Make Your Students “Now” Ready


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


The term “career and college ready,” or any other variation, is thrown around all the time in K-12 education with good intentions. We all want students to leave our classrooms with passion for learning, prepared for their job or their next step in education. However, you can’t simply rely on these ideas to engage your students.

One of the pitfalls to avoid with career and college readiness is just what the term can imply: “This will matter when you go to college.” Why do we default to the response that this material will help you later? For some kids, career and college has never been an option and seems well out of their realm of possibilities. Simply using it as a talking point will not break through to them. In fact, it may even create a barrier. A student could view this as a lack of understanding of their world and where they come from.

This is not to say you should never use future-oriented language. I have seen some amazing schools where the culture is “You WILL go to college,” but again, this is in the whole school’s culture, not simply a phrase that is used to try and get students engaged in the work. I think this culture of excellence needs to be paired with a culture on authenticity and relevancy in the present moment. As Chris Lehmann asked in a recent TED talk, “Why can’t what students do matter now?”

I agree. We can do better. We can show kids, through authentic and relevant tasks based in the present, that their work is important NOW. You can make students “now” ready. You can make the teaching and learning matter to them now, honoring them as crucial to creating and innovating in the current world around them.

Instead of having students investigate world religions in a traditional research paper or presentation, have them work in teams to debunk current myths, stereotypes, or misunderstandings for the local community through a variety of products and presentations. Instead of just interactive labs about the human body’s structures and systems, have students investigate current health care technologies or practices and suggest innovations and improvements in treatment. Instead of having them create a blueprint of detailed measurements and angles, have them engage in a design challenge to create a new outdoor school structure that will meet all teachers’ and students’ needs at the school (Ed. Note: see the work of 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Brad Kuntz).

Notice that in all these examples they will still learn significant content, but for an authentic purpose in the present. Making students “now” ready creates a culture of present and future excellence. Engaging students in critical thinking, rigorous work, and authentic learning today will convey the skills and content for success tomorrow.


Q & A with Courtney Calfee, FLVS Curriculum Specialist


This post originally appeared on edReformer, a community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovatation.  edRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and  promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms. View Original >



Innovation Spotlight – Conspiracy Code

There are progressive reforms out there in online education, people and organizations who are thinking outside of the box of what it means to engage our students in the online classroom. Florida Virtual School has implemented Conspiracy Code™: American History, a game-based course in American History. It is one of the first courses of its kind to be available to students on a large scale. I like some, was intrigued by the idea, but of course had my reservations. I was lucky enough to set up a interview with Courtney Calfee, FLVS Curriculum Specialist and one of the lead curriculum designers for the project. Below is the QA from our conversation.

What was the inspiration for constructing a course like this?

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) created a partnership with 360ed, a game development company, to design the game interface and a Learning Management System. FLVS also worked with the University of Central Florida to ensure the facilitation of Caine & Caine brain-based learning in instructional design. The interactive nature of gameplay allows for higher order thinking assessment and incentivized learning through engaging gameplay. Conspiracy Code™: American History was created as an appealing, interactive game-based program with the hopes of leveraging technology to effectively engage students and teach them social studies content knowledge and skills. The historical content is tied into game interaction and storyline to create a meaningful learning experience.

Describe what an example unit looks like, including instruction methods and assessment. What do the assessments look like? Are they authentic?

Conspiracy Code™: American History is organized into 10 missions that are mostly linear, but also organized thematically to allow students to identify changes over history and gain a deeper understanding of historical content. Florida Virtual School students collect historical clues which contain a chunk of information such as text, images, video, audio, primary documents, chart, etc. To check for understanding, the student receives a mini-game following each clue that requires them to select the appropriate images for the clue, answer a Wheel of Fortune- type game, put events in order, or perform another quick content knowledge check. Throughout the game, students are on the hunt to identify enemy agents by asking them historical questions. If the character tells historical inaccuracies, the player knows that this character is an agent. The player can then challenge the agent to a content knowledge duel, which if successful, will remove the agent from the game. Students submit their Conspiracy Logs to their instructors throughout the mission and answer higher cognitive level questions about the content to ensure understanding. Students collaborate in the Forum by participating in discussions on historical content. Finally, the students complete a discussion-based assessment with their instructor and complete an authentic mission project demonstrating mastery over the content.

What data have you collected that illustrates Conspiracy Code’s success?

Conspiracy Code™: American History is currently being tested with students to validate and measure learning gains through efficacy testing.  Florida Virtual School students should finalize course work and study activities through the summer months, and a report will be available by the end of the year.

How is this course culturally responsive or helps to serve the needs of all students? How is the course differentiated?

The students encounter a wide-range of characters throughout the course which allows students to see someone like them in the game. Students can take this course for honors credit and are encouraged to extend their thinking with culminating mission projects. Additionally, students are allowed to progress through the game at their own pace to allow time to digest the content and review content. The content is chunked into manageable pieces of history to help students digest information before moving on to new content. The Conspiracy Code™: American History mini-games help all students evaluate their understanding of clues before moving on to new material.

