Why Education Needs Disruption

On Collaboration As An Industry

Hopefully we can agree that education–as it exists–isn’t good enough. I know this is a tired argument, but it’s an underlying assumption of this concept: education needs reform. Iteration. Evolution. Transformation. Whatever word reflects the level of urgency you’d assign it all.It’s curious that in seeking this evolution, we turn to the product of the system rather than the systems themselves. We criticize the egg instead of understanding the chicken. Of course, the bits and pieces–the gears–of that chicken are complex to the point of obscurity. This makes self-correction through iteration–the current model for ed reform–a challenge.And this in lieu of so much creativity and knowledge and expertise out there because these same experts get behind the machine and push. We seek approval from the same power holders and institutions that nod their heads yes or shakes their heads no, not realizing it is their way of thinking that got us in this mess. We seek change not just from within, but from above.In response, we need collaboration between and across innovators and experts that is disruptive even if it’s simple for the sake of disrupting. Make noise. Draw attention. Walk into a movie theater and scream “fire!” Unplug the television. Turn off the WiFi, because this whole thing isn’t getting anywhere quickly.

Disruption in general is about unsettling, and is often thought of in terms of chaos. Disruptive collaboration is working together to force change. It’s the artful unsettling of that which has become inartistic. Reconfiguring systems that can no longer see themselves, or replacing them altogether. It’s about shifting the locus of control.

On Collaboration In Thought

We could talk about helping our students collaborate disruptively–and we should–but most immediately, this is about teaching and learning. As educators, we should first want our thinking disrupted–taken apart and criticized and handed back to us in pieces. And not as contrarians, but equal partners seeking to understand one another.

We should seek collaboration that torpedoes our ideas–and the ideas of the power holders up top that have shut off their innovation trying to please the folks above them–and then emerges on the other side a kind of hybrid of what we think together. And then want it all to disappear and only come back to us in bits and pieces that we can’t recognize as my thinking, but only thought.

We should want to stop seeing ourselves or the people we collaborate as having ideas, but ideas having people so that the stink of bias and diplomacy and friendliness and compliancy is swapped for careful thinking that actually stands a chance to survive the whole clumsy process.

And once these ideas are articulated and broken apart and transparent and nobody’s thinking, let’s color them with the wonderful stain of idea exchange so that we can own them as a whole thing ourselves. And then we can produce something of worth together.

On Collaboration & Its Products

We should want the product of our collaboration to be disruptive, too. Existing systems already have their own momentum and don’t need our help. They don’t need our hashtags or likes or affection. They’ve yielded the context that necessitates our collaboration to begin with.

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. So let’s build something that offers viable alternatives for everyone–especially those marginalized by the system that exists. Let’s stop demanding rigor and accountability, and instead create something ourselves that is scalable beyond the walls of your school, or the reach of the concept of “academia” that continues to haunt learning everywhere. Something that thinks not in a pattern of school->curriculum–>content–>proficiency, but instead person–>learning–>knowledge–>lots of people–>lots of learning–>social capacity–>wisdom.

Let’s connect and build something that doesn’t serve you or the past or what’s already here butothers and the here and now. Let’s build something we’ve never had–and do so by empowering everyone that’s a part of this.

Something that isn’t built to make your school or classroom spin faster, but rather is built for the real work of understanding something.

Everything You Need to Know About Minecraft

Everything You Need to Know About Minecraft

If your kid has been swept up in the Minecraft craze, you’ve probably come to realize that resistance is futile. It isn’t only the game itself that kids obsess over. There are Minecraft YouTube videos, a whole Minecraft language, Minecraft-like games, and more.

Get the know-how you need to engage with your kid on one of the coolest games out there.

Minecraft Games Age Guide
One of the best-selling, independently developed and published video games, Minecraft immerses kids in creative thinking, geometry, and even a little geology as they build imaginative block structures. Here’s the scoop on the games that make up Minecraft‘s offerings:

  • Minecraft, age 8; platforms: Linux, Mac, Windows, Xbox 360
    Minecraft is an open-ended, exploration- and creation-focused environment. Players can create items and buildings from scratch using materials they harvest from the world around them. Given carte blanche to sculpt virtually any creation of their choice in this 3-D space, kids can try tons of possibilities while working toward simple objectives. An option to work with others on larger building projects can help kids develop collaboration skills.
  • Minecraft – Pocket Edition, age 8; devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire
    Minecraft – Pocket Edition is a mobile version of the popular PC game. Players can build essentially anything in this game, so long as they’re able to mine the appropriate resources.
  • Minecraft: Story Mode, age 10; platforms: Mac, Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iPhone
    Though part of the fun of Minecraft is creating the story as you go along, Story mode offers a story line, characters, and plot for kids who prefer a narrative. This game offers positive messages about teamwork and diplomacy, and its learning curve isn’t as steep as the original.

Minecraft Basics 
Minecraft comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities for parents. Learn the lingo, discover the most important aspects of the game, and get tips on managing your kid’s playtime.

Minecraft on YouTube
Since Minecraft is a game that spans many ages — and has infinite possibilities — not all YouTube videos will be appropriate for your kid. Here are some of our faves for young players.

  • Wonder Quest (for age 6+)
    This YouTube program is inspired by Minecraft, and its central character hails from creator Joseph Garrett’s other Internet hit, Stampylonghead. The videos do an excellent job blending comedy, adventure, and quality educational content under the premise of its heroes’ efforts to thwart a villain’s plan and return a collection of gems to their town. There are even social lessons that promote cooperation, kindness, and perseverance.

