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Author: Barbara Bray


Creative Thinkering

In this article in Psychology Today by Michael Michalko on Creative Thinkering, he explains why experts miss opportunities to be creative. Experts tend to specialize and miss the bigger picture.

The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Phillip Reiss invented a machine that could transmit music in 1861. He was dissuaded from converting it into a telephone because every communications expert in Europe convinced him that there was no market for a telephone as the telegraph was good enough.

When you review the history of inventions, most inventions might have started out as mistakes. Penicillin was invented from a mold that was not supposed to happen. This made me think about education for the last 100 years or so. The industrial model was designed to train people to do specific tasks to meet specific goals. They followed orders. They didn’t question authority. There was no opportunities to allow creativity or inquiry. The teacher did the thinking for the students. The textbooks did the thinking for the teacher. The teacher was the expert. This is mostly what teachers know and were taught.

Sorry, but this model is not working any more. Where are the factory jobs for the students who graduate from the factory schools? Everything is changing. Management is changing. Technology is changing how information and expertise is delivered and shared. Student-centered means that the teacher is allowing student choice in different situations about different topics. Most children can figure out how to use an iPad, tablet, laptop or smartphone. They grew up digital. They are learning to be curators of their own learning. This video from 2007 shows kids teaching other kids without any guidance.

Michalko wrote in his article that if you already consider yourself an expert, you might stop imagining a possibility.

If we experience any strain in imagining a possibility, we quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the expert. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years.

I see every child as gifted and unique. We need to stop asking how smart are you and consider what Garner wrote, “How are you smart?” Personalize learning so the learner discovers concepts and ideas and more. Why think the teacher needs to be the expert or that each child can only learn from one expert or one textbook. It’s time to rethink what learning, thinking and creativity is and how important it is to let go as a teacher. This will make the teacher’s role more exciting. Just imagine the joy, engagement, and excitement in the learning environment. I like the idea of tinkering, playing with ideas, being creative, and taking risks.

What about you?


Curation as a 21st Century Skill

A curator pulls together and oversees collections of materials. The Internet, Web 2.0 tools and social media has expanded the traditional role of publisher to almost anyone. The role of curator is changing too. Anyone can “curate” online material, pulling together their own collections.

I started a new Scoop-it “Curate your Learning” and now I see why curating is important. When you create a Scoop-it, you put in the tags.

Some of my tags are:

curation, curating, curate, curation skills, curating learning, 21st century skills

Curate Your Learning Scoop-it
Because of Scoop-it and other curation tools, there are thousands of results as you curate. If you don’t take the time to read the contents and just Scoop-it, then is the resource really useful and valuable?

Curation skills can include:

  • understanding keywords and tags

  • scanning text
  • reading and summarizing content

  • building connections
  • choosing appropriate resources
  • sharing resources
  • promoting and branding topic

When I searched for others with the same topic, there were many so I followed several of those people. However, the content differed because of their background. I couldn’t always tell from the title or understood why some content appeared for me to curate. I started another topic on Creativity, Innovation, and Change. What I’m finding is that this is a great idea to store articles, blog posts, and other resources by topic. I used to use Diigo and, but I’m a visual learner. I also like the way I can build communities of people and view their topics. I can easily Scoop-it on one of their topics and add it to one of mine.

Something to think about. Is Scoop-it the right tool for kids?

I see a great opportunity for a company to design a curation tool for kids. A few concerns come to me though: filtering, monitoring, providing feedback, measuring what they curated.

The thing with curation is that what you curate keeps changing — just like the real world. Maybe we need to rethink what we measure. :o


Curate your own Learning

Social media is behind all of this. You can retweet and curate resources other people have shared. My Scoop-it Making Learning Personal made it all clear to me where we are going with learning. All of us can be curators of our own learning.

Scoop-it: Making Learning Personal

It’s easy to set up your Scoop-it.

Dashboard: Your dashboard keeps track of the activity:

  • Topic of the Day (whoever is the most active)

  • What’s New (your friends who started a new topic)
  • your Curated Topics (you can have as many as you want)
  • Trending Topics (most active topics)
  • Your Community (links to people who you may be following or who are following you or who have the same tags)
  • Your Stats (number of posts and views)
  • Connect to social media (you choose which ones you want to connect to)
  • Link to your profile (keeps track on the progress of your scoop-it and the topics you follow)
  • Curate: Review suggested content and Scoop-it!
    Scoop-it uses the tags you suggested to find sources from other curators. You then either remove the source, discard it (not sure of the difference yet) or Scoop-it! Your latest scoop appears in your Scoop-it which you can use the move feature to move it where you want it on the page.

