December 2012 fifth year in blogging is now coming to an end.   My blog began with in the fall of 2008 over at blogspot, and then I migrated it here to wordpress in late January 2009.

Once a year– and only once a year, I like to share some reflections and statistics upon my year here at 21k12.

2012 sadly saw a small dip in the number of postings: down to 120 posts this year, compared to 150 last year, 165 the year prior.  My aim continues to be an average of 3 times weekly, 12-15 times monthly, and I say this because blogging is best practiced as a habit, as a regular discipline such as exercise, and when I fall off my routines and slow my pace, I feel a faltering and a fading that doesn’t serve me.  The longer I go between posts, the harder it is to get going on a new post.

But, I do allow myself vacations– and as I completed my third and final year as St. Gregory’s head of school last spring, I took almost two months off from the blog.  In my weeks working on the blog, I’m still maintaining the three (or even a tad more) weekly posts.

As for total page views, growth continued.   Last year I wrote that “my 70,000+ page views in 2011, compared to 29,200 in 2010 and about 16,000 in 2009, represents a second consecutive year of doubling my readership. ” I then said I had n0 expectation of doubling again in 2012, setting instead an ambition to climb from 70,000 to 100,000.

But I did double again, for the third year in a row, taking 2012 views to 142,000.

Let me be clear here: there is no possibility that 2013 will see a fourth “doubling” in views.   I’m setting instead a goal of 175,00, which may be itself ambitious.

In classic 20/80 fashion, it is only a very small number of posts and pages which generate the view rates in the five figures that support the high overall  totals.

One is my graduation speech page, launched in 2011, which, as I explained last year, I put up as a resource for principals and school-leaders looking for advice and sample speeches to give at graduation. Before posting this, I remembered vividly a few occasions when I was just days or hours away from a school graduation talk, and I jumped onto Google to find some samples for inspiration and format/templates, but rarely succeeded in finding useful examples.   So I thought I could be helpful by loading up a page that provides links to about a dozen of my past graduation remarks.   The graduation speech landing page generated almost 24,000 hits, every single one of them the result of a search engine search for “graduation speech by principal” or a closely related variant.,

The sample graduation talks which the landing page directs readers to generated another roughly 20,000 page views, the most popular of them being  Helping Others is the Real Victory, (3800), Struggle to Grow and Learn: Remarks to Middle School Students at Promotion (3400), and Map-making, not following: Learning, Leading, Innovating: (2700).

My most popular post here from 2012, at almost 15,000 views, was a post offering a roundup of favorite 21st century learning videos: Videos Suggested for Back to School Faculty Meetings and other educational audiences.   This was not only my most viewed 2012 post, but the Twitter count on this one astounded me, at almost 700 tweets, by far my “most tweeted” ever.

The 21st century videos post I pulled together in a couple of hours in August, sitting on my couch watching the Olympics.  After my summer travels, I was returning with vigor to my blog, and I remember thinking it was a good time to try to put up a popular post, one which would generate a little more traffic than the average– something less dense with text, something people would find useful and want to pass around.   It seemed to me too that it was the time of year when many principals and school-heads were planning their back to school faculty meetings, and it was a good time for an inspirational video to rally and motivate for 21st century learning.   So I intended and expected this particular post would be popular– but I didn’t expect it to surge as strongly as it did, bringing me my best-ever single day page view the day after I posted it, 1967.

Over at Connected Principals I did a similar thing in the beginning of August.  Knowing that many principals write a summer-time back to school letter for families, and knowing that the example of such a letter which I posted the summer prior had generated quite a bit of search engine traffic, I thought to myself maybe I can offer some suggestions for writing these letters– what tone to take, what to include, etc– in a post entitled  9 Suggestions for the Welcome Back to School letter from the Principal.  This one has now welcomed over 13,000 views, and holds the status currently for single most-viewed post for 2012 at Connected Principals by any of the contributors there.

Here then are the top ten most-viewed in 2012 posts (and composed in 2012).

