Make Learning Personal by Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey

I would like to add one more book that is required of your time and mind when it comes to Deeper Learning, Project Based Learning, and anything that will help schools enhance education. This book has been waiting a long time for me to review and finally after crafting out some time to get back to blogging I am ready to introduce the book Make Learning Personal by Barabara Bray and Katheleen McClasky.

The reason that I feel this book should be required reading for all educators is that the book brings up so many thinking points about how we learn and ideas that work best to reach our learners. I will be honest in that when I hear the phrase personal learning I get it, but I don’t get it because I feel like the term is overused and everyone seems to have a slight adjustment to the meaning. Additionally, the phrase is often linked to blended learning and flipped classrooms which can either make you a fan or not based on your experience.

When I started reading the book I was not sure if I would be sold on the idea or not. However, I was hooked right away in the preface when the following statement was read, “…personalizing learning is not something someone does to a learner.” This phrase is the backbone of what I believe with education and one of the main reasons I push for student voice, makerspaces, project based learning, and deeper learning. Learners should be driving their education and schools should not be thrust upon them.

“Learning is personal”

I think this statement is one that everyone would agree with so the question becomes how do we do this and make it happen in schools across the nation? Our goals in schools should be to prepare students to accomplish what they want to do in life and not force them to learn the game of school and figure out the best ways to be compliant to just jump through the hoops.

The book does a wonderful job exploring the what, who, WOW, where, and why for personalized learning. It does a fantastic job defining what it is and what it is not. For example there is a great passage discussing the difference between individualization and personalization. The key between the two is control. It provides the example of when a teacher differentiates instruction, the teacher is in control and working harder than the learners. I like this concept, but realize the control piece is the most difficult. How do we handle learners who don’t want control? How do we handle learners who don’t know what to be in control of let alone establishing goals for themselves? How do we help teachers let go of control? These are major barriers that must be thought through very carefully when thinking of implementing. This book does an excellent job providing so many ideas, tips, and complete thought into the topic of personalized learning to help the reader process through these situations.

I read a lot of books and not all get reviews. The ones that do have to strike a chord with me. These are the books that hook my attention, challenge my current thinking with new thoughts, or lead me down a new path to explore. This book does all three. I really liked the attention spent on what is personalized learning before diving into the many more complex ideas. I found this to be an essential piece to really make sure the reader understands what is meant by personalized learning.

If you are an educator or administrator looking to find more information about how to move the learning into the hands of learners, providing learners to take control of the learning, and to develop a stronger culture of learners not only in classrooms, but schools system wide, then read this book. I will be infusing the many ideas I gained from this book into my Deeper Learning and PBL blog series as there were so many great things I read as well as ideas that I question and need more time to digest. This is what makes for a quality read and the authors have done a nice job.

As schools are starting to realize that the way we have done things in education is not the answer anymore, the concept of personalized learning is one piece to the puzzle. It is a critical component as we move forward to find what works best for learners. I hope you read this book and when you do please reach out and let us discuss!

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (5)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (1)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (2)

Don’t Build a Makerspace Until You Create a Culture of Learning

Before you begin reading this post grab a piece of paper sitting next you(you read with a notepad right?) and draw your classroom or what you imagine your classroom to be if you are not yet in charge of your own learning space. Go ahead I will wait…….

There is so much buzz around the topics of Makerspaces, STEM, STEAM, STREAM, PBL, Deeper Learning, Personalized Learning and more. I want to let you in on a little secret that all great educators know and it requires zero acronyms or major funding.

Secret – It all starts with treating people like people.

That’s right. Maybe that secret was a bit disappointing to you. Perhaps you were wanting for a tool or an app to solve your problems(which will never work because tools only work if you change your habits of mind). This very simple secret is at the heart of teaching and making an impact in the lives of students.

If you were to go back to your room layout that you sketched what do you see? Something that hopefully you see is that learning spaces are not about the room. You can make the smallest, ugliest, or most unlikely space a powerful learning space if you can deliver as an educator. Learning spaces do the following

  • create a feeling of safety
  • create comfort in trying new things
  • not being ashamed for being wrong or failing
  • excite the student to learn
  • create an unique atmosphere unlike any other room

The same goes for makerspaces. You don’t need fancy equipment like 3D printers, laser cutter, CNC machines to have a makerspace(although these tools are awesome and you can do some great things). It starts with the culture of the room.

