Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Going Public and Going Pro: The Power of Portfolios, Publishing & Personal Branding

One of the quintessential elements of project-based learning is producing a PUBLIC PRODUCT. Having all of our students produce high quality public work, especially in the 21st century digital world and economy, is truly essential.


First of all, it connects to other of our PBL Design Elements: (a) Authenticity - Having a Public Product makes it more real for students. Making learning real for students makes it authentic, (b) Critique & Revision: Having a Public Product also allows for greater feedback (students, teachers, professionals, experts, community members, employers) opportunities, and (c)  Reflection: Having a Public Product allows more people to experience the work of our students, especially with the many digital and online opportunities (more on that later). Showcasing and exhibiting one’s work publicly allows for celebration, but also that necessary skills of being able to articulate and defend one’s learning.
Secondly, going public also adds several learning benefits. They are:

  • Students tend to buy-in to the work and take more ownership when they know that others will be seeing, critiquing and even assessing their work.
  • Students also walk away with tangible evidence and documentation of their work that can be part of their long-term and on-going work to be used by colleges, employers and others.
  • Students not only learn from their work, but from the work of others when they see projects during all stages of design and when presented. This can apply to teachers as well.
  • Students also have greater opportunity to network with more peers, professionals, experts, community members, teachers during all types of public product work.

Going public begins, typically, with students sharing their products in presentations in class to their peers and teacher. However, that can be just the beginning. Here are three areas where we can stretch our students while preparing them for working and living in the 21st century:

THE PORTFOLIO 2.0

Traditionally, most of us associate portfolios with artists, writers and designers. In school, we have had watered down versions for years where students were asked to put their work in a folder that may or may not have been shared.
Well, we are in a new era. Forget AP scores, weighted GPA’s and SAT scores. We are now in a portfolio world and economy. Remember, in a “Gig Economy,” where our students are going to have to continually contract work and pitch themselves to clients, our students need a lifetime portfolio where they digitally present and publish their work….and themselves.

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Let me introduce you to Beverly Pham - a student at the University of Southern California (http://www.beverlypham.com/). I don’t know Beverly personally, but one look at her website (digital portfolio) lets me know she’s a pro. This portfolio - video, reporting, graphic design and more - showcases her academic and professional work. All of our students are entering a post-secondary world where they are competing digitally and internationally in this global economy with the likes of Beverly Pham.
All educators need to ask the questions:
Are my students ready?
Are they ready like Beverly is ready?
Are they ready to compete head on with Beverly?
How will others see and experience their work and skills?
My guess is that Beverly didn’t necessarily learn all of these skills, as well as how to digitally feature and display them, from her high school curriculum. But she should have.
Students, as well as educators, can house their portfolios at a number of free website building tools and applications. If the school is a GAFE site, many might use Google Sites that is part of their Google Applications. But there are literally dozens of free commercial sites (Wix, Weebly, ehost, Sitebuilder and many others). All of these have commercial upgrades, but are not required in order to have a fully-functioning site and portfolio.
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A student’s digital portfolio can house any number of things including, but not limited to presentations, writing, photos, videos, social media links, bios, resumes, testimonials and more.
In addition to getting a site set-up as their ongoing portfolios, many are also encouraging all students to purchase a url or domain with their name. For a few dollars a year, we can all own some derivation of our name as a domain. Once a student has purchased a domain, they can point whatever free website building tool site to that url. In only bought mine (http://michaelniehoff.com/) a few years ago and wish I would have started earlier.
There are lots of reasons why all of us should purchase a domain for our name. See more info here: http://awesomelytechie.com/buy-custom-url-domain/

PUBLISH OR PERISH

It’s not enough to have a portfolio. We need to have students also become regular digital content creators.

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One of the best ways to have students create quality content is to have all them create their own blog as well. Again, they have many free blog applications (Wordpress, Blogger (Google Apps.), etc.. Like the website building applications, they have paid upgrades. But they are never necessary. Having a blog can serve many purposes. First, all students need to be writing and reflecting about their work. This provides opportunities for higher level thinking and as a means to document what we do. Second, blogs also allows us a means to share our story. All of us have a story, a journey if you will, that can now be shared with others in order to connect, collaborate, motivate, inspire and learn from one another. Finally, blogs also allow students and others to develop a positive and professional digital footprint and brand while pursuing areas of specialty and expertise.
But in addition to blogging, one can become a content creator in other ways too. Think about students who produce videos starting their own YouTube channel. It’s creating a Flickr account for all of your photos.

