A Learning Smorgasbord


Mike Thomas has read lots of policy briefs on personalized learning. Recently, Mike was able to see personalized learning in person when he visited Lost Lake Elementary in Lake County, Florida (a public school) and saw their first-grace classroom which is built around personalized learning. In an article for Excellence In Education, he describes this experience:

“I am surrounded by kids. Some are hunched over work books, collaborating on solutions. Some are working solo. Some are on tablets. Some are with the teacher. While students sometimes seem to be going in different directions, they all have a clearly established and mutual goal, which is mastering the Florida Standards. The check list is the pathway. But they have more freedom in how to follow it, giving them a sense of empowerment and increasing motivation.”

Thomas shared some perspective from the first graders. Nadia said “we like this because you get to learn at your own pace.” Brandon, on the other hand, enjoys the sense of freedom: “We don’t have to ask the teacher. If something is on the check list, we don’t have to ask. We can just go do it.’’ Teachers, reported Mike Thomas, also appreciate the design of the program because it gives them room for creativity in their teaching.

Principal Susan Pegram says that parents often think personalized learning means their student will be placed in front of computer screen for all their learning. Pegram helps correct that misunderstanding by saying “yes, they do use computers and other digital devices. After all, learning how to navigate on a computer and find answers on your own is necessary in the world they will inherit. But there still is group instruction. There is small-group teaching. There are pencil and paper worksheets. Students help each other out. It is a smorgasbord of learning.”

Personalized learning allows students to move at their own pace, to spend time mastering the material they are studying, and to explore subject areas that interest them. Lost Lake Elementary is a public school but  schools of all kinds – public, private, charter, and homeschool – can benefit from implementing personalized learning. Policymakers should also work to ensure that schools have the freedom to implement these changes. To read more about the research behind personalized learning, click here.  To read more stories of personalized learning in action, click here to visit Excellence in Education’s blog.

National Summit: Summary #EIE15


I had a wonderful time attending the 2015 National Summit on Education Reform in Denver Colorado. The theme for the event was Onward and Upward: Operation Student Success. Here are some tweets from the event:

Pennsylvania was well represented at the event with members from the house and senate and we had several great conversations about the future of education reform in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to what our ed reform leaders in PA will be able to do over the next few years.

I tagged on an extra day and had the opportunity to climb Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. Overall it was a great conference with some excellent speakers with some great ideas that can be implemented in Pennsylvania.


Build A School In The Cloud

SM at UFM 2015-4HD

In his 2013 TED talk, Sugata Mitra – educational researcher and winner of the 2013 TED Prize – shares a powerful example of kids learning on their own. Mitra was working at the time in New Delhi teaching computer programming. Right next to his office was a slum and one day Mitra placed a computer in the slum. “I gave a computer to children who never would have one, didn’t know any English, didn’t know what the Internet was.” Eight hours later, when he came back, the children were browsing the internet and teaching each other how to browse.

Mitra continued to test the ability of children to learn on their own with just a computer. These experiments culminated in Tamil-speaking children in a south Indian village learning the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer.

These experiences have led Mitra to ask some provocative questions. “Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes?” In contrast to the way k-12 education functions now, Mitra offers this vision:

I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.

This kind of learning is driven by questions: sometimes big questions like “when did the world begin”, sometimes questions related to the natural world like, “what are those twinkling lights in the sky?” Mitra wishes for a future of learning that supports children “all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together.”

Finally, while this vision for learning is certainly applicable for classroom education, it is equally relevant for a wide range of education options. Mitra says: “you can do Self-Organized Learning Environments at home, in the school, outside of school, in clubs.”

Mitra is continuing his experiments through the organization, The School in the Cloud which is a global experiment in self organized learning. It’s amazing to see how they are tapping into the inner desire to learn.

#EIE15 – Live-tweeting the 2015 National Summit on Education Reform

I am en route to Denver for the 2015 National Summit on Education Reform. I’ll be live-tweeting on Thursday and Friday. You can view the live-tweets below or just follow me on twitter and join in the conversation. @ethandemme