Self Esteem and Learning

Photo by Annushka Ahuja on

Have you ever thought about the mindset needed to be a successful learner? Carol Dweck, who recently won the Yidan prize for her educational research on  growth mindsets and how children think about learning and it’s impact on academic success has learned through her research that “the most motivated and resilient students are the ones who believe that their abilities can be developed through their effort and learning.” (Stanford University, 2017.)  So what does this mean for parents, caregivers, and teachers who want to provide the best opportunity for their children to grow into successful adults?

Think about your own experiences as a learner. When you are full of self-doubt, or low self-esteem, the ability to persevere, show “grit” and keep trying is tremendously difficult. Low self-esteem can cause a domino-effect and feed our negative self-perceptions.  Low self-esteem then begins to spiral out of control, and depression and academic failure can be the result.

“ It usually is not difficult to pick out the ones that have lower self-esteem vs. those with higher self-esteem. The ones that have the lower self-esteem tend to be quiet, withdrawn, sit in the back of the class, and do not readily participate in class activities as those with higher self-esteem (Phillips, Smith, & Modaff , 2001)”

We all have low points in our lives –I certainly can remember a few. So how do we break out of this cycle –and help our children and others we care about to do so? I recently came across a great list, “20 Tips to Promote Positive Self-Esteem,”  by Richard D. Lavoie. (  First and foremost, you need to know the child – understand their unique strengths, needs, interests and skills, focus on these and celebrate the successes when they come.  On the flip side, however, failure is inevitable, and it is how we learn. We all need time to play, experiment, try, fail, and try again.  In this process, we develop decision-making and problem-solving skills. Choice, and opportunities to practice decision-making are opportunities for growth, and to build self-esteem.

As a parent, teacher or caregiver, it is essential that you offer unconditional acceptance of your child. Provide opportunity for playing, creating, socializing, and provide opportunities for growth in the areas they show skill or interest. Model and teach them good character, and help them fit in.  Through these actions, you will be building their self-esteem, and pave the way for your child to be a successful learner.


20 Tips to Promote Positive Self-Esteem,

Bauman, Shannon A. “The Importance Of Self-Esteem In Learning And Behavior In Children With Exceptionalities And The Role Magic Tricks May Play In Improving Self-Esteem And In Motivating Learning.” University of Central Florida, 2012.

Dweck, Carol S. “Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate.” Education Canada, doi:CA01000801.

University, Stanford. “Stanford Psychologist Recognized with $4 Million Prize.” Stanford News, 2017,

Curiosity and Wonder

Curating and Inquiry: Based on Stripling Model of Inquiry

When was the last time you felt an intense need to learn or understand something – something that went beyond a Google or You Tube search to learn how to change a headlight on your car, or performing the required research to get a good grade on a school project? Can you remember that feeling of wonder and intensity, and how that “need to know” had the ability to move up to the top of your priority list? You probably found yourself fully engaged in the pursuit of information, knowledge, and understanding, blocking out most everything else around you.
Many things can trigger a desire for deeper understanding or knowledge, but this level of ownership in learning suggests a deep and personal connection. This sense of wonder leads to questions, and seeking answers. It is the beginning of transforming from student to learner.
During my formal schooling, I was more of a student than a learner. I was good at school, and always made good grades, yet I spent a good part of my early adult life not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. I felt disconnected from what was being taught. The classes I most looked forward to were music classes, and so eventually, when I had to declare a major in college, I chose music for lack of any other idea at what I might do. I suspect that a lot of our youth find themselves in similar situations. School is not really set up to help students find their passions, nor give them the time to explore them deeply – at least within the confines of the “school day.”
But in this age of information, with access to the Internet and its 1.24 billion and growing number of websites, learning can happen anytime, anywhere. The hard part is developing the desire, and the passion for learning. Curiosity is something that is abundant in small children. Parents grow weary from the daily barrage of questions. Many times, the questions our children ask are impossible to answer. As they grow up, somewhere along the way, the questions begin to disappear. Why? What happens to that sense of curiosity? As Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning.”