    Explore: Review what’s new on the 5 topics you follow.
    Scoop-it uses your tags to find resources with the same tags. You can then rescoop any of the resources.

    Another social media tool that lets you curate your learning is Pearltrees that is a social curation community using a visual map. Just signed up so will be learning and sharing more.


    This is the first step for learners to own their learning. They get to choose the resources, but I see a problem. It’s easy to just choose anything that maybe relates to your topic. When you do a Google search, the robots and spiders return millions of resources based on your search. Using your tags Scoop-it and Pearltrees retrieve resources where others have used those tags. I’m finding I’m receiving lots of resources that have nothing to do with my tags. So I need to be very discerning and careful about reviewing the resource to make sure it is relevant to my topic.

    Let’s be real. Will young learners really do this well? This is a skill we will need to teach learners. How to be a critical curator!

    I see the need for a personal guide on the side. This is where teachers, librarians, counselors, and peers as student experts could support learners. Been thinking about this for some time. I’m a coach. Designed a coaching community (My eCoach), and see the need for some type of coach, guide or curator to your curating. Even with a guide, learners will need a new skill:

    critical curating skills


Who are the Experts Now?

Traditional education expects you — the teacher — to be an expert on your content area, collecting and analyzing data, finding relevant resources, designing curriculum, classroom management, differentiating instruction, understanding standards, parent-school communication, and more. I’m overwhelmed just observing this. I work with teachers around the country. It’s the same everywhere. How can one person know and be expected do so much? Teachers in the US are working harder now than ever before and are undervalued and underpaid no matter what people are saying. I see it. I know. They are grading papers when they should be enjoying their families. They are spending their own money on supplies.

Teachers are our heroes. Let’s be real on what teachers can achieve in the current learning environments.

No one can be an expert on so much. No other occupation expects their employees to not only know their field but be expected to teach it and be measured on the success of their clients who are so unique, different, with their own set of gifts and problems and issues. In public schools, there are larger class sizes, less money per student, and a more diverse student body. More new teachers are being assigned to poorer schools without the support they need, and are expected to do more with less. I watch it and just shake my head.

Here’s an idea:

Since each of us including each student has strengths, let’s identify them and use the experts.

Student Experts

  • Have students identify their strengths, their passions, and their interests.

  • Create a student list of experts.
  • Ask students to choose what skills or knowledge they have where they can help others.
  • Put that list on the board.

I am a coach. I work with teachers on their prep time and collaborative planning time. I mentioned to teachers to have students ask three students before you and that sometimes works. One teacher I was working with this week (Tiffany fourth grade teacher at Live Oak Elementary in San Ramon USD, CA) mentioned the idea of student experts. She said when she told students to ask three people before her, they asked their friends who said “I don’t know.” Then they came back and asked her. It just didn’t work. So Tiffany worked with her class to find student experts.

I’ve shared the idea of student experts before, but I think we need them more now than ever. Tiffany’s students are experts on:

  • different technologies

  • lunchtime duties
  • paper monitors
  • different content areas

Think about your classroom. Your students at any age even Kindergarten have strengths and they love to help others. When you teach others, you learn more. When your students teach each other, they learn more. Teachers then don’t need to know everything and how to do everything anymore. They can ask the student as the expert in the classroom to teach and coach them.

Using student experts makes a class stronger. The teacher is more of a facilitator and guides the learning process. It’s pretty awesome.


Stop Hitting Rewind!

Stop RewindingDo you ever feel like we’ve done this before? That’s what it feels like now with all the new educational reform models. We find one thing that works and do it for a few years. Then we don’t have enough data to keep it going so we throw it out and find another new model to try for another few years. Except most of these models are just reworked old models.

