Opening a “Third Eye” with Video Coaching

Coach Karen Smith and a teacher use Edthena to review a classroom video

SVVSD Opens Educational Third Eye with Video Coaching

St. Vrain schools have utilized iPads, authorized by a mill levy in 2012, to enhance teaching and learning through technology and improving the way students are taught with Edthena—a video coaching tool.

SVVSD’s initiation of iPads and the use of video coaching was an approved technology resource to better teacher practice. When first receiving iPads four years ago, the video recording function on the iPad was one of the applications they quickly considered using.

“If we don’t use technology to better ourselves and to hone our craft, then we’re going to be missing out on all the different ways that we can help students use technology to increase their knowledge and skills,” said Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs and Academic Support for SVVSD.

That led SVVSD on a path towards exploring different options with a tool that was going to support their work and support their teachers. “If students are using technology to better their learning and to support their learning, and teachers are using technology to better their teaching, why aren’t we using technology to better our practice?” added Patty Hagan, Teaching and Learning Coach for SVVSD.

Before SVVSD spent any mill levy money, they gathered a group of teachers, principals, and parents from all across the district to have a series of meetings that became a learning technology steering committee. Its purpose became finding different ways students could learn. It developed into a process of looking at how they could meet the needs of not only students but also teachers.

“We looked at what was the best practice, in what ways can we use technology to help students become producers of knowledge, not just the passive receivers of content,” said David Baker, Professional Development Coordinator for SVVSD. “How do we help students learn more effectively? It wasn’t let’s go buy them a blank, it was how do we help students and teachers carry through the learning in ways that are more effective?”

SVVSD’s motto is, “Academic excellence by design,” striving for kids to graduate with skills that are going to be marketable for their future, and academic technology is a big part of that. “By investing in technology, which is going to last them, those skills to further their education, whether they’re going to take online classes in college, or they’re going to need to be able to use technology in any kind of job,” Lauer said.

Before they started using the camera video recorder on the iPad, most SVVSD schools used VHS cameras. The librarian kept it in an office and each teacher could check it out. Teachers could use it for a day, and possibly another teacher could use it the next day, an often long-winded process. With Edthena, teachers can operate it instantly. “You can see it so easily in so many different ways. You can share it flexibly. I can take it out of my iPad, put it on my laptop so I can really see it and think it, and I don’t have to get seven cords to plug it in. I can share it digitally,” Baker said.

This new school year, SVVSD welcomed 230 new teachers. Around 50 to 60 of those teachers are brand new. That’s where the district decided to break the ice and chart new territory with video coaching. The district wanted to help new teachers accelerate with confidence and receive as much feedback as possible in the process with matched mentors or similar types of teachers. “We’re not just using it with our first-year teachers, we’re also using it with our experienced teachers as a tool to facilitate dialogue and learning for both parties,” Hagan said.

Edthena has provided the ability for teachers to reflect on aspects of their teaching that they might not have seen before or would ever see. When watching video of the lessons they facilitate in classrooms, they have the ability to reflect on teaching practices and improve classroom instruction.

“By using Edthena, I am able to watch and rewatch lessons, pausing to think about strengths and areas of improvement for both myself and my students,” said Kelly Addington, 5th Grade Math Teacher at Longs Peak Middle School. “As a mentor teacher, I improve every time I watch video of someone else. I am constantly trying to grow and learn as an educator and peer observation allows me to borrow ideas from other teachers and implement them successfully into my own classroom.”

Edthena allows teachers to jump to specifically marked areas in a video to show students their performance, including verbal and non-verbal communication during group projects and presentations. “When students see their own behaviors, it helps clarify what they are doing well and where they need to improve within their group roles and responsibilities,” said Sherie Dike-Wilhelm a Literacy Teacher at Columbine Elementary. “Even with years of experience, and eyes in the back of my head, videos always capture information that I otherwise might have missed.”

Through SVVSD’s induction program, teaching and learning coaches assist new teachers by partnering them with a mentor. Teachers continue through coaching cycles, and video coaching is part of those cycles. Typically within one coaching cycle, they have recorded themselves a minimum of two times, and there is an opportunity for three to five videos to be passed back and forth between teachers. Mentors will ordinarily engage in three coaching cycles per year with new teachers.

“That’s just one cohort of teachers that use the tool. We also have teachers who are using it with a colleague to reflect on their own practice,” said Karen Smith, Teaching and Learning Coach for SVVSD. “People are initiating, and self-initiating as well, with other cohorts across the district.”

SVVSD also teaches professional development classes and have built a video requirement into those classes for the application of learning. “I have a classroom management class where teachers are required to video the implementation of certain strategies for their self-reflection,” Hagan said. “It’s really for them to reflect, and we guide them in reflecting. It’s an opportunity to take that learning and apply it to the classroom, and demonstrate learning through that.”

