Apple Teacher: Free Self-Paced Professional Development

 Expanding Your Professional Learning

A guest post by Monica Burns

Last month, Apple announced Apple Teacher, a new program created to support and celebrate educators teaching all levels and subject areas.

What is the Apple Teacher program?

The Apple Teacher program provides a self-paced learning experience for educators. It includes learning materials, tips, inspiration, and news to help teachers discover the power of Apple tools in the classroom. As an Apple Distinguished Educator and former one-to-one iPad classroom teacher, I know about the amazing things that can happen when technology tools are used to take your instructional goals to the next level.

How will the Apple Teacher program change your PD?

As a professional development facilitator, it is so exciting to see this new release from Apple Education. Badging is a wonderful way to get anyone excited about mastering new content. Teachers can decide if they want to focus on iPad or Mac proficiency before exploring different tools on each device. Even if your school isn’t one-to-one, a better understanding of both the Mac and iPad can help you make the most of the devices your students can access. From GarageBand to Pages, the tools in the Apple ecosystem can be tailored to all grade levels and subject areas.

Having spent the past few years helping schools integrate technology tools into their curriculum goals, I know how important it is to give teachers an opportunity to explore new tools with a hands-on approach. The Apple Teacher program offers a great framework for personalizing professional development to teachers’ interests and skill level. With guidance from an instructor, or independently using the resources on Apple Education’s website, teachers can earn badges as they discover ways to use powerful Mac and iOS tools in their classroom. Just this week, I had the opportunity to share the Apple Teacher program with a group of teachers at a school in New York City. We focused our time on Keynote so teachers could learn how to use this presentation tool in the context of their curriculum goals.

I challenge schools to share this new program with staff and colleagues to inspire teachers to dive in and try new things. Below are some ideas to help get the word out:

  • Email your faculty or colleagues
  • Make an announcement during your next staff meeting
  • Take a photo of recognized Apple Teacher(s) and share it on social media with the hashtag #AppleTeacher
  • Share a link to the Apple Teacher program on your school or district social media accounts

You can click here to learn more about the Apple Teacher program and sign up to get started!


Monica Burns is an author, speaker, curriculum and ed tech consultant and Apple Distinguished Educator. Visit her site for more ideas on how to become a tech-savvy teacher or email to learn about the ways Monica can support your school.

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Join the #ce16 chat tonight at 7pm ET!

We are excited to announce two wonderful opportunities to participate in upcoming #ce16 Twitter chats. We hope that you will join us as well as help spread the word about these exciting conversations.

The Importance of Being a Connected Student: Bringing #StuVoice to #ce16 TONIGHT from 7-8pm ET: The organizers of #ce16 are excited to partner with Curran, Chief Kid Officer of DigCitKids, to co-host this important Twitter chat TONIGHT, October 18 from 7-8pm ET. Curran (@CurranCentral) will lead us through a virtual discussion about the importance of connected students and why student voice is so important. Follow the #ce16 stream to participate.

Cultivating Curiosity and Problem-Solving through #STEM: A #ce16 Conversation on October 25 from 8-9pm ET: We are also happy to partner with the Teachers Guild for an exciting Twitter chat on October 25 from 8-9pm ET. Together, we will explore how to cultivate curiosity and problem-solving in our students through active and authentic STEM. To learn more, check out the Teachers Guild site. Follow the #ce16 stream to participate.

Getting More Involved

Time is moving quickly during Connected Educator Month 2016 but there are plenty more opportunities to participate. Whether you are a novice or veteran connected educator, there is something for you to see and do. Supporters, we need your participation too!

#ce16 in Pictures
Don’t forget that we want to see how you’re celebrating #ce16! Take a quick photo (or video) to illustrate your participation and share on Twitter, using the #ce16 hashtag.

Event Calendar
More event listings are uploaded to the calendar each day. If you haven’t had a chance to include yours, there is still time left! Get started by adding your events here.

This effort would not be possible without our generous #ce16 sponsors! If you would like to discuss ways in which you and your organization can support the cause, send us an email. We look forward to discussing partnership opportunities.

Featured CEM Supporter

The CS for All Teachers community is offering two webinars this week to support computer science education.

CEM Resources

Are you a newbie to #ce16 and feeling unsure about how to get involved? Check out this blog post, which offers ten strategies for getting started.


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Creativity in Every Classroom

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

How can we add creativity to every PBL?

Curiosita, an insatiable curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. The desire to know, to learn, and to grow is the powerhouse of knowledge, wisdom, and discovery.” ~ Gelb, 1998 

Several years back, we looked at our teaching and asked ourselves, “When were our students rigorously and joyfully engaged in learning?” Next we looked back on our own educational experiences and asked, “When were we immersed to that degree in our own learning?”


The answers were both the same. The highest engagement was always when creative thinking and productivity were involved. So we began to ardently pursue any training programs we could find that would help us make creativity a part of all teaching and learning including PBL. Unfortunately, for the most part, we couldn’t find specific instructional tools and strategies to help us teach with and for creativity. So our next step was to assimilate research and publications around the topic of creativity and use them to build new instructional tools and templates.

The final step of our intensive inquiry was piloting our new material for five years at Lakenheath Middle School in England. During a discussion on “What is creativity?” in one seventh-grade class, a student stated, “To me, creativity is like a meteor shower of ideas spinning off into infinity!” This was just the inspiration we needed. It lead us to create a fan model to depict the seven target areas that can be addressed to support the development of student creativity in all content areas. Most especially, we could see how the fan model was a natural that could enrich project-based learning.


In a review of literature, we discovered more than 112 definitions of creativity. This gave us the perception that creativity couldn’t be solidified as a teachable skill. However, looking a bit more deeply, we found that each of the definitions included one or more of these four Elements:

  • Fluency – many ideas
  • Flexibility – categories or groups of ideas
  • Originality – unique or one of a kind ideas
  • Elaboration – adding details to ideas

We soon realized each of these commonly known elements could be targeted as instructional goals and then recognized in the verbal and visual products of students. A straightforward example of using these creative elements can be seen in assessing a student’s literacy skills.

  • Fluency – number of words
  • Flexibility – different writing themes and styles
  • Originality – unique writing or word usage
  • Elaboration – adding details to stories

This was a good beginning. However, we were still left with more questions about what does creativity look like and sound like in the classroom. We looked again at what was happening in our classrooms and in the classrooms of peers. So after several discussions with colleagues, we came up with this formula for what happens in classrooms that are being taught with creativity.

Creativity = Critical Thinking + Creative Thinking + Creative Productivity

Now we had something we could all wrap our heads around! We could teach critical and creative thinking with tools and strategies. We could plan for product development in project-based learning environments that engaged students to the max.


The Creativity Fan is a Model to guide our thinking. The model consists of the Four Elements of Creativity (fan lights), surrounded by Seven Action Areas (fan blades). The Elements can be used as instructional targets in assessing student understanding and applying creativity skills in lessons, units and projects. The seven Action Areas were created from the information and knowledge gained from research and classroom practice. Each Action Area has accompanying teacher and student goals. The teacher goals are listed below.



  1. Process – to teach how new thinking strategies and tools improve creative thinking.
  2. Persistence – to engage students in learning opportunities that require effort, diligence, and task commitment.
  3. Product – to backwards plan for products in content areas so students can demonstrate their learning through verbal or visual products.
  4. Perception – to expose students to alternative visual or verbal viewpoints or perspectives so they can acknowledge diversity in thinking and form their own conceptions
  5. Passion – tp plann a wide variety of activities that address student strengths and interests so students can explore and discover passion areas of learning.
  6. Person – to instill in students an understanding and appreciation of the positive and negative creative behaviors and traits.
  7. Press – to introduce students to a variety of psychological or emotional influences that can be applied to influence creative output.


So can we teach creativity? The answer is an astounding yes! We’ve all been in classrooms where teachers are making this happen, including rooms where PBL is common– but unfortunately they are still too few and far between. Oftentimes, these teachers are viewed as the outliers within their organizations.

These teachers, and many of our parents, especially our homeschool parents, have naturally been a part of a revolution calling for innovative education reform. They are the shining lights at the end of a long tunnel leading to what we refer to as The Creativity Crusade. Today, with more information and resources available, everyone can become part of this revolution. Together we can change teaching and learning so that all children can live and learn creatively. Creativity, once infused, will forever change teaching styles with lessons based upon collaborative experiences between students and teachers. It will also result in a powerful paradigm shift, focusing on what students think, what they say, how they do it, and most importantly, what they produce.


Why teach creativity? Does it belong in the school curriculum? Again, our answer is a resounding “yes!” just because it changes children’s lives and it changes our world. We believe supporting and developing students’ creativity is essential for the continuous improvement of our world. We believe nurturing and protecting children’s creativity leads to their personal and professional happiness and success for a lifetime.


Rick Shade EdD is co-author with Pattie Garrett Shade of Curiosita Teaching: Integrating Creativity Into All Teaching & Learning and Curiosita Teaching: Handbook of Instructional Strategies. He is also the author of License to Laugh: Humor in the Classroom. His book, The Creativity Crusade: Nurturing and Protecting Your Child’s Creativity, received the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented 2015 Parent Legacy Award.

Patti Garrett Shade, M.A. received national recognition for both her work as Indiana State Director of Gifted and Talented and for the development of an Elementary Science Lab Enrichment Program. She served on the development team for the World Creativity Center with Dr. Edward De bono and co-author with Rick Slade of several books.

Contact Rick and Patti at or call 303-728-9276.

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Still lots of time to get involved with #ce16!

Things continue to keep rolling along in Connected Educator Month 2016. More and more organizations are getting involved through a variety of engaging professional learning opportunities. We hope you have been able to find something productive to learn and do this month! We’re not done yet… 

Getting More Involved

Event Calendar
More event listings are uploaded to the calendar each day. If you haven’t had a chance to include yours, there is still time left! Get started by adding your events here.

This effort would not be possible without our generous #ce16 sponsors! If you would like to discuss ways in which you and your organization can support the cause, send us an email. We look forward to discussing partnership opportunities.

Featured CEM Supporter

Election season is upon us. It’s a time when we are reminded that our voice and our vote matters. As a network of educators, the Teachers Guild has been asking what their role is in supporting students to understand their civic power, exercise their voice, and take action on the issues they care about. In partnership with ASCD, they are working with some incredible organizations in civic education to help reshape the future of civic education. Get involved!

Join #eMINTS Tweet week from October 17-21 for an exciting Twitter challenge. Participants will engage in collegial sharing, reflective thinking, and inspirational discussions prompted by five daily topics dedicated to digital education.

On Thursday, October 27, 2016, K-5 teachers from across North America and beyond will click on a simple link and be joined together online for a live-streamed participatory event they will enjoy from the comfort of the classroom. Read more about how you can participate.

