In recent posts I have made the point that we can better promote the learning we want for our students via “backward design,” assessing what we aim for and then working backwards to promote learning that will ensure success on our assessments, and the point that “digital natives” may be digitally comfortable, but that does not mean they are digitally sophisticated (or digitally fluent).

So it is in keeping with both previous that I write to share my interest in, and at least preliminary enthusiasm for, a recently retooled and now more broadly available testing assessment from ETS, the “iSkills.” The test aims to provide schools a fascinating way to assess (and, as a result, stimulate and motivate) the teaching and learning of more sophisticated “digital fluency” in our schools.

One important quick note: when you look at the online site for iSkills, it gives the distinct appearance of being available only to higher ed, but I have been assured and guaranteed that secondary schools of all kinds are welcome to participate and they think it suitable for students tenth grade and higher.

I had the good fortune to participate recently in an ETS iSkills webinar, and I am fascinated by the tool. (The 70 slides displayed above were the program of the webinar, and are extremely informative for interested parties.)

Much of the session was dedicated to defining the importance and nature of digital fluency; it occupies a spot among critical thinking, 21st century skills, information literacy and ICT: Information and Communication technology proficiency.

“Digital Fluency” as a term aims to capture critical thinking and communication in an online environment.  Surely most of us recognize that the world is going to continue to increasingly require of our students (and ourselves) powerful online and digital savvy in critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills, and we should be looking for more terms and concepts to capture this emerging and essential skill.  (more…)

In recent weeks I’ve observed a growing conversation about how best to advance both character education and the learning of 21st century skills.

What is increasingly widely recognized is the idea of backward design: that we can promote learning of our intended outcomes if we put greater emphasis on our assessment of these intentions.  Students know what to strive for, and teachers over time find themselves giving greater attention teaching and having students demonstrate the things upon which teachers know they’ll have to assess and report.

The recent New York Times Magazine cover story, What if the Secret of Success is Failure?, tells the story of two schools in New York City working to develop a clear set of intended character outcomes for their students.  At one school, KIPP, they embedded these outcomes in a formal report card element, highly quantified and if I understand correctly, a part of the permanent record.

[KIPP] started working to turn it into a specific, concise assessment that he could hand out to students and parents at KIPP’s New York City schools twice a year: the first-ever character report card.

At the other school, Riverdale Country School, the school was avoiding formalizing the character goals into a formal report card, in part because of concerns that students would “game the system” if it became high stakes, and so instead they were working to find ways to bring these character goals into the culture of the school.

“I have a philosophical issue with quantifying character,” [Riverdale Head of School Dominic Randolph] explained to me one afternoon. “With my school’s specific population, at least, as soon as you set up something like a report card, you’re going to have a bunch of people doing test prep for it. I don’t want to come up with a metric around character that could then be gamed. I would hate it if that’s where we ended up.”

We here at St. Gregory believe we are seeking and finding a middle ground between Riverdale and KIPP in our approach to a character and also 21st century skills report card supplement.    This has been a central thrust of our efforts in the past three years to elevate the importance of and the development of these skills in our program, and to better fulfill our mission to promote and cultivate in our students Character, Scholarship, Leadership and Innovation.    Our approach has been to develop a KIPP like report card for these qualities, but use it as a formative guide for students to self-assess, collect feedback from their teachers, and set goals with their advisers, rather than as a high stakes summative assessment which would then be “gamed.” (more…)

Kudos and congratulations to the EdLeader21 team for another great day and a very successful launch to their national conferencing.   I am feeling very appreciative and delighted to have been welcomed to and included in this group, and it is an honor and a privilege to have the chance to participate alongside these impressive educators in the common cause of 21st century learning.

Thirteen thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Throughout the day there was an important emphasis on the role of the broader community in the work of planning our educational future.   Constituencies have to be engaged, and really included in the process of setting on a course of becoming a 21st century school. In Ken’s presentation on Seven Steps for Becoming a 21st Century District, he emphasized this, and it is Step number 2: it is essential, he said, to do this before steps 3-7.    He also placed limits on the role of the public: they are essential to defining the student outcomes, but let’s be clear: we develop consensus with public constituencies on the what, but not the how.   The public, he emphasized does not or should not play a role in specific curriculum or pedagogy.

The importance of the public communication also came up in a table conversation, when Bob Pearlman underscored it as a core component of a 21st century school.   The vision, the plan, the agenda should be clearly and well communicated on the websites, outward and inward facing, and school-leaders should be strong public and online communicators to their constituencies.

An example of this kind of public communication as part of community building and constituency support development was this video shared on Tuesday in the Ignite sessions and comes from the Albemarle County School District (VA) and its fine superintendent, Pam Moran (who sadly we missed seeing at the conference).