Games Like Minecraft
Because of its complexity, mild violence, and online community, we recommend Minecraft for kids age 8 and up. So what if your younger kids want to play but aren’t quite ready? These games can occupy them with a very similar style, without some of the tougher stuff. (Check out our full list of games like Minecraft.)

  • Blox 3D Junior, age 5
    With a style similar to Lego and Minecraft, this app’s 3-D creation environment empowers kids to create, encourages visual acuity, and fosters critical thinking.
  • The Robot Factory by Tinybop, age 6
    This exploratory app for early elementary school-age kids is tailor-made for players who love to create, design, and experience free play.
  • Toca Builders, age 6
    Toca Builders offers sandbox-style play where kids can create worlds. It’s easier to pick up and play than Minecraft, and there’s no fighting or monsters.
  • Hovercraft – Build Fly Retry, age 7
    Kids can learn about physics and problem solving as they design, test, and rebuild a hovercraft.

The 7 pillars of today’s digital leadership


(originally posted on http://www.eschoolnews.com/2016/04/08/7-pillars-of-todays-digital-leadership/)

School and district leadership isn’t about a position or title–it’s about improving practices around digital learning

If educators want to see results in student engagement and achievement, they must adapt their leadership practices to an increasingly digitally-focused learning environment.

This was the focus of a CoSN 2016 spotlight session by Eric Sheninger, a senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education and a former high school principal.

“Leadership is not about position, titles, or power. Leadership is about the actions you take,” he said.

During the session, Sheninger highlighted seven pillars of effective digital school leaders and talked about how, during his time as a high school principal, he and his staff modeled each pillar. Those pillars focus on how school leaders can ensure that their policies and practices highlight the best examples of digital learning success in schools.

“The environment in which kids learn is dramatically different,” he said. “We fault our kids for being so engaged with technology…how can we prepare kids for the future if we, those tasked with educating kids, are stuck in the past? If teaching, learning, and leadership don’t change, we’re never going to get results.”

Pillar 1: Student learning and engagement

“Technology is a tool–it’s not a learning outcome,” Sheninger said. “What do you want in your vision? What do you want your kids to be able to do with technology that will allow them to demonstrate conceptual mastery?” Engagement can begin with creating projects and learning opportunities that mean something. “If you don’t get instructional design right, technology is just going to speed up the rate of failure. It’s about building a foundation.”

Pillar 2: School environment

When he was principal of New Jersey’s New Milford High School, Sheninger said a change in learning spaces changed student engagement for the better. In fact, he said, data indicates the learning environment design can impact student engagement and achievement by up to 25 percent.

Pillar 3: Professional learning and growth

An unlimited number of professional learning opportunities are available on social media and through professional learning networks (PLNs), Sheninger said. Modeling the practices educators want to see from students is the first step.

Pillar 4: Communications

Communication has changed drastically because of technology, Sheninger said, and now educators are in an era of mass dialogue. “Don’t we want to take advantage of that in our own leadership capacity?” he asked. School stakeholders want news about school events, staff and student accomplishments, and district successes. “It’s about being proactive, not reactive,” he said. “Digital leadership is not just about information; it’s about meeting your stakeholders where they are.”

Sheninger also advised using multiple methods of news distribution, because people use various social media channels and communication methods. “You can’t put all your eggs in the Twitter basket or the Facebook basket,” he said.

Pillar 5: Public relations

“If you don’t tell your story, someone else will,” he said. “You need to tell stakeholders what actually happens in your schools and in your district. There are great stories to share–leverage the media.” Digital leadership is about becoming a storyteller-in-chief and sharing school accomplishments. Sheninger advised pushing out good news and accomplishments in various forms–news stories, photos, etc.–across various social media channels.

Pillar 6: Branding

Branding is a combination of your vision, mission, and values. “In education, a brand is not about selling. It’s about sharing, telling, and building relationships,” he said. A school brand should convey student achievement, teacher and administrator quality, extracurriculars, innovation, and partnerships.

Pillar 7: Opportunity

Digital leaders should consistently look for opportunities to improve existing programs, strategies, and resources.

Schools combine meditation and brain science to help combat discipline problems

When students and teachers learn together about how their brains influence behavior, one expert says, discipline can become less of a confrontation and more of a partnership

It was the Friday morning before spring break, and Deanna Nibarger’s fifth-graders were noisily chatting and enjoying their breakfast of milk, granola bars and raisins when a woman’s voice crackled over the school intercom:

“Sit up straight and close your eyes,” the woman on the intercom said.

The room immediately went silent as the woman’s command was followed by a series of short, high-pitched “dings,” as if someone were hitting a key on a metal xylophone and letting the sound reverberate.

A trance settled over the class for nearly a minute. Then, the daily morning announcements resumed, and the class sprang back to life as everyone stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rarely do such moments of calm appear in elementary school classrooms, but it’s exactly this kind of focus that Crooked Creek Elementary School in Washington Township is looking to build in its students. The dings over the intercom are one example of ways teachers at the school have armed students with meditation-like practices to help increase focus and attention.

It might sound strange, but in a fast-paced classroom, teachers at Crooked Creek say just having their students close their eyes and listen for a minute can help them improve their ability to focus. It’s part of the school’s efforts to incorporate the tenets of the growing academic field known as “educational neuroscience” into the classroom.

The field of educational neuroscience is at the intersection of cognitive psychology, education and neuroscience, and some of its teachings suggest findings from brain research can be applied to classroom management and discipline techniques.

Some trend toward the area of “mindfulness,” such as attempting to sharpen students’ focus through meditation. Other facets of the field that Crooked Creek teachers employ in the classroom include taking short breaks from instruction to ward off boredom and teaching children explicitly about parts of the brain and how they respond to stress.

Crooked Creek has been working with teacher and college professor Lori Desautels to help infuse elements of educational neuroscience into the classroom.

Desautels isn’t just teaching brain science to the teachers. She’s also helping children understand how their own brains work to in an effort to help them learn to change their behavior.

The educational neuroscience field is in flux, and some of its teachings — especially ones that directly tie student learning outcomes to brain science — still leave neuroscientists skeptical. But that’s not at the core of what Desautels is doing in Indianapolis schools. Rather, it’s about using what experts know about the brain to build stronger relationships and classroom culture.

“We are in a new time in education,” said Desautels, who works with teachers and students in several Indianapolis schools. “We hear about reform every day in the paper. We read it, we hear it in the news, but what’s really at the crux of all of this is educational neuroscience. Students are learning about their own neuroanatomy, and they are loving it.”

A growing field

Researchers have been exploring how brain science and education work together for about 50 years, but Desautels said the field has recently morphed into something new that is taking off across the country and outside the U.S.

“It’s a brand-new discipline that is catching on fire right now,” Desautels said.

The idea is to introduce both teachers and students to a basic understanding of how the brain works. If teachers have an idea of what’s going on behind the bad behavior, they can more effectively reach their students because they know it might not just be a child choosing to be defiant or difficult. When students know how parts of their brains work, they might better understand why they might feel frustrated or aggressive. That can help them develop strategies to lower stress so they can work to improve behavior in the future.

“Neuroanatomy knowledge eases their stress because they know they are not alone and can have control over that,” Desautels said.

Deanna Nibarger leads her class in a "morning meeting" where they can check in with each other and build relationships as a class.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Deanna Nibarger leads her class in a “morning meeting” where they can check in with each other and build relationships as a class.

The exact relationship between the how the brain works and how kids learn — and how teachers should teach — isn’t fully fleshed out, said Lise Eliot, a neuroscience professor from Chicago Medical School and Rosalind Franklin University.

“The so-called ‘neuroscience of education”… it’s not ready for prime time yet,” Eliot said. “There are a lot of very good neuroscientists who are interested in translating our understanding to how our brain learns to better educational practices, but I would say that at this point, improvements in educational practice have come only from the behavioral level.”

And that’s mainly where Desautel’s work lies — in using new strategies and information to improve behavior. The methods are especially relevant as schools look to correct disparities in instances of school discipline. Indiana, like many places across the country, has acknowledgedracial differences in the way that suspensions, expulsions and other punishments are meted out.

Nibarger, the fifth-grade teacher from Crooked Creek, had a background in special education and behavior management before she ever met Desautels. The year she came to Washington Township just happened to be the first year Desautels piloted her approach with the Crooked Creek fifth-graders.

Since she started working with Desautels three years ago, she’s seen school culture begin to change, and she’s more sure of her own teaching. The very first year of the pilot, no students were suspended, and school office referrals decreased, she said.

Understanding what her kids’ brains might be going through during moments of stress or frustration has helped Nibarger make sense of a lot of disparate classroom management concepts she’d already learned.

“It has kind of affirmed a lot of what I already knew to be best practice,” she said. “When people asked me what I was doing for behavior, I didn’t have research or knowledge to do that. Now I know why I do what I do.”

Educational neuroscience, Desautels said, is the intersection of cognitive psychology, education and neuroscience. The element of it that encourages building relationships through better understanding of how emotions and stress impact the brain informs some of the philosophies behind discipline strategies becoming popular in the U.S, she said.

At Crooked Creek, Nibarger has taken the lessons to heart and uses them on a daily basis.

“If you were to come to room 18, we talk a lot about emotions being contagious.” Nibarger said. “We do morning meetings, and we talk through conflict. I teach the kids about neuroplasticity; their brains being able to change because of their experiences in life.”

Using brain knowledge to better behavior

One of the first things Desautels teaches students and teachers is “the 90-second rule,” which admittedly has a much larger following in psychological circles than neuroscientific ones.

“Our body rinses clear and clean of negative emotion in 90 seconds,” she said. “Why do we stay irritated for so long? We keep thinking about it, replaying it and generating more negative emotions.”

The premise is championed by Harvard-educated brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor, who essentially says the chemicals that course through the brain during a stressful experience dissipate after 90 seconds. Eliot said she wasn’t familiar with the concept. But while emotional recovery time is likely different from person to person, the point, Desautels said, is to let kids know they can have a hand in controlling their emotions.

Things don’t always run smoothly in classrooms, between teachers and students or between kids themselves — conflict is inevitable. But rather than focusing on just being reactive, Desautels said, teachers and students can arm themselves with strategies early on so moments of stress don’t turn into meltdowns.

There are three key ways to de-escalate a conflict that are known to reduce stress as well: movement, time and breathing.

When kids can release energy by moving around, take some time away from the stressful moment or just breathe, Desautels said, they can calm down and actually think about what’s going on around them. Otherwise, they stay stressed out and might lash out more, she said.

The same goes for teachers — those strategies can ease their tension so they can respond constructively to a student. Desautels recommends asking these questions: What do you need? How can I help? What can we do to make this better?

“Consequences don’t need to be immediate,” Desautels said. “That, neurobiologically, is the worst thing we can do.”

When the brain is under stress, Desautels said, the part that controls problem-solving, logic, planning and organizing — known as the “prefrontal cortex” — isn’t getting enough blood and oxygen. Instead, all the blood is heading to the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotion. That’s why feeling upset might make a child yell or hit before it makes them sit back and talk a problem through. Plus, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to develop, so children are already more likely to respond emotionally to stress than adults.

“We have to prime the brain for discipline and learning before we can do anything else,” Desautels said. “Unless we teach the behaviors that we want to see, many times emotional regulation, which is what negative behavior is all about, it’s not there. And we just assume everybody is born having great ability to emotionally regulate.”

Fifth-graders at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Washington Township eat breakfast before their morning announcements.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Fifth-graders at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Washington Township eat breakfast before their morning announcements.

Teaching neuroscience to kids isn’t quite as hard as it sounds — First, they’ll start with model that lets them learn each part of the brain and what it does.

In Nibarger’s class, it’s clear the teaching has taken hold. Her students use words and phrases like “neurons” and “brain trauma” in regular classroom conversation. On the day before spring break, she asked them to tell her what happens when you have “hidden anger.”

Almost immediately, one boy piped up. He said a lack of sleep can cause trauma in the brain that blocks synapses from firing, which mean the brain works more slowly. Another girl said keeping anger to yourself means you can’t connect well to your friends.

“If you don’t talk about it and get it out of your system, you get frustrated and isolated,” she said.

Aside from the three basic strategies of movement, time and breathing, Desautels encourages teachers to use “brain breaks” to keep kids from drifting off during class.

“The brain pays attention to novelty,” Desautels said. “It’s a good way to change up because the brain is lulled to sleep with routine.”

A brain break could be almost anything — kids can get up and balance on one foot or play coordination games that ask them to hold out both hands and switch between making an “L” with one hand and a Sign Language “I” with the other. Or, it can be chimes on the intercom to give children a moment of calm in the morning.

Using the brain breaks and attention exercises throughout the school day not only helps kids shake things up if they need to refocus, but they are strategies they can turn to in times of stress.

The approach isn’t magic — managing behavior can still be slow-going, Desautels said, especially if kids become aggressive and don’t yet trust their teachers.

One third-grade class she’s working in this year at Washington Township’s Greenbriar Elementary School is particularly challenging — many of the students come from low-income families, and some have parents in jail.

Sometimes, they’ll yell or swear or even knock over a desk. Desautels said that can be typical for students constantly living in a state of stress, but the class is making progress. She encourages teachers to carve out areas of their classrooms where kids can go to take a break and calm down. Teachers at the school are partnered with each other so they have extra hands if one needs to the leave the classroom with the student or contact a parent.

How to deal with frequently disruptive, or even violent, students is a question common to most all classroom management or discipline techniques. There isn’t an easy answer Desautels said — it takes time for teachers and students to build trust. Incorporating aspects of educational neuroscience can help ensure that when confrontation does happen, frustration and rash decisions aren’t king.

“For teachers who say it’s too gentle, I say absolutely not,” Desautels said. “What we have to do is set up those procedures and transitions and boundaries, and the hardest part is we have to stay connected emotionally to those students during the worst of conflicts.

And regardless of the particular field you’re in, Eliot said, that connection piece is paramount to success in the classroom.

“What we know about human brain function is that it can’t be divorced from social environment,” Eliot said. “The more teachers appreciate how crucial that is to have healthy positive, nurturing relationships and extensive bonding and connecting and mentoring of their students, the more successful they’ll be, the healthier their students will be and the better they’ll learn.”

How to Develop a School Culture That Helps Curb Bullying


After years of dealing with school bullying through traditional punishments, Carolyne Quintana, the principal of Bronxdale High School in New York City, introduced restorative justice approaches at her school because she wanted students to feel trusted and cared for.

“It wasn’t just about bullying incidents, it was about the whole school culture,” she said.

To build community and handle “instances of harm” among the students, teachers bring the kids together to talk in “restorative circles,” where everyone has an opportunity to listen and be heard. Bronxdale uses circles for most of its group communications, including parent meetings and ninth-grade orientation. The circles are a natural outgrowth of the Socratic method teachers use in class, Quintana said.

What’s crucial in building the right culture is the twice-weekly advisory sessions—“the hub for restorative circles,” Quintana said—and the distributed guidance system at Bronxdale, which calls on all adults to look out for the social and emotional well-being of the students.

Bronxdale doesn’t track bullying rates, but Quintana said that students are now more conscious of the forms bullying takes, and are more apt to express concern for their peers and to sign agreements with one another. Some students who didn’t like to come to school because of bullying now do, she said. Further, students who misbehave are still held accountable.

“Restorative practices don’t get rid of discipline,” Quintana added. Rather, they supplement other discipline, so that kids who are suspended, for example, learn what they did wrong and why it matters. “It’s the restorative practices that will prepare kids for the world beyond high school,” she said.

Treating bullying as a hurtful act that violates shared values, rather than as a character defect, encourages kids to understand why their behavior was wrong, and to apologize and make amends, according to James Dillon, a retired school principal and author of Reframing Bullying Prevention to Build Stronger School Communities.

“Bullying shouldn’t ever be acceptable, and students should be held accountable—but also learn how and why what they did is wrong, and not just suffer the pain of consequences,” Dillon says.

This restorative justice model, where kids are coaxed to accept responsibility, figure out ways to remedy the harm and restore the damaged relationship, helps them learn from their actions and internalize a moral code.

“Punishment makes things worse,” said danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. “Schools have to start from a place of empathy. Why is a student doing something harmful to other students?” she added. Zero-tolerance policies toward student misbehavior have been shown to have the opposite effect of what was intended by their adoption: A task force set up by the American Psychological Association to study the issue found that zero-tolerance policies in schools worsened school climates, provoked more student misbehavior and led to higher expulsion and suspension rates for minorities. And no-questions-asked penalties against kids who mistreat their peers stunts the growth of personal conscience; the punished child will instead fixate on his “unfair” penalty rather than the harm he committed.

And when it comes to social media, ugly exchanges among kids can feel like a scourge to school administrators. But the customary ways schools have responded, including some variation of assemblies, lectures, and disciplinary action, seem to have had little effect.

“The current rules and punishment-based approach that schools are using is not working to address the concerns of bullying in school,” says Nancy Willard, director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age. “And it certainly will not be effective in addressing hurtful acts via social media, because schools are not making the rules for social media.”

What can schools do to reduce bullying among students on school grounds and online?

Drawing from social science research and experience in schools, some experts on bullying, learning and social media have fresh ways of thinking about and responding to the problem.

Build the right culture. “It is easier to think that the problem is because of character flaws in a few students or to blame parents for not doing a better job of raising their kids,” says Dillon.

In fact, to reduce aggression among kids, school leaders need to start with the climate within the building. Schools with an authoritarian and hierarchical ethos teach kids that obeying rules as decreed by the grown-ups in power is what counts; this only exacerbates jockeying for status among the students, which inspires bullying. A better approach would have school officials and teachers talk with students about what matters and then rally around the collective values and beliefs on which they agree. When adults try to influence rather than control kids, the grown-ups are more likely to be heard. “Real accountability should be toward those commonly held and articulated values of the school community,” Dillon said.

Encourage influential kids to take the lead in changing the culture.In an ambitious yearlong study of 24,191 middle school students during 2012 and 2013, social scientists Betsy Levy Paluck, Hana Shepherd and Peter Aronow found that kids with abundant social connections were effective in changing school norms. Anti-bullying messages created and propagated by these influential students reduced conflict in school by a statistically significant margin. Notably, the student body, rather than the teachers, identified the well-connected kids.

Introduce social and emotional learning for students and teachers.“What’s been missing from school is the affective dimension of learning,” says Janice Toben, who heads up the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning in Menlo Park, California. For 27 years, Toben taught elementary and middle school children how to self-regulate and handle conflict, and now educates teachers on best practices for social and emotional learning.

“We challenge teachers to engage in the social and emotional dynamic of their students, because learning is social and emotional,” she said.

Schools could make space for more face-to-face interactions among students, and encourage all teachers to ask reflective questions and focus on students’ personal or social insights. Sharing responses like these builds empathy and develops emotional skills in children; they learn how to construct an emotional vocabulary, communicate honestly and directly, and resist online retaliation.

One method she designed is called “Open Session,” where adolescents share their worries and challenges with one another; in return, they receive support and real-life wisdom from their peers, and clarify for themselves the real source of worry. Regular meetings like this, along with mindfulness practices and even improvisation, can give kids the tools to understand themselves better, react less impulsively, and show more compassion for others. Teachers, too, need social and emotional support, Toben adds, and would benefit from Open Sessions with their colleagues. What’s essential to making this kind of learning work? “Time,” Toben said.

Work with the majority of kids who don’t bully and don’t approve of it. Fellow students are well-situated to deflate a bully’s barbs, but few kids intervene when they see abusive behavior directed at their peers. Student witnesses to bullying are more likely to stand up for peers in schools with caring and inclusive climates because bullying violates school norms. But how can school leaders get those kids to step up? First, don’t alienate them with language that seems to blame them for a behavior — bullying —t hat they didn’t commit. Instead, tell them how important they are in building a stronger school; they are leaders and allies in constructing a better school environment, and should be told so repeatedly. “The most important belief driving positive change and reframing bullying prevention,” Dillon writes, “is that students are the solution to the problem not the cause of it.”

Ensure that teachers, coaches and school administrators aren’t modeling bullying. When kids see adults at school mistreat one another, they can’t help but conclude that such conduct is actually OK, regardless of what they’re told. Of even greater harm is when teachers and coaches oppress the kids they’re instructing; screaming at athletes for making mistakes, for example, or humiliating kids in the classroom, underscores a message that harsh interpersonal behavior is the way of the world.

The Challenge Of Personalizing Learning In Real-Time

The conversation on the need to use student achievement data in education is fast-tracking its importance in today’s classrooms. But with so much data now directed at school leaders, teachers and students  – how do you make sense of it all?

First and foremost, it is imperative that every data point has a face – it is not about the number but about students and their performance. Student data can only be useful if the right environment is created with procedures that create conversations where data is informative, useful and put into practice. For students to grow and for teachers to personalize instruction – data must constantly be formative and meaningful.

Here in Clarke County School District of Athens, Georgia, we are taking steps to truly integrate our digital learning initiatives with are common planning process using data. We are forging ahead with designing a new model that relies on using data for real-time progress monitoring that results in a true personalized learning environment – no more pre and post test analysis.

This is a major focus for us, and our district leaders and teachers use new innovative technology such as Waggle from Triumph Learning to help make it happen. Waggle is a digital learning platform that monitors student performance based on practice. Students are presented with a variety of questions for the subjects of math and English and must continually be successful (the practice) to be able to move forward. When they continue to get questions right over time, then they progress to the next stage. When they answer a question incorrectly, they are able to try again, and are offered hints and customized feedback to help them find the path to the right answer.

In this program, seeking the right answer is a critical skill that is developed. The idea here is to move past simply telling students if they are right or wrong. Educators now present them with opportunities that demonstrate the benefits of putting in the work to increase their understanding of the subjects they are tasked to learn. Learning how to find answers – productive struggle – becomes equally important as giving the right answer.

Our new personalized learning model is moving towards real-time formation. If educators can create tools that monitor students on an ongoing basis around proficiency, then administrators like myself don’t have to worry about the time and focus put on them pre- and post-test. We now can plan and assess students by monitor growth and progress.

One of the biggest obstacles with traditional testing methods is that there isn’t an opportunity to effectively intervene with struggling students until the results of a test are available. Implementing tools that utilize real-time formative data helps educators identify students who need more help mastering the skills that are being taught and to use personalized interventions to get them where they need to be.

On the other end of the spectrum, it can also alert educators when students aren’t being challenged. Students who complete work quickly and accurately have likely already mastered the skills being presented to them. This provides the educator with an opportunity to advance students and keep them engaged by offering them more challenging work.

As I said, the main goal of formative learning is to help students grow, and when learning isn’t personalized it makes it that much harder for students to do that. Students can’t grow when they are discouraged to the point of giving up or sailing through schoolwork without putting any effort into it. That’s what makes the productive struggle found in this system such an effective part of the strategies found in formative learning environments. Students are able to learn at a pace that helps them retain knowledge and skills that can build into the next stage of their academic growth.

Using real time performance information for planning and monitoring leads to the best alignment of the learning expectations to students’ personalized needs. And developing the qualities of determination and endurance to seek the right answer is the most powerful skill we can provide our students. I am excited to bring together this process with our partnership with Triumph Learning as Waggle is being designed for the next generation of learners.

Dr. Philip Lanoue has worked for the Clarke County School District since 2009 and was an administrator for the Cobb County School District before that. Under Lanoue’s leadership, Clarke County became a Title I Distinguished District and received a number of other statewide honors. He was chosen as Georgia Superintendent of the Year in December and the American Association of School Administrators’ 2015 National Superintendent of the Year.

Is your high schooler sleep-deprived? Buckle up for bad news (LATimes Article)


New research finds that compared with high schoolers who typically get nine hours of sleep, those who get less shut-eye are more likely to drink and drive, text while driving, hop in a car driven by a driver who has consumed alcohol, and leave their seatbelts unbuckled.

But while dangerous behaviors escalated with less sleep, too much sleep also was linked to risk-taking in teens: Among those who routinely slept more than 10 hours per night, on average, researchers also noted higher rates of drinking and driving, infrequent seatbelt use, and riding with a driver who had consumed alcohol.

The National Sleep Foundation says that adolescents 14 to 17 years old should get eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. But a majority falls well short of that goal. Girls were less likely to get enough sleep than boys (71% versus 66.4%). And 75.7% of Asian students were most likely among the ethnicities surveyed to report insufficient sleep.

In a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers culled the survey responses of more than 50,000 teens in grades nine through 12 between 2007 and 2013. The teens were presented a range of risk-taking behaviors and asked whether they had engaged in any in the past 30 days. They were also asked about their average sleep duration and other health-related behaviors.
Among adolescents, two-thirds of all fatalities are related to traffic crashes. Sleepiness impairs a teen’s attention and reaction time behind the wheel, which is bad enough. But the authors of the new report suggest that chronic sleep shortage might also be linked to poor judgment or a “likelihood to disregard the negative consequences” of taking chances.

Compared with a teen getting the recommended nine hours of sleep nightly, a high schooler reporting six hours of sleep per night was 84% more likely to say he or she had driven after consuming alcohol in the past 30 days, 92% more likely to report infrequent seatbelt use in a car, and 42% more likely to acknowledge he or she had ridden in a car with a driver who consumed alcohol in the past month.
Teens who reported sleeping five hours or fewer per night were more than twice as likely as their well-rested peers to acknowledge drinking and driving and infrequent seatbelt use.

In the case of teens who sleep 10 hours or more per night, the researchers suggested that depression might be the best explanation for greater risk-taking.

Fewer than 30% of teens surveyed reported nightly sleep duration between eight and nine hours. Roughly 30% reported sleeping an average of seven hours nightly, with about 22% reporting six hours’ sleep nightly and 10.5% reporting five hours’. Only 1.8% of teens reported they slept 10 or more hours nightly.

Teens’ average propensities to engage in risky behavior were not reassuring: On average, 26% reported they had ridden in a car with a driver who had drunk alcohol at least once in the past 30 days; 30.3% reported they had texted while driving at least once in the past 30 days; 8.9% reported drinking and driving in the past 30 days, and 8.7% reported infrequent seatbelt use. Fully 86.1% reported they wore a bicycle helmet infrequently while riding a bike.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

High-tech Coolhunting

Many of the most important ideas in technology come from the fringes. How do we spot them in the early stages?

An idea is born somewhere relatively obscure (maybe in a garage somewhere), spreads to small communities of hardcore enthusiasts (like Kickstarter and Reddit), and sometime later takes the mainstream by surprise when it suddenly explodes into popularity.

The journey is familiar in the context of startups, but it applies to important ideas and technologies more broadly.