A school does not need an engineer, a STEM endorsement, and/or some isolated room for a class in makerspace nor a 20% time. I can display image after image, project after project about how we need to transform culture of schools to infuse the culture of makerspaces into all classrooms. I stress time and time again the goal of discussion around makerspaces should not be about what 3D printer to buy or how much money you need to get started. You start with mindset. You start by changing the culture in your school to what makerspaces are after. The culture of bringing learning alive. The culture of allowing more than one answer to projects where you are not following in lock step. Students create their own paths. Students create their own learning opportunities. It is not hands on learning as the learning starts in the mind. The hands simply form the ideas.

Once that happens you being using consumables and everyday materials. As the culture continues to take shape you will slowly develop the need for the next level of tools. Over time you begin to establish a place where perhaps the tools are housed, but that is not the goal.

So often, people ask for a resource list, a curriculum, and how to organize the room. These are the wrong questions. We should be talking about what is missing in the classrooms and how we can find entry points to slowly make change in learning that is open ended, contains trial and error, documentation of learning, charting our own paths, and being able to showcase where we ended up.

I want to drive home the notion of two very important things.

  1. To change our learning spaces requires no money
  2. To change our learning spaces start with our inner selves

Start small and change something that is easy.

Try teaching from a different wall.

Get away from the “front” of your room.

Move the desks to face a different direction.

Play music when they walk in.

Once you do small things you can step up the challenge by removing your teacher desk, upgrading furniture, painting, etc.

What I want to learn from you is how do you design your learning space? How is your learning space branded where kids don’t feel like they are walking into another pastel prison like they have been doing their whole education career?

To close, I want to connect learning spaces and the secret about treating people like people. Let me make something very clear – the secret to education and helping students become learners has nothing to do with the curriculum you have, the technology provided, the schedule of your day, or the lack of (insert whatever). The secret is building a relationship with your students from day one. The secret is making sure they know you care. I am not talking about being their friend. They don’t want that. They need someone dependable. Someone who shoots it straight. Someone who will make them better because that is how they know you care. The secret is building a culture in your classroom where it is safe for them to be them and for you to be you. The secret lies in all the thing you cannot draw on that image I asked you to do in the beginning. It is the void, the white space, the places a pen or pencil cannot reach. It is right there in your heart, your mind, and your gut. If you can develop the relationships, make connections, laugh with them, hold them accountable, and make them feel like a person, then everything else will fall into place. If you don’t establish that, then everything else falls flat.

So often we spend time on all these teaching strategies, systemic changes, new textbook, new curriculum, new technology, blah, blah, blah. None of that matters if there is not a vision, a culture of learning, and a safe place to learn. It starts with you in your classroom. These are things rarely taught. Think about yourself. How do you want to be treated? How do you want to be viewed? Think back to your favorite teacher and ask why? Think back to your teacher you did not care for and ask why?

I LOVE technology, I love STEM, I love PBL, and I love Deeper Learning. I love being treated with respect and making people feel like they belong because if that is not established then these education acronyms stand for nothing.

As much as I love tech and makerspaces I realize that no tool or amount of money will result in a love of learning if schools don’t first address the culture. So often we jump to steps 2,3, and 4 and ignore step 1 which is taking time to build the culture so everything else will fall into place.


This is the 5th post in my Deeper Learning blog post series. Feel free to read previous posts here

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (6)
  • Interesting (5)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

“Is it really the goal of schools to create college and career ready students?”

This is a question I posted on Twitter the other weekend as it has been a topic that has remained in my brain for some time and continues to swirl around the the chaos of my cranium. I keep reading about College and Career this, College and Career that, a committee for this, a taskforce to transform education to get students ready for what is supposed to happen after high school.

And why are we doing this?

What about now?

Is the goal of what we do in our classrooms on a daily basis really to get them ready for another four years of school or to enter the job force right away?

I personally don’t think that is the goal of education. It surely is not the goal of learning and shouldn’t school be about learning? Learning is about empowerment, bettering ourselves, keeping us engaged as human beings, and working towards solving problems. Learning is an action. It is something we do. It is not something we receive!

To be fair I think the intent and drive behind all the college and career initiatives are after something good and is needed. However, it is the delivery I question. The systemic changes to make this happen is screwing kids and their education(or at least that is what I think). The implementation to help students score a 306 to show they are ready is flawed. I am not a research expert, but a score to show us what? That we are human. All this does is lead to tests to prepare for tests which lead to test prep, test practice, and aligning teaching practices to tests. Test, test, test. My children don’t need a test to figure out where the stand among others or what they want to do with themselves. I don’t believe a score is going to help them carve that path.

You cannot standardized people!

