Category Archives: Connecting Ideas

#PBL Must See: Brittany Wenger – Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer Detection – #TEDxAtlanta

“The more you know, the more you wonder.”
~ Brittany Wenger

This is must see if you are interested in PBL and integrated studies.

Meet 17-year-old Brittany Wenger:

We have got to ask:

  • What if we listen more closely to what interests our learners?
  • What if we strive to hone our skills as facilitators and coaches of learning?
  • How do we acknowledge that a learner’s interests and passions can drive them to learn and grow in ways we cannot predict?
  • How do we makes space in the day for choice, research, design, inquiry, investigation, failure, and success?  
  • How do we support personalized learning?


Many, many thanks to TEDxAtlanta and Unboundary for the joyful and challenging day of learning!  If you have not already, you should check out the rest of Edge of the South.

In an “I can …” culture: Embracing “What if” and “Yet

My previous post, Spreading an “I can …” culture: Aware, Enable, Empower, has generated genuinely great questions.

  • What if they can’t, Jill? Really, what if they can’t say “I can…” at the end of the unit?
  • Math is so easy, Jill.  Can we do write “I can…” statement for other subjects, courses, or ideas?

Erin Paynter, @erinpaynter, published How Do You Help Student Reach Their Yet?  Can it be as simple as adding the word yet?  What if we repeat the questions with yet?

What if they can’t yet?  Really, what if they say “I can’t yet…” at the end of the unit?

From Erin Paynter:

“I find this one word to be a powerful tool to open a dialogue and to pause for reflection – on best instructional practices, on motivation, on student and parent engagement, and on teacher professional development plans.  It begins to wipe the slate clean so that we can work collaboratively on ways to engage our students in their learning by using more effective tools and strategies. It opens the dialogue to why and how – why aren’t they reaching their goals, and how can we get them there?”

Isn’t the answer now obvious?  We try again.  We collaborate to investigate other techniques, strategies, and opportunities.  We take action.  We send the message that “you can…” and we are going to work on it together until you can.  Learning is the constant; time is a variable.

Peyton Williams, @epdwilliams, answered the second question.  On her blog, Superfluous Thoughts, she published the essential learning “I can…” statements in her 5 Week Update for 8th Grade English post and in her 5 week update for Writing Workshop Enviro Writing post.

From Peyten Williams in an open letter to parents and students explaining her grading policy:

1) Letting a kid fail is not in my job description. I am supposed to teach, not judge. If it takes Johnny 17 times to understand where to put a comma between independent clauses, then so be it. I want him to learn commas, not learn that he can’t do them.

“I can…” instead of “I can’t…”  is teaching for learning.

I plan to use both sets of Peyten’s “I can…” statements to self-assess my writing and thinking.  I am thrilled to see that this “I can…” contagion can be both scalable and transferable.

Peyten’s posts also cause me to wonder what my “I can…” statements are for this semester.  By the end of this semester, I should be able to say “I can…” to the following.

  • I can embrace learning personally and professionally.
    • I can model that learning is process-oriented and ongoing.
    • I can use personal reflection to learn, grow, and challenge myself.
    • I can share my learning with others to garner feedback and to connect ideas.
  • I can use formative assessment to inform next steps in the learning process.
    • I can identify and acknowledge strengths, persistence, and challenges.
    • I can facilitate personalized goal setting and growth.
    • I can differentiate learning experiences based on the needs of each learner.

What if I share these “I can…” statements with my team?  How will they morph and improve? If “I can’t…” creeps into the thinking, will “yet” follow?

Spreading an “I can …” culture: Aware, Enable, Empower

While serving as a member of the Algebra I team at Westminster, I collaborated with colleagues to communicate essential learning targets to our community.  An example is shown below.

