Monthly Archives: November 2015

Blended Learning

Blended Learning Is the Future of K-12 Educational Technology

In our blog post of Oct. 6, 2014 we panned blended learning, and now, in what follows, we are about to say blended learning is the greatest thing since sliced bread. If we were politicians we would be labeled as flip-floppers, a derogatory term in the political argot. But, thank goodness we are not politicians, but an educator (C) and a technologist (E) coming to a new understanding of what the future holds, amongst higher-minded colleagues who eschew fallacious ad hominem arguments.

Here’s the reasoning behind the evolution of our thinking:

  • We had identified personalized learning – what we are calling personalized learning 1.0 – as the same thing as blended learning.
  • And the canonical example of personal learning 1.0, from our perspective, is the Carpe Diem schools, where children sit in cubicles half to three-quarters of the school day, being drilled by some company’s “adaptive learning” system.
  • Since we do not feel that the Carpe Diem school model is an appropriate education model, we pooh-poohed blended learning.

Simply put: we painted blended learning with the same brush as personalized learning 1.0. Our bad!

But now … we have seen the light! <Smilely face goes here>

In an excellent 2011 article by Heather Staker of the “Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation” (formerly the Innosight Institute), she defined blended learning as follows:

“Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”

We can easily live with the above definition of blended learning because of the phrase “at least in part through online delivery.”  Personalized learning 1.0, e.g. the pedagogy used in Carpe Diem schools, takes online delivery to the extreme, it seems to us. But, as we argue below, what we see coming to K-12 classrooms is absolutely consistent with the definition of blended learning. Please read on!

Here’s the deal: 1-to-1 is the new normal: Between BYOD (bring your own device) and school-provided devices, it is clear that over the next two to three years every student in every classroom in every school in the United States will be using a computing device for learning. Many, many schools in the United States are already at 1-to-1. But the two- to three-year time period is there to acknowledge the sad and disturbing fact that the digital divide still exists, though it’s not talked about very much anymore.

(See a new report by Commonsense Media that documents quite vividly the reality of the digital divide. And ES is experiencing the digital divide first hand in the Detroit Public Schools; 1-to-1 access to a computing device, at least in the elementary schools ES is working in, is still, most disturbingly, a dream. But we digress; we will return to the digital divide, however, in a later blog post.)

In classrooms, then, where there is 1-to-1 access, of course students will spend time, “in part”, during the school day using the computing device to access open-education resources (e.g. informational Web sites, simulations, video) available on the Internet to run apps to support artifact development (create a text-based report augmented with graphical media, develop a concept map, construct a drawing or animation, etc.) and, yes, maybe even to be drilled by some adaptive learning app. Those classroom uses of computing devices are perfectly consistent with the definition of blended learning given above.

For example, Figure 1 (below) depicts a blended learning lesson used in a Michigan sixth-grade science classroom recently. The app mediating the lesson is called “LessonLauncher“; LessonLauncher is written in HTML5 and thus it is device-agnostic – LessonLauncher runs in virtually all browsers (Edge, IE, Safari, Chrome, Firefox, etc.), and LessonLauncher is free. (Interested in using LessonLauncher? Please send ES an e-mail:

In LessonLauncher, a teacher provides students with a roadmap for a Blended Lesson – a playlist in the millennials argot. For example, in Figure 1, clicking (or tapping if LessonLauncher is running on an iOS/Android/Windows tablet) the “Start Here Activity 1 WeRead” node brings up an article about Bromine and condensation. Clicking (or tapping) on “Initial Bromine Condensation Model WeSketch” brings up the WeSketch app where students can construct a drawing that represents their understanding, their model, of how bromine condensation happens. WeSketch is “collabrified” so two or more students work in WeSketch co-creating that model, in real-time. In total, the computer-mediated lesson depicted in Figure 1 contains eight computer-based learning activities, e.g., reading material on external Web sites, answering questions, drawing a model, etc.

this image shows a roadmap for a lesson... the learning activities that will be enacted by the student AND the items that the student will read


The lesson depicted in Figure 1 is absolutely consistent with the definition of blended learning given by Staker. No, the students enacting the lesson in Figure 1 are not being drilled by an online, adaptive learning program, but the students are going online for some portion of the lesson. (Technically, the students are also online when they are working collaboratively, answering questions, making drawings, since the Internet is being used to keep the collaborators’ artifacts in sync. But the online aspect of those collabrified apps is really a second-order issue.)

