Technology: the savior of education?

In 2009, I left teaching. I didn’t do it because I was fed up with the system, or because I didn’t like my job. Quite the opposite. I really loved being a computer teacher. I loved the freedom of writing my own curriculum every day, and getting to know my students. I had a great time helping other teachers learn how to use technology, and coming up with ideas for how they could integrate it into their classrooms. In 2009, I left teaching for health reasons. I have auto immune disorders (Rheumatoid Arthritis and Raynaud’s Syndrome) and in 2009, my rheumatologist recommended that I take a year off to see if my body would stop attacking itself. Get away from the germs the wreak havoc on the system.

So, that is what I did. I took a year off, fully anticipating that this little experiment would not work and that I would be back in the classroom by 2010.

In 2008 (I know, I’m doing this in the wrong order!), I was teaching my students how to build a website using Wix. This is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) platform, but also allowed for some basic HTML embedding and tweaking. I was demonstrating for students how they could embed a Google Map onto their websites and asked the question, “if I wanted to put a map of the capital of the United States on my website, what would I need to type in?” Blank. Stares.

To clarify, these were 10 and 11-year-old students who are living IN the United States of America. I tried again, “You guys! The capital of the United States, you know, the country we live in?” At this point a few hands raised. “New York?” “San Francisco?” This was one of those face-palm teacher moments. In the interest of time, I gave them the answer. This scenario happened with 2 more classes. Out of 74 fifth grade students, not one of them knew the capital of their own country!!! At this point I started to panic a little. How could our social studies curriculum fail to mention the capital of the United States? I decided that I was going to take all of the curriculum home over the summer and create supplemental guides using technology to help teach what wasn’t in the curriculum. I didn’t stop at social studies, I took the reading, writing, math, and science curriculum home for kindergarten through fifth grade. The back of my MDX filled, I had a goal: to leverage technology to solve this problem.

As I poured over pages and pages of curriculum, one thing became abundantly clear…this was not a problem with the curriculum. At least not in the way I had assumed. It was all there. The kids had even done worksheets and taken tests on the information! When it came time to retrieve the information for a practical purpose, they couldn’t do it. Analyzing the curriculum, I could see why. The way that these skills were being taught was not going to reach my students. I knew these kids. I had taught them for years. As I looked at what the curriculum offered as “learning” I knew that it wouldn’t work for the majority of the students I saw each week in my computer lab. These are brilliant kids, but the only thing that the curriculum required of them was that they look at something, and then regurgitate what they had seen right back on paper. None of it ever had to take long-term residence in the brain. It went directly from the eyes to the hand. My pursuit of a technology supplement guide took on a new goal: take what was in the curriculum, and use technology to bring the learning to life. I had the added benefit of knowing each of the kids I was writing this for. I had their faces in my mind as I wrote these technology guides. I could picture their excitement over learning with what I was pulling together.

Fast forward again to 2009. I hadn’t finished the tech guides, so I was hired as a consultant to finish them for the remainder of the curriculum. I picked up a few other consulting gigs at other schools in the area. As I went through their curriculum I realized that this wasn’t a localized problem. This was a one-size-fits-all problem. At the end of the day, the real trouble was that curriculum isn’t designed for the individual, but for the masses. And in creating for the masses, it completely forgot its goal of teaching students. Who are individuals.