Teaching and learning coaches also pair the video observation protocol with other tools and resources across the district. They pair the video with a certain type of content and focus on a particular element of instruction. For example, they have a new math curricular adoption happening in every elementary classroom across the district. “Teachers now have the opportunity to pair video with this tool so that they can observe themselves teaching this program, and they can see what their instruction looks like with this tool,” Smith said.

A screenshot within Edthena’s app showing the commenting feature. Teachers share their videos with coaches and colleagues, who then provide timestamped comments. -Photo courtesy of St. Vrain School District

With the iPad app, malfunction has virtually become an obstacle of the past. Teachers, mentors, and coaches can re-record immediately afterward if an unfortunate mishap were to occur. “I had one video that didn’t work well, because when I was videotaping I put my hand over the microphone. There was this great video with no sound. Well, that was easy to fix, because that was user error. We knew right away it didn’t work,” Baker noted.

Although some school districts currently record teachers for the entire duration of a class, SVVSD does not have any future plans to do so. “That’s cumbersome. That almost makes it like, ‘I don’t have a choice. This is forced upon me, done to me as a gotcha.’ It’s our goal that we really want to shift the perception from gotcha to this is about you, this is about your own growth. That’s where it has to grow organically,” Smith said.

The camera isn’t always on the teacher during the video coaching session. Some of the best feedback teachers collect is when the camera is turned on the students to discover what they are learning. “We have to be responsive to where our students are in the world that they’re living in,” Smith said. “If I’m a high school teacher, I need to be responsive to that. I need to start learning about the tools that technology or that this iPad or that this phone has to offer. As an office of professional development, we need to be responsive to that as well. As the tools continue to evolve, our use of those tools evolves with that as well.”

Most parents can remember when they were students, when the principal or supervisor sat in on a class, watched quietly, and scribbled listlessly on a legal pad. That still happens. SVVSD’s biggest hope when they started video coaching four years ago was that teachers would get used to videotaping themselves to establish a habit that could be used throughout their entire career. “They did that on their own, and they didn’t have to wait for me to show up in their classroom,” Baker said.

SVVSD places confidence in the concept that video coaching has the power to help teachers accelerate their growth, as opposed to teachers that do not use video coaching. “It can be really, really empowering,” Lauer said. “Everybody wants to be the best that they can be. Video is something that surgeons use to reflect on their practice. Athletes use it, whether it’s basketball, or golf, or baseball. People, they watch their swing over, and over, and over again. They can tell if their shoulder is in the wrong place. They can tell by their stance. As education professionals as well, to be able to have that kind of technology to help ourselves improve is exciting. It is groundbreaking technology.”

Many teachers coming in from different universities and colleges already have experience videotaping themselves while teaching, as well as plenty of other teacher-prep programs. “As technology continues to evolve, so do the norms around using technology,” Smith said.

Educational technology has come full circle. It isn’t uncommon for students in college courses these days to sign in on their computer and interact in a virtual classroom setting with other students and teachers.

“Our memories fade. Video is concrete. It lasts,” Lauer said. “That doesn’t mean you want to videotape yourself every single day, all the time, but when you have a question and you are wondering. It’s just another eye that you can use to help you reflect.”

Confronting Hesitations About Video Coaching


(reposted from The Edthena Blog)

Diane Lauer oversees professional development for the St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado.

While Diane and her team were excited about the promise of how video coaching could enhance teacher support, they were nervous about how everyone would react to the new video-powered process.

She quickly found the hesitations erased as teachers started using Edthena. The teachers quickly developed habits of a collaborative community and showed enthusiasm for sharing their practice.

Most people believe in the power of video coaching but worry about push-back during the adoption process. What was the process like for you?

Because we have run a face-to-face coaching program for so long, the shift to video coaching created some cognitive dissonance.

Would video coaching affect the relationships we build with our teachers? Would teachers balk at recording themselves teach and be upset with us? Would we as coaches spend less time with teachers?

Instead of negatively affecting our relationships with teachers, the adoption of video reflectionstrengthened our coaching work.

Our coaches have noticed that video reflection provides time for teachers to process and identify areas of success and growth. And so when they do connect with their coach face-to-face, teachers are more primed for deep conversations regarding their practice.

And what about developing the technical ability needed to to use video?

There were definitely questions about our own tech-skillfulness and if we would be able to use the platform effectively. But the technical issues were much less problematic than we thought.

We did learn a few important things along the way, like checking the amount of memory in your device before recording! But generally, those with less skillfulness stepped up to the plate, and partnered with others who could assist them until they got it.

The benefit of using the video evidence as a third point in coaching conversations far outweighs any tech-hurdle.

Can you share an example of the type of personalized coaching you’re able to undertake using Edthena?

This year we had one of our coach-coachee combos focus on transition time between when the bell rang and when students actually got to work.