Graphing Linear Functions: Unit Two Essential Learnings – Algebra I

By the end of this unit, you [the learner] must be able to say:

  • I can state the formula for slope, am able to use the formula, and can apply that slope is a rate of change.
      • I can find the slope given two points.
      • I can find the slope from a graph.
  • I can find the equation of a line from given information including a graph, the slope and y- intercept, slope and a point, two points.
      • I can find an equation of a line given a point and the slope.
      • I can find an equation of a line given two points.
      • I can find an equation of a line given a graph.
      • I can find an equation of a line parallel or perpendicular to a given line through a given point.
  • I can demonstrate computational fluency with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and powers of real numbers.
      • I can convert units by using the appropriate ratios (dimensional analysis).
  • I can apply linear functions to model and solve application problems.
      • I can solve application problems involving linear functions.
      • I can solve application problems involving direct variation.
  • I can read and interpret graphs.
      • I can read and interpret information given a graph.

I have been rereading The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning.

“In order to engage in high-quality assessment, teachers need to first identify specific learning targets and then to know whether the targets are asking students to demonstrate their knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or ability to create a quality product. The teacher must also understand what it will take for students to become masters of the learning targets:  What must students do to acquire knowledge, reasoning skills, performance skills, or the ability to create a quality product? Equally as important, the teacher must share these learning targets and strategies with the students in language that they understand. It is not enough that the teacher knows where students are headed; the students must also know where they are headed, and both the teacher and the students must be moving in the same direction.” (Conzemius, O’Neill,  66 pag.)

As I wondered if the “I can…” work we crafted in Algebra I was scalable, I watched Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge again.

I’ve watched this particular TED talk at least 2 dozen times.  I learn something new every time I watch.  This time the talk connected to the “I can…” statements communication and collaboration with students.  Could we use the idea of “I can…” statements with younger students?

Conzemius and O’Neill encourage educators to identify specific learning targets and express them as “I can…” statements written in kid-friendly language.  Skill and strategies to be learned and assessed should not be a secret.  We should communicate desired outcomes clearly.

One of the highlights of my week involved collaborating with my colleagues to write Everyday Math “I can…” statements for our learners and their families.   It really started a couple of weeks ago with our fantastic 2nd grade team in a team meeting.  In less than an hour, this team of highly motivated educators discussed the essential learnings for a unit and developed the set of “I can…” statements shown below.  I’ve chosen to quote the entire post to show their good work.

Unit 1 in 2nd Grade Math    (posted on 08.20.12)

Unit 1 has begun! This unit is primarily a review unit which focuses on numbers and routines. Lessons review tools in the toolkits, routines for working with partners and small groups, using the number grid, telling time, and counting money. Students are encouraged to practice their addition basic facts (sums through 9 + 9 = 18) as much as they can each week using flash cards, games, or the computer to hone their skills. Later this week, we will post a list of websites that will be useful at home. Today they were given a place in their white binder to record their practice times. Before we know it, the addition facts will be mastered making computation much easier!

By the end of unit 1, your child should be able to say:

    • I can draw tally marks.
    • I can find the value of a collection of coins.
    • I can find missing numbers on a number line.
    • I can solve number grid puzzles.
    • I can tell and write time to the half hour.
    • I can show 10 several different ways.
    • I can count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s.

Two weeks later, with no coaching from me:

Unit 2 in 2nd Grade Math!     (posted on 09.06.12)

Unit 2 focuses on reviewing and extending addition facts and linking subtraction to addition. Children will solve basic addition and subtraction facts through real-life stories. In Everyday Mathematics, the ability to recall number facts instantly is called “fact power.” Instant recall of the addition and subtraction facts will become a powerful tool in computation with multidigit numbers such as 29 + 92.

By the end of Unit 2, your child should be able to say:

  • I can add and write turnaround facts.
  • I can write fact families.
  • I can add single-digit numbers.
  • I can subtract basic facts. (up to 18 – 9 = 9)
  • I can extend a numeric pattern and solve and write the rule for this pattern.

Please click on “Read More” to view the Unit 2 parent letter.

While Kiran Bir Sethi’s inspiring TED talk has always spoken to me about PBL, this time I focused on helping learners progress through the stages of aware, empower, and enable.

