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Inquiry, Choice, Curating and Relevance

November 17, 2015

I continue to work towards connecting the dots between the deep inquiry process that student curation brings, and making learning personal for each student.

Recently, Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey, authors of Make Learning Personal and the most knowledgeable people I know on the topic of personalized learning published a brilliant infographic, illustrated by the amazing Sylvia Duckworth, on “The Continuum of Choice.”

This reminded me immediately of another graphic that depicts the evolution of inquiry – moving control of the learning –or inquiry –from the teacher, to the student, created by Robert BonnstetterIn an earlier blog post, I speculated that the column furthest to the right demonstrates student curation.  I started wondering, where does student choice fall in this process?

By Ronald J. Bonnstetter: Available

By Ronald J. Bonnstetter: Available

I created the chart below to show my thinking on the connections and alignment between Inquiry, Choice, Curation & Relevance:

inquiry choice curation and relevance

While student curation is an important part of transferring ownership of learning to the student, and allows for them to think deeply and make connections as learners, I can see by looking at the “Continuum of Student Choice” that curation is not the final step.  We need to provide time and support for our learners to take the next step, and apply the learning and understandings they have reached through the process of  curating to solving real world problems, or to create something new.

Because, it’s about the transfer. If we want students to have enduring understanding, and be able to use their learning in practical ways, to solve real world, messy, unstructured problems.  We need to provide the opportunity for them to practice this kind of learning transfer in a safe and supported environment. 

My Best Hopes for the Future

August 26, 2015

I serve on our district’s Graduation Guidelines Committee, and recently we were asked to ponder the four questions below as we work on a plan to address new Graduation Guidelines for the state of Colorado.  (The views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of my district) 

kids on computerWho are we?

We are the custodians of our students’ future. We will assure that students have the needed knowledge and skills for an uncertain future. We are trusted with ensuring that our students know how to learn, have the skills to do so, and we (as a collective group of stakeholders – teachers, parents, administrators, students, higher ed reps, and business reps) understand that  the best preparation for an uncertain future emphasizes the learning skills through a different kind of school experience than we have been accustomed to.


Where must we go?

I believe we must re-evaluate the way we teach, or more importantly, the way students learn, and see where we can make changes to assure students are getting the 21st century and workforce readiness skills that they need. Lecture and textbook-based learning do not help students develop these skills. The norm should be students are learning content along the way to solving complex, real-world problems.  Students should be the architects of their own learning.  There must be support/scaffolding in place for students who will struggle – but we need to increase voice & choice so we can transfer ownership of learning to the student. Teachers need professional training to learn how to design this kind of learning.  And technology must be ubiquitously available for all of our students’ learning. Consider – what percentage of time do you think our students will use paper and pencil in their future work?  And what percentage of time do they currently use it? If the answer to the second question is larger than the first, then we must do something to balance this. We can impact how they learn – but the future is already rolling out and this is something we have no control over.

What can we allow?

I think we need to allow whatever it takes – but we need to have parent & community support and their understanding of WHY there is a need to change the way we teach and the way students learn.  Higher Ed must also  be prepared to make some changes  as we and other districts are finding a way to move toward a new model of learning.

What do we hope to allow?

I hope we can allow students to have voice & choice in their learning and how they earn a diploma. I hope we can allow students to continuously practice 21st century/workforce readiness skills in pursuit of showing competency in the academic standards, but student paths can all be personalized.  Students should be the architects of their learning, because if they are, they will be able to see a real connection between the learning pathways they choose and their higher education and career paths. 

Educator Rights & Responsibilities for Future-Ready Students

June 28, 2015

Educator rights and responsibilities

At the Innovative Education in Colorado (#InnEdCo15) conference, our Leadership preconference featured George Couros, who shared his thinking on transforming classrooms via Sylvia Duckworth’s great infographic. (8 Things to Look for In Today’s Classroom) This got me thinking: What if we applied these 8 things to professional learning and practice for teachers and administrators? As I continued thinking about these 8 things, I began to think of these as not just rights, but also responsibilities if we are ever going to achieve innovation in education and fundamentally transform learning to become relevant for each learner. What would you add to the list?


Teachers and administrators should learn from others and share their learning! Find your voice, get connected via Twitter, present at conferences, in staff meetings, and at parent meetings. Share the exciting learning that is occurring in your school or classroom.