They used video to capture evidence of student behavior, and then they used time stamping features in Edthena to measure it.

Together the coach and the teacher worked to decrease wasted learning time and solidify what engagement really looks like.

Were there any moments of surprise about how teachers were using Edthena this year?

Our professional learning coaches have noticed that teachers are viewing other teachers’ videos even before they are “told to do so.” And then they’re implementing changes almost immediately into their classroom practice.

In a recent learning cycle one of our coaches led on questioning strategies, one teacher commented that she was so impressed with the strategy she saw in her peer’s video that she incorporated his idea into her own recorded-video lesson for that learning cycle.

St. Vrain Valley SchoolsThere’s a lot of talk in PD about the importance of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to increase teacher collaboration.  How is Edthena helping you achieve this goal?

We know that even veteran teachers feel isolated and wish they had more time to see their colleagues’ classrooms. But our schedules make it hard to do that. And the district is also quite large — nearly 400 sq. miles.

We have found that our teachers love watching and annotating their peers’ videos.

By giving teachers a tool like Edthena to connect with each other and share what is happening in their space, this creates a real strong sense of community, which is important for an educator.

Reflecting on the experience this past year, how are you thinking about video coaching in the district going forward?

What we’ve found is that teachers appreciate watching both themselves and their peers in action. It helps generate ideas. It helps move abstract theory to concrete conceptualizations.

At the same time, incorporating video in professional development creates opportunities for “flipped” professional development, and increases the opportunity to differentiate and enrich learning.

Coaches and mentors have provided rich face-to-face feedback for years in our district.

Now with Edthena, the observation and feedback process has been accelerated, and teachers are developing a system to support their own growth through individual reflection and participation in communities of practice.

How peer video coaching is completely changing how our teachers teach

IMG_2624 (3)Peer-to-peer video comments are changing how our teachers think about their practice

*reprinted from eSchoolnews

A new era of professional development is sweeping into districts across the country, and just in time. For many districts, the days of after-school PowerPoint-driven lectures not differentiated by content, expertise, grade-level or delivery, not to mention daylong workshops on an obsolete topic, have recently given way to face-to-face coaching programs and professional learning communities. And in St. Vrain Valley School District, where we serve 32,000 students in seven towns northwest of Denver, we’ve gone one step further.

We’ve augmented our professional development program with an online video coaching platform for classroom observation through one-on-one coaching and collaborative study teams. As one of nine exemplar districts designated by the U.S. Department of Education to be “Future Ready,” the integration of video coaching is an extension of our pledge to empower educators through personalized learning. But our decision also created some cognitive dissonance as we migrated to video coaching.

Hard questions lead to the right answer

While our PD coaching team was excited by the promise of video coaching enhancing teacher support, we were cautious in implementing the new video-powered process. Would video coaching effectively build upon the quality relationships we hold so dear with our teachers? Would the time involved tip the balance for those who are already stretched too thin? Would teachers benefit from the process in noticeable ways? We found that the adoption of the Edthena online video coaching and reflection platform not only strengthened our district coaching program, but our school-based collaborative learning programs as well.

Developed by a former certified science teacher and principal, the platform helps schools and districts implement video observation in many scenarios, including teacher induction, teacher mentoring, professional learning communities (PLCs), and peer observation. Teachers using the platform analyze their instructional practice through recorded video and online collaboration tools. They upload videos of classroom instruction and share with colleagues who provide time-synced comments.

The company just launched a new iOS app, which makes it possible to have a video uploaded before the class period is finished. Since our teachers and students each have access to iPad minis as part of our district plan to transform learning through robust technology-enriched learning environments, providing a video coaching tool they can use with their iPad minis really empowers teachers to own the observation and reflection process. That, in turn, accelerates the rate at which teachers implement changes to improve their craft because they can now upload videos of classroom instruction directly from mobile devices.

A picture IS worth 1,000 words

Teachers really appreciate watching themselves and their peers in action. It’s powerful. It helps to generate ideas of how to teach concepts in new and engaging ways. And it instantly moves abstract theory into concrete conceptualizations. It also offers them the opportunity for pure, personal reflection because they can see themselves in action, acknowledging their strengths and identifying where they need to grow. As I’ve told my team, video = data. When our teachers and their coach connect face-to-face, the teachers are primed for deep conversations that incorporate concrete examples. And that’s beneficial for both veteran teachers and new hires.

For example, this year, one coach and teacher focused on the transition time between when the class bell rang and when learners actually got to work. They used the video to capture evidence of student behavior, and then they used the time-stamping feature in Edthena to measure it. Together, the coach and the teacher worked to decrease wasted learning time and clarify what engagement really looks like.