    • Aware – see what is to be learned
    • Enable – adjust and practice behaviors to learn
    • Empower – lead others to learn

Offering learners multiple ways to become aware of what is to be learned and designing experiences to lead learning and practice should enable and empower the learner to grow stronger and more confident.

This week, our amazing 3rd grade team, collaborated on Everyday Math “I can…” statements.

Unit 2: 3rd Grade Essential Learnings

 The main topics of Unit 2 are addition and subtraction of whole numbers with special emphasis on the basic facts and their extensions; solution strategies for addition and subtraction number stories; and addition and subtraction computation with multi-digit numbers.

By the end of Third Grade math, children should demonstrate automaticity with all addition and subtraction facts through
10 + 10 and use basic facts to compute fact extensions.

By the end of Unit 2, your child should be able to say:

  • I can identify the digits in a multi-digit number and express the value of each digit.
      • Example: 465
        The value of the 6 is 60.
  • I can find several names for the same whole number.
      •  Example: 20
        10 + 10
        Veinte (or another language)
  • I can use basic facts to compute extended facts.
      • Example:
        If I know 2 + 3 = 5, then I know 20 + 30 = 50 and
        200 + 300 = 500.
  •  I can add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers.
  • I can tell and show time on an analog clock at the five-minute marks.
  • I can complete “What’s My Rule?” problems.
  • I can solve number stories and write number models.

Please refer to the Unit 2 family letter for additional information and vocabulary.

Our goal is to facilitate experiences to spread the “I can…” contagion.  We want our learners to be able to say:

      • I can do math.
      • I can solve problems.
      • I can persist when I struggle.
      • I can collaborate with others to learn together.
      • I can communicate what I know and what I want to know.

Next week, our wonderful 4th grade team begins “I can…” work.  Hmm…this seems to be spreading.

Will writing learning targets in the voice of the learner rather than the teacher help all interested parties focus on the learning rather than the teaching? Can we spread the “I can…” bug?  Will we strive to be contagious?


Conzemius, Anne; O’Neill, Jan. The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2006. Print.

Water instead of Soda #PBLidea #AskDon’tTell

Is there PBL potential and academic content in this commercial from Nestlé?

By replacing one sugared beverage a day with [a bottle of water], you can cut 50,000 calories a year from [your] diet.

The fine print in the ad says that this is based on replacing one 12 oz 140 calorie sugared beverage daily with water for a year.

Where could a discussion of this ad take us in class? What questions will learners ask? What questions will we ask our learners?  What questions might be asked to challenge learners apply what they know?  What questions might be asked to promote problem-finding, problem-solving, communication, leadership, initiative, action, service, and other critical competencies?

Ask; don’t tell.  Listen and learn.  Just ask a question…see where it takes us.

Show and share interview and introduction – #DoDifferent

How do you like to start a new class or workshop?  Do you enjoy introducing yourself and listening to everyone else as they give who, what, and where details? Does this information stick?

It is important to build relationships while growing into a community of learners.  Can this be done in a better (or different) way than just taking turns talking about ourselves? Can we find a way to connect with learners, connect them to each other, and get to know some of their strengths and questions?

In our (new) TI-Nspire Technology for Advanced Users: Designing for Learning and Inquiry workshop, we wanted to build our learning community by finding common ground, experiences, and interests.  Instead of having each participant introduce themselves to the entire group, we issued the following challenge:

Would you pick a favorite TI-Nspire document that you use with learners?  Would you show and discuss this document with a partner?

As the documents are shared, listen for the description of the lesson and the learning targets and note any opportunity for student investigation and inquiry.

After approximately 20 minutes (10 minutes of show and share per partner), will you introduce your partner to the entire group highlighting 1-2 things learned through the show and share process?

I will admit some of our participants were caught off-guard.  This isn’t the way most workshops start.

From my perspective, it was great. Our eighteen participants each spent ten minutes talking about teaching and learning from a bright spot strength and another ten minutes hearing about their partner’s story of teaching and learning from a favorite lesson.  Each participant was then introduced by his or her partner, and we heard everyone’s name, where and what they teach, and what they find important about teaching with technology.  Participants had the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about teaching and hear what their partner found interesting and important from the conversation.

