Love/Hate Relationship w/ Presenting

In the past week, I have presented at the US Space & Rocket Center for the Destination Imagination Conference in Hunstville, AL and at the Penn Stater Conference Center for the PA Principal’s Association EdLeader Summit in State College, PA .  On the way to both events, I asked myself – “What did you get yourself into?”  I get super nervous before these things, and I start second guessing my story/message.  Luckily, I know that it always turns out okay, so I push myself to keep putting myself out there.  I recognize how important it is for ALL educators to share his/her story, and I am grateful to be able to add my small part in to the world.

In honor of Open Educational Resources, I want to share both of my presentations.  I do not claim perfection from either presentation, but I am grateful for the educators who stood beside me to share the story of teaching/learning in my district.

Greg Wolfe (@Wolfe_Physics) is a Physics teacher and Science, Technology and Engineering Academy Leader in my district.  He was instrumental in planning the “Learning through Work” presentation for the Destination Imagination Conference.  Find the Google Slides here.  Greg and I decided the day before our scheduled presentation to ditch the original slides I created by myself, and we incorporated how PBL in our district helps to connect our students to the workplace in unique and creative ways.  Our co-created presentation was so much better than the original!  It was a huge letdown that only 5 people attended our session.  All that work!!!!

For the PA EdLeader Summit, I worked with Keera Dwulit (@keeradwulit) and Mike Hall (@mhall_AMS) to create the “Project-Based Learning (PBL):  Keepin’ It Real” presentation.  Find the Google Slides here.  We had a packed room of administrators from across PA for this presentation, and we received a lot of positive feedback about what we shared.  I hope that many of the participants will continue swapping stories with us about their own journey with PBL.

I left the PA EdLeader Summit wanting to submit more presentation proposals!  I know the next time I am about to begin a presentation that ever familiar anxiety will begin creeping in.



Falling in love with an idea?

What do you do when you fall in love with an idea?

  • Do you share it with others or do you remain silent?
  • Do you doodle and obsess over the possibilities of the idea?
  • Do you listen to the small voice that tells you it can’t or won’t happen?


                         “Falling in love is like jumping off a really tall building.  

                          Your brain tells you it is not a good idea, but your heart

                          tells  you, you can fly.”                          – Author Unknown 


If I am being honest, I should answer “yes” to all of the above questions.  The idea that I have fallen in love with is referred to as MCL – Mass Customized Learning.  It is the idea that schools can provide a rich, personalized learning experience that capitalizes on student strengths and interests, while providing a huge dose of choice within each learning experience.

I love this idea for so many reasons.  Below are just a few:

  1. MCL is totally learner-centered and learner-controlled.
  2. MCL lifts up teachers to be true professionals.
  3. MCL allows flexibility – both for learner outcomes and learner experiences!

Have I caught your interest about MCL?  I hope so.  Check this out to learn more!

The Day in the life of a #MCL Facilitator


Help me figure out what Iteration #2 might look like!  Please read & provide feedback via comments or on Twitter (@EClare_AHS).

Our administrative team was recently given copies of Inevitable:  Mass Customized Learning by Charles Schwann and Beatrice McGarvey.

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The basic premise of the book is that people are now able to customize most products and experiences (think Starbucks, ITunes, etc) to their personal interests/needs/wants…except of course in most schools!  The authors surmise that technology now exists to allow educators to both individualize and personalize the educational experience for learners, and therefore Mass Customized Learning (#MCL) is inevitable!  One of the chapters of the book gives you a quick peek into the daily schedule of a student learning within a #MCL environment.  Since reading this book, I have become quite obsessed with imagining what the life of a teacher (now referred to as #MCL Facilitator) might look like within a #MCL school!  So my first visual iteration of “The Day in the Life of a #MCL Facilitator” took shape in the form of my 2nd ever sketchnotes.

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While my thinking was fresh, I wanted to embellish a bit on each time segment.

