Redesign Your Classroom

A line from the new education documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” raises the question of student’s abilities to make decisions when we don’t allow students to make decisions. School is too often about content, memorizing and recalling, when the real focus should be on raising future adults, future adults capable of making informed decisions.

In the original article (10+ Tips for Using Brain-Based Methods to Redesign Your Classroom) Erin Klein explores brain-based methods for redesigning your classroom. Below is a brief summary.

  1. Layout and Use of Space: are there different spaces within your room that serve different purposes?
  2. Furniture Choices: are there choices of furniture for students, or is all seating uniform in nature?
  3. Color Selections: is your room full of bright colors and busy patterns?
  4. Lighting: what sources of natural light exist in your room? Are there ways to introduce other light sources besides traditional fluorescents?
  5. Nature: is your classroom sterile and free of living organisms?
  6. Environmental Print and Design: are your walls plastered with busy posters? Are they a resource for learning?
  7. Organization of Materials: is your room organized as a workspace for students or a storage area for supplies?

When considering how you might redesign your classroom, why not ask the students? What is their vision of an ideal learning space? More often than not, it’s not what currently exists.

In another article (Campfires in Cyberspace) with a similar message, David Thornburg, Ph.D. suggests that learning takes place “in four spaces, only a few of which are honored in most schools.” These four learning spaces are: 1) campfires (information); 2) watering holes (conversation); 3) caves (concept); and 4) life (context).

What are some ways you might redesign your classroom AND involve students? Imagine the possibilities!

What is a parent to do?

Imagine you are a 5-year-old, entering formal education [kindergarten] for the first time. You have heard 30 million MORE words than your classmate sitting right next to you. How does that increased exposure impact you? How does the lack of exposure impact your classmate?

According to many recent articles, it plays quite a significant role in a child’s future progress in social and emotional skills, along with literacy in all its varied forms. So where do parents fit into this equation? It all depends on the home learning environment. And for too many children in this country, there isn’t an overly positive one, for any number of reasons.

What supports are in place to help parents foster a more positive home learning environment? There are community-based workshops, which may or may not be effective. There are web sites, brochures, and in-home visits, also with minimal impact or real sustainability in producing change. However, change of this type is not uncommon in adults, and other job training programs often show similar results and share similar concerns.

Do parents intentionally shy away from learning how to better impact their children’s lives or improve the home environment? Doubtful. So what is the problem? It may be lack of attention to a particular area, but also a matter of choice, or too many choices. It all seems to boil down to creating a way for parents to navigate the wealth of information to make the best decisions possible.

Educators, beware. Parents aren’t secretly keeping their best kids at home. What can we do to help bridge the gap, and work WITH parents, for the overall benefit of their children?

For more specific information and references to the research, visit the original article – Helping parents help their children

Making It Meaningful.

Project-based learning may seem like just another education buzzword. Every single thing we do in life may appear as a project. Publications, communication plans, and more, boil down to projects. Even things we do in our homes. Part of this process is breaking things down into chunks and working through them along some timeline.

What about in school? Where do we learn these skills? Students appear to be working on a lot of projects, displays, etc., but what really prepares us to complete projects in the real world? These are skills that today seem only applicable in the workforce. What happens in schools tends to be more time filler and not always something relevant or even intentional to a real-world problem. What if students of all ages were allowed the opportunity explore and discover? Remember, not all learning or discovery is earth-shattering innovation. It may just be an individual experiencing something for the first time.

Students at Raisbeck Aviation High School provide just one example of how students are being engaged in authentic and meaningful explorations. Students in this scenario are learning about the math and physics behind airfoil designs. Throughout the year, they explore, design, and test airfoil designs, documenting evidence for why one design is superior to another, followed by a recommendation for what they feel is the best design to meet the pre-determined specifications. They may not necessarily be creating the next generation of airfoils for the airline industry, but they are putting their skills and knowledge to the ultimate test.

In a real work environment, this is exactly how it works. There isn’t always going to be someone standing next to you explaining the next move and why. Individuals and groups must document their processes for exploring a particular problem and be able to explain what worked and what didn’t along the way.

What are some shifts you make in your classroom to provide a more authentic learning environment for your students? What ways do you turn those ‘projects’ into meaningful explorations?

Interested in hearing more about project-based learning from students in the aviation program? Read the original post from Getting Smart and listen to the podcast.

Original Post – Project-based Learning Connects Real World with Deep Impact

Teacher Support…It needs to change.

A common message in education these days. . . It needs to change. More specifically, a number of recent articles suggest one area of change should be teacher professionalism. What does this professionalism look like? How does professionalism impact job satisfaction?