How do students collaborate with each other?

The students taking Conspiracy Code™: American History participate in a forum where they collaborate and discuss historical topics.

Regarding efficiency: How do you know that this is an efficient use of learning time?

The teachers provide constant feedback on their students’ level of engagement by conducting discussion-based assessments with their Conspiracy Code™: American History students. The documentation of the interaction demonstrates that the students gain a deeper understanding of American History than in traditional courses.

What are your plans for extending this type of course design to other FLVS courses? Will you keep the theme of “conspiracy” or branch out into other thematic games?

Future plans include a development of a middle school U.S. History course and a high school World History course using the same characters in different environments.  Currently, we also have an Intensive Reading version of the course being tested in lab settings for a blended model delivery.

How do you train teachers on teaching this type of course? How is the same or different from teaching other traditional FLVS courses?

We train teachers on Conspiracy Code™: American History by giving them hands-on experience in the course.  Our teachers are all very highly-qualified and knowledgeable in their own subject areas so they are already awesome teachers – we just need to train them to use their skills in a slightly different environment.

What has been your biggest learning experience as a course designer for Conspiracy Code?

The most rewarding learning experience has been to see how content goals and gameplay goals can be integrated and accomplished together.

Conspiracy Code™: American History is definitely appealing to a variety of learners and can serve as an engaging environment to learn important content. There are a variety of assessments, media and activities to check students understanding of the context, as well as learn the content initially. As the developers are reflective, they see some potential to reflect and improve upon the course. I think the next step is building authenticity for an outside audience in a course design, similar to Jane McGonigal’s Evoke project, as well as true collaboration to produce the assessments, more than simply chatting on a discussion board. Conspiracy Code™: American History is a great example of thoughtful innovation and commitment to exciting options for all students. Like Jane McGonigal says, “Gaming can make the world a better place,” so why not allow our students game to learn.

Building Student Capacity in the Middle Grades


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


Project-based learning (PBL) is being embraced by schools nationally and across grade levels. Educators know that each grade level comes with its challenges as students are in a variety of developmental levels and abilities. However, through practicing 21st century skills in a PBL environment, students can build their social, emotional, and cognitive capacity.

Because the middle grades are a paradigm shift for most students, middle-grades teachers are presented with an exciting opportunity to engage 21st century learners, but they also need to keep in mind that these students need unique scaffolding.

As someone who taught using PBL at the middle-grades level, I have seen students be very successful, with careful and deliberate scaffolding. Of course, there are unique challenges when working with middle-grades students, not only in terms of their development but also in terms of the level of PBL project they have accomplished previously, if any at all.

Because many students have not done PBL regularly, it is important that the PBL projects are tightly managed and teacher-directed at first. This is because you need to make it safe for students. PBL has students collaborate, present, and think critically. Although these may seem like “skills,” they are crucial to any child developmentally. Just as good teachers scaffold content learning, teachers need to scaffold this learning as well. Middle-grades students can collaborate, present, and critically think, they just require more scaffolding and focused guidance.

Below are the first stages of a PBL development guide created by Angela Dye of the Small Schools Project. I think these are great targets for teachers to use at the middle grades. I believe that if you are using PBL effectively and regularly in the classroom, students can reach stage 3 or higher by the time they leave your classroom for high school. In fact many elementary schools focus on PBL projects that would fit in steps 1 and 2; so if PBL is built into the scope and sequence of the entire life of a student, one can only imagine the amazing things students can do at the middle-grades level, let alone in high school.

Step 1: Project Taskmaster

At this level, students are connecting themselves to the problem-solving process. Here is where they commit to learning the problem by completing specific, subject-matter tasks. They take responsibility for building their knowledge base for the project. They use the computer effectively to collect and display data. They collaborate with others for accuracy of data and information. They learn to view the teacher as an advisor and not the central source for knowledge and learning.


  1. Report of problem (outlined by facilitator)

Step 2: Project Scholar

At this level, students analyze the global aspects of the problem. They are able to take the data collected and articulate a sound description of the problem. In addition, they use the Internet and other resources (other than the teacher) to add depth to their analysis.


  1. Report of problem (outlined by facilitator)
  2. Problem analysis

Step 3: Project Leader

At this level, students are able to use their global awareness of the problem to identify outcomes (needs) of the problem. By connecting these needs to a social institution, they then design a solution that is a concrete object, an event (or activity), or a process. Although the solution is not carried out at this level, the design is valid (researched) and applicable (realistic) and ready for implementation.


  1. Report of problem (outlined by facilitator)
  2. Problem analysis
  3. Project design

PBL is a great way to not only build skills but also foster student growth emotionally, socially, and cognitively. When students collaborate, they become social beings in a context. When students present their work, they build their emotional confidence. When students critically think, their brains are working hard. How thankful your high school will be when your middle-grades students leave you as not only project leaders, but also confident and secure young adults.