Here comes a prediction – and you can take this one to the bank – it’s that solid:

Prediction 1: Over the next two to three years, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of lessons – blended learning lessons – that are computer-mediated and comprise a roadmap, along with the computer-based learning activities, just like the lesson depicted in Figure 1.

Who will produce those computer-mediated lessons?  All y’all, as they say in Texas! You, the teachers who are on the cutting edge of technology and education, along with your colleagues who are more curricularly-focused – you all will produce such lessons, post them to a marketplace, e.g., teachers-pay-teachers, Curriki – or maybe a new website devoted to the “blended learning, computer-mediated lesson economy”. And, it will become a standard-operating procedure for teachers to come to that site/those sites to find lessons they can easily tweak for their students.

We are ready to make two more predictions:

Prediction 2: Over the next two to three years a new generation of curriculum-building/distributing/managing tools will come available to enable curriculum-creating teachers and small curriculum-creating companies who are producing this new generation of blended learning, computer-mediated lessons.

Prediction 3: These new tools will foster the explosive growth of a marketplace for computer-mediated lessons – a marketplace that is virtually non-existent today.

Who will produce those tools? Not the mega-textbook companies; they are going the way of the music CD producers. When Prediction 2 happens – and it will – those tools will enable the disrupters to swoop in and take the curriculum business away from the mega-textbook publishers; those tools will enable those disrupters to create – and market – a new generation of computer-mediated lessons!

(Aside: you can take Predictions 2 and 3 to the bank, also; they are as solid as Prediction 1.)

blended learning is indeed the future of computer use in the K-12 classroom.  The formulation of blended learning described in this blog post may diverge from the blended learning orthodoxy; no biggy. The fact is, the term “blended learning” does very accurately describe what is happening in a classroom where learners are using their 1-to-1 computing devices to engage in their computer-based, computer-mediated lessons. Yup, blended learning is the future!

New Times/New Ways

New times demand new ways to support students and schools

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction

Updated:  October 14, 2015.

California’s education system is transforming in positive ways. Replacing the high school exit exam with more modern and meaningful measures is a critical part of that work.

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Senate Bill 172 into law, suspending the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) as a requirement for high school graduation for the next three years. I was proud to sponsor this bill, and I deeply appreciate state Senator Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, for bringing forward this urgently needed legislation.

The state Legislature created the exit exam requirement in 1999, and schools began using the test a few years later. Since then, however, the world – and California’s education system – have changed dramatically.

We have instituted new, more rigorous state academic standards. We have launched a more sophisticated assessment of student progress using online, computer-adaptive tests. And, we are moving toward a more comprehensive evaluation of schools that uses multiple measures instead of a single test score.

The current version of the exit exam was always meant to be temporary, according to the author of the legislation establishing it. Eliminating the old high school exit exam provides a great opportunity to develop a more effective approach to supporting our students. We must make sure that our high school graduates are ready for college and careers in the 21st century.

Students need a variety of skills to succeed in today’s economy. Our methods of gauging their progress should incorporate multiple measures. SB 172 requires me to convene a task force of teachers, parents, students, administrators and others to report back on new high school graduation requirements.

I look forward to exploring the options. One possibility is a senior or “capstone” project, in which students demonstrate what they have learned in an oral report, a paper or an exhibition. Another option is integrating community service into this work, so that our students learn “civics in action.”

In addition, a student could demonstrate career readiness by completing an internship at a local company, government agency, or nonprofit, and then producing a report about a potential career pathway. And a district may choose some combination of these approaches, customized to local conditions.

The search for a new high school graduation requirement is similar to our work developing a new accountability system. In both cases, we’re reinvigorating our schools by replacing 20th-century models with more thoughtful, contemporary 21st-century approaches.

As for the accountability system, the previously used Academic Performance Index has been suspended, and I have convened a task force to make recommendations for a new accountability system. The Accountability and Continuous Improvement Task Force is co-chaired by Wes Smith of the Association of California School Administrators and Eric Heins of the California Teachers Association.

The task force will study the issue and make recommendations early next year. Any new system should promote continuous improvement and better identify the needs of schools so they can receive the resources they need to improve.

On Sept. 9, the state released results of the new, online Smarter Balanced assessments in English and math. Certainly, those results will be part of any new accountability system, but the task force will consider other areas as well, including graduation rates, school attendance, chronic absenteeism, career readiness and school climate.