CEM Resources

Did you know that you can register for an account on our #ce16 calendar? In doing so, you can create your own customized calendar, interact with other attendees, and more! Click here for tutorial videos.

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One Week Down, Three More to Go!

One week down and three more to go in Connected Educator Month 2016! We are grateful for all of our #ce16 supporters who help to make this annual event successful.

#ce16 in Pictures: Don’t forget that we want to see how you’re celebrating #ce16! Take a quick photo (or video) to illustrate your participation and share on Twitter, using the #ce16 hashtag.

Event Calendar: The calendar is filled with amazing events. If you haven’t had a chance to include yours, there is still time left! Get started by adding your events here.

Featured Connected Educator Month Supporters

  • This year, we continue to feature guest blog posts from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine. Keep an eye on the CEM blog space to see new posts throughout the month.
  • #ADEchat, sponsored by the Apple Distinguished Educators, is held every Tuesday evening at 9pm EST. It is open to all educators interested in discussing teaching and learning. Topics change weekly. This week’s chat will focus on infusing the arts with technology.
  • Save the date for the National Day on Writing, hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English, which is scheduled for October 20. Participants are asked to tweet using the hashtag #WhyIWrite.

Connected Educator Month Resources: Are you a newbie to #ce16 and feeling unsure about how to get involved? Check out this post, which offers ten strategies for getting started.

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Thinking Like a Nanoscientist

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Five years ago, I was asked to teach nanotechnology by Wheeling High School’s then principal, Dr. Lopez. I was very excited, yet nervous. I was not aware of a class like this at the high school level. It was an approach to science not found in our traditional curriculum, yet it was an emerging field that the world of applied science was begging to see in a 21st century high school. It was a tough study but one that would bring our curriculum into the 21st century, especially if the approach would stimulate a broader range of students to look at the science as a career pathway.


Nanoscience: The study of the performance of ultra-small structures, materials, and devices,  usually 0.1 to 100 nm; also, the study of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale.



My thought was not just to have another science course that gave students a lot to memorize and an artificial lab experience. I wanted students to learn about the “big ideas” in nanoscience and how to use advanced equipment so they could think and work like nanoscientists. The would have to learn how to use four different microscopes to find answers about super small particles of matter and learn discover some very deep ideas in atomic physics. How do I plan for students thinking like scientists with complex material if preparatory through advanced placement students are taking the class?

Nanoscientist 1

The answer was to apply project-based learning (PBL) so all students could learn the problems and methods of thinking that are particular to the scientist. In this way, I knew I was going beyond the traditional approach to a science that I knew from high school. It was also going beyond the PBL units I had been using before Dr. Lopez’s invitation to bring a 21st century course into our curriculum. As it turned out, my hunch was correct.

If you follow these brief nano-PBL scenarios, you will see how I modified standard PBL design to fit my aim of having students not only learn Nano-technology, but how to think like a nanotechnologists.

To begin, the students first visited a website I set up for the class. The goal was to motivate the students to self-select a nanotechnology topic that interested them. This helped overcome apprehension regarding the scale of the nanotechnology field. Once a subject was chosen, I helped find a mentor in that field. The mentor would help them further narrow their subject matter into a particular interest.

  • One group in particular had an interest in guns. This led to a general discussion about weapons, and I thought of a professor from University of Michigan searching for Paleo-Indian remnants to research migration patterns. Students researched flint knapping, an ancient way of making stone tools and weapons, particularly arrowheads. Then, students created stone tools applying flint knapping techniques. Using a scanning electron microscope (SEM), students researched the characteristics of debitage (chips from making stone tools). The professor provided sediment samples from a site. The site was the Aplena-Amberley ridge, once exposed 10,000 years ago. but now below the waters of Lake Huron. Using SEM and other technology to aid the old science of archeology, students studied the sediment samples. When students found evidence of flint knapping debitage at the bottom of Lake Huron, it provided evidence of the existence of Paleo-Indian hunters along the Aplena-Amberley ridge.
  • A different student pair with interest in forestry worked with a professor at the Chicago Botanical Gardens. They researched the germination rate of fabaceae seeds, varying the time exposed to simulated prairie fire conditions. Students studied the seed shell with an SEM to determine which conditions best-suited germination. The students found that seeds exposed to too little fire, or too much fire, did not fare well. These students were invited to present their work at a Chicago Wilderness Conference for People and Nature held at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Several people attended their lecture, including an ecologist that was considering applying the lessons from the student’s experiment. The ecologist was considering slow burning larger sections of fields and landscapes, to discourage the germination of invasive Sweet White Clovers.


To meet the challenge of having students think like scientists, I found several areas I had to up my game to the next level of teaching a diverse group via PBL. I found two elements in the PBL unit that required my extra attention.

First, I found it all the more important to check availability of product or material needed for a student’s project prior to green lighting it. With students selecting their own project focus, it was important that I help them find whatever or however strange the materials.

I had a student last year whose project required un-crushed Karaya gum. It was not easy to purchase. Even Amazon did not have it. I found myself calling companies only to discover all U.S. based companies used crushed Karaya gum. After buying online from a Chinese company failed, I found a former student who had gone back home to India. He quickly found the Karaya gum and shipped it to me. The student was thankful, delighted, and was able to finish his project.

Second, I found that the PBL presentations when students were being asked to think like nano-scientists was a special opportunity to highlight their budding mindsets. After students complete their project’s written reports, they need to prepare for their PBL-common presentations. My students began by making a tri-fold presentation to trace their projects’ research and results. This was difficult for many. Their papers were over thirty pages long and distilling the information onto a tri-fold was daunting.   Afterwards, students practiced their oral presentations in the classroom before presenting in a competition where the level of precision and accuracy way especially high. Their self-directed attention to precision and accuracy was important in their development of authentic scientific thinking so they could appropriately communicate the research clearly and concisely.


Project-based learning allows students to understand science in a broader context. Not only does it give all students a chance learn the content more deeply, it allows them to gain an understanding of scientific equipment in the context of how scientists do. PBL exposes students to the scientific process of finding an interesting and authentic subject to research, narrowing down the issue to a researchable question with high self interest, doing the science itself, analyzing the findings, and communicating the findings with the mindsets common to the scientists they may want to be. With its emphasis on selection of authentic inquiry in the context of the course, PBL gives students reasons to pursue a special interest in current field of science, go beyond the traditional classroom locked curriculum, and develop their own personalized investigation(s).he emphasis is on how they are learning to think like scientists as much as the particular course content. This self-directed interest in turn, encourages students to further their progress towards careers in science, not only with the knowledge of a complex emerging subject such as nanotechnology, but also with the “how to do” scientific research, thinking and deciding essential for full success.


Lisa del Muro MSEd, P.E., NBCT has her National Board Certification in Teaching and teaches nanotechnology and physics at Wheeling High School in Township High School District 214. Check out her classroom site at Follow Lisa on Twitter @delmuro_whsnano. Prior to teaching, she served as a professional licensed engineer for 15 years.

Wheeling High School serves a socio-economically and ethnically diverse population. It features career pathways that stimulate and expand students’ horizons about career and post-secondary learning opportunities with a PBL and curriculum innovations.


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How Are You Celebrating #CE16?

Connected Educator Month 2016 is off to a great start! Excitement is buzzing–on and offline. We are happy to reconnect with our amazing tribe of #ce16 supporters.

#ce16 in Pictures: We want to see how you’re celebrating #ce16! Take a quick photo (or video), which illustrates your participation, and share on Twitter, using the #ce16 hashtag. Feel free to get creative.

Event Calendar: Thanks to all who have added their events to the #ce16 calendar. Please keep in mind that we check the system once daily and upload new submissions at that time, so you may not see your event immediately. It’s never too late to include your activity though, so keep them coming! We hope that you will help us to make #ce16 super special by adding your events here.

Sponsorships: This effort would not be possible with our generous #ce16 sponsors! If you would like to discuss ways in which you and your organization can support the cause, send us an email. We look forward to discussing partnership opportunities.

CEM Resources: Did you know that you can register for an account on our #ce16 calendar? In doing so, you can create your own customized calendar, interact with other attendees, and more! Click here for tutorial videos.

Featured CEM Supporters: On Thursday, October 6 from 7-8pm ET, CS for All Teachers is offering a webinar for K-5 teachers interested in introducing computer science into their classrooms through play. Join former Einstein Fellow Michael Stone and MakeyMakey’s VP of Educational Initiatives Tom Heck to learn more.

Immediately following that webinar, the Source for Learning/TeachersFirst will be co-hosting a Twitter chat about Connected Educator Month on Thursday, October 6 from 8-9pm ET, using the hashtag #OK2Ask. For more information, check out their event posting.

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A Triple Connection for the Future

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Deeper learning. It’s both a buzz word and a meaningful expression of what we wish for all students. It’s what accomplished teachers have always provided. Deeper learning is about delivering meaningful content in an innovative way, enabling students to learn and apply their knowledge.

These students are motivated; they are challenged; and they are able to apply what they have learned to both academic and real life experiences. This is the kind of learning that every parent wishes for their child and it’s the kind of teaching that every teacher should aspire to.

I lead the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. One of the roles my organization plays is to maintain high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do. We believe – and significant independent research supports—the idea that higher standards for teachers leads to deeper learning for students. Teachers who achieve National Board Certification—that is, they are certified as having met those standards—provide students with knowledge and practical skills needed to succeed. The deeper learning those students receive will be an advantage for them in their future education or careers.


Deeper learning enabling all students to succeed is the goal. However, across the country, a range of barriers present complex challenges. With a workforce of over 3 million and a turnover rate that is reaching crisis proportions, teaching presents a formidable challenge to anyone trying to bring about change at scale. Further, our focus on accountability based on ubiquitous testing disincentivizes teachers from a focus on deep, practical, creative and meaningful teaching for students. To the contrary, the current testing climate virtually defines high-achieving schools as those that effectively (and, perhaps nearly exclusively) teach well to those tests. The truly accomplished teachers are those who teach to a high standard and prepare their students well beyond those high stakes tests. The balance presents a significant challenge and one that we must grapple with.


A teacher who practices according to the professional teaching standards inherently engages students in deeper learning. There is a strong correlation between the Deeper Learning Student Competencies and the National Board Standards. This correlation exists in spirit, each Competency and set of Standards holding student growth at its core, and in the letter of the documents, with every Competency clearly reflected in Standards language and expectations.

