teaching

Do you want to form an alliance with me?

In March of 2010, I wrote a blog post that ended up connecting me and amplifying good in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, the title of that post: Do you want-to form an alliance-with me? (Best when spoken like Dwight’s character in the TV show the Office…American version).

https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/10a0aa37-f334-436c-9e70-eaec5c97266e?autoplay=false  Anyway, it was this blog post that originally showed me the power of connection. This bloggers alliance introduced me to some of my very best education friends around the world. The alliance is the reason I fell in love with inquiry, the reason that I was able to see education from new vantage points. It made 2010 an exceptional year of growth and learning. Today, I invite you to start a new alliance with me, allow me to explain below (Originally posted on KT’s Blog):

 

SMLXL

It was 2010, when I first saw “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson on YouTube. Soon after, I’d read his book by the same title. For me, this video will always be titled “When Hunches Collide,” because it is this idea that has so resonated with me. It was this moment of pivot when I recognized the power of collective intelligence. In school we learn about a lot of incredible characters in history. Inventors, explorers, accidental geniuses. All of their stories are told as if they are in a vacuum. They seem super human, like they possess something spectacular, and rare. With this video was the recognition that nothing happens in isolation, rather, it is when ideas have the opportunity to collide with other ideas that big things happen. Innovation isn’t about solo genius, it’s about collective genius.
I saw this first hand following this blog post “When Hunches Collide.” Inviting others to dream with me, voicing the impossible suddenly made it possible. Collisions started happening regularly and suddenly it felt like everything was connecting. Starting a school wasn’t something that I thought I would do. I didn’t have the resources, the experience, the courage. But when you put your ideas out there, when you invite the collision of ideas, things suddenly feel more doable. A tribe rallies, makes you believe in impossible things. A year after writing this post about hunches colliding, I was months into running a school that I founded. I was seeing my dream realized. I was seeing that innovation is actually collective problem solving with those in my tribe adding their unique experience and point of view. Injecting honesty into my dreaming.
In the day-to-day of running a school, things become much more practical, much more one-foot-in-front-of-another. I find myself doing the things that must be done and my dreaming becomes much more localized. In the summer months, I have a different cadence to my days. My to-do list is as long as ever, but the different pace gives me the room to let my mind wander, read the book that I’ve been inching through at a better pace. Each year, I start a new notebook. A “common place” book where I write down quotes I come across that I want to remember, take notes on the books I am reading, and let my mind wander. These notebooks are always at the ready. As I was writing some quotes and thoughts in this year’s notebook, it struck me that I don’t often go back through the notebooks and re-read my thoughts. I guess I just like knowing they are there if I need them. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading through my notebooks from the last 6 years (back to the start of Anastasis). All of those things that inspired me along the way were once again packing a powerful punch. How could I have captured all of this and not gone back to remember?!
It was through this process that the idea for KT’s Place was born. I needed to unleash some of these ideas, give them space where the hunches that I was having could collide. I wanted a place where I could extend the invitation to solve problems together. A place where your gifts, and talents, and worldview could collide with mine and others. A place where I remember that I shouldn’t expect to do any of this in a vacuum. Know that this is a place of willful naivete. This is a place where I am choosing to close my eyes to the thought that these dreams are impossible. I’m impatient to see dreams realized (mine and yours!). When we work together, possibility exists that did not exist before. That is powerful!
I believe that:
  • We are better/stronger/braver together than apart.
  • We all have unique gifts, experiences, and worldview that offer important perspective and nuance when they come together.
  • We can work together to spread and amplify good.
  • People who know who they are and living ‘in flow’ are the happiest and most fulfilled in life.
  • Sharing > Hoarding/Hiding
  • We should have a bias toward action.
  • My skills are limited.
  • More beauty and good should exist in our world.
  • We are better served sharing ideas than protecting them.