How about trying a new way to look at the problem? The main problem is that we are not meeting the needs of most learners. We definitely “left more children behind” now than ever before. [Drop out rate in California is almost 20%]

The only reason to look at past educational models is to choose the pieces that work toward a shared vision of meeting the needs of each learner. Each learner means any age at any time in their life. Schools were designed around age levels to meet the needs of the school, managers and teachers. Every student at that age level was going to be taught the same thing at the same time. Forget customization or individualization. If you were 6 years old, you were supposed to be able to do specific skills and know information by that age. It didn’t matter if in the class you were way ahead of the other students or years behind. The class was set up to handle the Bell curve with so many at the top and so many at the bottom with most everyone else in the middle.

Large Bell Curve
When I saw this, it brought back icky memories of falling in the below average area for math. I wasn’t average in math. It made me feel bad, stupid, wrong. What was wrong with me? I get it now that I was at where I was supposed to be for me.

What if… I was identified as a math learner with some strengths and some weaknesses. As part of a team, I was given an advisor and math coach (another student who knew a little more than me) and we worked together on activities. My advisor guided me to understand the problems and math activities. The advisor learned more by teaching me how to do the math to solve the problem we were given.

Teacher-directed instruction means the teacher uses existing curriculum (for the average student) or spends time adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of all students. Personalized learning starts with the learner. So when you review the learning theories, B.F. Skinner ideas on Operant Conditioning that contributed to Behaviorism to Constructivism (Piaget, Bruner, Papert) that represents generative learning, discovery learning, and situated learning, teacher-centric learning is still in place. (Source: Instructional Development Timeline)

Schools are looking at trying to embed personalized learning into existing systems that focus on Behaviorism and build projects, Constructivism. It may work for that project, but what happens to that classroom? Is it still teacher-centric with a little student voice thrown in here and there? To personalize learning and meet the needs of each learner, how about rethinking if we use Behaviorist theories in a student-centered environment? This may mean we need to completely redesign everything. Now I have to look for examples of learning environments where the students use their voice and choose the best strategies for their learning path.

I’m going to focus on personalized learning, student voice and choice, and to re-evaluate what learner-centered means.


Constructivism vs Connectivism

I believe in connecting and building your Personal Learning Network (PLN). I never really thought about collaboration and Constructivism being in a closed environment. Steven Downes provided a keynote today on Connectivism and Personal Learning.

I see the move to Open Education Resources (OER) where all the content is there, available, free, at your fingertips. Connectivism is a learning theory that

“emphasizes the learner’s ability to navigate information: the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.” (Siemens, 2005)

Why this is important now is that with social media, OER, and the Internet, knowledge is distributed available anytime anywhere. Constructivism (Papert, Piaget, Vygotsky) interpretted the higher-thinking skills of Bloom’s to encourage making and producing. In Constructivism, the classroom is still teacher-centric with the teacher managing and coordinating projects. I know we call it student-centered, but the teacher is still designing who does what. It’s a beginning. It’s learning to let go.

Personalized Learning starts with the learner and where they are. If we are moving to Connectivism, then the learner is the center of a network of resources, people, ideas, etc. The learner decides what they need with the help of all the other people in their network. The teacher could be one of the nodes that links the connections. I see this happening by the learner – some are ready now – some may never be ready. There are a lot of questions on how to transition to this type of environment. Traditional school is so embedded in teacher-directed instruction. Maybe we’ll use this piece of teaching and that from learning something new.
Maybe the teacher is the coach on the sidelines guiding the learner on their learning path. Instead of standardized tests, the learner is monitoring their progress, collecting evidence of learning, asking for feedback from their PLN.

  • How do you measure achievement?
  • What are you measuring now?
  • How do you design assessment around each learner?
  • When do you start building a learner’s network?
  • What components are in their network?
  • Is there a physical place or places for learning and connecting?
  • Do age and grade levels matter in this environment?

We are moving in this direction. The world is changing, getting smaller and flatter. I have changed since my PLN has grown and become a richer part of my life. I am learning something new almost every day. So if we move to a more Connectivist model, how do we transition and make it work within our current system or do we just start completely over?


What is Personalized Learning?

Personalized Learning is getting a lot of attention along with 21st Century skills as part of the latest education reform movement. Individualizing and customizing learning isn’t new. We have been differentiating instruction, creating individual learning plans and IEPs for years. Yet, these are different than personalized learning where the focus is all on the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than just moving to student-centered learning and changing instruction.

