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Kansas City schools moving to ability grouping

School districts around the country are rethinking how they deliver instruction.

“The current system of public education in this country is not working” said Superintendent John Covington. “It’s an outdated, industrial, agrarian kind of model that lends itself to still allowing students to progress through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair rather than whether or not they have truly mastered the competencies and skills.”

Here’s how the reform works:

Instead of moving students from one grade to the next as they get older, schools are grouping students by ability. Students, often of varying ages‚ work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it’s needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level. [Source]

I applaud Kansas City Schools for taking this step. I believe this is the first innovative step school districts need to make to meet the needs of today’s children. The industrial model is broken and needs to change NOW. We are losing children in every school in the US. What this means is that teachers need job-embedded professional development, students need a different form of assessment, and everyone in the school community needs to communicate with each other. Change is difficult. It is difficult to envision that the education that parents received isn’t working for their children. All they know now is that assessment means testing — testing means focusing on facts — and it’s important for their students to get high scores on these tests so they get into college. It is going to take the whole school community to embrace the change to ability grouping and then change how they measure learning.

This is the next thing that will have to change. For today’s jobs and future jobs, our children will not need to know facts. All they need to know is available on the Internet. They need critical thinking skills so they can find the information, determine its authenticity, validity, and appropriateness, and then how to use that information in problems, discussions, debate, and written form. It would be cool to work with them designing student ePortfolios. That’s the next step!

I believe all children are unique and smart in their own ways. Allowing ability grouping gives children the opportunity to spread their wings. I cannot wait to see how they fly!!!


Creating Showcase ePortfolios

I believe that each learner is unique. If you look at a classroom with everyone the same age, the children are diverse. They may speak different languages, learn at different levels, and be almost one year different in age. Schools group them by grade level and test them thinking that each student has the same understanding of the concepts. Not so! I’m into individualizing learning and assessment. One way to do that is ePortfolios supported with individual learning plans.

We are not going to stop testing even if it drives you crazy. It’s just the way it is. There are several types of ePortfolios: assessment, showcase, and resume. I don’t recommend replacing testing with ePortfolios. That’s one way to kill the excitement about them. Using an ePortfolio for assessment and/or evaluation can impact how the learner presents it. There is no risk-taking, creativity or innovation. Everything follows the rules similar to testing. Okay – so use the tests to determine if students are learning at grade level. Personally I don’t believe students have to learn at a specific grade level. That’s following the industrial model that’s been dead for years. We are in a very weird place – a transition to a new type of learning environment. We are stuck in the same old traditional school model: teachers in front the room as the all-knowing expert, schools open 9 months from 9-3 for 5 days a week, and with students grouped by age.

I had lunch with Helen Barrett at ISTE 2010 where we talked about ePortfolios. Helen knows everything about ePortfolios ( and she and I agree about keeping ePortfolios as a separate entity from assessment and evaluation. Before you start your ePortfolio, determine your purpose, goal, and audience. If you decide you want to create an assessment ePortfolio, then design it for your target audience. Is it to meet graduation requirements? If so, start collecting evidence of learning right from the beginning of your freshman year. To do that, then create a separate digital file cabinet for collecting that evidence. Collect whatever you think might demonstrate understanding. Then select the most effective artifacts for your ePortfolio.

Okay – back to the showcase ePortfolio. You can create either a personal or professional showcase ePortfolio that provides a forum for reflective writing where learners respond to key questions like:

  • What? What have you done well?
  • So what? What difficulties did you have?
  • Now what? What can you do next time to improve?

Reflection encourages learners to think critically about their own thinking. This process allows learners to take responsibility for learning how to think not what to think.


You can be a Constructivist

I am at ISTE 2010 and attended The Constructivist Consortium with Tech4Learning, Fablevision, GenYes, LCSI, Ispiration, and I had so much fun I wish I could share the excitement I felt. Well, maybe I can by sharing what I created with Frames by Tech4Learning.


Constructivist Consortium

Constructivist Consortium

I’m still new at WordPress and cannot figure out how to play the video right from this post – I hope you click on the link to check it out. What I learned from Gary Stager is that making things is the best way to learn. More and more we will see books, TV shows, craft events, websites about making stuff. When you do something learning is not passive.

