Inspired by Passionate Students

Presenting with Two Young Visionaries

Me with Two Young Visionaries

For the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with Gabi Campos and Nik Hildebrandt, two Graded students who are passionate about what the future of education can look like. So passionate that they took the initiative yesterday to present at the 2014 School Leadership Summit.

Gabi and Nik are currently 11th graders who have developed bold ideas on education that are based on their experiences and research.  Several weeks ago they presented these ideas to their IB English teacher with a proposal to present at the AASSA Conference that Graded hosted. While it was too late to present at AASSA they were determined to share their message with a wider audience. The School Leadership Summit now provides them with a global audience.

Gabi and Nik shared a story about “Caroline” a high school student who is very good at “doing school”. Their ideas for the perfect school include:

  • Promoting Creativity and Real-life Projects
  • Abolishing Grades
  • Providing Opportunities for Failure
  • Focus on the Future
  • Developing Life Skills

They have even bought into Tony Wagner’s model of learning environments that cultivate innovators that include Play, Passion and Purpose. Gabi and Nik were so excited after the presentation that the first words out of the mouths were, “What’s next?” I encourage you to spend 45 minutes listening to their presentation. The recording is available here.

Whether you agree with their ideas or not you have to admire their enthusiasm and desire to make a difference. I know that I have truly enjoyed partnering with them and I look forward to supporting their work in the coming months. There may be a new club on campus for student innovators that needs an advisor.


The Future of Math Education

Lately I have been asking the question, “What is  math education going to look like in the future?” As of right now, I don’t have a clear picture and I’m fairly optimistic that significant changes will not take place in the near future. While I frequently hear from teachers (not all) that math requires students to practice learning the steps to solving problems that will lead them to being able to apply their learning afterwards. It seems to me that they are saying that the traditional lecture, in class practice, and homework practice is the way that it has to be.

“If we taught dancing like we teach math we’d never let people dance until they drew out all steps on paper.” Seymour Papert (From Gary Stager’s TEDxASB talk)

On the other hand I’m hearing from others that math education has to change. Forget the flipped classroom and Khan Academy, they’re talking about substantial changes. What are they?

Dan Meyer’s 2010 TED Talk, “Math class needs a makeover”, certainly got people thinking about this topic back in 2010.

Since then I’ve been on a quest to search for the future of mathematics. I had a small epiphany at the recent ASB Unplugged Conference when I attended Gary Stager’s workshop, Electrifying Children’s Mathematics. Now I’ve seen Gary speak many times but this was the first time that I participated in one of his hands on workshops. By actually being able to work through the exercises in a constructivist way I was able to make just a little bit of sense out of the possibilities in the math classroom.

Gary started the presentation by showing us that,

“The NCTM Standards state that fifty percent of all mathematics has been invented since World War II. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989) Few if any of these branches of mathematical inquiry have found their way into the K-12 curriculum. This is most unfortunate since topics such as number theory, chaos, topology, cellular automata and fractal geometry may appeal to students unsuccessful in traditional math classes. These new mathematical topics tend to be more contextual, visual, playful and fascinating than adding columns of numbers or factoring quadratic equations. ” (Stager and Cannings, 1998)

We then watched a video of math instruction in an elementary class where the teacher uses Piaget’s theory to help students construct knowledge on concepts. The videos are the work of Constance Kami, Professor of Early Childhood at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. My take-aways from this video are that…

  • students don’t need to know all of the ways to solve a problem. Whatever works for them is sufficient.
  • the refrains from telling the student whether or not their answer is right or wrong. teacher should let the students talk through their methods and to let them work through the problems together. The less teacher involvement, the better.
  • doing endless numbers of problems that you already understand does not do you any good.

We then moved into the hands on portion of the workshop and in a very short amount of time I realized the value of playing with tools and ideas to learn mathematical concepts.

We played with Turtle Art. We were given a simple exercise to get started and then were left to play on our own. The connections to mathematical thinking were easy to make and the results were definitely visual.

We used MicroWorlds to try to figure out a problem that we later learned was unsolvable. Something that is referred to as the 3N + 1 Conjecture, Collatz Conjecture, Ulam Conjecture, and many others. It was amazing how much math we were having to use to struggle through this problem. It was a good learning experience and it’s probably better that we didn’t know that it was unsolvable.

But, my favorite activity had to do with determining values for iTunes radio users’ actions. The work had us tackle computational thinking. Gary was very clear about his views on teaching computational thinking skills.

Computational thinking is useful when modeling a system or complex problem is possible, but the programming is too difficult.

The activity involved assigning values to the following actions.

Photo from from Sam Costello
We also considered when the person just let the song play.

This was a room full of math teachers and I’m pretty sure that none of them had the programming skills to code the algorithms behind these choices. We did struggle with equating a value while thinking about the users’ thinking and how the numbers would be used behind the scenes. Many of our students have no idea of what is taking place behind the scenes when users click on a button. While very few actually have to know how to do the programming, there is definite value to understanding the computational thinking.

So, after the workshop I asked a couple of math teachers if they felt that they learned skills and/or knowledge that they could take back to their classrooms and, the general consensus was, “most definitely”. These were primarily teachers in international schools.

So, what are your thoughts on the future of mathematics?

1:1 Laptops = Head Fake

  • We have been planning for our 1:1 rollout for the past year and a half and the event finally took place last week. Graded is fully 1:1 in the middle and high schools. During this time it has become clear to all of us that all of our talk about 1:1 was just a head fake. Randy Pausch described the “head fake” in ,  “Last Lecture: Achieving your Childhood Dreams”. Dr. Pausch talks about the indirect learning that happens when you’re involved in an activity. One example that he offers is from parents wanting their children to play football.

“We actually don’t want our kids to learn football. … we send our kids out to learn much more important things. Teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, et cetera, et cetera.”

Transcript of Lecture

For all of our talk about becoming a 1:1 school, we didn’t just want teachers and students walking around campus with machines. We learned quickly that what we wanted was so much more. This is where the commonly heard expression “it’s not about the technology” fits. Sure, we planned for electricity, software, bandwidth, polices and procedures, but the real learning came with those bigger questions that we are still tackling.

Finding the answers to these questions is where the real learning occurs and this is why our journey will continue.

  • What skills and knowledge do our students need to learn for now? Future?
  • Is the culture of learning different today?
  • “How do I help teachers bring authentic assessment and real world problem solving to the classrooms?”
  • With the technology in hand, what new resources will help with learning?
  • “How can we balance the teaching-learning process both on-line and face to face mode in a 1:1 program?”
  • “The relationship between new learning and old learning – is it a paradigm shift or a continuum?”
  • “How do we manage student learning as we encourage more outside/digital interaction/play?”
  • “What is the best way to change structures at Graded to support learning outside of traditional classes…and should we?”

We know that we have just begun the journey and that it’s going to be an exciting one for our entire community. If was really just about moving to a 1:1 environment we’d be done and we could check that task off our list.

Seeking Student Voices on Learning in a 1:1 Environment

Share your 1:1 story with us

Spread the word. Graded high school is looking for video testimonials from students who are  learning in a 1 to 1 laptop school. This idea came about when one of our students said that we should try to appeal to our student body in ways that will appeal to teenagers. You can help us kick off our 1:1 rollout in August.  Create a short video telling us about your experiences in this environment and share it with us on Youtube.  Consider telling us about  the following:

  • Why we should be excited about learning in a 1:1 environment.
  • How your learning has changed.
  • Your personal story about experiences.
  • A story about your school’s 1:1 journey.
  • What we have to look forward to.
  • Anything else that you think Graded students will find interesting.

We hope to be able to connect with students from around the world. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions (

The Graded School in 2020

It has been a blast participating in the process to help design the Graded of the future. Our school is embarking on a major rebuilding project that is expected to take 8 years to complete. During our conversations we are continually asking ourselves, “What will education look like in 2020?”. We have to keep this in focus as we help design a multi-million dollar facility. Here are just a few ideas that come to mind.