 

There is nothing really special about KT’s Place, I’m just setting the stage where we can unleash our collective genius around common problems. So, there you go. That is what this site is all about, sharing crazy ideas and giving them a public place where they can collide with your genius. I’ll start blogging here about each of the projects listed, give you the back story to the idea, the inspiration that is spurring me on along the way. Each will come with an invitation for you, what do you have to contribute? Who might you know that I should know? You certainly don’t have to wait for these posts to add your 2cents, this is a place where you can contribute ALL the time!
Additionally, if KT’s Place, or one of my hunches has inspired something you are working on, or you have a totally new hunch of your own that you would like to open to collisions, let me know and I’ll share it on the “Fellow Dreamers” page.
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In defense of humanity: what we value

Perhaps the most disheartening outcome of the systematization of education is the way that it dehumanizes classrooms. Emboldened by being ‘the best,’ our education system has become blinded to the individual. The student-with-a-name. We’ve exploited our students for bragging rights of having a top performing school. The best test scores. Better than the others. Sometimes we even manage to convince ourselves that aiming for high-test scores is a noble goal. That it will make our country strong.

That, as a result, our students will be relevant in a global economy.

We’ve justified our actions for so long and sold each other on the idea that higher standards, more accountability (read testing), more ‘rigor’ will bring success, make us happy.

All the while we lose.

Lose ourselves, our identity, our uniqueness, our voice.

May we, as educators, stand up and defend the humanity in our classrooms!

We need the audacity to step outside of a system that forgets the individual. The student-with-a-name. To leave the perceived comfort of false/forced/misguided data that convinces us on paper that we are doing it right.

What is it that we value?

Are we really willing to trade meaning for the perception of being collectively ‘the best’ because the test says so?

What if learning as a human endeavor is too big and beautiful to fit into the tiny, meaningless data battles we insist on?

Don’t get me wrong, I deeply believe that the initiatives that call for increased accountability, higher standards, and additional data collection come from the right place of doing right by kids. Of making education more equitable for all. But the goal is wrong. We can’t focus first on numbers and being competitive on global tests.

Ignoring who a child is misses the core of what education must be about.

These initiatives and education movements are culpable in forgetting and overlooking that we are actually teaching individuals who have names. We’ve lost the plot in education and made it about competition (whether we’ll own up to that, or not).

Who a child is, is the core of what education must be about. Recognizing that the population is made up of individuals, unique in the whole of history, who have something important to offer the world. By truly honoring that humanity of the individual, we can collaborate with the rest of the world in such a way that collectively we can solve the problems of today.

Shifting education so systemically can feel overwhelming, impossible even, but it is up to each of us to decide that it is going to be different. It is up to us to uphold humanity, to recognize the individual, the student-with-a-name.

The good news: you don’t need permission to do this. Honestly, you don’t! The first step to restoring humanity is to decide that you are going to value the individuals that make up your class, your school, above all else. Commit that they won’t become numbers, scores, or data points.

Decision made?

Good.

Where do you start? By getting to know your students-with-names.

At Anastasis Academy, we’ve decided that above all else, we will value the identity of all of our students. Because this is a core value, we’ve built it into our school year. Before our first day of school, we hold two days that we call “Learner Profile Days.” Parents sign their child up for a one hour, one-on-one conference between the student and teacher. During this hour, our teacher’s job is to get to know the student. We ask a host of questions that inevitably come with nuance and supporting stories. Then the kids interact with Learning Genome card sets to identify their learning style preferences, their multiple intelligence strengths, and their brain dominance. The result is a Learner Profile.

Learning Genome Card Set

This profile is our starting point for every decision we make. When you begin the year this way, it is impossible to think of students as data points. When you listen to their stories, you learn their feelings, and experiences, and values, and habits of mind, and gain a picture of who they are.

You can do this, you can make the decision to take time out of your first weeks of school and gain a picture of who your students are. What do you value?

The anatomy of a Learner Profile:

 

Anatomy of a Learner Profile

Student Name- In the whole of history, there has never been another one just like them. With this name comes unique gifts, passions, and a vantage point on the world. With this name comes unique genius all their own. The student name is a bold reminder of the identity.

Interests/Passions- This is where we begin to learn about student passions, their likes and dislikes, their hurts, and the things that make them feel alive. In this one-on-one interview, we hear stories, often these questions will lead students down a thought trail that gives us insight.