Together, the National Teaching Standards and the Competencies provide a strong vision for exceptional educational experiences and outcomes. Advanced learning for every student is the goal of both, even though that growth is considered from two different perspectives. The Deeper Learning Student Competencies approach that expectation of growth by considering the student—What does a student know, do, and believe that enhances his or her ability to learn? The National Board Standards consider that same student growth from the perspective of the teacher—What does an accomplished teacher know, do and believe to enhance all students’ ability to learn? Placing the Competencies into conversation with the Standards illuminates the dynamic partnership that exists between students and teachers—and among students—throughout the learning process. Instruction in the hands of Board-certified teachers produces deeper learning in students.


As I look to the future of America’s schools, I see a plethora of opportunities. I see the nearly 14,000 candidates working to earn Board certification. I see a commitment in many states to advance accomplished teaching that leads to Board certification. I also see a strong focus on student learning. The kind of learning that bodes well for achievement in school and success beyond school.


Peggy Brookins is President and CEO of the National Board of Teaching Standards. Her long career as an educator includes many national leadership positions and accolades. In July 2014, President Barack Obama named Brookins as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

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Beyond Project-based Learning

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: What if project-based learning (PBL) became the core of teaching and learning for every student, every day in every school?

Projects have been around at least since Sister Genevieve set me and my 50 first grade classmates to work creating our sandbox neighborhood. By the late 1970s, projects had morphed into the start of project-based learning (PBL). By the 1990s, problem-based learning (also PBL) emerged. Today, the initials PBL cover multiple ways of teaching and learning with PBL gurus a dime a dozen. Prompted by High Tech High and then the New Techs, PBL has fostered whole school reforms in the US and around the globe and the most effective teachers are grabbing every chance they can to call on PBL and other practices that promote deeper learning for every student, no matter what his or her zip code.

Lots has been published and showcased about PBL through Edutopia, the Teacher Channel, P21’s Exemplar Page, the P21 Blogazine, and elsewhere. Because PBL is an instructional framework and not just a strategy, adopters of this highly engaging model of instruction have optimal freedom to design PBL units outside the box while calling on their unique talents to be makers and not just duplicators of the curriculum. The freedom given to PBL teacher-creators is a blessing. But it is also a curse. Even as more teachers and school leaders try to embrace PBL as a key to highly effective instructions and core to whole school transformation to deeper learning, those who think reform and improvement are about polishing the traditional, non-engaging ways of teaching and learning found in the factory model push harder to retain the obsolete instruction in outdated schools. Because these “hold on” voices also fill many of the positions which govern curriculum and instruction by handed down mandates and the distribution of state and federal dollars, PBL innovation remains tough, often little more than talks from TED.

This post gives us a look through a future set of lenses with optimism. However, their lenses are not always rose tinged. They see there are many challenges faced by those who want to transform instruction into a full day of effective practices such as PBL, but cannot. What are these challenges and how can they help students become the center of active learning, driven to learn by their intrinsic motivation? What can teachers, school leaders and other educators do to make PBL the go-to model of instruction for every student, every day in every school. Or is that a pipe dream?


Transforming schools to the deeper learning culture with PBL as a dominant form of instruction is no pipe dream. That’s so for several good reasons. Deeper learning’s forward movement is not yet overwhelming, but PBL does qualify as a strong emerging trend to foster that change. Here is some evidence.

  1. Research. For those who actually accept reliable scientific research, an increasing count of strong studies validate PBL’s path to the front as a core driver of deeper learning. They join the research about the connection between high teaching standards and deeper learning outcomes. (Search online for the American Institute for Research’s studies of deeper learning at
  2. Variety of Applications. The range of full school and district adoptions of PBL centric deeper learning is expanding. As the P21 Exemplar Network illustrates, school size, population, location, or type matters not an iota. Whether a school is a gifted elementary academy, a public middle school with a multi-lingual population, or a former prison-like public alternative high school or other structure, more public, charter and private school leaders and boards are understanding why PBL-centered instruction-for-all is in an hour which is now.
  3. Business Interest. Although there are too many instances when business leaders try to be the know-it-all education gurus, their interest, driven by a well-documented need for 21st century employees proficient with the 4Cs and technology, is shining a spotlight on PBL as a 21st century tool for learning.
  4. Schools of Education. Lo and behold, at least some education professors are catching on. While among these few there are more who lecture about PBL, instances are popping up where schools of education may even teach future teachers via the PBL method. Take a look at the University of Illinois post in the Blogazine archives as well as San Houston, Cal Poly and others where PBL is a well accepted teaching model (
  5. Caine’s Arcade. If a nine year old Caine can do PBL alone and intuitively, why can’t all kids get the opportunity to learn from learning by making projects? That’s the increasing question from parents and the general public as factory addicted instruction fails.


Of course there is a downside. As poster Ted Fujimoto has shared in the past, PBL as a driving force for deep change has a long way to go. So does deeper learning. The vast majority of our schools are still stuck in an often times toxic culture where teacher talk and worksheets, extrinsic motivation, behavior control, distrust, and low expectations instruction surround an obsolete curriculum. In contrast, when working in a whole school culture of collaboration, mutual respect and trust, high expectations for achievement, effective teachers most easily can call on PBL as a rich and common model of instruction with deeper learning outcomes. Without a positive culture to support PBL’s regular use, teachers are limited to being outliers for whom anything more than a few sporadic projects is allowed. In many schools, there is not even an outlier. PBL is a term unknown in the faculty lounge or totally absent from school leaders’ radar. Parents and local business leaders seem more up to date on PBL, deeper learning and a culture of trust than the school people. In the meantime, we see a nine year old, boasted by a father with minimum education and untrained in PBL, an itinerant filmmaker, and the Internet are proving beyond a doubt that the right collaboration of folks can create an international scene around a young boy’s powerful, self-made PBL experience outside his school’s walls.


Of course, PBL is not the be-all and end-all. As Peggy Brookins, President and CEO of the National Board of Teaching Standards, reminds us in her post, there is much more to teaching than one strategy or one model of teaching, no matter how powerful. Peggy shares a larger vision. In her vision, the National Teaching Standards combined with teaching that produces deeper learning are a necessary marriage. The teaching standards and evidence based strategies guide teachers to produce deeper learning in every student, no matter what his or her zip code may be. This month I have selected real world examples of what happens when teachers and districts transform their culture and practice with PBL as a quintessential teaching tool. Clear in the posts, you will find a thread that runs through what living evidence is saying about PBL’s most effective applications in this day and age. You will also visit with highly effective teachers, including NTBS certified teacher Lisa Del Muro who shines as an example of what happens when a teacher lives up to the standards in a school that creates a culture of success for all.

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Welcome to #CE16!

The long-awaited Connected Educator Month 2016 has arrived. We are excited to launch into our fifth year of celebrating connected learning online. Over the past four years, millions of educators and others around the world have participated in hundreds of professional development and other educational opportunities, offering highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to all stakeholders at all levels.

Event Calendar: As has been the trend in years past, our #ce16 calendar is off to a slow start but not to worry! It fills up fast. Don’t forget that it is a crowdsourced effort so help us by adding your events here.

Sponsorships: We are still looking for sponsors for CEM 16. We offer a variety of packages as well as custom options so if you are interested in helping to sponsor an event, send us an email for more information.

Resources: Want to show your support for Connected Educator Month and what it stands for? Want to encourage other educators to come join the discussions, the explorations, and the fun? Or maybe you just to let others know that when people talk about “connected educators,” that means you or your organization. In the supporter toolkit, you’ll find a large collection of graphics, copy, and other promotional tools to help spread the word.

Featured CEM Supporter: The Virginia Society for Technology in Education is sponsoring a number of CEM activities throughout October, including a slow tweet book group, which begins on October 3. Check out their event listing for more information.


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#CE16 is Upon Us!

CEM Improving Education Graphic

We hope you’ve had a relaxing summer! Things have been busy behind the scenes and we apologize for the radio silence. Nevertheless, we are excited to celebrate #ce16 and need your help in making it a success.

Getting More Involved

Event Calendar: As always, our #ce16 calendar is a crowdsourced effort. Please take some time to add your events here. The more, the merrier so be sure to include everything you’re offering in October–even if it’s a release of a new resource or report brief.

Sponsorships: Interested in promoting your work as part of CEM 16? Consider being a sponsor! We offer a variety of packages as well as custom options. Send us an email for more information.

Twitter: Are you following us on Twitter? Be sure to connect via @edconnectr and follow the #ce16 stream for updates throughout the month!

Connected Educator Month Resources

Want to support us but not sure where to begin? Check out our Getting Started resources. The CEM Starter Kit (originally created in 2015 but still relevant in 2016) is chock full of ideas on how to help spread the word and get more involved.

Feature CEM Supporter

CS for All Teachers is an online community of practice, welcoming all PreK-12 teachers who are interested in teaching computer science. Members can get answers to their questions, share ideas in small groups, participate in online events, search for resources, and learn instructional strategies—all in an effort to ensure computer science for all.


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A Whale of a PBL

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Question: What if 2nd graders learned significant reading content through meaningful project work and shared their learning with others?

2nd graders at Katherine Smith School, a Project Based Learning School, in San Jose, California recently finished a PBL about  We read about whales. We thought about whales. We asked questions about whales. We did math problems about whales. We talked and thought about whales and we grouped whales. Then we presented our stories and shared our museum with its student created exhibits including a giant mock up of a whale’s heart.



Although we live in a coastal state, many students have not traveled out of our community to our beaches, much less had any knowledge about whales.  Our project aimed to inspire inquiry into what they wanted to know about these giant creatures of the sea.

Our project launch began with our entry event at the IMax Theater. We saw the movie, “Humpback Whales” The sights and sounds of Humpback whales came alive for the students and the inquiry had begun with as we brainstormed an extensive “Need to Know” list.


In books selected by the students, we began learning about whales, their features and what made them unique. This was followed   by students working together to research different types of whales by using QR codes to access different articles and videos.  They recorded their findings in a research template.  Later, students used this template to write a non-fiction book about a self-selected whale.


The rich vocabulary was made meaningful through the use of GLAD strategies such as a Cognitive Content Dictionary.  Students made predictions about the word, recorded the actual meaning, and created movements for each word.  We also recorded our findings about each whale we studied. We posted a process grid for reference throughout our project.

Midway through our project, we boarded a bus and headed to Cal Academy of Sciences to see a featured exhibit on whales.  Here we saw actual whale skeletons, baleen and learned about whale conservation.


We infused our learning about whales into our math curriculum as well.  Our math unit focused on measurement. Students worked together with non-standard units (whales) to measure their bodies and also spineapply their learning using rulers to create a whale of their choice using given measurements. We used our bodies and laid end to end on our grass field to experience just how large a blue whale was! And then, we used measurements to make the big heart.


After learning about the plight of whales today and watching videos of whales entangled in fishing nets, we decided we wanted to do something to help.  We adopted a whale from the Pacific Whale Foundation whose mission is whale conservation


For our Exhibition, we created an interactive whale museum not only to feature what we learned, but to teach others as well.