  • Based on the the current model we project that the school will be able to house 1600 students. If Clayton Christensen and Mike Horn are right in Disrupting Class, then many of our students will be studying online and they may not even need to be on campus. That means that a “Graded student” may not even live in Sao Paulo. If this is the case enrollment may be much larger.
  • We are designing an integrated science program in the high school and we are using this to imagine the science labs. By 2020 we’ll have already completed another science curriculum review and our courses may look totally different. What features will be needed in these new labs?
  • We are committed to creating collaborative space that we’re calling “collaboratories”.  These are flexible spaces that teachers can use as needed. While we are sure that these will be used in the future, I wonder if this is really true. Will we need to develop strategies for learning that take advantage of the space? A test to the idea that,  “If we build it, they will come.”
  • We have decided to not increase the size of the MS/HS library even though the number of students will grow. This is based on the thinking that the bookshelves will take up much less space and that users will continue to use the resources from off site. Will we even need a space labeled “Library” when access to digital resources will be available from anywhere?
  • Our athletic and physical education facilities look much the same as they do now. Well, of course they’ll be upgraded significantly. In the back of our minds we keep wondering if we should be considering adding facilities for wellness, health and life fitness. Maybe we should be considering a mountain biking track, a huge rock climbing wall, and a swimming pool.

Considering that we’re planning facilities where there are still many questions regarding education in 2020 we keep coming back to the idea that we need to plan flexible spaces. Spaces that can be modified and converted to meet the needs of students and teachers. Fascinating when you think that the buildings will be completed in 2020 and they’ll have a lifespan of 50+ years.

Life as we know it will always change

My niece participated in a novel writing contest and she was one of the winners. I’m impressed by her accomplishment but more excited about the title of her novel. “Life as we Know it Will Always End”. What a clever and appropriate title for today’s ever changing world. Some people argue against the concept that change is inevitable. Maybe most of today’s 12 year olds have a better understanding of this concept and how it impacts their lives.  

“Learn or Retire”

During a leadership team discussion on Graded in the future,  one of my amazing colleagues came up with the quote of the year. She was explaining how she made the decision to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for leading in today’s 21st century landscape.  She decided that she either needed to “learn or retire”. Her testimonial provided all of the members of our leadership team with inspiration and motivation to move forward. For educators, it doesn’t matter what stage of your career, you either “Learn or Retire”.

Planning on becoming a school of the future?

Something very exciting happened when our leadership team met for a leadership retreat to work on our vision for Graded. For the longest time we have been focusing on our 1:1 initiative in the middle school and amazingly enough, during the entire retreat, technology never entered the conversation. We even framed our learning around five of ISTE’s Essential Conditions to Effectively Leverage Technology for Learning. The five that we chose were Skilled Personnel,  Curriculum Framework and Student Centered Learning, Ongoing Professional Development, and Assessment and Evaluation.

I think that we owe the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and their “A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future” for this accomplishment. I highly recommend it as required reading for any school that is planning for the future. I think that we spent so much time focusing on the core of a our school in the future, that it was just assumed that technology would play a major role in the teaching and learning process.

What does the guide have to offer?

The first section is entitled, “Making the Case for Schools of the Future”. Even if you don’t need convincing, I suggest that you read it and share it with those who need to be convinced.

“We can choose to adapt, accepting that we do not know this world as well as our children and look to them to help us learn. Or, we can be infexible immigrants, focusing on how good things used to be. If we are to reach our children and help them learn, we must adapt, we must face the fact that our students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”

The second section is, “Essential Capacities for the 21st Century”. We linked this to a curriculum framework where the main categories are Analytical and  Creative Thinking  and Problem-solving; Complex Communication —Oral and Written; Leadership and Teamwork; Digital and Quantitative Literacy; Global Perspective; Adaptability, Initiative,  and Risk-Taking; Integrity and Ethical  Decision-Making. There are many frameworks out there that describe what students should know and be able to do. This is just one that provides food for thought.

I love the third section and think that it is the core of the guide because it provides schools with a variety of models and resources for change. It’s great that they start the chapter off by saying:

“The intention is not to provide a formulaic approach to the challenges of teaching and learning in our times but rather to encourage exploration, innovation, and transformation within each school in a manner that is consistent with the school’s mission and the needs of its students.”

