Designing a school for next-century learning

Sartell-St. Stephen Independent School District, located in central Minnesota, is one of many school districts across the country that recognized a need to dramatically evolve traditional classrooms to create a variety of specialized and flexible learning environments to meet the needs of next-century learners.

Cuningham Group Architecture, in collaboration with engineering and architecture firm IIW-Minnesota, is designing a new 1,350-student high school that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019.

Early in the design process, the district’s administration, staff, and community members determined that there was a need to create innovative and collaborative spaces to best foster next-century learning. Reimagining how all learning spaces—from traditional classrooms to the Media Center—function was a pivotal design direction for the new school. All spaces were designed with flexibility and adaptability in mind so that over time, as technology evolves, students are continually exposed to the most relevant technology.

The design and programming of the school came out of a comprehensive community-engagement process. Cuningham Group worked with a planning committee that consisted of more than 70 members representing all major stakeholder groups in a series of workshops where they shared their vision, standards, criteria and priorities for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District’s facilities over the next 10 to 15 years.


How team teaching (and other innovations) can impact blended learning

Personalized learning’s rationale has strong intuitive appeal: We can all remember feeling bored, confused, frustrated, or lost in school when our classes didn’t spark our interests or address our learning needs. But an intuitive rationale doesn’t clearly translate to effective practice. For personalized learning to actually move the needle on improving student experiences and elevating student outcomes, the question of how schools and teachers personalize is just as important as why.

So how do schools effectively personalize learning? Is it through online learning? Mastery-based learning? Project-based learning? Exploratory learning? Each of these common approaches offers a unique dimension of personalization. Yet one of the most important ways to personalize learning may be easily overlooked in the quest for new and novel approaches to instruction.

It’s all about the teacher
Teachers, by far, have the biggest impact on student learning and student experiences. Even in classrooms with the latest adaptive-learning technology, an expert teacher’s professional intuition is still the best way to understand and address the myriad cognitive, non-cognitive, social, emotional, and academic factors that affect student achievement.

Additionally, one of the most valuable forms of personalization is authentic, personal relationships between students and teachers. It therefore makes sense that any school looking to offer personalized learning should not only explore new technologies and instructional practices, but also think carefully about how to increase students’ connections with great educators.

To that end, over the past year, The Clayton Christensen Institute partnered with Public Impact to study the intersection between personalized learning and school staffing. Our aim was to observe how schools might be using new staffing arrangements to better meet the individual learning needs of their students. We studied eight pioneering schools and school networks—including district, charter, and private schools—and documented their practices in a series of case studies.


Now is the time to redefine readiness

Today’s working adults have seen a lot of change in the employment landscape. But that change is likely to be modest compared to the changes coming between now and 2040. We stand at the beginning of a new era driven by exponential advances in digital technologies. As that era unfolds, people will increasingly work alongside machine partners to navigate, make sense of, and contribute to the world around us. In addition, the structures within which we work are likely to change significantly.

Our machine partners will become more and more capable of cognition. As smart machines develop further and get cheaper, they will be able to perform increasingly sophisticated and varied tasks. Their presence in the workplace will alter or eliminate many tasks that people carry out today, including tasks associated with knowledge-based work, creative work, and care-based professions. A key question is the extent to which smart machines will displace human workers faster than new jobs can be created or old ones reconfigured.

Technology is also changing the structure of work, due in large part to the lower coordination costs afforded by the Internet and the access to an expanded labor pool resulting from globalization. Such shifts are contributing to shortening employment tenure, the spread of contingent and project-based work, and the rise of taskification, or the breaking down of formal jobs into discrete tasks, often at relatively low wages and with informal job structures. Depending on what kinds of societal supports we put in place, people could increasingly bear responsibility not just for managing participation in the employment landscape, but also for getting ready for it.

What will future work look like?

Taken together, the rise of smart machines and the decline of the full-time employee can be expected to cause rapid change, making it necessary for people to reskill and upskill over and over again throughout our lifetimes. As we do so, our uniquely human attributes—such as connecting with others, solving complex problems, and generating creative ideas and outputs—will be increasingly central to our workplace contributions. Future work is likely to depend on the qualities that make us uniquely human, as compared to repeatable or pattern-based tasks that can be automated with relative ease.


How I intregrate coding across subjects

As educators, it’s our job to figure out how to equip students with the skills they need to be well-prepared for college and careers. At Amana Academy, a public charter school that is part of Fulton County Schools in Georgia, our instructional approach calls for students to solve real-world problems using engineering design and technology. As a certified STEM school, we’ve tried to think outside the box when it comes to integrating tech across subjects to boost student learning.

By moving away from the textbook in traditional classes and instead integrating technology and projects, we are able to take our students by surprise, grab their attention, and increase their confidence in STEM-based skills.

Bring coding into the classroom

Our curriculum is based on an expeditionary learning framework, meaning that teachers develop curriculum that involves all content areas and encourages collaboration across subjects. This method of cross-curricular thinking means we’re training multiple skills at the same time. We identified that coding was a great asset that could be integrated into all of our subjects—not just computer science class.

I’ve found that the first step to success starts with the teachers becoming comfortable with tech and recognizing that it can be applied in any class with a little bit of creativity. You don’t need to be a coding expert to bring coding into the classroom. It’s a process, and there are a variety of resources available to implement it with ease.

My coding toolbox

By now, most of us are aware of the breadth of coding products available that are specifically targeted to education. Navigating through the options can be a bit overwhelming, so here are three resources I’ve used successfully in the classroom.


How to have true inclusion

Too often, an “inclusive education” for students with complex support needs means helping them take part in a single class activity before they go off to a different classroom or focusing on a single learner while other similar students remain on the outside. Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D., an inclusive education consultant and co-founder of the National Center on Inclusive Education, offered participants in the recent edWebinar, “Inclusion is More Than ‘Just Being In,’” a new way to define the term. She explained that inclusion should not be a practice but should be a transformational educational philosophy based on social justice principles, where the first tenet is that all students are presumed competent.

Presuming competence means that in the absence of conclusive evidence teachers assume that all students can participate in an age-appropriate general education curriculum as well as form meaningful relationships.

Although students with complex needs may require additional help to achieve the same goals as typical students—aides, learning tools, accommodations during assessments, etc.—Jorgensen argued that there should be no prerequisites, especially regarding communication. “We construct students’ competence by providing them with a way to communicate all the time every minute of the day about the same things that their peers without disabilities are communicating about,” said Jorgensen.


Being influential: What does it take?

[Editor’s note: This is the ninth installment in Jennifer Abrams’ ‘Personal Development’ column for eSchool News. In her columns, Abrams focuses on leadership skills for anyone working in a school or district. Read more about the column here.]  

I coach many a teacher who shares with me that they are frustrated with the system in which they work. They have ideas to make things better but complain that no one listens. I have been there. I was that teacher, frustrated with my ability to make a difference in a bigger way. What would it take to be of more influence?

When I went to get my credential, I learned how to teach students but didn’t get any coursework or learning in how to work effectively with adults. If you want to increase your scope of influence beyond your students and your classroom, there are skills you can learn that make a difference. Here are just three.

1. Don’t just have complaints. Have suggestions.
I mentioned this a few columns ago in my column “How do I share something challenging with my supervisor?” but it bears repeating here.

Recently I was on a conference call with two administrators who were open to hearing their faculty’s frustration for how things had gone this past year and their need for more transparency around decisions, their concern around how discipline has been handled, and their need for communication around the rollouts of new initiatives. For these administrators it is hard to listen to negative feedback from faculty. What might have had more influence would have been if the teachers had offered a set of suggestions for what could be changed for everyone: what the teachers could do differently on their end and any possible next steps for the school at large.

Delivering complaints without possible solutions on both sides is a better guarantee of not getting what you want. Taking ownership and responsibility of some of the next steps and offering suggestions—and not complaints—makes you more influential in the long run.


Here’s how to make your digital strategy seamless

When a district goes digital, it is doing everything necessary so that students can seamlessly access and use all of the digital learning tools available and teachers can easily manage the administrative functions associated with these tools, such as rostering students into apps and connecting learning applications, tools, and content into the learning system.

When a district wants to “go digital on day one of learning,” it is faced with a greater set of challenges because day one of learning doesn’t always mean the first day of the school year. Day one of learning means the very first day that a student has the opportunity to learn; that might be the first day of the school year or it might be the day a student transfers into a new class or school. The value of digital on day one is that learning starts immediately versus waiting for the IT department for days or even weeks to roster certain systems. This is especially important to transfer students who are in catch-up mode to begin with, so giving them access to all materials on day one is critical to them getting up to speed with other students.

Recently, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) produced a report on the educational impact of access to digital learning resources at home. The report, which is required as a part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), focuses on access to the internet and the types of devices that are available for accessing these resources, but it does not address several other factors that have a tremendous impact on students’ ability to complete assigned tasks in or out of the classroom. Consideration must be given to whether students face issues accessing resources as a result of the same challenges that exist in the classroom, including login issues, lack of user provisioning for a resource, and the challenge of updating rosters, sections, and courses as students transfer in and out of schools and districts. It is for these types of issues that an effective digital on day one strategy can be a practical solution for school districts of any size.

The number of digital learning resources used in education today is continually increasing. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology National Educational Technology Plan indicates that interoperability is a key consideration for the infrastructure needed for digital learning: “A teacher teaching six classes of students a day with multiple apps and tools needs a way to manage learning content, attendance, student progress, and grades. Students and teachers having to keep track of a different username and password to log in to each system wastes time and creates frustration.”

Tech to the rescue

It’s easy to understand why digital on day one could seem like an insurmountable goal. But the good news is, while technology may be the cause of the problem, technology can also be the solution. By reducing the ways in which rostering is done from infinite possibilities down to a single strategy, the time and effort needed to complete the rostering process can be greatly reduced.

Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia went digital on day one via a digital curriculum ecosystem called eClass. eClass encompasses many different functions including digital content, learning, and assessment systems as well as professional development resources, student information, and gradebook functions. The district rosters most of the tools connected to eClass via the IMS Global OneRoster® standard. Steve Flynt, the district’s associate superintendent of school improvement and operations, is committed to the revolutionary learning opportunities the district is providing. “We want to continually find ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning through employing improved learning technologies,” he says.


3 great tips for experiential learning

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with this quote that resonates with teachers as a reminder to make learning experiential. When students have a personal stake in the subject matter, they better connect to what you’re teaching, and are more likely to engage with challenging subjects.

Here are three tips for inviting experiential learning into your classroom:

1. Let students choose
An abundance of research is available about the benefits of giving students choices in their education, especially when it comes to producing high-quality outcomes. A student who isn’t overly interested in science but loves history may have little interest in looking for dominant and recessive genes, until she examines more closely the links between her grandmother’s brown eyes and her own blue eyes. By inviting students to apply what you’re teaching to what they find meaningful, you increase the odds of robust student engagement.

For example, at Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), our middle school students recently participated in a Virtual Science Fair. Students chose an experiment to take on and were asked to present on their findings and use of the scientific method. They researched various ways to grow flowers, whether or not animals have a dominant foot, and how fingerprints are unique, among other topics. Students were given the freedom to choose what they studied. At the end of the assignment, many indicated they planned to dig deeper into their research.


App of the Week: Bandimal


Ed. noteApp of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Classroom teachers can use Bandimal in an iPad station or with one-to-one iPad devices as a way to introduce electronic music creation to kids age 5 and younger. Music teachers can use it with classes as an electronic ear training tool for teaching steady beat, high and low sounds, rhythm clapping, and movement to music. Mirror it onto an interactive whiteboard to get the whole class involved with the visuals and dancing along with the animals. For a fun group activity, try working with small groups of three and let each kid select an animal and its notes to create a collaborative composition.

Price: $3.99

Grades: PreK-K

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Minimalist design helps young musicians quickly create their own music.

Cons: No export function for saving music in other formats.

Bottom line: For iOS-infused preschool and kindergarten classrooms, this could be an excellent intro to electronic music.


Top 5 TED-Ed Lessons on creativity

“Do schools kill creativity?” asks Sir Ken Robinson in the most-viewed TED Talk of all time (more than 51 million!). In the video, Robinson challenges schools to promote and inspire creativity, but it’s difficult to know where to start, and some teachers aren’t sure if it’s possible.

“I don’t think creativity can be taught,” says Rayna Freedman, a fifth-grade teacher at Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “It’s an experience that inspires students to think beyond their potential and see things differently. It’s about giving them tools and choice to complete tasks and let them fly.”

Other educators disagree.

“Everyone is creative in their own way,” says Nicholas Provenzano, makerspace director at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan and blogger at The Nerdy Teacher. “Too many people view creativity as a connection to the arts. The idea that creative students are the ones that can draw or effectively use glitter glue is nuts. Some students are super creative when it comes to solving problems or creating games during recess. Some are amazing storytellers.”

Doug Johnson, a former classroom teacher who now serves as technology director for Burnsville-Eagan-Savage Schools in Minnesota, agrees: “One of the biggest myths is that creativity only belongs in the arts. We may think of creativity as a nice extra, but a lot of us have to be creative on a daily basis.”

Johnson asks: “Do I want a creative dentist? I’d rather have someone who follows best practices and isn’t experimenting on my mouth, but I do want a creative problem solver who will use nontraditional methods when the traditional ones don’t work.”

How to inspire creativity

Johnson recommends several things teachers can do to encourage creativity, such as asking for multiple possible answers to questions or giving points for “design” on assignments, in his blog post “Myths of creativity” and in his book Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner.

For Provenzano, creativity is about giving students a time and place to be creative. “I am always an advocate of teachers modeling what they want to see from their students,” he says. “Teachers cannot give students multiple-choice tests and worksheets all year and then wonder why their students are not more creative.”

If you’re looking for more ideas and resources, here are the 5 most popular TED-Ed Lessons on teaching and assessing creativity.

1. The power of creative constraints
Imagine you were asked to invent something new. It could be whatever you want, made from anything you choose, in any shape or size. That kind of creative freedom sounds so liberating, doesn’t it? Or … does it? if you’re like most people you’d probably be paralyzed by this task. Why? Brandon Rodriguez explains how creative constraints actually help drive discovery and innovation.