We also documented a case where a reflection from classroom observation raised questions relative to the ratio of positive interactions with students. The teacher thought she was providing a high ratio of positive interactions, but she couldn’t recall concrete examples. So the coach invited the teacher to video her instruction to note the positive engagements on her own. Even before the coach returned the following week, the teacher set a goal for herself for a 5:1 positive to negative student interactions each day and began changing her practice. Again, video = data.

The fact that the online video coaching accelerated the pace of the professional development cycle even before the coach returned to the classroom was an important discovery for our PD coaches. Our teachers no longer had to wait until our next scheduled coaching conversation to reflect or plan a new goal. We started thinking about how we could empower teachers to drive their own learning and continuous growth with us as their guide on the side.

Moving forward

As you contemplate your staff development for this year and beyond, consider the options available to you that empower teachers and accelerate their growth. How might you leverage a more differentiated, participant-driven professional sharing via 21st century technologies that specifically allow educators to curate, create, and collaborate amongst themselves quickly and conveniently on the things that matter to them personally?

We are on the cusp of a revolution in professional development. As instructional leaders we are uniquely positioned to harness today’s tools to provide rich self-generated and peer-to-peer learning without the constraints of geography and time. If we want 21st century learners in our classrooms, shouldn’t we embrace 21st century learning to foster professional growth?

On the ground learning at the foot of the great masters

During Thanksgiving Break my husband and I went to Spain. Barcelona and Madrid, to be exact. It was a glorious trip of a lifetime filled with wine, jamón, more wine and exuberant, heart-wrenching, fanciful as well as curious art. For eight days we toured one museum a day and on some days we toured two. I felt so lucky to be paired up with a man that loves a good museum as much as I do. It’s in our blood, we were taught to love museums and the masters of great art.

Outside el Prado. Madrid.
Outside el Prado en Madrid. Preparing to for a day of learning, focusing on el Greco, one of Spain’s greatest masters.

And everywhere we went there were school children out for a day of learning, sitting at the foot of great masters with their teachers explaining the symbolism, the history, the techniques of the great masters. Asking students over and over, “What do you see? What do you notice? What does this make you consider and think about?” 

One of my favorite stories told by my husband Jerry is his 6th grade trip to the museums of Chicago. Jerry was raised in Jackson, Michigan (a city not known for great museums) and back in the 70’s his 6th grade teacher decided that his students needed to go to Chicago to understand and appreciate great art, culture and learning. They raised money all year and they got tickets to take the train down to Chicago, stay in a hotel and for one entire week of the school year, the teacher, some parent chaperones and a class of twenty-six 6th graders were on the ground learning at the foot of great masters.

at la Reina Sofia, Spain's national museum of 20th-century art.
Reina Sofia, Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. I’m completely spoiled when it comes to museums. Every year I would go with my class mates and on separate family occasions to the Art Institute, Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and sometimes the smaller lesser known museums like the Chicago History Museum or the DuSable Museum of African American History. I really thought everyone visited museums on a regular basis.

I was wrong.

Everyone doesn’t have access to museums. Great museums, truly great museums, are located near the fortunate few who live in large metropolitan areas. I learned this when I moved to New Mexico when I started teaching and I asked my students where they wanted to go on their 8th grade field trip. They said “the shopping mall” with unrestrained excitement and glee. I remember thinking, what kind of teacher would take her students to the shopping mall? But, when you live an hour and half away from Albuquerque and you don’t go to the mall every weekend and weeknight to hang out and know what it’s like to do that, the mall seems a special place.

So, you take the kids to the mall and you squeeze in a trip to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. And the following year, you take that group to Santa Fe for a trip to the mall and also New Mexico Museum of Art.  But, that was over twenty years ago when I started teaching.

Spending time in Spain during the holiday seeing hundreds of students visit the museums made me wonder about education in our country.

Studying surrealism at la Reina Sofia.
Studying surrealism at la Reina Sofia.

I know my last few years in the classroom my team mates and I were questioning our yearly trip to Denver to visit its museums. We didn’t know if we should take the time away from learning the curriculum that would be assessed on the state tests. I know many of my colleagues in education wrestle with these same questions today. “Maybe we can take one day,” we reason, “if we can find the money to pay for the buses and the entrance fees and the nurse who needs to come with, and the parents.”

It’s not easy planning field trips. It’s very, very, very complicated. Finding chaperones, organizing time schedules, orchestrating bus logistics, coordinating student medications and student accessibility needs. It can take weeks of planning for one day.

But what an important day. 

guernicaI studied Spanish for 6 years in school, from 7th to 12th grade I took it and in every textbook, in the section on Spanish culture, there would be a picture of Picasso’s Guernica.

It was hard to understand the significance of Guernica. There would be pictures of melting clocks and swirling dots of Salvidor Dali and Joan Miro and flowers and Frida with her big eyebrows in the textbook. But it was Guernica who would make Señora Arispe tear up. It was Guernica she said moved a country. None of us really understood the terror of Franco and how glorious the feeling was in Spain during the 80’s; finally free from dictatorship and inhumane government induced suffering.

But, for six years I learned that this work of art was important and so when I travelled to Spain and saw it huge and in person for the first time, with the maturity of an adult finally able to comprehend the suffering of the Spanish people through the world wars, their civil war, and their hundred year fight for democracy, I was struck with blinding gratefulness that I had been taught to appreciate and revere this work of art as an American teenager in the hope that one day, I would understand the lesson of humanity and the fragility of our collective presence on this earth.

I wonder now if anything I ever taught in the classroom made such an impression on my students. One that so when they grew up, they remembered learning that something was so important, that even if they didn’t fully understand the significance at the time, had an opportunity to do so as an adult.

Seeing the students in Spain sitting on the floor of great museums, learning from their teachers makes me wish we never stop to take the time to provide our students with the knowledge of critical works of cultural importance in museums, in textbooks, and in our classrooms. It’s important.

A Proposition for Expanded Entrepreneurial Experience

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. ~ Mark Twain

As I scroll through my Twitter and RSS feeds, a single day does not go by where I do not  see a headline about the enormous social and intellectual benefits of entrepreneurship in education.

The STEM movement’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been a positive innovation for our field. The addition of “design thinking” to our educational mindset has resulted in increased opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurialism in our educational settings. Design thinking helps us process authentic problems for our students to solve, opportunities for creative thinking to evolve and productive collaboration in any subject matter content.

We have actively endeavored to integrate entrepreneurial thinking in many of our classrooms, but where are we giving students the opportunity to truly BE entrepreneurs?  That is the question I have been wrestling with as a P-12 education leader.

Can We Teach Students to Be Entrepreneurs?

Angus Chen explains Why the Typical Business School Class Can Never Teach You to Be an Entrepreneur. He says colleges and universities are facing what many would say is a potentially unsolvable problem. They’re trying to train the next crop of entrepreneurs through programs and coursework that just won’t be enough to really teach someone how to be an entrepreneur.

People like Victor Hwang, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, claim there’s just no replacement for real world experience. The only way to become an entrepreneur is to go out and do it.

A recent Gallup poll suggests that many students in the U.S. have entrepreneurial aspirations and energy that could help drive future job creation in the country. Nearly 8 in 10 students (77%) in grades 5 through 12 say they want to be their own boss, 45% say they plan to start their own business, and 42% say they will invent something that changes the world.

Despite their energy and ambitions, the Gallup-HOPE Index findings suggest many students are not accessing the education and work experience they need to help achieve their goals. Few report getting the type of practical knowledge and experiences that they believe will be useful once they are in the workforce.

It’s time to intentionally provide our students opportunities to actively engage entrepreneurial experience and refine our current high school business and marketing classes to ensure what our students are learning is reflective of best business practice.

Using Lean Start Up Methodology in High School Entrepreneurship Courses

According to Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of all business start-ups fail. Author Steve Blank for the Harvard Business Review thinks the old game of “hit and miss” may finally have a a new twist. He believes the Lean Start Up methodology is a game-changer and it is starting to turn conventional wisdom about entrepreneurialism on its head.

Recently an important countervailing force has emerged, one that can make the process of starting a company less risky. It’s a methodology called the “lean start-up,” and it favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development. Although the methodology is just a few years old, its concepts—such as “minimum viable product” and “pivoting”—have quickly taken root in the start-up world, and business schools have already begun adapting their curricula to teach them.

According to Eric Ries, founder of the Lean Start Up methodology, “Startup success can be engineered by following the process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing business startups and in order to get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.

Business leaders in the Chicago suburb of Barrington worked with the educator leaders in Barrington High School to develop a new course called Business Incubator Start Up. This course was purposefully developed to get students excited about becoming entrepreneurs. Students enrolled in the class will have the opportunity to create and fully develop their own product or service. Real-world entrepreneurs and business experts will serve as coaches and mentors guiding student teams through the process of ideation, market research, and business plan development.

Over the course of the year, student teams will learn about marketing, accounting, human resources, as well as the legal aspects of running a business to get them geared up for Pitch Week. Pitch Week helps to further fire the entrepreneurial spirit by putting student teams in front of actual investors to pitch their innovative idea and possibly win funding to turn their business plans into reality during the summer and following school year.

Watch this video describing Barrington’s approach to engaging their students in the authentic entrepreneurial learning:

Should We Provide Programs to Teach Students How to Be Entrepreneurs?

According to Startup Colorado, a regional consortium of entrepreneurs who share a vision of expanding entrepreneurship along the Front Range is shaping up to be a true entrepreneurial powerhouse. Sasha Galbraith warns in a recent article for Forbes Magazine, “Watch Out Silicon Valley! Colorado Primed to Emerge as the Next Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Burt Helm describes in his INC. article How Boulder Became America’s Startup Capital.

Colorado universities have stepped up and revised their courses and departments to provide their students with top notch access to innovative business education programming. Many universities have developed partnerships with businesses to spark innovation and entrepreneurship, like Colorado State University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship which teamed up with Blue Ocean Enterprises to create Venture Fest and Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge to ignite entrepreneurial spirits, attract and recognize the best new business ideas, and celebrate the Fort Collins and Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem.

But, innovation and interest in entrepreneurial learning isn’t merely a fascination in the USA. Entrepreneurship education is increasingly promoted in Europe, according to a new report published by the European Commission. Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Wales and the Flemish part of Belgium have all outlined national strategies to promote entrepreneurship education, while Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey have recently included it as part of their national lifelong learning, youth or growth strategies. Currently, 50% of European countries are involved in a process of national education reforms which include the strengthening of entrepreneurship education in their public school systems.

The time is now to critically review the opportunities available in our schools to ensure that students have access to top notch entrepreneurial learning experiences, ones that engage them with local mentors and subject matter experts, and give them the chance to take healthy learning risks while they are in the supportive environment of their schools and local communities.

Let’s give our students a chance to showcase their skills and talents on the entrepreneurial environment!

LHS DECA Award Winners
Loveland High School DECA Winners pose with their championship medals at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs

Next Generation Literacy Assessments – Are You Ready Middle Grades?

Over the past year, educators in Colorado have been fine tuning their curriculum and instruction to the new literacy standards published by the Common Core State Standards initiative (CCSS) which were adopted by our Colorado Department of Education. Academic specialists have identified 6 Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards in Literacy.

6 Pedagogical Shifts

Click on the image to enlarge.

These six shifts generalize the overall differences between our old set of learning expectations, and the new learning expectations for students.  The chart above was captured from EngageNY, a New York State side dedicated to assisting educators with the transition to the Common Core and the new Educator Effectiveness agenda.

Viewing the Common Core in PARCC’s Eyes

Now, we have another resource to align our schema, the Model Content Frameworks created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  In August, our state department of education announced that we would use the next generation literacy and math assessments created by the PARCC consortia beginning most likely during the 2014-15 school year. The PARCC Model Content Frameworks provide an exceptional overview of what middle level students need to know, understand, and be able to do.

Try this:

Open the grade level document of your choice in either 6th, 7th or 8th grade. While reading, and underline passages within the PARCC Model Content Frameworks that indicate evidence for one or more of the six pedagogical shifts. For example, while reading the 6th Grade Model Content Frameworks, I underlined this portion of text, “The balance of student writing at this level is 70 percent analytical (35 percent argument and 35 percent to explain/inform) and 30 percent narrative, with a mix of on-demand and review-and-revision writing assignments.”  I believe this statement is an example of Shift 1, balancing informational and literary texts.

What do you notice about the learning expectations in the grade level you examined? Did you identify areas where increased text complexity is expected? Did you see evidence of the importance of academic vocabulary? Did you notice how students will need to use text based evidence to support their thinking?

Infusing Best Practices from the Literacy Design Collaborative

Several Colorado districts have been integrating the strategies developed by the Literacy Design Collaborative.  These strategies are posted on an emerging resource curated by ASCD called EduCore.  The funding for our training was acquired by the Colorado Legacy Foundation. In 2011, the Colorado Legacy Foundation won a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to implement the Literacy Design Collaborative training in select districts to support their efforts in our state’s educator effectiveness agenda.

Watch this Video on Rethinking Literacy

Click on the image to go to the EduCore site to watch this video

The LDC work is many faceted

The scope of the LDC work is the Module.  A module is a specific unit of learning designed around targeted Common Core standards.  Teachers of English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Other Technical Subjects are taught how to center their instruction around an outcome expectation called a Performance Task.

The heart of the LDC Module is the Performance Task. The LDC has created a simple formula to assist teachers in designing strategically aligned performance tasks with the Common Core literacy standards, most especially in the areas of accessing grade level appropriate text and producing products of thinking/writing in the areas of argument, information, and narrative.  They have created a menu of Performance Task Templates that can be modified and used in multiple situations in all types of content areas.  Let’s look at the Argumentation Template Tasks to get an idea of what how the templates work. 

A Template Task for Argumentation

Click on the image to enlarge  The LDC Performance Template Tasks provide a structure so that teachers can easily create their own tasks aligned to different student learning expectations. Notice the blanks, those were intentionally created to allow flexibility for teacher design.  These template can be used in multiple situations in different content areas. The LDC has designed:

  • 10 different Template Tasks  to support the Argumentation expectations 
  • 15 different Template Tasks to support Explanatory/Informational expectations
  • 4 Template Tasks to support the Narrative expectations.

