TGIF! Dec 8 2017


Welcome, winter!

High School Update

We are proceeding with State inspections for a potential site in Ferrysburg.  This is super-exciting, but also not a slam dunk: while we are hopeful that the space in question will be deemed suitable for a high school, we also know bureaucracy can be fickle – so we kind of hold our breath and wait for now.  Bureaucracy is also SLOW (hmm, maybe we should reconsider holding our breath!) – so if it seems like we don’t have a lot of news to share here in the next few weeks, it’s because we are waiting, waiting, waiting.  Keep those fingers and toes crossed for now!

Learning Links

Personalized learning all over the blogosphere this week!

From the 74, on personalized learning and technology (and equity and a few other themes too!):

I visited a school — I was in England, south of London, a school there that had been a failing school. What they had done was unbelievable. They had completely transformed the school using a personalized learning model, and all of a sudden, all their graduation rates were up, they had students that were engaged. It was just one of these unbelievable stories.

I was talking to the teachers, and they sort of looked like zombies. They were all falling asleep, they were all yawning. They showed me this room, and after school every day — it was all on paper, sitting there with paper and pencil — they would literally redesign and adapt the learning experience for the kids for the next day. So they were there until 8:00, 9:00 at night doing this very difficult manual process. And I was like, “Why do you keep doing this to yourselves? This is crazy.” And they were like, “We are watching this transform the lives of these kids, how could we possibly stop?” And I said, “Yes, I take that point, but there are also some ways that you could enable this.”

I share that story because when people say, “Do you need technology to personalize learning?” No, but if you want to get some sleep at night, then yeah, you actually do need some tech to help take it to scale.

From a Medium post on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative:

From settings as various as inner-city Chicago to the decks of naval ships, comes increasing evidence that when education is truly “personalized” — when it is genuinely tailored to the needs of the student — the shift can be profound, blowing away the expected “bell curve” that dictates a handful of failure, a bit of excellence, and a bunch of mediocrity in between.

In each of these cases, the not-so-secret ingredients included:

  • an intense focus on the individual strengths, aspirations and needs of each student
  • a willingness to redesign the learning environment and experience to meet those needs
  • a deep understanding of the strategies and practices that would be most effective
  • a belief that dramatic outcomes were possible.

That, in short, is a description of the education all children deserve, but few are privileged enough to receive. And that is what we are seeking to change: to take the kind of focus on individual needs and support that define privilege and make it available to all — to make equal opportunity real.

In that effort, we strive to hold two ideals in tension: boldness and humility. It will take boldness to reimagine what’s possible for students, radically elevating beliefs about their potential. Yet it also takes humility to recognize that what we describe as personalized learning is an extension of what Maria Montessori was doing a century ago. And while there are more questions to answer and new science to bring to bear, this work is not simply about invention — it’s also about listening to and engaging students and teachers in designing their own solutions while connecting effective practices that exist today in the classrooms of great teachers all over the world.


In closing….

Stay warm, enjoy the snowflakes, and have a joyous weekend.



TGIF! Aug 25 2017


It’s feeling like fall!  Are you eager or anxious for the return of school days?

Did you enjoy Teacher Tom’s musings last week?

Another of his quotes to get you thinking:

Education “reformers” have it backwards. They look at middle schools and high schools and see children struggling, hating school, so they are seeking to make our preschools and elementary schools more like middle school and high school to get the children “ready.” It should be the other way around: we should be trying to make the middle school and high school experience more like what we find in early years. It’s not our job to make kids school ready, it’s our job to make schools ready for kids.

Examples from the spectrum of personalized learning

How do you view personalized learning?  Is it about moving at your own speed? Meet each learner’s needs in terms of supports? Is it about choice in when, where, and with whom to learn? How much does it include personalizing what to learn?  Check out this chart from Getting Smart:

3 axis of learning design

We’ve been having a little informal poll on Facebook today around this image:


The question was, which word is most important?  The full article I clipped this from is here, and I’ll reveal my answer to this (kind of a trick) question:  I think the most important word is EACH.  Yup, in the little thought bubble.  While the graph is a great visual of understanding the progression along each dimension, I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s about understanding where each unique student is.

In closing….

Thanks for reading, friends.  Enjoy the last full week of summer vacation!


TGIF! Aug 4 2017


You know we’ve had a nice long run of warm summer weather when you forget to even look at the forecast – and are surprised by thunderstorms and cooler air!  With a little taste of Fall in the air, can you spare a few extra minutes for a longer read this morning?

DIY Scaffolding

No, we are not building houses today. J If you are not familiar with the term scaffolding in education, here’s a short intro (credit for much of this post to the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and author Je’anna Clements, writing from the perspective of self-directed homeschoolers):

We’re all familiar with scaffolding. Everywhere buildings are constructed or repaired, we see the network of platforms and poles that support the work crew, giving them access to their current work areas. Sometimes artists use scaffolding, too. Michelangelo needed scaffolding to get him to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He would have also needed scaffolding to support him as he climbed around and hacked into the enormous chunk of marble that became the statue of David. The advantage of using scaffolding is that it helps you climb higher than you can currently stand. It gives you support and access to expand on your previous achievements.

This brings us to the concept of ‘scaffolding’ in education. The idea is that a teacher or facilitator provides the learner with clues, cues, models and tools to extend their learning beyond current mastery into what Vygotsky termed the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’.  In conventional education, scaffolding is used in a way that closely parallels physical scaffolding: exact plans are in place. Scaffolding is created in advance and is carefully pre-designed. The teacher ‘knows’ exactly what the learner is ‘meant’ to achieve and provides standardized scaffolding that actively guides the learner to produce that precise result.

If instead, we take the approach of “follow the child”, we realize that scaffolding needs to have an “outside the box” approach.  Je’anna, again:

Conventional scaffolding limits and contains the process to that which can be reached by the pre-designed scaffold. When your whole scaffold is in place, that’s it. That’s where you can go. It is a very literal kind of ‘box’. Even if you don’t follow that exact plan, even if you decide to get creative, once your scaffolding is up, you can only build within the area contained by the scaffolding. Conventional scaffolding restricts what you can build, and how wide it can go.

When we build scaffolding around each learner, one step at a time, it “can become a more complex structure. It can go up, it can go down, and it can go upside-down… Self-evolved scaffolding can go sideways, taking learners into lateral zones of proximal development rather than only along vertical paths.”  Note she says, “self-evolved”, which is where the article really got interesting.  Because, as she notes, scaffolding doesn’t have to be something that is provided by another.  We are all capable of building scaffolding; in fact, we do it all the time.  Consider an infant cruising the along the furniture versus scurrying in a walker.

It can be fascinating to watch self-directed learners with scaffolding explicitly in mind. They have so many different ways to get what they need. Often, they use scaffolding in a completely conventional way. Self-directed learners do sign up for courses and classes, read textbooks, and follow recipes, tutorials, and all kinds of readily available instruction… They also use ad-hoc teachers or guides. Self-directed learners ask someone else, who they believe knows the terrain. Again, the difference here is that they choose their scaffolding supplier. Instead of having to rely on a designated teacher, they can go to the source that best fits their need in the moment. Often, a self-directed learner will get a few steps from one guide, then a few steps from another. Freedom of association is a critical resource in a self-education process. (This is also a key part of the value of a rich learning community as opposed to a socially limited learning environment.) In addition to seeking out an external guide and ‘borrowing’ the scaffolding they provide, the intact confidence of self-directed learners means they are able to use inner guidance, too.

Whether the infant cruising or the self-directed teen learning, if the role of the adult is not to build the scaffolding for them, what is it?  Two things: relationships, and environment.  A close and supportive mentoring relationship gives each teen a trusting adult to ask questions of and hear feedback and even challenges from.  And the environment needs to allow access to things that can be used as scaffolding.  Imagine the infant learning to walk again – what if there were no furniture in their space, nothing of the right size or shape to utilize to pull up or cruise on?  The same with our teens and our high school environment – we must provide what Maria Montessori called the “prepared environment” – ensuring the tools, resources, and access are available, from materials and spaces and technology to access to courses (college and others), connections to community members and organizations from theater troupes to makerspaces… in short all the people, places, and things students can use to build a personalized scaffold from their current capability to the next.  And, the process of self-directed learning – of “building your own scaffold” – itself is perhaps the most critical skill our kids will need in the future! Je’anna again:

This kind of organically evolving scaffolding itself displays “out of the box” thinking, but it also facilitates further “out of the box” thought. A highly creative approach to learning strengthens creative muscle, facilitating more creativity. There is no person alive today who can reliably predict what even the most common career options will be in 2050. In 2050, my son will be 45 years old — in the prime of his productive working life. Will he be clearing up space junk? Will he be mining asteroids? Will he grow micro-greens and slug protein three miles up on a skyfarm? Will he be an inter-species translator? Or interface with robotic gear operated by nuances of eye-blink, or conscious modulation of heart-rate variability? Or will the only remaining careers for humans, be in arts and entertainment? If so, what will that look like in 2050? Virtual-reality-dream engineering? Probably, he will be doing something I cannot even fantasize. Possibly, he may need to help invent what it is that he does.

It seems clear to me that the best I can do to help him prepare for that unimaginable future is to support his self-education capacity. Help keep intact his ability to evolve his own learning scaffolds. Flexible, organic, self-evolved learning scaffolds are what our children most need now. A rich environment with plenty of peers and a wide range of approachable adults. An environment of trust and respect, where children learn to honor their bliss and follow their intuition.

Boxes — limited scaffolds that teach our children to follow only safe, known paths — are no longer merely limiting. Given the rapid-change years that our children face ahead, they could be detrimental.


Learning Links

Please see our Facebook page for more learning links.  I think this TGIF is already long enough!!

In closing….

It should be absolutely beautiful for Grand Haven’s Coast Guard Saturday events tomorrow. Locals, enjoy the parade, fun, festivities, and fireworks!


TGIF! Jul 7 2017


My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in our area affected by last night’s severe storm.  We were lucky with no trees down and our power back on already, but many neighbors fared much worse. Be careful driving out there this morning, folks.

Next week, my family and I leave for our annual trek eastward, to spend a week in Bar Harbor hiking the trails of our daughter’s namesake, Acadia National Park, and eating seafood…. lots of seafood.  Please look for our next TGIF on Friday, July 28.

What is Personalized Learning?

I’ve noticed this term is started to get some flack of late, and rightly so – there are many conflicting definitions, it’s been heavily appropriated by educational software vendors, and it’s easily overused.  (Fad, anyone?)  I thought Education Week had a solid summary last week and since it’s behind a paywall, here are the highlights:

  • On the one hand, personalization is pretty fundamental.  “We all know what powerful learning feels like. It’s immersive and relevant. You know and feel that you are mastering something important. In a word, it’s profoundly personal.”
  • It’s kind of related to differentiation, but not quite. “Differentiation starts with academic goals that are the same for the group. Personalization builds on these common standards but also considers the personal learning goals that are especially meaningful to each student.”
  • Technology isn’t necessary. “We’ve seen manila folders serve as databases and wall posters serve as playlists. And the reality is that despite the wealth of edtech products marketed to support personalization, and the promise we see in the technologies behind Amazon and Netflix that customize for consumers, most current edtech systems are not flexible enough to support personalized learning plans, pathways, and assessments.”
  • It is most effective when students “become active agents involved in determining what they learn (content), how and how fast they learn (process and pace), and/or how they demonstrate their learning (work products).”
  • Likewise, the adult’s role changes too, as “teachers become group facilitators, personal coaches, and support specialists as children engage in authentic and deep learning experiences connected to both a set of standards and their own life goals.”
  • Each school is different, as “every personalized learning school should be tailored to what the youth within its community need.”
  • But schools share common themes, including “built-in student choice, ownership, and self-direction”, “experiential learning in which students engage in real, authentic, complex questions or problems for an extended period of time”, “strong teacher-student relationships… that build in time for teachers to work with students in small groups and even one-on-one on a regular basis”, and a “mastery-based progression… [where a] lesson not only starts with a student’s goals and current ability level taken into account, [but] ends only when the student shows they have mastered the learning goal.”

Learning Links

Stay tuned to our Facebook feed throughout the month of July – I have two weeks of learning links all cued up to post while I’m away, including more Most Likely To Succeed clips; perspectives on our amazingly rapidly changing world; and a deeper dive on assessment, the meaning of learning, and the purpose of school.

In closing….

Get out and enjoy your little piece of our natural world, wherever you may be!