250 * 4 = ? (or Microsoft in Education Global Forum Barcelona)

Subtitle: Microsoft in Education Global Forum

What happens when you put 250 educators from around the world in one place for 4 days?

My team had members from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Mauritius, Malaysia, Finland, and the United States

My team(#49 yes we rocked!) had members from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Mauritius, Malaysia, Finland, and the United States

Borders break down, politics don’t matter, despite the Law of the Conservation of Energy,–energy is in fact created, differences are embraced, cultural differences are cherished and discovered—and even sought out. Ideas are shared. Collaboration happens. Friendships are made. Relationships are built. Connections are made. You can see the bar rising. You can feel education literally getting better right in front of your eyes. The world became both a bigger and smaller place all at the same time.

What was the Microsoft in Education Global Forum?

Each teacher was excited to present about their own  project

Each teacher was excited to present about their own project

For 2 days, teachers present their project to fellow educators, judges, friends, political leaders, and educational leaders. I gave my “3 minute pitch” on the airplane, in the airport, in the hotel, in line at the store, in the conference center, at lunch and dinner, and of course to my judges. I think I gave it a couple times in the hotel lobby as well, and probably on the elevator. You see, the people there were passionate about what they did, excited and qualified to be there, and take every chance to make a connection and share an idea- to get to know a fellow educator.

What an incredible time connecting with people from all of the world

What an incredible time connecting with people from all of the world

Ever been in a crowd where you really wanted to meet someone? Now, imagine that room is full of people who all think like you, believe what you believe, and have the same vision as you. We had the best first line. “Hi I am Doug from the United States. I’d love to hear about what you are doing”. And any person there was so excited to be able to give you their pitch. And I equally as excite to hear it, and figure out how I can bring some of their energy and ideas back with me . I remember we were right in the middle of breaking down our tables, judging was over, people were leaving to get ready for dinner, and I was still “presenting” to people who came by my table. I think eventually, they kicked us out because they were closing the room. I noticed that there was a large number of people who also were doing the same thing as I was. Sorry, we just couldn’t stop. No apology was necessary.

Michael Braun "selling it"

Michael Braun “selling it”

But, it’s just another conference right?


First, it was a tremendous honor to be there. Only 250 educators were selected out of over 22000 applications. I am not saying that to boast, but more so to qualify the people who were there. This group of people is the inaugural Expert Educators Class of 2014. What that means is that you are meeting some of the most innovative teachers from around the world. Each of us spending 10-20 hours on our applications and making it through a rigorous judging process just to be here. One of my friends, David Renton, was the only representative from Scotland; he WAS Team Scotland. What a tremendous honor for him! And a pleasure to meet him and see the great things happen there!

U.S. Team member Kelli Etheredge holds her award with pride

U.S. Team member Kelli Etheredge holds her award with pride

Yes there was an element of winning, but what is interesting, there was not necessarily an element of losing, at least in the group I was with. And that is rare. Because I met so many people from all over, all doing amazing things with their students in the classroom, it was very likely that someone you knew would be recognized with some type of award. And when you heard any name that you knew, you rushed over for a photo and a high five because you wanted to share that joy with your new friends- and they wanted to share that with their new friends. While I did not win an award, I still won.

We had 2 days to share our ideas, explore other ideas, talk, and meet new people. Most conferences, such as ISTE, while there are some great people there, are centered on the idea of 1 directional presentations. Those conferences do have value, and I do enjoy them, but they are a different type of experience. You are more likely to get some good resources, rather than make real connections.

So, what exactly is this “conference”? Well, the idea of getting innovative global educators together in a forum such as this has been something that Microsoft has been doing for many years. They don’t advertise this; they don’t get much credit in the media for doing it; yet they do it anyway. Each year, the location is different: South Africa, Washington DC, Barcelona, Prague. In some years, there were similar events held at regional events (i.e. just for Europe or Middle East-Africa and these award winners from those events would be invited to the international forum). But each year, hundreds of educators and school leaders from around the world are invited to come to the forum, sponsored by Microsoft Education.

When most people think about Microsoft, they think “Word”, “PowerPoint”, “Windows”, “SQL”, “Xbox” and certainly those are great tools and products, but that is not the side of Microsoft that puts together this event; welcome to Microsoft Education: Partners in Learning, an arm of Microsoft dedicated to providing resources, software, networking, and partnerships to any and all schools and educators around the world. I am sure in the back of some minds, there is a hope that by supporting and sponsoring and leading events like this, there will be recognition for Microsoft, which indirectly can affect their commercial side, but in truth…this side of Microsoft is spending more than it makes. Events like this, put on in a world class fashion, bringing together people from over 90 countries costs money, (wo)man-power, energy, effort, attention, time, and commitment. Last year, Microsoft announced it was infusing 750 million dollars into promoting efforts such as this. Why would they do that? To support and promote innovative teaching and teachers; to show the world that there is another way to “do” education; that those innovative ways are not only working—they are changing the educational landscape as we know it. And it is not just going to take a village—it is going to take the whole world to change the world.

School systems around the world must be embraced/owned/led by the people, not government. It is important that the people of the world take ownership of bringing education into the 21st Century. The days of rote lectures, random note taking, multiple choice tests, doing the questions at the end of the chapter, and standardized tests must start to become the old ways, outdated in pedagogy. The students of today, in order to be problem solvers and leaders for the current and future generations, need a different style of learning environment. The world around them is interactive and dynamic, why cannot their learning also be vibrant and alive? With the advances we’ve made in science, understandings and discoveries in history, computations in math, the ability for us to communicate instantly and widely on an international level, and analysis of data like we’ve never been able to before–our education systems have the potential of being as dynamic as that world outside of school campus–yet many of our schools remain stuck in 1950-style of content delivery with students passively sitting in chairs, missing most of what comes at them. Is that the best we can do? Hence the need for this conference. People now are able to write their own software, build their own devices, and command those devices to solve problems–we can literally design our own tools to solve the problems that we do not even know exist yet. Think about it, how many digital devices do you have in your own life right now? 10 ? 20?