2. Interesting Resources Discovered or Highlighted. 

I’m very pleased to be a member of this new national organization, edleader21, a professional learning community for 21st century education leaders run by my friend and fellow Tucsonan, Ken Kay, the founder and longtime President of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

In this new video, Ken explains that “we’ve been talking for years about the need to create 21st century skills for our young people, but we haven’t really talked about another critical element, and that is how important is it to have a generation of 21st century leaders.”

The video features a set of outstanding 21st century education leaders and superintendents, including my friend Pam Moran, the superintendent of Albermarle county, Virginia, and my until-recently fellow Tucson educational leader, Elizabeth Celenia-Fagen.

In the video, Pam Moran argues passionately for 21st century learning for our students:

the reality is that old style teaching, 20th century teaching, is really over.  In this day and age,  it is kids active, kids engaged, kids being able to find out whatever they need at any moment in time in order to be able to accomplish whatever jobs they want to accomplish, whether it is in school, out of school, in careers, or in college.

Liz Fagen goes directly to leadership, asking how do we bring these important changes to our schools?

Think Big, Start Small.  When you take those best people, those early adopters, those innovators, and you put resources behind them, they will develop, they will exceed your expectations, and then from there it spreads like wildfire.

I am especially taken with the comments from Jack Dale, Superintendent of Virginia’s Fairfax county:

the breakthrough we need to make in looking at 21st century skills is not looking at them in discrete units but looking at them holistically and how well they are interconnected: What you want is leaders who think that way as well.

This is among my great passions: to support and encourage fellow educators on our shared journey to become the 21st century leaders our students need us to be.  With this in mind, it is a great pleasure to be a part of edleader21.


[slides graciously prepared and shared by Lisa Thumann]

Today in the thick of the congressional battle over the debt ceiling bill, the Obama team published what they viewed as clearly a critical important communication in support of their agenda: an infographic.   Increasingly, I think we are recognizing that in age of information saturation, we must become more effective in communicating key ideas, facts, and statistics, and graphic representations of these data are valuable tools for this.

(Please note that I am not posting this to support any political agenda, and I am really unsure whether I support this bill at all, nor as an example of an especially effective infographic, but rather as an example of their role and growing significance in communication today).

Last week I attended edubloggerconEast, in Boston, and my good friend Lisa Thumann presented an “Ignite” session as a sort of keynote. Ignite sessions, as an aside, are something that would be terrific to experiment more with in our schools, both by our students and teachers: they could present a nice way to refresh the old standby, what I did this summer, into a more dynamic presentation format that requires close attention to visual communication and public speaking.

About Ignite, from Wikipedia:

Ignite is a global event, organized by volunteers, where participants are given five minutes to speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions, accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced. The Ignite format is similar to Pecha Kucha, which features 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each. The presentations are meant to “ignite” the audience on a subject, i.e. to generate awareness and to stimulate thought and action on the subjects presented.

As a prominent EdTech trainer in New Jersey, Lisa posed the following question:  What’s the next big thing in ed tech?  (more…)

Over the past few months we have at St. Gregory conducted a comprehensive search for a new Librarian and Director of Information Literacy.   As part of the search, we requested of candidates that they prepare and submit an essay on “Reinventing the 21st century library,” and we received nearly fifty applications and accompanying essays.

Below are excerpts from some of the best essays submitted (with the author’s permission).  If you read onto the end, you’ll find the last has a particularly fun style, written as a day in the life of a reinvented 21st century librarian.

My great appreciation to all of these fine 21st century librarians, and to all who submitted.  Enjoy:

Jennifer Arnott

The rapid pace of technology change means that many librarians and educators constantly feel behind. There’s always some new tool, some new idea, something we haven’t read yet. My goal as a librarian is to be aware of the options, but to take a step back, and look at what is most effective for this community, right now.

For example, if we look at seeking out information, each of us has our own preferences about how we interact with information: some people prefer print, some love reading on a screen. (more…)

Thank you, all who attended our session today, and welcome all to a quick recap of our session.  The session was very well attended, and we had some terrific questions from the audience.

Some links and resources from the session:

As I noted in the session, I am building a list of school-heads and senior academic administrators who might be interested in being part of an NAIS network who wish to collaborate and communicate for the purpose of our schools in becoming true centers of 21st century learning, and Schools of the Future.  You are invited to share your interest by completing a line in this google doc spreadsheet: You can find it here. I will be following up in the next few weeks to those who sign up with ideas about next steps.

Delighted to be presenting tonight online for the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools Principal Training Institute.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can school-leaders use a focus upon assessment to influence improved, 21st century, learning?
  • What particular types of internal and authentic assessments, classroom-based and school-wide,  can best support learning in the 21st century?
  • What is the role of data collection, using external measurement tools, in instructional leadership?
  • What external measurement tools are particularly well suited to supporting 21st century learning?

