What IS good teaching?

I thought about this old Far Side cartoon at a meeting last week when a leader in my district was telling me his belief that if we just said things clearly enough and included an explanation of the theoretical research base behind our work, then the teachers would stop resisting (i.e. asking critical questions) and just get on with the work the district is asking us to do.  Blah, blah, blah.

In addition to ignoring the emotional context of school change (see Switch by Chip and Dan Heath or Primal Leadership by Daniel Golem), that premise also acknowledges what we know about good teaching and learning in general, as well as the foundations of adult learning theory and professional development.  As I hone in on my app design for this mobile learning class, I have been reminding myself that real change takes place in the intersection between theory and the people with whom you are working.  In previous posts I have made the case for high-quality and individualized professional development, and in this post I will look at standards for the teaching profession that might help guide that work.

Standards for Teachers

National Board:  The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards came out with “Five Propositions” for what teachers should know and be able to do (2002):

  1. Teachers are committed to students and their learning
  2. Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students
  3. Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning
  4. Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience
  5. Teachers are members of learning communities.

Throughout the process of becoming National Board certified, teachers spend at least a year recording, reflecting and collecting evidence of their competencies in each of the realms based on a long and unwieldy rubric – taking hours and hours of time to reach certification.

California State:  The State of California published the California Standards for the Teaching Profession in an effort to streamline feedback and the teacher evaluation process, as well as to create standards for the BTSA program.  My former District, San Francisco Unified, developed a CSTP Rubric that describes the developmental stages of the standards listed below:

  1. Engaging and supporting all students in learning
  2. Creating and maintaining an effective environment of learning
  3. Understanding and organizing subject matter knowledge
  4. Planning, designing and delivering learning experiences for all students
  5. Assessing student learning
  6. Developing as a professional educator

The Danielson Framework:  The Danielson group breaks teacher competency into four domains; planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities.  The New York State Department of Education created a framework for teaching that describes what those domains might look like in practice.  For a good description of the rationale behind this framework, see Thinking Differently blog on the subject.

Robert Marzano:  In The Art and Science of Teaching, Robert Marzano (2007) describes a framework for quality teaching that is broken into “segments” that might take place in a class:

  1. Communicating learning goals, tracking student progress and celebrating success
  2. Establishing or maintaining rules and procedures
  3. Introducing new content) critical input lessons
  4. Knowledge practicing and deepening lessons
  5. Hypothesis generating and testing lessons (knowledge-application lessons)
  6. Increasing student engagement
  7. Recognizing and acknowledging adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures
  8. Establishing and maintaining effective relationships with students
  9. Communicating high expectations for every student

Marzano (2010) organizes these segments into three categories, (the relationships of which are shown in his chart below), and describes specifically what would be seen in the classroom in the interplay between the segments.

What’s My Point?

On top of all of the general standards for good teaching, there is plenty of research to show more specifically what type of teaching leads to learning.  There is also District and site information about specific gaps in learning that might need to be addressed in a more targeted way (for example, boys lagging behind girls in math, or EL students not achieving in science).

So, like standards for student learning, standards for teaching are very general, and usually not too surprising.  Like standards for learning, individual teachers, departments, grade-level teams, sites and Districts might be all over the place in terms of what gaps exist and where professional development should be targeted.  In order to effectively address gaps that might exist, as well as to utilize resources, feedback given to individual teachers as well as to site and district administrators should be based on a consistent description of teaching based on what is known about student learning.

How do Teachers Get Feedback on Their Teaching

Apart from their own reflection, the myriad standards, rubrics, coaching, mentoring and evaluation processes used to help teachers understand their teaching are indicators of the haphazard ways teaching is assessed.  When observing teaching, administrators might be looking for one thing, coaches another, colleagues yet something else.  Or, they might all be looking for the same thing, but using different lenses or tools to document what they see.  The app I have designed, My PD, is an attempt to streamline the process of giving feedback to teachers based on professional standards in a way that is helpful to the teacher in understanding her areas for growth, as well as informative to site and district administrators in their planning for targeted professional development.

Next week:  a complete description of My PD and how it could be used.