They have also created rubrics aligned with each of the three types of tasks: Argument, Explanatory/Informational, and Narrative.

To access all of the LDC Performance Template Tasks and Rubrics click here.
To watch videos to learn how to use the LDC Performance Template Tasks, click here.
To review sample teaching  Modules in Argumentation, click here.

Are you Ready for the Next Generation Assessments?

Likely, you are more ready than you thought.  But, to continue your preparation:

  1. Take some time to review the 6 Pedagogical Shifts and begin making the shift in your own teaching
  2. Review the LDC Template Tasks, and use them as a skeleton for your own student task development
  3. Seek out additional support from the multitude of sources online and experts in your own vicinity.

eTextiles Project Increases STEM Access for Girls

Computer science in the United States is an overwhelmingly male discipline. Many of the the crucial factors in this gender imbalance are cultural; that is, the culture that has grown up around computer science has a variety of attributes that appeal more to males than females.

How can we introduce more girls to computer programming?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the University of Colorado at Boulder, proposed a project to introduce computer programming through e-Textiles. Thompson School District is one of the educational institutions benefitting from this grant through the generosity and direction of the National Center for Women and Technology (NCWIT) and support from Intel, University of Colorado-Boulder and the National Science Foundation.

E-textiles, also known as electronic textiles, are fabrics that enable digital components, small computers, and electronics to be embedded in them. Many intelligent clothingsmart clothingwearable technology, and wearable computing projects involve the use of e-textiles.

Electronic textiles are distinct from wearable computing because emphasis is placed on the integration of fabrics with electronic elements like microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators. Furthermore, e-textiles need not be wearable. For example, e-Textiles are also found in craft-making, quilting, toys, and interior design.

Strengthening STEM in our Middle Schools

The Design Cycle 2

All five Thompson School District middle school Family and Consumer Studies teachers engaged in a two-day training to increase access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in their typically girl-dominated classrooms. Each will pilot the e-Textiles project with their students this fall.

This curriculum module will engage students in the engineering design cycle. Students will go through the different stages of this process: investigate, design, plan, create, and evaluate. They will learn the skills to produce two e-Textiles products: a bookmark and a stuffed “monster“.  Important learning concepts will be the electronic science behind the circuitry and computer components. Students will learn visual programming skills using the Arduino programming language in order to use LilyPad Arduino  toolkit.

Teachers as Learners

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Jami Robinson (Conrad Ball Middle School) creates a bookmark using the LilyPad Arduino e-Textile computer component

The e-Textiles Pilot Project allowed our Thompson teachers to be learners, too.  About 50% of our teacher participants had previous computer programming skills.  For the other half of the group, learning to code was a brand new skill. On the first day of the training, each teacher participant designed and produced a eTextile bookmark using felt, conductive thread, glue, LED lights, a laptop for programming and a LilyPad Arduino computer chip.

Each teacher used this as an opportunity to experience the design process as learners in their classrooms would.  On the second day of the training, the teachers created a “monster” following the process that their students would in their classrooms. They conceptualized a design, created the product, wrote the programming code to light up their monsters and add a musical component as well.

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Tara Olivas (Turner Middle School) designs her LilyPad Arduino bookmark

After each lesson, the teachers debriefed the learning process with NCWIT facilitator, Stephanie Weber, in order to conceptualize how the lesson would unfold in their classrooms with 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.

The Thompson teachers predict their students will really enjoy this project.  It will give them a chance to personalize their learning and express their individual, creative side. It will also give them an engaging context for integrating the use of computer programming and make connections to the world of computer engineering.  Hopefully, through this project more students will have access to STEM-focused career pathways. It’s vitally important for us to find opportunities to engage students and interest them in these areas.


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Stephanie Richards (Walt Clark Middle School) shows her creativity in her light up bookmark.

6,000 Students Participate in ‘Hour of Code’

Namaqua student engaging in an "Hour of Code" during Computer Science Education Week
Namaqua student engaging in an “Hour of Code” during Computer Science Education Week

Monday, December 9, more than 30,000 schools around the globe will dedicate at least one hour during this week to teach students computer programming coding skills during Computer Science Education Week.  Over 6,000 students in the Thompson school district will be participating!


“Computer programmers are in great demand by American businesses, across the tech sector, banking, entertainment, you name it. These are some of the highest-paying jobs, but there are not enough graduates to fill these opportunities.” Marco Rubio, Senator, Florida

Computer science is driving job growth and innovation throughout our economy. More than 50% of projected jobs in STEM fields are in computing occupations. Despite this, computer science education is a not a focus within the typical American K-12 education system. In fact, only 13 states and the District of Columbia allow rigorous and engaging computer science courses to satisfy a math or science requirement for graduation from high school. Colorado is not one of them. However in Thompson, we are working to increase access to this important skill.