Personal Branding (Social Media)

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Many of us in the Ed Tech community have long been advocating for education to view Social Media as one of the new literacies. First, more and more colleges/universities, as well as employers, are looking at candidates’ social media profiles to make decisions about them. It can certainly be a problem if someone has lots of negative Social Media activity (profanity, racism, sexism, drugs and alcohol, sex). But I would argue that it’s also a problem if someone has no footprint whatsoever.
What do any of us get when we Google our names? Once we separate ourselves from our various same name global colleagues, what can the world find out about us online? Using Social Media as a vehicle to showcase any and all of our professional or academic work can support this idea of developing a positive digital footprint and being globally competitive. Students inherently view Social Media as primarily social. It’s our job, as educators, to show them the true, exponential power of Social Media as the Four C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking).
One could argue that our social media activity is another form of our resume/portfolio. What if all students shared their best work on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others? Indeed, not only would that be a hands-on way of developing digital literacy and citizenship, but also a way for people to drive other people to their work.
We are rapidly moving towards defining student success and readiness by skill development and mastery. Our students need to have skills, but also be able to demonstrate and articulate them. Through digital portfolio development, digital publishing and personal branding, they can.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and others)






Tuesday, May 9, 2017

11 Ways to Unschool Your School (Suck The Suck Out)

Part of the challenge - in addition to new standards, tech integration and overall pedagogical overhaul (technical) - is how school looks and feels (culture). With the demands of changing students in a rapidly evolving world, this often gets summarized as personalized education. Again, this is as much related to culture vs. technical. One of the many ways to think about how we re-create the learning experiences for our students at much higher levels could be to UNSCHOOL SCHOOL. In addition to weak or outdated curriculum and instruction, school often SUCKS for our students due to the many daily things that schools do that just make school look and feel even worse.

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HERE ARE 11 WAYS TO UNSCHOOL YOUR SCHOOL
(Why 11? Because it goes to 11)
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  1. ASK THE STUDENTS….ABOUT EVERYTHING. Ask all students about all aspects of the school and ask them often. Teachers and administrators should survey students regularly (at least several times a year) about their learning experiences and how the staff can work to continually improve them. However, it  doesn’t stop there. Students should be in on the rules, procedures, processes, handbook, hiring, schedules, facilities, course needs, purchasing and more. Trust me….students have great ideas and we rarely consult them. If you want to have responsible students who are truly prepared for their futures, turn as much of the school over to them. It’s called Democratization (maybe our leaders can learn how this is done). A truly student-centered school could be a tough transition for many adults, but so much better for students and learning.


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  1. LIMIT RULES AND RESTRICTIONS. Keep the list short and simple. Schools have a tendency to have dozens, or even hundreds, of rules in some giant, never read handbook. Like a good resume or cover letter, get it down to one page. Focus on the essentials and make sure that they are based on legal obligations and common sense/safety that students usually understand (and buy into). For example, dress codes should be based on essential common decency not style or fashion. Students are too smart to not understand that rules related to hair color or other preferences do not correlate well to learning. If you ban cell phones vs. figuring out how to incorporate, integrate and manage professionally, then you’ll never get it.

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  1. ACCESSABILITY. All the school personnel should be personal and accessible. Allow, even encourage, students to communicate in any way that works (text, instant messaging, calls, chats, etc.). Why are our cell phone #’s so sacred? What can someone do with it that is so scary? If it freaks you out, go Google Voice. Either way, if you use text and messaging (social media applications), you will increase the open lines of communication leading to better trust, relationships, sharing and culture.

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  1. SMARTSTART YOUR SCHOOL. If the first day of school sucks, where does one go from there? Many students, even in high school, anticipate the beginning of each school year and are excited that it might be different. Maybe it will be engaging, interesting and relevant this time around. This excitement or anticipation usually dissipates as they come to school and are inundated with long talks and preachings about rules, expectations, syllabi and more. What if that first day, first week and beyond were about the opportunities, the possibilities, the projects, the people and more? Think about creating a culture that facilitates academics vs. jumping into academics. What if schools focused more on what students can do vs. what students cannot do? http://bit.ly/SmartStartYourSchool

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  1. EXPAND THE WALLS OF THE CAMPUS. Our gates or fences need to also be literally and figuratively transparent in our schools. Our students should see lots of people in addition to their peers and teachers on campus each and every day. These include, but are not limited to career professionals, guest speakers, mentors, entrepreneurs, non-profit pioneers, community leaders and more. Additionally, our students should be off campus a great deal as well. They need work-based, place-based and community-based experiences to not only define their learning, but provide necessary context, contacts and community.

