Make sure to check out the rest of Mastery Connect!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Mastery Connect App in  your classroom!

Mastery Connect: Standards Based Grading made manageable

What it is: Mastery Connect is both an online standards tracking tool (parts of it are free) and a free iPhone/iPod/iPad app.  Because the app is truly free, I’ll start with it.  The Mastery Connect app is a handy way to keep the Common Core standards accessible while you teach.  The app sorts the common core standards by grade level, subject and strand.  This is REALLY nice for quickly locating and referencing standards.  Mastery Connect the website is the real gem.  The site is brilliantly designed, easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing and best of all, it works the way you think it should.  With the Mastery Connect Master Tracker, teachers can assess core standards, monitor student performance and report student progress to parents and administrators.  Master Tracker makes formative assessment that is standards based manageable to keep track of.  Rearrange standards in the Master Tracker based on the order that you teach them in.  View only the standards you are currently assessing, and view the entire standard as a pop-up.  Within Mastery Connect, teachers can create and share common assessments.  Similar in feel to other social networks, Mastery Connect lets you connect with other educators to share assessments, interact and offer each other support.  It is easy to expand your PLN into the space, just find teachers with similar interests and goals and start sharing!

And now for my VERY favorite part- bubble sheet scoring. Mastery Connect uses GradeCam technology to make assessment about as quick as it could be.  Just hold up bubble sheets to your webcam or a document cam and it is instantly scored and entered into the Master Tracker associated with the student it belongs to and the standard it is addressing.  Seriously cool.  I am not a big fan of multiple choice testing (mostly because I think it is a lazy way to find out what a student knows and doesn’t give a true picture of what a student knows or can do) but I think I have figured out how bubble sheets can be used by teachers during formative assessment.  Students get immediate feedback from Mastery Connect and can see where in the standards they need some extra work.  Teachers can view class wide item analysis of assessment and can track progress by standard.

Students can also use iDevices (iPad/iPodTouch) with the bubble sheet app.  This is connected to Master Tracker so as soon as students input answers, it shows up live.  Are you feeling your assessment work-load lighten yet?

Students can also take assessments using any web browser.  It really is a tool that works for schools with minimal tech, to schools that have ubiquitous tech.

Mastery Connect exports to ANY gradebook or student information system.  A one touch export feature makes it about as quick as it could be!

Mastery Connect makes it quick and easy to keep parents informed of student progress.  Student reports can be quickly created and emailed or printed out for parents.  You can also enable parent notifications that will notify parents of student progress as it is entered.

How to integrate Mastery Connect into the classroom: Mastery Connect is actually the tracking tool we will be using at the school I am starting, Anastasis Academy.  We are doing away with traditional A, B, C, D, F grades all together.  I have yet to be convinced that traditional grading is productive and helpful for students (or teachers for that matter).

At Anastasis Academy, we are using the Common Core Standards as a framework for setting learning goals.  I see these standards as the critical-mass-of-knowledge that students need to be successful in learning.  Hear me say, I DO NOT believe that these standards are comprehensive of everything a child should, or wants to know.  They are simply the framework that we will use to build the rest of learning around.  They will help us to ensure that we have a rough road map of where we are headed in learning.  Students, teachers and parents will sit down for a conference each block and use those Common Core Standards to help map out learning goals.  You will notice that we don’t leave this up to teachers alone.  We want our students to have ownership and a say in what their learning looks like.  We don’t want the teacher to be the holder of all the keys, slowly revealing learning to students as they see fit.  Instead, we want students who can look at the learning ahead of them, and offer input about how they would like to go about that learning with parents and teachers acting as guide.  The Mastery Connect app will be SO helpful in this process.  Everyone will be able to access those standards easily at any time they need to recall them.  Brilliant.

We will use Mastery Connect a little differently than I’m sure most schools will.  Instead of bombarding students with multiple choice “bubble” quizzes and assignments, our bubble sheets will be for teacher use.  For example, we may create a bubble sheet based on a standard with the specific skills or content that we are looking for.  As we formatively assess students, the teacher can fill in that bubble sheet either on paper or on the iPad for instant input into Master Tracker.

Tips: I have been extremely impressed with all of the Mastery Connect tools.  Not all of it is free but the portion that is not free is very affordable ($4/student/year).  I like that Mastery Connect offers parent, teacher and student all of the information and tools they need to understand where they are and how they are learning.  The people at Mastery Connect have been dynamite, they are helpful, flexible and friendly!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Mastery Connect  in your classroom!

Dreams of Education

Today had me thinking about the structure of school and learning, from that thinking evolved the following posts:

On Creating Robots: Standardized Curriculum

Breaking Free of the Factory

What are your thoughts on standardized curriculum and grade levels?


What it is: Moneyopolis is an awesome game for teaching kids money and math! Each math question in the game is correlated to specific standards for grades 6-8 (although I think the site can be used with 5th grade students very successfully as well). The Moneyopolis game tracks students progress via their “scorecard” for the game. There are some great additional site tools which include a budget gadget that helps students set financial goals complete with an online worksheet to help students keep track of spending habits, a library with articles and links to other sites focused on math and money, a glossary for students to look up unfamiliar words and phrases, and a calculator to help students calculate math problems.

How to integrate Moneyopolis into the classroom: Moneyopolis is the perfect way for teaching math and money skills in a way that will catch and hold your students attention. Students can go through the game during class at their own pace, play in groups to compete against one another during class, or as an extra-credit activity that can be completed outside of class. Students can go through the game section by section based on what lessons you are teaching, or all at once at the end of a unit. Since the game keeps track of each students progress, they will be able to exit the game and come back to work where they left off.

Tips: Work through this game in student mode before introducing to students…you will be entertained! The teacher section of this site has some great lesson plans to use with Moneyopolis. I learned about the site on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog and I have to say, it is a winner!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Moneyopolis in your classroom.

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