From a participant’s seat, I had the opportunity to meet and talk one-on-one with someone before the workshop actually started.  I heard and connected to part of one person’s story on more than a surface level.  I shared one aspect of my work.

From an instructor’s point of view, this was great formative assessment.  I could observe who was sharing original work and who was sharing work published by others.  This gave me insight into the previous experiences of individual participants.  By listening to snippets of conversations, I could begin to learn more about individual participant’s style and interests as well as have an inkling of their skill set.

This show-and-share interview-and-introduction process yielded the same information as traditional introductions plus each participant had the opportunity to get to know someone else, describe another’s bright spot, and hear a sample of their story highlighted.

Practicing to be a TLC student leads to learning and questions

I am very intrigued by Steve Goldberg’s use of Google Earth for education and empathy.  Yesterday he posted A typical morning at TLC middle school.  For context, here’s what Steve predicts a day might look like at his school, opening in fall of 2013 in North Carolina:

In the spirit of learning by doing, I thought I’d practice being a student at Triangle Learning Community middle school and follow the typical morning plan for the Morning News Discussion…with a Synergy twist. In Synergy, we wanted to work in ripples – local, national, and international. I gave myself the 45 minutes to read and investigate. This 45-minute exercise turned into the entire two hours! It is the most concentrated news reading I have done in a while!

I started with the AJC to read and learn more about Atlanta. The article Three options for the ‘Gulch’ caught my attention. I noticed the “Gulch” just last week. I used Google Earth to see the area. I immediately thought of how to use the map view in 6th grade math when we teach the area and perimeter of “funny shapes.”

I was intrigued by the vocabulary and meaning of “multimodal passenger terminal” because I have just been reading about how car-oriented Atlanta is which can be frustrating for cyclists. The search for multimodal passenger terminal lead me to’s Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal page.  I did not know Atlanta was planning to have a street car.  I also did not know about Bikes and Bites on July 21.  Bikes and Bites is billed as a car free initiative during Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week where Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) are encouraging diners to ride their bikes to dinner at more than 20 Downtown restaurants.  What positive environmental outcomes are predicted?  Wow!  Bo’s Whatever It Is I Think I See Becomes a PBL to Me! is so true!

I read and researched and connected these ideas for quite a bit of time.  I wanted to “go global” with my news reading too.  I returned to A typical morning at TLC middle school. After watching the video again and reading the linked article about child brides in Niger, I wondered what the headlines were from the paper in Niger.  Did they have a daily paper? I found Le Républicain Niger using Newspaper Map, a new-to-me resource suggested by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. Thankfully, Newspaper Map would translate this newspaper into English (from French) so I could read the headlines.  Talk about a lesson in perspective!  Not one mention of the plight of child brides, the hunger crisis, rapid population growth or infant mortality in the headlines of Le Républicain Niger.

How often do we not see problems in our own community?  How can we find (do we seek) new perspectives to see and observe what is happening in our neighborhoods and larger communities?

Leading Learners to Level Up #MICON12

On Wednesday, June 13, Bo Adams and Jill Gough are  facilitating a session at The Martin Institute’s 2012 Conference (#MICON12 on Twitter) on formative assessment entitled Leading Learners to Level Up.

Leveled formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate understanding with expectations and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching. Use assessment to inform learners where they are on the learning spectrum, where the targets are, and how to level up.

Leading Learners to Level Up (Framework plans) [50 minutes]

  1. Formative Assessment presentation [15 minutes]
  2. Examples of Leveled Formative assessments
    1. Algebra: Linear Functions, Slope [5 minutes]
    2. Synergy: Essential Learnings, Observation Journals [5 minutes]
    3. SMART Goals and other PLC examples [5 minutes]
  3. Use PollEverywhere to decide the next step:  many individual/pair workshopped rubrics or mini individual workshopped rubric to then share out to whole group (like faculty web presence; group work – engaged participation) [5 minutes]
  4. Participant workshop time to develop leveled assessment for use with learners   [10 minutes + 10 minutes to share out & wrap up]

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

How to be a boring, bad writer…and other ideas

I hadn’t thought about it this way:

So, if you want to be a boring, bad writer:

  1. Never ever learn new words.
  2. Be afraid to say interesting things.
  3. Read as little as possible.
  4. Always play on your laptops.
  5. Never touch a dictionary.
  6. Copyright.
  7. Never make [the reader] see the action.
  8. Never revise your writing.
  9. Definitely take the easy way.