  • One team of students collected fifty-gallon milk jugs to illustrate how much a baby blue whale drinks in a day.
  • Another team demonstrated how blubber keeps a whale warm by having visitors put their hands in ice water and then comparing after using a “blubber glove”. capture krill in a simulation using a comb as baleen.
  • One team made a comparison of the actual sizes of various whales. The size of each was measured out by the students and displayed on the wall.
  • The most dramatic display was the life size rendition of a blue whale’s heart with everyone pitching in.

In addition to the museum display, each student  made a digital book about their selected whale. Students were proud to read and display their digital version of their informational whale book, several of which were recorded by the students in their native language.


We ended our STEAM PBL with a student reflection time which revealed the following:

  • My favorite part was presenting that I know that blubber keeps th whales warm.—Ashley
  • I liked people watching my book because other people learn about whales.—Daniela
  • I learned blue whales are the largest animal.—Omar
  • My favorite part was when we made our books and we showed our books to the upper grades because they didn’t know nothing (sic) about whales.—Giselle

Our second grade students ended these reflections with concluding stems noting that  “Whales are enormous”. “They are fascinating.”  “They are special.”  “They need our help.”  These were the ideas that 2nd graders wanted to teach others and were at the heart of this STEAM PBL.

About the Author

liepeltJill Liepelt is a second grade teacher at the P21 Exemplar Katherine Smith Elementary School in San Jose, California. Katherine Smith serves a 98% Hispanic student population. Title I Free and reduced students make up 81% of this school’s population.





You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts. Monthly themes connect  21st Century Deeper Learning  and the 4Cs theory and practice.

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From STEM to STEAM: What Works, Exemplary Practices, Schools, and Models

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine


Driving Question: What makes a STEM School

What makes a STEM school? That is the question that is most often asked. I have literally sat on so many panels (K12,Higher Ed, political, policy, and industry), participated in meetings from the White House to the schoolhouse, been active in research think tanks and included in numerous case studies to define what STEM is and what makes a STEM school and we are still asking this question.  Although some are attempting to answer this question by justifying the literal acronym for the taxonomy of STEM, I believe this is too simplistic and takes away from the true mission and meaning of STEM.

Because this blog gives me the chance, I will use my 10 years as a highly successful, inclusive, whole STEM school practitioner to present my answer to this question. I have told the beginning of this story thousands of times, but it bares repeating now as another STEM story is filling the the ears of some and attempting a new, exclusive definition in an attempt to hoist selective STEM schools as the Gold Standard for STEM.  As a passionate STEM proponent for ALL I take issue with this attempt to define STEM as good only for the affluent and already successful student. This post will explain why.


In 2006, the initial STEM campaign was launched in Texas as well as in a few other States to address the shortage of STEM workers entering into the workforce. The message delivered expressed a dire shortage of minority and underrepresented workers needed to close the STEM gap. Our charge as pioneer STEM leaders and educators was simple, yet daunting: to get underrepresented students to take more science, technology, engineering, and math courses in order to help expose them to STEM curriculum and develop an interest and desire to pursue STEM careers and STEM college pathways.  In fact, in order to be a designated a State STEM school in the few States that had designations, one had to meet qualifying indicators to serve a majority of underrepresented students that qualified as low socioeconomic status and have an inclusive open enrollment school with no selective criteria to attend. We had our mission and for the most part implementation was left to individual schools how best to do this.

As the architect of this new inclusive whole Texas STEM (TSTEM) school design, I needed to attract underrepresented students who for the most part were not successful in math and science, had little interest in STEM to leave their current school. They had to join this new STEM school to take more math and science courses, close the achievement gap, have student success where there had been none before, and continue to meet the higher operating standards of success with good attendance, less discipline, high graduation rates, and increased high-stakes student test scores.  As an experienced high school principal, I knew there was only way to make this happen and that was to redesign the entire STEM high school concept to meet all these needs and make it truly an inclusive whole STEM school.

With help, I designed, implemented and opened one of the first 31 STEM schools in Texas. Little did I know then that there were only a few hundred STEM schools across the country at that time and very few schools, if any to model STEM after. This STEM school redesigning phase shaped my whole definition of STEM and still drives my passion of STEM to this day.


How was I going to find underrepresented students who had not been successful in math and science to s school that would ask them to take more math and science? This was the crux of the challenge. Being one of the first STEM schools in the country, I knew we had to have a story that would be a model for others. That part was easy. We were going to take all students without any selection criteria, give them more science, technology, engineering, math, and they were going to be successful.

More wasn’t enough. As part of my redesign efforts, I had to answer a nagging question. Why were these students for the most part unsuccessful in math and science,  especially with the countless hours and attempts at interventions provided in their traditional schools? The traditional direct teach model of instruction was part of the culprit. Many of these students were either bored, lost, or disengaged from lecture “sit and get” and the worksheets that followed.  Our answer was to change how we taught and helped these students learn not only more math and science, but math and science that was more rigorous. The answer came in a synthesis of practices which provide a new model of instruction and other ingredients that would change how the students learned.

  • Project-Based Learning. The first redesign STEM was in pedagogy from traditional direct teach to Project Based Learning. Curriculum would be delivered in teacher-made authentic projects designed with students’ interests at the core of their inquiry. These projects grouped students to work and learn collaboratively. Projects were active, hands-on learning experiences that not only provided the required knowledge, but also the opportunities for the application of that knowledge to solve authentic problems. This 100% PBL implementation would provide a different way of  learning for each student in an average of 50 projects a year.
  • 21st Century Essential Skills. After further questioning STEM industry executives asking “What makes a person successful in today’s organizations?”, I found that  the 21st Century “ESSENTIAL” skills of written and oral communication, collaboration, critical thinking/problem solving, and creativity/self efficacy/agency were almost unanimous nominees as the most important qualities of a successful employee. I was told by industry leader after leader, “We will teach them what they need to know about our company and products. We cannot teach them these real essential skills when they come to us.”

I concluded A STEM school must incorporate all of these 21st century essential skills to be designed, implemented, and assessed in units of learning. I ensured that we incorporated these essential 21st century skills in every project so as to prepare students for the real world by implementing these essential learning outcomes in every project. These outcomes were easily measured using a created rubric for each outcome as well as the observable student’s progress in public speaking skills, direct ownership of each project, and the cooperation within each group of students to ensure all group members were successful as well as each student’s voice in choice was heard in the end products.

  • A Learning First Schedule. A critical STEM redesign change was the easiest to communicate with the addition of rigorous science, technology, engineering, and math courses for all students. What was not easy was implementation of additional classes within the confines of a school day and the approved district school calendar while determining the PBL scheduling and how that would work in an all PBL environment.

The challenge to most STEM schools, including mine, was to implement a schedule that affords students who had not been academically successful more STEM classes, the  remediation opportunities to close their achievement gap and enough time in a class to make progress on projects. These time changes had to ensure that students in need of more assistance did not feel punished or undeserving by double blocked math and science classes when classes were single period. All students deserved a schedule that was not determined by the athletics or band periods or the bus schedule of other schools, but started with academics first.

As an inclusive whole STEM school what was needed was a schedule that took in academics first. A STEM school needs to be able critically analyze traditional school systems and redesign one and all  if needed to meet the students’ academic needs before school bus and sports needs. In all my years as a traditional school principal, I had created many types of schedules, but this was a different situation and required the ability to look critically at systems and then redesign systems to meet the academic needs. Therefore, I created an accelerated trimester schedule. By accelerating their course work in the trimester schedule, students were able to receive a full year credit after the first and second trimesters.  Since most core classes were integrated, students would received a full year credit in 2 courses. This left a 3rd trimester to either offer remediation or additional classes.

What transpired after the new schedule’s implementation changed the educational paradigm. Once bored students, now engaged into PBL all day, every day found the projects so engaging that student success flourished and we have never had enough students needing a remediation course to offer one. Therefore, we were able to add more STEM classes and most students were able to graduate with 5-6 years of Math, 6-7 years of Science, and 6-7 years of Engineering.

Finally I noted how our targeted students were bored with the textbooks, made up situations, and no real connections and no answers to their question “Why do we need to learn this?” Therefore, I intentionally did away with content teaching organized in departmental silos and called for integrated contents with team teaching situations. These allowed teachers to integrate projects with real world authentic problems and questions that students could actively engage with.  All projects were designed by the teachers using the State Standards with online research as the key component of each project. Textbooks disappeared.  We Implemented 1:1 technology that was seamlessly integrated throughout the school as all course work was put on a learning platform so that students and staff could use technology as the all pervasive invisible tool.


There is a recent set of voices that believe the easy answer to “What is a Stem School?” question is simply to identify STEM schools based upon the acronym and the taxonomy of S.T.E.M. Their answer is to implement additional rigorous Math and Science classes. This they argue is the difference between a comprehensive high school and a STEM school. As evidence, they point to highly selective STEM schools that have the financial resources to hire more staff and add numerous STEM courses to a “deserving” population of students  who are admitted based upon set criteria of test scores, grades, aptitude tests, recommendations, references, past behavior and attendance and sometimes having enough money to attend and/or live at the school. These voices highlight these high performing selective STEM schools as the pinnacle of what a STEM school is and should be. They are calling these schools “The Gold Standard of STEM Schools”.

As a seasoned educational change agent and STEM advocate, I absolutely believe all students should have the benefit of additional rigorous math and science classes.  I do believe this is true for all students including students at highly selective STEM schools. However, I find it disingenuous and polarizing to claim these highly selective STEM schools to be the pinnacle of STEM schools.  Most selective schools are self-appointed as STEM schools with no official designation. They serve a selective high achieving student population that could be successful in any school environment.

If STEM were just about adding more STEM classes or selecting students who already are successful, it would be easy to define a STEM school. Where are the challenges of serving underrepresented low socioeconomic youth? The closing the STEM gap by students traditionally not successful in math and science? Increased graduation rates of 1st generation college going students? Where is the story?

Most inclusive STEM schools lack the capability or authority to be highly selective and often have to overcome many years of student challenges, learning gaps, and teacher preparedness to provide STEM opportunities. These are the schools that look to engage students by looking for Edison’s “better way.” PBL, authentic personalized learning, and fully incorporated 21st Century essential skills of the real world, all work to create curriculum that engages and provides opportunity for real world authentic problems in place of obsolete methods for flooding students with information to memorize. These inclusive STEM schools use technology seamlessly as the invisible tool of student inquiry for promoting in and exploring ways to provide additional STEM opportunities such as additional rigorous math and science and engineering classes, internships, industry partnerships, STEM clubs,  and student engagement. In these lie the stories of how inclusive STEM school successfully close the STEM gap.


