January 2012

(At the risk of seeming overly flattering and favoring a friend, for which I offer full disclosure and my apologies, I share the following post about an outstanding educational leader.)

Last week in Virginia, speaking to the Commonwealth’s fine independent school heads, I suggested they had a great model of educational leadership in their home state,   Albemarle County Superintendent Pam Moran.   I was asked, entirely reasonably, why I described her this way, and, caught off guard, I stuttered a bit in my answer, and disappointed myself in not providing a fuller explanation.

Curiously, that very same day, only a few hours later, I turned to chapter 7 of the book I was reading on my airplane home, a chapter devoted to the leadership qualities of the none other than Pam Moran.  In his book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works, author and former school principal Bill Sterrett writes “Moran and other tech savvy leaders believe it vital to help our students and staffs use technology effectively– not for technology’s sake but for learning’s sake.”

Drawing upon that book and other sources, including a recent issue of the New Yorker, I now aim to better answer the question: what makes Pam Moran such a fine educational leader?  She offers, I think, excellent exemplification of what in my presentation last week I explained are the 8 Steps of Leading Learning Forward.

  1. Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners
  2. Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship
  3. Collaboratively determining our intended learning outcomes
  4. Measuring what matters most, using technology.
  5. Strengthening our faculty professional learning cultures
  6. Promoting Aligned Teaching & Learning
  7. Putting in place the necessary tools
  8. Documenting & Sharing.

Step One: Developing Ourselves as Leading Learners

Sterrett’s chapter on Moran opens with an epigraph from her, which by its placement and its emphasis conveys that she too believes that leading learning begins always with a focus upon our own learning.

I’m convinced that we administrative leaders have an obligation to initiate new learning [and] become skillful in the use of tools that accelerate and advance our learning work.

Sterrett goes on to write that

She believes the onus is on the educational leader…to be aware of new technologies.  “I know that if I can’t stay current than I will not be able to get my colleagues to do the same.”

Social media is also, for Moran, a vehicle for reflection and intellectual growth.

Moran finds that contributing to blogs is a good way to reflect on her practice.  By articulating her thoughts in posts that draw on her experiences and refer to her vision, she is able to model the importance of reflection and meaningful conversation for the greater professional community…. “The ‘hurried child’ has become the ‘hurried adult’– I fear– to the detriment of deep learning.

Step Two Articulating the Vision and Modeling Digital Citizenship.   Leadership always contains as a key element strong communication with all constituencies, and sharing a vision of the future toward which one is leading.   Pam does so in many ways, including using powerful social media tools such as youtube, blogging and twitter.

One example can be seen in this compelling, snazzy, and effective video, articulating her district’s “continuing  journey toward quality learning:”


This sweet Derek Sivers video from  provides a lovely little followup to my previous post, the ethical obligation of sharing.   I want to clarify that it is not that I think there are many educators who are ethically opposed to sharing (there are a few, and that few is far too many, but only a few).

I think rather that it is obstacles, not opposition, which limit sharing, and I suppose the obstacles to sharing are three-fold.

One is time/energy/initiative:  though sharing by publishing is now entirely free financially,  it probably just seems too great an expense of these other precious resources to bother.  That is understandable, but it is mistaken.  Developing a familiarity with web 2.0 tools for sharing will take an initial learning curve of a few hours, but at the other end you will be a far more valuable and more greatly contributing citizen of our digital age, and you will then easily and swiftly be better able to influence the improvement of the education of children and the future of our society– something which is the moral responsibility of us all.

The second obstacle is an inability to appreciate the value of our own accomplishments: how could what I have to share be of value to anyone else?  This second one is exactly the subject of the video above: don’t hold off sharing because you don’t know its value:  share and let others determine the value, because sometimes, more often than you might think, they will.  As the Sivers in the video says:

Everyone’s ideas seem obvious to them.  But maybe what is obvious to me is amazing to someone else.  We’re clearly a bad judge of our own creations.  We should just put it out and let the world decide.  Are you holding back something that seems too obvious to share?

The third obstacle might be fear of criticism (as Jacob Martens suggested on Twitter).  I understand this– I do, and I have felt the sting– but I think that we as educators should be willing to model for our students and others risk-taking, transparency, and a willingness to be challenged.

Let’s support each other in identifying, confronting, and overcoming these obstacles: Post and Share for education’s advancement.

(thanks to Jonathan Schmid’s Tech Savvy Teachers Blog for sharing the Sivers sharing video)

Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a very stimulating conversation with an outstanding educational leader who told me about a fascinating, unconventional educational initiative at her school.    Recognizing I wanted to learn more, I asked her if she had “posted” it.   She told me they had presented it in several workshops and had explored doing a book, but that hadn’t come together.   But I followed up: have you put it up online somewhere, on your school’s site or some other sharing venue?