  1. Videos Suggested for Back to School Faculty Meetings and other educational audiences (14719)
  2. “Best Ted Talk Ever:” Shawn Achor on Happiness and Productivity (4309)
  3. Beating the Cheating: Five Ways to Combat the Plague  (3726)
  4. Treating Others as Ends: Katniss Everdeen, Social Entrepreneurship, and the Ethical Imperative: (1560)
  5. Khan Academy and flipping the classroom on 60 minutes: the good and the bad (816)
  6. Play, Passion, Purpose, and Project Based Learning: Thoughts on Tony Wagner’s new book, Creating Innovators: (813)
  7. Formative Assessment, Practical Skills, and PBL: What’s Next On the Horizon: Pat Bassett’s NAIS Presentation (791)
  8. Networked Learning at the core of a new report on Innovating Pedagogy (702)
  9. “Flip Your Classroom”: the new book from Bergmann and Sams (584)
  10. Thoughts on Will Richardson’s fine 19 Bold Ideas for Change in Education.(572)

A few comments. (more…)

brookhart book“We still really don’t know how to assess problem-solving,” I heard a university professor of engineering say last week, and it resonated because it is so clear to me that while we all want to do more to educate our students in the work of solving complex problems and creative thinking, and we know the importance of assessment in driving this instruction, we nevertheless stumble in our clarity about what and how we ought to assess these things.

Most often the books I write about here are what might be viewed as the superstructure books– the writing about the future of learning and the most innovative practices for reinventing what and how we should be teaching.

Examples of this would be my reviews of Net Smart by Rheingold, Networked by Wellman and Rainey, Future Perfect by Johnson, and Zhao’s World Class Leaners. 

But sometimes it is useful to return to the foundations, and firm up our terms and concepts at more basic, but critical, levels— indeed, if we don’t do so, the superstructures will be that much more unwieldy.

This 2010 title, from ASCD, is exactly that, and I hope readers will forgive the “primer” nature of this post.   It would seem to me that schools which simply do the work to try to unify and make more consistent our language and practice around higher order thinking skills assessment will be well poised to then experiment, iterate, and innovate in this essential realm.

Brookhart begins by defining the core elements of what we mean by higher order thinking:

  • Transfer: relating learning to other elements beyond those they were taught to associate with it.
  • Critical thinking (judgment): reasonable, reflective thinking focused on what to believe or do, applying wise judgment and producing an informed critique.
  • Problem solving, including creative thinking: the non-automatic strategizing required for solving an open-ended problem, involving identifying problems, creating something new as a solution.

establishing three core components of what exactly effective assessment entails:

  1. Specify clearly and exactly what it is you want to assess.
  2. Design tasks or test items that require students to demonstrate this knowledge or skill.
  3. Decide what you will take as evidence of the degree to which students have shown this knowledge or skill.

and elaborating with three more principles of higher order thinking assessment:

  • Presenting something for students to think about, usually in the form of text, visuals, scenarios, resource material, problems.
  • Using novel material–material new to students, not covered in class and not subject to recall.
  • Distinguishing between level of difficult, easy versus hard, and level of thinking, lower order thinking/recall versus higher order thinking) and control for each separately. (more…)

For those of who spend a lot of our time writing and speaking about our vision of 21st century, technology integrated and accelerated learning, there is great value in finding and sharing videos which better display these practices in action.

This new video from edutopia is far from perfect– the snippets of classroom activity are too brief, and confusingly, often show students not using technology.   (Don’t get me wrong: effective tech integration never should mean or entail constant use of tech.   It is just that this video in entitled, an introduction to technology integration.)

But the contributing talking heads are a brilliant trio, and represent well the breadth of the power of tech integration– a breadth that is sometimes seen as ultimately containing a contradiction or at least a problematic internal tension, but which I still idealistically hope can be reconciled.

That breadth and/or contradiction is that Sal Khan on the one hand and MaryBeth Hertz and Adam Bellow on the other.