In a final analysis, one cannot expect the opportunities available to students in a rural low income areas to be the same as those in a wealthy suburban areas, but should any of these students be denied learning opportunities in a whole school devoted to STEM? I contend that whole STEM schools that close the achievement gap, increase student awareness of STEM, spark the imagination and interest in STEM and offer STEM classes in ways that engage the students are what STEM is all about. When these inclusive, whole STEM schools serve underrepresented students through redesigned schools for the 21st Century’s authentic personalized STEM learning, show data for student success against great odds, they should be held as the Gold Standard for what makes a STEM school. They are what answers our driving question.


After a year of designing and planning, the door to Manor New Technology High School opened in 2007, an Inclusive Whole STEM School and was awarded the distinction of a Texas Designated STEM School. Manor New Technology High School has been recognized as a national STEM school for student success, graduation rates, 1st generation college going rates, and college persistence rates. The design of a 100% project based learning public high school that focused on STEM curriculum and 21st century essential skills was recognized by President Obama in his 2013 visit for the successful PBL STEM practices and the positive impact the school’s design had on student achievement. Manor New Tech was noted as a National Model for High School Redesign as highlighted in the $300 Million Race to the Top Proposal and recognized by Harvard University at the Achievement Gap Initiative in response and recognition for closing the achievement gap. Furthermore, in his March 3, 2010 speech, US Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted Manor New Technology High School as a “model school for reaching underserved youth”.

The school has been selected by many organizations including The Partnership for 21st Century Learning as an exemplar model of 21st Century Learning. There are many more highlights that an inclusive whole STEM high school design like Manor New Tech could show. It is the kind of school that should be considered a STEM School of the highest order.

About the Author

Steve Zipkes, was the founding principal of the STEM award winning and P21 Exemplar High School, Manor New Tech.  He is founder and President of Advanced Reasoning in Education, Inc.  In January, Steve moved to Cedars Next Generation High School in Austin, Texas where he and a faculty cohort are readying that school for a Fall, 2016 opening. He is a Distinguished Educator; Edutopia: School That Works: PBL Recipient; and National STEM Visionary Award 2014 Recipient.

You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts. Monthly themes connect  21st Century Deeper Learning  and the 4Cs theory and practice.

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Guest Post: Kathleen Bellanca – What’s Really in the Bag? Part II

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThis two-part post provided in collaboration with the P21Blogazine from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. 

(Yesterday, Kate shared thoughts on the episodic, unconnected, mandate-directed professional development commonly provided today’s educators. Kate introduced a response: the Proactive Professional Learning Experience. In this post, Kate describes the elements of the PPLE cycle of professional learning.)

Driving Question:  What does the proactive cycle for professional learning look like in practice?

Around and around she goes. Where she stops nobody knows”.

The roulette barker’s words speak to the chance of the wheel. Where will the ball fall when the spinning stops? No body knows. It’s all a bet on chance.

Ironically, those same words take the chance out of professional learning and describe how the Proactive Professional Learning Experience provides teachers with the highest possibility of success when implementing improvements for their classrooms. That success is more assured because the learning cycle that guides the PPLE model goes around and around. The teacher has the opportunity to improve the quality of the new implementation in the classroom with each revolution of the five phase cycle. How many chances to refine depend on many factors. What is important is that the teacher, like any skilled craftsman, has the opportunity first to make an improvement, observe how it works and continue refinement until it is doing what was intended.

The Professional Learning Experience Cycle








Let’s examine what happens in the five elements of the PPLE cycle.

  1. Consult and Evaluate. Todd, a fifth grade teacher, analyzes his students’ annual mathematics test scores. With his principal, Mrs. Jackson, he notes that five students are at the bottom of the scale in mathematical problem solving. The two review what he tried. (He had said: “I have tried everything.”) What they noted is that he had tried everything that was recommended in the text book and added some tricks he had heard at a professional math conference. These five students had not responded. Now, it was time to dig deeper into the students’ past performance as well as get some added data. They decided Todd would interview each of the five and their parents and prior grade teacher. Todd would try and discover more clues about why these five were struggling so hard.
  2. Plan.  Having discovered that these five had been doing  poorly with math problem solving for several prior years but had been passed on to the next grade because their “real math” the computation skills were above average. Clearly, none had grasped what it meant to solve a problem. They just followed the steps blindly, hoping to get “the right answer.” Said one parent: “it didn’t seem like there was time to get them to learn how to problem solve. They just had to do it and hope for the best.”

Todd took his analysis and decided that he had to find a different answer  which would enable the students to stop and think about problem solving and understand what types of thinking they had to do. Memorizing a procedure had already failed, so why repeat that approach?

At this point, Todd was stuck. He had no idea what to do. Mrs. Jackson, however, knew what she could do. She called a colleague in another district school. Her friend was a mathematician whose students excelled at problem solving. Could she help? The result was a plan for Todd to set up a proactive learning experience that would not only enable these students to discover how to solve math problems, but also enable him to do a better job in the future teaching other students the key “how to.”

Mrs. Jackson’s friend helped Todd structure his plan as a problem-based learning experience.

    • A definition. The plan started with a definition of his challenge which he defined as “some of my students are poor mathematical problem solvers. They don’t seem to understand how to solve math problems without a memorized procedure. Thus, my problem is to learn how to teach them what problem solving means and how to problem solve with a variety of math problems.
    • The Steps: Todd’s plan called for him to spend three one-hour sessions with his coach’s guiding questions in hands. He was to answer the questions and then start with his own questions to guide their discussion.  Prior to the discussion,  the coach prepared herself with responses that would begin to build Todd’s  understanding of the problem solving process and what Todd would need to teach the students.

Each time the met over the next several weeks, she would end with a “homework” assignment for him to implement with his class. In the first assignment, he would do more data collection about what the students did and did not understand about problem solving and report the results to his mediator. From there he would construct problem solving tasks with hands on material, ask hem to construct and solve real world problems they faced every day that included math and then begin to practice problem solving solely in math by transferring their understanding of the problem solving process into mathematics. His goal was to have his students think like mathematicians who had real world problems to solve. His responsibility was to take ideas learned with the coach, plan, do and assess the results.

  1. Implement. The plan called for Todd to do what he discussed with his coach transferring theory about problem solving into classroom action. With his principal’s encouragement, Todd set aside the prescribed lesson plan which combined direct instruction with textbook exercises.  Each day, his plan called for teaching the children directly about problem solving by asking them to create and solve their own hands-on problems such as finding a shorter walk to school, saving money for new computer games, calculating their fitness regimen and then drawing conclusions about the problem solving methods they used. He added his own formative assessments to tell him how well each student was “getting it.”
  2. On-going support. Todd’s professional improvement plan called for an overtime implementation, one step at a time. His coach would hold him accountable to take the information he gathered in their work sessions and do what they planned for the students. He was also accountable for assessing and reporting on what was happening.  At scheduled intervals, she observed for herself what he was doing and provided feedback, encouragement, and sometimes redirection. Most important was the support she provided when each step did not work out perfectly. Once a month, the principal also met with the pair, offering encouragement for this new direction.
  3. Results.“The proof is in the pudding” was an often repeated mantra of the coach. She emphasized that formative results could often be discouraging. However, she also stressed that the frustration that came when students struggled was also the clue for taking a different tact with a student other than have the student repeat again what had not worked. In the end, it was the results that mattered. The students’ ability to show what they were understanding of problem solving and where Todd needed to start the next cycle in his own learning as well as the students’.

Learning Foremost

These five elements make it easy of an observer to see and hear a PPLE in action. Over time, anywhere from a school calendar quarter to a year, a teacher is engaged in taking these five elements as steps in solving an instructional problem. That problem starts in the classroom with what and how the students are or are not learning. At times the PPLE may also help the teacher match to a mandate such as Common Core or RTI. For the teacher to benefit most from the PPLE, it is essential that mandates be secondary and that it be connected to the PPLE as appropriate, but never driving it. Professional Learning then is more than a bag of chips.

About the Author

KballancaKate Bellanca has dedicated her career to working directly with districts, schools, families, and other helping professionals to assist them in affecting change in students learning. Today, Kate is Chief Executive Officer at the International Renewal Institute.  Email: Website:; Facebook: International Renewal Institute; Twitter: @iriinc; LinkedIn: International Renewal Institute.


You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts. Monthly themes connect  21st Century Deeper Learning  and the 4Cs theory and practice.

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Guest Post: Kathleen Bellanca – It’s More Than A Bag Of Chips! Part I


This two-part post provided in collaboration with the P21Blogazine from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. 

Driving Question: Professional Development: Reactive or Proactive?

From the 90s, I remember a popular saying: “All that and a bag of chips”. This saying basically refers to the episodic shifts that make life and worries different every day. With teens, the changes deal with what is cool at a given moment. What is cool changes from day to day. Their shifts, like so many chips in a bag, are ever changing in shape and form. Today the teen worries about who is the most popular, who is the cutest, who is the best athlete. Tomorrow, it’s a different chip.

Today, I see many educators attending quick, superficial in-service events around the latest topic or trend in education, told “what “ it is, and then being sent back to the classroom to implement what they have learned. That’s it. No time to stop and think. Just go and do tomorrow…at least until the next hot topic comes along. With classrooms filled to the max, new standards, new tests and new mandates, is it any wonder that so many teachers are overwhelmed and not sure where to go or what to do. There are just too many chips to gobble down.

Just as many speak about how we are cramming too much information into students, I think we often are  doing the same to our teachers–RTI.  Standards for kids.   Standards for teachers.  AYP. Formative tests. Summative tests. More formative tests.  One command follows another to make sure the assembly line has all the widgets working up to snuff. We have turned education into a competition for conformity rather than continuing to take our teachers to the next level in their understanding and practice. We have squeezed out individual talent. Stay inside the lines.  Eat every chip as fast as you can because tomorrow will bring a new bag to swallow.

I am hearing over and over that the United States Education System is in a very dismal place. “Yes”, we do have very little money for our schools. “Yes”, we have too much student testing. “Yes”, we have more students being placed in special education than sound testing warrants. “Yes”, we have more requirements for teachers to implement and push students past standardized tests. “Yes”. more  and more, our education looks at how to refine the widgets on the assembly line and forgets that learning is first.

From Reactive to Proactive

It is human nature to react to change. However, today our teachers are locked into being 100% reactive to every chip that comes out of the bag. An overabundance of shallow tests has created a super-reactive mindset. And of course, when things don’t go right, who is at fault?  Too many look at the teachers as the main suspect. “Your students’ didn’t meet the standards.” “Your students get good test scores.” “Your kids are dropping out.” With the fingers of fault pointing at them teachers can do little more than  continue to react.