Last month, NAIS President Pat Bassett emailed out a fascinating list of about a dozen schools which were leading the way in the use of “Backward Design” to advance the learning of 21st century skills for their students (I am proud to say that yes, our St. Gregory “Egg” was on the list).

As I scanned the list, my instinct was immediately to look for the links to where I could learn more.   There were only email addresses for the Heads of School.   I followed up by visiting some of those schools’ websites and searching for pages about the programs, and using google to search more widely, but with only a few exceptions, I found nothing.

In my presentation yesterday to the school heads of Virginia, I shared my 8 steps for leading learning forward; the list has grown by a step since my similar, (though shorter) presentation at NAIS last February.

The added 8th step is the shortest and perhaps simplest, but, I think, incredibly important: Documenting (Posting) and Sharing. 

We live in an incredibly exciting and valuable age of networked learning and connected educators, and we al
l have in common improving the education of students, all students everywhere, in every way we can.  We know this is best for kids, to whom we are all so dedicated, and to the future of our society, for which they will very soon be assuming important responsibility.

For those who share this common commitment (and really, who among us does not?), there is, I am arguing,  a moral responsibility, a strong one,  to share our educational initiatives and innovations: to summarize them, share their key elements, show examples of them in practice, and, at best, reflect upon their successes and lack thereof. (more…)

I greatly enjoyed presenting and sharing this conversation with the very fine educators of the Virginia Independent School Association.  This post has only the slides and the videos associated with the slides (Most of which I didn’t have time to share– watch them now!).

For a narrative version of an earlier version of this talk, click here to read my 2011 post,  7 Steps for Leading in 21st c. learning.

My thanks and appreciation go to the fine VAIS staff and educators for welcoming me so warmly, especially Kim Failon and Simon Owen-Williams.

Here are the 8 steps, loosely modeled on Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. .

Here, and after the “more,” are the associated videos: I’ve also provided at bottom a more detailed outline of these 8 steps. 

Alexandria Country Day School Assistant Head Nishan Mehta on their iPad pilot:

the Edleader21 video on the importance of 21st century learning leadership.  (more…)

In what has been one of the most exciting curricular developments of late at St. Gregory, our ninth graders are tackling each winter an elaborate multi-disciplinary project on the topic of bioethics. The assignment comes jointly from the ninth grade biology and English teachers, and requires students in teams to research an assigned topic in bioethics, address driving questions, take it through multiple steps of revision and reflection, and then publish their completed work in a presentation which they deliver to other students, after which they actually provide a test-for-understanding quiz to those students about their presentation.

Below these four presentation Prezis and video (two prezis after the jump (more), which I am so happy to be sharing, is more detailed information about the assignment, including a rubric and the project “pitch” requirements. (You may need to click on “more.”) I thank the St. Gregory students whose fine work this is for giving me permission to share.

Here is a link to the test for understanding quiz which was prepared to accompany this presentation, designed by the students as part of their project. (it is amusing to me to read question 4, multiple choice option b). (more…)

This is a very worthwhile 15 minutes for those interested in the question of how curriculum should be changing, and also, for those attending ISAS Teacher Conference in a few weeks, this offers a nice sneak preview to one of the event’s most exciting presenters.

What Year are you preparing your students for?  Tests from the 70s and 80s are just the same as they are now; Most schools are preparing students for 1991.

Instead of the oral report, one of the low points of civilization, let’s do video podcasts.

Media Literacy, Global Literacy, Digital Literacy: What are these things, really?  Let’s think more carefully about these terms and how to teach them.

Let’s ask students to do assessments:  What does a quality blog look like? Have students define the standard and ask students meet it.

What is a quality podcast?   Don’t just make a wiki, determine what is a quality wiki.

I think every student should design an app: I can’t think of a better thing for them to do.

My new mantra: Get time out of the way, move aside, think about all the connections that are possible, and what I am looking for is Future Schools Now!

Jacob has a strong and ambitious vision, and she wants to support teachers: one step at a time.  Revamp just one curricular unit or area each year, and before too long, we will alll be well underway.   Focus on the new critical literacies, elevate consistently students’ consciousness about what is quality and how we know it, and engage students and strengthen their skills by use of powerful Web 2.0 communication and creation tools.

I love the message that students should design apps: we have a few doing that at St. Gregory, but not every student– not yet.   It is something we, like so many other schools, are moving toward and ought to be moving toward more swiftly.

There are so many great things students can be doing and creating in this day and age, and let’s take inspirational figures like Jacobs to keep asking ourselves: how can we make learning more engaging, more meaningful, more connected, and more preparatory for our times?