Since I want to be a better writer, I should practice 1) using new words, 2) saying interesting things, 3) reading as much as possible, 4) leveraging technology to enhance learning, 5) using available resources, 6) striving to be unique and citing my sources, 7) presenting a good story, 8) repeating a revision cycle several times, and 9) understanding to “embrace the struggle.”

I wonder if the same set of ideas can be applied to PBL.  How to avoid PBL:

  1. Never ever learn new applications and strategies.
  2. Be afraid to try interesting, complex problems.  It might take too long.
  3. Read and research as little as possible. Don’t read and watch Edutopia, Apple’s Challenge Based Learning, or It’s About Learning resources or ideas from 12k12.
  4. Always use technology for one-way communication.  Just tell them what to do.  Don’t offer students the opportunity to have voice and choice in learning.
  5. If you try PBL, and it doesn’t work; just give up.  Never seek additional support and resources.
  6. Never collaborate with others on projects and problems that integrate ideas and/or concentrate on community-issues.
  7. Avoid applications and real-world experiences.  Never offer the opportunity to present to an authentic audience.
  8. Never say “I don’t know,” or “let’s find out together.” Answer every question asked in class, or better yet, don’t allow questions.
  9. Definitely do the very same thing you did this time last year.  It’s easy.  Take the easy way. Remember…the E-Z-way!

How about applying these ideas to balanced assessment?  How to be single-minded about assessment:

  1. Never ever try new techniques, methods, and strategies.
  2. Be afraid to try alternate forms of assessment: performance based assessment, portfolios, etc.
  3. Read and research as little as possible. Don’t read anything by Tom Guskey, Jan Chapuis, Bob Marzanno, Dylan Wiliam etc.
  4. Always use assessment to generate grades.  Never try non-graded assessment to make adjustments to learning that improve achievement.
  5. If you use rubrics or standards-based grading, and students don’t respond; just give up.  Don’t allow students to revise their understanding and assess again.  Let them learn it next year or in summer school.
  6. Rely on results from standardized tests to compare students.  Just follow the model set by adults that have not met you and your learners.
  7. Never assess for learning and reteach prior to a summative assessment.  Think that you are teaching a lesson if failure occurs with no chance to revise.
  8. Never offer 2nd chance test or other opportunities to demonstrate learning has occurred.
  9. Definitely use the very same assessment you did this time last year.  It’s easy.  Take the easy way. Remember… E-Z-way!

I find this approach connected the anti-innovation ideas from Kelly Green in her 2/21/2012 ForbesWoman article I found by reading Bob Ryshke’s post, What schools can do to encourage innovation.  It also reminds me of Heidi Hayes Jacob’s style in her TEDxNYED talk I found by reading Bo Adam’s What year are you preparing your students for?” Heidi Hayes Jacobs #TEDxNYED post.

I like the provocation of the video and the anti-ideas.  I appreciate the challenge of rephrasing these ideas as statements of what I could do to get better.  I wonder how we should practice to become better at PBL, balanced assessment, innovation and creativity, etc.  In the comment field below, will you share how would you answer this prompt?

Since I want to be a better ___________, I should practice 1)  _____, 2)  _____, 3)  _____, 4)  _____, 5)  _____, 6)  _____, 7)  _____, 8)  _____, and 9)  _____.

Be the world to someone…Save the shoes…

Connecting dots:


Connect to…

Mark Bezos:

Don’t wait…If you have something to give, give it now…Every day offers us an opportunity to affect [a life]…Get in the game…Save the shoes…

I am here by Peter Reynolds:

To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.