Credit: Jobs (2013) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2357129/

One example is bitcoin, which began as an interesting whitepaper published in 2008 that was circulated among cryptography experts for a few years before coming to the attention of the mainstream startup community. Now, it’s a cryptocurrency — and blockchain protocol — sensation where activity is being tracked closely and community splits are being chronicled by newspapers around the world including the New York Times. (The first mention of bitcoin there was actually four years ago, in the context of the TV show “The Good Wife”).

There are countless reasons why you’d want to know about the next big idea in technology, and as early as possible. Whether you’re finding them, inventing them, or building businesses based on them, ideas matter, as does “the idea maze” one travels to get to them. But is there a way to catch these ideas as they emerge, in their very early stages?It’s difficult, because the places where these sleeper trends begin are seemingly random and obscure. This is tautological in a way, because if something exciting comes out of an established tech center (like Stanford or MIT), the mainstream will pay attention very quickly. It’s only ideas that are significant and come from outsiders that take longer to surface and be understood.

Spotting these ideas has an element of serendipity and luck to it, but there are some things we can all do to improve our chances of finding an important trend before it hits the mainstream. The techniques aren’t different from what 1990s “coolhunters” or media and marketing trendspotters do to find pop culture trends early: It’s one part looking in the right places and cultivating the right sources, and one part noticing anomalies and acting quickly.

Where new ideas come from

The places where sleeper trends begin are by definition unpredictable, so it’s important to cast a broad net among interesting discussion groups orhobbyist communities — virtual or physical — that seem like good incubators for new ideas.

The next step is to keep track of what these groups are doing by setting up streams of information about them — anything from subscribing to newsletters and discovering good blogs in that space, to attending meetups and conferences.

One of the best ways to stay informed is by building a network of “social gateways”, people who are well connected in the communities you want to watch but that are also far enough outside your usual network that you are hearing about new things. Then, when a particularly compelling idea surfaces, you will hear about it early.

Some communities are far more likely to produce winning ideas than others. In his classic work The Diffusion of Innovations, sociologist Everett Rogers describes the characteristics of so-called “early adopters” — people who are more likely to find and use new technology.

These people are usually open-minded and scientific in their mindset, and have time or money to spend on trying new things. Any group with these characteristics is a good place for technologies to germinate, which is perhaps why college campuses make great testbeds for not only spotting but trying out new products.

According to Rogers, the best groups of early adopters are extroverted and have lots of social ties, because the more connected they are, the faster new ideas spread through the group. This is why trends often start with young people in cities, rather than in sprawling suburban neighborhoods, even though the latter group may be just as willing to try out the same new things.

Highly connected groups can be either offline (densely populated cities or other clusters) or online (tight-knit online communities). A really good sign of such a highly connected group is one that has with a newly formed, makeshift online presence, like a dedicated Slack channel or fast-growing subreddit (r/nameofgrouportopic). That usually means the group is both new and highly connected.

The number of small groups where ideas could surface is too large to watch them all, so it may be preferable to look further along the path, where ideas collect — in communities that aren’t very big, but have outsized importance or influence. The places to watch aren’t so much “gatekeepers” or curators of culture, like influential editors, as they are tastemakers.

The ‘banana album’ (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/isherwoodchris/5982207129/)

A good analogy is what happened with The Velvet Underground’s “banana album” (so called because of the pop art banana cover by Andy Warhol); while the album only sold 30,000 copies in its early years, the people who bought it were the kind of people who started bands. It ended up “influencing the influencers” despite being relatively unknown.

The tech equivalent of people-who-start-bands are programmers and developers, which is why sites like StackOverflow and Hacker News — where those groups congregate — are good places to watch for trends. If a tool or technology is especially popular with the best engineers, it’s worth watching those forums. The opinion of programmers often determines whether a technology gets built or not, or whether it comes through in startup recruiting or through open source development. It’s hard to imagine Linux being as successful as it has been — without the willingness of enthusiastic developers dedicating hours of their free time in the early years.

‘Live free or die’ Linux license plates (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eggplant/17251516/in/photolist-2wqgW-h9MPAj-4rjVPB-bqNRs6-7emrfT)

How to tell a trend from a fad

Once you’ve built a pipeline of promising groups and information sources, how do you decide which ones are worth paying attention to?

With breakout ideas in particular, the most important thing to notice are signs of rapid growth. If you have the data, anything over 5% weekly sustained growth is anomalous and worth paying attention to. The next best thing is to compare leading versus lagging indicators, because a big mismatch between the two is often a sign of rapid growth.

Lagging indicators are things like brand recognition, prestige, and perceived importance. Leading indicators are more intrinsic to the idea or product itself, like how much their users care about it, how much better it is than the alternatives, and the volume of positive chatter about it. An example of lagging indicators outweighing leading indicators could be a film like Avatar, which had lots of marketing spend behind it, but appears to have had relatively limited cultural impact.

When I came across early but rapidly growing trends, like bitcoin in 2011, or the Oculus Kickstarter, they felt incongruous. In both communities, users and developers were going crazy for the new technology, which seemed to be a real breakthrough. Both trends seemed way too important to be something nobody outside the niche seemed to care about. In other words, the leading indicators far outstripped the lagging ones.

The natural instinct for most people is to ignore or dismiss this feeling, but you can train yourself to pay attention to it. In these cases it’s important to act quickly, because if something’s growing really fast, it’ll be common knowledge quite soon.

How to spot an important trend

In the early days of a new idea, it’s often the case that nobody is paying for anything. One way of guessing at economic impact, is by looking at “proxy for demand” — how much people will pay for similar alternatives — and on the other side, looking at “proxy for supply” — how expensive something was to produce before.

But it’s still tricky, because it’s so hard to estimate the economic changes brought by a disruptive technology. It can be dangerous to dismiss or embrace trends solely for this reason.

Finally, while rapid exponential growth is a good sign, it’s not everything. Internet memes have huge growth as well. Most ideas that quickly attract a large audience are actually just fads, and it’s important to be able to pick out the important ones. One good sign is evidence of a “secret”, a real discovery, or some plausible reasoning why this idea couldn’t have manifested itself before now. With bitcoin, the secret is the technical breakthrough described in the bitcoin paper; where previous efforts at distributed trust and decentralized resourcing failed, it coupled bitcoin (incentives) with the blockchain protocol (distributed ledger) to solve those problems.

Of the fast growing, real trends, only a few have the potential to be really, dramatically, world-changing. Every year, there are only a few really important macro trends, and just a handful of them in computer science. It’s unlikely a tech trend will be significant unless it benefits from one of these larger shifts, though it can do so in an oblique way. For instance, ridesharing apps were an important trend, but they were only enabled more broadly and recently by the larger trend of smartphones everywhere.

How trends go mainstream

Having a breakthrough or a community of early adopters clearly isn’t enough. So how does one tell a trend — something that continues to spread — from a fad — something that flares briefly and dies? The key is it needs to spread beyond the group of early adopters to the rest of the world, and there needs to be a real pathway for this to happen.

Before the internet, this path was from metropolitan centers, through the suburbs to the rest of the population. For ideas that spread purely online, the path could be through a big aggregator site like Reddit. Another pattern is spread by institutional similarity: Facebook was able to easily spread from Harvard to clusters of students in other schools, because of the structural similarity of most universities to each other despite other differences they may have.

Another path is by latching on to a different fast-growing community. In the 1990s, one of the big marketing successes of Sprite was advertising to the hip-hop subculture before it became mainstream. This type of path is especially important in technology, as subcultures that go through massive exponential growth are common. Targeting fast-growing communities is a common strategy for startups who want to see their userbase grow. Mobile developers were a niche group in 2007, but are a large, mainstream developer community now — — yet the today’s community still retains many of the tastes and technology preferences of the old one. Coolhunters can take the same approach but in reverse, by looking at fast growing communities and seeing what they’re using.

Whatever the path from early adopters to the mainstream may be, there are some qualities that some early adopters have some qualities that help the idea spread. In the fashion world, social media marketers often target internet personalities who project an aspirational ideal, often by posting Instagram-style pictures of food, live events, etc.

In technology, the kind of person who others want to copy may fit a different profile — might be famous through open source, might be a prominent blogger — but must have the same kind of influence. The same principle can apply to groups; Python programmers could be more influential than Java programmers, for example.

A contrarian view

You can get quite far in spotting new ideas just by watching developers, people in major cities or schools, other early adopters and tastemakers… but that’s where everyone’s looking. Part of finding the right people and places to watch necessarily requires you to have an alternative but correct view of the world — to form hypotheses about what’s overrated and underrated.

Gaming has been a good example of an underrated community for the last few years — despite little prestige, it’s a surprisingly large and influential subculture, and gamers have been early adopters of ideas like livestreaming and VR.

An esports match (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/samchurchill/14857571158/)

Why coolhunt?

Beyond any acquisitive value, finding tech trends also has broader applications. These ideas have huge, and often quite sudden, effects on the world, and it’s very difficult to tell in advance what they’ll be, or which industries they’ll affect the most. And while in an ideal world, futurists could rationally deduce what the next big trend will be- , the reality is that these systems are complex and more fluid, changes compound and build on each other, and there are lots of unknown unknowns to account for.

This means coolhunting can be a surprisingly good way to catch these monumental shifts, compared to traditional market research or deductive reasoning from experts. Not bad for a technique invented by ’90s fashion marketers!

What motivates students?

What can you learn when you reach out to 66,000 students to find out what motivates them?

For one, students who have a sense of purpose are 18 times as likely to be motivated to do their schoolwork as those who do not. Students who find their schoolwork engaging are 16 times as likely to be academically motivated as those who do not.

Russ Quaglia and the Qisa institute’s 2014 study on student voice analyzed student responses about Self Worth, Engagement, Purpose, Teacher Support, and Peer Support and cross-referenced the responses against Academic Motivation.

Below is a chart showing the increased likelihood of academic motivation based on students who feel they have the specific attribute. Thus, students who feel they have teacher support are 8 times as likely to be motivated to do their schoolwork than students who do not.

Academic Motivation

A second measurement determined the percent of students who did not have a particular attribute, shown in the table below:

Student Lacking

Thus, more than half of all students reported that they had little peer support for studying.

Thus, if a teacher wanted to increase the motivations of the most students, she would find interventions that would encourage students to support each other in studying.

Or, if a teacher wanted to have the greatest effect on specific students, she might help those students who needed it (about 15% of the students) find a purpose.

What are the interventions that have the largest effect?

While there may not be one right answer, it’s something that is worth discussing.

The mind of a student today

December 26, 2014 Below is an interesting visual I cam across through a tweet from We Are Teachers. The visual maps out some really intriguing facts about students today. These facts are based on different studies and surveys conducted mainly on US students. I went through this resource and devised this brief synopsis: Minority students attending US schools will make up a majority of all students…