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6/23/2016

Beyond the Blend - The Age of Customization

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

It seems like no one really orders just coffee anymore. I was in a coffee shop recently, and the person in front of me ordered one of the most complicated drinks I've ever heard. It was something like this: iced-half-caff-ristretto-venti-four-pump-sugar-free-cinnamon-dolce-soy-skinny-latte. What does how we order our coffee have to do with how we should be treating education? A lot, actually!I was thinking how simple my coffee order was — a coffee with extra cream and Splenda — but then I realized, I also have a choice. I have the choice to make it simple, and I have the choice to customize it, if I want. Even with my simple order, I also had the choice of three different kinds of roasts and three different sizes of coffee.

We can have almost anything in our lives customized. Amazon suggests products for you; Netflix suggests entertainment for you; apps exist for your phone that allow you to customize what kinds of food, travel and even dating you would like to do. There are even apps to personalize your apps experience.

I think this begs the questions: If we have the ability to customize and personalize such trivial things as ring tones, should we not look at a bigger opportunity to use these tools to customize something as important as education?

Why should we shift to using digital experiences and tools to transform learning?

We are living in the information age and using digital technology anytime and anywhere to access information. Students in the 21st century need to be as engaged in their learning as they are engaged in their lives by using the technologies and tools of the digital age. It is not about the hardware though, it is about the headware. (Google Ian Jukes for more information. By the way, “Google,” as a verb, was added to the definitive record of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, in 2006!)

Being about the headware means it is not the devices or the apps. It is the thinking…it is the learning of what to do with the information that is now available 24/7. Jamie Casap, senior education evangelist at Google encourages this line of thinking for preparing students for new technologies that will be used in their future careers, “Instead of asking what students want to be when they grow up, Casap asks, ‘What problem do you want to solve?’”

Customizing learning for students is not a new concept; great teachers have always done it. The transformative piece is that by using digital tools for some parts of instruction, we now have the ability to customize for all students, giving them all educational opportunities that meet their needs as learners, as well as allowing them choices in the process. Who wouldn’t want that?

Next up in my blog series: What is personalized learning and just how do we customize education for students? One way is to adopt a blended learning approach to instruction, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here.

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3/7/2017

Superintendent’s Blog: Putnam County Districts Collaborate to Engage Students

By: Paolo DeMaria

On Monday, State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff and I had the privilege of visiting four districts in Putnam County. Although they are small, the districts — along with all the districts throughout Putnam County — are collaborating with one another to improve student engagement and student preparation for their future success. The Putnam County Educational Service Center plays a key role in facilitating all of this great collaboration. The students are taking exciting and relevant courses that are preparing them to go down any number of paths after high school — to college, to other postsecondary training or right into in-demand jobs. I saw 3D printing capability being used at Kalida High School and a garden gazebo designed by vocational agricultural students at Leipsic High School. I heard original music composed by a student and played by the band at Columbus Grove High School. These are fantastic examples of project-based learning and other strategies to engage the young minds of students. While at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, I recorded a conversation with a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Holly Flueckiger. We discussed how hands-on teaching and learning has benefited her and the students in her Human Body Systems, Anatomy and Bio-Medical classes. See our conversation here:

You can see more of our visit to Putnam County at twitter.com/OHEducationSupt. You can also follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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9/28/2017

GUEST BLOG: Using Virtual Backpacks to Help Students Explore Their Futures — Andrea Richison, Zanesville City Schools

By: Guest Blogger

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As an Ohio school counselor, one of my favorite roles is the promotion of college and career readiness. Currently, I serve a high school population where college and career awareness is on the forefront of many of my students’ minds. However, I previously served a kindergarten through sixth grade population. There was nothing more exciting than watching third- or fourth-graders explore their strengths for the first time and talk about what kinds of schooling could be in their future—whether that be a four-year college or a career-technical program. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m passionate about planting the seeds of career planning in our students. Witnessing a student light up with excitement when she tells you about her plans to be an engineer, a cosmetologist or a physician is one of the reasons I chose my own career as a school counselor.