Technology is an integral part of life. Those who command it will be the leaders of the next generation.

Technology is an integral part of life. Those who command it will be the leaders of the next generation.

The world around us is different than it was even 20 years ago. No longer is life one directional. Life has become interactive. We are longer able to sit on the sidelines and watch the world go by. We can communicate, problem solve, play, learn, read, study, participate interactively—and not just with those we know, with anyone in the world who wants the same thing. It is because of that world, that it is crucial that the people of the world change the way we educate. All across the world, our governments have grown so large and the world has become so complex, that it is no longer practical that our governments lead the way in education. Top down policies and laws that helped us find our way over the last 50 years do not make as much sense anymore. The role of our governmental leaders, still incredibly valuable, will transform into support roles helping cities, states, and countries accomplish the goals that are being defined by the people in the schools.
This is what our classrooms must start to look like.  In all grades. In all grade levels.

This is what our classrooms must start to look like. In all grades. In all grade levels.

The only way for “education” to work is if it is from the ground up. Teachers, schools, districts, parents, and students must take ownership. The companies that are going to hire these students must communicate the qualities that they need. School is preparation for life that we are going into. We have to be careful that schools are not preparing students for life as it once was. If our students are going through school memorizing vocabulary, formulas, and dates…and then regurgitating that back to us every 2 weeks on a content-heavy test, and then taking a 3 hours scantron exam at the end of the class, then we are failing at our jobs.

That is why conferences such as this one are not only valuable, but crucial. We cannot wait for our political leaders to raise the bar of education…it’s not their job…that is the responsibility of the people..us…you and me…and him…and her…and that guy…and this lady…and that school…and that district…..

It was great to meet Ismail from Jordan.

It was great to meet Ismail from Jordan.

There is a different way forward in education. If something I said makes sense to you…we should connect. Find me.

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Innovators and Explorers Sandbox

Introducing a style of classroom experience that’s extremely different than what you are used to reading about.
Warning: What you are about to read is different, out-of-the-box, 100% student-centered, innovative, creative, and does not have any reference to multiple choice testing….continue on at your own risk but I warn you…you may just find yourself wanting more of this style of learning in our educational systems.

Phil Zaubi (our IT Director and fellow teacher) and I have been sharing the responsibility of teaching our 12th grade Computer Science course. These are students who are in the 4th year of our 4-year program, so this is their last year with us. The year has been a combination of capstone experiences, projects, and real world experiences. Over the last 3 or 4 years of teaching the class, while it has been a good experience for our kids, we always felt like something was missing. Well, I think we found it.

Thanks to a working lunch at a Mexican restaurant where the stars aligned and the brainstorming came together, Phil and I put something together called “The Innovators and Explorers Sandbox”.

andersonThroughout our program, at the end of each semester, students complete a rather lengthy and thorough evaluation of all the projects, assignments, and overall experience of the class. Sometimes that is in video format, audio format, or just text based. But, the one thing that seemed to always come to the surface was that students craved the experience of working on a project without all the requirements and “rules” of a graded project. But I was not able to figure out how to implement that into a hard core Computer Science curriculum and yet maintain the rigor of an honors or dual-credit level class. Until now.

After spending the entire first semester learning Object Oriented Programming with Java, they had a culminating project which took about 7 weeks: the complete game of Monopoly. The project included 5 java classes and was massive: Every possible Computer Science concept and skill is required to complete the project. It may have been the most challenging thing we’ve done in 4 years: hence, there was a need to open it up some and let them spread their wings.

Enter the Sandbox: We listed every technology, language, and programming/design environment that we had access to (or had in the closet), plus some that we knew existed “out there”. Then we asked students to consider their dream challenge. They are going to choose any technology they want, plan how they are going to learn that, propose how they will be evaluated, and not have any fear of failure. No homework assignments to distract. No pop quizzes. No tests. “…WHAT? Are you serious? You gave the kids the freedom to just explore on their own? Are you crazy? No one does that! They have to be evaluated with a quiz or reading check! Do it now! This will NEVER work. Please stop this nonsense. This can never succeed. Students will never be able to learn like that, much less at the level you are expecting. You have finally gone too far out of the box. What about the even problems at the back of the chapter? How will we evaluate this with a bubble on a standardized test?….”



joe leapLet me start by saying, for me as a teacher, it has been one of the most enjoyable, satisfying risks I’ve done in a while. Expectations of class are still high. Rigor is still there. Passion is still high. Student learning is still central to class. And every student is making progress.
Let me start by sharing with you some of the technologies that they are working with:face
o Face Recognition with Kinect sensor
o Multiple Skeleton recognition using Kinect Sensor
o NeuroSky Mindwave brain wave detector using C++
o IOS Programming using XCode using Objective C
o Unity 3D environment creation and scripting using C#
o HTML5 and CSS
o Android App Development using mobile Java
o Drone helicopter control using Node.JS
o Gesture interpretation using LEAP sensor
o Skeletal and Voice Recognition using Kinect Sensor
o Maya 3D modeling and avatar skeletal and joint rigging
o AutoDesk and ShipConstructor ship modeling and design
o Oculus Rift and Unity integration
o Arduino breadboard with Processing
o Fusion & Kinect Sensor to scan and model real life 3D objects
o Network server , client, and switch configuration

shipHow did we set it up the project? Well, we started with a fictitious, yet real scenario that these kids will face at some point in their educational or work career. They go into office and your boss says, hey (you) …we just found out that we were selected to complete this project and it is crucial that we do it right. We’ve never seen this technology or software, so we are not sure how it works. Figure it out. Use whatever resources you need to. No excuses. Deadline is in 7 weeks. Go.

We felt strongly that we communicated that as they choose their project, we made it CLEAR that: as long as they are working hard, trying, and making conceptual and skill progress, there is no way to fail. In other words, take a risk to try something crazy and out of the box without the fear of the grade. Work hard every day in class, research as needed, experiment, explore, ask questions, work with peers, and use your resources. Hmmmm…those also seem to be the skills that would help someone be successful in the real world outside of school. Interesting.