One day as I was working on these technology supplement guides and flipping through curriculum, a song came on Pandora (internet radio) that I had never heard before. I frantically looked for a sticky note to jot down the name of the artist. I stopped for a minute after I got the artist’s name down (Zee Avi, for those who are interested), and had a true geek out moment over how far technology had come. I marveled at the way that technology was so advanced that it could predict what music I would like, all based on one piece of information. It felt like a terribly intimate thing for technology to be able to do (particularly because at the time, I had no idea how the background technology worked!). In the midst of my geeking out, I had a thought: what if curriculum worked more like Pandora? What if we could input one piece of information about a student, and have technology predict ways they might like to learn? I could not shake this idea, and Tweeted it out. My PLN instantly retweeted that thought. I emailed an app developer in Australia that I had been working with and asked if technology was advanced enough to do something like that with curriculum. His response was somewhere along the lines of, “if you can think it up, anything is possible.” I couldn’t let the idea go, so this app developer pointed me toward Balsamiq and told me to learn what I could about how Pandora worked and then prototype my idea. Since I had all the time in the world on my hands, I did exactly that. Pandora called itself the music genome project, based on the human genome project. Essentially, it identifies attributes of music (over 400 of them) and tags each piece of music with those attributes. A map of music. Clearly learning has attributes, so I set out naming those, planning the way that learning could be broken down into the minutia so that an algorithm could identify the perfect resource for a student. At this point I had convinced myself that technology would be the savior of education. All we need is to better individualize for students! Problem solved! Clearly I’m a genius! ūüėČ

Only, the more that I talked to teachers, the more I talked with administrators, the more I looked for investors, the more that I examined the system, the more I realized…education isn’t quite ready for this genius.

The trouble is, we have a one-size-fits-all system. We have classes of 25+ students. We have teachers who are overworked and underpaid. We have a limited amount of time. We have limited budgets. The idea of mass education, in some ways, locks us into the one-size-fits-all. Standards and testing have become hallmarks of education. I started to recognize that even if I get the Learning Genome Project built, I still have to find a way for teachers to use it for students. With the current setup, that would mean the very top students in a class, those considered ‘gifted,’ and the very bottom of the class, those considered ‘low,’ would get to use it. The vast majority of students, those in the middle of the bell curve, would never get the individualized plan. Yet, they deserved it just as much.

This is where the Learning Genome Project took a small (read: enormous) detour. In order for this technology to be used to create a learning map for every student, a new system was needed. I began to consider what type of learning model this type of technology would be best utilized in. I couldn’t find a fit. Sadly, I couldn’t find anything that recognized that every student was a unique individual. One with unique learning patterns. Unique gifts. A unique worldview. I couldn’t find anything that recognized students with names. Everything was geared toward “students,” as if that one word can capture the genius of the individuals it claims. We needed a new system. One that honored humanity. That honored the students with names. I began to dream about what such a school would look like. I talked with other brilliant educators about what that would be like. The result: a new school. A new school model. A brand new way of approaching learning: I started a k-8 school, Anastasis Academy.

I began this journey believing that technology was going to solve the problems of education, I suppose that is a natural path for someone so saturated in current educational technology. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the problem wasn’t one that technology, like the Learning Genome Project, could solve but rather, one that technology could support. At the heart of what isn’t working is a system. A system that sees “students,” and not students with names. A system aimed at teaching the masses in a way that ends up minimizing humanity. Minimizing what makes us unique. Minimizing the genius that each of us alone brings to the world. I set out to create technology that would revolutionize learning, and instead detoured to the real game changer: a model that recognizes the individual, that honors it. Beginning from this place, students with names, learning can grow. Technology that supports that learning can grow.

The Learning Genome Project has taken a 5 year back seat, not because it isn’t important. Not because it can’t work. It has taken a back seat because first we need to recognize the humanity. When we really see the kids with names, the technology can support. It can help us reach each of those unique individuals. It can transform.

Anastasis Academy has been the single greatest “accident” of my life. In many ways I stumbled into starting a school. Seeing the way everything grows out of ‘students with names,’ the humanity, I’m able to again look at the Learning Genome Project with new eyes. In and of itself, the Learning Genome¬† Project (technology) won’t be the savior of education. Coupled with a model that honors humanity, it is unstoppable. I know this to be true. I’ve had the luxury of 5 years in Anastasis Academy. I’ve seen students come alive. I’ve seen them #standagain in who they are as learners, in who they are as the unique individuals they were created to be. If you’d like to see Anastasis Academy first hand, I hope you will join us for our education conference, 5Sigma. If you were a supporter of my Indiegogo campaign, I’d like to waive your conference fee! Just email me for a special code! I’d love for you to be my guest!