Principals, teachers and technology facilitators across the Thompson School District are taking up the challenge to get their students involved in the national effort to raise computer programming awareness.  The following schools in Thompson are participating in an Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week December 9-15:

  • B.F. Kitchen Elementary (200 students participating)
  • Berthoud Elementary School (300 students participating)
  • Big Thompson Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Bill Reed Middle School (700 students participating)
  • Centennial Elementary School (500 students participating)
  • Conrad Ball Middle School (651 students participating)
  • Cottonwood Plains Elementary (412 students participating)
  • Coyote Ridge Elementary School (400 students participating)
  • Ivy Stockwell Elementary (350 students participating)
  • Laurene Edmondson Elementary School (257 students participating)
  • Lincoln Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Loveland High School (100 students participating)
  • Mary Blair Elementary School (75 students participating)
  • Monroe Elementary (300 students participating)
  • Ponderosa Elementary (400 students participating)
  • Namaqua Elementary School (400 students participating)
  • Stansberry Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Turner Middle School (60 students participating)
  • Truscott Elementary (250 students participating)
  • Van Buren Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Winona Elementary School (400 students participating)
Kindergarteners learning to code at Winona Elementary.
Kindergarteners learning to code at Winona Elementary.

Next Steps for Thompson

This year, K-5 Technology Facilitators are increasing their knowledge of computer programming and the developmentally appropriate activities elementary students can engage in to increase their ability to code.

Next year, all of Thompson elementary students in grade K-5 will engage in units of study to learn to code in age appropriate ways. This will be integrated into their Computer Literacy classes of which they are enrolled for two days a week throughout the year.  Additional skills students learn in Computer Literacy class include, but are not limited to keyboarding, word processing, multimedia production, and research.

Furthermore, at the secondary level, students electing to take Computer Literacy classes at the middle school and high school level will have additional courses to select to increase their access to computer programming.

New Colorado Science Standards Earn a “D”

D is for Disappointing.

This January, the Thomas Fordham Institute reviewed science standards in all 50 state.  The majority of states earned Ds or Fs with only 6 states and jurisdictions receiving A’s.

Colorado was rated right there in the middle of the pack with a D.

What is surprising to me is that the reviewers analyzed Colorado’s new academic standards released in December, 2009.   At first I thought, “Oh, they must have looked at the old ones.”  But, no – they did review the new ones.

The Colorado Review starts a little cocky, as the authors poke fun at what they believe is a “mistranslation” in the opening document of renowned French mathematician Henri Poincaré’s famous.aphorism: “On fait la science aver des faits, comme une mason aver des piers, maps une accumulation de faits n’est pas plus une science qu’un has de piers n’est une maison.”

And, they score the standards with a 3 out of 10 total points.

  • Content & Rigor 2.3
  • Scientific Inquiry & Methodology 7
  • Physical Science 3
  • Physics 0
  • Chemistry 0
  • Earth & Space Science 1
  •  Life Science 3
  • Clarity & Specificity 0.8

Basically, the low scores come from a lack of content rigor.

The material presented suffers from a serious lack of clarity, depth, and sufficient content. The standards have  a frustrating tendency to string together numerous properties without explanation.

If there was an area that was well received, it was the components of scientific inquiry and methodology.  Hurray!

Not knowing if the Fordham Institute is connected to the national movement to create Next Generation Science Standards, this report is either  extraordinarily well timed – or planned. Most folks in curriculum know that The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve have embarked upon a plan to develop the Next Generation Science Standards.  These standards are scheduled to be released in the Fall of 2012 and Colorado will likely use these standards to revise their new academic standards in science.

What does this mean if you are a school or district aligning your standards to the new Colorado Academic Standards? Well if you are like us we are spending time analyzing the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas which as released by the National Research Council (NRC) in July 2011.  This framework identifies the key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school.  It will serve as the foundation for new K-12 science Next Generation Science standards.

Want to know more?  Watch this webinar on Making the Transition to Scientific and Engineering Practices: Visiting the Potential of the Next Generation Science Standards that was run on October 25, 2011 and is archived.

Obama Seeks to Cut NAEP – Change Benchmark to PISA

Is the latest move to cut  NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a key measure of U.S. student achievement just a little bit of out with the old and in with the new?  I don’t think so. This move is follows a consistent pattern articulated in the Obama vision of elevating education to global achievement standards.  Can you say Common Core? Our new math and English Language Arts standards aligned to global academic outcomes.

EdWeek reports that the $6 million NAEP cut will be replaced with a pilot program for states to benchmark the performance of our American 15-year-olds against the PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment.  The PISA compares students around the world on what is considered a more rigorous assessment than our NAEP or our current swath of state assessments.

States interested in being part of the pilot will need to “invest” some of their own funds to participate.  Just $600,000 will get a state a seat at the table.  I wonder if the Colorado legislature will sign up…