Students spent 3 days researching their technology and also the resources available to help them learn this. This would be a project where the learning itself, and even finding the medium through which they would learn, even the evaluation, falls 100% on the shoulders of the student. Then they submit a formal proposal to the teacher for approval.
droneHere is what each student submitted to the teacher for approval:
• Describe what technology you will explore. What is it? Where/how is it used?
• Why did you pick this and what is your connection with this? Why learn this technology?
• What is your goal of learning this technology in the next 7 weeks?
• Briefly discuss the long term value for learning this type of technology. What field,major, industry would have value for the skills learned in learning this technology?
• How will you learn about this technology/language? Identify at least 2 specific ways. No generalities–be specific with book titles, url links, blog url, people names, etc
• What software needs to be installed? What is the URL to get it? Have you already downloaded it?
• What hardware needs to be bought? What is the URL for where it can be bought? Have you already arranged to have it ordered?
• Describe if you are thinking you will do a major project, series of small projects, demonstration of skill, etc for your “final project” you are working towards.
• This project will involve a great deal of thought/energy/frustration/willingness to explore/effort. Are you willing to put forth what is needed to really learn this technology/language/environment at the level expected?

kinectparabolaOk, this sounds nice, but there has be some type of accountability, right? Of course there is. In a project like this, the final outcome is the learning itself, not what is produced with the project. So, it is crucial that if they identify what is important—then that is what we evaluate. So, each week, the students complete a BLOG post 200-300 words where they communicate the new concepts and skills that they have learned since the last week. They specifically identify the progress that they made since last week. They reflect on the challenges, successes, and the failures—the ones that they conquered as well as the ones they are still struggling with.

About 3 times throughout the project, each student sits with the teacher for about 10 minutes for a “project review” where they show us the progress, we ask them specifics about what they have been learning, and they communicate their progress. That is how they earn their “grade”. Some students have decided to work on a specific project, while others are simply taking advantage of the time just to learn the technology.

What was the experience like for the students? What were they actually able to accomplish and learn? Well, certainly we have had every part of the spectrum. Some students have gone far past even our highest expectations. Some of the students learning IOS, LEAP, website design, Unity and Maya 3D modeling had early successes as their strategies for learning proved to be very effective! We have seen tremendous learning, as well as tremendous progress in advancing into much higher skillsets. For others choosing more risky and leading edge technologies, there have been challenges from the get-go. It took the students using the Mindwave brainwave detector a couple weeks to actually be able to pull data from the sensors…but…YES!!! Finally!… they did it and are working on interpreting, displaying, and analyzing that data using code. The Face recognition and Drone folks have had most difficult time just trying to connect and communicate with their technology. We have seen numerous mini-successes, but have made our progress by failing, learning from those failures, finding new sources of knowledge and learning, and making small , but crucial steps, forward. I am so excited for the Face Recognition students because they have just identified some code which should allow them to see their efforts come to life. Literally, they found a couple lines of C# that have eluded them for 3 weeks. And Michael is making great strides with the drone helicopter. Very exciting

We also felt strongly that there be a “research” component (similar to the IB program, but not at long or complex) where students explore their technology in the real world. What colleges offer degrees related to it, what jobs are available involving it, what are some possible future uses for it, what industries might develop uses for it, and even to describe the “dream” job that involves the technology: Where would they be, what problems would they be solving? Who would benefit from solution developed using the technology? The medium for this part is the creation of a video where they speak freely, but use the guiding questions to steer their thoughts

This “Sandbox” project is a 7 week project and will conclude with 2 1/2 days of Pecha-Kucha style of presentations to the class. Each student will be given 10 slides, each slide is on the screen for 20 seconds and automatically advances. They will briefly describe each slide, but are very limited in their words. The presentation itself, as well as the content and preparation, will be evaluated. All presentations are recorded. There is a peer evaluation rubric that each student submits for each presentation as well as rubric for the teachers to evaluate during the presentations.(We’ve got about 2 weeks left and we’ll be doing the presentations after that, so I’ll have to re-post this with afterthoughts of the final presentations.)

Things I have learned about the project: While there is value in students finding their own best learning tools, they also will not have a way to evaluate until they actually get into it. I might suggest 1 video tutorial, 1 text based screenshot tutorial, a couple developer websites, and even 1 book that each kid submits in the initial proposal. How long are you willing to let students fail before stepping in to help? Some students are extremely resourceful, some not as much. How much help will you give? How much will you be involved is software installation and hardware purchase? How much outside of class work will you expect. Students must be vested in the project and engaged in the class; they have to want to learn. This is about as different of an educational experience as the students have probably had, so you may have to help them learn like this…with their own interest and natural curiousity guiding the way. In fact, you have to keep on them. That rigor will be there if the expectation is there and they know that. Overall , we’ve had no major issues with motivation; sure you have an occasional Friday afternoon class that may not quite be as focused as you hoped, but all-in-all because we did the legwork to set it up, we’ve seen exactly what we hoped for—and YES…this is something that we will be making an integral part of our 12th grade year from now on.

Most importantly, you have to be able to step back and let learning happen, even through failure and struggle. I know our natural teacher impulse in to ride in and help (and even I admit I did on occasion), but we have to willing to just let learning happen. And it will.

There is a different way to approach education.If something I said, you read, you saw, or heard make sense to you, we should connect.

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2013-14 Microsoft Expert Educator

Along with 256 colleagues from 158 countries around the world, 30 of which are from the U.S.A. I am honored to have been invited to spend the next year working with some of the most innovative teachers on the globe. These teachers see a different way forward in education and have found ways to push the envelope in their own schools.

My project submission was based on “The anti-exam”. It is one of the things I am very passionate about. I think that the way schools tend to do exams is a system which does not meet most of the objectives we say/think/assume it does.

Here is the video submission I made as part of my application.