I don’t want to rant as that provides nothing of value. Instead I want to share key ideas shared with me in some very powerful conversations I had on Twitter, Facebook, G+, and email. I have curated the content to be sure I do justice to the ideas. I hope you find the ideas as engaging and thought provoking as I did. I removed names and condensed conversations and ideas to protect people and make for smoother reading(if you would like your name added please let me know and I will add your name). I am by now way intentionally stealing thought, but don’t want to drag other names into the post, but want to share all the ideas with hope that it sparks more conversation.

What About Now?

A current topic that must be addressed. I am tired of hearing people tell kids when you are older, when you get to high school, when you enter college, barf, barf, barfity, barf. What about RIGHT NOW! This moment, this year. What is the purpose behind what we are doing now? Is it really to threaten them with what comes next? And we wonder why kids are not excited for school and learning? We must do this tedious task now to get you ready for more painful work next year. Take care of me now and let the future take care of itself when it arrives.

As Timothy Monreal(I am sharing his name because he has great blog posts that must be read on this topic) shared with me the following which was great “Students are always thinking about next, or the next grade. How do we value you them now, in this moment.  I recently read a post by John Spencer that got me really thinking about this again –”

I love the last paragraph of that article when John Spencer states,

When kids are designing a video game or making an arcade out of cardboard or building a circuit board, they’re not thinking about how we can beat China. They’re not thinking about a job that doesn’t exist. They’re thinking about the joy of making stuff. Ultimately, that’s why we make stuff. Because, it’s fun and it’s human and it’s a part of how we learn.”

Tim also shared his writing where this statement really resounded with me, “They must wonder whether anything they are learning is of relevance and importance right now, in the present.”

Keeping with the idea of now, what about the learners? I love the idea shared of “just in time learning” where we have to keep things fresh. We don’t have to change our curriculum but we must change how we deliver the content to make it real for the learners. When you look at the all the CCR jargon and systems does it excite learners? I don’t think so. Once again we must create life long learners where learners and excited about learning.

Should it be OR instead of AND?

Does the way it is written matter? Do learners need college? The end result is to help push learners to move their potential into ability and figure out how to optimize those traits. Not everything in life requires college as we often make kids believe and if you are not motivated for college then don’t individually place yourself in debt.

Recently there was an article posted about how Q-C employers can’t find enough skilled labor to fill jobs where jobs are needed, but they cannot find people with the skills. What is the point of placing yourself in debt and not having the skills? I question the notion of pushing for this future goal where that goal is not preparing people for the workforce. This is a very general statement but we don’t share enough in schools the importance of manual labor, factory work, and more. These are frowned upon which there are very skilled technical jobs that create sustainable living. Not everything requires a four year degree like we make students believe. If people don’t have the skills for these jobs, then what are colleges and these major money making schools doing?

As I stated before I know not everyone agrees and I am not asking you to agree but to continue conversation. One question posed through it all was the following:

“What would the goal be then if not preparing them for life after HS?”

This question is a good one. What is the goal of education in school? This is the crux of the matter. I don’t think anyone would argue that we need learners to be able to contribute to society, hold down a job, sustain themselves and their family, and be a good person. If we don’t place the goal on college and career, then what do we call it? What does it look like? I am not sure what the alternative is and maybe there is not one, but as I posed earlier I am not against the idea, but the implementation is not working. I don’t have the answer and I love this question to challenge my thinking.

Another educator that always shoots it to me straight shared the following statement which I think hits the nail on the head in many places.

“In my jaundiced view, many “good” high schools are churning out students who jump through all the right hoops, get all the right grades, test scores, acceptances to college, etc., but aren’t taught to think critically, or to take ownership of their own learning and success. When they get into the career world, they are lost, because of this lack of skills.”

I have expressed the idea many times on this blog and to many people that school forces kids to learn how to game they system, but fall flat when the game is over and reality sets in for them. I guess I question whether our day to day operations in the classroom should be focused on preparing for college and career readiness or more focus on the now/present and developing learners who understand how they learn and how they operate. If we could transform our classroom experiences for learners to tackle relevant issues and help them plot their own course based on their experiences they would be better prepared. Hint….hint…. do I think deeper learning, pbl, and personalized learning can help?

Once again we pay heed to the idea of relevant and authentic learning. Or perhaps you like to use 21st century skills. Or maybe the 4 C’s. Or perhaps the 4R’s. Pick your system as they all strive for the same thing.

I am tired of “We don’t know what jobs the future holds….blah blah blah”

I also think that the idea that we don’t know what the world will look like when they are older has merit, but that is nothing new. People treat that notion like this is some brand new concept that we don’t know how to grapple with. I bet every generation can make that case. Isn’t that why it is called the future? No matter the future, the 4C’s, being a good person, and being able to solve problems will tackle any situation. Stop with using this as a reason for why we implement what we implement when deep down we know there is little value.