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  1. ALL STUDENTS NEED TO BE LEADERS, EXPERTS and FACILITATORS. All of our students need opportunities to pursue their interests and career goals. They need multiple opportunities to research, collaborate, present, partner, pitch, ideate, problem solve and more…..all in an effort to create a digital portfolio of work and accompanying badges, certificates and skill mastery. All students need to have some role or responsibility on campus and all students need to participate in showcases/exhibitions. It’s up to the school to find each and every student these opportunities relevant to them and their specific educational path. We cannot relegate student leadership positions to the traditional (sports, student government, clubs and the arts). We need to create new leadership positions on projects and in specialized applications.

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  1. TO HELL WITH THE BELLS. This is intended to be literal and figurative. Nothing seems more antiquated and old school than bells. Haven’t we taught students the hands on a clock at an early age? Bells say factory. If you need a reminder, use music or something fun. But to me, bells don’t make people on time, Importance, urgency, buy-in, involvement and engagement make people on time. Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 1.37.53 PM.png


  1. FLIP THE FOOD, FLIP THE FEEL. Our cafeterias and snacks bars need to be more like Food Trucks. Our libraries and media centers need to be more like Starbucks. Our classrooms need to be more like contemporary work spaces. Our administrative offices need to be more like Hospitality or Concierge centers instead of places of doom and gloom. This is more than just trying to compete with the outside world. It’s about making everything in our schools inviting. When we want to be somewhere, we are more engaged, perform better and respect it more. My former high school had a drum set in the office, several meat smokers on campus, decaf coffees in the library space and more.

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  1. THE GEAR - GO BIG, GO PRO AND GO NOW. Yes, we have budget limitations. But we also seem to purchase things that are just not current or sexy. All of our programs need to have current technology and applications. Music needs to have the kickass sound system. Culinary needs the commercial oven. Art needs the studio space. Whether it’s grant writing, corporate or community donations or something else, we need to find a way. Our schools need to have cutting edge equipment that students do not typically have at home. We need anything and everything to produce creativity and inspire innovation - this includes, but is not limited to 3D printers, plasma cams, robotics, digital video tools and applications, audio gear and so much more.

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  1. BEYOND THE GAME…..MORE THAN THE DANCE. For far too long, our social options in school have primarily been limited to athletic events and school dances. These are probably not going away, but do not appeal to everyone and generally don’t have long-term applications for our future professionals. But what if all of our schools had student art exhibitions and art hops, student project showcases, car shows, student film festivals, niche guest speakers, rock concerts, unplugged acoustic nights, culinary competitions and non-profit just to name a few? What do most of us like about college or our communities? It’s specialized, unique events that appeal to our interests where we often can even play a role. If our schools are the cultural hub of our student communities, make them reflect the student community. Prom might be a tradition, but it’s not something sustainable for the rest of our lives.

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  1. MIX IT UP, CHANGE IT UP AND KEEP IT FRESH. We know that students, just like all humans, depend on certain levels of structure and predictability. The challenge is that structure and predictability are contrary to the 21st century skills such as creativity and deeper learning. So many things in school become so institutionalized that they are engagement killers. Everything including, but not limited to our schedules, courses, classrooms, assignments, projects, furniture, events and more need can be up for grabs in terms of intentional deviation. The book Who Moved My Cheese? can become a handbook on how to do this. A few examples from my past include reversing the daily schedule (backwards days), taking those “lame duck” days before vacations and scheduling inter-session courses or mini electives, allowing students to take over the school’s social media accounts, teachers swapping classes for the day/week, moving the location of classes….you get the idea.

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It’s time to redesign the entire definition of school. Students, parents and educators are realizing that real learning often happens outside of school. We need to bring that to school. School needs to look and feel very differently from how we have traditionally known. If students think school sucks, we owe it to them to create a place that doesn’t suck. If we do, learning and success will more likely follow..

(photos courtesy of Foter, Getty, Pixabay, iStock Images)

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Three-Prong Education Solution - This Is All We Need

Let’s face it. If any of us had a nickel for each of the education plans and ideas that have been produced on blogs, tweets and elsewhere in the last few years, I could pay every teacher in America a $2,500 bonus. Right?
Well, what are we going to do? When can we agree that we have a few educational pedagogies and foundations, relevant to our changing world and new economy, that we can identify as where all of us need to go.
My suggestions is this simple: We need to combine the best of project-based learning, career technical education and career readiness, and the best available digital tools and resources. I should be superintendent of the western world right? OK, until then, can we work towards collaboratively calling out the three areas driving it all. How complicated is this? It’s not. PBL, CTE/Career Readiness and Tech really do cover it all. Let’s do this. Here we go:
The Pedagogy

