Tag Archives: innovation

San Diego Innovation Summit Keynote

While I have not been good about posting to this blog in the last year, I have still stayed very busy traveling and presenting.  Last week I delivered a keynote at the San Diego Innovation Summit titled “Behind the Science of Innovation: 
Bringing About Significant Positive Change.”  Co presenting with Beth Holland, our goal was to look at the actual science and research behind innovative teaching.  We look at what the research says and what the implications are for teachers in the age of information.



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5 Ways to Blow the Top Off of Rubrics

This article was orignally published as a guest post on “Free Technology For Teachers” an incredibly helpful resource run by Richard Byrne.   

Do you have a rubric for that? Rubrics, designed to help teachers grade fairly and convey their learning objectives and performance standards to students, can serve a critical role especially with technology-rich projects. Teachers also like them for standardizing grading among teachers teaching the same course. At their best, rubrics firmly establish a minimum standard for learning and product construction. At their worst, rubrics become a recipe that can lead to all students producing the same product. In these cases, creativity and the development of unique products become a casualty to tightly constructed standards.

“If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, that’s a recipe.” – Chris Lehmann

Especially with 1:1 or BYOD classrooms, where individualized learning should be the norm, this is a huge potential problem. In these classrooms, it is still important to effectively convey the learning objective. However, it is the rare rubric that both provides guidance as well as addresses the task of grading the widely varying assignments generated when students have real freedom to choose what they create.

“Individualized instruction is a method of instruction in which content, instructional technology (such as materials) and pace of learning are based upon the abilities and interests of each individual learner” via Wikipedia

Rubrics can become barriers to creativity and fall short when they provide a stopping point – where, once each component is checked, the assignment is done and learning and creation stop. There is incredible power in letting students pursue their interests and express their creativity. The products that result from this pursuit of passion and interest will always stand out when placed next to those created through a sense of duty and obligation. Placing a list of “have to’s” at the top of a rubric is like building a wall at the bottom of a slide. It completely destroys the ride and subverts the joy of the creative process, providing an off-switch. The way teachers assess individualized learning needs to be adapted in consideration of this.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in the creative art of expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein

Blow the top off of your rubrics to encourage students to keep pursuing their learning. Leave the basic level standards in place to help students meet the assignment’s objective and support students who need more structure, but then create a rubric with a blatant challenge and ample encouragement for students to push themselves beyond the basic requirements.  

5 Ways to Blow the Top Off of Rubrics:

  1. One of my favorites is to modify the definition of an “A” to include this language: “A project that in some way redefines the teachers definition of excellence.” The video below is an example of a student who did just that: she could have submitted a Venn diagram for this project but chose instead to do this RSA style video.
  2. Where possible, eliminate simple checklists from your definition of “Exemplary”. Students who are given a checklist will do just that, check off the list. When everything is checked, their minds will tell them that they are done. That is not how excellence is created.
  3. Avoid having too many rules and extraneous limits in your rubric. Making too many restrictions stifles creativity, and makes students nervous and cautious. Stick to standards that make the learning objectives clear without being overwhelming. Rubrics don’t need to reaffirm every standard of work established over the course of the year.
  4. Use language that supports taking creative risks. Encourage “Daring” and “Unique” work. Charge students with something more than simply meeting or exceeding a standard. Often rubrics can sound too clinical, use rubrics to issue a challenge.
  5. Allow room for mistakes and errors in excellent work, especially where new tools and technologies are concerned. Creativity takes time to polish, and overly punitive standards can make students feel that creative risks aren’t worth their effort.

Rubrics have been a valid and effective tool for teachers to evaluate both a student’s process, as well as their products, and can remain so if they are adapted to fit within the models of freedom and creativity. Like a fence, rubrics can keep students confined to a learning objective, but where excellence is concerned, make sure that the gate is left open. Ultimately, the goal is to allow for creative projects that you can’t imagine, but that your students can.  

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Takeaways From the iPad Summit

1.  If you want to be successful you have to accept and share your failures.  You simply will not get it right the first time.  If you can’t admit errors and talk about them with others you might never put all of the pieces together correctly.  The idea that “failure is mandatory for success” is more than an idea.  It should be referred to as the “First Law of Innovation”.  

2.  While I came to the iPad summit I expected my focus to be on lessons and products.  While I had many discussions on this topic, what was on my mind most was the idea that a room where collaboration and higher level thinking takes place, should look like a room where collaboration and higher level thinking takes place even when there are no students using it.  As my friend Greg Kulowiec said so precisely “the sight of students using devices to demonstrate their own learning and creativity while seated in orderly rows that all point to the spot where the teacher stands doesn’t make much sense.” I drew up a new arrangement and it was good.  Then I threw it away.  I’m going to have my students discuss it, debate it and create it.  Thanks to Don Orth for eloquently framing this idea in his presentation. (Link)

3.  There is no single answer to what is the best when it comes to devices in the classroom.  Schools are going to have to find the program that best suits them.  Regardless of what they decide, schools need to identify what needs they are trying to meet, what goals they are trying to achieve and then build a program around that.  Pirating another schools program will not deliver the results that you think it will.

4.  Those who use technology are aware that the technology is ever changing. Tomorrow will be different, the apps you use will change. Technology programs will have to be nimble enough to transfer their goals and objectives to the next device. Staying apprised of what is coming is hard work.  The future belongs to those who build networks that can share in the work and adapt quickly.  Be Nimble!!!

5.  I never heard even a single person at the iPad summit say the words “I don’t have the time” or “it’s not my job to…” I listened to everyone sharing what they wanted to do and what they had to learn.  Yet they all had taken the time to share with each other. When they set off at the end of the conference (the very end, the final session was packed with people) you could tell that they were going to bring it all back to their schools.  I wish them all the best of luck as they share with their staff back home.

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The Least Objectionable Path

Two roads diverged in a wood…

We all pretty much know how this story goes but I think that its implications go beyond doing something different.  I think it often means doing something that is not easy.

The more I move my classroom in the direction of student created content the more I realize that the objections I hear from others about doing so involve a fear of the risk involved.  Recently the “What if” challenges that I get focus on things like: “What if the students create controversial content”, “What if the students arrive at conclusions that you don’t agree with?”  Or even “How can you maintain control in an environment like that?”

I have started giving them this answer, “I don’t know, but I think it is worth the risk.”

In my mind I have reduced these concerns to a sense of fear.  Not the kind of fear that a person should be ashamed of, but the kind of fear that we have when we are doing something effective and we are afraid that if we change what we do, won’t continue to be effective. That is a pretty serious risk.  Part of this fear I think, is the general mood of criticism that teachers and schools face in our country right now.  I think it is hard to take risks when we are under such critical scrutiny. We tend to avoid such criticism.

But I believe that we HAVE to. If we don’t we are failing our kids, our community and ourselves.  If we simply do what we have done or if we do things that avoid taking risks, we are not choosing what is best for our students, we are choosing what is easiest for us. I refer to this as THE LEAST OBJECTIONABLE PATH.

If all we do is follow the least objectionable path to learning, we are not really learning.  If all we do is follow the least objectionable path we are not innovating.  If all we do is follow the least objectionable path we do not expose people to ideas that expand their understanding of the world.  If all we do is follow the least objectionable path we do not teach our students to have a civil discussion with people whom we may disagree with at deep and personal level.  Most critically in my mind, if all we do is follow the least objectionable path we do not GROW.  This is the worst thing we can do, because the opposite of growth is death.

Take risks. Grow.  It’s worth it.


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