As we grapple with this topic we must not forget that the push for CCR and standardized testing leads to the removal of essential classes. We must provide multiple learning opportunities for students to find their gifts and explore those areas whether it is music, arts, tech, engineering, cooking, etc. It is hard to judge people(not just students) by a same set of standards when we are all unique individuals.

I was reminded of two great quotes from the book Shop Class as Soulcraft

“When the point of education becomes the production of credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge, it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: “All human beings by nature desire to know.”

― Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

“It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work, yet with the dismantling of high school shop programs”

― Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Content or Thought?: Which comes first?

The next question that fall into place in this discussion is  Does this come down to the question of whether we should be teaching content or thought?

This is perhaps a question for another time. I recently listened to Chris Emdin speak at Deeper Learning conference and he suggests content is the last thing you think about for your classroom. I really have be interested in his ideas and what he has to say so I would push more to thought(yes, blog post on this will be coming). Content is simply a platform to teach skills and how to think for success in the world in my opinion. There were many others who argued the opposite stating content should be taught. There were varying levels of how we should choose content, how much content and the to what extent, but I would say majority of people in discussion believed in content over thought. This conversation among the channels was quite interesting and one I would like to continue another time.


So, I understand the goals of people who are pushing for CCR, but I feel like this is not the real goal of education and why we learn. I don’t continue to learn on my own because I want a job(granted I have one). I believe the human condition is curious by nature so education should be a place where we cultivate and nurture the idea of lifelong learning. Our goal as educators and schools is to help develop and enhance the skills to being a lifelong learner and college and careers are just byproducts of our path in life.

We also had some pretty powerful conversation about preparing people for jobs to work through the issues of poverty. I understand the ramifications of can you be a lifelong learner if you live in poverty and are unemployed and simply are not equipped to do so. Well, let me state I understand the argument as I have been fortunate enough to not have a life down this path so I don’t understand the experience, but I understand the idea behind the argument.

If we are equipped with a passion for learning, developing, and making ourselves better, then doesn’t those skills and mindsets keep us out of poverty? School sucks for so many people. It is tedious and not engaging. If we were to provide them opportunities to engage in learning, discover the possibilities of where their interests could take them, then the college and career aspects take care of themselves. I guess what I am saying is that there is more pressure for standardized tests, college readiness cut scores of 306( or whatever system you are implementing) and these do not measure how successful everyone can be. Focus on the now as we can control that and the future work itself out.

And here lies the crux and more conversation. Do we equate CCR with testing or are they two separate things? If separate then why so much testing emphasis to determine if a student is CCR? If not, then how do we separate the two monsters and give equal attention to both?

I want to clarify a few last ideas

1. I am not equating passion with careers and jobs. You can have a passion that provides no income but keeps you happy. However, we must find what we like, what we are good at, and what we would like to do with our time on earth. It is limited so we do want to make the best of it. Not every job can be passion filled, but we must find jobs that we can tolerate so we can have time and resources for our passions.

2. I am not right. I am not portraying that I am right. These are my current ideas. My ideas shifted through these conversations and I hope to keep powerful dialogues like this going in education because I feel like there are small shifts where educators are finally having real talk. Talk and discussion like this can strengthen educators which will strengthen schools and education.

So, what is the answer? Maybe there is not one, but let us continue to go down this path to unearth what is really needed to prepare students to be their best.

Thanks for reading and would love to hear your thoughts.


What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (4)
  • Interesting (2)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

31 Days of Deeper Learning & PBL Blog Series | 3: Standardized Testing

**Disclaimer: In no way am I proving that these thoughts are the end all be all. This post is designed to spark conversation and show the reader where I am coming from to promote deeper learning and project based learning.**

In this third post I would like to go into detail about why Deeper Learning and PBL are both needed in schools around the world, but in particular my lens will be mostly about specific topic instead of bouncing all over the place.

I think it would come as no surprise to anyone that public education could use a bit of a facelift. There have been many attempts to make the necessary change at a federal level such as No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top, Common Core, _____(insert any other initiative). I don’t want to get into politics on any of these, but with best intentions, I have not seen changes down the positive path due to any of these. If any, Common Core is forcing educators to rethink their teaching and  move to more high level modes of thought, but I know that many could and would argue the opposite.

If we can leave the federal level beast of education reform alone because in the end we have no power to change these things nor would it do us any good to go off on tangents that don’t move the conversation to a positive light, then let us just agree that overall they are not working as intended(I do believe they are all implemented to create positive change).

I will also state that for the sake of this post I want to focus on one piece that affects all of us. I know there are many other factors that are pushing schools in the wrong direction, but not all of these factors affect everyone. When I thought about this post I wanted to find the key pieces that are overarching for all of us.

This key piece is standardized testing. I promise not to go off on a rant, but look at the concept that standardized testing is leading to standardized teachers who do standardized teaching that create standardized learning. BARF!

Standardized testing is something that has always been around and it is a monster. There are reports of standardized testing eating away school days like Cookie Monster chomping cookies.  The whole standardized testing industry is a $2 billion industry(references below and numbers do fluctuate) where a small group of people are making a lot money. For what? We receive data that only paints a very small picture of what students are capable of achieving and thinking. This very small window unfortunately has very large ramifications for students, schools, teachers, and school districts. We are already feeling the stress of losing arts, music, science, social studies, and more due to a focus on reading and math as those numbers hold the key to school sustainability(nevermind needs of students).

In the book, The Test, Anya Kamenetz makes the references to Goodhart’s Law when it comes to high stakes testing. This law is basically, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

What is happening in many schools is that due to high stakes testing there is a huge focus on reading and math. With this narrow lens on these two things that are heavily tested everything else takes a backseat. We have read accounts of schools cutting art, music, specials, and more to make time for reading and math because that is what the schools are held accountable for and if they don’t make the cut(literally and figuratively) all sorts of bad things can happen.(I leave this generic because each state has different sets of issues and problems).

I can use my family situation as an example. My son loves science and social studies. Well, he did. With so much pressure on reading and math he barely receives any science and what science he receives I am not sure it is really science. It is basically science masked as more reading comprehension. He has lost out on the things that motivated him to learn. This breaks my heart. Social studies has simply become worksheets to show he has read the textbook at home because there is not enough time in the day to squeeze in history(and why not read some more). This is not a knock on the teacher, but on the emphasis of high stakes testing affecting school decisions and curriculum. It is just a spiral effect of students losing excitement for learning. I posted a few weeks back that I know that education is taking a turn for the worse when I watched my daughter play school at home.

I realize that these are not research supported, but they are parent supported as this is what I witness as a parent. I am sure I am not alone.

The need for Deeper Learning and PBL is more today than ever before. What I have found over time is that if we can convince educators to move away from test prep and start engaging students in high level thought, engaging questions to answers, and projects that make them want to learn, then the high stakes testing take care of themselves. We don’t need to teach to the test nor prep for the test. The learners don’t need test prep. Instead of wasting school days preparing for tests, we should be embracing the days we have with the learners to challenge their minds and thinking. If I can reference the book The Test one more time, in the book she shares reports that up to 25% of the school year is consumed with test prep and test taking. That is so much time! If we are so consumed with test results and test prep how are learners ever going to grow and engage in learning if they are not given time to expand their mind? Instead of test prep, test, test prep, test we should present a high level, high interest learning atmosphere where we teach them the skills needed to grapple with a problem or learning moment. By developing these skills, study habits, thinking strategies, and more students will grow and develop. In the end the high stakes testing numbers take care of themselves because those tests are no longer a problem as students are equipped with the skills and tools to think on their own.

Monica Martinez has a wonderful graphic showcasing the six core strategies for Deeper Learning. If you look at these six strategies you can see that if learners developed these six items, then standardized testing would not be overly difficult as these all required high levels of thought. If educators help provide learners the skills and tools to accomplish these items, then they should be prepared for any standardized testing.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.58.58 AM

As you can hopefully gain a sense of my sentiments, I am not asking for a revolution where we fight the system, but working within the system and the confines to ensure learners have the best opportunity to walk out of the k-12 system ready to tackle whatever lies ahead for them.

We must work to move away from this one size fits all approach that is slowly creeping into many schools. Due to the pressure of high stakes testing more schools are pressuring teachers to teach the same way, have the same lessons each day, use the same procedures, and this is not good. Teachers are losing what is most important to them – their personality, their passion, and the uniqueness that makes them who they are.

For this very reason, Deeper Learning as a framework to rethink how we teach and what our classrooms look like, feel like, smell like is essential to moving away from the robot, industrialized trend of education.  Furthermore, using project based learning as a tool to achieve Deeper Learning is essential to making it happen.

The days of Horace Mann and common school no longer hold any validity in a society where we don’t need to have everyone look the same mold nor do we need the idea of normal school for teachers.

If we believe that all students can achieve at high levels, then we must provide opportunities in schools beyond the standardized  approaches to allow the diversity of greatness to flourish in a variety of ways.