To no surprise, one key piece of job satisfaction is teacher support. These practices of support tend to be more beneficial for teachers of students considered as low socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, these are also the teachers that tend to receive the least support.

From an OECD report published in February 2016 (Original Article – OECD: Teacher Professionalism Needs Improvement Worldwide), three areas of teacher professionalism were identified: 1) knowledge base of teaching and best practices; 2) autonomy of teacher’s decision-making abilities; and 3) peer networks for professional learning. As a means to ‘score’ professionalism in these three areas, the average number of best practices was considered. Some key findings included: more pre-service support than in-service support; teachers have more say in selection of course materials versus assessment, content, or discipline; peer networking is often observation rather than collaboration; and primary teachers are more likely than secondary teachers to participate in development.

For the United States specifically, most teachers have participated in teacher education programs. However, just over half are given release time for professional learning, and still fewer participate in research. Control over materials was seen as the area of most autonomy, with far fewer having say in discipline practices or assessments. Most teachers reported receiving feedback from direct observations, while less than half indicated they participated in more collaborative peer networks.

While no specific policy suggestions were made for changing teacher professionalism, the report offered the following recommendations: require pre-service education training; expand mentoring; conduct classroom-based individual or collaborative research; and encourage participation in peer networks.

What are some suggestions you have to help to make the change to support our teachers before and during their careers?

A Most likely to succeed MOVIE!

ShiftED, Lumen Touch, & KCedu presents…

A screening and discussion of Most Likely to Succeed that is free & open to the public!
A lot of things have changed tremendously since 1890 for the better, except for schools. We have had the same model and expectations for our students for centuries (literally). This movie exposes the outdated flaws and issues we are still facing today. Not only do they find the issues, they already have the answers. In fact, their solutions are so good that they’re named “most likely to succeed”.
We invite everyone who can possibly attend to come see this film. It’s completely free to see and is appropriate for all ages. Come see what will probably change everybody’s lives in this country and maybe even the world. After the screening, we will have food, drinks, and open conversations about the movie. 
Sal Khan from Khan Academy said, “the 21st century is going to be all about building, creating, and innovating. This remarkable film shows a path of how we can empower all of our children to do that.” For more information on the movie, please visit We are looking to move KC education forward from this screening with goal-oriented action tank groups.
WHEN:Wednesday, December 9, 2015 from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM (CST)
WHERE: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation – 4801 Rockhill Road Kansas City, MO 64110
We hope you are able to join us to preview one of the “best edu-documentaries ever produced” (Education Week).

Discipline. Facetime. Pipeline.

A recent HuffPo article reveals results of California’s efforts to reduce student suspensions for minor behavioral infractions. Spoiler: the results have been mostly positive.

Two important observations stand out:56522eea1b0000270029e550

  1. More efficient, less exclusionary discipline tactics result in increased instructional time for the students. These precious minutes of instruction translated into improved academic performances. The verdict: every little minute helps, especially for at-risk students most affected by these changes.
  2. To support the students, we must first support the teachers. A notable response from the study was that despite the many positive outcomes, classroom teachers were left with sometimes-rowdier classrooms and minimal guidance on alternative behavior management approaches. The verdict: always schedule PD to support teachers as a part of any change management plan.

Care to join us?

This is just a guess: you’re here (on this link, this blog, this post) because you care about providing great education for kids. Am I right?

I thought so.

So let’s get serious about it. Folks at The Super School Project want to give you money for that. That = The Super School Project Challenge – imagining (and creating) the next great American high school. 2015-11-18_09-42-47

If you just checked out that link and your first thought was CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, we want to know because we want to partner with you. We think your great ideas + our great ideas + the power behind Lumen Touch’s technology = the next great American high school.

Are you in? Let’s talk. Email us at

Gordon Parks Elementary: A Film Premiere

School success stories are some of our favorite features here at ShiftED (need we say: DUH!). Next month a once-imperiled charter school will be featured in a film premier of its own name: Gordon Parks Elementary.

If you reside in the Kansas City area, we encourage you to RSVP immediately for this wonderful glimpse into the Gordon Parks Elementary School’s journey, and into the lives of the school’s myriad stakeholders.

Click here to RSVP for the event.



Succeeding in Standards while Cultivating Creativity

In a heartening article on last week, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell explores ways in which classroom instructors can help students achieve success in a world of standardized expectations while still actively engaging them in creative development as well. price-mitchell-8-ways-imapce-student-success-01

Price-Mitchell reminds us: “creativity is not confined to people of extraordinary intellect or talent — or to big inventions. Everyone has creative capacities that evoke originality….”

Read more about the new neuroscience of creativity and learn six new ways to boost student creativity in the classroom.