Yesterday’s New York Times offered fascinating piece that struck directly at the the heart of a topic I write about often: the connection of creativity and collaboration.    Regularly here I write with enthusiasm that by promoting better collaboration among our students in a myriad of ways– from group-work in the classroom to building powerful online networks across the world– we will facilitate our students in becoming more creative and innovative.

I cite Steven Johnson’s writing most often, as when he explains in Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation that the most innovative spaces are situated at the scientific laboratory conference table and innovation occurs most often in the densest of networks: first in cities (and his research is compelling that the densest and largest cities are the most innovative) and now in online networks, most exemplified by Twitter.   Clayton Christensen too, in the Innovators’ DNA, elevates five traits as essential to the “Innovator’s DNA,” and networking is number 4.

At first glance, the New York Times piece by Susan Cain, The Rise of the New Groupthink, with its subtitle “Collaboration is in. But it may not be conducive to creativity” appears to be a major assault of sorts on my belief and argument.    But a closer reading of the piece leads me to believe that the headline distorts: to my eyes,  this piece is a nuanced and balanced essay which argues for the value of both solitude and collaborative/networks as offering value for innovative work, except when it goes off its own rails to strike an unfairly strident and wrong-headed note.

Cain opens with an admiration for the introverts who are often highly creative and for the value of solitude in creative endeavors, and speaking for myself as an introvert, I appreciate the endorsement:

The most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature. (more…)


I’m busy this winter preparing several talks in the spring on the topic of “innovative schools, innovative students,” and so have the pleasure of diving in again into the best thinking I can find about the rich, complex, and often enormously gratifying nature of innovation.

In the TED talk above, author Matt Ridley makes clear with wonderful historical references that “through crowd sourcing,through the bottom-up world that we’ve created, where not just the elites but everybody is able to have their ideas and make them meet and mate,we are surely accelerating the rate of innovation.”

Collaboration and sharing are qualities of character and skills of cooperation which we often teach and advocate for their own sake, but what is so rewarding to come to understand better is how essential they are for innovation.   When we strive to have our students work in groups, and when we encourage them to research best practices and seek out innovative practices online, and when we assist them and assist ourselves in developing their own networks of connection with others around the world who share their passions, we are empowering them (and us) to be better innovators and better problem-solvers.

And innovation isn’t itself the end-goal, it still always the means: the means toward the end of making a better world:

Awful things will happen in this century, I’m absolutely sure. But I’m also sure that, because of the connections people are making,and the ability of ideas to meet and to mate as never before, I’m also sure that technology will advance, and therefore living standards will advance.

Some favorite quotes from the talk:

The computer mouse is made from a confection of different substances, from silicon and metal and plastic and so on. And more than that, it’s a confection of different ideas, the idea of plastic, the idea of a laser, the idea of transistors. They’ve all been combined together in this technology.

And it’s this combination, this cumulative technology, that intrigues me, because I think it’s the secret to understanding what’s happening in the world.  (more…)

(This is the third post in a series; be sure to read the first for context).

This Class project was a year in the making: It began last spring, and I posted then about the class plans and my conversations with the working group as they “pitched it” to me and sought my approval and sponsorship. It is worth checking out this previous post to show the sequence, beginning with designing and planning and now culminating in completion:

Below are the student overview of the project’s purpose and procedure, and after the jump (more)  is the Solar Oven Project.

Purpose:  The purpose of this project was to provide the school’s students with an environmentally friendly way to charge their laptops.

Procedure 1. Screw wooden beams onto the preexisting structure. 2. Cut L-shaped metal to the correct length to fit the desired mounting angle of the panels and cut L-shaped metal to fit the length of the panel. 3. Attach the metal to the panel. 4. Attach the panel supports to the metal running the length of the panel. 5. Put the panel on the roof. 6. Attach the panel by screwing it to the structure. 7. Run conduit from the panels to the wall. 8. Drill a hole through the wall. 9. Run the wires from the panels through the hole. 10. Attach the panel wires to the charge controller. 11. Attach the charge controller to a car battery. 12. Attach the car battery to a power inverter. 13. Run a power cord from the inverter to a wall outlet outside. (more…)

See previous post for more information about the Design Build Tech Innovation Class. Reports written by students in the class.

Alex,  Nik and Michael: An LED matrix. 

8X8LEDMatrixThis project started with a 7 by 5 L.E.D Matrix found in the physics room. I then had the urge to get it working, so I started to test connections on the Matrix too see how the wiring was done.

