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Entrepreneurialism, Student Voices and Authentic Work

Our 4th and 5th grade students(9-10 year olds) have been working with Mike Fisher, co-author of Upgrading your Curriculum and author of children’s poems. The goal of their collaboration is to create an eBook of Mike’s poems with students’ illustrations. Once produced, students will work on marketing, advertising and disseminating the eBook. Over the course of the last few months, they:

  • emailed
  • skyped
  • tweeted
  • blogged
  • worked on shared Google Docs

in order to:

  • introduce themselves to each other
  • hold a conversation about their ideas and upcoming work
  • document their work
  • disseminate their work
  • give and receive feedback

Mike wrote about his experience up until now in detail on his blog post Contextual and Authentic

Then, we discovered something. Something big.
Because of the depth of instruction and the built in time to negotiate new roles for the students and the upgrade of seeing themselves as collaborators rather than passive learners, we struck oil! Silver! Gold! Students began to self identify interests that were related to their planned learning and lead us down paths of unplanned learning that enriched the designed project.

I have been using the experience to take a closer look at upgrading assessment in modern learning environments.

Learning is amplified by the amount of people who are collaborating, participating, communicating and creating. The learning is NOT about the technology tools, but what students can DO with them to learn in new ways. The learning is about an authentic tasks, that allows students to contribute in a individualized and personalized manner to make them realize that their work matters in the real world.

In my recent post of  Students Are Speed Geeking at edJEWcon, I highlighted the need  and an example of exposing and involving our students in authentic learning experiences. There was another opportunity for our students to participate and share their learning with conference attendees, when Mike Fisher and our students were able to meet in person for the first time, as he was traveling as a presenter to Jacksonville.


The session “Modern Learning”, facilitated by Mike himself and Stephanie Teitelbaum, their language Arts teacher, focused, not necessarily on the students as teachers of teachers (as did the SpeedGeeking), but on the collaboration journey between adults and students, the authentic learning that has unfolded and will continue to develop for the rest of the school year and into next year.

Session Description: Modern Learning

Come and see what students learn
When we change the roles and rules.
Come and see what students do
With modern learning tools.
See the process and the product,
The depth and the extension,
The whole collaborative way we worked,
And our new inventions.
Prepare to be amazed and awed
By our globally connected team.
Join us as we launch the next phase
Of our collaborative dream.

Six students were selected to be part of a panel to explain the different jobs they held during Skype calls and to talk about the process of developing the idea of the eBook.


Each student created a few slides in a collaborative Google Presentations to be able to visually share with the attendees the poem, their corresponding illustration and any artifact that showed their role in the collaboration process.


At the end of the session, attendees were treated to a sneak preview of the eBook.


All students were eloquent in sharing their learning, but one in particular surprised us with her statement of “It’s not one and done” when referring to the importance, care and quality of the work they are doing. She pointed out that the work is not done until it is done, which most likely will continue next school year.

Take a “read” at the tweets below coming from the audience during the session:





WE are on a path to experiencing authentic learning. I say WE on purpose, since teachers are experiencing this kind of learning alongside with our students. I don’t know about your experiences, but I don’t remember learning in this shape or form when I was going to school. I don’t remember authentic learning EVER coming up in my educational classes at the University.

Steve Hargadon, our closing keynote speaker at edJEWcon, was talking about the need for preparing our students for entrepreneurialism.

commonly used to describe an individual who organizes and operates a business

Better yet, think John Dewey (“Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.“) when we not only prepare students for entrepreneurialism, but letting them live and experience it in school.

Our students are excited and ready to be in business. In the Book Publishing business! Now that the content is created, they are working on writing their resumes in order to apply for different positions that will put them in charge of leading or being hired to work under the

  • Publishing Department
    How do we prepare/format the eBook or a Hard Copy? What are the terms of self-publishing services (Lulu.com/iTunes/Amazon, etc.)
  • Financial Department
    How much will it cost to produce and publish the book?How much is feasible to charge for the eBook/hard copy? What will be cut for the author? The School? What are some projections?
  • Marketing Department
    How will the product be marketed? Disseminated? Who is a potential audience? Should we organize a local book tour to promote the book?
  • Graphic Designers
    How will we produce flyers to be physically distributed to our local bookstore, among the school community?
  • Writers
    How will we write press-releases to be placed on classroom blogs, the school website? How can we promote the book through strategically written Tweets? What are other venues/platforms to contribute in writing? Guest blogging?
  • Multimedia Team
    How will we produce multimedia (book trailers, commercials, etc.) to help advertise the product?

If you have made it this far in reading the blog post. Ask yourself, HOW could you amplify these young entrepreneurs to LEARN through real life experiences?