Learning Style Preference- Learning Style preferences do not indicate that this is the only modality that the student can learn with; however, when we know the preferences that a student has we can make better decisions about introducing new learning. We discover Learning Style Preferences through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Learning Styles

Multiple Intelligence Strengths- Howard Garner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences details eight distinct intelligences. All learners have the capacity to learn and understand in a variety of ways, each learner differs in their strengths of these intelligences. Discovering a students unique mixture of strengths allows us to better direct students in learning and curiosity. We discover Multiple Intelligence Strengths through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Multiple Intelligence Strengths

Brain Dominance- Learning about a student’s preference in brain dominance allows us to make better decisions about how we design our classroom, how we design learning experiences, and how students will approach learning and assessment. We discover Brain Dominance through the Learning Genome Card Set.

Learning Genome Card Set: Brain Dominance

 Strengths Finder- This is where we gain insight into our students strengths and the way passion can collide with learning experiences. We use Thrively.

School is so much more than learning all the right things

The first question that I get asked when people find out that I’ve started a school: what makes Anastasis Academy different? And this is a tricky one to answer, because the truth is EVERYTHING makes us different. It’s hard to describe something that no one has seen before, so you begin to relate it with ideas and concepts that people are familiar with. The more I’ve talked about Anastasis, the more I’ve begun to really recognize what it is at the heart that makes us so different. It is our starting point and driving force: students-with-names.

That may seem like a strange comment to make, “students-with-names,” because, of course they have names! But in education, we make a lot of decisions without these specific students-with-names in mind. We make decisions for students as if they are a homogeneous group, or worse, a number.

As if they don’t have special interests/passions/gifts.

As if they don’t have something unique that the world needs.

At Anastasis Academy, we see the potential of students-with-names and help them believe that they are capable of realizing that potential. That it is worth the risk of being fully alive. That they can be vulnerable in community.

When we talk about education, too often the focus is on learning all the right things, equipping kids with the right content and answers. But the truth is, a great school is about so much more than learning all the right things. A great school is about connecting humanity. It is about finding the educators who can draw students out, who can foster humanity and connection. Who see potential and help others see it, too. Who help kids embrace their worth and value.

Because we start from this place, from students-with-names, every other decision we make has to honor that.

So we can’t think about curriculum as a one-size-fits all.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t assess in a way that minimizes the individual and the learning journey that is happening.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have large class sizes that prohibit us from getting to know the stories of students.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t pretend that worksheets, tests, and grades are what learning is about.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t let technology be the teacher.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have restrictive classroom space.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t rely on typical professional development to prepare teachers.

Because, students (and teachers)-with-names.

When your goal is honoring the humanity, EVERYTHING else must shift to help meet that goal. Everything must be adjusted outside of the assumptions we make as adults about what education “should” look like.

Last week, I asked every Anastasis teacher to come to school on Tuesday with sub plans with one caveat- don’t “dumb it down” for the sub! Just continue on with whatever you were doing. That was all of the information I shared. On Tuesday morning, we all met in the office. I had slips of paper with every class name on it. Each teacher chose a name. This was to be their class for the morning.

Teacher Swap!

My goal was a simple one, build community and empathy among the staff. If you’ve met the staff at Anastasis, you may have wondered at this goal (these are the most amazing people who have incredible empathy and we have a pretty tight community). Something different happens when you are in a classroom that isn’t yours, teaching students you don’t normally teach. You begin to see things through new lenses, different perspectives. You begin to problem solve differently. We had a Jr. High teacher with our 2nd-3rd grade, our 4th-6th teacher with our kindergarten. Teachers who normally teach young students, teaching some of the oldest. It was outstanding!

During our Wednesday staff meeting, we talked about the successes and challenges that were faced. We remembered what it is like to be a “new” teacher again, the fish-out-of-water feeling that comes from having a loose inquiry plan with a different age group. It revealed the way that each class ladders up and prepares these students-with-names for the next part of their learning journey. It reminded us not to set boundaries and expectations too low; these kids are capable of greatness! It revealed to the teachers of the older students why the teachers of the younger students are ready for recess at 10:00am on the button. :)

In a few weeks, teachers will begin to go into each other’s classrooms as an observer. My hope is, that the time spent teaching in each other’s classes will provide them with greater insight and more thoughtful observation.