These are exciting times in California education. We continue to innovate and evolve. Finding new, more dynamic approaches to the high school exit exam and school accountability are two key components of transforming our schools and ensuring California’s bright future.


Tom Torlakson is the state superintendent of public instruction.

Editor’s Note:  The updated version of this commentary clarifies that SB 172 suspends the CAHSEE for the next three years,  but does not eliminate it permanently. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view.

Mindfulness In The Classroom

Under Stress, Students in New York Schools Find Calm in Meditation

Fourth graders at Public School 212 in Queens practice mindful exercises in the classroom. Credit Lindsay Morris for The New York Times

On the first day of the new school year, the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, stood in an elementary school classroom in Queens beaming at a hushed room full of fourth-grade children sitting cross-legged on the floor.
“Please let your eyes close,” said a small boy named Davinder, from his spot on the linoleum.

Davinder gently struck a shallow bronze bowl.


“Take three mindful breaths,” he said, and the room fell silent.

“Do you do personal visits?” Ms. Fariña asked after the exercise was over. “Like to offices?”

In schools in New York City and in pockets around the country, the use of inward-looking practices like mindfulness and meditation is starting to grow. Though evidence is thin on how well they might work in the classroom, proponents say they can help students focus and cope with stress.

At the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School in Windsor Terrace, 15 minutes are set aside at the beginning and end of every school day, when students must either meditate or sit quietly at their desks.

The goal of mindfulness exorcises, practitioners say, is to get students into the habit of calming themselves and their minds. Credit Lindsay Morris for The New York Times
“It’s built into the schedule,” said Linda Rosenbury, founding principal at Brooklyn Urban Garden, a middle school. “Everyone clears off their desks. They shouldn’t be chewing gum, but if they are, they spit it out. Their hands are free. We ring a bell.” A building full of preteens and teenagers goes quiet, she said.

“It used to be that you wouldn’t say ‘meditation’ in polite company,” said Bob Roth, executive director of the David Lynch Foundation, a charitable foundation founded by the director of “Blue Velvet,” that promotes and teaches Transcendental Meditation to adults and children, including those at Brooklyn Urban Garden. “Now we’re working with all the large banks, we’re working with hedge funds, we’re working with media companies. People are having us come in as part of their wellness programs, and that wasn’t the case even two years ago.”

While Transcendental Meditation entails silent inward repetition of a mantra, a mindfulness exercise might ask children to focus on breathing in and out. In a classroom, both activities have similar goals; the idea, practitioners say, is to get students into the habit of calming themselves and clearing their minds so they can better focus on the day’s lesson.

“We’re putting it in a lot of our schools,” Ms. Fariña said about mindfulness, on the first day of school, “because kids are under a lot of stress.”

The Department of Education does not keep track of how many schools have mindfulness programs, but a spokeswoman said that grants and professional development seminars have provided some training to school staff members.

The city’s Move to Improve program has also taught nearly 8,000 elementary school teachers how to use activities in the classroom that can include things like mindfulness, balance exercises and stretching.

In many cases, schools are finding their own way. To mindfulness, in particular.

At Public School 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens, the school Ms. Fariña visited on the first day of classes, a literacy coach named Danielle Mahoney began doing regular mindfulness exercises with some classes the year before last, while taking a one-year certification course.

Last year, the school converted a large closet in a subbasement into a room devoted to mindfulness, complete with dim illumination and a string of rainbow Christmas-tree lights, allowing users to switch off the harsh fluorescent light overhead.

This sort of homegrown effort has created a patchwork effect; “mindfulness” might look a little different in every school.

“It’s a bottom-up process,” said Mark T. Greenberg, a professor of human development and psychology at Penn State. “You have very early adopters who are very interested in the ideas, and they are trying out different ideas and venues.”

Some districts, however, are experimenting with a more holistic approach. In Mamaroneck, N.Y., in Westchester County, the district has funded mindfulness training for teachers and parents in each of its six schools, and is encouraging the use of mindfulness exercises as part of an effort to address the social and emotional needs of students.

In Louisville, Ky., more than half of the city’s public elementary schools are expected to participate in a randomized study next year that will teach mindfulness exercises to some students as part of a so-called health and wellness curriculum.

Donna Hargens, the superintendent of the Louisville district of Jefferson County’s public school system, said that in classrooms a teacher’s reflex is to say, “ ‘Focus! Why aren’t you focusing?’ But what does that really mean, and have we given them any tools to help them do that?”

