Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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.


Assessing your 1:1 Initiative: Sharing Teacher and Student Surveys from Graded – The American School of Sao Paulo, Brazil

This is cross posted at 1to1SchoolsNet

In November, I wrote about “Periodic Dipsticking” to assess a 1:1 initiative. Graded – The American School of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is doing just that as they pilot a one to one laptop program in their sixth grade. The team used a variety of sources to develop teacher and student surveys to meet their needs and the data from these surveys will help them assess how the initiative is going and drive future planning. Hopefully these examples will provide you with ideas on how to assess your program.


Bebell, Damian. “Technology Promoting Student Excellence: An Investigation of the First Year of 1:1 Computing in New Hampshire Middle Schools.” Thesis. Boston College, 2005

Dalgarno, Nancy Jane. “Compulsory Laptop Programs: Teacher’s Responses to the Adoption and Implementation Process.” Thesis. Ontario, Canada, Queen’s University, 2009.
The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina 1:1 Learning Collaborative

Grimes, Douglas, and Mark Warschauer. “Learning with Laptop: A Multi-Method Case Study.” J. Educational Computing Research 38.3 (2008): 305-32.

Bebell, Damian. “Technology Promoting Student Excellence: An Investigation of the First Year of 1:1 Computing in New Hampshire Middle Schools.” Thesis. Boston College, 2005

Grimes, Douglas, and Mark Warschauer. “Learning with Laptop: A Multi-Method Case Study.” J. Educational Computing Research 38.3 (2008): 305-32.

Lee, Talisha H., Dewey G. Cornell, and Joanna C. M. Cole. “Concurrent Validity of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire.” Virginia Youth Violence Project 2001. March 2010 <>

Livingstone, Pamela. “One-to-One: The Student View”. March 2010. <>

Good News from The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation

Cross posted on 1 to 1

I frequently hear negative press regarding laptop initiatives and it seems like the positive stuff is quietly released. Jeni Corn and Phil Emer from the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation recently reported preliminary findings from their evaluation of NC 1:1 Learning Collaborative to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. I’m pleased to say that they have positive results to report. I’m fortunate to be able to visit several of these schools this month and I look forward to observing classes and hearing the stories of the leaders, teachers and students.

Instructional Practice

1. Teachers increased use of technology for both planning and
2. Teachers and students reported ready Internet access
increased the frequency, reliability, and quality of communication
across the school.
3. Teachers moved from assigning independent work to
collaborative, project-based lessons.
4. Teachers shifted to technology-enhanced modes of assessment.

Student Performance

1. Attendance was above 92% in all 1:1 schools and remained virtually unchanged over the three-year period.
2. Dropout rate across the 1:1 Cohort A schools decreased, on average, between 1% and 2%.
3. Student engagement increased in the 1:1 learning environment.
4. Students’ 21st century learning skills increased in the 1:1 learning environment.
5. Student standardized test scores do not improve rapidly , but evidence from other states has found increases over longer implementation periods.

They also offer a list of lessons learned that should be considered when implementing a 1:1 laptop initiative.

NCLTI Lessons Learned

1. At least six months is required for planning and preparation.
2. Consistent, supportive, distributed leadership promotes adoption and buy-in from teachers and students for the 1:1 learning innovation.
3. Ongoing content-based professional development is imperative.
4. Technology Facilitators play a significant role.
5. Student safety and acceptable use must be addressed without limiting access in ways that interfere with educational uses.
6. Classroom management strategies and tools need improvement.
7. More effective approaches to technology infrastructure and support are needed.

Duh, If it Doesn’t Work…People Will Stop Using It.

Here’s the message. Make sure that the technology is up and running 99.9% of the time and that it’s easy for the teachers, students, administrators, and support staff to use.

This summer I learned about the research study of 1:1 high schools in North Carolina that is being conducted by a team from the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. The team spent this past year studying 8 schools in the state that were implementing 1:1 laptop programs. While the initial evaluation report that was submitted to the State Board of Education has tons of interesting information, one of the key findings caught my attention today.

Attending to the details makes all the difference. Having ways to plug-in computers and
charge batteries, make printer supplies available, establish email class lists for teachers,
backup teacher and student machines, respond promptly to technical problems, and address
the many other day-to-day needs of making the use of 1:1 laptops go smoothly in
classrooms is essential for successful use of the technology to improve student learning.

Attending to the details makes all the difference. Having ways to plug-in computers and charge batteries, make printer supplies available, establish email class lists for teachers,backup teacher and student machines, respond promptly to technical problems, and address the many other day-to-day needs of making the use of 1:1 laptops go smoothly in classrooms is essential for successful use of the technology to improve student learning.

by James W. Bell Leeds
from Flickr by James W. Bell Leeds

Nothing can sabotage a 1:1 implementation quicker than failing to make the technology reliable and easy to use. Sometimes I think that if I prioritize the barriers for a successful implementation, that this should be the #1 barrier to address. If this barrier can’t be removed, then don’t bother moving forward. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen enthusiastic educators crushed when the technological glitches make it too difficult to do their work.  What happens in the end is that they just quit trying and they don’t bother with trying something new because they fear that it won’t work and It only takes a few instances when a teacher is standing in front of a class trying to figure out why the technology isn’t working properly for the person to give up hope.

I have a personal example from this summer that describes what happens. In June I went out and purchased a HP 2140 (which I love) and I decided to go out on a limb and only use open source software. I wanted to see if I could do everything that I needed with these tools. So, I enlisted the support of our school’s open source guru and within a week I was set up. It took a bit longer than I would have liked and there were a few quirks that made me a bit worried, but I was really looking forward to this experiment. It was OK that I had to use a headset to use Skype and I was even getting used to the music software which wasn’t quite iTunes quality. I even signed up for 2 of the open source sessions at NECC.

By the end of June I was talking up Ubuntu and all of the open source products that I was using at the time. I loved that the computer started up and shut down quickly, that I did not need virus protection, and that it was FREE. I kept telling people that I thought that schools could use low cost netbooks and open source to provide all students with tools for learning. I loved the whole idea…until, one day, my computer stopped booting up and I was stuck.

On my initial call to HP the representative told me that they did not support Ubuntu. I then went online and joined a forum to see if I could trouble shoot the problem. Now, I’m definitely not a techie so it was difficult for me to understand language like this,

“Replace sda1 with the appropriate device (a = disk, 1 = partition number), then mount the virtual disk therein”

My friend who setup the computer, the Ubuntu guru, was on vacation and not available to help me from afar. Just as I was about to panic I put in one more call to HP. This time they put me in touch with an open source specialist who helped me determine that my hard drive was bad. To make a long story short, I sent the computer back and asked them to reinstall Windows for me. I gave up. I just did not feel like I had the support that I needed to continue with Ubuntu. It’s too bad because I think that it would have worked for me.

Now I’m trying to figure out if I want to pay up renew my virus protection to buy Microsoft Office since my trial copy is about to expire.

At one of the NECC open source forums someone asked about the availability of IT experts in the field who can support schools that choose to use the platform. The panelists response is one that all of us should remember, no matter what platform you use. While there isn’t an overabundance of experts out there, it’s best to find someone who is good and then provide them with the training over the long term. Develop that person(s) professionally so that they can truly support your users.