In February, we invite you to come visit us. Join us to see first hand how a focus on students-with-names impacts everything that we do (including our approach to conference PD!)  The 5Sigma Education Conference is an opportunity for you to see first hand what makes Anastasis such a different learning environment. On February 19th, our students will tour you through our building, they’ll walk you through classes and talk to you about their learning experiences. We have two incredible keynotes by equally incredible people. Angela Maiers is our opening keynote. If you aren’t familiar with Angela’s work, I encourage you to take a look at her here, and learn why she is the perfect person to kick off our “students-with-names” focused conference. Bodo Hoenen is our closing keynote. Bodo has a passion for making individualized learning possible for children who have been largely forgotten.  In between those keynotes, will be sessions, panels, featured speakers, conversations, and plenty of inspiration. On February 21st we’ll take a field trip together.

This is our second 5Sigma Education Conference, if you were at the first, you know what a powerful weekend this is. If you weren’t with us last year, you will not want to miss out this year! Check out what last year’s attendees had to say about the weekend here.

Register today and take advantage of early-bird pricing!

Have something that needs to be added to our conversations? The call for proposals is still open! Click on the link above and head over to the “Propose a Session” tab.

Transforming education through great accidents

In 2009, I left teaching. I didn’t do it because I was fed up with the system, or because I didn’t like my job. Quite the opposite. I really loved being a computer teacher. I loved the freedom of writing my own curriculum every day, and getting to know my students. I had a great time helping other teachers learn how to use technology, and coming up with ideas for how they could integrate it into their classrooms. In 2009, I left teaching for health reasons. I have auto immune disorders (Rheumatoid Arthritis and Raynaud’s Syndrome) and in 2009, my rheumatologist recommended that I take a year off to see if my body would stop attacking itself. Get away from the germs the wreak havoc on the system.

So, that is what I did. I took a year off, fully anticipating that this little experiment would not work and that I would be back in the classroom by 2010.

In 2008 (I know, I’m doing this in the wrong order!), I was teaching my students how to build a website using Wix. This is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) platform, but also allowed for some basic HTML embedding and tweaking. I was demonstrating for students how they could embed a Google Map onto their websites and asked the question, “if I wanted to put a map of the capital of the United States on my website, what would I need to type in?” Blank. Stares.

To clarify, these were 10 and 11-year-old students who are living IN the United States of America. I tried again, “You guys! The capital of the United States, you know, the country we live in?” At this point a few hands raised. “New York?” “San Francisco?” This was one of those face-palm teacher moments. In the interest of time, I gave them the answer. This scenario happened with 2 more classes. Out of 74 fifth grade students, not one of them knew the capital of their own country!!! At this point I started to panic a little. How could our social studies curriculum fail to mention the capital of the United States? I decided that I was going to take all of the curriculum home over the summer and create supplemental guides using technology to help teach what wasn’t in the curriculum. I didn’t stop at social studies, I took the reading, writing, math, and science curriculum home for kindergarten through fifth grade. The back of my MDX filled, I had a goal: to leverage technology to solve this problem.

As I poured over pages and pages of curriculum, one thing became abundantly clear…this was not a problem with the curriculum. At least not in the way I had assumed. It was all there. The kids had even done worksheets and taken tests on the information! When it came time to retrieve the information for a practical purpose, they couldn’t do it. Analyzing the curriculum, I could see why. The way that these skills were being taught was not going to reach my students. I knew these kids. I had taught them for years. As I looked at what the curriculum offered as “learning” I knew that it wouldn’t work for the majority of the students I saw each week in my computer lab. These are brilliant kids, but the only thing that the curriculum required of them was that they look at something, and then regurgitate what they had seen right back on paper. None of it ever had to take long-term residence in the brain. It went directly from the eyes to the hand. My pursuit of a technology supplement guide took on a new goal: take what was in the curriculum, and use technology to bring the learning to life. I had the added benefit of knowing each of the kids I was writing this for. I had their faces in my mind as I wrote these technology guides. I could picture their excitement over learning with what I was pulling together.