So why Personalized Learning Now?

Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, their learning styles, skill levels, interests, strengths and weaknesses, and prior knowledge. Now with the rise of the use of technology, social media, and mobile apps, learners are taking control of what they want to learn when they want to learn it.

Education is changing because it has to. After years of teaching “one size fits all,” learners are demanding to meet their needs. Each person is unique and different. They are leaving traditional school environments for online courses, home schools, and/or dropping out. Schools are closing. Teachers are being laid off. Communities are suffering. Change will happen if learners have anything to say about it.

High Tech HighA personalized learning environment is more competency-based where students progress at their own pace instead of by grade levels. No more “mandated” seat time. The learner has their own learning path with multiple strategies to meet their different learning styles. This more than changes the teacher role. It changes the whole learning environment. School doesn’t look like traditional school anymore.

Three examples of personalized learning environments:

I’m going to be interviewing leaders, teachers and students in future posts. If you have some ideas or examples about personalized learning to share, please add a comment or contact me at


There You Go -- Being Ridiculous

If you look back ten years (2001), can you ever imagine people walking around talking into their earpiece? or having a smartphone that does everything? At that time, that would be ridiculous or you would think that the person talking to them self was crazy. You probably would have walked a really wide circle around that person. Now lots of people walk and talk into an earpiece or headset. It’s not ridiculous anymore. Right?

I read this article “IDEO: Big Innovation Lives Right on the Edge of Ridiculous Ideas” and it got me thinking. When you visit Google or Apple or other innovative companies, there’s a lot of chaos, playfulness, laughing, and experimenting. They encourage brainstorming lots of ideas even if they seem crazy. You never know when someone will come up with a new idea or tool or app.

The important thing for schools is what results you get from an environment like this. You give permission to play right from the beginning – early childhood. Play is purposeful. Pre-schoolers play real world games like pretending to drive, being a doctor, and imitating what they see D.Bootcamp at Stanfordfrom the adults in their lives. Look at the d.School at Stanford where they are redesigning spaces, bureaucracy, and executive experiences. If you look at IDEO and why they encourage playing at work, you see a hands-off culture where everyone can create and experiment and try lots of different ideas that push boundaries. Many of these ideas may seem ridiculous to others but someone may come up with something amazing. So can this kind of environment work in schools? I say “Why not?”

Think about your classroom where students are part of your team like a start-up company. Look at some of the IDEO examples and think about you and your kids redesigning the space. Tell them to make it playful. Move things around. I like to have an area for kids to sit on bean bag chairs and another space for pacing or for people to stand up. Who knows what kids will come up with if they get to move when they feel like it. Stop forcing kids to be what they’re not.

Have students look at the curriculum with you and take one topic and have them reinvent it so they own it. Tell them to be creative. Come up with a problem they can solve. Let them be ridiculous. They may design a new app or game. If you just let go, you can personalize learning for each child by letting them explore, discover, play.

I remember one of my teachers would come to school dressed up as a famous historical person. That was ridiculous. I loved it and remember it. Now it’s time for kids to have permission to be creative, playful, and ridiculous.


Student-Centered Learning: Meaningful Work

Project-based learning that is student-centered works if it is meaningful work. According to the article “Seven Essentials for Project-Based learning” on Education Leadership:

A project is meaningful if it fulfills two criteria. First, students must perceive the work as personally meaningful, as a task that matters and that they want to do well. Second, a meaningful project fulfills an educational purpose. Well-designed and well-implemented project-based learning is meaningful in both ways.

It doesn’t matter the age of the learner, every learner gets more involved in the process if the task at hand means something to them and there is a purpose for their work. Let’s look at purpose.

  • Teacher one gives an assignment for their students to write a paper. Usually, the student hands the finished paper in to the teacher who then spends the evening reading and grading the papers.

  • Teacher two shares a topic or asks students to find a topic that is meaningful to them and write why it is meaningful. Students generate questions about their topic, come up with an opinion piece, and then share their writing with their peers who provided feedback. They use a rubric to grade each other and themselves.

Which do you find more meaningful and engaging?