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Project-Based Learning, or some derivative, is the future. Check with most people that are connected to the future of work and the world, and ask them what students should be doing. They will all describe something that looks like PBL. They may call it inquiry-based, challenge-based, problem-based or something else. But they are essentially talking about students taking on real world problems, challenges and issues -  that allow them to dive deep and have ownership - while producing professional, public work. Yes, it includes lots of inquiry, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and flexibility. BTW, we can embrace this or fight this, or anything in between, but it’s going to happen one way or another. Everything most of us are encouraging educators to pursue pedagogically, who are really trying to do anything relevant or impactful, is something that is PBL-like. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s more student-driven. Yes, it’s more than lesson design (it’s project design). Yes, it involves work way beyond a textbook, note taking, tests and worksheets. Work is project-based so our learning needs to follow. Anything less is not sufficient or relevant. If teachers cannot adopt or adapt, they may have to get out. Maybe new ones will want in if they see it being more interesting and meaningful.
Here are just a few of the major advantages of adopting a project-based pedagogy:
  • Real World Applications
  • Public Work
  • Student Voice & Ownership
  • Collaboration & Partnerships
  • Reflection and Metacognition
  • Problem Solving is Job Relevant and Leads To Job Creation
  • Deeper Learning
  • Portfolio Development
  • Students Can Articulate Skills and Concepts Learned
  • Community Connections
  • Four C’s Skill Development

The Purpose & The Product (True Career Readiness)

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For far long, the disconnect between school and careers has been apparent to almost everyone, including our students. Educators and others have leaned on the phrase “you’ll need this in college” when it came to explain the why to students. Simply, we need to be much more honest and explicit and make sure that we are doing in our classrooms and courses indeed has direct connection to skills and applications that our students are going to face in this very new 21st century global economy. Context, relevance, application, authenticity, engagement are all very necessary to make education work for our young people and connecting our content to careers is the means to this end. Yes, it’s Career Technical Education. But it’s really much more than that. It’s true Career Readiness that works towards creating all students to explore and identify specific career interest areas, as well as opportunities to truly develop both the technical and soft skills that the world is demanding. Career Fairs are not nearly enough. Career Reports only scratch the surface as well. We need to embed career components and connections in all of our core and elective courses. Additionally, we may need to go a lot further. For example, why can’t our English classes be a place where all students read, write, research, present and more related to various career possibilities? Since all high school students have English for four years, imagine if English became the mechanism  to connect students to work-based experiences such as internships, develop digital portfolios and professional web presence, social media literacy and so much more. Our students are entering a much more independent contractor - oriented economy and they will need these universal skills regardless of career or industry.
Here are just a few of the major advantages of connecting our education to career readiness for all students and all programs:

  • Relevance
  • Application
  • Mentoring
  • Work-Based Opportunities & Experiences
  • Career Exploration
  • Soft Skills Development and Training
  • Improved Higher Education Success and Understanding
  • Professional Learning Networks

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The Platform (Ed Tech Resources - i.e. the internet)


Over the last several years, we have seen a huge influx of technology into education. Indeed, we call it Ed Tech. This includes teachers incorporating technology into their curriculum and instruction. But even more importantly, it’s become our students using technology to produce more professional, relevant and applicable work - individually and collaboratively. Still, a good part of our education system is clinging to edu dinosaurs like textbooks, paper and pencil, low level tests and exams and industrial models of lecture-based approaches. However, the time has come for us to acknowledge that Ed Tech is just now Education. That’s right. If we are not using technology as our primary tools and and resources, we are essentially cheating our students. We now have dozens of devices and thousands of applications that allow all of us, and especially our students, to create, collaborate, ideate, innovate and initiate.
Here are some of the advantages of recognizing tech as the tool for learning for all ages, grade levels, courses and programs:

  • Multiple Sources and Resources (often free and not dependent on one text)
  • Interactive
  • Adaptive
  • Continuously Expanding Options and Choices
  • Models Professional and Academic Uses of Technology
  • Flexible (web or cloud-based available anywhere)
  • Develops Technology Skills, Digital Portfolio and Positive Digital Footprint
  • Professional Learning Networks
  • Students Become Teachers, Facilitators, Experts

Well, there you have it. To me, anything else we can discuss related to education can fall into one of these three categories that have multiple iterations and paths. Our students need to experience learning related to a project-based, career-skilled and high tech economy and world. Let’s do it (ok….if it were this simple, we would be universally doing it).
(Photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Free Images)