I propose that “curating” information can be a process to help us regain our sense of curiosity and wonder. Curating information is not unlike the work of a museum curator who collects artifacts based upon a specific topic and theme, and then creates a meaningful display for the purpose of increasing the knowledge of the visitors. In many ways, a curator is a storyteller, who artfully finds a way to help those who view the display to make a personal connection. If the curator is very good, then the visitors to the display will re-discover their sense of wonder. The display will inspire questions as well as answers. When we curate information, we are pursuing answers to our questions and intense information needs –our passions to know and understand. Questions and curiosity drive curation. Along the way, we learn.

Designing Learning to Stick

CC from

What is the purpose of education? This seems like a simple question on the surface, but one that can yield many different responses if you queried a room full of people. Answers may range from a government’s responsibility and a citizen’s right to be prepared for life, to preparing a workforce for the benefit of society, and everywhere in-between.

I believe that no matter your point of view, there is common ground in the belief that education is essential to both the future success of the individual, and to the success of community in which the individual lives. Thomas Jefferson said:

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.”

How we go about the business of education, or schooling, is another matter, and opinions abound on this topic. When I am working with groups of teachers and parents to help them understand how to make learning more relevant and lasting, I often ask them to reflect on their own experiences as a learner to reveal the elements of their education that have made a difference to them.  I ask, “What is the most memorable and powerful learning experience you can remember?”  Small groups will have time to think and reflect, and then share these experiences with each other. Then I have them create a list the common elements. I have done this exercise at least a dozen times. The amazing thing is, that even though the stories of powerful learning are all very different, the elements that made that learning powerful and lasting are the same.  These are the elements of powerful learning I consistently hear during this exercise:

  • Real world problem solving/
  • Opportunity for creativity
  • Hands-on
  • Thinking is stretched
  • Collaborative
  • Personal connection
  • Building skills along with knowledge
  • Choice/freedom of process and final product
  • Authentic/real world audience
  • Time & pace relaxed –not rushed

Surprisingly, when these same groups have reflected on the frequency of opportunity to learn in in ways that produce powerful and lasting results, the answer has been minimal.  The focus in schools and education is covering content, and that takes time.

Right now, schools around the country are preparing to launch the 2017-18 school year and students will soon begin a new year of learning. Wouldn’t it be awesome if teachers and educational leaders designed learning that would incorporate these common elements of powerful learning?

Understanding Content Curation – A Refresh

curating refreshedIn the summer of 2012, I began an exploration of the concept of Content Curation, and what this meant for teachers and students. Little did I know at the time that my journey would involve curating…about curating.  Given the task of providing professional development for teachers to curate resources for backwards-designed units, I started researching to better understand why the word “curate” was being used – so I set out to define what curation meant in the field of education, and realized early on in my research that student curation is where our focus should be. My original post, where I shared my discoveries and understandings, has generated more traffic than any other post on my blog, with hundreds of cross-postings on sites in the fields of education, marketing and libraries.

For the past 5 years I have continued to curate information about curating, using the same Scoop It site I started in 2012. I investigated the skill sets that are practiced with content curation, and how this aligns with skills needed for the workforce. I collaborated with teachers to design learning that included content curation, and saw the powerful learning that this produced.  As more projects were completed with students, I began to see the elements that were essential to really produce the passion for learning that was so evident in the first project I had done with 8th grade social studies students.  As a result, I have adjusted my original infographic to reflect these elements.

Revised Curating Infographic
Defining Content Curation Infographic by Nancy White

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

There are three important additions to the infographic: personal connection, an increased emphasis on sharing with opportunity for comments and discussion, and the element of storytelling.

personal connectionPersonal Connection

Students who are given choice in selecting a topic for curating are far more likely to engage in deeper learning, in my experience. Providing some parameters to keep the project aligned with content and standards is still possible, provided you offer a broad range of topics and give students the flexibility to take the curation project in a direction that they can personally connect with. This begins to resemble passion-based learning and genius hour.  For more on these topics, I highly recommend the work of Angela Maiers.