One can spend hours in this section exploring the ideas and the links to resources from a wide variety of school and teachers. The Stories of Excellence guide has examples of classroom units where technology is used (unfortunately, It looks like they have blocked it to non-members).  This is one resource that is teaching and learning with technology focused.

The authors identified the following unifying themes:

  • The schools are academically demanding
  • Project-based learning, as an integral part of the school’s program, is woven throughout all grade levels and disciplines
  • Classrooms extend beyond the school walls, actively engaging students in the world around them
  • Digital technologies and a global perspective infuse all aspects of the curriculum
  • Vibrant arts programs help promote creativity, self-expression, self-discipline, and fexibility
  • The adults are actively engaged with one another and with the students in a process of continuous learning
  • A culture of engagement and support invites participation, innovation, and a “growth mindset” on the part of teachers and students
  • Transformational leadership challenges the status quo, draws out the issues, navigates through confict, and mobilizes people and resources to do the adaptive work necessary to create and sustain effective change.

Finally, the appendix has additional resources to use in your planning.

If you haven’t studied this guide, you’re missing out. It’s a must in my book.

Great Ideas from Curriculum 21: Part 1

Crossed Posted on 1to1 Schools

This is part 1 of 2.

I slowly worked my way through Heidi Hayes-Jacobs book Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World for the past couple of months. It’s been slow only because I haven’t had much time for serious reading lately. Once I got my new iPad I was able to breeze through it.  While I was skeptical about the content at first, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned from the book. Hayes-Jacobs with help from Stephen Wilmarth, Vivien Stewart, Tim Tyson, Frank W. Baker, David Niguidula, Jamie P. Cloud, Alan November, Bill Sheskey, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick present an argument, along with practical steps for “upgrading the curriculum”. This first post will focus on two key points from the first four chapters by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

What year are you preparing your students for? 1973? 1995? Can you honestly say that your school’s curriculum and the program that you use are preparing your students for 2015 or 2020? Are you even preparing them for today?

Start with changing the assessments – As I visit classrooms I’m constantly asking myself how will the lesson change when everyone has ubiquitous access to the right technological tools (we’re preparing to go 1:1 in 2012). As we talk about this transformation I agree with her in saying that the first practical step to take is to change the assessments to. Her suggestion is to consider what “21st century social scientists, scientists, mathematicians, artists, writers, language specialists, musicians, and business men and women might produce…”  To put this in place she suggests the following steps.

Step 1 – “Develop a pool of assessment”

Step 2 – “Teachers working with IT members, identify the existing types of software, hardware, and Internet-based capabilities in their school…” Suggestion for teachers to become comfortable with at least one new tool per semester.

Step 3 – “Replace a dated assessment with a modern one.”

Set aside a book report and replace it with a podcast, virtual literary tour, video or magazine book review.

Step 4 – “Share the assessment upgrades formally with colleagues and students.”

Step 5 – “Insert ongoing sessions for skill and assessment upgrades into the school calendar.”

Upgrade the Content -While changing the assessment is a good first step, upgrading the content through changes to the curriculum get to the heart of the matter. We, in international schools have the luxury of being able to develop our own curriculum. The suggestions that Heidi Hayes-Jacobs offers are refreshing and exciting. How would students feel about the following units?

  • How does cultural anthropology shedding light on the economy of resource-rich Brazil?
  • Science units focused on ideas that changed the world. Also thinking ahead to future ideas that have the potential to change the world.
  • Physical education students organizing a 5k run for the community to promote healthy lifestyles.
  • A unit on book to film where students study the process and results of making a movie from a book.
  • Using an integrated approach to teaching math/economics where students look at the economics of real life problems. The students create their own Freakonomics scenarios.
  • Students organizing a virtual orchestra concert with musicians from around the world.

I believe that these steps can help us make a transition into a school that is preparing students for 2011. Has anyone tested the ideas out?

If you’re interested in joining the Curriculum 21 Learning Commons you can join the Ning.

Part  2 will be devoted to key learnings from the other authors.