  • Would you be willing to consult with them, if you have any life experience in any of the departments mentioned above?
  • Would you skype in for a few minutes to give them advice?
  • Could you help the financial department in figuring out how much would you be willing to pay for their poetry book?
  • Could you imagine a potential audience our marketing department could target?
  • Are we forgetting a vital part of our business structure?
  • Do you have any other thoughts or tips for us? (Please leave a comment)

By the way… anyone still think this is about technology or learning specific tools, platforms or apps (Google Docs, Skype, Twitter, Blogging, Comic Life, Pixie, iMovie, Skitch, etc.)








Students Are Speed Geeking

During last year’s edJEWcon conference (a Teaching & Learning Institute for Jewish Educators, which  I help organize with Andrea Hernandez and Jon Mitzmacher) we invited our Middle School students to attend our keynote session with Heidi Hayes Jacobs. We all watched magic happen, when students (without being asked) created their own backchannel and added their perspective to the conversation about THEIR learning.

When it came time to plan for this year’s edJEWcon, I wanted to make sure we involved our students not just by accident, but  strategically and purposefully.

I originally read about the idea of Speed Geeking for Professional Development from Kim Cofino on her blog Always Learning. She described the process in the post Take Your Faculty Speed Geeking. The idea is based on Speed Dating, where people get to “know/learn about” many different people in a short amount of time. (We talk a lot about motivating students, giving students a voice, engaging students in their learning. We need to talk less and act more.). The idea of Speed Geeking seemed to be the perfect opportunity and platform.

I enlisted the help of our 4th & 5th grade Language Arts teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum. We presented the idea of participating and becoming teachers to teachers during edJEWcon to students.

  • Anyone interested in being part of the Geek team, was asked to submit a proposal/outline to demonstrate knowledge and teaching skills of a tool, app, program or device.
  • Once a proposal was accepted, the students needed to get permission from their parents, since the session would take place during a non-school day and we needed a commitment that they would be brought to school at a given time.
  • The “geek” was asked to prepare a flyer and guide (tutorial) to support their presentation during the speed geeking session.
  • With the flyer/guide created, students were asked to present live to each other and us, demonstrating that they had thought through and practiced their geek session.
  • We met two times during school hours to discuss, prepare and rehearse. Students brought their own ideas (ex. dressing up with nerd classes, wearing suspenders, creating nametags, etc.)


Seven students were accepted into our Speed Geeking team for edJEWcon.

  • Benjamin taught how to create a QR code with Goo.gl and what he uses QR codes for
  • Samantha shared her favorite tool Frames for storytelling and tutorial design
  • Eliana surprised everyone with Skitch and all its uses
  • Rebecca (5th grade) mesmerized attendees with her wisdom of blogging and commenting
  • Jamie was a hit by showcasing her expertise with iMovie on her iPad and by making entertaining everyone with her funny and witty personality
  • Ariella took even experienced PowerPoint users by surprise as she shared advanced tips
  • Rebecca (4th grade) shared her favorite program Pixie and in addition left everyone in awe with her ability of using a computer keyboard and trackpad up side down

They had 5 minutes to share their chosen tool, program or framework that they, as students, use at school to create and demonstrate evidence of their learning. Attendees were encouraged to ask any questions they had.



Each “Geek” sat around a table, ready to demonstrate and Q&A, before attendees moved on to the next Geek station.











Take a look at his short VIDEO to get a feel for the session.

Below is a “paper tweet”, as overheard from one of the session attendees.


Take a look at the Twitter stream with commentary from other participants of the Speed Geeking session.

speedgeeking-1 speedgeeking-2 speedgeeking-3 speedgeeking-4 speedgeeking-5 speedgeeking-6 speedgeeking-7 speedgeeking-8 speedgeeking

A wonderful blogging conversation ensued on Ken Gordon’s blog, All the Rest Is Commentary: Getting Schooled by a Day Schooler, as he reflected on the Speed Geeking session, specifically on the “blogging table” with Rebecca:

My wooziness owes itself chiefly to a child named Rebecca… who spoke to me, and a sizable number of JDS professionals, of her lucid, reasonable, and ethically minded philosophy on blog commentary.

Rebecca knows things about blogging etiquette some people three and four times and five times her age don’t know.

How does she manage this?

Not only was Rebecca able to articulate, present, interact and amaze her audience, but she also practiced what she preached by leaving a quality, thoughtful comment for Ken Gordon (on HIS blog) to continue the conversation in digital spaces.

My take-away from our Geek Session

I felt extremely proud of each one of our students. I was able to stand back and enjoy watching them (not take a test, not perform) but just be. They were relaxed (with a little touch of nervousness during the first round) and OVERSTEPPED any expectations we had… and they knew it. We gave them space, an authentic audience, real world work and responsibility. Students were true and valued contributors to our conference (à la Digital Learning Farm). They was never the question “Why do we have to learn this?” The learning was embedded into the desire for a positive outcome. As teachers, we did not have to lament disengagement and lack of motivation. Students were on target, did not forget deadlines, demanded quality content of themselves (up until the morning of the session, I continued to receive updated and “better” versions of their flyers and resources) and continued to practice and rehearse on their own.  They showed ownership and demonstrated what I have been narrowing down as one of the most important skills of our times (aka 21st century): self-directed and self- motivated learning.

Does this mean that every one of our classrooms look like this? Do all of our lessons, units, assignments, projects, assessments, etc. demonstrate student voice, involvement and authentic work? Not yet… but we (and most importantly the students)  have tasted the honey.

I am thinking of speed geeking opportunities for my students:

  • to parents
  • at a retirement home
  • to pre-service teachers from the local university
  • feeder schools

What do you think?

Making the Connection: Pioneers of the “New World” and “Digital World”


Fifth grade students are getting ready to read the book “Jamestown” by Gail Garwoski.

A stirring story of survival set against the backdrop of the founding of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a group of London businessmen known as the Virginia Company to establish an English settlement in North America. In 1607, 104 men set sail aboard three tiny ships on a voyage to a new land. What they found became the first permanent English settlement in the New World-Jamestown.
Among the brave adventurers who made the journey was a young boy named Samuel Collier, the page of famed Captain John Smith.

How could we move away from assigning the traditional reading of the book (chapter by chapter), then writing a book report and possibly give an oral presentation in front of the class? How could we tie the lessons, delivery, supported skills and objectives NOT only to curriculum, but also to our Learning Target (based on and adapted from www.galileo.org )


We are looking to move towards competency in five categories:

  • Learning Environment
    • Learning is engaging
    • Students are self-directed
    • physical environment conducive to learning
    • resources meet learning needs
    • learning is social and interconnected
  • Assessment
    • comprehensive
    • using a variety of techniques and resources
    • authentic learning experience designed, developed and evaluated
    • criteria are established for assessment
  • Role of Teacher
    • teacher as a learner
    • teachers as a cognitive coach and guide
    • teacher has strong instructional repertoire
  • Amplification
    • classroom is open & public
    • Teacher actively connects to larger global audience
  • Task
    • authentic
    • produces deep meaning

With that in mind, we had a brainstorming session with our 10 year olds. What did they know about the early settlers? What did they want to know?


What do we know?

We started with the traditional KWL concept and upgraded to KWHLAQ.

Could we compare pioneers and explorers who came to the Americas, the “New World” (with respect to the population who called these lands home and “their world” for thousands of years before the European came to “discover” it) and the “Digital World”. What were dangers for the early settlers? What are dangers for cyber citizens? Were there double standards for the old and new world? Are there double standards for the analog vs digital world?

By now, students are pretty independent in creating collaborative Google Docs to share with teachers and  their classmates to take notes. The concept of the Official Scribe from Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm is embedded and works naturally for our students.

Below is the screenshot of the initial brainstorming session.




In our shared Google Doc, we gave students a prompt to expressed their initial thoughts about being an explorer in the Digital World and how it compared to being one in 1600s in Jamestown.

We were not sure, if all student understood. 5th grade teacher, Shelly Zavon, wrote a reflection after our first meeting with the students. I especially like her blunt honesty,  that NOT EVERYTHING, not every class or lesson goes as planned nor well. We had to go back to the drawing board, we need to keep meeting every week to debrief after a lesson and tweak for future ones

I am hoping that the Jamestown project will come together soon. The idea is good; I just need to find a way to help the students dig deeper and start thinking on a higher level. For some reason, the students don’t like to be challenged to go to the next level. They want to do everything quickly and get to the fun part, which hopefully in this case will result in a music video.
With both of these projects, the students have had to move to a more advanced level of critical thinking (and accountability). I know this has been good for them, but is has been a grueling process for us teachers. I keep thinking, “learning is messy” and as Dory said in Finding Nemo, “Keep on swimming, swimming, swimming.”

How can we make the learning about Jamestown authentic? How do we connect the learning of the past and make it relevant to their present and future?

It just happened that Google Glass shared a new video with the request for applications to becoming a GOOGLE EXPLORER!


Two ideas came to mind:

  1. What if we were to ask our students to create a video with the same requirements as above (minus the last three points) to apply to become an Explorer , not for Google Glass, but for Jamestown. What would you do to become an explorer and leave for Jamestown?
  2. What if we were to ask our students to time travel with a device like Google Glass and take a video or pictures and they narrate/document what they are witnessing.

It really is about imagination. Can we crowdsource imagination? Did this topic spark an idea for you? How could we help our students dig deeper? How do we make it authentic for them? Please take a moment to not only read this post, but to contribute to all of our learning. Thank you in advance.

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