Marzano, R. (2007)  The Art and Science of Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Marzano, R. (2010) Developing Teacher Experts.  On Excellence in Teaching. Robert Marzano (ed).  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

“What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do” (2002, August).  National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  Retrieved from www.nbpts.org

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What do teachers need?

In starting to consider an app design for the Mobile Learning class I am taking, I watched a TED talk recommended by my professor recommended:  Paul Bennett finds design in the details.

While I was in the middle of watching the video, my sister who is a fifth-grade teacher called to complain about her new principal/superintendent.  In spite of the fact that her middle-class fifth graders had achieved an amazing 90% proficient on the STAR tests, the principal is making the entire school adopt a tracked, scripted language arts program and spend two hours every morning teaching it. That action is demoralizing to the teachers who worked together to devise creative, interesting ways in which to teach language arts – ways that got both the teachers and the students excited.  Did I mention they reached 90% proficiency, up from 80% the previous year?

How are these two things connected?  In Bennett’s talk, he notes that “tiny things can make a huge difference.”  What the fifth grade teachers implemented that made such a drastic change was an after-school tutoring program.  They saw a need – some students were not completing the assigned homework for various reasons – and they implemented a change that would fix that need.  Some students just needed a place and time to get the homework done, while others needed more targeted instruction so that they learned what they needed to learn in order to complete the homework.  The teachers did not get paid in dollars for their work, but they did get paid in amazing results.  Now the District will repay them by purchasing a scripted program and demeaning them as professionals.

What my sister needs and what other teachers need is not for someone from the outside to bring in a “researched based” scripted program and the accompanying professional development “package.”  What teachers need is for administrators to take heed of Paul Bennett’s advice, reconciling what big wants with what small wants, being more thoughtful about balancing the needs of the national accountability for every child, and the experience of each individual child in the classroom.

As I design my app for professional development I will consider Bennett’s advice, “have a beginner’s mind.”  While I spent many years in the classroom, it has now been seven years since I have taught students.  I will put myself in the classroom and try to experience being a teacher again in order to design a professional development opportunity that is designed to meet the needs of a teacher, not what an administrator thinks the needs of the teacher are.

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Improving Professional Development: Polishing a Turd

As usual when sitting down to finally write, many times this week I found myself distracted and pulled in a hundred different directions, reading articles and blogs, watching videos, following tweets – all related to the general topic of mobile learning, but with no focus.  Most recently, when trying to figure out a title to this week’s post, I found myself watching the Mythbusters episode about shining a turd.  I was trying to think of a metaphor for the act of reforming schools based on some fixed notion of how a school should be rather than how learning could be.  (I’m not sure that’s the blog title that’s going to generate traffic to my site, but you get the point).  My question this week is – how to create a mobile learning app for teacher professional learning that truly uses the ideas of mobile learning in a new way – to access the differences in learning that can occur when it goes global.

In “Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age,” Mitchel Resnick makes the case for reforming educational reform, pointing out that most school changes have been incremental and have centered around assessment tools, largely leaving curriculum and teaching strategies the same.  He calls for a rethinking of how, what, where and when people learn, especially in light of technological developments – education reform based on new realities of ubiquitous learning.  If that type of radical change is to take place, the ways in which teachers learn also must change radically – most likely ending the role of the teacher as we know it.

Speaking at a TEDx conference in Tokyo, teacher Kim Cofino describes her vision of the future of education based on her experiences in Southeast Asia, noting that the future of education will be mobile, just in time, adaptable, customizable, always on (anytime), collaborative, blended (old and new), quick, flexible and global – all aspects of learning that are supported by mobile technologies.

When I viewed that video, I kept thinking of a girl I’ll call Emily who I talked to in a chemistry class this week.  She was sitting (quietly) at her lab table, completely disengaged as her partner conducted experiments on a burning flame, feeding Emily the results and telling her the conclusions of the lab.  I asked Emily why she wasn’t participating in the lab and she stated bluntly, “I hate chemistry.”  This was day two of a year-long course.  Emily is friendly, curious, college-bound, and she is stuck in a class she hates for the next 179 school days.  That is not learning that is adaptive, quick, individualized or just in time.

Contrast that learning experience with the ones describe by Alan November in his TEDxNYED talk in 2011.  In creating a technology class, November challenge students to find a problem in their community, and then identify how technology can help them solve that problem.