Strength-based learning: Give educators a choice! We understand that technology is opening a pathway to be able to personalize learning for each student. Why not use the same tools and strategies to make professional learning personal for every educator? Offer a blend of online and face-to-face learning. Give educators choice by letting them set personal learning goals and develop a pathway to get there. Provide coaching, support and resources to help them along the way.

reflectionTime for Reflection

Everyone can benefit from writing and reflecting on what is being learned. Combine this with “Voice” – and you will make the case to start a blog to share your reflective practice with the world! Model reflection for your students. Be a co-learner.


Innovation-CompassOpportunities for Innovation

Administrators: teachers need opportunities for innovation in a safe environment. I’ve made this case on my blog a few times…teacher creativity leads to student creativity. Teachers: Design matters. Be innovative in creating learning experiences for your students that offer them the opportunity to think deeper, create and make connections in pursuit of answers and solutions to real world problems. This doesn’t happen in the factory model of education. Don’t just think outside the box – build a new box!

critical thinkCritical Thinkers

Teachers and administrators should ask questions and challenge what they see. Don’t just do things in education because that’s the way it’s always been done. Times have changed! Challenge the status-quo and seek out opportunities to collaborate and problem solve for each student in your charge.


Problem solveProblem-Solvers – Finders

Teachers and administrators face tough challenges. Merriam-Webster defines innovation as a new idea, device, or method. Find innovative solutions. Embrace the cycle of problem solving where you try, fail, and try again. Model this for your students.

self assessSelf-Assessment

Self-assessment is formative assessment. It’s part of reflective practice. And, it’s important that teachers and administrators do this. Portfolios can help. And model. And give you voice. And help you connect and grow.

connectConnected Learning

Being a connected educator will make you a better educator. If we hope to be able to help our students safely and effectively navigate social media and the hyper-connected online world, we need to understand it as a participant –and a learner– ourselves. If we hope to keep up with the rapidly growing set of technology tools and strategies for learning, then Twitter is the place to be.

Systematic Approach to Innovation for Learning

May 19, 2015

One of my primary job responsibilities is helping educators in my district to innovate by providing thought leadership and professional development to get us there. We have embraced University of South Florida’s Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) as a way to help teachers understand the different levels of technology integration, with an eye toward reaching transformation, all while understanding that not all teaching and learning will fall into this category. Much like with the Rigor and Relevance Framework created by the International Center for Leadership in Education, we recognize that learning brand new content often occurs in Quadrant A, or, on the TIM, in the “entry level.” We explain that we hope teachers can increase the frequency of teaching and learning that occurs in Quadrant D of the Rigor & Relevance Framework, or transformative teaching and learning in the TIM. But lately I’ve been wondering, will this get us to innovation? Or, will we have teachers that will be content with the low-hanging fruit – which would be Quadrants A & B, or Entry/Adoption?

TIM and RR Framework

The two models are different, in that the TIM focuses on levels of technology integration –the strategy for learning, rather than describing the learning. TIM is all about how the tools are being used – not on the results they produce. It is about inputs. The Rigor & Relevance Framework describes what the students are doing, and the outcome. TIM and RR Framework reflectionAs I look at these models and reflect, I wonder if transformation, as described by TIM, is enough for innovation. (See For instance, if we are using technology in transformative ways, but it is only for acquisition or application of knowledge, or is limited to one discipline, can we even describe this as transformative, in terms of the impact on the learner?

TPACK-newLet’s face it, educational technology departments are stretched pretty thin, and so much of our efforts are still being spent on just trying to get more teachers to use technology. But to obtain the level of innovation that we seek, transformative learning that will prepare our students for an “unimagined future,” a systematic approach is needed, that meets teachers where they are, and consistently moves them forward in both pedagogical and technological knowledge, so that they can achieve the sweet spot described in the TPACK model –Technological, Pedagogical Content Knowledge. We can’t just focus on TIM, because that is only about inputs. To really achieve innovation, I believe we must also use the Rigor and Relevance Framework and backwards design process outlined in Understanding by Design, which includes setting learning goals for transfer.

Underlying truly meaningful and deeply skilled teaching with technology, TPACK is different from knowledge of all three concepts individually. Instead, TPACK is the basis of effective teaching with technology, requiring an understanding of the representation of concepts using technologies; pedagogical techniques that use technologies in constructive ways to teach content; knowledge of what makes concepts difficult or easy to learn and how technology can help redress some of the problems that students face; knowledge of students’ prior knowledge and theories of epistemology; and knowledge of how technologies can be used to build on existing knowledge to develop new epistemologies or strengthen old ones (Koehler & Mishra, 2009, accessed at



Backwards Planning Professional Development for 1:1

March 6, 2015

I love the Understanding by Design  (UbD) method for planning learning with the end in mind.  This makes perfect sense, no matter what you teach – if your goal is to make sure that your students learn. (it’s not enough to say you “taught” it.)  In my case, my learners happen to be teachers, and so modeling backwards planning when designing professional learning is essential.