Research in a classroom setting appears to be picking up steam. In Britain, researchers from Oxford and University College London are studying whether teaching mindfulness in schools can improve the mental health of students, and some studies have shown benefits for many adults. Still, little is truly known about how, or even whether, children benefit from the practice in an academic setting.

“It definitely doesn’t address poverty, and it may not work for everybody,” said Patricia Jennings, an associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and the author of a book called “Mindfulness for Teachers.”

Mr. Greenberg of Penn State cautioned that even if the practice does provide benefits for students, the research has yet to explain how.

A version of this article appears in print on October 24, 2015, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: City Classrooms Give Pupils a Moment to Turn Inward . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

First Year Pitfalls of Teachers

Staying Centered
October 22, 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 4
Table of Contents 

First Year Pitfalls

Amy Stenzel

As a former mentor for new teachers, and, currently, as an instructional coach, I help new teachers avoid common pitfalls and find the wisdom that makes teaching a fulfilling experience. New teachers, whether right out of college or transitioning to a second career, often come into their new schools with abundant enthusiasm that can revitalize a department or grade-level team. Too often, however, that spark dims and is eventually snuffed out as a teacher tries to traverse the education landscape without the support of a competent guide. Avoiding these common pitfalls can help a teacher’s first year become the beginning of a satisfying and fulfilling journey.

Pitfall #1: Wanting Your Students to Like You

Of course, we all want our students to like us. The reality is that most will, but there might be some who won’t. All too often, new teachers spend a great deal of brain power on how to persuade students to like them, which is the quickest way to alienate students. I have seen every technique that you can think of: letting students misbehave, bribery, self-deprecating humor, class parties, and so on. These techniques only lead to a disorganized and ineffective classroom full of disgruntled students.

So, what is the secret to success? It’s simple, actually—students will like you if you do your job. Students are in school to learn, and if you help them do that while providing a safe and respectful environment, they will like and respect you. This is especially true of hard-to-reach students. If you can help them succeed, you will witness something powerful and beautiful. Offering stickers and allowing misbehavior does not possess the transformative power that good teaching provides.

Pitfall #2: Wanting to Change Too Much Too Soon

New teachers enter their careers with freshly written philosophies of education and a plethora of new ideas. They are eager to get into the trenches and change students’ lives. But many teachers make a crucial mistake by trying to change too many things too quickly. You have a long career ahead of you and plenty of time to make your mark. Remember that other teachers in your department or grade level have years of experience and most, if not all, are willing to share their wisdom and lesson plans if you just ask. Your first year will be difficult enough without trying to create all new curricula. Additionally, failing to ask experienced teachers for help may cause them to perceive you as a “know­it­all,” even though that is not your intention.

The first step to build trust and collaborative relationships is to work with those around you, take what they have to offer, and offer your input when appropriate. As you move into your second year, when you have established trusting relationships with your colleagues and you understand the school district’s curriculum and philosophies, offer your ideas more frequently.

Keep your focus on doing the best job you can, not trying to change what others do. Many new teachers are shuffled from classroom to classroom and end up teaching the classes that others don’t want to teach. Show your moxie as an educator by taking these things in stride and focusing on what you can do for your students, rather than who has the best classroom or the classes that you want to teach; those things will come to you in time. Innovation is wonderful, but make sure you mix that with wisdom from experienced teachers and administrators.

Pitfall #3: Taking It All Too Personally

Teaching is an extremely personal career. Most teachers enter the profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of young people. They want to be role models who lead and inspire others. Effective teachers are deeply invested in their careers, so it is easy to take things personally. And yet it is equally important to learn early that you must look at things logically and never make assumptions. This shift in perception is extremely difficult and will take practice.

For example, if a student misbehaves or has a meltdown, don’t assume that you know the reason. You may be sure the trigger was something you said, when in reality, it was something that happened to the student at home that morning. Or, if you get an e-mail from the principal asking for a meeting, don’t assume that you have done something wrong. There are many reasons you might be called on. If you find that the principal wants you to change something you are doing, do not assume that you have failed. Feedback makes teachers better, and without feedback, it is hard to know where you need improvement.

In the new landscape of teacher effectiveness programs, you can expect to have peers, administrators, and coaches observing in your room on a regular basis. Don’t become nervous and stressed about these visits. Instead, see them as opportunities and look for something to learn from every experience.

Pitfall #4: Burnout

Teaching is an extremely rewarding career, but it is also highly challenging. Don’t burn out by trying to do everything yourself. If your school doesn’t provide mentors for first­year teachers, don’t be afraid to ask administration for one. Find out what your resources are at the very beginning of the year. Librarians, custodians, secretaries, instructional coaches, K–12 coordinators, and department heads are all valuable people to seek out. Most are just waiting for someone to ask for their expertise. Take the time to ask them what support they offer for you and your classroom. The right resources can save you hours of time and frustration. With the right attitude and a few tips for success, every new teacher can have a rewarding first year.

Amy Stenzel is an instructional effectiveness coach in Whitnall School District in Milwaukee, Wisc.

ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 4. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit

5 Habits That Hurt Teacher Motivation

Staying Centered
October 22, 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 4
Table of Contents 

Five Habits That Hurt Teacher Motivation

Roxanna Elden

Teachers know that motivating students and engaging families is part of the job. Sometimes, however, just keeping ourselves motivated can feel like a full-time job. Although we may daydream about our students sitting attentively with a look of delight that shows their love of learning, this ideal is certainly not always the case.

Here are some reasons why your enthusiasm might be lagging and some tips for making it through the slump.

Classroom Task Creep

With all there is to do every day, it’s tempting to funnel your off hours into teaching tasks or turn your home into a satellite office for your classroom. Although this may seem like a sign of dedication, it’s likely that if you’re never 100 percent clocked out, you’re never 100 percent clocked in, either. For the kids’ sake and your own, mornings should always feel like the start of a new day, and Mondays should always feel like the beginning of a new week. This means putting realistic limits on the amount of work that you bring home, scheduling specific hours to work on it, and then using your personal time for your personal life.

The Never-Done To-Do List

As teachers, we are our own secretaries. Nothing reminds us of this like looking at a to-do list of administrative tasks, especially one on which certain items seem to be permanent residents. To keep your list manageable, break big goals into smaller jobs that can be fully completed in a reasonable amount of time. “Print student test scores” is a good, list-friendly item. “Analyze student data and form long-term plans for each student” is a multipart project more likely to shut down your engine than get you in gear. Remember that your goal, when putting something on your list, is to cross it off.

The Wish-List Pretending to Be a To-Do List

Another hazardous habit is adding items to a daily task list that are actually long-term goals or ideas for the distant future. Not only do these items stay on our lists, but they also constantly remind us of our shortcomings. With this in mind, don’t write, “Be better at parent contact” on your to-do list if you really mean, “Call Javier’s dad.” For ideas that you’re not ready to implement, set up a computer folder, or even start a designated e-mail account where you can send ideas when you’re on the go. The important thing is to keep wish-list items off your desk and off your list of things that need to get done this week.

Dispiriting Discussions

Dealing with kids all day can make you crave the company of adults, but not all adult conversations help equally. Teachers’ lounge gripe sessions may help let off steam some days but feel toxic on others. Other times, you can find it more discouraging to talk to the teacher down the hall who’s sure she’s doing a fantastic job and can’t wait to tell you about it. Just remember—productive conversations comfort rather than overwhelm. Pay attention to which types of discussions drag you down. Then, look for ways to cut them short, tune them out, or avoid them altogether.

The Ill-Fitting Teacher Style

People constantly tell you to choose your battles in teaching. What they don’t tell you is that some of the battles not worth fighting are with yourself. Despite your best efforts, strengths and weaknesses from your personal life will carry over into your teaching style. You’re still more organized than creative (or more creative than organized). You’re still more ambitious than patient (or more patient than ambitious). The good news is that many different traits make a good teacher. No one has them all, and some of them can even contradict one another. Your goal is not to conceal your weaknesses or disguise them as strengths; it is to identify your true strengths and use them to reinforce potential weak spots.

So, the next time you feel your motivation waning, don’t despair—take a moment to examine if you’re guilty of any of these common motivation missteps, and adjust your attitude accordingly.

Roxanna Elden is a National Board-Certified teacher and the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. More recently, she has created the “Disillusionment Power Pack,” a free, one-month series of e-mails for new teachers in which she shares journal pages, stories, and insights she would have shared with the first-year teacher version of herself. E-mails begin with signup and arrive every few days for one month.

ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 4. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit