The Value of Robotics in Education

nao robotsThe folks at Edutopia wrote an interesting article on the value of Robotics in Education.  Having been involved with student robotics programs for many years, I feel that robotics just may be the most perfect instructional approach currently available. It offers classroom activities that teach high-value STEM content as well as opportunities to powerfully address ELA Common Core Standards. In fact, there are connections to robotics across the full spectrum of the curriculum. Robotics is also a highly effective way to foster essential work skills like collaboration, problem solving and project management. It does all this while keeping kids so motivated and engaged that getting them to stop working and move on to the rest of the school day can be a challenge — a good problem to have!

The next important step for student robotics will be to make it a central part of the regular, daytime classroom experience. Here are some favorite activities that can help robotics inspire and impact all students, and can also tremendously increase teacher satisfaction.

Robotics and ELA

Robotics can work its magic even for early elementary students. One approach that I love establishes a strong connection to English language arts using LEGO’s WeDo Construction Sets. Students build robots to help them understand the characters and plots of books they read. Story analysis and comprehension are greatly enabled and enhanced. For example, in some classrooms reading the well-known children’s book Zach’s Alligator is accompanied by building an alligator robot (or robot of another character) and then retelling or expanding on the story. And of course, in designing and building their creations, students learn basic engineering and electronics, and practice math, too.

This same approach of using robotics to focus and enable descriptive, explanatory language can work in higher grades, too. The Common Core ELA standards indicate that students should be able to effectively present knowledge and ideas verbally. A great example of this can be seen below in the “Adventure Story Design Challenge,” a video of classwork by Frieda Gress at Elgin (Texas) Middle School. She says, “Kids love using the WeDo kits to make animals ‘come alive’ and to invent and tell stories. These are those moments of joy that we teachers live for.”

What about robotics without kits? There’s great value in having students focus on how they would design a robot, and then explain and illustrate their ideas and design decisions. Students can apply science concepts they’ve learned, such as identifying the simple machines integrated into their robots. This could be done with pencil and paper, of course, but for a technology-supported twist, try using one of the numerous “Build Your Own Robot” games to be found online. Save the finished designs (do a screen capture) and then have the students explain their ideas about what their robot will do, how it will work, and why they designed it as they did. You’ll find a number of these games online (one appealing example is Build a Robot3).

Collaboration and Competition

One aspect of digital age learning that is essential to prepare students for the evolving 21st century workplace is collaboration. Teachers, however, are often hard pressed to to make this happen effectively. A great example is the collaborative work of my colleague Ian Chow-Miller of Frontier Middle School in Graham, Washington. He has an imaginative robotics project called The Wave. His students all build identical robots, but must then program them to “perform” together as a group. His video “Period1WAVE” (below) shows his students’ excitement and collaborative shared purpose as they demonstrate their success in making their robots do something truly impressive. Ian states, “Making your robot move forward a certain amount is relatively easy; figuring out how much time to wait so you come back simultaneously with all the other robots who may have gone further/stopped later than you is difficult. And once you figure it out, we generalize a formula so that it can be applied to all the robots, even if we doubled the amount of robots in the room.”

Tug of War Robots is an exciting activity that taps students’ natural love for competition and channels it into solid science learning. Luke Laurie, a science teacher at El Camino Middle School in Santa Maria, California, makes robotics an important part of his eighth grade science course, stating, “I’ve discovered that when my students are designing and building tug o’war robots, they’re applying the science concepts of forces and motion. They’re thinking about friction, gravity and speed, while they run test after test to design the best pulling machine . . .”

My friend Gary Israel, long-term coach of the 2TrainRobotics team of Morris Campus High School in the Bronx (New York City) agrees that designing and building robots to play ball is one of the more exciting challenges his team has tackled. 2TrainRobotics competes annually in the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FIRST has an event for elementary and middle school students as well). These competitions focus on robotics-based STEM learning, professionalism and sportsmanship.

Shooting hoops or retrieving soccer balls is something that all kids can understand and appreciate. It’s an engineering design and construction challenge they can visualize and sink their teeth into. Also, the robot actions are based on observable human body engineering that they can relate to physics concepts. The team’s video gives a good idea of the sophistication of their robots.

Extraordinary Promise

A final video that I find absolutely inspiring is “Educate to Innovate: High School Robotics” from the White House website (the robotics segment begins at 15:39). It shows high school students demonstrating the robot they built to President Obama. I think it points the way to a wonderful robotics challenge for all kids: design a robot that will capture the imagination of an adult you respect, a robot that will demonstrate what you can imagine and do, a robot that, as President Obama put it, “is proof of the extraordinary promise of American young people.”

Have you got a winning robotics activity to add to these? Please share it using the comments area below.

Flipped Teacher: Enriching Brad’s Google Classroom With Better Collaboration


Brad Nikunen is a fourth grade teacher based in Kalispell, Montana. We asked him about his recent flipped classroom experiences and how he’s using SMART amp collaborative learning software. He kindly obliged and contributed this guest post on SMART’s blog. Over to Brad!

With the sudden increase in flipped classrooms, or blended learning, I believe that teachers are the ones experiencing the biggest successes, along with the students.  What do I mean by that?

Well, let me tell my “amp story.”

SMART amp started as an add-on to my newly-acquired Google Classroom. I was beginning “Techie Tuesday” where kids were completing their entire reading lesson in a flipped classroom. Pre-reading vocabulary, listening to the story digitally and post-reading comprehension were all part of it. But, the missing piece was collaboration. Sure, students could collaborate a bit on Classroom, but as I began to experiment with amp more, the collaboration possibilities are far greater with SMART’s product.

Today, SMART amp has transformed not only my reading lessons, but also every other aspect of my teaching.  My most noticeable thing has been my shift from a teacher-centered classroom manager to more of a coaching model.  I am shoulder-to-shoulder with my students now, rather than the “sage on stage” attempting to master the art of student engagement from the front of the classroom.  Now I am trying to master the art of engaging every student in every lesson — and I see it happening in every lesson I deliver with amp.

My reading is still very much the same.  We still read from our textbook.  We still complete the reading skill worksheets.  We still take the end of the week assessment.  We still learn the vocabulary words.  We just have added a new tool…amp.

SMART amp has transformed not only my reading, but other areas as well.  I am able to eliminate paper in many of our lessons.  Where we used to meet as small groups, we now meet in a digital environment.

Reading is still pre-reading, reading, post-reading, but it all happens within SMART amp.  Kids are collaborating in their workspace with two or three other group members.

Here are a few examples of how I am using SMART amp:

Reading template for the week’s main selection story (pre-read/vocabulary; read/listen to story; post-read/comprehension and close reading skills).

Exit slips: Eliminate paper stack of exit slips with all kids responding to lesson/skill within a SMART amp workspace.

Lit circles: Rather than have kids meet in small groups and do lit circles, my students meet within an SMART amp workspace to discuss the novel they are reading together virtually.

Read aloud: Kids post symbols or objects that represent meaning in the book on an amp workspace.  Other students make connections to the story through those objects.

Math workshop model: A great way for students to show solutions to a problem.  Other kids can analyze, view, comment on their classmates work.

Star student of the week: We use SMART amp to share who we are in a workspace called “Weekly Superstar.”  The template the student creates is shared out to students in class so they can access information from anywhere as they complete their writing project on the star student

SMART amp has not only increased engagement in the students in my classroom, it has increased my own engagement as the teacher. I am motivated to find new ways to have my class collaborate together.  I am excited to see where my “amp learning” takes me and my classroom.

Creative Image Technologies is the region’s largest Audio Visual Systems Integrator and Managed IT services firm.  For more information please call us at 877.834.9711.

Fort Thomas Elementary Schools Welcome Bruce Hale

Nationally Recognized Author Speaks to Students

Author Hale Visit

(January 29, 2015) Today, Bruce Hale, nationally acclaimed author of the Get Gecko and Clark the Shark book series for children, visited Fort Thomas Elementary Schools. Hale spent time reading his newest book, Clark the Shark Takes Heart, to second and third grade students at Johnson and Woodfill, while students at Moyer were able to participate via the district’s live streaming system, Discover Video. After the reading, students were given the opportunity to speak with the author about his career.

Students eagerly responded when Hale asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. He continued, “You have just taken the first step toward reaching your dreams. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Johnson Elementary School librarian Heidi Neltner said, “I am very excited to have partnered with Joseph-Beth booksellers, the other elementary librarians in our district and Bill Poff and his student crew to allow our students the opportunity to meet and learn from author Bruce Hale. The students at Johnson were very excited to read Bruce Hale’s books, learn about his life, and work on projects that we hope to share with him.” Neltner continued, “We are very lucky that our new Discover Video technology let us bring this unique learning experience into every classroom in our district and will hopefully serve to encourage a love of reading and writing in our students.”

Bruce Hale began his career as a writer while living in Tokyo, and continued it when he moved to Hawaii in 1983. He is also a professional speaker and a member of the National Speakers Association. From picture books to novels and graphic novels, Hale has written over 30 children’s books including Snoring Beauty, Big Bad Baby and the Underwhere series.

To learn more about Bruce Hale please visit

C-it is the region’s leading provider of AV and Managed IT Services.  For more information on the benefits of using Discover Video in your district or any other AV solution call C-it today at 877.834.9711.

C-it Announces Merger with Synapse

December 1st 2014

Louisville KY- Creative information technologies  has announced that it has agreed to merge operations with Synapse Managed Services ( , effective November 28th , 2014. The combined companies will be headquartered at Creative Information Technologies in Shelbyville, KY and it will include a new state of the art, 24 x 7 Network Operation Center.

About Creative Information Technologies:  Founded  in 2014, Creative Information Technologies has quickly established itself as a strong regional provider of IT Consulting and Cloud Computing services. Vendor partner and engineering offerings include, Cisco, EMC, Microsoft, VM Ware, Dell, Barracuda, Lenovo, HP, Veaam and other best in class enterprise IT solutions.

About Synapse: Founded in 2004 by Matthew Williams, Synapse has become one of the fastest growing and most respected Managed IT services companies in the Kentuckiana area .  Offerings include 24 x 7 proactive monitoring, help desk services, field break fix services,  IT project management, hosting, DR services and well as overall IT outsourcing to over 35 local companies.

“This is the next logical step in an already fantastic relationship as the IT outsourced Provider for Creative Information Technology” stated Matthew Williams, President of Synapse and CIO/Managing Partner of Creative Information Technology. “We can offer a much more comprehensive set of solutions to our customer base, and other than a name change, we expect no impact to the current Synapase customer base. Current customers will still be able to utilize the same world class systemic tools and services that they have known and trusted”.

“We are excited about what this means for both our customers and our employees” stated Mark McBee  COO / Managing partner “Our two company’s goals and cultures align very well . This will accelerate the already impressive growth of Creative Information Technologies”.

IT As a Consultant

Interesting post from one of our vendors, Barracuda about life as an IT consultant.

Business consulting giant Accenture recently posted a video and podcast of their CIO Andrew Wilson and Managing Director Joe Cheung on how the role of the CIO has been changing within Accenture. What’s interesting about this presentation is that it’s a leading consulting company acknowledging that the very way we approach IT is changing.

We are increasingly finding that IT professionals looking at data driven projects such as archiving, compliance and eDiscovery take on aspects of consulting as they have to consider how these relate to the wider information governance and information management objectives of the organization.

No longer just “order takers” or service providers

The IT organization of the past was very focused at responding to the technology needs of running a business, and for Accenture, they scaled this into a billion-dollar consultancy. However, in today’s digital age, they realized they would need to look at the problem differently.

It’s not sufficient for IT to be technologists any longer, to respond to various business units’ needs by deploying another project, or bringing in another piece of technology. Why?  The short answer is there is too much technology.   There are too many choices, too many options, and many solutions preclude others.   Accenture’s CIO found that unless he understood Accenture’s HR function and HR’s agenda, he couldn’t approach their challenges in an innovative way.

There were options and possibilities that went beyond what the HR department knew and understood. In the end, it was the IT organization that outlined HR’s business requirements along with a creative solution.

ITs responsibility is to be current with the “IT ecosystem”

Technologies are evolving at an ever-faster pace, and it is easy for someone outside IT to look at a new technology, say cloud computing, and assume that it will add flexibility or save costs without understanding what else needs to occur to leverage that technology.

Accenture found the simplest way to stay current with evolving technologies, as well as understand the interdependencies, the challenges, and other companies’ solutions, was through the “IT blog ecosystem.” Blogs, they found, contained a wealth of information that the technology providers themselves rarely offered. They could connect directly with other users, learn about their experiences, and apply that knowledge to their own strategies.  They read all the vendor announcements, they attend webinars, and they continuously educate themselves.

Beware of vertical thinking

Accenture found that being able to think laterally about the changes their businesses were undertaking, and being focused on their clients enabled them to see better, more innovative solutions. They also considered how their IT staff could remain relevant in the face of new technology,

They found that it was often the user or client who was just as comfortable with the existing solution, or an existing silo of information and technology, as the IT professionals who set it up.  That thinking is too limiting:  platforms and agendas all change, and taking a path of “least resistance” by simply patching up the silo doesn’t really address the problem in a meaningful way.

In small businesses, the value of disruption may be greater

Accenture consults to industry giants, so just how relevant are their perceptions to small businesses, where the IT organization is a small shop tasked with keeping the business running? Surprisingly, the IT organizations in small businesses actually have greater latitude to implement change and leverage disruptive technology than larger ones.

We’re reminded of a seminar of IT professionals from smaller companies: one CIO/Director of IT noted that the COO was nervous about consolidating servers, and didn’t really understand the notion of virtual machines.   Well, he said, I’m still going to virtualize everything else, because I can show the COO how it will save us money and simplify our operations, and I know from the community that my strategy has succeeded elsewhere.

Consulting IT as the consultant to the business

In small companies, there really isn’t anybody else to assume the role of technology consultant. Few individuals within the company will have the necessary understanding of both the advantages and challenges of technologies, how they can be deployed, and what will best suit their company.

In that role, other stakeholders will logically turn to IT – and while their requests and challenges might echo the “order taking” and service provider role of IT in the past, today’s IT professionals have the opportunity to be strategists, visionaries, and innovators. What Accenture learned likely applies to everybody.

The consultative nature of information management projects

When IT professionals look at data driven projects like archiving or compliance, how these relate to the bigger goals of the company, i.e. information management, takes on aspects of consulting.

For example, if a company is retaining documents for regulatory compliance, will the mechanism chosen support retrieval in the case of a regulatory challenge? If a company is undertaking archiving, have they also mandated a retention period and is that being built into the rule set driving that archiving?  Data projects take on a whole different aspect when the business drivers are considered, and addressing those drivers will ultimately result in a better result.  Just as Accenture pointed out, IT is no longer a service provider – they are a critical piece of the business strategy and agenda.

Appeal to Millennials’ Strengths for More Engaging Lessons

In part three of this four-part series from SMART Technologies about how educators and businesses are engaging with the Millennial Generation, we explore ways to leverage the strengths of millennial students to inspire participation and meaningful discussions in class.

There’s a lot of speculation online about what makes Millennials tick, but when it comes to knowing what this generation is all about, teachers who spend five days a week with millennial students are the real experts.

Ask any teacher what makes today’s young learners different from their Gen X and Boomer predecessors, and you’ll get an earful. But while most teachers are good at spotting the differences, fewer are fully confident in their ability to bridge that generation gap. Online communities may be awash with educators who have mastered the art of reaching Millennials on their level, but not every teacher knows their mochi from their emojis.

To those teachers, we say: fear not! You don’t need to get a PhD in Ariana Grande to speak your students’ language more fluently. In this age of personalized learning, the key to engaging millennial students is to design learning activities that play to their strengths.

Millennials gravitate toward social science

According to research from the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers, today’s students will be more likely than their forebears to pursue careers in social sciences and applied fields, such as criminology, communications, and culinary arts.

With this in mind, think about how these applications can help you teach core subjects like Math, Science and English. If K-12 students are taking a greater interest in criminology, for example, nearly any lesson can be structured as a detective case. Some examples of this type of activity file on the SMART Exchange include a soil science sleuth activity, a cellular mitosis case, and “Who Ate the Socks?”, a logical reasoning activity. Likewise, history topics which might have been structured as debates or oral presentations in the past can be reformatted as court proceedings in which a historical figure is put on trial with prosecutors and defendants.

Of course, as you move through the school year, you’ll get a better sense of what other topics interest your students. As part of your reflection practice, take what you know about individual students’ interests, and see if you can find a pattern. After that, reach out to your PLN and ask whether other educators have identified the same trend in their classrooms. This conversation naturally leads to the sharing of ideas and resources that will help you plan lessons that inspire and engage your students.

Millennials are solution-oriented and entrepreneurial

Anyone who works with young people can tell you that today’s connected world is both a blessing and a curse. One of the drawbacks of being plugged in 24/7 is that today’s students are hyper-aware of the biggest problems in our world, and being on the receiving end of so many gloomy messages can be exhausting. For example, a constant stream of messages about environmental issues like global warming or deforestation can lead to frustration in young people if they can’t see any solution to the problems they’re inheriting.

Fortunately, today’s students have entrepreneurial spirit and, given the confidence that they can make a difference, they’re keen to innovate solutions. This generational trait can be the seed of some really powerful classroom projects. By emphasizing to students that small solutions can make a real difference to big problems, you’ll inspire them to engage deeply in solutions-oriented, project-based activities. This encouragement will certainly fire up students’ inquiry and creativity, and it might even lead them to start a project that can grow beyond the classroom.

The Good, Bad and the Truth about Chromebooks in the Classroom

chromebookDan Winkler over at Mimio wrote an intersting article about Chromebooks in the classroom. Let us know what you think.

These days, everyone in education tech is talking about Chromebooks. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re really just inexpensive laptops running a Chrome OS. These devices are designed to be used primarily when connected to the Internet, though they have some functionality even offline. If you’re wondering whether you should buy them for your school, here’s a breakdown of the top pros and cons so you can better understand what these devices do or don’t offer.


Very fast startup time. The newest models start up in less than 5 seconds, which is faster than any other laptop (Mac, Windows, or Linux) on the market.

Long battery life. Since a Chromebook is Web-based, it lasts as long as 8 hours with continuous use – longer than the typical full school day.

Offline support for popular Google apps (Gmail, Calendar, Google Drive, Google Play Music, and others). Contrary to popular belief, a Chromebook is not a brick when it’s not connected to the Internet. Even offline, Chromebooks use a number of Google apps, like Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentation and Drawing.

Minimal cost and effort to implement. No setup is required.

Automatic free updates. Because the Chrome OS is upgraded on the fly, updates are added instantly. And because updates are free (unlike Microsoft Windows), you have a very low cost of ownership

No need to worry about pesky Trojans or viruses. Every model comes with a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip inside, which ensures that the Chrome OS is difficult to hack. There is also no need to install antivirus software, which typically slows down desktop operating systems and adds to the overall cost of ownership.

Cost, cost, cost. Chromebooks go for as little as $250.

Free cloud storage for 2 years. The 120 GB of storage is like a $120 rebate, if you are purchasing this service anyway.


Not optimal for teachers. Chromebooks may not support necessary school software systems (LMS’s, grade-book systems, etc.) that run only on the desktop (Mac/Windows/Linux).

Not a great front-of-the-room solution. Chromebook driver support for classroom hardware devices may be limited since they require custom drivers that have been developed for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

No MS Office or desktop productivity tools. This may not be a problem if you are happy with Google docs.

Less useful when offline. While there are google apps that let you perform some limited editing, there are plenty of other apps that are not accessible offline. A quick, economical solution would be a wireless hotspot available from most phone companies for ~$15.

Not as useful for younger students. Since typing skills are not typically acquired until middle school, younger students tend to respond better to tablets and touch devices.

Finger and pen input is limited. This is more of a problem for STEM fields, where freehand writing is very important. Students who use Chromebooks still have to use pen and paper when it comes to math and other STEM fields. It is possible, however, to purchase a Chromebook with a touch screen or graphic tablet (e.g., Wacom).

Cost savings may be shortsighted. For a little more money, users can get a full-blown Windows/Linux PC that has the same functionality as a Chromebook, as well as the ability to support most hardware, etc. Why buy a Chromebook for $250 when you can get a full-blown PC for $350 and run any and all software (Web or desktop)?

So there you have it – the good and the bad about Chromebooks. For teachers who need to interface with classroom technology, Chromebooks may not be the best choice. But with school budgets limited and the Common Core Assessments looming, Chromebooks could be a good solution for schools that want to implement a 1-to-1 on a budget. We hope these pros and cons will help you make a more informed choice about what is a good for your school, district, or classroom.

Is the Interactive Whiteboard Dead?

The question I am most often asked about when consulting with school districts on renovations, new construction or technology refresh projects is:

Is the Interactive Whiteboard dead?

The answer is, not really. Is that answer vague, yes. The real answer is multi-faceted and depends on finances, features desired, PD and commitment to collaborative instruction.

Common Core and modern educational best practices are pushing classrooms into a mix of whole class instruction, collaborative experiences and self-paced learning with devices many times in the classroom mix. The fact is that whole class instruction will never go away but what should it look like going forward?

The right mix of classroom hardware and software can provide for a tremendous whole class, collaborative and self-paced environment. What should you invest in? That depends on your financial commitment, PD commitment and what roads you have already traveled down at this time. Let me break it down into 4 factors:

Whole Class Teaching Displays

When refreshing or renovating you may wonder what to buy. Interactive Whiteboard with projector? Interactive projector on low-glare dry erase surface? Interactive flat panel? Large commercial TV with tablet control? Projector and screen? In my professional opinion, as a former educator and 8 years in Instructional Technology, the screen and the TV are not options for modern whole class instruction. Why? They provide little ability to transfer into a collaborative environment and provide little to no interactivity with content. So, let us look into the features and benefits of the other hardware.

The Interactive Whiteboard, of any brand (although Smart and Promethean have proven to be best for software and support), is a tried and true option. Interactive Whiteboards offer a space for projection of digital content and the ability to interact with content. Teamed with the appropriate software, i.e. Smart Notebook or Promethean Activ Inspire, they are wonderful spaces to make curriculum come alive with stimulating visuals and sound. They key with this solution is a commitment to PD centered around use of the software for delivery. Interactive Whiteboard not only satisfy whole class teaching needs but transfer pedagogy into collaborative learning spaces. The negative is the Interactive Whiteboard adds $400-$800 of extra expense per room, in comparison with an Interactive Projector.

The Interactive Projector (IP) has gained market share over the last 2+ years. Why? It cuts down on the expense of installation, eliminating the need for an Interactive Whiteboard. An interactive projector can be installed over an existing whiteboard space but is best utilized on a low-glare whiteboard. (Available from multiple sources these days) With Smart and Promethean now licensing their software, an IP can be paired with rich whole class teaching features for less money. It stills requires the commitment to PD for software but may save some cash on the front end. My brand of choice is the Epson Brightlink but models from Hitachi will hit the street in 2015.

The most buzz in education centers around interactive flat panels! 65” and 70” touch screen models are now available from trusted giants like Smart, Promethean, Samsung and Sharp. These large, commercial grade panels provide enough real estate for multi-touch, multi-user experiences in lush high definition. These devices give you all the abilities of an Interactive Whiteboard or IP but without the constant expense of projector lamp replacement. Yes, they are more expensive today (ranging from $3500-$5000) but provide ROI with time as the variable. IFPs can be used with all popular software, however, Smart’s version requires Smart software, where the other models mention are agnostic, even the Promethean branded panel.

So what should you do? That is your call. The staff at C-it is here for consultation, recommendation and pricing. Happy Teaching!

(Matt Simons is Education Sales Director for CIT and taught 5th grade at Summit Academy in Louisville, KY)

Are you transformational?

4 Big Things Transformational Teachers Do

The folks over at Edtopia wrote a great article to help teachers have the best year ever.

Transformational teachers don’t react. They anticipate and prepare. Lee Shulman, as reported by Marge Scherer, suggests that expert teachers demonstrate the following, despite enormous challenges:

Cognitive understanding of how students learn; emotional preparation to relate to many students whose varied needs are not always evident; content knowledge from which to draw different ways to present a concept; and, finally, the ability to make teaching decisions quickly and act on them.

So how do they do that? Let’s break it down.

1. Transformational Teachers Create Constructivist Experiences

Instructors tend to use one of two instructional orientations:

  1. Transmission: Where “the teacher’s role is to prepare and transmit information to learners” and “the learners’ role is to receive, store, and act upon this information.”
  2. Transformational: Where students’ active engagement in developing knowledge and skills, critical thinking, higher order skills, and communication are facilitated by the instructor.

It is difficult to accomplish transformational teaching without understanding and implementing constructivist pedagogy — facilitating hands-on experiences — where students construct meaning through active learning. However, the checklist below suggests some tactics:

What Does Transformational Teaching Look Like?

  1. Have students ask questions and solve real-world problems.
  2. Questions should require students to:
    • Analyze
    • Synthesize
    • Create
    • Empathize
    • Interpret
    • Reference background knowledge
    • Defend alternative perspectives
    • Determine what they know and don’t know
  3. Organize students into learning groups.
  4. Make learning segments manageable through modeling and mastery.
  5. Guide, facilitate, challenge, and support.
  6. Let learning transform you.

Click to download a PDF of this list for your classroom (49 KB).

Constructivist teachers focus on enriching students’ perspective on the content by facilitating rich experiences. These themes appear in a survey conducted by Grant Wiggins, in which high school students were asked to complete this phrase: “I learn best when the teacher . . .” One participant wrote the following:

. . . is hands on and doesn’t just talk at me. They need to be interested in what they’re teaching and encourage class discussions. Not only does this encourage us to use what we learned, it also helps us see the information in a different way.

2. Transformational Instructors Teach Like Scientists, Artists, and Essayists

Transformational teachers know that artful teaching without science lacks efficacy, and scientific teaching without aesthetics lacks vision. Says child psychologist Dr. David Elkind, “The art comes from the teacher’s personality, experience, and talents. The science comes from knowledge of child development and the structure of the curriculum.” The art and science of teaching work in harmony. Writes Richard Bankert, an eighth grade science teacher, “The best teachers are artists who know the science of teaching.”

In contrast to immature teachers who fill a 90-minute class with activities (and ignore targeted objectives), a transformational teacher treats those 90 minutes like a carefully crafted persuasive essay — with a clear purpose and unique sense of style, a memorable beginning and end, a logical sequence, important content, nimble transitions, and contagious passion. These characteristics persuade students to believe that learning the content and skills really matters.

3. Transformational Teachers Model Symphonic Thinking

To be effective in advancing human potential, teachers need to manifest what Daniel Pink calls “symphonic thinking” — critically appraising and synthesizing new ideas. Someone with symphony thinking skills is able to do the following:

  • Understand the logical connections between ideas.
  • Identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.
  • Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
  • Combine different ideas to form a new concept.
  • Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
  • Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.

Such thinking is necessary in order for students to thrive in the new economy, according to Pink. It’s also necessary for teachers to model.

4. Transformational Teachers Facilitate Productive Struggle

It’s hard not to rescue kids when they beg for help. But that altruistic instinct can get in the way of learning. In a Wired Magazine piece, “Telling You the Answer Isn’t the Answer,” Rhett Allain explains why letting students engage in productive struggle is the unpopular and necessary approach to instruction:

What if a person was having trouble doing a pull up for exercise? Instead of giving them some other exercise, I could help them by doing the pull up for that person. Right? No, that wouldn’t actually be useful. However, if I push on the person’s feet a little bit, they can still struggle and still exercise.

Warning: allowing productive struggle to occur will consume more class time. However, when the learning process is frictionless, retention is less likely. Struggle actually saves re-teaching time in the long run and is the best way for new dendrites to grow.

Allowing productive struggle to occur, using artistic and scientific instruction, modeling symphonic thinking, and encouraging students to lean into constructivist problem solving can lead to the holy grail of transformational teaching: epiphany.

What can we learn from the most collaborative industries?

As part of SMART’s ongoing research around collaboration practices, technology and business outcomes, they have been tracking collaboration trends across regions, industries and functional departments.  Here they discuss their findings.

Of the 20 industries we measure, there are three that consistently integrate technology, work processes and people for higher business benefits from collaboration. These are IT, Professional Services and AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction). The benefits of great collaboration and developing a collaborative culture can be seen in this infographic with data collected from AEC firms.


What can we learn from these industries and how they effectively optimize their work processes through improved collaboration? The following best practices set these industries apart from the rest of the pack:

1. Utilize collaboration technology in ideation and brainstorming. Professional services firms leverage whiteboarding applications consistently to visualize concepts, map projects and distribute notes to all stakeholders right after the meeting. This lets them keep a record of idea evolution as they build client proposals.

2. Enable teams to interact with content during meetings. AEC teams are constantly faced with the need to reference previous projects, examine past solutions to construction issues and pull up supporting documents to finalize blueprints. Collaborative applications lets teams take screen captures and annotate over related content for better consensus and understanding so that they can complete the work right in a meeting, instead of waiting until they’re back at their desks.

3. Make formal presentations more dynamic with easy to use technology. IT companies are more inclined to prepare dynamic presentations where presenters are able to annotate over content, sketch concepts and pull up video and other multimedia, allowing for a more engaging audience experience.

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Audio Visual and Managed IT Services