Ubd Elements and BenefitsCurrently, I am working on a plan for professional learning to support teachers who may pilot 1:1 through BYOD  “Bring Your Own Device” in their classes next year.  In UbD, Stage 1 involves identifying the learning goals for transfer, understanding, knowledge, and skills, and an overarching essential question that can drive the learning.  I love how thinking through these learning goals can spark ideas for the “performance assessment” – which in this case will be the teachers designing learning that is focused on learning goals, and then designing a performance assessment and activities to support those goals – which is where the technology comes into play.

Here are the goals I’ve drafted–what would you add?

Transfer Goal:

Teachers create learning ecosystems that motivate students to own the learning by using technology to support deeper, more personal learning.

 Goals for Understanding:

  • What is possible to do with technology that could not be done without it
  • Understanding how to design learning that motivates learners to take ownership
  • Understanding how to give learners voice and choice
  • Understand that learning is a social endeavor
  • Understand that learner questions and questioning are at the heart of learning
  • Understand that real world problem solving motivates learners to reach higher
  • Understand that the more they release control, the more students will own the learning

Goals for Knowledge

  • Teachers know how to backwards design learning
  • Know what it “looks like’ when students are using technology in transformative ways
  • Teachers know how to design learning for authentic problem solving
  • Teachers know the 21st century skills
  • Teachers know how to facilitate, rather than just deliver learning

Goals for Skill

  • Basic troubleshooting  of devices
  • How to use a core group of apps and tools for creating and connecting
  • How to model, teach, assess and give students feedback on 21st century skills

Essential Question: How can we make the learning ecosystem meaningful for each individual learner?

Reflection from Educon 2.7: In Tweets

February 15, 2015

I started this blog 4 years ago, after my first visit to Educon in 2011, being so inspired by the students and staff, under the leadership of Chris Lehmann, at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, who host this conference every year.  It remains one of the best examples I have ever seen of a school where students own the learning. This year’s visit proved that despite budget cuts and over-testing that they are experiencing along with the rest of the public schools in the country, it is still possible to remain true to your mission and core values .  At SLA, inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are the core values, and they are evident everywhere you look.

Below you will find a brief presentation I shared with the Digital Learning Coaches in our school district, in which I attempted to capture from tweets the reasons, for me, that visiting The Science Leadership Academy and participating in Educon is so inspirational. Educon has become the “un-conference” where I go to re-charge my batteries, and to be reminded of what is possible in public education with the right vision, leadership, and support.


December 31, 2014

My Question:   In its current form, does an LMS  help, or hinder learning?

IMG_1268I share a lot of articles and resources with my PLN on a regular basis, usually adding a few words to share my reaction to the item. I often get retweets, and sometimes, a thank you or a few tweets exchanged,  but  every now and then, something really special happens.  Sharing  Audrey Watter’s blog post “Beyond the LMS” in September was one of those special moments. This blog post seemed to hit a nerve with several others in my PLN.  There was a desire to talk it out, exchange more thoughts and ideas, more resources, and gain a better understanding.  My friend and fellow Coloradan, Jessica Raleigh,  (@TyrnaD) responded to my comment in a Google Hangout, “This really made me think!” sharing that it made her think too!  She offered to put together a Voxer group to discuss, and proceeded to invite others to join us.  I had no idea how to use Voxer – I don’t think I had ever heard of it before then, so I was excited to learn this new tool on the way to gaining a better understanding of LMSs. Soon, we were joined by  Chris Rogers (@chrisrogers07) and Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur), as well as Lisa Goochee (@blubirding)

Thus, the stage was set for our learning. We had:


Note that there is no LMS in this learning scenario.  It is happening freely, serendipitously, utilizing social media of many kinds.  No one gave us this “assignment.” We all participated in this learning out of our personal desires to know and understand, in order to best meet the needs of the students we serve.

Over the course of 4 months, we have discussed, shared additional articles, and even wrote ( and  it was accepted!) a proposal for an unconference-style conversation on LMSs at this summer’s InnEdCo conference in Keystone, Colorado.  We have tweeted, blogged, Voxed, curated, and texted  each other sharing our “ahas,” additional resources, and further questions.   Some things we discussed included:

Image CC Licensed by Wikimedia Commons. Available

Image CC Licensed by Wikimedia Commons. Available

-The word “management” is problematic.  Who should manage a student’s learning?   It seems to be more about control. It can stifle learning.

-The LMS is like a walled garden.   We need to open up that garden and let students interact in the “real world.”

-The LMS could best be viewed as “training wheels” – but eventually, those training wheels need to come off.

  • The LMS affords some level of accountability and safety.  This is why it may always be with us.  This means we need to find a balance between management & control and, well –  learning!


Here’s the thing.  We have been participating in really wonderful, self-directed, unfettered learning. On our own terms.  In our own time. With the tools of our choice. It has been a powerful, heady experience! Relationships have formed – even though most of us have never met face-to-face!

This is what I want for our students. What are the chances that this kind of learning could take place inside an LMS?  That is the question that continues to haunt me.

What I see in practice is that the LMS basically picks up the 20th century teaching and information delivery style, and transfers it into electronic format.  The LMS seems to make the S (substitution) in the SAMR model easiest to accomplish.  It is hard for a teacher and students to form relationships inside its electronic walls. It is hard to foster creativity.

When I have been a student using an LMS, I have felt isolated and alone, other than a very artificial sense of community in the “mandatory” participation in the forums.  Some comments there seem so contrived, they are laughable.

This is not the kind of learning I want for our students.

So, I will continue to seek answers, and try to find that perfect balance.  I am excited that we have an opportunity to draw even more people in our conversation at InnEdCo.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the LMS.  What do you think? Does it help, or hinder learning?

Ed-tech must not become an extraction effort, and it increasingly is. The future, I think we’ll find, will be a reclamation project. Ed-tech must not be about building digital walls around students and content and courses. We have, thanks to the Web, an opportunity to build connections, build networks, not walls. – Audrey Watters


Bringing Innovation to High School

December 22, 2014

Do high schools today provide opportunities for students to innovate? This was the question that 3 high school science teachers in our “Creating Innovators” grant project kept asking themselves as they were reading Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators during our project’s book study.  It seemed apparent that very few of the innovators described in the book attributed any of their innovative nature to teachers or mentors in their high school.  Upon further reflection, these teachers, Kristi Follett, Heather Wendt and Niki Juhl realized that providing opportunities for innovation while still meeting content requirements and within the current school structure and time constraints is next to impossible, so they set out to do something about it.

In researching examples of innovation in the Colorado Springs area, they learned about a unique program at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:  the world’s only Bachelor of Innovation Degree Program.  This program offers Bachelor of Innovation degrees in six different majors:  Business, Computer Science, Computer Security, Electrical Engineering, Game Design and Development and Inclusive Early Childhood Education. No matter which area students major in, all students in the program must complete 27 credit hours of the Innovation Core courses, to include courses in entrepreneurship, the innovative process, business and intellectual property law, technical writing, proposals & presentations, and innovation teams, to include analyze, report, research, execute, design, lead, and strategy.  Students in this program work with real clients, write grants, design programs, and solve real-world problems.

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. – Theodore Levitt

Kristi, Heather & Niki reached out to the BI program via the visionary founder, Dr. Terry Boult, and Co-Director of of Strategic Alliances, Dr. Colleen Stiles.  After multiple conversations, a true collaborative partnership emerged.  One of the UCCS BI Innovative Teams classes adopted these 3 science teachers as a client.  The problem they were trying to solve? How to bring RHS Innovatorsinnovative learning opportunities to high school science classes. The result?  The UCCS students worked with Kristi, Heather and Niki to design an elective science course, I.D.E.A.S. – “Innovative Design in Educational Alliances for STEM.”  The program is rooted in standards for Science, English, and Math, but also addresses all parts of innovation: funding, teams, process, and protection of ideas – and 21st century skills. Essentially, high school students will be mentored by UCCS BI students and participate on innovative teams applying science knowledge to solve real world problems for clients. The BI students are currently seeking funding for the program, and are prepared to assist when it comes time to request the new course before the school board. These BI students are highly motivated to make this happen, being recent high school graduates themselves.  They recognize the need to create more engaging and authentic learning experiences for high school students.

To read more about Kristi, Heather, and Niki’s innovative adventures, visit their blog, Innovation Adventures, and follow them on Twitter:  @follett_kristi, @heathernov8 , @juhlniki


Reaching “Technology-Reluctant” Teachers

October 12, 2014

Creating Innovators slide 1How do we reach teachers who would probably never volunteer to attend an educational technology professional development workshop, let alone a full-year grant project?  During the 2013-14 school year, our IT-Educational Services department wanted to use some internal grant funding to try to reach out to some of these teachers in a meaningful way; to start them on the road toward innovative and transformative learning for their students.  We decided on piloting a peer-mentoring program, where we would select some of our innovative/early adopting teachers from 8 different schools to mentor 2-3 “technology-reluctant” teachers in their schools.  Here are the goals we drafted:

Creating Innovators Goals

Designing the Professional Development Plan

We use Understanding by Design to plan out our professional development workshops and programs, to help us assure that we identify meaningful learning goals for our teachers, activities were aligned with these goals, and that measures of success were in place.  For this project, our overall transfer goal was this:

ci transfer goal

Before meeting with the whole group of mentors & mentees, we had one workshop just for the mentors, to give them tips and Creating Innovators book coverinformation on strategies for instructional coaching, using many of the wonderful resources from ISTE’s Coaches PLN, including the ISTE Standards for Coaches.  Both mentors & mentees participated in an online learning community to do a book study of Tony Wagner’s wonderful book, Creating Innovators – from which we came up with the title of our grant project. Throughout the year, we offered four face-to-face workshops to the whole group. At each workshop, we  modeled active, hands-on learning, sharing strategies and tools that they could use in their classrooms. We used the University of South Florida’s Technology Integration Matrix for teachers to self-assess where they were in using technology and the videos to help them capture a vision of where they’d like to be.  We set up “think tanks” for them to benefit from small group brainstorming on how to improve a lesson or unit through the use of technology tools and innovative learning strategies.  We introduced them to the Stanford dSchool Design Thinking process. Additionally, we provided subs so they could visit each other’s classrooms, and we visited two innovative schools in the Denver Metro area – Adams 12’s STEM program at Northglenn High School and the STEM Launch K-8 school, also in Adams 12. In addition to all of this, the mentors worked 1:1 with their mentees throughout the year, offering just-in-time teaching of tools and strategies, advice, and encouragement.  All of these activities were designed with the end in mind: building the mentee teachers’ understanding, skills and confidence so that they would be willing to try some of these innovative practices for teaching and learning with their own students.

Academy District 20's Creating Innovators Mentor Team: Phil McIntosh, Toni Olivieri-Barton, Nancy White, Autumn Cave-Crosby, Doug Hinkle, Sandy Vuletich, and Kristi Follett

Academy District 20’s Creating Innovators Mentor Team: Phil McIntosh, Toni Olivieri-Barton, Nancy White, Autumn Cave-Crosby, Doug Hinkle, Sandy Vuletich, and Kristi Follett. Not pictured: Leni Schlieper, Alicia Needham.

I am happy to report that we were very successful in accomplishing our goal.  It was interesting that each team of teachers seemed to connect with one particular strategy from our professional development plan, and all seemed to branch out in  different directions, to  best meet the needs of the learners in their schools. Our mentor teachers presented as a panel at ISTE to an audience of over 200 people, sharing their challenges and successes in the Creating Innovators Project.

I’d like to share with you the impact on one of our elementary teachers. The video below was produced by Justin Crosby and mentor teacher,  Autumn Crosby, and features Autumn’s mentee, Cheryl Hammarquist, kindergarten Teacher, Michelle Sylvestri, kindergarten paraprofessional, and Dr. Kathy Pickering, assistant principal.


In my next blot post, I will share the story of our high school mentor/mentee team, who are taking innovation to a whole new level!

Leadership Day 2014: A Call to Innovate

August 15, 2014



A comment made during this week’s #edchat,  for which the topic was “What are your 2 specific top priorities that you would put in place today for education reform? has inspired this writing for #leadershipday2014.  Justin Buckner (@bucknerclass), a 4th grade teacher from San Antonio and author of the Everyday Project Based Learning blog  tweeted:


edchat tweet

I wonder how many schools and districts have some version of the word “innovate” in their mission statements.   I also wonder how many of those schools and districts are prepared to back their teachers who truly want to innovate, within a system that is becoming more rigid and inflexible every year.


Innovation, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

 A new idea, device or method, or is the act or process of introducing a new idea, device or method. 

This is not research-based best practice if it is “new.” Because of this, there is a certain element of risk involved.  Will it work for one student? For some?  For all?  Teachers need to know that their educational leaders “have their backs” as they try to implement new tools and strategies in pursuit of helping each individual student to maximize his/her learning.

There are so many incredible technology tools available –and more are introduced every day. These tools open up a whole new world and the possibility of truly transforming learning for our Innovation-Compassstudents.   “Best Practice” needs to give way to “NEXT practice,” as students are learning through technology in ways that were never possible when those “best practices” were identified years ago.

Dr. John Sullivan describes it this way:

Best practices only allow you to do what you are currently doing a little better, while next practices increase your organization’s capability to do things that it could never have done before.

Educational leaders, empower your teachers to innovate, so that they can help students in ways they never could have done before.