When charged with a purpose for her learning, and leveraging technology, students take initiative to learn beyond the “curriculum” to leave a legacy that will make the world a better place.  Imagine if Emily had been told to find a problem in the community and then figure out how chemistry could help her solve it?

In thinking about mobile learning for teachers, and applying modern learning ideas and theories described above and in previous posts, I was reminded by November’s talk about the idea of motivating students through purposeful learning (an idea also discussed in Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising truth about what motivates us, and Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators (described in a previous post)).  Professional learning opportunities I present to teachers must at the core be about finding teachers’ purpose and igniting their passion for their own learning.  As an administrator, however, I must also consider the needs of the students, to be given opportunities to learn new content in ways that meet the goals of a 21st century education.  To step away from the confines of traditional professional development means remembering to see the teachers through the lens of 21st century learners much as we are asking them to see their students.  In both instances there is room for a blend of learning modes and methods – formal and informal, synchronous and asynchronous, complementary and independent.  In reading for today’s post I found a useful table that describes a framework for mobile learning that describes the “complex landscape” in which it occurs:

(Source: mLearning (2010))

I see these ideas in a continuum rather than as discreet nodes – learning is not this or that, but rather a soup of technologies, methods and learners.  Where all of these ideas intersect is where actual “real-life” learning occurs.

Next week I will examine how to apply the ideas of mobile, modern learning to create an app for teacher professional development.  Stay tuned.


mLearning: A platform for educational opportunities at the base of the pyramid. (2010)  Retrieved online from http://www.gsma.com/newsroom/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/mLearning_Report_Final_Dec2010.pdf

New York TEDxNYED. (2011, March). Alan November – 3/5/2011. [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube database http://youtu.be/ebJHzpEy4bE

Resnick, M. (n.d.) Rethinking learning in the digital age. Retrieved online from http://www.cid.harvard.edu/archive/cr/pdf/gitrr2002_ch03.pdf

Tokyo TEDxTeachers. (2012, March).  Kim Cofino: Mobile, Connected, Collaborative. [Video File].  Retrieved from YouTube database http://youtu.be/3MnN9luVbuQ

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Edmodo for Teacher Professional Development: A Case Study

In the previous post I made a case for innovative professional development that is simultaneously individualized and focused, accessible anywhere, and that taps into teachers’ senses of play, passion and purpose.  In this post, I will investigate the use of Edmodo to enable such professional development.  My District has already chosen to use Edmodo to organize certain professional development and sharing resources – I will examine the successes and problems with that, as well as other ways educators are using Edmodo to facilitate their own learning.

What is Edmodo?

Edmodo is a micro-blogging site with the look and feel of Facebook, but is private and, in the education mode, is geared toward facilitating classes, assignments, calendars, discussions and more.  Edmodo has more than 6.5 million users (Trust, 2012), and it is used both to manage classes for teachers as well as a part of a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for individuals.  There are only 12 subject communities – forums for sharing ideas and resources – allowing for multiple answers to questions posed, as compared with Classroom 2.o and Educators PLN, nings where posts in discreet micro-communities often go unanswered (Trust, 2012).

Edmodo for Personal Learning

The use of Edmodo for PLNs is well documented in the blogosphere and by Edmodo videos.  Click this link for a description posted in the Edmodo school tube forum about using Edmodo to learn at a conference beyond the in-person sessions.  Personal Learning Networks allow teachers to go beyond the isolation of their classrooms beyond the traditional hours of school – engaging in professionalism any time by contributing to and learning from discussions with colleagues around the world.  (Click here for more PLN resources from Edutopia).   A cloud-based application, Edmodo also has mobile apps for iPhones, iPads, Androids and a mobile website as well.  This easily allows teachers to access their learning any time, any where.  While learning through PLNs allows teachers to have anytime learning based on their perceived needs, what it doesn’t allow for is targeted professional learning at a district-wide level, founded on professional development theory and the needs of individual districts to improve student outcomes.

