Four Iowa Schools Getting Personalized Learning Right

I am a mother, wife, and teacher who lives in rural Iowa. The closest music store is 35 miles away, the closest art museum is 106 miles away, and the closest science center is 152 miles away, but we nonetheless manage. Interestingly, Iowa even happens to be quite the leader in “outside of the box” educational institutions, in spite of many of its schools’ remote locations–how is that possible?

Personalized learning.

What does that look like for Iowa, how can others get there, and what emerging technologies support us?

Today, I’d like to showcase a few Iowa schools that I think are absolute gems of personalized learning, with some key takeaways for educators and administrators implementing personalized learning in their own classroom, school or district.

Waukee Apex

I had the opportunity to visit Waukee Apex in Des Moines, Iowa. At the time, I wrote about my experience, but the long and short of my takeaways is that through inquiry-based learning and authentic experiences driven by their interests, students build skills in key areas: productivity, accountability, complex communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability.

Take Away – When considering your course design and/or offerings, think about how you can allow your students’ to bring their own interests into their learning (check out what APEX offers).

Iowa BIG

Head east a couple of hours to Cedar Rapids and you’ll hear the Iowa BIG Co-Creator & Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering evangelizing for personalized learning: “Let your passions drive you to do something great and be open to building authentic relationships and teams.” I was lucky enough to visit this learning space a couple of years ago, which shares a space in a co-op building with many local start-ups. Their model is competency-based with deep roots in personalizing the educational experience to honor student interests and goals. It started (by accident!) when the founders started evaluating the current K-12 model and wanted to #makeitbetter.

Take Away – Have a conversation. How does your classroom/school score with shifting from our traditional model? (This is a great starting conversation piece with your leaders).

Iowa BIG North

A few schools a couple hours north wanted to adapt a version of BIG for their rural area, and did just that with Iowa BIG North. Four districts came together and embraced the same pedagogical foundation of personalized, passion-based learning, but did so while facing a different set of challenges and opportunities given the location and community sizes. They are doing this beautifully with their program, helping businesses in their communities finding solutions to real problems. The students and businesses work on authentic problems together.  Students from participating schools work as one across district lines on their initiatives.

Take Away – What challenges are your community facing, and how can your young learners help solve them? Check out the current initiatives going on in Iowa BIG North’s small communities for inspiration.

Van Meter Schools

And last, head back to the west-central part of the state to Van Meter Schools (student enrollment 500), which was one of the first districts in the state to implement a 1:1 student computing initiative, and also one of the first districts in Iowa to be named an Apple Distinguished School. That being said, their more recent work on project-based learning, standards-based grading, competency-based education and flexible schedules where students have voice and choice in how much time they need to spend on their learning is very inspiring. Not to mention, the voice/choice has bled into the teacher professional learning. Rarely do the teachers learn in whole-school scenarios…instead, they identify the skills they have and need, then personalize their learning for professional growth. Simple yet genius!

Take Away – After you and your colleagues feel somewhat comfortable with the idea of shifting towards more personalized learning – do it. Dive in head first and turn your classrooms into a personalized learning environment!

Any time you’re using technology in the classroom, whether to personalize learning or otherwise, you must keep the tech relevant to the goal. I also encourage you to consider creation tools versus productivity tools (some my favorites are WeVideoSoundtrapExplainEverythingMinecraftCode.org and Seesaw – stay tuned for a follow-up piece on these!). Most of all, have fun and get creative, and it will be contagious for your learners!

This was originally posted by Getting Smart.

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In Sync With Soundtrap

How is it possible that I haven’t blogged about Soundtrap yet?! Anyone that personally knows me will understand the ridiculousness of this fact.  I’m here to remedy this absolute travesty. 🙂


Soundtrap was first created by musicians for musicians in Stockholm, Sweden circa 2012. Increased classroom practices using this DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) has now transcended to all content areas, abilities and locations….what is this and why would we be using it in schools?!  Soundtrap is an easy-to-use, online recording studio that can be used across any device to create audio without the necessity of being in the same physical space as your collaborator(s). No more anechoic rooms, mixing consoles, orientation
sessions or booking appointments.