Last week, I had the great privilege of virtually meeting Bodo Hoenen. We share an eerily similar vision, come at from very different angles. Bodo is launching his own Indiegogo campaign. It is one that I will support because I so strongly believe that the world needs this. Bodo will be our closing keynote at 5Sigma Edu Conference. I cannot wait! I’m interested in partnering with those who share the vision. In those who know that we have to do better for kids now. Please help us BLOW UP the Internet with a new message about education reform. One about students with names. Individuals who are uniquely gifted and set apart to do something important in the world. If you’ve taught for any amount of time, you know that you are among genius waiting to be unleashed! It is time to empower kids. It is time to stop limiting with labels. It is time to stand again.

Follow Anastasis Students in the upcoming weeks as they work to transform education. As we begin our new inquiry unit, students are exploring the power of one. They are learning that they have an unique voice and worldview. They have the power to transform. I hope you’ll join us!

The Making of the Learning Genome Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community tools keep students, teachers and parents in collaboration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ClassConnect: all-in-one digital organization for the classroom

What it is:¬† ClassConnect is a website I have written about in the past (here) that has made some great changes that make it worth taking another look!¬† ClassConnect is a fantastic one-stop-shop for collaborating, storing, and organizing your life as an educator.¬† The real powerhouse of ClassConnect is the ability to build, organize and share lessons and resources easy.¬† You won’t be pressed to remember where you stored everything (dropbox, diigo, pinterest, twitter favorites) because with ClassConnect you can store it all in one place.¬† Even better, you can search and use lessons and resources that other teachers have built.¬† The collaborative nature of ClassConnect makes it easy to work together on planning out and sharing learning.¬† ClassConnect even started a great movement called “United We Teach” encouraging educators to share more.¬† ClassConnect is super easy to use, just find lesson plans and snap them into your lessons…there is no need for downloads!

You can set up ClassConnect to automatically notify your colleagues, students and parents when you make updates.¬† What’s even handier is that everything is viewable on computers, iPads (woohoo) and smartphones.¬† This makes it easy to plan and use from everywhere!¬† The lessons in ClassConnect aren’t only files, they are also interactive websites, games and videos.¬† Everything in one place.¬† Gotta love that! When a lesson gets updated, everyone who is shared on the lesson gets updated.

Did I mention it is free?¬† It is ūüėČ

How to integrate ClassConnect into the classroom: ClassConnect is a no-brainer for introducing to your classroom routine.¬† Who could argue with an all-in-one organizational tool? ClassConnect makes it SO simple to share resources with colleagues, parents and students.¬† Think about how this could transform differentiation in your classroom.¬† Instead of just using the “one-size-fits-all” differentiation that curriculum offers (I hesitate to even call that differentiation…what a joke!), you can create folders of lessons; resources; and learning that perfectly fit the needs of your students.¬† Because they are so easily shared, you can bring everyone who needs to be on board, on board.¬† Students can go right to ClassConnect to view what you have stored for them there.¬† Parents can go to ClassConnect for additional support and ideas for furthering learning at home.
The colleague sharing shouldn’t be overlooked.¬† Imagine how much richer learning could be if we were sharing our best finds with each other freely and in an easy to access location.¬† Changing the world here.
***By the way, ClassConnect has a truly AWESOME start up story.¬† This isn’t just some company. ClassConnect was/is created by a student who wanted school to look different. Be sure to read Eric’s story on the About page.
Tips: For every colleague you invite that signs up, ClassConnect will give you BOTH 500mb more of free storage (you start out with 1GB)!  That is a pretty sweet deal!

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

December/January Issue of #ProjectPLN

This is one of my favorite issues of Project PLN yet.¬† This issue was particularly near and dear to my heart because it was such a revealing activity when I did the exercise with my own students.¬† We asked teachers to engage their students in the question: “What would your dream school look like?”¬† Students of all ages dreamed with us and shared their ideal school.¬† It has been a lot of fun to see what students have dreamed up!