Wanting to know more
Students come to school curious about the world. They want to know more. If the teacher can let students pursue their interests and what they are curious about, then the classroom changes. How about the teacher bringing in a photo or local topic like a polluted nearby creek and letting students discuss it? Then they could go to the creek, take pictures, do research about the creek, interview water experts, etc. What they could find out is that they can make a difference somehow. They can research the problem, find out how a polluted creek like this one could impact the environment and life in the creek, get the right people involved to clean up the creek, and even pick up trash around the creek themselves.

What about the standards?
When I work with teachers they are told to meet the standards, follow the pacing guide, and use the textbook. When you are moving to a student-centered classroom, you are slowly changing the way you teach. You can still meet the standards and cover most of the curriculum. Instead of trying to “cover” everything, there may be another way to involve your students as co-designers of their learning.

  • Show your students the standards — right from the beginning. Explain that they will need to meet these standards with the project. Projects also cover multiple disciplines. If you focus on creeks for 4th grade (CA Science – Earth Science – Water), then you are also meeting Investigation and Experimentation, Language Arts > Writing Strategies > Research and Technology) and probably more.

  • Tell them that you need their input as co-designers so their learning is more meaningful to them. Mention that you normally teach the lesson like this but would like to have more of a student voice. Have them review the topic, the standards, and come up with questions based on this information.

    Good driving questions help focus the project
    We are all born curious. Most children want to learn something by first asking a question. “Where does rain come from?” “Why does a hummingbird flap its wings so fast?” The questions lead to more questions. If you think about the creek and pollution, maybe some of the questions might be “how did the creek get polluted?” or “why do people throw their trash in the creek?” or “how does the pollution affect the fish and other life in the creek?”

    A good driving question gets to the heart of the topic or problem. The creek is polluted. Life in the creek is impacted. The environment is affected by the pollution. Sometimes a good driving question is a call to action. “What can we do to stop the pollution in the creek?” The other questions asked before supported this question.

    Students working in groups
    This is the piece that teachers find difficult to manage or coordinate. Do you let students choose their groups or group by topic or do you choose the groups for them?

    The first time you ever do a project-based learning activity, be kind to yourself. First time, you choose the groups. Each group will have roles for each person but you decide on the roles. Let them choose who will do what. Some students will take on multiple roles and help each other. Some may not.

    I’m going to go into more detail in later posts about how to set up groups, designing questions, etc. The main thing I wanted to get across in this post was to focus on meaningful work and purposeful projects. If your students, no matter what age, feel they can make a difference, they are more motivated to learn, to share, to write, and to present.


Student-Centered Learning: Changing Teaching

Teachers come to the classroom with life experiences, their experience as a student, and what they learned about being a teacher. Teachers go into teaching to make a difference. Most of their instruction was teacher-centric. They only know what they know and what their mentor or master teacher presents to them.

Teachers have similar Characteristics of Adult Learners. Teachers come with their own beliefs and opinions, are intrinsically motivated, and just like their students have individual differences. Teachers have so much on their plate. If you add another professional development that is not relevant for them, they tune out, grade papers, and may even leave.

TeachersThe most effective approach is to connect with the teachers and what they teach in their classroom. Teachers learn best in the same ways that most students learn best: actively, drawing from prior knowledge, and in a comfortable environment. [source] This is where I see the power of coaching and working with each teacher or a small group of teachers that teach the same units. Let’s say you were asked to coach grade level teams of teachers to create project-based learning activities and integrate technology.

First Meeting

  • Set up collaborative planning time for the teachers. Work with administration to get subs for the first 1/2 day meeting.

  • Do an assessment to determine how teachers teach and learn currently, topics they would like to expand into a project, and the resources available for projects.
  • Set up a website with links to examples, projects, and resources about PBL and send them the link.
  • Ask a teacher leader or administrator to do an assessment of the teachers determining the stage of concern or how each teacher handles change. <Changing Teaching and Learning: CBAM>
  • When you meet during the first meeting, ask teachers to share “how they teach now” and an example of a lesson.
  • Review the pacing guide/curriculum/standards to choose a topic/lesson to design a project.
  • Share some examples of projects around that topic.
  • Ask them how or what they would like to do to change the lesson. Give them time to work together and share ideas.

If this is the first time they have designed project-based learning activities, they need time to learn. This may even be too much to ask of the teachers, but finding time is always a challenge.

[Photo from Playshop at Mid-Pacific Institute - teacher teams collaborating]