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The #MCL facilitator’s day begins early with a few minutes to check in with her advisees (students assigned to him/her at the start of their learning journey).  On a walk with my daughter this afternoon, it occurred to me that a traditional teacher’s responsibilities could be “hacked” to include serving in a role similar to a college advisor. If you took my current staff and divvied up the total student population, it would equate to each staff member being responsible for approximately 13 students.  Imagine the relationships that could be built if teachers were given the time/structure to mentor just 13 students over the course of a high school career!  The #MCL facilitator could use email/Skype/GHO/social media to check-in with each advisee’s newly updated schedule.  So – a little background on #MCL – students learn approximately 50% of the required content and/or learning standards using a self-paced, online model.  This self-paced, online curriculum and instruction would be built from local teachers but might include curations of #OER.  The other 50% of content/learning standards are mastered through a choice-based approach, where students personalize instruction by self-selecting various seminars and experiences developed by teachers and published on some sort of scheduling app.  The #MCL facilitator therefore would need to work closely with students to ensure that their scheduling choices match up with both their future aspirations, as well as the defined knowledge/skills/dispositions defined as important by the school community.  I allotted about 45 minutes for the check-in activity, but the idea is that the #MCL facilitator would not need to do this every day.  In fact, what I love about the model of #MCL is that teachers are granted the professional courtesy and trust to create their daily schedules based on their and student current needs.

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As I am writing this, I am realizing that student check-in, followed by office hours might not make the most sense, but again, the #MCL facilitator has the professional freedom to create a schedule to satisfy that day’s priorities, so it could happen this way.  This hour and 15 minutes is created to first allow time for students who are not making adequate progress with their Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) – a listing of important learnings (content knowledge, skills, dispositions, etc) that are expected to reach a mastery level by graduation date – to meet individually or in a small group with their assigned #MCL advisor.  The #MCL advisor would review the progress of each individual students and recommend next steps, as well as assist students in setting short-term and long-term goals.  A second priority of this time would be for other students (those not required to attend office hours) to schedule time with their #MCL advisor, as needed or desired.  This would be a great opportunity for students to discuss project ideas, upcoming seminar topics, internship options, etc.  Just imagine the increased time that individual students might receive from an adult mentor!

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The next time segment for this imaginary #MCL Facilitator is 2 hours of work with students and a collaborating teacher in the “Inspire Studio” – a space designed with flexible furniture, fabrication tools and accessible technology.  When I created this image, I imagined the two teachers (pictured as Teacher A and Teacher B) designing a PBL unit from an essential, driving question in previous planning sessions.  The students pictured would have self-selected and been “scheduled” into the Inspire Studio space during this and many other time slots over the course of several weeks.  Students would work collaboratively to derive a solution to the essential question, and the #MCL Facilitators would serve as resources to the students during the process.  The #MCL Facilitators would also work during this time to provide feedback to the students about their understanding and attainment of important content and skills. The satisfactory completion of the PBL unit could serve as some unit of credit displayed on a traditional transcript.  I have not quite worked out how a traditional grading system might work within this #MCL environment, but maybe A, B, C, D, F grades just don’t make sense here!

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The #MCL Facilitator has now decided that a working lunch is needed with a community business partner.  The purpose of this particular lunch is to get feedback from the workforce professional on a few students who have recently completed an internship with the business partner.  In an #MCL environment, students would be expected to participate in many experiences outside the school walls.  In fact, some 17 and 18-year old students may select or be granted the opportunity to spend many of the school hours working with experts in various career fields.  The #MCL advisor of these students would then be expected to make site visits to observe students in the internships, discuss future opportunities for upcoming students, and gain insight about the world of work in today’s economy.

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In order to make all of this great work happen, it is critical that #MCL facilitators take time to work collaboratively with colleagues.  In this image, three teachers are working together to create a seminar opportunity for students to select and schedule during the next “scheduling phase.”  As I consider my image now, I think my next iteration of this image will include a community partner that would advise the teachers and add additional insight to the planning process.

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#MCL Facilitators may still do some “traditional” teaching, as depicted in the above picture of a seminar previously designed by Teacher A and Teacher B.  The image shows the two teachers providing direct instruction to a group of students on a Human-Centered Design (HCD) strategy.  The seminar topic is meant to be just one example of so many that can be designed for students.  What is not shown in this picture, however, is the flexible use of space needed for the seminar.  After a brief introduction of the HCD strategy, students are asked to try out the strategy in small groups and consider how the strategy can be used with their current PBL Project.  In the #MCL environment, #MCL facilitators are encouraged and expected to co-design and co-teach various seminars throughout the school year.  If traditional grading practices are still expected, #MCL facilitators can include various assessments within the seminars.

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I only included this last image to depict how traditional teacher roles might embrace the professionalism encouraged in the #MCL environment.  Having the responsibility to create your own daily schedule would be challenging and certainly a break from traditional expectations of teachers… Who’s in?

Traditional School contradicts Innovation

To kick off the study of a World-Class school, teachers were asked to watch a video featuring Dr. Tony Wagner discussing 5 ways that traditional schooling contradicts the creation of innovators.  Dr. Wagner has written extensively on the need for a culture of innovation in today’s schools and challenges each of us to transform the educational system to better equip our graduates for the demands ahead!  Check out Creating Innovators, Most Likely to Succeed or The Global Achievement Gap to learn more from this inspiring thought leader.


After watching the video, teachers were given time to reflect on the contradictions through a brainstorming activity.  Teachers used sticky notes to create solutions to each contradiction that would help better align the culture of schools with the culture needed for innovation!


How inspiring and hopeful to hear some common themes emerge from this… PBL, reimagining grading, portfolios, process over product, student-led projects, and teacher collaboration were just a few of the thoughts scattered about on the large whiteboards.  I can’t wait to see what these teachers ideate tomorrow!



Power the PBL through Partnerships

How engaging would it be to give students complete say in redesigning learning spaces of the school – integrating environmentally friendly, sustainability concepts in the final design?  How much better would these final designs turn out if the students received feedback from experts of environmental sustainability throughout the design process?  Answering these and other questions will be the mission of a newly created PBL unit at Avonworth High School – Earth, Wind and Fire:   Exploring Renewable Energy & Sustainability Through Alternate Learning Spaces.   To spur this innovative project, a small team of teachers and I applied for and successfully received a STEAM grant through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Throughout next school year, small groups of students led by teacher leaders will work with outside partners to redesign spaces on the high school campus.  It is difficult to describe what the final outcomes of these projects will be, as it is meant to be student-led and student-created.  However, I am already super excited about partnership development with The Drew Mathieson Center of Horticultural and Agricultural Technology, located in Pittsburgh!  I have visited the center twice, meeting first with Mark Wallace, Director of Greenhouse Operations!  The potential for students to gain knowledge about greenhouse operations, production of specialty crops, career exposure/awareness, and other “green” skills is exciting!  The second visit to The Drew Mathieson Center gave me and the teacher team an opportunity to sit down with a group of staff members who had just trained with The Buck Institute for Education on Project-Based Learning.  We brainstormed the possibilities for students to create a green, living wall both inside and outside the school walls, a butterfly garden for observation or a weather station for data collection.  Of course, these were the ideas of the adults in the room, and to keep the PBL student-centered, our team will need to work hard at honoring and elevating the ideas of the students.

I am hoping to make some further connections with additional sustainability partners, allowing students to self-select the expert mentor to work with throughout the Earth, Wind and Fire PBL process!  I also recognize that sometimes great ideas start small and are scaled later!  Either way, providing the opportunity for students to take an idea to fruition will keep me inspired through the hard work!

If you have ideas or feedback to strengthen the Earth, Wind and Fire PBL, I am eager to connect and hear your thoughts!  Reach out to me on Twitter @EClare_AHS

Innovate the Interview Process

Innovation, as defined by George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset, is “a way of thinking that creates something new and better.”  My fellow administrators and I knew that our interview process needed innovation.  We desired a new process that would help us tap into each candidate’s creativity and collaboration skills.  Using inspiration shared from a recent visit by our central office to High Tech High in CA, we decided to innovate the 2nd round of our interviews.  In the past, we asked successful candidates to prepare and then teach a sample lesson to a small group of students, teachers and administration.  Although we still value the teaching demonstration part of the interview process and will still use this process in a 3rd round interview, we decided to plan a 2nd round interview that we felt might be “new” and “better.”  Here is what we decided!


First, candidates would be invited in to our school for the same time slot.  This meant that candidates would be introduced to each other and asked to sit down in a small group to collaborate on some task.  On the most recent interviews, we had two groups with 3 – 4 candidates each.  Each group was given a set of essential questions and learning objectives, and they were asked to co-plan a lesson that would help learners meet these goals.  After the co-planning sessions, individual candidates were given time to debrief with an administrator – reflecting on the co-planning session and sharing examples of other collaborative efforts.    After a debriefing lesson, candidates were asked to craft a writing sample in response to a quote about teaching/learning.  The writing sample was crafted to bring out the candidate’s beliefs, thoughts and ideas about traditional teaching.

We have only used this process one time, but I can say for a first iteration it was a success!  I am already thinking of ways to improve the process by possibly inviting the candidates to co-plan a lesson with staff members from our campus who hold different certifications.  As we continue to focus on Project-Based Learning, it would be valuable to see the candidates work in collaboration with teachers outside of their own content area.

I am interested in how others have innovated there interview process!  Please comment and share 🙂