Wanna know more about the Expert Educator Program?

What is my philosophy of education and what do I believe is the key to striving towards excellence in the classroom?

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The Role of the Teacher

I have a very simple question for you: “What is your job as a teacher?”

Is it to teach the kids math formulas, battles dates, English literature, or vocabulary words? They will learn whatever you ask them to…in fact they have to because you are going to test them on it. Is it success if your kids come through your class, do well on every homework and test and make an A, yet have no connection with what you teach? How many of your students walk out of your class after the exam thinking “thank God that’s done!” ? In the same spirit, have you ever had a student who struggled in your class, but loved it and left class every day with a smile?

is math class simply learning formulas?

If you are a math teacher, the reason you are teaching them Algebra is not to prepare them for Algebra 2, it is open up their eyes to the beautiful world of math. If you are a language teacher, the reason you are teaching them French 1 is not so they can enter French 2…it is so they see the beauty of speaking another language, and the culture that surrounds that language. If you are a Computer Science teacher, the reason you teach them for-loops and arrays is not so they can do well on the AP exam, it is so they can create things and turn their ideas into something real on the digital screen in front of them.

If our job as a teacher is simply to tell them what to know, when to know it, and even how to know it, then where in that do we allow learning for learning sake? In fact, if that’s all you do, put it all on handout and just pass it out early in the year and don’t make them come to class. Are state standards what drive your lessons and lesson plans? Where is the passion, both for the teacher and student? “Kids today are not passionate about anything”, you say? Maybe that’s because you’ve never given them a chance to dive into your class. Maybe it’s because in their classes— standards, quizzes, and grades are what drive the class—not passion. How often do students leave you class, even when it’s really hard, thinking “Wow, that was awesome!”

Can they feel the electricity in your classes?

It’s easy for some students. They love your subject area and there is not a bunch you can do to mess that up. You could not show up to class for a week, and they would still love it. But what about that next group below that? What about the kids who have not yet embraced what is so wonderful about your discipline? Do you think the questions at the end of the chapter will seal the deal for your history students? Do you think your popquiz that you gave because you know most kids did not read the homework will really turn them on to English? Do you think having them memorize a huge list of words and definitions for the test will bring out their passion? I am not suggesting we do not bring rigorous content and material into the class…in fact quite the opposite..I am suggesting if your kids are motivated and passionate..they will thirst for more than you ever gave them. They will stay late, come early, and do more than you ask.

Your role as a teacher is not simply to transfer knowledge from your mind into their mind like a dump truck.

Your class has to be much more than a dumping ground of content

It is to help them acquire that knowledge and understanding. And depending on the situation, that may include lecture, group work, demonstration, field trip, speaker, project, homework, video, article, textbook, a phone conversation, a website, heck…even a worksheet if it helped them understand….but not just understand WHAT it is, HOW to do it, or WHEN it was……..the goal of that lesson must also include WHY they are are doing it. I’ll argue that the WHY is more valuable than the WHAT. The HOW will come when they see the WHY. Any teacher striving for excellence knows that application of understanding is the gold standard of learning. If your kids can take what they’ve learned and apply it to a new situation to solve a problem, then they have truly “got it”. That is when you see lightbulbs go on. Great teachers know that the lightbulb will not turn on for every student, and the lightbulb rarely turns on when you, or they, expect it to. Some of those light bulbs are instant on and some take longer to get to full power. That rare “thank you” may show it’s face when a returning students pops into your office years later. And as teachers, if our role is to produce lifelong learners who love what we do and what we teach, that late “thank you” is perfectly timed because our role as a teacher meant that they appreciate and value what they learned in your class LONG AFTER class was over.

There is a different way to approach education. If something I said in this post makes sense to you, please browse my other posts…you will most likely find that we have a tremendous amount in common–in which case we should connect.

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Ben: Why teachers do what we do

It’s the end of the year, exams are coming, teachers and students are a bit cranky and stressed, spring fever is still lingering as students are exhausted from a long year of rigorous academics. AP exams have wreaked havoc on schedules. Everyone is ready for the year to end. Except Ben.

These past couple years have been inconceivably rough for him. Within a few short weeks, he went from being a typical teenage to being a human being on the verge of a future unknown. It was discovered that he had cancer. And so as the rest of the world went about its business of homework, quizzes, reading novels, and presenting projects, Ben set out to survive. And survive is what he has done.

But, this is not a story about his ordeal in the hospital, but it is a story of what came next, and what is coming next.

I had the honor of being involved in two events recently which are quite simply amazing.

Hunting Island class camping trip

Our 11th graders decided to put together a class camping trip down to a beautiful state park near Beaufort, South Carolina. It was a sunny day full of beach soccer, Frisbee, beach football, playing in the waves, walking in the sand, building sand sculptures, bon fires, and ‘smores. But, the defining moment was when the class officers split up the grade into 5 teams, and created an obstacle course race that would pit wit vs. wit, speed vs. speed, and agility vs. agility. One of the events involved running 100 yards at full speed out to the surf, collect a bucket of water, balance it on your head as your ran back to deliver and dump it through a hula-hoop, then run back, dip your face in the ocean water yet again, and sprint back to the finish line. I had been helping to manage and keep score, so was not necessarily playing attention to who was actually competing…but more so that people were competing and following rules. And then, I looked up and saw two people sprinting towards the “finish” line. One of them was Ben…a huge smile on his face, chest out like Coach Salley and Coach Knight teach in cross country and track practice. Yes, there he was, head full of hair, barefoot in the sand, and running towards us. I am glad no one was paying attention to me because they would have seen a 46 year old man tear up and just stare in amazement. Only an English teacher could lead us through the many levels of symbolism and meaning in that sprint.

As if that needed a follow-up, I had the privilege of witnessing yet another powerful Class of 2014 event: Honor Council elections. I remember several years ago, when Ben was voted by his classmates to be the class representative to serve on the Honor Council, a student-led organization that helps promote and enforce the school’s 100+ year old honor code. It’s one of the most important, yet gut wrenching and challenging jobs at our school. Once you are elected to the council, you serve for the remainder of your time at the school. Anyone would surely understand and even support Ben stepping down from that role to focus on more important things, such as beating cancer.