sharingSharing, Audience – Comments & Discussion

A curator’s need for an audience and authentic feedback became apparent when I launched two nearly identical projects with two different classes of middle school students.  The process for topic selection was the same -using a gallery walk of images related to the content and standards being addressed and Question Formulation Technique for students to select a topic that generated the most interest for them, and then having the students use a blog to share their curation work. One project was hugely successful in generating high interest, deep learning, and passion for the topics beyond the life of the project.  The other was much less so.  The primary difference between the two? The teacher in the highly successful curation project made a concerted effort to provide feedback and comments daily on the student blogs through the life of the project – enlisting the help of dozens of teacher friends to assure that students knew their voice was being heard. The other teacher had concerns about sharing student work publicly, and so students did not receive any outside visitors other than classmates who were required to comment on a handful of blogs as part of their grade. In my own curation work, I have found the need to share and seek feedback on the new directions of my thinking grow along with my passion for curating. The act of sharing and discussing a curation project adds more depth to my understanding and helps me make new connections. In effect, it is creating a community of learners who share your passion to understand the concept or topic at a deeper level.


This element first became apparent to me as I looked at curating through the lens of a museum curator. Beth Kanter used the phrase “cherry pick” to describe the process of curating, and this always made me wonder why this was such an important part of the definition of curation that sets it apart from “collecting.” I began to understand it better when I investigated what a museum curator goes through to select the artifacts that will make their way into a museum display.  There are many items that are left in the archives. Why? Besides the fact that there would not be room to display all the collected artifacts, not all the items are needed to tell the story that the museum curator wants to tell. In content curation, it is the same. When we curate, we “cherry pick” the items that best tell the story that is forming in our minds. We arrange the content in such a way to tell that story, and we feel compelled to share the story as it develops. I believe this is one reason that a blog, or a curation tool that provides the ability to arrange, write, and reflect on the curated content is essential.

As I reflect at the 5-year anniversary of my curation journey, I am very happy to know that the education community now recognizes the value of students as curators.  In the new ISTE Standards for Students, introduced at last year’s ISTE conference, the third standard is “Knowledge Constructor.”

“Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”

I look forward to continuing my work with teachers and students to help develop content curation skills, and in so doing, help them find their passion for learning!

A Day in the Life of a Future Student

Stanford dSchool Design Thinking Process
Stanford dSchool Design Thinking Process

I wrote this piece  for a school that wishes to transform teaching and learning for their learners. We used the Stanford dSchool design thinking process, combined with a thorough stakeholder analysis. When it came time to prototype, we decided writing a narrative would be most effective. 

A Day in a life of an ABC Academy Learner

Jessie rose to the sound of her alarm going off at 5:30 am. This early rising gave her time for morning Yoga class via Google Hangout with a group of her classmates. She loved that she was able to get her PE credit this way!  Karen, a 7th year student at the school, received her certification to teach Yoga through a previous PBL unit that was completed by learners interested in health and fitness careers. She was the Yoga instructor, and she utilized a tool called Swivl to keep the iPad camera pointed at her as she moves about the room.  This morning, in addition to the regular kids attending, Jack decided to pop in to give Yoga a try. One of his PBL units involves working with a group of mobility challenged senior citizens, and he is trying to find solutions to help them maintain flexibility so they have an easier time standing, walking and moving. Jessie wanted to laugh at Jack’s obvious lack of coordination and balance, but out of respect for her friend leading the class and others in the Hangout, she kept it to herself, remembering how she struggled when she first started the class. One thing their group had learned through the six years at the ABC Academy was the importance of being  good citizens -both face-to-face and digitally.

Once Yoga class ended, Jessie texted Jack to let him know she thought he did great for his first time out, and asked if they could meet over lunch to come up with an outline for their presentation later that week to the school board.  They were both working on a project with several other students to present research on the impact on blended and personalized learning to the board on behalf of the principal. All learners in the school are expected to present to authentic audiences throughout the year, and Jessie and Jack had selected this project for the opportunity to share their voice and thinking with the school board  about how this model of learning has inspired them to learn things they didn’t think were possible. They wanted to be able to help some of their friends in more traditional schools to perhaps have access to this model of education in their schools one day.

