18 Low Tech Ways to Help Kids & Educators Get Smart

I frequently write about new learning technologies, but there are lots of low tech learning innovations (i.e., produce better outcomes and potentially cost less).  Here’s a lit of 18.  I bet you can add two to the list to make it an even 20.  At this point, some aren’t really innovations, they are demonstrated best practices but they existing so few places they are worth mentioning.
1. High expectations and future focus.   In the first minute of visiting an Aspire elementary school you see, feel, and hear about the college going focus—a unique an powerful combination of high expectations and future orientation.
2. Make the target clear.  The Common Core will help make learning targets higher and clearer.  A Kentucky superintendent told me this week he wants to see learning targets phrased as “I can” statements on the board in every classroom every day.
3. Make learning more relevant. A variety of tactics could fit into this category but most common is project-based learning, which can be engaging but make the target clear!
4. Improve motivational systems. The first two points are about intrinsic motivation, but there is still big opportunity to organize learning in small chunks and celebrate progress (see On  Merit Badges).
5. Give students choices.  Related to #3, many students will respond well to having some choice over order, mode, and pacing of learning and how they will show what they know.  (This is for the Montessori mom hating on computers this week on twitter.)
6. Make learning fun.  Some people criticize the No Excuses charter school pedagogy, but when you visit them you quickly find out that they understand and leverage the art of making learning fun.  I’ve seen KIPP teachers use music to make math fun, engaging, and memorable
7. Build a web of youth and family services.  My family supports Communities in Schools locally and nationally because we know because most kids need more support than they get.
Here’s a few policy innovations recommended by Digital Learning Now.  They imply online or blended learning but they are primarily policy changes that could yield big improvements.  This is the ‘getting out of our own way’ section.
8. Give every student access to advanced courses.  Every US high school student should have access to every Advanced Placement and upper division STEM course.
9. Give every student access to foreign languages.  Make language acquisition resources available K-12 and expand secondary choices by offering courses online.
10. Let teachers teach across district and state lines.  Great teachers should be able expand their reach and impact.
11. Remove certification barriers to teaching.  Make licensing performance based.
12.  Let kids progress when they have demonstrated competence and make tests available on demand. Lots of secondary students are bored and could move more quickly if states eliminated seat time requirements.  It also replaces fail/repeat with the gift of time when and where needed.
13. Authorize multiple statewide providers of demonstrated quality.  This could actually save the state some money and introduce quality options.
14. Fraction funding that follows the student to the best learning option.  This won’t be the most popular idea on the list but it opens up a world of opportunity for kids that need it.
I spent two days with ‘human capital’ groups this week thinking about how to help teachers and leaders get smart.
15. Promote a culture of candor, transparency, and productivity.  When asked what the most important talent develop factor was, most folks at the meeting said culture and leadership was number 2.
16. Get clear about job requirements.  The military is really good at defining requirements; they map backwards from what professionals need to know and be able to do to a set of learning and development experiences.  In K-12, Summit Prep is really good at this.
17. Personal learning plan. You may not be able to allow your best people to spend 20% of their time working on innovative stuff of their own choice like the do at Google, but you can help top performers figure out what’s next and learn what they need to learn to get their.
18. Learning everywhere.  While visiting Google this week, educators noticed that there are even learning resources in the bathroom—it’s truly a learning everywhere all the time environment.  Perhaps you don’t want PD in the lav, but think about how you can extend and promote learning.
What would you add to the list?  Inspired teaching?  Creative physical environment?
This first appeared on Huffington Post

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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