This is an issue not to miss, if you haven’t done an exercise like this with your students all ready, I highly recommend it.¬† I found it fascinating that EVERY student in 3rd-5th grade that I did the activity with included an animal of some sort in their dream school and included something about no bullies.¬† (If you think about it, animals are easy. They never judge and they don’t bully.)

To education decision makers: Take note, there is something to be learned from these dreams!

An ENORMOUS thank you to @thenerdyteacher, he has totally been picking up my slack this year as I squeak in to be helpful last minute…A.K.A. it has already been taken care of.¬† Thank you Nick!¬† You are classy with a capital C.

Project PLN is moving to a bi-monthly posting schedule in 2012 to keep the editors (us) and the contributors (you) sane. So, what is first up in 2012?

We want to know what books/reading has had the most impact for you as an educator.  These could be books about education specifically, or books that have given you a new outlook on education, learning or teaching.  If you are anything like me, everything you read, see, encounter is filtered through your education lens and adds something.  We want to hear about all of those things!

When I pitched the idea of this month’s issue to Nick, his first response was “awww not a book report” in a super whiny, high-pitched voice….okay I made that part up, we were actually texting and the whining was implied.¬† Book report is not exactly what I had in mind (although if that jives your jets, by all means be our guest).¬† One of the things I have been particularly bad about is keeping track of the books and recommended readings from those in my PLN. They fly through my Twitter stream, get favorited in my Reeder or scribbled on a nearby piece of scratch paper.¬† The result: very few of them ever see the light of day again and I forget.¬† I also know that books (and blogs) have had a profound impact on me as an educator.¬† If not for Seth Godin encouraging me to “Ship it”, I might not have taken the leap to start a school.¬† If not for Sir Ken Robinson, I might not have had such conviction to help every child realize their “Element”.¬† For this issue, your posts can be in the form of top 10 lists of your must reads.¬† A bucket list of things you want to do as a result of books you have read (with reference back to the original inspiration).¬† A blog post you have written as a reflection on something you have read. A link to your bookshelf in Shelfari.¬† For those of you who are feeling really ambitious, a book trailer.¬† Really it can be ANYTHING, we just want to know what you are reading/have read that has impacted the way you think about or do education.

As always, feel free to email posts to ProjectPLN10@Gmail.com, check in on us at Twitter @ProjectPLN or say hello on Facebook.  Please get us your posts in February so we can work on publishing them for the March issue!

 

Dreaming: A look at Anastasis Academy

You may be wondering (or not) where the daily posts have been lately.¬† Believe me, it isn’t for lack of tools to share!¬† The slowness here is directly related to the time I am spending starting a school…as it turns out it is quite a bit of work! ūüėȬ† If you are a reader of all of my blogs, you have already seen this one, but for those of you who only follow me here, I thought I would give you a peek into the school I started this year.

Below, I share a picture of an incredible morning we had at Anastasis Academy where we welcomed singer/song writer Matthew West to join us for our morning devotion…we had NO idea it would result in the incredible private concert that it did.¬† What an enormous blessing to have Matthew share his time, creativity and passion with us.¬† Check out video of the morning on our school blog Stand Again.

|Kelly Tenkely|

It’s a pretty incredible thing to see dreams come to fruition.

For me it started with an obsession and passion for creating rich learning environments where every student was recognized as an individual. In that first post I wrote:

‚ÄúI have a dreams of education. I have dreams of the way that schools should look. I have dreams of kids who find their passions. I have dreams of schools as rich learning centers.‚ÄĚ

I had dreams of stripping the ‚Äúvanilla‚ÄĚ away so that passions could emerge.

Dreams of ditching that boxed curriculum that we call an education and watching the factory model fade into the rear-view mirror.

Dreams of ending the practice of viewing teachers (and students) as expendables.

I had dreams of schools that were beautiful, that were designed with students in mind.

Dreams that education would stop looking so much like the McRib.

Dreams of breaking free of the box, of valuing students and teachers,  of using the right tools, of a school where a student’s inner da Vinci can break through, of a school that customizes learning.

I shared dreams of more fabulous failures.

The dreams started trickling into reality in March of this year (2011).  In March I started getting some hints that these dreams weren’t really all that far-fetched.  By May I had officially started a school.  In August we opened the doors to Anastasis Academy with our first 50 students in 1st through 8th grade and had hired a dream team of 5 truly incredible teachers to lead them.  In four short months we went from dreams to reality.

At Anastasis Academy, we lease space from a church building throughout the week.  We have our own wing with classrooms, a playground, a gym and a kitchen.  All of our furniture is on wheels.  This makes it easy to adjust space daily based on needs, it is also a necessity since we use shared space.  Twice a week we move all of our belongings across the hall into a storage room (if I’m honest, this is the part we could do without!).  We can’t complain about the space.  It is pretty incredible!

You will notice that we don’t have rows of desks.  No teacher’s desk either.  We have space that kids can move in. Corners to hide in, stages to act on, floors to spread out on, cars to read in.  We are learning how to learn together, learning how to respect other children’s space and needs, learning how to discipline ourselves when we need to, learning how to work collaboratively, we are learning to be the best us.


You won’t see a worksheet at Anastasis. We use iPads.  That isn’t to say that we ONLY use iPads, in fact, you’ll often see us building, cutting, pasting, writing on a whiteboard/chalkboard and even paper.  We do a lot of blogging, a lot of reflecting, a lot of Evernotting, a lot of cinematography, a lot of discussing.

Every morning we start with a 15 minute walk outside together…as a community.  We invite parents and siblings to be a part of our morning walk. Occasionally we have the dogs join in on the fun.  After the walk we come inside as a whole-school for a time of devotions. Again, this is a time for us to build community, to foster the culture we want for our school.  Families are invited to join us every morning.  We always have at least one family and, many times, multiples.  We pray with each other and for each other. We have hard conversations and funny conversations. We think together and challenge each other.

Matthew West joining us for devotions!

Our inquiry block is a time for hands-on transdisciplinary learning.  This is my VERY favorite time to walk through classrooms.  It is incredible to see the joy in discovery.  It is incredible to have a second grade student with dyslexia discover an app to make stop motion animations, teach himself how to use it and proceed to stand up before 7th and 8th grade students to explain how stop motion works.  I wish I could bring you all through the building during this time.  Every time we have a visitor the students pause long enough to describe what they are doing, the learning that is happening. I often have to pick my jaw up off the floor. These kids are amazing.


We have no curriculum. At all. Zip. What did we do instead? We hired the very BEST teachers we could find.¬† We gave them a base level of skills that we wanted students to have- an outline if you will.¬† We used the Common Core Standards as our baseline.¬† We don‚Äôt use the standards like most schools do. We use them to make sure that our students have the building blocks and foundations of learning in place.¬† And then we let our students and teachers GO. The standards are not a weight we are tied to, they are the underpinnings that make it possible for us to soar and take our learning anywhere.¬† When you look at the Common Core standards they are pretty underwhelming.¬† I‚Äôm glad they are! They provide us with just enough momentum to propel us forward and then off we go on a journey of learning!¬† We also have our big inquiry questions in place.¬† From there, we go where the learning takes us, bunny trails and all.¬† It is pretty fantastic.¬† Today one of our primary students came out to see me and said, ‚ÄúLook at this boat I found in this new library book. Can I try to make it?‚Ä̬† My answer: ‚ÄúAbsolutely! What materials do we need?‚Ä̬† Together we made a list of all the materials I needed to pull together for him.¬† Tomorrow he will build that boat he is fascinated with and find out if it works the way he has planned.¬† That is learning!¬† Tell me what boxed curriculum allows time for that to happen? None. That is why we don‚Äôt have it.

In the afternoons we have more ‚Äúcontent‚ÄĚ area subjects (i.e. math and language arts).¬† In the primary grades this means students building the skills they need to support their inquiry.¬† In the intermediate grades this means honing those skills for better communication and more thorough inquiry.¬† Again, we don‚Äôt work from a boxed curriculum. We find the lessons, approaches, and materials that work for the individual student.¬† Sometimes this means working with manipulatives, sometimes it means exploring measurement outside, and sometimes it means using an app.¬† It changes daily based on the needs of the students.

We have mixed age level classrooms.  We do this for a lot of reasons.  Most importantly, it is good for older and younger students to work together and learn from each other; it is vital that a child be able to work at their developmental level and progress as they are ready to; and it deepens inquiry when students with different perspectives work together.

Once every five weeks we invite the parents to join us for Parent University.  This is a time for us to help parents understand this new way to do school.  Detox, if you will.  It is a time for us to show parents what best practices in education look like, why grades aren’t all they are cracked up to be, why play is important.  It is a time for us to think and laugh together. It is a time to get questions answered.

Also every five weeks, we hold a ‚ÄúMeeting of the Minds‚ÄĚ.¬† This is a parent/teacher/student conference where we all get together and set our road map for the next 5 weeks.¬† Students write goals with the help of their teacher. They have ownership over what they have done the last 5 weeks and tell mom and dad what they have planned for upcoming 5 weeks.

Every Friday we have a learning excursion or an opportunity for an ‚ÄúAnastasis Serves‚ÄĚ.¬† Learning excursions are field trips all over the place that help students start to recognize that learning doesn‚Äôt just happen when we are at school.¬† Learning happens everywhere we are and, if we are paying attention, all the time.¬† Anastasis Serves is a time for our students to give back to the global community.¬† Sometimes this is a door-to-door scavenger hunt for donations, sometimes this is learning about orphans around the world, or packaging cookies and letters to send to our troops.

We don’t do grades, we do assessment all day every day while we learn.  We don’t do homework, we pursue our families and passions at home.  We don’t do worksheets, we do interesting (sometimes frustrating) work. We don’t do boxed curriculum, we do on-demand learning.

We do mistakes. We do community. We do collaboration. We do messy. We do play. We do fun. We do technology. We do learning.

How do we do all this? We have a 12 to 1 student teacher ratio (or less).  We have incredible students, parents and teachers.  We have stinking smart board members who are invested in our success and trust our judgement calls.  We set our tuition at $8,000 (per pupil spending in our district) to show that even though we are private, this can be done in the public schools.  We started with nothing…well almost nothing, we had dreams.  There was no capital raised, no fund-raisers, no huge donation. We started the beginning of the year at $0 and put blood, sweat and tears into it.

This is not to say that we have it all figured out, that all of our students are perfect, that all of our staff or families are perfect. We are perfectly imperfect as every school is. We have days when the kids are BOUNCING off the walls, we have disagreements, tired teachers, stressed parents, a founder who has occasional melt downs (that would be me), students who need extra love and support, tight budgets, parents who demand different, scuffles, sniffles and band-aids…lots of band-aids.  There is nowhere else I would rather be. No other group of people I would rather work with. No other students whose germs I would rather share. This is my dream.

There are moments throughout the day when I am stopped in my tracks by the realization-this is my dream.

PSToM: Parents, Students, Teachers of Mathematics

What it is: PSToM is an online portal for math classes.¬† With PSToM parents can follow their child’s progress and know exactly what their child is learning in math.¬† Students can learn at their own pace, assess their own learning and know how well they are doing in math (and why!).¬† Teachers can recommend math videos, know each students strengths and weaknesses and tailor classroom instruction to get more out of each class.¬† PSToM has built-in math problems with an area to solve them, math videos that can be shared, built-in tests and a place to discuss learning.¬† The site is simple but the learning possibilities are pretty incredible.

How to integrate PSToM into the classroom: PSToM is a fantastic supplement to the math classrooms.  PSToM makes it simple to create a blended classroom with online content, discussion and problem solving supporting what is happening in the classroom.  As a teacher it is easy to assign math videos and problem sets.  All data is collected and shared with students, parents and teachers.  PSToM is a great connection between the math classroom and home.  The mystery of the math classroom is taken out for both the parents and students.  Everyone knows what learning goals are being worked on, the progress and what skills need to be practiced.

Use PSToM as a supplement to your math classroom and to customize math lessons for your students.  Give students the opportunity to work on math at their unique learning level in a computer lab setting or as a center on classroom computers.

Tips: Be sure to tell parents about PSToM, it is a great way for students to get some extra practice and opportunity for understanding in at home.

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

Students Rebuild: Paper Cranes for Japan

What it is: As news of Japan’s tsunami and earthquake(s) continues to roll in, students may be feeling overwhelmed by the devastation of it all.  Following natural disaster current events can give students (and adults) a real sense of helplessness.  As adults, we often ease this by donating money or time.  What do students do to make an impact? Today I learned of a truly wonderful site called Students Rebuild from a tweet from my friend @MZimmer557.  Students Rebuild is a site that helps students around the world connect, learn, and take action on critical global issues.  There are a few projects that students can get involved in currently:

1. Haiti- building stronger, permanent schools in Haiti.  This is a call to action for middle and high school students to rebuild strong, permanent schools in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.  Students and educators create a team to raise money.  Any money raised is matched dollar-for-dollar up to $2,500 per team.

2. Japan-folding cranes to support rebuilding in Sendai.  This is a way for young students to take action.  “Through a simple, powerful gesture of making and mailing in a paper crane, students worldwide are promoting hope, healing, and triggering dollars for reconstruction ($2 for each crane received).”

Students Rebuild gives students the opportunity to connect to a global community, learn about the challenges of a natural disaster, and do something real to make a difference.

In addition to the Rebuild challenges, educators can use Student Rebuild to connect students with others around the world.  The site helps build that global learning community  Interactive video conferencing encourages two-way dialogue and emotional connections.  Webcasts between Haiti and multiple schools around the world engage, and inspire.  (Learn more on the “Educators” page)

How to integrate Students Rebuild into the classroom: Register your class to take part in one of the Students Rebuild activities.  The newest way to take part is through the Paper Cranes for Japan project.  Students Rebuild partnered with DoSomething.org to give students worldwide a way to support their Japanese peers.  Start by watching the video of how to make paper cranes on the Students Rebuild website.  Take a photo and upload it with a message to the Paper Cranes for Japan Facebook Page.  Mail the finished paper cranes to Students Rebuild to turn those cranes into dollars for reconstruction and an art installation.  This would be a great project to take on as a class.  Don’t stop there, encourage your students to make more paper cranes.  They can have a paper crane party, or encourage their families to join in on the paper crane creation.  Download the one-page flier to send home with students.

Using Students Rebuild projects in your classroom is a great way to teach students about our global community, empathy, current events, and give students a way to make a difference.

Tips: Be sure to check out the comprehensive toolkit on the Students Rebuild site.  In the toolkit you will find photos, videos, posters, fact sheets, logos, media coverage, and fundraising tips.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Students Rebuild in your classroom!

Teacher Tuesday: Sir Ken Robinson, Learning Without Frontiers

Sometimes it is important to just take a minute for yourself.¬† I know as teachers we aren’t very good at doing that, so today I am giving you an excuse…after all, it is #teachertuesday!¬† Last week Sir Ken Robinson spoke at Learning Without Frontiers, the resulting video is a must watch.¬† Go grab yourself a snack, put your feet up and prepare to be inspired and challenged!