District Professional Development Using Edmodo

In addition to learning through PLNs, Edmodo can facilitate more targeted professional development organized at the district, site or team level.  My District is currently using Edmodo in this way, abandoning the higher-level features Moodle for a more accessible and user-friendly platform.  Here is a screen shot of my current Edmodo home page:

Though a bit blurry, you can see the number of groups I have down the left hand side of the page.  In the group “Leadership,” the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent can post reading, assign topics for discussion and focus the learning of the site administrators based on identified needs.  This is a superior method to previous attempts to aggregate that information through the district server, which is hard to access away from the sites and on mobile devices.  I also have groups for my site leadership team, my district curricular group, and my site curricular group.  The library feature allows me to share only the readings and information that are pertinent to that groups’ needs and focus the “assignments” based on our intended outcomes.

Districts also have the ability to create sub-domains within Edmodo to link the learning opportunities through District users more easily.  Below is an Edmodo video that describes how this is done:

District Professional Development with Edmodo

Benefits of Edmodo for District-Wide Professional Learning

  1. Focused Learning – District and Site Work.  One of our district difficulties in a radical transformation to a more student-centered learning environment has been the consistency of message from district leadership, site administrators and teacher leaders.  Through creating an environment where we all interact together, the message remains consistent as people in all positions have access to the same content.  This has simplified the message and brought more people on board.
  2. Mobile learning – anytime, anywhere.  This year the state of California is only providing three paid professional development days – a reduction from eight when I started teaching.  Edmodo has free, easy-to-use applications for the web and for mobile devices that allow for interaction when the participant has time rather than only one-off professional development the few times district teachers are together.
  3. Social Construction of Learning.  Edmodo allows for a social constructivist learning experience, allowing teachers and administrators to interact with each other that will bring the learning beyond the knowledge of any one participant.  The process can be facilitated by district and site administrators who can ask questions, create context and provide information as needed to participants (Huang, 2002).
  4. Long-term Learning.  Edmodo allows for PD to be sustained over time, with the library and folders functions organizing and maintaining resources and information over time.
  5. Encourages Discussion and Dissent.  Doug Reeves (2011) suggests that administrators must “engage and honor skeptics, making clear that the best leaders value dissent that is rooted in rational skepticism and open-minded inquiry.”  Edmodo allows for open conversation, discussion, and even skepticism.  Teachers can engage with each other to make meaning, and administrators can learn from the discussion, changing course and goals as needed.
  6. Support.  The Edmodo help site is an amazing collection of videos and text support for all levels of learners.

Drawbacks to Using Edmodo

While there are many benefits from using Edmodo for professional development, I have encountered some drawbacks that should be addressed to maximize the benefits.

  1. Chronological Posts.  Posts made to the home page and show up in chronological order.  Without tagging (in my eight groups I have never seen tagging used well) it is difficult to find questions and answers that occur when you are not checking the page daily.
  2. Folder Sharing.  Currently only the “owner” of a group can post materials to folders he/she creates.  This creates a problem for managing as all posted materials now have to go through a central person to be organized.
  3. Security Concerns.  Until the district purchases its own Edmodo domain, the learning takes place outside of the tight security of the district network.  While Edmodo is “secure” there are concerns about student information (for example if the professional learning involves student data) and other information that may be proprietary.
  4. Technology Barriers. As we have all reported in our CTER work, teachers can have barriers to using technology, whether born of fear or lack of skill.  I saw this played out when I went to visit a new-teacher training.  It was the end of the day, and the teachers were asked to organize their work through and Edmodo group. While this was not a barrier for most, some of the teachers were very frustrated because they were learning content (Understanding by Design) and technology at the same time.
  5. “Another Thing.”  In the three years I have been working in this District, I have seen various administrators attempt to organize and disseminate information in many different platforms – from the district server to Google Docs and Moodle.  Early adopters of those methods are understandable frustrated at the constant movement, and late adopters feel as if they wait this one out there will be “another thing” coming down the pike.  We can all hope that Edmodo stays a while.

As the year unfolds I will post updates on how Edmodo is working in my context – both for my own learning, and for my role in providing quality professional development to the teachers with whom I work.


Huang, H. (2002).  Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 22(1), 27-37.

Reeves, D. (2011, October).  Skeptics and Cynics.  American School Board Journal. October, 2011 edition.  Online at:  www.asbj.com.

Trust, T.  (2012). Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning.  Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 28(4), 133 – 138.

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High-Quality Professional Development

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.  It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”  Winnie the Pooh

I can’t remember why I initially looked up the first lines of Winnie the Pooh, but when I read them I immediately thought of education and education reform.  Just being in this class with a bunch of teachers reminds me – through their groans and sighs – that most professional development is boring and ineffective.  Yet we continue to persist in doing it wrong over and over again, not out of ill intent, but because the nature of schools is such that we can’t stop bumping our heads for long enough to think of another way.

We all have worked with teachers and administrators who resist growth and change in their professional practice.  A group of teachers put together the video to illustrate the absurdity of that mindset:

(source: lynnvm)

I believe that every educator got into the profession with the goal of helping students learn, but somehow we have created a profession where some individuals do not continue to be lifelong learners themselves.  As a site administrator it is my goal to create opportunities for teachers that invigorate them and lead them to be clamoring for training that would allow them to help all students achieve success.

In Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner advocates for nurturing innovation by tapping into students’ needs for play, passion and purpose in their lives (Wagner, 2011). Somehow, administrators must facilitate professional development that meets the theories of adult learning (see description here), the needs of District improvement initiatives, and the needs of a teaching force that is increasingly called upon to do more with more students in less time.  Because of these constraints, PD has to be targeted to individuals, accessible anytime, socially constructed and engaging – building on play, passion and purpose to nurture innovation at the classroom level.  We need to model the teaching we expect of our teachers, taking learning into the 21st century for adults and students alike.

A Case for Better Professional Development

In his synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses of what works in schools, John Hattie (2009) found that teachers are a powerful influence in student learning, specifically “teachers using particular teaching methods, teachers with high expectations for all students, and teachers who have created positive student-teacher relationships.”  In the Stand and Deliver tradition, popular myth holds that great educators were born that way – they have a gift that cannot not be learned.

One way schools and districts can get high-quality, expert teachers is to hire and retain expert teachers – but that could be a slow process that takes decades.  However, research (Marzano, 2010) has shown that quality professional development can create expert teachers – teaching is in fact a skill that can be learned.  In a study review cited by Linda Darling-Hammond (2009), teachers who participated in significant amounts of on-the-job learning (an average of 49 hours) were shown to have increased their students’ achievement by 21 percentage points.  The research is clear, however, that all professional development is not equal, and that only quality professional development will produce increases in student learning.  In measuring the effectiveness of professional development on student learning, Hattie (2009) cites research that found seven themes in common among professional development programs that had the greatest effect on student learning:

  1. PD was over a long period of time.
  2. External experts were more effective than in-school initiatives.
  3. Teachers needed to be engaged to deepen their knowledge and skills.
  4. There was a high effect of PD that challenged teacher’s perceptions about learning – specifically that they assumed groups of students could or could not do.
  5. Teachers communicated with each other about teaching.
  6. School leadership supported opportunities to learn and provided time and place to meet and to process new information.
  7. Money and release time were unrelated to student achievement.

True school change comes at the intersection of theory and reality – the implementation of any program has to consider the people, culture, and climate of the school or district in which it will operate.  All of the ideas and research behind professional development has not led to significant change in the ways in which it is delivered – probably more as a result of tradition and assumption than laziness or ill intent. Hattie (2009) notes that nearly all teachers come with a preconceived idea about their profession, having come up through the system themselves, creating a self-perpetuating system of education the way is has always been.  “This fact means that the simple acquisition of new skills or theories is not adequate to alter teaching practices.  Therefore, the central task of teacher learning must be to change these conceptions.”  In addition, continually decreasing funding has led to a decrease in the amount of money and time devoted to professional learning.

Digital technology can certainly be employed to help mitigate some of the problems with the successful implementation of high-quality professional development.   In previous work I have advocated for a wiki to solve facilitate professional development, and have illustrated how curation and aggregation sites (such as paper.li and scoop.it) as well as social bookmarking sites (such as Diigo and Delicious) enable teachers to follow their own professional learning goals.

My district is currently engaged in a radical transformation in the way we operate (more on that in another blog) that has meant teachers and administrators have had to essentially re-learn what we know about teaching and learning.  Simultaneous to that, the state of California has decreased funding for professional development, and our sagging economy has led to yearly decreases in funding for education.  More and more professional development needed, less time and money to execute.

I am convinced that digital technology will best support professional development when it can be accessed through mobile devices so that it can take place any time and any place.  My District is starting to utilize Edmodo as a tool for professional development – a networking application that has been traditionally used to help teachers organize classes for school-aged learners.  Given the seven themes of quality professional development listed above, next week this blog will investigate the opportunities and problems that Edmodo will provide in a high-quality professional development program, especially through the lens of the Edmodo application for iPads.


Darling-Hammond, L. (2011).  Teaching and the Change Wars: The Professionalism Hypothesis. Change Wars. Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan eds.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). Teacher Education and the America Future. Journal of Teacher Education.61:35. Retrieved online at

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routlege.

lynnvm.  (2008, May 28).  When I become a teacher [Video File].  Accessed from YouTube database. http://youtu.be/qOT0FBIBqUc

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Going Mobile

It is fitting to me that the last class of my CTER program is called mobile learning, and that I am writing my first blog post while sitting in the living room of a rental house at the beach – true mobile learning.  (Also appropriate, I am having severe access issues, but that is another story).

Over the course of study in this program we have read, discussed, watched and learned about modern, transformative education – education that is tailored to the individual, is “just in time,” and that can take place anywhere or any time.  We have also studied the social constructivist theory of learning that is constructed together through interactions with other people and through experiences. One could argue chicken or egg here, but according to the 2011 Horizon Report that examines near- and far-term trends in education, the demand for individualized, just in time education is driving the rapid development of technologies to support it.  The authors state, “technology can and should support individual choices about access to materials and expertise, amount and type of educational content, and methods of teaching”  (Johnson, et al, 2011).  In other words, education technology should be mobile.

I got a cell phone relatively late in the game – a Samsung flip phone that I used for phone calls only – when my first son was born in 1999.  Since getting an iPhone four years ago, however, I have never looked back.  I am a mobile learner in every sense of the word.

First, I use my phone to ask basic knowledge questions all of the time – from remembering dates and phone numbers to looking up questions my family and I have about myriad topics.  In the last few weeks I have looked up information on baseball, the Olympics, the blackout in India, recipes, traffic and politicians.  Some of that information I will remember, and thus have learned in the traditional sense, while other information I only needed for a short time and will not remember it at all.  My favorite current use for my cell phone is as an Internet hot spot.  I have connected to class through it from a car en route to the mountains, a lakeside in Oregon and a beach in the Bay Area.  This has allowed my mobile learning to be both asynchronous and synchronous.  While I have heard a lot about people ruining their vacations by staying plugged in, I can say that my mobile technology has allowed me to take vacations that would not have been possible while I was enrolled in a masters program – if I couldn’t connect from all of those places, I wouldn’t have been able to be there and be in class a the same time.

According to the Horizon Report (2011), the current game-changer in mobile learning is the tablet, namely “the category-defining blockbuster that is the Apple iPad” (p. 14).  I bought a laptop when I started the CTER program and have loved having it as it has allowed me to access my classes and classmates in all of the aforementioned situations. When my district bought the administrators iPads, at first I used mine very infrequently, mostly because I found the QWERTY touch keyboard very difficult to use, so it was a poor substitute for the laptop.  After lugging my laptop through an airport to a conference last November and seeing my friend stick her iPad in her purse, I decided to give it another try.  I bought a keyboard/case for the iPad and left the laptop at home for the ISTE conference this spring, and now I am hooked.

I can easily read and annotate books, browse the Internet, email, update my calendar, take pictures or video – whatever I need – on my iPad.  After using my iPad during the conference, I find myself reaching to manipulate the screen on my computer, and feel frustrated that I can’t.

As an Assistant Principal, one of my most often received discipline referrals is for cell phones – obviously current school policy hasn’t caught up with the way students are using them.  In a previous blog post, I have made the case for expanding cell phone policies to allow students to use them, and the name of this blog suggests that there is no way we’re going to beat the mobile device tsunami, so we better start learning how to leverage their capabilities in our schools.  Current research (Wallace, 2011) shows that young people develop emotional attachments to their phones, finding that the devices themselves give them status, and the connections they form using them give them security and a feeling of social inclusion.  Wallace (2011) notes that in addition to being low cost and individualized, cell phones allow for spaced learning – learning that can take place spaced out over time – in places that wouldn’t normally be learning places such as riding the bus or standing in line.