Gary showed us a video from that was inspirational – please check it out and share. Talked about books we have to read. I’m buying Making Learning Whole by David Perkins for our book club. Never heard of before.

Will be sharing more and adding more to this when I learn more.


Using iPads in the Classroom (Edubloggercon session)

Working on iPad

What works is the power of no power. Devices last 10+ hours without a charge. Portability and ease of use. 1:1 initiatives may cause a problem with the purchase of iPads, because of the investment in laptop labs. Apps are either free and are available and can be shared with 30 devices. Unfortunately the cost may be prohibitive: $699/device. Consider the low end iPad at $499. This is a great investment to get kids to read. One comment was about the cost of apps for the Droid are free where for iTouch and iPad most educational apps cost – wants to wait and see if the Droid will create an iPad device. China is already knocking off the iPad with Android. 2012 Negroponte is creating the X03 as an iPad knockoff for 1:1 global netbook for $100. Apple started a revolution with the bar set very high. It will be very interesting to watch what the next generations and knockoffs will be like in the next few months or so.


  • Used to use iPhone to follow online course and now iPad is a larger iPhone. Keyboarding was a t first a challenge – now no problem.
  • Ability to finally move into differentiated instruction
  • Much better than a traditional textbook
  • Multi-touch changes how school is done -
  • Laptop is used for production mode: iPad is easier to read – do iPads motivate kids to learn to read? Step in the door to motivate students to read, to learn music, to learn a language.
  • iPad launches quickly while waiting for a laptop to load.
  • First generation device – along with knock-offs will be coming.

Questions or concerns with the iPad:

  • How do students hand in work?
  • Not able to edit in Google Docs, Google Sites, and Wikispaces.
  • As a teacher how would you use the iPad in your classroom? Follow on twitter about educational apps Poundedapps. Examples of different apps teachers use:
    • National Geographic
    • Blogpress
    • Dr. Zeuss’s ABC
    • PBS apps
    • Pocket Universe
    • Me Muves
    • NetGeo
    • Instapaper – takes articles
    • SimpleNote
    • Animoto
    • Dictation by Dragon
    • Sonic Clicks

When you use iPads, use $2 silicon cover to protect from dropping. Don’t worry about fingerprints.


Being or Bring in a Consultant (Edubloggercon Session)

With leaders that are struggling and need help, consultants can help craft a vision. It’s a function of time. If they want you for a day, then it is difficult. In order to make a change, it has to be sustained. Be flexible for different teachers because they have to decide what they want in their classrooms.

This is how we are going to it for now but after we learn more, tweak it.

Being the Consultant

  • Be aware of culture. It is difficult to know the culture. The person who brought you in wants you to be their voice.
  • Do a complete needs assessment.  Online survey before we meet. Data we need before we start: Strategic plan, student data, and teacher data.
  • What is going on with your curriculum?
  • You cannot win everyone over.

Best PD is job-embedded, small groups, and ongoing. Yet, bringing the inspirational speaker lights the spark and conversations. Try to get people to think about the reflection. If we come in and work with you in June, is this really be the best time for your teachers to have PD?

What should schools expect from consultants?

  • Being honest.
  • Be clear about expectations.

Question – why do we need to bring consultants in if the teacher leaders can do the PD?

It’s a matter of achieving a balance of model 21st century instruction so teachers can do that with their students. Sometimes bringing in a consultant supports what you are doing in your school. Sometimes you as the teacher leader you are not a prophet in your own land.


Speed Demo: Edubloggercon (ISTE 2010)

Have you ever heard of Smackdowns? These are quick under 2 minute demos of cool Web 2.0 tools. Here is a list of some of the sites people shared.

Wikispaces Sandbox new features

  • can paste in word docs without unformatting
  • new editor – flash-based digital storytelling tool – social tool = can do collaborative projects

  • select a collection
  • can add their own stories
  • grab pictures and add text – combines a Google search and Wolfram search on same page. Try Wolfram as a knowledge search. Compare Snickers vs Baby Ruth bar.

QRCode – make your own barcode reader.

Gmail Labs – go to the green beaker – enables Green Robot to see who else has an Android phone.

Mashpedia – the Real-time multimedial social encyclopedia – fills in with YouTube videos, twitter feed, Picasa and Flicker galleries, news posts, blog posts, eBooks. – helps you create a twitter as a newspaper – create a start page on what you are researching – attractive feed

Search posters – using Glogster to help with links (Joyce Valenza) – share all of your sites and social networking

Add to your tool bar Rd (readability) and IP (

Smart Notebook Express BETA – – lets you use notebook files online – Smart Exchange – find lesson plans for your SMART Board

Yolink education: – see behind links – sweet search ( embedded yolink into the search engine. Helps student find what’s relevant. then search within the search results keywords. then opens summaries of search with links – another URL shorter along with custom urls – get what the shortened URL and points to the long url

If you use Twitter alot, you can read it later. – icon that sits in toolbar that you can click to save to read later. Works on every browser and iPad. Bookmarking service that lets you. Twitbit lets you save your Tweets to readitlaterlist.

Jumpcut – lets you multiclip up to 40 clicks

Edmodo – – share content and realtime . Teachers can set up groups and then can enter into private social network with their students. Grades. Library with folders and interactivity. Co-teaching with multiple teachers managing groups, subgroups. – in case you need to make a bing and google search at the same time.

Share Google Squared again:

Wordle tip – use a tilde as spaces to keep words in a phrase or sentence together

Thanks to Steve Hargadon for hosting Edubloggercon and all the people that shared during this demo. Was not able to get all the names of presenters so don’t feel comfortable listing names unless I can list them all.

Another site I heard about during the conference: - make your own iPhone apps
Free Technology for Teachers: Aviary for Education

I’ll be sharing more that I hear about. Putting together a column for OnCUE about cool tools so if you have any new tools you would like to share, please leave a comment.


Balancing Act

Most people that become coaches tend to be nurturers. They usually became a teacher or coach because they like to help people. A good coach sets up the guidelines for an effective relationship with the people they coach. Agreeing on a contract for meetings, communication and due dates will ensure the relationship will work. A relationship between a coach and the coachee needs to be built on trust: trust that both will show up on time, tasks are done in a timely manner, questions are answered and materials are created when needed.

Contracts need to be reconsidered for a successful coaching relationship. Coaches especially those who are teachers have trouble saying no when someone needs them.

eCoaching takes coaching many steps further. How do you set up a contract based on time when virtual coaching can be at anytime from anywhere? This is where the coach and coachee set up a contract that is really clear on products, tasks, and feedback and what is realistic between them.

This is where you need to be realistic about your time. Think of your clients, where you live, where they live and the time zone differences. I received calls at 4am when working with people in Europe. I live in California. I used to answer the phone and jump whenever someone called. If someone wrote an email or tech support, I was right on it. Unfortunately, there was no balance in my life. I was at the mercy of my clients. It is important to set up contracts and realistic expectations on how you will support the people you coach.

  • Set up a contract for you and your coachees.
  • Put that contract on your team page so everyone can refer to it.
  • Build in realistic expectations on how soon you will respond.
  • Negotiate with your coachees roles and responsibilities.
  • Monitor the progress of your relationship.
  • Update and change the expectations when needed.

There are more ideas but the main thing is to protect you and your time, your space, and your personal life. There has to be a balance in your life. You are modeling what you want for the people you are supporting.


Determining Value of Community

Ning is ditching their free service and according to Jon Dale this is a brilliant move. Educators and non-profits are ranting all over the Internet about how this move is going to destroy all the work they have been doing for so long. Just think of all the free networks set up for educators. Ning is going to provide a paid option for educators and non-profits that is supposed to be affordable. Ning has grown so large that their premium users have suffered.

The economy is affecting everyone plus big and small companies including Web 2.0 and social media. Facebook is under attack for its privacy policy. Four senators called on Facebook to stop automatically sharing user information with select websites and to streamline its complex privacy settings.

So what do you think will be happening with Internet companies that focus on education?  They will be setting up more closed communities with or without a free version, more ads on free sites, and user information sold to third parties. It is happening because companies cannot continue offering free access without ongoing and sufficient capital to run their businesses. Venture capital only goes so far. People cost. Servers cost.

Nothing is free. Look at the total cost of ownership and how much you invest into a particular tool or website. Your time needs to be valued. How much time did it take you to create the website, add content, and update your lessons online? Take time to research and plan how you will use social media or an online community. Be aware that the free site you are using may change their revenue model and budget for it. There will still be free sites and applications. Just be aware that those companies may be selling your private information. Nothing’s free.