Because teachers have no control over what is going to come next into their classrooms, it is extremely hard for them to control what changes happen. What the federal or state government will require, what the latest technology will come out with next, what catastrophe happens in their town or the world, teachers can’t predict. So instead of having them struggle with how to handle the mandate chips, ,  can school leaders not help teachers cope with change and take control of the learning in their classrooms by being proactive rather than reactive?

There is a way to answer that question with a loud “yes!” My notion of what works is what I call the Proactive Professional Learning Experience™  (PPLE). PPLE is at least a one year learning program that focuses on the bag and not the chips.  PPLE’s are a model of professional learning that enables teachers to think and act outside the box, critically and creatively, communicate with each other and collaborate to find local solutions to the learning challenges faced by their students.. The goal of PPLE is to build a culture for learning that enables teachers to continually adapt to “the latest and greatest”  by  learning how to manage change, not be its victim.

“A Proactive Professional Learning Experience is a specific and systematic mode of interaction based on the social-constructivist view point which incorporates the practice of 21st-century skills in communication, knowledge sharing, critical thinking and use of relevant technologies so that educators can generalize and transfer their knowledge and build a strong foundation for communicating ideas. It creates a culture of change management that enables educators to advance learning rather than react to mandates and other episodic changes.. (Bellanca, K, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015.)

In PPLE’s, teachers are able to take a proactive stance to any idea, including a mandate, test their ideas about how a new idea might work in their classrooms, synthesize the ideas of others, and build deeper understanding of what they are learning and how they will implement the topic so that it solves a particular problem, or resolve a needs they see in their school.

The worth of a PPPE is deep.

  • Large and small group discussions allow for debate and uncover the local value of an idea.
  • Teachers are afforded opportunities to exercise self-regulation, self-determination, and a desire to persevere.
  • Insightful discussion, motivation, collaborative skills, and the ability to problem solve emerge as key teaching tools.
  • Increasing teachers’ opportunity to talk with one another and discuss their ideas also increases their ability to support their thinking, develop reasoning skills, and to argue their opinions persuasively and respectfully.
  • A feeling of community and collaboration develops in and outside of school.

The PPLE’s Goal

A Proactive Professional Learning Experience has the goal of creating a new culture of learning for and by teachers. They build it. They make it. In that culture, they consider mandates as well as local issues, determine how best to respond to those mandates and issues for the good of their children, and how to reject what doesn’t fit. They aren’t eating one chip at a time without careful examination of what it provides for the learning health of their children. They study the bag.

The PPLE culture is enacted  in  a given school or group of schools by enabling them to look at what are their current problems and challenges and breaking that big problem into smaller ones, analyzing them (qualitatively and quantitatively), and developing a cohesive plan for systematic implementation for both teachers and for students. Teachers start with an inquiry into the topic—who, what, when, how and most importantly, why.  After they plan how they will implement their ideas, they welcome on-going classroom visits throughout the year by experts in the field so they gain other points of view through feedback. By year’s end, there are evident, countable changes in teaching practice as well as more substantive evidence of student learning than any of the current standardized tests provide.

They are able to do this, because the culture puts into place a cycle of professional learning that involves not only hearing information about a mandate, hot topic or local concern, the examine it, make plans for how to implement it in their own classrooms, are supported by school leaders for making their changes, and review the results of their work so as to refine a new idea into a best practice or reject it after thoughtful consideration of the data.

Professional Learning Experiences Cycle






More Equals Less

In many areas of the United States, I do hear teachers’ and school leaders’ frustrations with not being able to solve specific problems in order to increase student success in a way that fits their school.  Those frustrations are like a bag of chips–multiple things to do with no connection of parts to the whole. Eating single chips is not enough. Single bites are episodic.  What will help nourish the school is a proactive culture of change in which teachers get the chance to taste test the whole bag, make connections and make new ideas work for their kids.

 Tomorrow’s  Post: Part II: What’s In the Bag? The PPLE Cycle in Practice

About the Author

KballancaKate Bellanca has dedicated her career to working directly with districts, schools, families, and other helping professionals to assist them in affecting change in students learning. Today, Kate is Chief Executive Officer at the International Renewal Institute.  Email: Website:; Facebook: International Renewal Institute; Twitter: @iriinc; LinkedIn: International Renewal Institute.


You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts. Monthly themes connect  21st Century Deeper Learning  and the 4Cs theory and practice.

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Guest Post: Steve Zipkes – Professional Learning and PBL: An Open Letter To George Bernard Shaw

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Question: Why Is George Bernard Shaw All Wet?

We have all heard the disparaging idiom by George Bernard Shaw: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”  At every Advanced Reasoning In Education Global PBL Academy, we are proud to pour a bucket of water over his head and prove him all-wrong.

Teachers Learning From Teachers

How do we do that?  First, learning from many years of experience readying new staff in our own school and improving our own work with PBL in the classroom, we discovered the absolute value of teachers learning from teachers.  As we work with educators around the country, we call on those who have proven by their own PBL classroom success that they can enable other teachers to change children’s lives.  Our facilitator’s teach students first and then, with what they have lived and learned in their own classrooms, they teach other teachers.






Our facilitators have passed the test of classroom fire. Their advanced degrees are the degrees of well-honed experience. They are not academicians who have read about what they teach without ever having been teachers of children and adolescents. They are not asking others to do with PBL what they have not done well over and over themselves. Working with like-minded colleagues, they have honed their craft by taking on one of the most difficult challenges in any job, anywhere…readying students for college and careers in our fast-paced global economy. They teach what they have learned to do.

George: “You Are All Wet.”

Here is what we can tell George Bernard Shaw: “Our facilitators do. Our facilitators teach. As wise as you may have been on other matters, Today’s teaching is the doing of a very specialized job that requires a very special mindset. We want you to take note of what we do as we teachers teach our peers.”

  • We do implement Project-Based Learning in our own classrooms, and have each individually done so for almost a decade, well scrutinized for the quality of our teaching and our PD work.
  • We do author dozens of our own original projects, using the exact procedures we have developed for our training program.
  • We do thoughtfully hone and refine our craft by interacting with students in the authentic setting of our own classrooms.
  • We do receive international acclaim for our work, including in dozens of white papers and a visit from President Obama.
  • We do facilitate by teaching through 100% Project-Based Learning so our adult. learners can learn by doing, not by listening.
  • We do assess the quality of our own work and that of our students by examining what we and how they are doing their learning.
  • We do provide the support and assistance that is important for all novice PBL facilitators who are serious about refining their teacher leader craft and becoming facilitators for deeper learning.

100% PBL

Because we teach 100% PBL every day in every class, we do the same in our PBL training programs. 100% PBL, learned from doing, ensures all of our participants leave our academies knowing how to do. Our training is not just knowing about the research. It’s not just knowing the theory. It’s not just watching video of exemplar practices.  It’s doing PBL from project ideation to implementation and management, start to the finish of a PBL academy program. It is our journey with our adult students for three engaging and insightful days, a journey into learning that is deep, meaningful and lasting and led by practicing experts out of their own classrooms.

“We are here to teach. We are here to do”. That is our mantra. “George, we dare you to try it.”

About the Author

Steve Zipkes was the founding principal of the award winning Manor New Tech High School, a P21 Exemplar School.  Steve now manages the Advanced Reasoning in Education Global PBL Academy. (, which offers school, district, and regional educator professional learning programs for PBL.  Steve is  regular contributor to the P21 Blogazine.

You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts. Monthly themes connect  21st Century Deeper Learning  and the 4Cs theory and practice.

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Guest Post: Melinda George – Rethinking Professional Learning: The Role of Technology

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Question: How Can Schools Rethink Professional Learning to Improve School Success?

Twenty-four years ago, I stepped through the doors of my first fourth grade classroom.  I was a young, dedicated, new teacher ready, I thought, for the opportunities and challenges of my new classroom and hoping to bring some of my experiences and interests to my students.

I walked through the door with my personal computer, the heaviest, biggest portable computer you can imagine.  I knew how to use it for word processing.  How could I not know how to use it with my students?  And boy, were those kids excited.  Suddenly everyone wanted to do Writer’s Workshop because it meant they got to use the computer.

However, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to effectively integrate it into the classroom. And collaboration with my peers was not an option.  The technology was too new for my school.  There were no Internet connections in the classrooms.  More importantly, there were no professional learning opportunities for me. There was no one to observe using a computer in his/her classroom; no one to model a lesson for me that might be exciting for my students; no one to test out new software or add-ons; and no one to plan a curriculum with technology as an integral component for learning.

So you might say, “That was twenty-four years ago”. Yes, and the need for meaningful professional learning around digital tools and technologies is as urgent now as it was back then.  Probably it is even more urgent today because the tools are an integral part of real life and if we want to prepare students for college, career and life, they need to be able to use digital tools productively.

It has repeatedly been shown that teaching is the single most important lever for improving student achievement.  We, therefore, have an urgent mandate to support teachers and prepare them for the coming opportunities and challenges that a modern learning environment demands.  We want teachers to be able to teach in a paradigm where all students are using their knowledge, skills and digital tools in a way that prepares them for real life, a deeper learning environment.

To do this, we need to organize schools for our teachers to be successful and this means overhauling teacher professional learning systems and the conditions under which this professional learning takes place.

Factors to Consider

There are several factors that need to be considered as we rethink professional learning, particularly around digital learning.  These include: time, tools, context, and trust.  For every tool and subsequent change that is needed or desired, there needs to be consideration of how we are supporting the educators who will use these tools in their learning environments.

Teachers should have a voice in determining their own professional learning and their needs to be buy-in from the teachers.  For every professional learning opportunity, there should be an understanding of why the professional learning is needed and how, specifically, it is going to improve their teaching and the learning of their students while fitting into their curriculum and plan for teaching.

About the Author


Melinda G. George, President of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), began her career as a fourth-grade teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools. From 2002 to 2006, Melinda served as the first executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). To learn more about Melinda’s work, visit and follow her on Twitter @MelindaGeorge2.


For Melinda George’s complete commentary on new ways to foster professional development, go to Solution Tree Press’s latest collection on deeper learning themes: Connecting the Dots, Effective Teaching and Deeper Professional Learning. (2015). This post adapted with permission. All rights reserved. You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts.

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Guest Post: Jill Pilon – Secondary Teachers Transform Their Practice

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Question: How do teachers improve effectiveness by providing choice in high school literature classes?

“. . . it is our responsibility to make all our students feel like readers, to make our students become readers, and to make our students remain readers long after they have left our schools.” (Gallagher, 2003, p. 3)

It has long been a common concern among secondary English teachers that many students don’t read assigned texts, often relying on SparkNotes to successfully complete assignments and prepare for assessments. Why is this happening? Why aren’t adolescent learners appropriately engrossed in the canon of literature beloved by their instructors?  Can teachers make changes that will better engage students as thoughtful readers?