I figured out that the Matrix worked in a row column fashion which made it impossible to make any other letter than I or l. Then I told myself that if I switched rows and individual dots every millisecond, I could then make any letter, picture, shape, etc. I then started looking for the most practical programming chip, an Arduino.

After the large amount of wiring I started programming. My first program consisted of turning on and of lights very quickly, which is simply but requires about 150 line of code. After completing one letter, “N”, everybody realized that this thing was freaking awsome! So everybody started to get involved (mostly Alex). (more…)

I’ve been writing recently about FabLabs (here and here), and the importance of providing times, ways, and places for students to design and build their own “solutions” to problems, especially problems they discover, and to refine those “solutions” in multiple iterations.

(Be sure to see the two other posts sharing class work also: here and here).

At St. Gregory, where we aspire to “create innovators,” one of our most important and most exciting initiatives over the past two years has been the steady advance of our “Design Build”  Tech Innovations class,  taught by the amazing and awesome Mr. Dennis Conner.   It is an entirely PBL formatted class, with no set curriculum other than having students investigate “problems” and choose one to design and build solutions for.

The class continues to be a great success, and the difficult question looming for us at St. Gregory is whether to decide to move it from an optional elective (it is taught pass-fail, students can take it as many times as they wish, and it has received great enthusiasm from its participants) to a required freshman or sophomore class, formatted as an “introduction to and foundations of innovation” class.     The jury is still out on this one.

Suzie Boss, an edutopia blogger and author of Reinventing Project Based Learning with Technology, and  who visited St. Gregory last spring for two days, wrote this recently, in a piece entitled “How Design Build Curriculum Can Transform a Community.”

Where does a project like this fit into current discussions of 21st-century skills?

Our students are learning skills like welding and carpentry, 2D and 3D modeling. But those are the vehicles to do something else. We blog as much as we’re on the table saw. We’re giving them tools for entrepreneurship, for innovation, for local citizenship and engagement. We’re giving them a way to think through problems in their own lives. Design is all about possibility. For a student, that’s the best gift you can give them.

With the fall semester now completed, I want to share, in this post and in two following posts, examples of student work completed in the past few months by their own reports.  You can find the whole set on the class website here.

Spencer B’s project: a HEXAPOD

This is a hexapod. A hexapod is a robot with 6 ‘legs’, in this case with 3dof per leg. And before I bore you, I want to tell you that this is quite possibly the greatest project I have ever worked on. It has cost me, so far, just below 1k. Bit expensive, no? But the experience and result has been worth it. Intrigued?

This has been a labor of love. It’s been frustrating. It still won’t walk, this is because I had no idea about its power consumption. 8 amps? Despite that ridiculous number for a rather small robot, the control program (which consists of a virtual cube you can rotate with arrow keys and change with a few keystrokes) is nearly there! I’ll post it later on.

The robot was constructed primarily out of anodized aluminum parts and 18 servos. It includes a high amp regulator, as well as a microcontroller and a radio module. It looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. Here’s a link to where I got the parts:   WWW.LYNXMOTION.COM


Clayton M’s project: Rockets!

Michael and others: the Trebuchet 2:

Filmed at our soccer field just behind our Science Laboratories, and also at a Trebuchet competition held in October on the campus of the University of Arizona, in which our students competed.

In a recent post, I wrote about our advance here at St. Gregory into the world of Fab Labs and Makerbots, marked by the recent arrival of our new 3D printer.    Below are three videos further exploring and demonstrating the value of fablabs, the first a TEDx talk by Stanford Professor Paulo Blikstein, and the 2 others showcasing Fablab activities at a very fine school near Stanford, Castilleja School.

In education, we don’t know what to give up: We want to teach new skills but not give anything up from the past.   One of the greatest things about Apple is that they know what to give up.

We need to make big changes not only in the means, the media of education, but the content of education.

A lot of skills we teach in schools now are obsolete… It is amazing that school is not doing anything more to teach us about science and technology around us.

You can’t teach sports unless you have a gym;  it is the same idea for 2st century skills, if we want to teach innovation, critical thinking, deep understanding of science and technology– if you don’t have a place to teach those skills you can’t really do a good job.

We can’t assess new skills with a pencil and paper test, just as we couldn’t assess swimming skills without a pool.

[Let’s help students so] they are not looking at tech as something magical but looking at tech and Science as a tool that can change the lives of others, which is the fundamental skill we need to develop in these [Fab] lives and in education in general.

Below (after the jump-“more”) are the Castilleja videos, provided me courtesy of the Castilleja Head of School, Nanci Kauffmann.  The Castilleja faculty is shown spending a great day inside their own school’s Fab lab, and experiencing themselves the learning experience and the thrill of discovery and invention these spaces, and these kind of learning activities, can provide.