However, there are always those students who are harder to reach. The ones that you ask, “What are your plans?” and they just look at you and shrug their shoulders. This used to frustrate me to no end. Surely, they must have some idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives? But the reality that I have found is that some students have no idea where to start when it comes to college and career planning. That’s when, as a counselor, it’s time to step in and help them explore their interests and what may be a good fit for their skill sets. Last year, as the freshman and sophomore counselor at Zanesville High School, I got the opportunity to use the OhioMeansJobs backpack tool in ninth and 10th grade English classes.

Once my students set up their accounts with OhioMeansJobs, they quickly got started on the first step of building their backpacks, the “career cluster inventory.” Students indicated how well they enjoyed certain activities, such as fishing and drawing. At first, there were some complaints about the number of questions, but after a while, the once bustling room was hushed except for the sound of clicking from their computers. It was interesting to watch students’ faces as they read over activities and decided their levels of interests. And, as they began to finish their inventories, they started chattering about the “career clusters” that showed up on top of their lists.

A large number of students in one ninth grade English class received “Agricultural and Environmental Systems” as their top cluster. The term agriculture was new to some students. When one student asked questions, I directed him to click on the cluster. The nice thing about the inventory is that each cluster contains a hyperlink to different explanations and occupations within that category. In this case, when the student clicked on the agriculture cluster, it pulled up the field of “mining, oil, and gas.” The student was actually very familiar with oil work because many of the parents in our school are employed by the oil industry. The student was introduced to new vocabulary and able to make a real-life connection to the career cluster.

For me, the backpack is refreshing because of the interactive, real-life application that students have the opportunity to explore. What’s even more convenient is the ability to save their results to refer back to and further engage in activities. In the span of one class period, we were only really able to fully explore the career cluster tool. However, once this result is saved, a student can log in to the account and complete other activities that stem from the cluster of interest. For example, a student can later go back and see the saved top career cluster and then pick a career to build a career plan from.

The backpack is an excellent tool for a student who needs a starting point. While it’s exciting when a freshman already has a career path in mind, it’s not always a reality. Also, even those who do have plans may discover career clusters that are better in line with their interests and strengths. While the backpack may not lead to a concrete career choice, it gets the wheels turning and allows students to have hands-on experience with career assessments, which are valuable for both the counselor and the student to spark conversations for future college and career planning. I feel like I’m just getting my feet wet with the backpack tool because there are so many different aspects to explore. But, I’m excited to keep learning and hope to spark my passion for college and career planning in my students.

Andrea Richison is a high school counselor for Zanesville City Schools. Currently she works with grades 9-12 as a student success counselor.

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4/18/2018

GUEST BLOG: Market Day...An Engaging Economics Lesson for Elementary Students — Kelly Miller, South-Western City Schools

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-871005836.jpgSometimes people who don’t work in schools find it surprising that students begin learning the basics of subjects like algebra, physics and even economics as early as elementary school. We expect teachers to cover these topics in high school and college, but elementary school teachers begin building this knowledge in their students much earlier. As a second grade teacher, I am always looking for ways to make learning fun and engaging. For example, teaching economics to second-graders certainly is not going to look like the stereotypical dry lecture you might imagine in a college setting. In fact, when it is time to teach the economics strand of the social studies standards to my second-graders, I get so excited about the project. Every year, my students love this lesson.

When I first started teaching economics, I stumbled upon a packet of teaching materials for second-graders. The packet basically covered important vocabulary words that are involved in understanding how money works. After looking it over and collaborating with my co-workers, we decided we had to make these concepts more interesting. This is how the “market day” project was born. To make the learning more meaningful, we created a unit where students build and participate in a marketplace. In this marketplace, students have an opportunity to design a product, create a business and sell their products to their classmates.  

We begin the first day of the project by having the students take notes in a packet to help them learn the key vocabulary. The next day, they start to put their learning in action. Students form groups of three. Each group is responsible for designing a product that meets certain criteria:

  • It has to be something that students can make at school. If students need materials not available in the classroom, they bring them from home.
  • Students are “paid” on production days with fake money. 
  • Students set prices for their products based on the demand (which was a vocabulary word they learned).

My fellow teachers and I also teach students about advertisements. Students create their own advertisements, which I videotape. After weeks of producing goods and advertising them to their classmates, market day arrives. Students eagerly set up their stores and begin shopping in their classmates’ stores. They spend only the money they earned on production days. By doing this, they learn how to make choices as consumers because they don’t have enough money to buy everyone’s products. Some of the items that students created were bookmarks, hair bows and — what every household needs — a box to hold straws. This year, one group even added a gimmick to make its bookmark store more appealing. The store offered customers the opportunity to lower a fishing pole into a pile of bookmarks and “fish” for bookmarks. This took real entrepreneurship and creativity because the group knew it was competing with another bookmark store.

The buying and selling happens in cycles so that only one of the business owners can go out and shop while the others stay back to sell their products and collect the money. We wrap up the unit by having the students add up their profits and reflect on their sales and what they might have done differently. For example: Was the pricing right? Did you create enough product or too much product?

Market day makes economics in elementary school so much fun. The students are always proud of their products, and they get hands-on experience with the decisions that all consumers and business owners make. It is a great way for my students to learn the concepts of economics through an authentic, highly engaging project. I can’t wait to teach this lesson again next year!

Kelly Miller is a second grade teacher at Monterey Elementary School in South-Western City Schools. You can contact Kelly by clicking here.

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7/12/2018

Beyond Engagement: Empowering Students to Take Ownership of Learning

By: Virginia Ressa

GettyImages-846567624.jpgSummer “vacation” is one of those things that non-educators sometimes misunderstand. Some people, even our family members, think teachers have three months off to lounge, sleep in and binge watch the shows we missed during the school year. We know differently. First of all, it’s not three months – it’s maybe two and a half after you factor in required planning and professional development days. But that’s not what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about how we use that time. Educators are also learners, using their time “off” to take classes to maintain their current license, earn a new license or an advanced degree.

What motivates us to continue our education and complete graduate classes?
What inspires us to engage in the learning process? To finish the vast amount of academic reading? And to complete the group projects that are so ubiquitous in grad school? I can tell you from experience, there are no rewards that give graduate students bonus bucks to spend at the university store when they complete the required reading. Rather than extrinsic rewards, we develop our own intrinsic motivations that keep us focused. We have ownership of our learning because we know why we are engaged in the learning. We know where we are going and what is expected of us.

Why don’t our students develop the same ownership of learning that we do?
Think about our K-12 classrooms and how we involve students in learning. Many of our schools and classrooms have rewards systems with stickers and bonus bucks in an attempt to motivate reluctant students. We try to provide extrinsic rewards because we have not given students the information and tools they need to develop ownership of their learning and intrinsic motivation. Teachers make the decisions about what students will learn and how they will be assessed. Teachers determine the timing of lessons and units of study. Teachers collect evidence of student learning. Teachers keep track of student progress. Teachers retain most of the control of teaching AND learning decisions, which leaves students as directed, passive participants.  

As classroom teachers or grade level teams, we can offer rewards and privileges that might work for a short time, but rarely result in enduring motivation. Most of our attempts at external motivation fall far short of creating the engagement we genuinely want to see in our classrooms. What we are actually striving for, and what we experience as students ourselves, is ownership of learning. Student ownership goes beyond engagement and motivation, and empowers students with a sense of control and responsibility for their learning. Creating the conditions for students to take ownership of their learning requires teachers to work with students to set and communicate clear learning targets, collect evidence of their learning, track and analyze their progress, and provide opportunities for self and peer assessment.

We often see students engaged in classroom activities – they are busy, on task and focused. But if we stop to ask them what they are learning and why, can students articulate either? They may be on task simply to complete the activity before the end of class so they don’t have homework. Maybe they are on task because they want to earn a spot in Friday’s field trip. They may not know why they are doing an assignment, but have been provided with enough outside motivation to complete the assignment. Yet, research shows that when students know why they are engaged in a learning activity and understand how their learning will contribute to their long-term goals, they are more likely to be self-motivated and to reach their goals. In other words, students are more likely to be motivated to reach goals they’ve helped to set. They are more likely to keep working toward their goals if they can see and track their progress.


“Formative instructional practices involve students throughout the teaching and learning process. These practices – done well – enhance student efficacy and motivation to learn.”
-FIP Learning Modules


If you have participated in any of the Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) professional learning, you will recall it emphasizes four core practices: Creating clear learning targets, collecting evidence of student learning, providing effective feedback and supporting student ownership of learning.

The most critical element of student ownership and FIP is the creation of clear learning targets. Clear learning targets are the keystone in this set of practices because we cannot successfully implement the other practices if we do not have well written, aligned and easily communicated learning targets. Most significantly, clear learning targets provide educators with the key to empower students to take ownership of their learning.

This summer, Ohio’s teachers will have many opportunities to participate in professional learning. it is now easier than ever to learn about formative instructional practices. Free resources are now available on the Learning Management System (LMS). I’ve given you an introduction to student ownership of learning, but there are modules in the “FIP in Action” course that will help you to envision the practices in the context of content area classes. Once you have had a chance to take some time for yourself, visit the LMS and look at the many options available for improving your use of formative instructional practices.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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8/2/2018

Building Relationships…Building the Foundation of a Successful School Year

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-893988484-1.jpgIt is hard to believe that another school year is fast approaching. Before we know it, the yellow school buses will be en route and the “20 mile per hour” school zone signs will be flashing. The marquees outside many schools will read “Welcome Back Students!” or “Good luck students and staff for a successful 2018-2019 school year!” 

Even after 30 years in education, I still get butterflies in my stomach the night before the first day of school. There is a renewed excitement about starting a new school year. Teachers, parents and, most importantly, students wonder what the new year will bring.

As we start to get back in the swing of school and learning, remember, one of the most important tasks a teacher must start with, and continue all year, is building relationships with students. Building relationships is the keystone for a successful year. If a teacher has a good relationship with her students, the students are more willing to please the teacher, which can lead to less discipline and more learning. Relationship building is not something you can do the first day or the first week and then forget about. It is something that, for some students, may take all year. For some, those connections may be on the first hello, for others, it will be on the last goodbye.

Here are some tips teachers can use to build relationships with their students:

  1. Greet your students every day. Let them know they are important enough for you to stop and say hello.
  2. Have a “family meeting” several times a week with your class. Take some time for your students to share what is going on in their lives.
  3. Write positive notes or make positive calls home. This allows the child to see you notice and care.
  4. Stop and have a personal conversation with your students. It will give you insight to what is going on in their lives. This also is a good technique for working with your more difficult students.
  5. Try to make connections with your students by including things that are important to them in your classroom or teaching. For example, if a student likes baseball, you can use that as an example in a math problem.
  6. Speak to the students with respect. All relationships, including student-teacher relationships, flourish on mutual respect.
  7. Attend extracurricular activities. By attending an activity outside of school, it shows the students you are interested in them as people and not just “students.”
  8. Share stories about yourself. Let the students see you as a person. This will allow them to make connections to you just like you make connections with them.
  9. Let students have a voice in the classroom. Let them know this is not “my room” but “our room.” Try to stay away from the pronouns my or mine and go with we and ours.
  10. Trust your students! What better way is there to build relationships than to build trust? Also, students must trust you. Trust is the foundation of any good relationship.
Kim Monachino is director of the Office for Exceptional Children for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Kim by clicking here.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM