Archive for the ‘Digital Resources’ Category

Sustainable Modern Pedagogy or “Boutique” Solutions?

Written by Coby Enteen

Our lives have changed drastically over the course of the last three of decades; job stability is slowly declining, manual labor is rapidly being taken over by machines, and the collective knowledge of the internet is becoming more valuable than the teacher and the textbook.    Schools are largely finding it difficult to keep up with these challenges, often creating a learning void and failing to provide even the fundamental skills required for success in the constantly-evolving world.  As educational paradigms shift, many new and existing pedagogies have been introduced into the classroom such as Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Place-Based Learning, Computer-Based Learning, Discovery-Learning, Outdoor Education, Flipped-Classroom, Design-Thinking, E-Learning (which comes in different variations), Maker Spaces, and the list goes on.  This begs the question; are any of these modern teaching methods gaining ground and are they being effectively adopted in a consistent manner in the classroom or are they being viewed as “Boutique” approaches to learning that are “nice to have.”

Although there is no definitive answer to this question, it has become fairly clear that the pendulum is slowly shifting in the direction of modern pedagogy, primarily out of necessity and as a grassroots understanding that classroom learning must change to meet the needs of the modern world.  However, the flip side of the issue is that many school district administrators and educational policy makers continue to battle pedagogic modernization by promoting standardized testing and teacher accountability measures.  This creates a resistance to change and most often results in more traditional frontal teaching and “test-prep” approaches.  One observable effect is that many alternative schools have sprouted throughout the educational landscape, using modern instructional approaches as a trademark and method of differentiation from the competition.  Some prime examples of this would be the Hi-Tech High model in San Diego and the Studio Schools model in the U.K.

While teachers are becoming increasingly aware of modern pedagogy and many have received pre-service and in-service training in these areas; they are often finding it difficult to sustain this type of teaching in the classroom on a regular basis.  This can be largely attributed a number of factors including the absence of adequate support during the initial implementation phase, a lack of lesson preparation time and the focus on standardized testing.  Moreover, modern instructional practices are many times introduced one after another, without a clear plan and concrete steps for integrating it into the curriculum.  Thus, educators have become largely skeptical regarding the promise of modern pedagogy for classroom transformation and have begun to adopt the “boutique approach”, whereby new methods are used in conjunction with specific lessons and extracurricular assignments; never really becoming a teaching standard.

A Wonderful Visual Outlining The 7 Steps of Good Storytelling ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

Digital Storytelling is a fantastic way to encourage students to develop products relating to the creative thought process while using problem-solving and language skills.  Storybird is a great platform for this type of creative expression, especially for the primary grades. It allows the student to choose a theme consisting of a set of images and embed them in the pages of the digital book.  The story is then saved on the website and can be shared with the class.



More on digital storytelling:  A Wonderful Visual Outlining The 7 Steps of Good Storytelling ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

Using Games for Learning: Practical Steps to Get Started | MindShift

By now, you’ve probably read enough to be convinced that it’s worth trying games in your classroom. You understand that games are not meant to be robot teachers, replacing the human-to-human relationship. Games are a tool that teachers can use to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently. Games provide a different approach to developing metacognitive skills through persistent self-reflection and iteration of particular skill sets. Games offer experiential contextualized learning through virtual simulation. Games can also offer an especially engaging interdisciplinary learning space.

Read More: Using Games for Learning: Practical Steps to Get Started | MindShift.

Cross-Curricular Multi-disciplinary Learning: Moving from Independent Islands to a Nation State

Moving from Independent Islands to a Nation State

Written by Coby Enteen

The value of creating in-depth, meaningful learning experiences for students through a cross-curricular or multidisciplinary teaching approaches have long been justified; however the feasibility of teaching this way, is somewhat questionable.  This is due to a large degree to the existing structure of the school, primarily at the secondary level where faculty is divided into isolated subject areas or departments, each working as an independent “island” in a sea of small land masses.  The goal of the approach presented is to unify these islands into a single land-mass or nation state, which shares common knowledge and teaching practices.

Creating multi-disciplinary instructional teams can provide a basic solution to developing collaborative learning projects which incorporate cross-curricular teaching.  This teacher task-force will typically collaborate on developing and implementing a specific project or small number of teaching units which is effective in showcasing the multi-disciplinary teaching approach, but falls short of a long-term solution.  This team provides only a superficial “band-aid” solution to the problem. The existing structure of the secondary school does not support this kind of structure, no does it allot time for this type of collaboration.  So, you ask: how do we create a secondary school environment which works successfully implements a cross-curricular learning approach?  There is no definitive answer other than either rebuilding a school from the ground-up or the need for re-examining the existing school structure and carving out new practices, which support deeper multidisciplinary connections in the classroom.  The key lies in collaborating with school stakeholders and revisiting existing instructional practices.

1.  School Leadership – The school principal and lead support staff provide the overall “tone” and pave the way for the pedagogic discourse in the teachers lounge.  To this end, the leadership must embrace the cross-curricular approach and echo its principles throughout all of the traditional channels: during teacher meetings, as a topic for professional-development, in the organization of teacher task-teams, and during every available opportunity.

2.  Creating a Cross-Curricular Organizational Structure –  The key elements of any effective organization can be found in its leadership, structure and mode of operation.  Schools need to select an individual with a strong background and understanding of multiple disciplines and subject-areas to head the program.  Although typically labeled as a curriculum-Specialist, Media Specialist, or Librarian in many schools, this individual must be able to maintain a “birds-eye” view of the school and its instructional needs, while working collaboratively with subject-area leaders (department heads) to develop a collective curriculum map.

3.  Instructional Weaving – The transition from a single-subject teaching practice to a multidisciplinary one will require the finding of “common-threads” which enable the teaching and reinforcing the curriculum standards of one subject-area through another.  This is the process of Instructional Weaving and it is accomplished through defining thematic topics that are both relevant to the students lives and incorporate instructional principles to be taught.  The school curriculum map will provide a basis for determining the intersections between the subjects taught throughout the year and provide a framework for teacher-teams to weave the curriculum together.

4.  Cross-Curricular Bonding – The final step involves putting the plans into motion by teaching the thematic lesson units involving the different subjects with other other subjects in mind.  Teachers will need to gradually shift from a single area focus to one that involves being part of a whole.  Time must be allotted for teachers of other disciplines to talk with one-another on a regular basis.  This can be accomplished through scheduling short 10-15 minute meetings to discuss the progress and help one another tweak the teaching practices.  The program leader (described in step 2) must receive regular progress reports as to guide the process at a school level.

Cross-curricular teaching is often viewed as an ideal mode of instruction offering for in-depth and meaningful learning.  The existing secondary school structure was built according to a uni-disciplinary model emphasizing the isolated teaching of subjects leaving little room for cross-curricular collaboration.  Therefore, schools must adopt a new set of organizational and curricular principles in order to effectively introduce a multidisciplinary teaching and learning process.

Here are some additional articles on Cross-Curricular Learning:

Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential | Edutopia

Finding Inspiration Down the Hall and Beyond the Walls


The Future Of Math

The way mathematics is being taught in schools is quickly losing relevancy to the needs of society and fails to prepare students for the modern day workforce in a constantly changing economy.  New instructional pedagogies are slowly changing this but in order to be effective we must pick up the pace.


Read more on the topic at:

5 Things You Need To Know About The Future Of Math

How to Teach Math with Legos

Are We headed Towards Different School Structures in the Future?

Educators are constantly referencing the importance of instilling 21st century skills and preparing students for the future workplace, meanwhile our schools look like they did over 100 years ago.  Are we missing the point?  Why can’t classrooms be adapted to look more like a workplace with modern technology and collaborative work spaces?  These and many other questions are driving a change in the way that we look at the physical side of education.  Changing the way our schools and classrooms look might contribute a great deal to the way that we teach and learn, and to the profession as a whole.  That being said, district and school decision makers can look at modern teaching practices as a basis for  planning and upgrading existing schools.  Just as the instructional practices change from one class to another, so should the physical nature of the classroom.  Teaching is modular and the teaching and learning surroundings should be as well.


Read more here:

Could the School of the Future be Modular?

New teaching practices, should we really change the way we teach? Understanding The “Thawing Principle”

Written by Coby Enteen

Every so often we are overtaken by new teaching practices and learning methods such as Flip Classroom, Project-based Learning, MOOC’s, Blended Learning and so on.  We often hear about them at conferences, from a school administrator or from fellow teachers and they make us feel inadequate and uncomfortable for not knowing enough and mainly for not teaching this way.  Does this mean that we should stop what we are doing (many times very effectively for very long) and switch over to this new way of teaching?  Definitely not!  Those of us that have been involved in education for a while understand the “Thawing Principle”, meaning that these so-called innovate pedagogic methods are nothing more than ideas and will typically go through a three-stage process in which they start out as the “next best thing” in education, then once tested in the field become an “effective strategy”, and from there move to the “something else to do with your students” category.

Thawing Principle

New teaching practices do have many benefits for the seasoned teacher, they give us new ideas and help us refresh ourselves professional, they enable us to step out of our comfort zone and help us think differently about what we are doing, and in some cases provide us with new ways for reaching students and maybe even exciting them about learning.  In order to gain the most out of these practices it is important to view them objectively asking yourself: is there something from this that I can take back to my classroom? and if so, how can I incorporate it into my teaching practices?  From that point, ‘the sky is the limit!’  Some teachers will gradually adopt and incorporate the process, while others will not.  The key is to avoid being intimidated.


It is time for educators to stop being intimidated by new instructional practices and put them into their true context.  They should be thought of in terms of a “Thawing Principle” and will ultimately go through the natural process of becoming a good idea for some and a better idea for others.  Moreover, the adoption of new instructional practices is gradual and varies from one teacher to the next.  It is therefore time to stop presenting them as the “next best thing” in education and look at them instead as innovative tools that can help us advance the nature of education.

Finding a Diamond in the Rough

By Coby Enteen

Attending regional, national and international professional conferences are often times a confusing experience for educators, whom are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number and scope of technology solutions presented.  Vendors are trying to promote products and increase sales, often with little regard to the actual needs of the educators. It becomes difficult to decipher what is useful and what will really provide the much-needed boost to a specific school system, district or program.  In this brief posting, I will provide a method for finding relevant solution, or finding that ‘diamond in the rough’ that will give the much needed boost to your educational programs.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) Show, which is one of the largest in the western hemisphere, showcasing hundreds of educational technology solutions and best practices from around the world.  Every year, the BETT show brings together approximately 50,000 educators, exhibitors and vendors in a week-long event in central London.  Visitors spend days circulating around the exhibit hall, networking with peers, attending professional sessions and participating in marketing events.  The average educational leader becomes inundated with knowledge about products and solutions; some relevant and others less-important, making the decision making process overwhelmingly difficult and vendor-driven, which begs the question: do we want our public funds to be spent on the technology that is most effectively marketed?  Should schools and students exposed to technology and content solutions that we are pressured into buying or is there another way of going about this process?

The correct response to these questions are that effective decision-making should be based on instructional/pedagogic need alone.  One of the most effective ways of  addressing the educational technology selection and purchasing process should include the following:

  1. When attending a professional conference or show it is important to first and foremost act as an observer and develop a sense of orientation.  Observe the products from a ‘birds eye view’ perspective and get a general understanding of what is offered.
  2. Learn to categorize products and solutions based on function and perspective educational needs.
  3. Evaluate your organizations specific educational goals and needs – What problem are you trying address and how do the product types/categories that you’ve observed solve these problems?
  4. Select product categories that are relevant to these needs and examine them further.
  5. Prepare a list of specific questions, locate and approach the key product vendors with solutions that fall within these categories.  Examine each product extensively from an educational perspective and select only the ones that meet a pedagogic need (even then, do so cautiously!).

The effective selection of education technology products is often a daunting task.  The key is to begin with educational and instructional needs and avoid the lure of marketing efforts.  The five-step process listed above provides a way to find that diamond in the rough that may significantly advance your program.

QBL – A Practical Solution to Teaching

By Coby Enteen

Project-based Learning (PBL) has gained a great deal steam and has been adopted and implemented in many forms, over the course of the last decade.  Teachers invest endless hours in dissecting topics, planning activities, writing questions, organizing information, consulting with fellow educators, correlating to standards, and learning new technologies only to discover that the PBL unit takes up too much time and is largely out of synch with the school schedule, requirements, and other teaching taking place in the school.  In addition, inquiry-based learning (IBL) has largely been viewed as an effective means for improving the understanding of science concepts, and developing much needed critical thinking skills among students (Edelson, Gordon, & Pea, 1999).  Although tremendously effective in some environments, the IBL approach involves a great deal of preparation and is largely difficult to implement.  The challenges presented by these two methods, combined with the lack of teacher time and resources has brought about a third alternative, which has been coined the Question-based Learning (QBL) technique.

QBL is largely based on the principals of PBL and IBL, taking into account the constraints of the typical classroom.  While PBL is designed to encourage the development of 21st century skills while promoting student thought and motivation (Blumenfeld, 1991), and IBL encourages learning that is based on investigation; QBL is designed to incorporate both methods through short and adaptable process, which combines traditional teaching with inquiry, research, product development, reporting, and assessment.  Solomon (2008) argues that “introducing and implementing PBL in a traditional school setting can be a complex challenge, requiring a significant change in teachers’ approaches to teaching and students’ approaches to learning.”  In reality this required ‘change in approach’ has the negative affects of leading to the disintegration of effective learning practices and methods.  The QBL process provides a more practical and adaptable instructional approach, as illustrated below (figure 1).


QBL ModelFigure 1 – QBL Method

When effectively implemented, the QBL method provides an attainable framework for teachers to deliver content in a flexible, yet dynamic fashion.  Students engage in traditional learning activities for knowledge acquisition, transition into discovery learning and research, then work collaboratively to integrate creativity with advanced levels of thinking to both create and present products.  The discovery learning approach fits in well with QBL, because it allows students to actively investigate and explore new content, while developing sound strategies for learning the new material (McDaniel & Schlager, 1990).

QBL is an effective process for incorporating modern-day instructional approaches into the classroom.  The many constraints placed on educators, combined with the drive to improve education as a whole place a great deal of pressure on the teacher, who often finds it difficult to implement  innovative methodologies in an effective manner.


Blumenfeld, P.C., Soloway, E., Marx, R.W., Krajcik, J.S., Guzdial , M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3-4), 369-398

Edelson, D., Gordin, D., & Pea, R. (1999). Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning Through Technology and Curriculum Design. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3-4), 391-450.

McDaniel, M., & Schlager, M. (1990). Discovery Learning and Transfer of Problem-Solving Skills. Cognition and Instruction,7(2), 129-159.

Solomon, G. (2008, 11). Project-Based Learning: a Primer .Classroom Technology News | Educational Apps | Bloom’s Taxonomy | Retrieved Oct 21, 2013, from

The Modern Student Learning Life Infographic

Student Inforgraph

Some highlights that should be noticed are:

  • 93% of students use study apps
  • 70% of students study solo during exams
  • 59% of students use a mobile phone to study
  • 42% of students have as favorite place to study their bedroom30% of students prefer to use Google Drive.

via The Modern Student Learning Life Infographic.