What I will be looking at in this class is how to create more formal mobile learning opportunities for teachers and staff members.  Individualized, just in time learning is as important for adults as it is for students, but more often with adults I see a “fear” barrier regarding technology.  Pew research (Zickuhr, 2011) shows that 85% of all American adults own a cell phone, 95% of millennials (ages 18-35).  With most adults used to using a cell phone, enabling mobile learning through that phone would be a good first step towards engaging teachers with educational technology, and I look forward to considering ways to make that happen.


Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Haywood, K., (2011).  The NMC Horizon Report: 2011 K-12 Edition.  Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Wallace, P.  (2011, Winter). “M-Learning: Promises, Perils, and Challenges for K-12 Education.  New Horizons for Learning.  Johns Hopkins University School of Education online journal.  Retrieved online from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Journals/Winter2011/Wallace

Zickuhr, K.  (2011).  Generations and their gadgets.  Pew Internet & American Life Project.   Retrieved online at http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Generations-and-gadgets/Overview.aspx

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Beyond the Schoolhouse: Transformative Education

Transformative education, according the Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (2008), represents “an open-ended struggle rather than a clear destination, a process rather than a formula for action, and something that recognizes the educational legacies of the past in order to design better educational futures” (page 34).  Cope and Kalantzis divide education into eight dimensions, which, when applied to transformative education describe learning that is ubiquitous, and lateral – where success comes from working in a social context from experiences in partnership with peers and teachers rather than directed by teachers.  Facts aren’t told to students, rather learners uncover truths through inquiry and explorations, and there might be a new, broader sense of the “basics” of an education.

Researcher Charles Leadbeater (2010) describes transformative education as including disruptive innovation in informal educational settings.  Below is a TED talk in which he describes finding the future of education – transformational education – in the most unlikely of places, the urban slums of East Africa and India, where a lack of teachers and other traditional trappings of education are scarce.  Leadbeater notes that real change in education to meet the needs of the exploding population on Earth (nearly all of which will come in the poorest urban slums) is to make learning productive and practical, doing away with the traditional western idea of a broad core curriculum and facilitating it to take place in untraditional settings.

In his presentation, Leadbeater highlights two programs that represent the current iteration of transformative education even if they still hold some vestiges of the education of the past.  Harlem Children’s Zone, brainchild of Geoffrey Canada, represents disruptive innovation within the confines of the traditional school model – and thus is not quite transformative.  However, the philosophy behind HCZ is that learning takes place well beyond the walls of the school building, at home, in playgrounds, in the streets – wherever people interact.  HCZ works with all parts of the community – expecting parents, new parents, infants – “from cradle to college” they support the entire community to break the cycle of poverty.

Another example of transformative education is the Big Picture schools which started in Providence, RI, with the Met School and have expanded to schools nationally.  These schools offer no traditional content classes, as students are guided by mentors and families to create their own individual learning plans where academic skills are identified that will be necessary to complete internships in fields of interest.  In the video below a student describes her experiences:

Again, there are some remnants of “traditional” schooling – the buildings themselves, the progression from 9th – 12th grades, the state testing, but the ideas behind the learning in the school seeks to transform ways in which learning occurs.

As Cope and Kalantzis (2008) note, current systems of education and teaching will have to reform or they will soon become irrelevant (see previous post on the Higher Education Bubble).  Rapidly changing digital technologies will further transform these learning opportunities – disconnecting them from physical buildings, traditional progression through school, and state and federal curricula – to become individual, lifelong learning, founded in connections and construction of knowledge through innovation and necessity.


A Tour of Met Peace (2008, November 6). [Video File]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/YuUtq0dkdhMz

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2008). New learning elements of a science of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leadbeater, C. (2010, April). Charles Leadbeater: Education innovation in the slums. [Video File].  Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_leadbeater_on_education.html

UNFPA (N.D.) Linking Population, Poverty and Development.  Retrieved from http://www.unfpa.org/pds/trends.htm

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