Jessie quickly showered and dressed, then checked her calendar and  messages in the LMS to start prioritizing her tasks for the day. She noted that an algebra test was coming up in two days, and her group’s project design for the culminating activity in algebra was due by the end of the week. The task was to come up with a project to improve the Innovation Center grounds that required the use of the Algebra concepts they’d been learning to complete the task. For this she was partnering with Angela, who had some really cool design ideas, and also Breanne, who was just a math nerd at heart. Justin joined their group reluctantly, as the only boy, but he was really good at math and so the girls were happy to have him. He volunteered to serve as the engineer. Jessie sent a calendar invite to Angela, Justin and Breanne for later that afternoon to meet at the Innovation Center and work on their project design. She decided to make it a 2 hour meeting, so hopefully they could get the initial design drafted and schedule their conference with their teacher a day early. Jessie was trying to keep her calendar clear for Friday, so she could do some job shadowing at the new science center downtown.

Jessie began viewing the instructional videos and  working some math problems in the LMS to prepare for the test.   After 60 minutes, she was tired of drilling on the math problems, and was feeling reasonably confident in her ability to complete the test successfully, so she decided to jump into the Science Forums and see what her friends were chatting about.  She brought up her Voxer walkie-talkie app on her phone, and navigated to the curated collection on “Fibonacci in Nature” in Google Collections.  Then she remembered her Mom had to go into the office that day, so before diving into those posts,  she ordered an Uber ride for 11:30 to get her to Chick Fil A to meet Jack for their planning meeting.  They had special access in the  Uber app to parent and community volunteers who helped shuttle students too young to drive  to meet-ups for school projects.  Jack’s Mom would be able to drive her to the Innovation Center after lunch.

Jessie began playing through the voice messages that corresponded with each of the pictures posted in Google Collections and realized that this was all giving her an idea to for her math project.  What if..they applied the Fibonacci pattern to their design –whatever that turned out to be? She was excited to be able to share this idea with her project  team later that afternoon.

Time passed quickly as she listened to the ideas and insights her classmates were sharing, and before she knew it her ride pulled up in front of her house for her lunch project meeting with Jack. When she arrived at Chick-fil-A she wasn’t surprised to see several other project teams from her school meeting at their favorite lunch hang out. This business partnered with the school district to offer nutritious meals at a cost equivalent to what most kids paid for a school lunch in a traditional school. It was one of many community partners who also provided minimum wage jobs and  on-the-job business training to district learners who were 16 or older.   Jessie’s older sister, Marla, had worked here before she graduated. Jessie and Jack hopped on the wireless network – certified as safe by the school district – and pulled up their Slides app. They built their outline as their teacher, Mrs. Brown had modeled for them, putting each of the main points on a separate slide. As they were working, they saw a comment pop up from Mrs. Brown, reminding them to be certain to cite their sources and mention the research base to their ideas when they did their presentation for the board.  Jack rolled his eyes when he saw this, remembering that he lost some points on his last presentation for not including the bibliography.  Jessie offered to set up a citation page in G Drive that they could embed in the last slide, and Jack thanked her profusely.  They finished in under an hour, and Jack’s Mom came to get them, then dropped them off at the Innovation Center for their tutoring sessions, and project management conferences.

Jack took off running when he saw his buddy Steve, and Jessie stopped just outside to survey the grounds.  She had an idea brewing from her earlier work on the curating project of Fibonacci in Nature, and wanted to see where her idea might best be implemented – maybe in the form of a flower garden? She wasn’t sure, but was excited to share her idea with the project team. She entered the building and headed for the center study pit- the one her team always tried to reserve because of the great view. She found Justin, Angela, and Breanne finishing up their brown-bag lunches and already chatting about their project. As project manager, she slipped onto the Hokki stool near the whiteboard and, as any 13 year old girl might do, picked up the hot pink dry erase marker and drew a giant flower. She smiled broadly and put her hands on her hips, looking at the group with satisfaction. Her team stopped talking and looked at her with puzzled looks on their faces. Justin groaned. He said, “Come on, Jess-we really want to build a basketball court on the south side of the building. You aren’t thinking of hijacking our idea, are you?” Jessie considered this for a moment, then remembered the Design Thinking process they’d been taught and decided that might be the best process to use.  She picked up the blue marker and drew 5 circles then wrote inside each one: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.  She then reminded them of the data they’d gathered from students and teachers at the center, which indicated their wants and needs in terms of a physical improvement to the grounds. This was how they addressed the empathy step in the design thinking process.  Together, they reviewed the survey responses as they sought to identify the problem. They learned that neither basketball court nor flower garden were what the community wanted.  However, many had expressed a desire to move towards more healthy meals being offered in the center.  As they began to ideate around this concept, Jessie shared her idea for using a design that included the Fibonacci sequence, and the team easily was able to narrow down the project list to one: creating not a flower garden, but instead a vegetable garden that could provide fresh vegetables for school meals.  Angela captured their problem identification and ideation in a MindMap in Google Drawing, which she dropped in the assignment folder in the LMS. Their lead teacher, Mrs. Monroe, stopped by as they were finishing, and they brought her up to date on their ideas. They were able to schedule their conference with her a day early, just as Jessie hoped. With the early conference scheduled, the group decided to meet again the same time the next day to do the prototyping.

Jess glanced at her email and task list.  After catching up on her reading for social studies class, she had just one more thing to accomplish for the day, and that was writing in her reflection blog about the day’s tasks. She found a comfortable quiet spot in the writing zone near an outlet, plugged in and fired up her laptop.  She pulled up her techbook and found her spot, then opened the group notes for the class and did a quick scan. Karen was in her social studies group, and she had already dropped some notes and questions in the doc. Jess put on her headset and started reading, pausing to play the multimedia videos and quizzes. She navigated back to her notes doc and added some of her own thoughts, connections and questions. They were studying the social reform issues of the late 19th century, and she was starting to see a lot of connections with issues in her community today. She was excited to share some of this thinking in her blog. She had learned that with the blog she could write the way that she thinks, and she enjoyed the freestyle flow of ideas that often evolved. Plus, her teacher had connected her blog with several other students and retired teachers who always gave her good feedback and helped her develop her ideas further.

Jess finished up the last quiz then shifted gears and pulled up her reflection blog. She was really happy to find some comments on her last post, about her experience in her last job shadowing experience at the science center. The comment was from her old science teacher, who had retired 2 years ago. She wanted to know if Jessie had been able to use use any of her physical science knowledge when working in the exploratory laboratory with the younger kids visiting. Jess responded to her question, then settled in to write about her learning and accomplishments for the day.

Before she knew it, it was 4:00 and Jessie’s Mom was pulling up to the curb to take her to piano lessons. Jessie smiled, happy with her accomplishments for the day. She was looking forward to some work on her Minecraft city when she got home, as well as doing some reading in the new novel she picked up at the library. She opened the car door, and her Mom asked “How was your day?” Jessie replied, “Busy! Really good- you should read my blog post!” Just then Jessie’s phone buzzed alerting her to a new text. Her Mom smiled, seeing that her daughter would be focusing on her friends now, but happy to have the reflection blog to fill her in on all of the learning her daughter was engaged in. Simultaneously, Mom and daughter had the same thought. This school was the best thing that ever happened for Jessie.


Future Ready Reflection: Gear 1


future-readyMy  district superintendent ha created an initiative to become “Future Ready” as defined by the Department of Education and Alliance for Excellent Education. I will share some of my thinking here as I participate in the self evaluation process.

(Views expressed here are not necessarily those of my district)

gear-1-future-readyGear 1: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment


Here are two of the indicators that stand out for me:

Strategies for Building College and Career Readiness:  If a student gets a high score on a standardized test, such as the PARCC test, or the SAT or ACT Test, do you consider them to be College & Career Ready? In some informal research I’ve done, it seems to me that test scores are not a good indicator of future success.  One of the things that bothers me, in the state of Colorado, is that test scores are accepted, under the new Graduation Guidelines, as an indicator of “College and Career Readiness.” I am hopeful, as our leadership committee addresses this misalignment, that we can do better in defining what College and Career Readiness looks like for our learners.