Just Do It

I read Seth Godin’s blog post But what have you shipped? and thought about how that relates to teachers. If you just sit there and think about what you should do or not sure you can do something, then nothing will happen.

I write because I love writing. I write even if no one reads my blog posts, articles or columns. I hope you do and they give you some value, but that’s not why I write. My mother was an artist who had to draw or paint. It was in her blood. When times were tough, she still painted somehow. Then her talent opened doors for her and she became a courtroom artist. I think of her when I sit down to write. It just spills out of me. Sometimes in my dreams, I’m thinking of the next thing I want to write.

Now it’s time for me to write a book.

I find that everyone has something that they can ship, share, talk about, get the buzz out. No matter how tough times are, follow your dreams.


Technology's Impact on Learning

Technology may not make the difference in how a student learns. What makes a difference is the learning environment: how the teacher designs learning, and how they use and integrate technology appropriately. In some cases, maybe no technology is appropriate. In-class discussions may work better. Think-Pair-Share where students are looking into each others’ eyes works well and may increase their self-esteem. Maybe going outside or on field trips. However, there are wonderful opportunities for technology where there is no access to valuable resources.

Add video conferencing for a field trip to a museum outside of your school, state or country where your students could talk to the curator. Add web conferencing to connect classrooms in collaborative projects. Add a website to publish interactive projects and links to resources. Technology allows you to connect, share, and learn beyond classroom walls. If used correctly, the technology with multimedia and interactive capabilities, the student can become more engaged in the content and wanting to learn and share.

No matter what the teacher does, it is important to start with the student. I believe that each student can learn. The problem is motivation and engaging students in the learning process. Much of the curriculum is designed around what we believe children should be doing by a specific age. I believe we need to rethink how we learn, when we learn and how the brain works. Having a teacher present content in front of a class with or without technology where we force feed facts into our students is not going to work anymore. Today, students have access to all the facts they need on the internet. The problem is how do they know these are facts, opinions. or lies. Our students need critical thinking skills to determine authority, bias, and credibility of the facts they find.

What if we redesign our learning environments so students can work together and even alone, at school or at home, from anywhere, anytime and at any age. The Internet, social media, and cell phones are changing the way we live, learn, work, and play. When you look at how students are interacting online, they share everything, play games collaboratively and connect with whoever they want. What if…

  • teachers learned how to be the facilitator of their students learning?
  • curriculum designers made up of curriculum specialists, teachers, librarians, and students designed critical thinking strategies that scaffolded what students were learning?
  • students had individual learning plans based on prior knowledge and not their age?
  • classes were composed of people from age who want to learn the content?
  • students would have to provide evidence of learning with artifacts, reflections, videos, audio files, and interviews from peers, teachers, and parents?
  • learning environments could be designed around a concept where you could use multiple places on-site and online?

My 2 year old granddaughter has been using an iPhone since she was 8 months and knows how to call me on Skype. She knows her ABCs and counts to 50. She sings the lyrics to several songs in key. She understands sequences and how things build upon one another. I believe she’s brilliant because I’m her grandmother and she is smart. However, she has parents that work with her and give her opportunities to learn. I believe all children can have this opportunity to learn early, to reshape how they learn. All children have gifts and can reach their fullest potential.

What if we started working with parents when their children are at an early age showing them where they can get the support they need to prepare their children for their future?

Technology will be part of our childrens future because they already have cell phones and access to the internet, no matter if we teach them about technology or not. Even if we continue to ban these technologies, our children will find a way to get access. What if…

  • we designed community learning centers where the entire community was involved with the learning process?
  • our students were also the faclitators and helped other students learn?
  • each learner created their own learning plan based on their learning goals?
  • each learner requested support from different mentors or facilitators based on their goals?

Around the world schools may continue to look like they have for over a hundred years. That’s all we know and continue to build. Yet, if we want our children to reach their fullest potential, we need to redesign learning environments that meet their needs so they have rewarding futures. Putting them in the traditional school environment will give them the same education that we had and the same opportunities that we give our students today. It’s time for all of us to put our heads together to think of new ideas of learning environments for all learners.