 

I am currently working on a platform (Learning Genome) that will make it possible to personalize learning for every student, so as soon as Robinson went there I was all ears.  Here is a break down of that portion:

  • Education must be personal because children are individuals.¬† All children have different aptitudes, interests, and passions.¬† It is our duty to connect children with their own sense of possibility.
  • Human resources are like natural resources, they are often buried deep and have to be exposed.
  • We don’t know what we are capable until we have the opportunity to find out.
  • A narrow (boxed) curriculum cuts off opportunities because talents have been segregated off from the curriculum.
  • Students conclude that they aren’t good at anything because they don’t find success in the narrow scope of what is required of them.
  • Personalized education puts children in touch with their real capabilities, gives children a sense of creativity, and gives students a sense of confidence.
  • Education must be personal, economic, and cultural.

What challenges do you find in personalizing learning for your students?  Do you believe personalizing learning is important enough to take on that challenge?

Study Blue

What it is: Study Blue is a very handy study tool for high-school and college students that works the way they do.  Students can use it to store notes and create flashcards.  Study materials are then accessible anywhere that students have an internet connection and even from their phone.  Best of all, it is free to sign up and get started!  Study Blue helps students study more efficiently by keeping track of what students have already mastered, and what they still need work on.  This makes studying focused and productive.  Students can easily create flashcards based on their notes and use those flashcards to study online or from their phone.  Study Blue is logically organized (by class) making keeping track of study materials easy.  Students can invite classmates to add to the notes or study materials from within Study Blue. Students can even upload notes they have taken outside of Study Blue. As students are creating flashcards and notes, they can enter text, audio recordings, and images. Even better, Study Blue has a library of special characters that can be inserted into notes and flashcards-perfect for math and language studying.

How to integrate Study Blue into the classroom: What makes Study Blue so brilliant, is the way that it works for students.  The features within Study Blue are robust enough to stay up with students needs, but simple enough that it will get used often.  Study Blue is a must-recommend to students. I love the way that Study Blue pays attention to what has already been mastered, and works with students to strengthen study habits.  The ability to share within Study Blue means that students can work together to share resources, collaborate, and tackle their studying.  It may be worth creating a teacher account to share lecture notes with students via Study Blue.   Study Blue is a great way to help your students stay organized, and make the most of their study time in a way that makes sense for them.  It is flexible enough to work for any student!

Tips: Students will need an email address to sign up for an account on Study Blue.  Study Blue is a free service to use, they also have an upgrade version that lets students compare notes with others, print notes, combine flash card decks, etc.

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Study Blue in your classroom

Responsibly: Gift Wine to Fund Education

What it is: Responsibly is a new way to gift your friends, released just in time for the holiday season.¬† Purchase Responsibly wine for your friends and 100% of the purchase price gets donated to a Donor’s Choose project.¬† Talk about killing two birds with one stone!¬† It works with 3 easy steps:

1. Go to Facebook and choose which friends you want to gift.

2. Friends are encouraged to pay it forward by gifting their friends.

3. Funds are matched and donated to fund a Donor’s Choose project.

Cool huh?  I love gifts that are further reaching than just the physical gift given.  Not only will you be spreading cheer to your friends, you will be spreading cheer and learning to classrooms and students everywhere.  That is a big deal.

From the about page (because I couldn’t have said it better myself!):

Responsibly is creating a platform for social philanthropy. We have created a mechanism that allows individuals to simultaneously share with friends and give back to society. We at Responsibly believe that doing good and feeling good do not have to be mutually exclusive. By connecting products in which 50% of the price tag funds corporate matched projects validated by Donors Choose, we can proudly say that 100% of whatever you spend at Responsibly.com will go towards helping our children get a step closer to the gaining access to the education they deserve. Coupling this with the social network that Facebook has created, hopefully, you can help inspire others to contribute to this cause.

One of the things that continues to astound me is the way that social networking is being used to change the world.¬† I see this on a regular basis through Twitter, organizations like Donor’s Choose, TED and the movements that it spurs, and now Responsibly.¬† Genius I tell you!

What are you waiting for?  Head on over to Responsibly now and start gifting, spreading the word, and making the world a better place.

Side note: I am talking with Responsibly about how they might be involved in helping to make #TwitAcad (scroll down for all posts that mention this)  a reality.  Now we are talking!