When asked, students often cite busy schedules or refer to the texts as boring. Probably the more accurate explanation is that these readers lack the stamina to remain engaged in lengthy, complex material and the skills to make meaningful, and thereby engaging, interpretations of ideas and themes.

In truth, high school students are still learning to read; there is an ongoing need for targeted instruction designed to build increasingly sophisticated vocabulary and comprehension skills. However, a downward trend in reading among high school students over the last 25 years (National Endowment for the Arts report, 2007) is further evidence that something isn’t working with current instructional practices.

Looking For Success

Penny Kittle, high school English teacher and K-12 literacy coach in Conway, New Hampshire, is among a group of practitioners who believe that traditional approaches to teaching literature may contribute to this lack of progress in reading at the secondary level. When all students in a given class are asked to read the same book, those who are less capable resist the difficulty and those who are more capable resent the lack of cognitive challenge.

Even though many students appear to be turned off to reading literature, Kittle maintains that “teenagers want to read – if we let them.” (Kittle, p. 1) She advocates for differentiated curriculum design and instructional structures that allow students to take greater control of their own learning.

A Shift to Agency

Recognizing that adolescents still have much to learn about reading and that studying one whole-class novel after another won’t result in a high percentage of truly-engaged or accomplished readers, English teachers at Farmington High School in Connecticut are working to increase their effectiveness by exploring ways to shift to more student-centered learning practices that focus on teaching the student, not the book.

Although the approach of teaching a single book to a full class has not been entirely abandoned, teachers are finding ways to enhance buy-in by alternating these common reading experiences with choice units of study. Common reading experiences are used to establish a community of learners and to build a set of skills and understandings. The subsequent choice units are developed to include greater student agency in the learning process.

The district’s model of effective 21st Century instruction, The Framework for Teaching and Learning, serves as a vision for curriculum and instructional planning. Teachers design day to day lessons with this Framework in mind and are supported in knowing that the district as a whole is aiming to  increase student voice in classrooms at all levels.

 Creating New Curriculum.

In this past year. one team of teachers piloted a curriculum that included several choice units, each of which took place after completion of a whole-class novel study. During these three-week units, students were offered a selection of eight high-interest texts of varied difficulty. All novels related to a single essential question – How does literature help us explore the struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community? Students directed their own learning by establishing a schedule, using class time to read and hold small group discussions, journaling to clarify thinking, and reflecting about personal performance. Daily learning targets that were the focus of brief daily mini-lessons included

  • previewing, selecting, and making a commitment to read a book
  • collaborating with a small group to make a reading plan (see sample calendar below)
  • using close reading strategies (character development, word choice, theme)
  • writing about thinking using a variety of journaling strategies
  • having meaningful discussions about thematic elements
  • using feedback and models to revise a thematic analysis
  • using digital media to collaborate and create a book review
  • completing a self-assessment using a rubric or criteria list


The following table shows how the design of these units reflects district beliefs about how students learn best:

The Framework for Teaching and Learning (Farmington Public Schools)

Students learn best when they:

Choice Literature Unit Design


. . . have a sense of belonging to a positive learning community in which they have regular opportunities to work collaboratively.
  • read and discuss choice texts in small groups or partnerships
  • work in a setting that values multiple perspectives and values reading to learn about big ideas
. . . understand performance expectations and are individually supported in meeting challenging standards.
  • use rubrics and criteria lists to self-assess quality of written responses (journal entries) and final projects
  • receive teacher feedback and coaching based on review of a variety of formative assessments
  • receive and use teacher and peer feedback during text-based small group discussions
  • read texts at a comfortable level of difficulty
. . . see content as meaningful and organized around big ideas and questions and can transfer learning to new contexts.
  • use essential questions from previous units and keys concepts in literature to frame written responses and discussions
  • focus efforts on reading to explore big ideas, not on reading to complete assessment tasks
. . . are actively engaged in authentic learning tasks and given opportunities to construct meaning and develop understanding.
  • prepare for and conduct personal discussions to share insights and analyze texts
  • produce book trailers posted on the library website
. . . make choices about and take responsibility for their own learning goals and progress.
  • choose their own texts and ways to record thinking
  • create a personal schedule for completing the work
  • choose which written responses (journal entries) to submit for evaluation
  • choose a format for final project
  • reflect about quality of their own work and make plans for improvement

Students Appreciate Choice

Students appreciate the choice units.  “With choice comes value,” according to sophomore Meg Sanders. “When students have the freedom to make their own choices in literature, the essential question and the reason behind the unit become so much more important to students.” Senior Shannon Connolly thinks “Choice is the key to being happy, just as the characters in many books discover. . . The characters in The Hunger Games hated being forced to fight in a sport that they didn’t agree with, so they revolted. The same was true for the peasants in A Tale of Two Cities . . . These two books had the same basic plot line, and similar messages, but when was the last time you heard a teen say: “Oooo, The Hunger Games? No way! I want to read A Tale of Two Cities – it’s far more enticing and metaphorical!” Shannon reminds us that teens don’t like to be told what to do, and they particularly hate having to respond to questions and prompts provided by a teacher. They want to be trusted to explore text meaning with fewer constraints.

A Sense of Autonomy

When writing about motivation, Daniel Pink states that a sense of autonomy is important to better performance and personal satisfaction. He defines autonomy as the desire to be self-directed. With the advent of the choice literature units at Farmington High School, English teachers have embraced the professional responsibility to make all students feel like autonomous lifelong readers.


About the Author


Jill Pilon has been a literacy specialist with the Farmington Public Schools for the past 9 years, working with students and teachers in grades K-12. She brings many years of experience as a classroom and special education teacher, intervention coordinator, and professional developer to her role.

You can read added posts from the P21Blogazine on this site or by subscribing to its RSS Feed at for three times per week posts. Monthly themes connect  21st Century Deeper Learning  and the 4Cs theory and practice.

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Guest Post: Kiera Chase – What’s So Special? Five Principles For The Effective Teaching Of Students With Special Needs

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Question: What promotes deeper learning by students with special needs?

My many years as a special education teacher, administrator, instructional coach, and now researcher have provided me with some best practices that I feel can be applied in multiple contexts. From the work our teachers have done to center their instruction and assessment on deeper learning, we have learned more powerful ways to individualize instruction not just to meet the goals of the IEPs, but to help students become active and engaged 21st century deeper learners. Academic work is at the center, but the Cs are essential in helping each student grow.

To be effective working with special education students in any school, I offer this assertion: We must use effective teaching strategies with all students. In that context, we must be masters of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices that give each student the chance and challenge to succeed in the present and prepare for the future.

Using obsolete methods and ignoring the evidence on best practices simply will not do. Effective teachers pay close attention to how they are bringing critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and communication to each student by using methods, especially those including PBL, technology, and formative assessment, that foster their growth as a whole child about to become a full-time citizen.

To meet this challenge, the most effective teachers of students with diverse academic needs meet the following descriptions.

  • They  do not shy away from tough conversations: They focus on each student’s strengths, growth, persistence, and future goals and insist on full inclusion.
  • They present material, academic or otherwise, using a variety of media: Once a teacher has identified what works best with a student, the teacher can utilize a particular medium more frequently.
  • They call on many evidence-rich instructional strategies for students: They focus on breaking difficult tasks down into smaller components and plan time for special education students to reapply these smaller chunks in conjunction with other chunks to perform a larger objective. They never lose sight of the bigger objectives, never lose sight of how discreet skills are interconnected, and never ask for students to call on a skill they haven’t helped them to learn and perfect.
  • They think creatively about how to use all the digital tools at their disposal including the mobile phones all students know how to use: All smartphones have built-in accessibility features. These can be used in a variety of ways to individualize instruction.
  • They rely on the IEP process to empower the student: Well-read on disability theory, they avoid deficit planning (Harry & Klingner, 2007), become advocates for students, and problem solve what teaching tactics (such as smaller group size, smaller presentation audience) are adaptable without lowering expec- tations to think, problem solve, collaborate, and communicate.

No Special Treatment

The most effective teacher for children with special needs is the one that knows and relies on best practices for deeper learning in the framework of well-planned IEPs. There is no special treatment for these children that puts aside what research shows as effective practice just because special needs are evident.  Every child deserves the opportunity and assistance not only to grasp important ideas, but to develop the 21st Century Skills that will lead to deeper understanding.

About the Author

Kiera Chase. Since starting her 15 year career as a special education teacher, Kiera has worked in a variety of different programmatic models and developed a strong commitment to educational equity and socially restorative practices. She is a frequent contributor to the P21Blogazine (

This extract taken from Kiera’s full essay on effective teaching and children of inclusion in Connecting the Dots:  Teacher Effectiveness and Deeper Professional Learning released earlier this month by Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Indiana, as the third collection in its series on Deeper Learning. Excerpted with permission. All rights reserved. 

For additional posts on this topic and other 21st Century Deeper Learning Themes, go to the P21Blogazine (http; You can also sign up for P21’s free RSS feed for the three times weekly posts in your mail.


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Guest Post: Will Richardson – Effective Teaching: New Roles For A Digital Generation

P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

Driving Questions: What roles must effective teachers play for new generations of learners in our digital world?

Working under the assumption, and it’s a large assumption that the role of the teacher must change when faced with a modern world filled with vastly new and different opportunities to learn, I have to ask what will those changed roles look like? What, specifically, will teachers need to know and be able to do to fully serve their students in this vastly reconfigured and highly technological world?

The Digital Challenge

The challenges that current technologies pose to the profession are great.  They are summed up well by authors Alan Collins and Richard Halverson who write:

“There are deep incompatibilities between the demands of the new technologies and the traditional school. Technology makes life more difficult for teachers. It requires new skills that teachers often have not learned in their professional development. Further, the lockstep model of most classrooms undercuts the power of the new technologies to individualize learning. Teachers can feel that the endless amount of information available on the web undermines their classroom expertise. Much of what students pick up from the web is of doubtful reliability, and there are few widely accepted norms for how to evaluate it. Cell phones and video games are seen mainly as devices that distract students from classroom instruction” (Collins 6).

Because of the tremendous technological advances we now find ourselves facing, I would argue that the whole idea of teaching now needs to be rethought, and that begins with the acknowledgment that the Web and its affordances for learning are not going away, that Internet access significantly amplifies an individual’s ability to learn in powerful new ways on her own, and that because of that, new narratives around learning and education will need to be written. That last may be the most difficult as despite the potentials to learn with these new technologies, most teachers find it difficult to let go of their nostalgia for their own experience as students in classrooms with teachers in schools. And many others feel uncertain about or unprepared for what the new roles of teachers may become.