Nope. Far from it.

Each spring, the members of the Honor Council vote for who will lead them as Honor Council chairperson the following year. It was a not a sprint down the beach like before, but instead it was a sprint of honor, integrity, dedication, commitment, and perseverance. Ben was elected to serve as the 2013-2014 Honor Council chairperson. Here is a boy who has survived perhaps the greatest ordeal possible to humankind, and yet one of his first acts of survival was to step up and lead his school.

That’s leadership; that’s humanity at it’s best and it is because of students like Ben that is why teachers do what we do.

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Overheard in a Computer Science classroom

Bored Student

We’ve got to do better than this

It happened again.” “What?” “I was in a meeting a few days ago and they were talking about Tony and his lack of energy, effort, attitude, effort, and performance in his other class. But, Doug, this kid is one of my top, most engaged students in the class; maybe even my best student. I’ve never had a behavior issue; in fact he is often helping other students in class, even coming in outside of class to work on class projects.

How can that be that in other classes, he is disengaged, uninterested, acting up, and performing badly?

So, let’s think about it.

A 13 year typical middle school boy, overflowing with energy, curiosity, and questions is told to sit down behind a desk, told to be quiet for 7 hours per day, and told to write down everything that the teacher says. He’ll have a chance to regurgitate that information back to the teacher, probably exactly as he wrote it down, on the homework and upcoming quiz. Every day, all day, all semester.

Hmmmm. I just can’t figure out why we have not reached him.


(sorry, OK I am back now)

Is that really our best educational model? Is that what we are doing in our classroom? Really?

If we made teachers sit through one day of professional delelopment in the manner that we structure our regular school day, every teacher in the country would abruptly quit.

I’d like to let you experience a different model. That same student comes into the Computer Science classroom and the moment he walks in the room, everything changes….

Students, you are going to need to be out of your seat during class. Someone may come over to you to ask for your help. Hey, class, did you see what Suzy got working after 2 days of struggling with it? Suzy can you show us that and tell us how to figured it out? Gosh, Ronny, that’s a great question! Larry and Ken have been doing something a little bit like that…why don’t you work with them to figure that out. Class we are having a speaker tomorrow via Skype, don’t forget to think about what question you are going to ask. Remember, if the speaker ever comments, “Wow, that’s a great question”, you get a badge point. So, think of some good questions. Eliot, you are going to need some really good characters for that part in your game, maybe you want to run down the art classroom, and see if there are kids down there who might be able to draw those for you? Fran, don’t forget our business manager said he could meet with you tomorrow to review your game design business plan. Presentations are next week…are you ready? Class, can I get your attention, we are going to watch a short Youtube video, so find a place where you can stop in your project, so we can watch it together. William and Ed will be leading the class discussion as well as the online discussion.

Engaged Words

How many of these do your students experience every day?

You are really gonna love the topic they picked for this week’s discussion topic—perhaps you read about on Reddit- Can Blackberry really come back? Andy, I know you spent a couple days photo editing that image, but that picture is just not quite the quality it should be for your simulation. Why don’t you get your iPhone and go outside to snap some better photos for your project. Oh yeah, class I heard back from the guy I was telling you about. He said he would love to have us all come on Thursday to their company’s office for a demonstration. That will be fun letting you guys experience what it’s like to be professional software testers. Jack, I feel like that line of code might be in the wrong place, do you think it might better sense to move that before this section? What effect will that have on the output? Hey guys, don’t walk behind Richard when he’s testing his Kinect game, the sensor will pick up your skeleton instead of his. Mary, that Xbox controller might have a bad trigger button, go grab another one…..your code looks like it should work; maybe that’s the problem? If not, maybe put this project on hold for a couple days, and work with Cindy and Lizzy on your group project—speaking of which–have you Skyped with the teacher in Michigan to run your ideas by her? Don’t forget to upload your game code so the kids at our partner school in Uganda can test the game you’ve created so far.

Students don’t mind workin hard if they are engaged…

I’ll be anxious to see what feedback you get. Students, remember for homework you’ve got to explain the Ender’s Game story you read to your parents and ask them a few questions to get their thoughts. Margaret, did you ever get that accelerometer app finished for the Nexus tablet? I remember you were struggling yesterday with the list iteration code block. Attention all students: I am sending all games for review to Microsoft next Wednesday; please submit your final version by then. We’ll Skype in a few weeks with their Kinect team for their comments. Group leaders, make sure you’ve practiced logging into the CHAT room, you will be leading the CHAT discussions tonight with your groups about the iRobot story we read. Sam and Ben, I feel like you’ve practiced enough and have a good understanding of where all the hardware parts go and what they do; I think you are ready to go after the record for building a computer blindfolded—the record so far is 1 minute 30 seconds. Can someone grab the box of robots? Today we are going to try to write code to access the temperature sensor and also simulate battery charging. Any ideas on how we might do that? Wow, Lucy, that 3D model you made is awesome! Hey class, if you want to see an awesome effort, check out her project—you might get some ideas for your own. How did you get such incredible detail, especially if we zoom in? Can I have everyone’s attention for a moment? I wanted to remind you that presentations start at 5:30 pm tonight. Please have your table displays ready one hour before. Parents will be arriving at 5:15. Make sure you have your demonstrations rehearsed and don’t forget to video record each other and submit that. Mr. Baylis, can I go out in the hall to test to see if my robot is sensing light correctly—oh yeah where are the batteries? BLOG responses are all due Sunday night. You’ll need to address those questions I sent you, plus start to plan your schedule for the next few weeks. Since this is a dual credit college course, I’ve invited the Department Chair of the Computer Science of the College of Charleston to come in as “guest professor” so you can have a real college class experience. He’ll be leading you for 2 days about O.O.P. polymorphism and inheritance; so please complete that practice exercise on the test site; you can run it as many times as you like until you get it– the error messages should help you troubleshoot. But if you still can’t get it, it’s certainly ok to call a classmate. Mrs. Clair could use some help at the 3rd grade Lego Robotics competition this weekend, if any of you want to volunteer. Our own competition is coming up in a couple weeks; have you been able to solve the challenges yet? If you’d like to join us on our summer Silicon Valley I.T. trip, the deadline for signup in in March; we’ve only got 2 spaces left. We’ve arranged private tours at NVidia, E.A., Microsoft, Google, and Intel. Hey Anthony, I love the topics, poverty and hunger, you chose for your game design project–how do you think you will blend the educational value and the fun factor into that design? Mr. Bergman, you mentioned that in addition to the Kinect camera sensor and Xbox controllers, there is a foot controlled “dance mat” that can be programmed. Can we order one so I use that as the input device for my game? Mr. Zaubi, I think my program is ready to be tested on an actual iPad instead of the emulator, can I use it?

Problem Solving…Collaboration…Hands-On

Those conversations happen in our Computer Science classes every day. Notice how grades were not the focus of class. The words “multiple choice test” were never spoken. The questions at the end of chapter were never assigned. Students were active participants in their own learning. You noticed the role of the teacher more along the lines of a guide and group leader than as a deliverer of content. You noticed we were focused on what students can DO, instead of what students KNOW.

My class happens to be a Computer Science classroom, but I’ll argue that any Math, Science, History, or Foreign Language class could be structured the same way.

Many teachers have heard me get on my bandwagon about classes like this. They hear this and give me 20 reasons why they cannot have this style of class in their department. There is a big difference between CAN NOT and DO NOT. It’s a completely different approach to education. It involves schools accepting that the world we are preparing our students to be leaders in is NOT the world we grew up in.

Is there a place for this type of class in education?

I propose that there is a different way forward. If something you heard in this article makes sense to you, I’d love to connect. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, at a conference, or the web.

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Who’s on First: Microsoft version

OK, I know I usually address some pretty serious topics here, but just wanted to have some fun…..
(I am sure there are many variations of this out there, but here’s my version)

If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today, their infamous sketch, “Who’s on First?” might have turned out something like this:

(TOM is a not-so-tech-savvy customer calling the computer salesperson, ABBOT)

ABBOTT: Hello! Computer Store! Can I help you?
TOM: Thanks. I am setting up an office in my home and I’m thinking about buying a computer.
TOM: No, the name’s TOM.
ABBOTT: I meant your computer?
TOM: I don’t own a computer. I want to buy one.
TOM: no, it’s TOM.
ABBOTT: You want Windows?
TOM: You mean in my office?
ABBOTT: Yes, do you want a computer with Windows?
TOM: No, I want a room with windows. And I want a computer in the office on the desk.
ABBOTT: Do you want virus protection?
TOM: For me? You mean like a shot?
ABBOTT: No, for your computer. In case you leave Windows open. Your computer can get a virus
TOM: My computer can get sick if I leave the window open?
ABBOTT: Yes, if it gets a bug. And if does get a bug, it might crash.
TOM: A bug will crawl inside my computer and cause it to crash on the floor?
ABBOTT: No, Windows will crash on your desktop. Just make sure to close Windows
TOM: In the office?
ABBOTT: Yes, in your office while sitting in your chair
TOM: But I cannot reach the windows from the chair
ABBOTT: Is the computer not going to be on your desktop in front of you?
TOM: Yes it is. Ok, fine. Look. After I close the windows by standing on the desktop, can I lock the windows?
ABBOTT: Yes, but you’ll need a password to unlock Windows.
TOM: Can’t I just use my hand to unlock the lock on the windows?
ABBOTT: Well, you’ll use your hand to type the password
TOM: On my window?
ABBOTT: Yes, in Windows, but don’t tell anyone your password
TOM: What if it gets HOT and they want to open windows?
ABBOTT: Oh, there’s a fan in your computer to keep it from overheating
Tom: Wow. So, my windows are connected to my computer?
TOM: Cool.
ABBOTT: Sir, I am setting up your computer now. What pictures do you want for your wallpaper?
TOM: You mean the wallpaper on my walls in my office? Thanks anyway, we are going to just paint the wallpaper.
ABBOTT: You mean with Microsoft Paint?
TOM: Microsoft sells paint?
ABBOTT: No, it comes free with your computer.
TOM: Cool. On the new computer, I need something I can use to write proposals and run my business. What do you recommend?
ABBOT: Office
TOM: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?
ABBOTT: I just did.
TOM: You just did what?
ABBOTT: Recommend something.
TOM: You recommended something?
TOM: For my office?
TOM: OK, what did you recommend for my office?
ABBOTT: Office.
TOM: Yes…..I said Yes…. for my office!
ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.
TOM: Of course my office has windows. We’ve gone over this.
ABBOTT: No, I recommended Windows for your computer with Office.
TOM: the computer in my office?
ABBOT: No, Office is in your computer. Just click on it.
TOM: With my finger?
ABBOTT: No, with the mouse.
TOM: A mouse is used to click things? Do I keep it in a cage?
ABBOTT: No, it will stay by your computer
TOM: Do I buy it at PetSmart? Do I have to feed it?
ABBOTT: No. It also comes with your computer. Do NOT put food in it. It will die if you do.
TOM: Wow. OK, let’s just say I’m sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?
TOM: What word?
ABBOTT: Word in Office.
TOM: The only word in office is “office”.
ABBOTT: Word in Office for Windows.
TOM: Which word in “office for windows”?
ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue “W”.
TOM: I’m going to click your blue “w” if you don’t start giving me some straight answers. Ok, look…..what about financial bookkeeping? You got anything I can track my money with?
ABBOTT: Microsoft Money.
TOM: Microsoft prints money, too?
ABBOTT: No, they just put it in Windows.
TOM: So, I when I buy a computer, I get money?
ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge. It comes bundled with your computer.
TOM: I get a bundle of money with my computer at no extra charge?
ABBOTT: Yep. But you only get one licensed copy. You can’t sell it
TOM: sell my money?
ABBOTT: Correct.
TOM: Ok, I won’t. OK, let’s just say I wanted to turn the whole thing off when I’m done. Do I just hit the power button?
ABBOTT: No, it will shut itself down by closing Windows
TOM: It will close the windows by itself? Wow. How does it do that?
ABBOTT: Just click the START button
TOM: You mean we click the START button in order to STOP it?

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The Value of Innovative Education

Over 100 educators invited to Redmond,WA

I had the pleasure and honor of being a judge at this year’s Partners in Learning (Microsoft) Innovators Forum. What exactly is it anyway and what is the value of innovative education to the world?

Well, thousands of people in the U.S. submit applications for consideration to be one of about 100 educators who will be invited to attend the US Forum. There are similar events held all year all across the globe (over 250,000 people worldwide submit applications).

Teachers connect with other innovators from across the country

At each event, these educators spend a few days getting to know each other, sharing ideas, making connections, getting ideas, presenting their projects, working together, hearing incredible speakers, seeing cool demos (this year, we got our private Windows 8 live demo) and celebrating education…..but at the core of each event is the idea that they themselves are being honored and celebrated for their true spirit of innovation in the classroom. Teachers spend a few days being truly recognized for their awesomeness (for lack of a better word). Sure, there is a common tech-thread in the projects that were submitted, but technology was only one aspect. What is being identified is teachers who are designing lessons that quite simply are at an entirely different level than most.

Teachers bring together digital learning, true 21st Century tools, and innovation

How are they doing that? They are having their students tackle real world problems through collaboration, problem solving, building and creating knowledge based on real hands-on experiences, integrating digital learning, and extending learning far outside the classroom….and it truly takes an innovative teacher leading the way…..being a true agent of change. As you can imagine, this type of out-of-the box approach is sometimes a fish out of water….NOT HERE….this type of out –of-the-box style is exactly what these projects and teachers have in common.

Can ideas such as the Flipped Classroom really impact education?

What we find across the world is that teachers like these tend to be “islands unto themselves”. Teachers that are doing things that are innovative, creative, and out-of-the-box sometimes don’t necessarily get the support you might imagine. These are teachers who are doing what they do not because they are trying to increase test scores or to get a better parking spot…these are teachers who are trying to develop students with the necessary skills and confidence to solve problems in the world they are going into. It’s a much higher calling. And they crave others who see better and different ways forward in their classrooms, in their schools, in their districts, in their states and counties, in their countries, and in OUR world.

How do they do it? They ask different questions; they find reasons why they CAN do things; they figure out how to make things happen; they find people who say YES when others say NO; they find people who will help them when others will not; they find ways to inspire and engage their students in 21st Century ways as opposed to traditional methods, they use a variety of tools to plan and design experiences that will allow their students to use their minds to think and apply that learning…not simply give back what they’ve been told or shown; they believe the days of a teacher-centered classroom no longer have a place in our education institutions; they believe students best learn by using their hands to experience their learning—not just to take notes; they believe there are other ways to evaluate classes besides outdated traditional methods.

Students: Does that sound like a class you’d like to be in all year? Parents: Does that sound like a class you’d like to have your own children connected with? Administrators: Does that sound like a teacher you’d like to have in your school? Policy makers: if there were schools which embraced that philosophy…wouldn’t you love to call those yours? Politicians: If all of our schools were full of teachers like that, wouldn’t that be a way for the United States to reclaim our lead in education across the world?

True passion for education and learning is the only "common core standard" in this group of teachers

Ahh, but we would not be reclaiming that lead based on test scores…not because we met some minimum national standards…we would be claiming a lead based on actually developing students who come out of schools ready to address the problems with confidence and a large repertoire of tools– digital, mental, and physical.

OK, back to the Innovators Forum and the value of innovation to the world.

What was incredible was there were teachers from every grade from Pre-K all the way to 12th, teachers from subjects ranging from Art to Physical Education to Science to Math to Computer Science to English to Foreign Language, teachers from public and private schools, teachers from urban and rural schools, teachers from well-to-do as well as poverty-stricken areas; and teachers from huge and very small schools. My point being is each teacher had plenty of obstacles to go around, plenty of hurdles to jump, plenty of reasons NOT to do what they did—yet they found the one reason to do it. And they did it in style. And that’s why they were in Seattle for the Partners in Learning Innovators Forum.

And out of that group of incredible innovators, an even more select group was then selected to represent the United States in a similar Forum but at the global level. Last year, the United States had several teachers who were award winners at the Global Forum—we look forward to seeing how we’ll do this year (to be held in Prague in Czech Republic). This global forum is a week-long event hosting over 75 countries that bring some of their country’s most innovative teachers. The impact it has is truly world wide.

Ok, back to my original prompt: What is the value of innovative education? Education systems all across the world, including our wonderful country of the United States, find themselves stuck in antiquated, outdated, ineffective, boring, out-of-focus, test-centric, and broken systems. And we need educators who are willing to break down stereotypes, barriers, and obstacles…to take chances…to take some risks…and we need administrators to support them. We need students to value entering those classrooms because they want to learn—not because they want a grade. We need parents to support their children when they select courses based on love and passion—not based on what looks good on a transcript. We need administrators to look past standardized tests as a basis for school evaluation, curriculum development and schedule creation. We need politicians to give teachers and schools the authority and power to make their own decisions and the chance to let excellence develop. We need colleges to allow entering freshmen to be selected based on hard work and passion and curiosity, not on a rigid checklist of standardized criteria. We need fellow teachers not to be intimidated by innovation happening around them…but to ask how they can be a part of it. And if we all embrace what MUST happen, we can take our entire education system to entirely new levels. Looking ahead, if we truly want the best for our students, then we must find a different way forward.

If this post makes sense to you, I’d love to connect. Find me…

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I am right where I want to be…

The 2012 Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovator Forum.