Is tech to be used for personalizing learning for mastery by the use of individualized, self-paced, automated lesson modules that can often indeed strengthen skill mastery, but are canned, boxed in, and somewhat dispiriting to human spirit, lacking in opportunities for exploration, experimentation, collaboration and play?

Or, is to be used as a web 2.0 tool: an open door to the world of online sharing, research, and production, deliberately out of any box and unconstrained by any commercial or even open source “product” but intended to be for expressing oneself, pursuing one’s passion, connecting to real people in real places beyond our immediate experience and partaking in the joy of connection and common cause and having an impact on the wider world?

This video seems to seek to unite, rather than divide, these two approaches.  Let us hope this reconciliation can and will be done effectively, wisely, and powerfully for the learning of all our students.

  • Design, Engineer, Build
  • Personalize, Choose, Create
  • Access, Integrate, Engage
  • Curiosity, Interest, Passion, Joy

As regular readers may recall, I’ve written several times before about the extraordinary educational leadership of Dr. Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County: first from a distance, and then from a close up and in person view.

Now readers have the opportunity to view her themselves by viewing this new TEDx talk from Dr. Moran, in which she shares her many ideas and concepts for educational transformation, as can be seen above, the titles of her slides.

In this talk, she calls upon all us to take learning from what NASA deems the limitations of low orbit travel exemplified by the space shuttle to deep space exploration of Moon, Mars, and beyond missions.    Standardized testing and test prep keep us in low orbits, but we need to take learning beyond to deeper understanding, greater mastery, creativity and production as opposed to consumption and regurgitation.

I especially appreciate her passion and commitment for not just STEM, but STEAM, because integrating arts and artistic/design sensibilities into STEM learning is so critical to creating tomorrow’s innovators.    She shares very engaging examples of students participating in Coderdojos and various Design/engineer/build and Makerspace labs.


Note: I am delighted to be co-presenting with Dr. Moran next month at Educon at Science Leadership Academy Philadelphia, on the topic of Performance Task Assessment & the CWRA: Better Goal Posts.


This month I’ve been in conversation with an outstanding school superintendent preparing his district for PARCC assessments.   As many understand, PARCC (and its counterpart Smarter Balanced), requires districts prepare their schools with technology sufficient for their student to take what will be entirely online, computer based high stakes tests.

“Of course,” he explained to me, “we need to become PARCC-ready.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg.   If we are going to invest in these substantial, even enormous technology upgrades, it would be foolish not to use this new technology in ways beyond the new tests.

“PARCC tech upgrades give us an opportunity to transform our schools to places of 21st century, student-centered– and this is an opportunity not be wasted.”

In addition, he added, preparing students for success on PARCC is not just a matter of ensuring the tech is there for them to take the test– it needs to be there and used in ways in which students develop the comfort and confidence.

This is a tremendous opportunity, and we can only hope that every superintendent recognizes as well as this one has the chance being presented to leverage an externally imposed new test and new test format– even when that new test perhaps is in and of itself unwelcome– to transform the equation of classroom learning toward 21st century, student-centered, technology in the hands of students programs.

This has been also recognized recently in a valuable new white paper from SETDA, State Educational Technology Directors Association, which I’ve embedded below.

View this document on Scribd

The report has many important messages.  First, districts must carefully focus and determine their current technology’s capacity for supporting the new tests.

While there are compelling advantages to a technology-­‐based assessment system as compared to current paper-­‐ and pencil-­‐based approaches, schools and districts will need to validate their technology readiness for 2014-­‐15.

Validation for technology readiness is important even for states and districts currently administering tests online, as these Common Core assessments are being designed to move beyond multiple-­‐choice questions to technology-­‐enhanced items to elicit the higher order knowledge, skills, and abilities of students.

An article last spring in THE, Technology Challenges and the Move to Online Assessments,  also explored these issues.

The 2014-15 school year is a long way off, isn’t it? That depends on your perspective. If you are an eighth-grader, Friday night is a long way off, but if you are a technology leader in a school district or a state, the 2014-15 school year may be here all too soon.