Modern Teaching in a Technology-Driven World

Let me repeat: the value we assign to teachers at this moment of expanding access to content, information, knowledge, and expertise must change. Take a look at the current definition of “teacher” from Merriam-Webster online:

“Teacher (noun) –  “a person or thing that teaches something; especially a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Especially now, here in the second decade of the 21st Century, when the very nature of teaching seems to be listing on the precipice of a huge,  messy change. All of a sudden in our modern, interconnected world, teachers are everywhere, with all different types of expertise and passions, offering all sorts of opportunities for learners. And now, “things” as teachers are becoming more ubiquitous as well. It’s no longer hard to find software programs that teach us Algebra or French, or virtual tutors and “teaching machines” to help us master whatever content we want to master. And increasingly, we teach ourselves about anything we want to learn, not just “certain subjects.”

With universal Internet access open to two year olds, teachers are no longer the smartest people in the “room,” and while this may be a shift in thinking, it’s no doubt a good thing. I know this firsthand. Back in 2002, when my students and I found ourselves in a computer-filled, internet-connected classroom, all sorts of teachers taught my kids in ways that I could not.

  • My Modern American Literature class read The Secret Life of Bees as the author Sue Monk Kidd was interacting with my students on a classroom blog, answering their questions, giving deep background, and commenting on their interpretations of the story.
  • Scott Higham, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Washington Post, was one of dozens of professional journalists mentoring my journalism students on their blogs.

 Seven New Roles for Effective Teachers.

My early experiences as a teacher in that highly connected environment fit with George Siemens’ redefinition of the role of the teacher, which he argued  “will be dramatically different from the current norm.” As we move toward a more networked structure for education, an effective teacher must shift away from control and move instead toward influence in terms of shaping, but not dictating the learning environment.

Siemens suggests that effective teachers will transition to a different set of roles in the classroom.

  • Teachers will be amplifiers in the sense that they will use their own connections to strengthen those of their students.
  • They will be curators of ideas and work that happens in the classroom space, selecting and sharing best practices or provocative questions to challenge learners.
  • They will need to be way finders who use social interactions to make sense of complex information or subjects.
  • Fourth, teachers will need to be aggregators who are adept at pulling in information from a variety of sources in order to “reveal the content and conversation structure of the course as it unfolds, rather than defining it in advance.”
  • They will also act as an expert filters who provide a relevant, ongoing stream of content to students.
  • All along, they will serve as a transparent model for the types of learning interactions now possible in online spaces.
  • And, finally, teachers will be required to have a persistent presence online in order to make all the rest of these roles effective (Siemens).

It almost goes without saying that few current teachers play those roles in their classrooms today.


  • Collins, Allan, and Richard Halverson. Rethinking Education in an Age of Technology. New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia U, 2009. Print.
  • Siemens, George. “Teaching in Social and Technological Networks.” Connectivism. 16 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

About the Author

Will Richardson has spent the last dozen years developing an international reputation as a leading thinker and writer about the intersection of social online learning networks and education. He has authored four books, most recently Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere (September, 2012) published by TED books and based on his most recent TEDx talk in Melbourne, Australia.

This post is an excerpt from Will’s extensive article “Teaching Modern Learners: New Contexts, New Literacies, New Roles.” in Bellanca, J. (In press: February, 2016) Connecting the Dots: Teacher Effectiveness and Professional Development. Solution Tree Press with permission and all rights reserved. It is shared through our partnership with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s Blogazine. For additional posts on student agency and other 21st Century Deeper Learning Themes, go to the P21Blogazine (http; You can also sign up for P21’s free RSS feed for the three times weekly posts in your mail



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Social Emotional Learning in School Settings

Snip20151103_37Mark Garibaldi, Researcher with American Institutes for Research’s Health and Social Development Program, discusses his research in this growing and vital field in education.

Rod Berger: What areas of social emotional learning are you currently focused on and what areas of research might surprise the general public?

Mark Garibaldi:  My research focuses on educational programs, systems, and spaces that support learning, performance, and social and emotional outcomes. Within that broad scope, my recent work on social and emotional learning (SEL) that may surprise the public has focused on the influence of built school environments on socialization processes associated with relationships between teachers and students and peers. The built environment is considered one aspect of the requisite conditions for learning but the design of these spaces are rarely based on design standards that ensure optimal student outcomes (beyond academic performance). That being said, through this work we hope to eventually produce design standards that can be applied to architectural designs of school environments.

RB: How has the research, in this area, changed during your career?

MG: I have been doing research on social and emotional learning for only about five years so I’m considered somewhat new to this work compared to other experts who have been forging this area since the 1990’s. However, based on recent evaluations of school- and community-based initiatives focused on SEL, I would say one notable shift has been the focus on understanding how school districts can plan and implement systemwide SEL. I have been fortunate to be a part of this exciting work through AIR.

RB: We hear more and more about “school climate” in the greater discussion of social and emotional learning. What changes in school climate have been taking place that indicate schools and districts are making a concerted effort in this area?

MG: This is a good question, Rod. To answer the question, I should preface a few things about the relationship between social climate and social and emotional learning. First, school climate is multidimensional and typically refers to a few things. First, climate refers to the quality and character of school life and involves many aspects of a students’ educational experience. Climate also refers to the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching practices, learning styles, and organizational structures.


This being said, if school climate and academic standards were the rails of a ladder, we see social and emotional competencies as the rungs of a ladder that hold them together. We think this because school climate focuses on the overarching structures and conditions necessary for successful teaching and learning, whereas SEL focuses on the process for skill development.

We also believe this because you can add value when there is a joint focus on the conditions necessary for learning and student skill development given that school climate and SEL promote and enhance one another. The results of this relationship can also be seen when districts and schools integrate school climate and SEL efforts, which in turn, supports other, ongoing initiatives including bullying prevention, school safety, positive behavior supports, and mental health.

In answer to your question, district and schools are increasingly adopting measures to collect data to determine the impact of their efforts to improve school climate. AIR’s SEL Solutions has been at the forefront with districts to help them through the process of supporting SEL and school climate initiatives.


Led by a coalition of projects and Centers at American Institutes for ResearchResearchers continue to show the importance of supporting the development of children’s and youth’s social and emotional skills in school settings. As a result, education policymakers, district and school administrators, teachers, and popular media have invested greater attention to understanding, planning, and improving education systems that promote Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a process through which children and youth develop and apply the requisite knowledge, attitudes, and skills that enable them to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make ethical decisions.

To further engage the education community about SEL and related approaches to support positive child and youth development, CEM 2015 is offering a series of events that address three main topics surrounding SEL: school climate and conditions for learning, and employability skills.  In partnership with The Education Policy Center at AIR, The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, The College and Career Readiness and Success Center, and AIR’s SEL and School Climate Services will host seven events that (1) introduce the importance of SEL for students in the school context, (2) show how SEL is related to other competencies associated with college and career readiness (3) and offer administrators and educators guidance, tips and tools for  how to promote SEL, and improve their capacity to support social and emotional learning.

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S.T.A.T. Delivering Access to Baltimore County Schools

Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of the Baltimore County School System, discusses the S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) program designed to create a 1:1 digital learning environment for all students. S.T.A.T. began with the development of curriculum in core content areas to redefine how instruction is delivered, placing a stronger emphasis on personalized instruction and critical thinking skills.


Distinguished as a vibrant and visionary leader, Superintendent Dr. S. Dallas Dance has united Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) students, staff and the community into Team BCPS, a powerful force committed to producing globally competitive graduates. As superintendent of the 25th largest school system in the nation, Dr. Dance, whose tenure began in 2012, is responsible for overseeing the instruction of 110,000 students and leading and managing a $1.6 billion budget, 19,000 employees, and 173 schools, centers and programs.



Dr. Rod Berger is a global education media personality featured on the edCircuit, in EdTech Review India, Scholastic’s District Administrator and on RFD TV’s Rural Education Special. As an industry personality Dr. Berger has interviewed Ministers of Education, leading voices like Sir Ken Robinson, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten and others.


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Thank you to all the connected educators, organizations, volunteers, staff members, and many others who made Connected Educator Month 2015 possible.

We really couldn’t have done it without you!

Sincerely, all of us at Connected Educator Month

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edConnectr: Gotta Be In…To Win

Mark Sylvester talks about how edConnecter has changed the interactions educators have during CEM and what we can learn about connected networks of lifelong learners.


Mark Sylvester is the Co-Founder and CEO of introNetworks. Since 2003, when the company deployed a social network for the world famous TED Conference, the company has successfully created hundreds of introNetwork Communities across a customer base that includes global organizations that want to make a cultural change in how they connect with their various audiences.

Mark has been on the leading edge of software development for more than twenty years. As a co-founder of Wavefront Technologies, Mark and his team developed software that completely revolutionized the way the world is entertained. He co-designed Wavefront’s flagship product, Advanced Visualizer, which was the first commercial 3D modeling and animation system.




Dr. Rod Berger is a global education media personality featured on the edCircuit, in EdTech Review India, Scholastic’s District Administrator and on RFD TV’s Rural Education Special. As an industry personality Dr. Berger has interviewed Ministers of Education, leading voices like Sir Ken Robinson, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten and others.


edConnectr Basics


See additional tutorials here.

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This Week’s Best of the Web Roundup: October 30


We’ve chosen a few highlights from the Web and social media to wind up this Connected Educator Month. But first, a Halloween laugh from Twitter:

Seasonal Math Humor

Sparking Creativity in Education
by Rod Berger

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Molly McMahon, Program Director at IDEO and a leading voice at The Teachers Guild, talks about creativity in the classroom and the creative teachers that bring life to local schools. The Guild is run by by IDEO’s Design for Learning Studio and Riverdale Country School’s Delta Group. They are a team of educators and designers, inspired by teachers across the globe who are innovating every day. The Guild gives a special shout out to those who dare to experiment with The Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit. See more…

Personalized Professional Development

by Allison Rodman

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The scene is all too familiar—teachers return from summer and file neatly into auditorium rows or cafeteria tables, ready to hear “the next big thing” that will be the instructional focus for the upcoming school year. At times these initiatives represent the latest best practices in teaching and learning, but often they are simply old strategies repackaged within a new program or set of tools. Teachers respectfully absorb the content and make surface-level changes to their practice that are evident in the next round of administrative observations. However, seldom do sessions of this nature result in long-term instructional change. As a result, students become disengaged, test scores flatline or drop, and educators grow frustrated with a system that does not meet their professional needs. See more…

Open Educational Resources

Leadership for Tomorrow
How to cultivate a mindset of innovation

by Ben Gilpin and Brad Gustafson

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Principals must embrace a mindset of innovation to stay current with pedagogical shifts and best practice. It is no longer acceptable to ignore social media or other innovations that are predominant outside the field of education. Principals are among the lead learners on their campuses, and instructional leadership should reflect the 21st century context in which our schools operate. See more…

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