Last year at this time, I was as excited as I’d ever been in my professional career. I had been selected as a first round selection in a nationwide search for teachers who are bringing innovation and technology in new ways into the classroom. There would eventually be over 100 selectees. We had been working hard at our school to develop a leading edge program, so that recognition was confirmation that we were on the right track. That in itself would have been one of the highlights of my career; to have gone on and been one of eleven award winners who would then represent the United States at the Global Forum was an honor unlike any I’ve ever had.

That experience was one of the most incredible in my life.

So, why am I as excited now as I was then? One of my fellow award winners, Lou Zulli, and I were honored to be asked to be judges at this year’s event. I’ve looked through this year’s selectees and the projects they submitted…wow…another incredible set of teachers and ideas. What I love about this group (and last year’s group), was that the selectees are from all across the country, from all levels of education, from all disciplines, and from all types of education institutions.(Check ‘em out) What that means is, despite what we hear on TV and read in the papers, there ARE incredible things happening all around us in classrooms. There ARE administrators who equip their teachers with the tools they need to come out of the 19th century style classroom and enter far into the 21st century. There are teachers who hear a higher calling and are not just wishing and hoping to change the world—they have chosen to be part of that change.

In a few weeks, I’ll have the chance to spend 4 days at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond Washington (I’ve requested lunch with Bill Gates, but that has not been confirmed yet) at this year’s Partners in Learning event. Of course, my main responsibility will be to work with the other 29 judges and determine the 10 most dynamic, incredible, innovative, and reproducible projects from a set of projects that have already been through a rigorous selection process. I can’t wait. I’ll have the opportunity to study in depth many of projects submitted by some of the most incredible teachers in our country…and then I’ll have the chance to interview many of them to find out what’s “behind” these projects. And that’s what I am so excited about. One of my passions in life is helping to change our definition of great education—to redefine what we teach and how we teach so that we are preparing our students to be leaders in academia, business, research, politics, and entertainment—to redefine what parents expect in their schools—to redefine how students are engaged in their classrooms. The walls that have traditionally been up need no longer be there; the time constraints that have traditionally been in place need no longer be there; the measurements and evaluations that have traditionally been used need to change; the expectations teachers have of themselves must change.

Microsoft has been instrumental in the commercial space to helping to bring technology to a place in society where the average person now has a wide variety of digital tools to help solve their problems. In the educational space, they have an entire education branch of their company that has not just talked that talk…they are walking the walk. They are reaching out to schools, teachers, districts, students and actually being part of “making a difference” all across the world. Amongst many ongoing efforts, their Partners in Learning initiative has reached millions of educators and schools—it is an incredible resource available to anyone. Join a world wide community that has dedicated itself to making serious changes in education. Check out https://www.facebook.com/partnersinlearning and join a true grass roots revolution that has been happening, is happening, and will continue to happen.

If you are an educator, and are in the Computer Science discipline and would like to connect — Please contact me! I am always interested in working with teachers from all across the world who see a different way forward.

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GRADES: Do we know what they really mean?

Tests 50%
Quizzes 30%
Class Participation and effort 10%
Homework 10%

Does that look like a typical weighted grading system for a class?

But, what does the grade we give at the end of the class mean?

Weight Grading Scale Options

Weight Grading Scale Options

Is it supposed to reflect the learning that has occurred? If so, then maybe we should only count the last test. Is it supposed to reflect the improvement? If so, then a student who does really poorly on tests and quizzes for the first half of class, but that figures it out by the end should get an A (but will not). Is it supposed to be a reflection of the day to day work and effort that they do all year? Then our daily participation and effort percentage should change to 75%. Should we even grade homework? Is it important that they do it? If so, shouldn’t it be more of a part of the grade? Is that homework graded based on attempt or only correct answers? Is the grade supposed to be a reflection of the regurgitation of content? If so, give a huge multiple choice test with no discussion. Is it supposed to be an analysis of content? Then let our exams be all essay and short answer instead of multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank. Is it supposed to be an application of understanding? Then an in-depth project that incorporates and requires application of a variety of cumulative skills should be a majority of the grade. Students say a teacher gives a grade, but teachers say students earn it. Which is it? Is there any truth to what the students say? Teachers, have you ever given a pop quiz because you know most kids did not read? Teachers, have you ever made a test harder than usual, or worse…..easier than usual? Why? If a student bombs one major test, but gets A+ on everything else, what grades does he earn? If a student is apathetic every day in class but gets A+ on all tests and quizzes demonstrating unquestionably that she ”gets “ the material, what grade does she get? If a student works hard all semester, participates in class, tries hard on all homework and assignments, but in the end just not quite “get it” so does poorly on tests, what grade does he get? Teachers, have you ever curved a test? Why? How does that sync up with you grading system? Teachers, if test grades do not follow a standard Bell curve, is that OK? If all students have mastered the material and demonstrate that effectively on an a solid evaluation, is it ok if all students get “A”s?

Grading Scale Sample

So, you see, a grade is actually very complex, yet there is no standard at any school, in any district, or college. Schools even use different number systems to define letter grades. Some school use + and -, some don’t . Some use larger bands for B and C. Some allow D as passing, some do not. Some high schools “weight” Honors and AP class grades, some do not. Teachers even within the same department have very different scales and weight percentages. Teachers sometimes even have completely different categories. I am not suggesting that this is necessarily bad, just something to consider. And maybe something that may push us into considering that we move away from looking at(and using) grades like we do. Teachers hate when students only seem to care about the grade, yet don’t we dangle it in front of them all semester long?

Another Grading Scale

So how can we possibly compare a grade from one school to another, even for the same class? When we know the classes are probably far from similar in the first place and most likely the grading as well. And if the answer to that question is that we really do not have to compare them, then I’ll re-ask my original question, what does the grade a student gets in a class mean?

So in conclusion, I’ll ask the same question yet again in the biggest sense: what does the grade a student gets in a class really mean?

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