Many links are embedded within the slides above, but for ease of reference, below are some particularly highlighted links.  (more…)

Another Sputnik, it was called last week: the latest OECD results were released, and Shanghai schools topped the list, with the US far down the ladder.    This is disappointing, to say the least, and we in the US should indeed be deeply concerned.

But let’s be clear about what we should be concerned.   Readers of the New York Times article, for instance, (and probably that source is the most common source), might not have the opportunity to recognize and appreciate what is really being tested in the PISA until the very last sentence.

I fear NY Times readers might read carefully only through to the quote from Secretary Duncan: ““The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”  In doing so, they might think that PISA is a conventional bubble test of “basic skills,” and that what Duncan is suggesting we take from it is that we need more NCLB type teaching and basic skill development, because unfortunately that is what Duncan department of Education has become known for: NLCB on steroids.

(I don’t think this is an entirely fair characterization of Duncan’s leadership and vision, but it is what has become the connotative representation of his administration thus far.)

This would be wrong. In fact, the PISA results suggest quite the opposite: we need to break away from the curricular narrowing effects of conventional standardized testing, basic skills emphasis, and rote memorization, and unleash in our schools a revolution of applied problem-solving to real-world situations. (more…)

This video displays the kind of real ed. reform we so desperately need: use digital tools in learning to make it more practical, more preparatory for the workplace, more conceptual, more challenging, and more authentically rooted in the real world.

Here at 21k12, my passion is for recognizing how dramatically the world has changed and the way digital technology changes everything, and for how learning should change with it: to become more challenging, more authentically connected to the real world, more relevant,  and more digitally empowered and empowering for students.

In a very recent post, I wrote about open-computer testing, an idea exactly aligned with what Conrad Wolfram is calling for: give students difficult problems which require creative, critical, and analytic thinking, and welcome them to use computers for the “machinery” of that problem-solving, the computation (just as, let’s face it, every single “professional” mathematic problem-solver– engineer, physicist, chemist, architect–  does).

Wolfram’s TED talk hits all of these marks.  Let’s realize math education is often dull and demeaning not because it doesn’t have passionate and brilliant teachers (it often does) but because it is reduced and simplified to artificially-tooled problems disconnected from the real world.   Let’s recognize that math need no longer be about computation: it should be about identifying problems in the real world, using real brain power to think through how to render these problems into mathematical terms, using computers to do the computations of these “hairy” real world problems, and then about applying the answers out back into the real world to see if they work. (more…)

We know that content memorization must no longer the goal of our learning programs; what our goal must be is that students can make the most sense of the voluminous and fast-accelerating quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and about which they must be able to think critically, to select, to evaluate, to apply, and to amend as they tackle challenging problems.

So why shouldn’t our school-tests evaluate our students ability to do exactly this?  Why not structure tests appropriately, and then invite and welcome (and require) our students to use their computers on their tests? Isn’t this real world, and real life, preparation?

Radical maybe, but it is happening.   In Denmark, for instance.

At five to nine, the room falls silent. CD-roms and exam papers are handed out together. This is the Danish language exam. One of the teachers stands in front of the class and explains the rules. She tells the candidates they can use the internet to answer any of the four questions. They can access any site they like, even Facebook, but they cannot message each other or email anyone outside the classroom.

The teachers also think the nature of the questions make it harder to cheat in exams. Students are no longer required to regurgitate facts and figures. Instead the emphasis is on their ability to sift through and analyse information. (more…)

I’m not (yet) much of a video-maker myself, but I have very much come to appreciate the power of video in communicating; our students most certainly need to learn to write masterfully, but they will also be best engaged in their learning today, and prepared for their challenges tomorrow, if they are multi-media creators and communicators.   For instance, I have written here often about the value of the CWRA test, but I am sure that my greatest impact has been not in my writing but in the video we published of our students discussing the test experience.

In Jeff Clashman’s 7th and 8th grade Latin classes, students are using video (above and below) to learn history and language.  Using playmobil toys, they are recreating and filming historical events; they are also crafting sentences demonstrating Latin sentence structures, and then using imovie to create short films which showcase these concepts.

Last week the Arizona Daily Star published an article about a new curricular program for our ninth graders, in English 1 with Dr. Kate Oubre.  After consideration of their summer reading (Halaby’s West of the Jordan), our students were asked to write their own coming of age short story.   They then were also challenged and supported to draw an accompanying illustration, and film a short-story “teaser”  or trailer to promote their narrative.

The full pbworks site for the project was linked from the newspaper article, and is available here: you can read their fine stories, and see the student videos, several of which are also posted below. (more…)