That’s all fine and good for musicians and music producers, but what about this “across-content” classroom business I spoke of earlier that is influencing our schools at exponential rates in 2017?  Now that Soundtrap has put these once-complicated, hard-to-obtain tools in the hands of babes, babes can now benefit for the first time – from their phones, Chromebooks, computers or tablets.  And those same babes can create in minutes (it’s that easy!) and invite other babes (from other schools, states, countries!) to collaborate on their project – in real, friggin’ time. I know, it’s incredible.

Basically this is a Google Doc for audio recording.  It has never been done and is now being done beautifully by Soundtrap.

What does this mean for our schools?

  • School districts can now connect and create with other school districts. Think about how impactful this could be to our rural districts.
  • Students can keep creating outside of the 45-minute class period – on their own phone or at home…as long as they have an internet connection. Heck, they could even work on their project from their dentist’s computer if it was online (and said dentist was ok with their computer being hijacked:-)
  • Budding musicians and music producers now have access to a very robust platform, bridging the gap between secondary and post-secondary school programs which will continue to cultivate their passions through school.
  • Speech Language Pathologists have an easy-to-use tool to capture and archive student progress, as well as have an opportunity to invite parents and teachers to access their audio growth portfolio.
  • Foreign language teachers have a slick way of recording their voice (or student’s voice) and inviting collaborators to add comments and/or edit in real time or asynchronously.
  • Countless uses in music classrooms…rehearsal recordings to evaluate and reflect on, practice tool using accompaniments, audition recordings, composition projects, playing assessments, etc.
  • Interviews, podcasts, commercials….the list just keeps going on.


Soundtrap is about all about creating and connecting.  It is simple yet monumental, and this is the time to take hold and experience.  The most recent
NMC/CoSN Report: 2016 K-12 Edition, which examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in schools, understands the importance.  This report charts the horizon for emerging technologies in school communities across the globe by an organization that has the world’s longest-running exploration of technology trends in education.  One major mid-term trend from this report that focuses on driving EdTech adoption in the next 3-5 years…..yep, you called it: Collaborative Learning.  This social construct places the learner at the center, encourages interaction, group work and develops solutions to actual, real-world problems.

When applied in the spirit of deeper collaboration, technology can unite students around big ideas and projects, while integrating web-based resources that will expand their learning. Digital tools are fundamental ingredients in the facilitation of collaborative learning approaches, offering platforms for communication and activities in synchronous as well as asynchronous environments. Cloud computing has been particularly lauded for its role in bolstering collaboration as it instills unlimited potential for teacher, student, and parent communication.  People can easily access and share learning materials with each other, making updates in real time….[encouraging] increased student achievement, discussion, confidence, and active learning. (NMC/CoSN Horizon Report, 2016, p. 12)

There it is.

And that, my dear friends, is why I shout Soundtrap from the rooftops.  


This post was republished by EdCircuit on 1.12.17

NMC/CoSN Horizon Report. (2016). 2016 K-12 Edition. Retrieved from https://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-cosn-horizon-report-2016-k-12-edition/

 

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Let It Go

I am Meredith: Mother of Cameron & Morgan, Creature Who Carries Purse and She Who Sings Orders…you can imagine that Frozen’s Let It Go has not escaped my house. Rather, it moved in, does not pay rent and does not appear to be leaving. However, these three words have resurfaced and this time, I am the vocalist. Below are a series of pictures from the South Second Street Lego Saga.

IMG_3885Picture 1: My OCD attempt to make order. All legos were separated by color and placed
into drawers. Big, ugly, plastic organizer was stored in the closet.

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Picture 2: Inevitably, the legos ended up like this and one of my
baking sheets was consumed by the closet (I did not bake for 13 months).

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Picture 3: One of the many creations that were hiding in the closet. First clue
I needed to stop suffocating their creativity by keeping it closet-bound and provide an accessible, convenient building environment.

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Picture 4: Fifteen minutes after relocation and drawer dumping.
Surprisingly, the mixing of colored blocks was very satisfying visually
and audibly to this left-brainer.

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Picture 5: My favorite. This is where I found them the next morning and have since been playing
here for hours.  Note: check out my youngest, rockin’ the bed head.

Simply put: Let It Go, Mom.

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