Fast forward again to 2009. I hadn’t finished the tech guides, so I was hired as a consultant to finish them for the remainder of the curriculum. I picked up a few other consulting gigs at other schools in the area. As I went through their curriculum I realized that this wasn’t a localized problem. This was a one-size-fits-all problem. At the end of the day, the real trouble was that curriculum isn’t designed for the individual, but for the masses. And in creating for the masses, it completely forgot its goal of teaching students. Who are individuals.

One day as I was working on these technology supplement guides and flipping through curriculum, a song came on Pandora (internet radio) that I had never heard before. I frantically looked for a sticky note to jot down the name of the artist. I stopped for a minute after I got the artist’s name down (Zee Avi, for those who are interested), and had a true geek out moment over how far technology had come. I marveled at the way that technology was so advanced that it could predict what music I would like, all based on one piece of information. It felt like a terribly intimate thing for technology to be able to do (particularly because at the time, I had no idea how the background technology worked!). In the midst of my geeking out, I had a thought: what if curriculum worked more like Pandora? What if we could input one piece of information about a student, and have technology predict ways they might like to learn? I could not shake this idea, and Tweeted it out. My PLN instantly retweeted that thought. I emailed an app developer in Australia that I had been working with and asked if technology was advanced enough to do something like that with curriculum. His response was somewhere along the lines of, “if you can think it up, anything is possible.” I couldn’t let the idea go, so this app developer pointed me toward Balsamiq and told me to learn what I could about how Pandora worked and then prototype my idea. Since I had all the time in the world on my hands, I did exactly that. Pandora called itself the music genome project, based on the human genome project. Essentially, it identifies attributes of music (over 400 of them) and tags each piece of music with those attributes. A map of music. Clearly learning has attributes, so I set out naming those, planning the way that learning could be broken down into the minutia so that an algorithm could identify the perfect resource for a student. At this point I had convinced myself that technology would be the savior of education. All we need is to better individualize for students! Problem solved! Clearly I’m a genius! 😉

Only, the more that I talked to teachers, the more I talked with administrators, the more I looked for investors, the more that I examined the system, the more I realized…education isn’t quite ready for this genius.

The trouble is, we have a one-size-fits-all system. We have classes of 25+ students. We have teachers who are overworked and underpaid. We have a limited amount of time. We have limited budgets. The idea of mass education, in some ways, locks us into the one-size-fits-all. Standards and testing have become hallmarks of education. I started to recognize that even if I get the Learning Genome Project built, I still have to find a way for teachers to use it for students. With the current setup, that would mean the very top students in a class, those considered ‘gifted,’ and the very bottom of the class, those considered ‘low,’ would get to use it. The vast majority of students, those in the middle of the bell curve, would never get the individualized plan. Yet, they deserved it just as much.

This is where the Learning Genome Project took a small (read: enormous) detour. In order for this technology to be used to create a learning map for every student, a new system was needed. I began to consider what type of learning model this type of technology would be best utilized in. I couldn’t find a fit. Sadly, I couldn’t find anything that recognized that every student was a unique individual. One with unique learning patterns. Unique gifts. A unique worldview. I couldn’t find anything that recognized students with names. Everything was geared toward “students,” as if that one word can capture the genius of the individuals it claims. We needed a new system. One that honored humanity. That honored the students with names. I began to dream about what such a school would look like. I talked with other brilliant educators about what that would be like. The result: a new school. A new school model. A brand new way of approaching learning: I started a k-8 school, Anastasis Academy.

I began this journey believing that technology was going to solve the problems of education, I suppose that is a natural path for someone so saturated in current educational technology. It didn’t take long for me to recognize that the problem wasn’t one that technology, like the Learning Genome Project, could solve but rather, one that technology could support. At the heart of what isn’t working is a system. A system that sees “students,” and not students with names. A system aimed at teaching the masses in a way that ends up minimizing humanity. Minimizing what makes us unique. Minimizing the genius that each of us alone brings to the world. I set out to create technology that would revolutionize learning, and instead detoured to the real game changer: a model that recognizes the individual, that honors it. Beginning from this place, students with names, learning can grow. Technology that supports that learning can grow.

