Win at BIG

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour an amazing school. Yesterday, I met some incredibly talented kids doing unbelievable work. Yesterday, I saw the future. Today, and this day forward, I will share their story in hopes we can move in this direction as an educational system. Iowa BIG knocks down the traditional walls of school and follows this mantra: Let your passions drive you to do something great and be open to building authentic relationships and teams. -Dr. Trace Pickering, Co-Creator & Associate Superintendent.

Iowa Big in Cedar Rapids, was started in 2012 as somewhat of an unorthodox experiment. Three years later and octupled in size, it is bursting with student success that needs to be shared. Something is working very, very well in this fully competency-based model. Below is a breakdown of the differences between the BIG model and traditional or “regular” school:

The Iowa BIG Model: The Current K12 Model:
-Content is delivered on demand as a project requires.

-Students are measured individually against the Iowa CORE, Common CORE, and NGSS.

-21st century and employability skills are embedded in every student’s experience.

-Curriculum comes from business, nonprofit, and government agencies in the form of projects, problems and initiatives.

-Responds directly to needs in the economy by embedding students in the economy.

-Personalized educational experience to honor student goals.

-Focus on service and entrepreneurialism.

-Subjects are integrated as they appear in the adult world – content is contextualized for deeper learning.

-Learning centers on fundamental tenet of core subjects like economics and computer programing.

-Designed to prepare citizens for the information-age world.

-Focuses on delivery of specific content.

-Curriculum is often standardized and legitimized by historical use.

-Content is delivered on a pre-determined schedule.

-Focuses majority of efforts on preparing students for college.

-Subjects are separated from one another for ease of scheduling and management.

-Students are clustered by age and ability level for efficiency purposes.

-Designed to prepare citizens for an industrial-age world. 

Who doesn’t want the Iowa BIG column for our children?! Is what they do in Cedar Rapids the perfect solution for all schools and should our educational system do a complete overhaul? No and the leaders at BIG would agree. Should we start the discussion and movement towards a VERSION of this model in our schools? YES! It will look very different in rural communities and that’s okay, it should. Cookie-cutter is not what the BIG idea is. If we keep our focus on offering students an opportunity to follow their passions and interests, integrate the community to use the student’s learning in context to the real world, and integrate subjects just like they are used and referenced in the real world it will be a win:win for everyone, especially our students.


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A Pebble On My Path

My world has been completely flipped upside down, inside out and all-around since June 4th when I accepted my position at PLAEA as the newest instructional technology consultant. The ride, so far, has been incredible. My brain hurts at the end of the day (literally, I’ve had more headaches than ever – I blame the computer screen), my knowledge of apps/software/programs/extensions/etc. has ballooned, my colleague bucket went from 20-some to 280-some (and that’s just the agency, it does not count my school administrators, teachers and students), and you can find me going to bed smiling almost every night. I am confident that I am on the correct path.

This week I had the pleasure of researching and preparing for a presentation on digital story-telling. The topic isn’t completely new to me, only fairly.  Last year, when I wore the hat of an elementary computer teacher, I had my second graders write a digital story on their iPads in conjunction with a classroom project. Time constraints come with teaching full time and  I didn’t have the time to research the latest and greatest app. I committed to the first “good” app I saw in the App Store and went to town. In hindsight, there are many different things I would have done with that unit (like finding a better app) but overall, the unit was a success and I would encourage teachers to explore the possibilities of digital story-telling.

Through my recent digital story-telling presentation prep I came up with an equation:

Designing + creating + presenting =

  • Research Skills: documenting the story, finding/analyzing information
  • Writing Skills: developing a story/point of view
  • Organization Skills: managing the project, materials, and timeline
  • Technology Skills: learning to use a variety of tools 
  • Presentation Skills: deciding on how to present your story
  • Interview Skills: finding sources and questions for interviews
  • Interpersonal Skills: group-work dynamics and deciding roles
  • Problem-Solving Skills: decision making at all stages of the project
  • Assessment Skills: increase knowledge when critiquing their own and others’ projects

Pretty incredible equation, huh? All that with one simple implementation.  I know, for some it might not seem simple, you might have limited technological experience, but for most, this is very do-able. For those others that might be “less-techy”? Dive in, try it – you can’t break an app (mom, did you get that?;-)

My crazy, flipped upside down world landed me on this path and digital story-telling research is just a pebble. What happens when you take a pebble and put it with a bunch of others? Eventually they will lead to something….



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First and Last

#itecIA 2015  In. The. Books.

First one for me, not the last. However, it will most likely be the last ITEC conference I will attend as an audience member solely. My future will include presenting (background on me: I have never presented outside the safety and security of my old school). My colleagues are great presenters – they have set a high bar.  I will do my best to do right by my team with future presentations.

It was very interesting meeting and seeing all of the different people at this conference. Similarly to a classroom, there are many different backgrounds, abilities and attitudes. I took full advantage of being an audience member but also keeping a keen eye for what the presenters said, did and included for information on their slides. Very informative on many levels.

Everyone seemed to be very welcoming and I do look forward to building many relationships. Technology can connect people around the globe, which is amazing, incredible and so necessary in our society. Consequently, it can also be isolating at times (a large portion of your work day spent in front of a screen and not physically interacting with people). I am realizing the piece I have been missing the past couple of months since packing up my classroom-people in their physical form-I will just have to feed that need at conferences and meet-ups.  Like, mondo feed. Like, all-you-can-eat buffet.

Okay, I’m putting down the fork from ITEC and will pick it back up, well, tomorrow at our statewide bi-annual AEA meetup! An oasis of physical beings this week, yee-haw!

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