Critically, the SETDA report insists that this PARCC/Smarter Balanced minimum specs, must not be the only factor to be considered when these enormous investments are made.    (more…)

[slides shared with permission of the authors]

The presentation above, by Doug Lyons and Andrew Niblock, is from a session which was a highlight of last spring’s NAIS Annual Conference, a session which sadly I was unable to attend, but about which I heard great things– and the slides carry much of that value.

This presentation covers terrain that I too spend a lot of time examining.  (for comparison, see my presentation to the Canadian Heads at their annual meeting last year.)

I am very well aware that there are many fine minds and outstanding educators who are arguing against measurement in education– or for dramatically reducing the measurement we do of learning– or that much of what we most value is hard or effectively impossible to measure.

And certainly, there is a somewhat appalling misuse and abuse of student learning measurement data in the US today– of course there is.

But, my ongoing approach, aligned exactly with this high quality presentation, is that we seek diligently to improve and correct the way we use learning measurement, but not abandon or reject evaluating and measuring learning.   Indeed, to best change education from its current course and to bring it to a far more student centered, 21st century oriented, technology accelerated, and innovative place, we have to have data to support our campaign and change current policies.

Among the things I appreciate about this presentation is its breadth, looking at both internal and qualitative ways we assess learning AND external/quantifiable ways.   We have to look at this topic broadly– what gets measured gets done, what gets measured gets valued, we can’t manage what we can’t measure: these mantras are compelling and significant, and if we want to transform learning we have to transform what we assess and measure.

It is good too that it is built in part upon Criterion 13 of the Commission on Accreditation standards, which is essential to framing the issue of assessment in independent schools:

The Standards require the school to provide evidence of a thoughtful process, respectful of its mission, for the collection and use in school decision-making of data, both external and internal, about student learning.

This evidence is required for the accreditation of all independent schools in coming years, , as, I believe, it should be.

Some thoughts, comments, and observations on this presentation.

1.  I love the citation from Ted McCain’s Teaching for Tomorrow–a highly valuable, but, I fear, highly under-valued, book on the topic.  As they quote McCain:

“we need to invert the conventional classroom dynamic: instead of teaching information and content first, and then asking students to answer questions about it second, we should put the question/problem first, and then facilitate students with information and guidance as they seek the answer and hold them accountable for the excellence of their solutions and of their presentation of their results”.

In my own 2008 research visiting 21 schools and shadowing students at each, I found McCain proven right– that putting problems first made a huge difference. (more…)

View this document on Scribd

Just last week I was asked by a colleague for a readily accessible, engaging and stimulating short introduction and overview of 21st century learning he could provide his faculty, and, somewhat embarrassingly, I found myself a bit stumped.

I know of plenty of great books, but what the best single short and free resource?

One option, and it is a pretty good option, is the pamphlet from NAIS, A Strategic Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, (which I was pleased to be a small contributor to).   But it is written a bit more for school-leaders than for teachers, is a bit long, and is a little dry.     It is still a great resource though; I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post [after “more…”].

So it was with great satisfaction that I scanned the above first publication of Brain Food for Education, which comes from the innovation firm Unboundary and was produced by my good friend and highly esteemed educational blogger and thinker, Bo Adams.

This is a great tool for the purpose I described, and as such, includes of course great links for those who want to dig deeper and learn more.

4 things I like especially: 

1.  The visual look and graphic design is tremendous: bright, appealing, professional.

2.  The Discussion prompts shared on page 19 are very helpful: they could be a great resource for schools working to generate more and better conversation among all their constituencies as they facilitate change.    (for an additional resource, see the discussion prompts included in the guide to becoming a school of the future,page 36).

3.   The schools selected as exemplars are inspiring– from the nation of Finland (and I was glad to learn of the RSA video about PISA here) to High Tech High and Nueva Schools in California.    As Bo writes, “just seeing even one example can help us raise our aspirations and trajectories.”   Indeed– and I’d underscore, try to go and see them first-hand.


Next Page »