One of the activities I like to do with groups – parents, teachers, administrators, and students – is to have them think about the most powerful learning experiences they’ve ever had.  Common elements of these learning experiences, that are revealed every time, involve learning that requires them to think critically, be creative, collaborate, problem solve, and has meaning or purpose, to the point that they were highly motivated and engaged in the task, and remember what they learned years later – still applying and transferring that learning as they seek to gain better and deeper understanding. I believe that we need to dramatically increase the opportunities for our learners to engage in this kind of learning. Then, we can truly know that they are college and career ready.

Research-based Practices for the Use of Technology in Learning: The reality is that there is still very little research that can isolate technology as the “thing” that brings success in learning. Rather, it is a tool used by creative teachers who design learning with the end in mind, and in ways that motivate and inspire kids.



I’ve explored many of the ideas set forth by the International Center for Leadership in Education. I love the Rigor & Relevance Framework, and we use that frequently to help teachers design learning that is meaningful, relevant and engaging. Another idea from this group that stands out for me and  makes me pause about this portion of Gear 1 in the Future Ready Framework is their work around the concept of “Next Practices,” especially as we seek to move towards transformational learning.  Not just “thinking outside the box” but “building a new box.”  Technology tools come and go – often before any robust research can be conducted showing true value. It is a fast moving target.  We shouldn’t be hung up on a particular tool, especially when we are gearing up for personalized learning. Let the students – who own their learning – select the best tool for the task.  Teachers can learn to design learning that gives these kinds of opportunities. No longer do we have to “teach to the middle.” We can use technology to go beyond differentiation to personalize not just final project, but the time, place, path and pace of learning.



New ISTE Standards Include Curating

2016 ISTE Standards for Students, ©2016, ISTE® (International Society for Technology in Education), All rights reserved.
2016 ISTE Standards for Students, ©2016, ISTE® (International Society for Technology in Education), All rights reserved.

Good news!  ISTE has included curating in their new standards! After 4 years of researching (curating!) this topic, I have a real appreciation for the importance of this skill and the depth of learning and connections that can be made through curating.  Additionally, multiple other skills are practiced in the process of curating.

Curating is mentioned specifically in “Knowledge Constructor” Indicator 3c: “Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.”
Check out my wiki on this topic, with links to earlier posts:

Teacher-Leader Career Track

COASCD logo smallAt Colorado ASCD’s  ESSA Symposium for Superintendents and district leaders, one particular remark by Dr. Ken Haptonstall, the Superintendent for Garfield School District has stayed with me as I ponder the role of “teacher leader” in a school or district. He said that 70% of his high school teachers have their administrator license, but none of them has any interest in being a principal.   At the same event, district leaders were speaking with great concern about the teacher turnover rate.   I started wondering: What if we created a program that extended the current Colorado induction program, to provide an ongoing peer coaching program,  that could also provided a career ladder for those teachers who want to learn and grow, have an opportunity to advance, but don’t want to leave the classroom? Could developing this address these two needs at once?

As I sat in the Symposium, I tweeted my thoughts on this, and received this reply from Lisa Bejarano:

// do think National Board Certification is a fantastic program, however, I see its focus as being on what happens inside of the classroom.  The program I envision would be to build teacher-leaders who have additional skill sets that can serve in a leadership role outside of the classroom. What I envision is either a graduate level degree or certification program offered through our state universities that would help develop good classroom teachers into teacher-leaders.  The types of coursework might include:

  • Cognitive coaching
  • Leadership
  • Designing professional learning for adults
  • State education law
  • Privacy law
  • Project based Learning
  • Personalized Learning
  • Technology workflow
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Digital literacy
  • Time management
  • Brain-based learning
  • Understanding by Design

Teachers who receive this certification could become key voices in district and school development. Here are ideas for these important roles they could assume:

  • Mentoring teachers
  • Peer Coaching
  • Standards alignment work
  • Creators of backwards-designed project based learning and units of inquiry
  • Writer of common assessments
  • Professional learning provider
  • Curator of learning materials (digital and print) aligned to standards
  • Advisor to school board