The Learning Genome Project has taken a 5 year back seat, not because it isn’t important. Not because it can’t work. It has taken a back seat because first we need to recognize the humanity. When we really see the kids with names, the technology can support. It can help us reach each of those unique individuals. It can transform.

Anastasis Academy has been the single greatest “accident” of my life. In many ways I stumbled into starting a school. Seeing the way everything grows out of ‘students with names,’ the humanity, I’m able to again look at the Learning Genome Project with new eyes. In and of itself, the Learning Genome  Project (technology) won’t be the savior of education. Coupled with a model that honors humanity, it is unstoppable. I know this to be true. I’ve had the luxury of 5 years in Anastasis Academy. I’ve seen students come alive. I’ve seen them #standagain in who they are as learners, in who they are as the unique individuals they were created to be. If you’d like to see Anastasis Academy first hand, I hope you will join us for our education conference, 5Sigma. If you were a supporter of my Indiegogo campaign, I’d like to waive your conference fee! Just email me for a special code! I’d love for you to be my guest!

Last week, I had the great privilege of virtually meeting Bodo Hoenen. We share an eerily similar vision, come at from very different angles. Bodo is launching his own Indiegogo campaign. It is one that I will support because I so strongly believe that the world needs this. Bodo will be our closing keynote at 5Sigma Edu Conference. I cannot wait! I’m interested in partnering with those who share the vision. In those who know that we have to do better for kids now. Please help us BLOW UP the Internet with a new message about education reform. One about students with names. Individuals who are uniquely gifted and set apart to do something important in the world. If you’ve taught for any amount of time, you know that you are among genius waiting to be unleashed! It is time to empower kids. It is time to stop limiting with labels. It is time to stand again.

Follow Anastasis Students in the upcoming weeks as they work to transform education. As we begin our new inquiry unit, students are exploring the power of one. They are learning that they have an unique voice and worldview. They have the power to transform. I hope you’ll join us!

Requesting Professional Development That Transforms Your Practice

Education is an interesting beast. We are in the business of learning. We enjoy learning and connecting with other educators to improve our own craft. And yet, often we are expected to pay for our own continuing education. You would think that this would be embedded in our job description and encouraged and supported by our superiors!

We hope you can join us for the 5-Sigma Education Conference, but we know for many of you this means finding wiggle room in the already tight family budget. We want to help you approach your administration/school board/etc. to request professional development dollars to attend 5-Sigma.

We’ve created a letter that you can adjust to fit your personal request. No reinventing the wheel (we know that your time is precious!), no searching for just the right approach (we know that sometimes that equates to it never happening. This Google Document Letter is a view-only. To edit your own copy, you can either copy/paste into your program of choice OR within Google Documents, click on “File” and choose “Make a Copy.” This copy will allow you to personalize the letter to best fit your needs. Within the letter anything within the brackets should be edited. You will also find a link to session descriptions that you can copy/paste from. Find the letter here.

We are happy to contact your administration, and even offer a two-for-one for admins that come along. Just send a request to info@anastasisacademy.us and include the administrator’s email address.

We cannot wait to meet you, to learn with you, and to change education with you!

If you’ve been inspired by Dreams of Education, this is a conference that will keep you dreaming!

Manifestations of Educational Dreams

When I started Dreams of Education, I couldn’t have anticipated the direction my career would take. At best, I thought this would be a place to dream and connect with other like-minded educators. Starting a school where those dreams come to life? Nowhere on the radar. Now, 4 years into the journey of starting a school, I want to share the living dream with you.

The 5 Sigma Edu Conference is the avenue to do just that! February 20-22, 2015 we are inviting you to come see the manifestations of all the dreams shared here. We want the information spill-over that inevitably happens when people come together. We want our hunches to collide. Come tinker with us. Let’s declare discovery together! We are providing the place where innovative ideas can collide and change the face of education.

Education conference

Thank you for the role you’ve all had in shaping and challenging!

Changing Learning: the Making of the Learning Genome Project

So many of you have offered tremendous support, donations and a megaphone to spread the word about the Learning Genome Project.  I am so grateful!  Today I thought I would lift the curtain just a bit and share a behind the scenes look at the Learning Genome Project.  My plan was to do this in video form using Screenium or Screeny. Those plans were foiled when NEITHER worked even with updates.  #sigh  Instead, I’ll write out my story and take you on a picture journey of how it all took place.  If you haven’t had a chance to lend a helping hand, it is not too late.  Honestly, even $1 makes such a BIG difference!  If everyone of my readers gave just $1, this would be taken care of tonight and we would be able to start the next phase of development. Click here to help out now!

I come from a family of entrepreneurs.  If it doesn’t exist or it can be done better, that is what you do.  This mind-set can be a bit of a curse…once I get an idea in my head, it is like a broken record that plays over and over until I do something about it.  My dad is prime example of this, he started Koostik with a styrofoam cup and an iPhone. Once the idea was there, it stayed until he saw it realized…in this case that means a growing company and product in Restoration Hardware and Red Envelope.  He is awesome.

For me this process started as I dug through curriculum and worked to supplement it with technology tools.  The idea was to “fill” the gaps with technology tools that would make the curriculum work better for students.  As I went through publisher after publisher, I started realizing that the problem wasn’t a lack of technology (if you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know that is a BIG realization for me). The real problem was that we were trying to address the needs of an incredibly diverse population of kids with a one-size-fits-all curriculum.  The troubling thing for me was that I sat on the committees that made the curriculum decisions.  I was sold (just like everyone else) on the premise that these curricula had “differentiated” instruction.  I have come to hate that term.  You know what it means?  It means that curriculum companies can sell more curriculum because they add in a highlighted section that says “differentiation!” and gives a one-size bigger or one-size smaller approach to the exact same problem.  As I went through all of this curriculum, I couldn’t shake the feeling that adding in a bit of technology wasn’t going to solve the problem.

As a computer teacher, I taught 435 students every week.  I taught the same 435 kids for 6 years.  I saw them grow up, learned what made them tick, watched the frustration grow when they didn’t understand a learning objective.  These kids were amazing. They were brilliant. They all had strengths and weaknesses that made them special. They all have a different understanding and approach to the world.  We were stripping all of that uniqueness away and making them learn everything the same. We were expecting that they would learn the same things, the same way, and at the same time.  Ludicrous! Nothing in life or growth and development happens this way, and yet that is what our education system is built on?  This was really troubling for me.  I couldn’t shake that it shouldn’t be that way.

In 2010 I took a year away from teaching for health reasons.  During that year, I acted as an educational consultant for many area schools.  This period of time re-emphasized those stirrings that I was having about education. This curriculum wasn’t working because it assumed too much sameness. I saw brilliant, gifted kids losing their passions because it wouldn’t get them into the swanky private high school (that looked just like every other school). How sad that we ask kids to give up their areas of gifting to get to the next level of learning.  Something is wrong!  One day I was working my way through curriculum, supplementing the holes with technology tools.  I was listening to Pandora Internet radio.  A song came on that I had never heard before, by an artist that was also new to me.  I frantically searched for something to write on so that I could remember this new find.  I remember thinking, “how amazing that we have come to a place in history where we can use technology to predict something as personal as music.”  I was truly amazed that I could put in one piece of information and through a series of algorithms, Pandora could predict other music I would like.  If it can work with music, surely it could work with curriculum.

This was the birth of that niggling thought that wouldn’t go away.  This was the beginning of the Learning Genome Project.  I had recently been introduced to a programmer (@ianchia) through@Doremigirl on Twitter.  Ian and I had shared many conversations about what education apps could look like.  This time it was my turn to ask a question.  I wanted to know if it was possible to program what was in my head.  ”Well of course.”  Ian introduced me to some wireframing tools and I was off and running.  Over the next months, I dreamed up how the Learning Genome would work.  I thought about the students that I wanted something better for. I thought about the frustrations I had as a teacher. I dreamed about a tool that would make the whole process easier.

Teachers share something in common: we all want the very best for our students.  There are a few problems with this.  First, we don’t always get to choose what we will teach. Many times our school or district hands us the curriculum and says, “go.”  This is not conducive to doing the best we know how for every child.  Second, we don’t always know that there is a tool/lesson/resource out there that could make all the difference for each student.  Third, we have a limited time to search for that perfect tool/lesson/resource.  A lot of system problems to overcome.  If Pandora can do this for music, I can do it for education.

I started researching how Pandora works, what happens in the background that makes my experience possible?  Pandora is called the Music Genome Project because it used the Human Genome Project as its inspiration.  In the Human Genome Project, genes are mapped out.  In the Music Genome Project, the “genes” of music are mapped out.  I called my version the Learning Genome Project.  Together, we will map the genes of education, those attributes that help us find commonalities that match the right content to each student at the right time.

First, we need to collect information about the learner. If we don’t know the learner, we can’t know what content best fits their needs.  This is, in short, the best student information system ever.

Next, we have to know enough about the school and the classroom to make recommendations. It does us no good to recommend an iDevice app if the school has no access to that device.

We also have to know something about the lead learner (the teacher).

After we have the profile information, it is critical to know where students are in their learning. What needs to be learned?  This is the individualized learning plan…each student has one.

 

From within the ILP, teachers, students and parents can create and have input on the learning goals.  These learning goals inform what happens in the hub of the genome.

When the learning goal has been identified, the genome “hub” comes into play. This is where resources (lessons, videos, apps, experiments, activities, etc.) are matched and recommended for the student.  Much like Pandora, a learning channel is created.

Teachers (and students) can expand the results to view more information about the recommendation.  From here it can be added to teacher and student planners, and materials for the curriculum can be selected.

Teachers can see all student assignments within their planner. Here they can create groups for overlaps of student learning.  They can also create whole-class events.

After a student completes an activity, they record it within their ePortfolio.  This is all completely integrated.  Within the portfolio they can keep notes, documents, pictures, video and badges.  Badges help students have a bread trail of where they have been in their learning.  Portfolio’s are forever associated with a student, from year to year it travels and grows with them.  Students can also have the option of downloading their portfolio for offline viewing.

In addition to portfolios and planners, the Learning Genome Project includes wiki, blog and photo tools.

Community tools keep students, teachers and parents in collaboration.

My brother and I had many of the same teachers growing up.  We are very different people with 5 years separating us.  My favorite teachers were not his.  We had very similar experiences, the same outstanding teachers. But some teachers connected better with me than him.  How do we help every child have influence of a “favorite” teacher?  I created Twitacad.  Even if that teacher isn’t in the child’s school, there is a blended learning component that makes that connection possible.

Twitacad offers teachers and students a platform for sharing, communicating, and learning.  It is all tied in to the Learning Genome. Everything works together.  Virtual teachers are listed as teachers for parents, students and other teachers to interact with.

The Learning Genome Project has assessment tools built-in.  Assessment is based on mastery of a skill or concept.  This is directly related to what is happening in the student portfolio so that students, teachers and parents can view evidences of the learning.

How does content, resources, tools, lessons, apps, videos, etc. get into the genome?  It gets tagged with its learning attributes by incredible teachers around the world like you.  We all contribute to this project and we all benefit from it.

The hub (resource aggregation) portion of the Genome is free to everyone.  Every child deserves an education tailored to them.  Additional portions of the Learning Genome Project (planners, ePortfolios, blogs, wikis, Twitacad) will be a subscription based service.

The Learning Genome Project is not curriculum.  It is a sorting tool that pulls the best options for every child.  Teachers will be able to sort results based on price, Bloom’s Taxonomy level, standard, subject, and type of resource.  This will tell you what curricular resources will best meet every child’s needs.  Every time a resource is used, it gets rated by both student and teacher. Resources that are highest rated will be recommended first.

This is truly a quick overview of the Learning Genome project.  There are so many intricacies and features that will make it revolutionary to education.  The one hang up? I need help funding it!  Sure, I could go and get some venture capitalists to fund it. The problem: I want the force that drives what happens to the Learning Genome Project to be what is best for kids…not what best impacts the bottom line.  I believe that if we all put a little into this project, that we can create something revolutionary.  We can all have a part in transforming education for the world.

I hope you will join me.  I hope that you will realize that $1 and a few minutes is a small price to pay for a resource that has the potential to reach every child in the world.  This is a small price to pay for our future.  We can do this.  Please click here and donate now…then spread the word to everyone you know and encourage them to do the same.