“Utilizing test scores to measure teaching is like using only a thermometer to determine if you have the flu.”  The Teaching Brain

Standardized testing provides one micro lens into the learning of learners, but we cannot make it the central focus as it has evolved into being. More importantly we cannot place so much emphasis and punishment on these tests. These tests were never designed for this type of punishment.

We have a mismatch on our hands when the one dimensional tests of reading and math are closing opportunities to bring more focus to what everyone is begging for which are the 21st century skills, soft skills, or whatever words you want to use. People want learners who have learning ability, emergent leadership, and collaboration with a dose of empathy. We must expand our ways of assessing to move to key ingredients to move society forward. Until we begin to measure 21st century skills they don’t have much meaning on the surface. These skills can no longer be lip service of people in power stating they matter while only looking at standardized test scores. This is why the rest of the series will focus on the need for deeper learning and project based learning.

In closing, I want to hear from you. What are other issues plaguing your schools that are showcasing a need to focus and bring back deeper learning and project based learning into our schools?

In the next post I will be moving away from this topic to discuss how PBL is not new, but it is good to look at the elements of quality PBL and begin the reflection process for your own teaching and things happening in your schools. We will take specific look at project based learning and begin to wrap our mind around this type of teaching to engage learners.

To read previous posts

Join the G+ Community for further discussion

 References #1

Image Credit

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Deeper Learning 2015 Conference Reflection

Sitting on the plane leaving the 75 degree sunshine heading back home to the state of Iowa where I anxiously await seeing my wife and kids I am ready to decompress pages of notes, muddled thoughts, new concepts, and steps for action compiled from 3 days of deeper learning at the Deeper Learning 2015 conference. Here are some initial thoughts from the plane.

I was lucky enough to attend this conference last year and was even more fortunate enough to go again this year along with two other coaches and my building principal. Originally, I was supposed to be running a Deep Dive session using Sphero robotics, but my session was cancelled due to so many other amazing people and presentations. At first I was super bummed, but things happen for a reason. I was able to join forces with Monica Martinez, the author of Deeper Learning, and help guide educators from various backgrounds and schools to walk away with a plan to make one small change.

One of the best things to happen is finally being able to meet people who I have connected with online via Twitter and other platforms and see them in person. It is amazing how we connect through social media and when given the chance to meet in person it is so great. I often think that if we did not have social media I would never meet these people in person and that bums me out because I think of all the educators who do not connect with others from around the world to make us better and are missing out on these opportunities.

At the conference I was able to talk and work with Monica in person. We have chatted via email for the last year and Skyped several times, but this was our first time talking and working face to face. Listening to her speak, learning more about where she is coming from was really amazing and she strengthened my insights and understanding of deeper learning and what it takes to create quality education. I walked away with a higher level of respect for her and what she is working to help others achieve.

I also was finally able to meet Zak Malamed. Zak is one of the best people out there spreading the word of student voice in education. As a founder of, he and his colleagues are doing amazing work across the nation. We have worked on many items over the last year so to finally connect in person was amazing. What he and his crew are doing with Student Bill of Rights I am just so impressed. Student Voice is a deep passion of mine and with instrumental leaders like Zak leading the way I cannot wait to see how the agency in students develop. Talking with him and merging some new ideas that we are going to bring back to Bettendorf Middle and High School I cannot wait to share what we going to be doing.

Last, I was able to speak with the almighty Marc Chun. As Education Program Officer of Hewlett Foundation, the genius behind the best email away messages, and just all around amazing person I finally was able to speak with him in person. What he is doing for education is powerful. I look forward to hopefully staying connected with him and pushing the envelope for education.

Deeper Learning is one of the best and perhaps premiere conferences in the states. The reason I say this is that there is such a diverse background of people who come together for this event. Usually, I hate the round robin of introductions for breakout sessions, but here I am blown away by all the different backgrounds, types of schools, new schools, leaders initiatives, and deep modes of thought, that it reminds me that what I see and work with in education in Bettendorf, Iowa is a very narrow window of how education plays out across the nation. For example, in one session where we examined student work we had students from Hong Kong, educators from British Colombia, Massachusetts, Washington, California, Michigan, home school networks, leaders of schools opening their doors this fall, public, charter, private, EL, New Tech, Envision, Big Picture, and the list goes on and on.

The beauty of all of this is that we are after the same thing – quality education. Based on the context of location, circumstance, and other conditions, we have to go about it in a variety of formats. When we come together and work through ideas at a conference like this we can take bits and pieces from everyone to transform our own schools. Often times we work with local schools who have same conditions and we try to develop answers with a narrow vision. There is nothing narrow about the conversations taking place at Deeper Learning.

On a personal level Deeper Learning 2015 gave me the realest reality check(not sure if that phrase makes sense). Talking with so many educators I realized how much I DON’T know. I have so much to learn and they inspire me to keep learning, shrink the ego of what I think I know, and push me to find new solutions, new ideas, and to realize I have a long way to go in my understanding of education. Thank you to everyone who challenged my thinking, made me realize that I am missing key components to some of my thinking, and to continue to push my boundaries of thought.

The conference is once again 2.5 best days of learning of my year. Reading my reflections from the conference from last year (Part 1Part 2Part 3) I realized that my second year was a great year. It was different in a good way and I walked away with an onslaught of new ideas that my brain was not ready for last year.

I will digging into these ideas and what I learned in more specific detail in my upcoming blog posts in my 31 Days of Deeper Learning and PBL series, but until then I walk away nodding my head to this tagline of Deeper Learning



Thank you everyone who made this conference so great. I look forward to sharing my ideas in upcoming posts and hopefully my Deep Dive next year will be in full throttle.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (2)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

31 Days of Deeper Learning & PBL Blog Series | 2: What is DL and PBL?

In my first post of this series I launched the reasons for why I need to discuss at length the topic of Deeper Learning and PBL. I want to move from this stage to a basic understanding of what exactly I will be using as my cornerstone to all future conversations and posts in this series.

A major problem when it comes to project based learning is how loosely the term is used. I have clicked on many links referencing project based learning to see a misguided attempt at what a true project based learning opportunity really is and should be. Often times I read about fun, playful ACTIVITIES(which there is nothing wrong with these types of learning moments), but I don’t want these to be confused with what I am after in my train of thought. Additionally, I have also seen a lot of project oriented units where teachers front load everything and then they give a project. Well, if you have spoon-fed everything to the student, then what is the point of the project at the end? It is just a cutesy way of showing their learning and becomes a time filler in the classroom(sorry, just being honest and YES I have done this type of activity many times as an educator so I don’t have a halo on my head).

So, let us take one step back and define Deeper Learning first before we dive into PBL. Deeper Learning is the framework for what we are after in education and learning for learners.** Once we give a very brief overview of the Deeper Learning I will provide a short context for Project Based Learning because in order to achieve Deeper Learning you must utilize project based learning in some capacity.

In my next post I will cover the problems with education, but I think it is safe to say that we still have things to work out in the bigger context of public education. People are working hard, but the powers that be really make the job tough. Because we can all agree for the sake of this post that there are issues to be resolved there is a need to put together a vision for what is needed for learners to learn. This is where Deeper Learning comes in to play. It is not a packaged curriculum, there is not specific step by step model(there are resources to help you find your school needs like the Planning Guide), but this is not a cookie cutter approach. I want to make that very clear. I oppose all cookie cutter methods because they don’t work. They do put money in the pockets of people in power, but once you dig past the surface you find yourself moving from one mess to another. Guides like the one mentioned above are a tool that can help guide and facilitate conversation among educators and admin which is much different than a cookie cutter model of change.

Deeper Learning can be defined as the following according to the book Deeper Learning by Monica Martinez

Deeper learning is the process of preparing and empowering students to master essential academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, have an academic mindset, and be self-directed in their education.

You can see from this definition that these all seem like DUH! This is what we need. The problem lies in the fact that we are missing some or all of these elements in schools and classrooms. How can we make this work in classroom? This is what this series will hopefully help with.

In the 21st century all students no matter your school conditions, visions, programs, materials, etc. should be able to ensure that learners can(the six main ideas of Deeper Learning)

  • master core academic content
  • think critically and solve complex problems
  • work collaboratively
  • communicate effectively
  • learn how to learn
  • develop academic mindsets(Camille Farrington will be referenced quite a bit in the future!)

This list is simple in understanding but complex in moving into action. This is a big day of learning. This is a big year of development and throughout the course of 13 years of schooling schools should be able to help learners accomplish these skills. The goals of deeper learning are to develop self directed learners that can problem solve and come up with solutions to various situations and dilemmas whether in school, after school, or when they grow up to face the wonderful world of being an adult.

Unfortunately, many of these things are not really being executed and developed properly as schools are being pressured to get kids ready to pass standardized tests that focus on rote memorization, how to take a test, and how to learn what is needed for the tests.(problems to be discussed in future post)

One way to develop these skills is through the use of project based learning. Let me very clear here as well. Project Based Learning is nothing new. The idea has been around forever and incorporated in multiple schools settings, education networks, and classrooms around the world. The key here is to make sure we identify what PBL is and components to deliver a high quality project.

Project Based Learning can be defined as the following according to BIE(an powerful resource for PBL)

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.

Successful Projects require the following elements(this is a mix from various resources and several years developing projects at the school where I work)

  • Arise from a meaningful question
  • Take time
  • Require investigation
  • Are semi-structured, requiring substantial student input
  • Follow a timeline with articulated milestones to be reached along the way
  • Require a tangible end product
  • Include presentation for a real audience
  • Include moments of reflection
  • Blur subject area boundaries?
  • Emphasize issues, skills, concepts
  • Blur line between slow and fast learners
  • Create a culture of accomplishment
  • Connect students with adult mentors
  • Conceive of teachers as coaches/facilitators and students as colleagues

You can see how PBL can help develop opportunities for learners to have deeper learning moments in the classroom. PBL is not the only way and is not the end all be all, but it is one required tool among others to develop these education opportunities to radically shift public education to be an environment to transform learners to be ready for whatever their future holds.


This is very brief intro into both Deeper Learning and PBL. Now that we have a baseline established I will be digging into specific issues, topics, and methods to figure out ways to make it happen. I hope this post gives you a sense for wrapping your brain around these terms.

Like the first post I want to remind everyone that I do not have THE answers. These are just ideas from my reading, research, and experience with developing these ideas in the school where I work. Please leave a comment or reach out to me on social media about your ideas you have based on this post, questions you have, things I should have included, resources, etc. I want these posts to inspire thought and conversation.

In my next post I will be taking a look at the problems with education and how these elements can be the catalyst for proper change.

Last, I have created a Google + Community for us to have private conversations. This is where I will post all blog posts and we can start to share our own ideas, blogs, resources, and more. I hope you will join and make this a powerful group of learning.

I look forward to hearing from you and making this an incredible journey into exploring education.

Until the next post…..



**From here on out I want to make a conscious effort to label kids as learners, not students after reading the book Make Learning Personal where they state that “all of us our learners” I LOVE this mindset because we were all born curious and ready to learn the moment we came out alive and kicking. “We were not born students – we were born learners.” When you use the word students the emphasis of responsibility becomes centered on the teacher instead of thinking in terms of a learner where the focus becomes on them.

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (3)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (1)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

31 Days of Deeper Learning & PBL Blog Series | 1: Intro

I have been immersed in the wonderful and complex world of teaching and education for over a decade. I often wish I started blogging from day one so I could go back and realize how much I have changed thoughts, ideas, and what works in education. It would go to prove that being a lifelong learner means that I can only improve with age.

Typing that previous paragraph reminds of what John Dewey is known for saying, “If we teach as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

This post is an intro to 31 post series where I want to document my learning and thoughts I am grappling with as an educator and parent. I have spent the last few years working my thoughts around project based learning ever since I visited High Tech High back in October of 2011 where I started to bring ideas to paper(keyboard) here while on the airplane or here where I mesh my experience of visiting the school with lightsabers, PEZ, and more.

Over the course of almost 4 years of exploration, experimentation, implementation, success, disasters, and more I want to bring a cohesive look at not only project based learning, but a framework of Deeper Learning. Deeper Learning took root in my mind when I read the book Deeper Learning by Monica Martinez last year. I am starting to see how all the pieces fit together.

What I have planned are 30 topics of discussions exploring all aspects of project based learning and how it connects with deeper learning to enhance the learning of all students. Schools need to change. It is time. We must stop the facade that things are okay. They are not. We must look to transform our teaching. I cannot get the following statement out of my mind from the book Transforming Schools in which the authors state something Jal Mehta said: “On the whole, we still have the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, in the same schools, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.”

I have all 30 topics ready and in draft development as I prepare to hit the publish button of this post. I will be taking an honest look at education, learning, pbl, and deeper learning. For anyone who reads this blog or knows me I shoot it straight. There is nothing behind this series except to allow myself to process all my ideas into a coherent series.

With that being said as I go along on this journey bringing my ideas to light with my keyboard and blog I want you to help. If you have questions, agree/disagree with my ideas, or have thoughts to contribute please reach out to me. As I hear from you I will work to include everything into the posts as they will change and be tweaked as this goes along.

I hope you will join me in the conversation. I do not have THE answers(they don’t exist so sorry for the spoiler). What I have are opinions based on my decade long journey in public education with a school of amazing educators working like to mad to meet the needs of students. I hope you find this helpful and thoughtful for your own journey.

With that being said, what would you like to gain from this series?

Coming up next will be taking a look at what exactly is Deeper Learning(What) and PBL(How).

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (3)
  • Interesting (2)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)