Of course, there would need to be some incentive offered by school districts to encourage teachers to participate in this level of career development. Here are some ideas:peer mentor2

  • Career Advancement for those who don’t want to be a principal: Promotion – pay scale –higher than teacher +MA – perhaps equivalent to a Dean or Assistant Principal
  • Recognition –with all stakeholder groups
  • Voice –in state, district and school decision-making
  • Paid release time to peer-mentor & coach teachers, design learning and assessments, and curate resources

What are your thoughts? Teachers, would you be interested in a career ladder that allowed you to earn more pay yet remain in the classroom?  Administrators, can you see a benefit to having teacher-leaders in your school who can be peer mentors and provide support to teachers who are struggling to transform and build future-ready classrooms?//

Transformative Learning

Planning learning with the end in mind is a time-consuming task, but the results are definitely worth it.  As a teacher, you have a clear idea of what learners need to understand and be able to do, based on the standards, and hopefully, how those ideas, concepts, and skills apply to the real world so that students are motivated, engaged, and an authentic performance assessment can be planned.

If the learners are able to transfer their knowledge and skills to a new situation to solve a problem or create something new, the teacher can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the learners truly understand, and will be able to recall that learning and apply it whenever needed.   To me, this is innovative, transformational learning – whether technology is used or not.  Quite possibly, an authentic task will require the use of technology – as these are real-world tools.  But it is not the focal point of the learning.

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a group of 6th grade science learners engaged in this kind of transformative learning and performance task.  The teacher, Laura Murray, had created a unit using Intel Education Transformation Model – a backwards design process.  According to the Colorado Science Standards, students need to be able to understand that objects, processes and events are systems that consist of interacting parts, objects and events can be viewed at various scales, and that change follows patterns that can be directional, predictive, and/or cyclic. Students are to learn about the constructive and destructive earth processes.

IMG_5786Laura’s backwards plan was able to address these understandings and  big ideas, and culminated in a performance based assessment where students had the opportunity to apply their understanding in a unique way.  Students assumed the role of museum curator –in the far away future.  They were able to choose –500,000 or 1,000,000 years in the future!  Their task: Create a museum display depicting what the landscape of our area of Colorado might look like in that amount of time.

Prior to this culminating event, the students spent a good deal of time studying geologic periods.  You can imagine, to the typical 6th grader, this can IMG_5787seem very abstract – perhaps even a bit dull.   But it really came alive for these learners when Laura introduced them to an online resource provided by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  They featured a special exhibition on Ancient Denvers: The Denver Basin Project.   And –the task that they were given within the role of museum curator was exciting, creative, and engaging. Students had a connection because it was about their own landscape that they were challenged to make a prediction.  The students worked in teams to research the exhibits the museum currently offered, read the descriptions, and then used their knowledge and understanding to predict their future landscape.  This is a 1:1 iPad school, so they used the iPads to research, draw the landscapes for the exhibit, and write up the description for the museum placard.

IMG_5783The day I visited, the students were working specifically on their understanding of scale.  Students were using rolls of cash register tape to physically see and understand the time distance between the geologic periods. They used a scale of 1 millimeter = 10,000 years and had to mark them all out on the tape.   One of the things I loved about this as that Laura chose the best tool for the task at hand. Trying to create these models of scale using the iPad might have resulted in students not being able to see the physical distance from one mark to the next, and reduced understanding as a result.

What’s next? Seeking authentic feedback from real museum curators at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  Providing authentic feedback is the finishing embellishment on a unit that provided these 6th grade learners with a transformational learning experience that they may carry with them for a lifetime.

Laura has been teaching middle schoolers for 13 years at Academy District 20’s Challenger Middle School in Colorado Springs.  She has taught Science and Social Studies in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. She has earned Outdoor Recreation, Business, and Curriculum and Instruction degrees from Colorado State University and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. In her spare time, Laura coaches Forensics, is a NJHS sponsor,  and serves on many school and district committees. Laura also volunteers with theater programs at Challenger and Pine Creek High School.