Author: Terra Casteleyn

Mondays with Molly- Super School and Project Based Learning
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: Super School and Project Based Learning

So last week you blogged about the Super School Project, what about it resonates with you?

Well, one thing I like about the contest is that it is set up for a great Project Based Learning experience.

So is the contest a project itself?

Yes. The project starts with a challenge to create a real school. The way it works is, the contest provides all of the criteria, then groups get together to submit whatever their idea of what a high school should look like, in their eyes. It requires students to have input and engage in the process of their own education… what do they think should change? Should be available? What do they think education should look like.

It makes sense to touch base with the actual users of education, the students… just like in any normal marketplace.

Exactly. But what it does is raise the question… what is the purpose of this education? As you would a product… what is the consumer needing this for?

Well my mind goes directly to… being educated, and by that I mean smart in some way, and of course, to prepare one for a career…

Ok, some argue economics… needing an educated workforce ready for careers. Others argue that our focus should be raising happy children. And I personally I don’t believe they are separate. I think the goal should both… educating people to be able to tackle the problems in society and in real life and make our world a better place.   

So how would you approach this contest and this solution?

Well, I believe the best way is to engage students the way they learn naturally. This is done by creating a rich learning environment for all students and preparing students for any opportunity that is out there.

Right. Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all… not everyone has the same destiny.

Exactly, that means a certain facility with language, both reading, writing and articulating ideas as well as using math concepts to manipulate data and understand graphs… basic science and social studies to understand the interconnected relationships…as well as collaborating, managing time, persevering…

To me, that means we want thinkers that can solve problems. It goes past careers and income and further into helping society. At the most basic level, to create a satisfied generation that is engaged and fullfilled… and then to the next level… which would be this same generation that would feel inspired to make a difference in our world… I mean, even on a global level.

I guess we don’t always connect how we learn in high school to how we feel and operate ourselves in the real world… and it’s impact on society.

Education has always always been the key.

So with regards to what you are doing at Novare, how does this connect to that?

Well, we don’t define the projects… we feel that is up to the schools and the teachers, they know what their students need. But what they need is help in organizing information to help guide the next steps and ultimately…save teachers time. Which, believe me, is huge!

So Novare enables schools to embark on Project Based Learning….?

Yes, we engage students by supporting project based learning… allowing students to demonstrate understanding in multiple modes, explore projects that excite them, get feedback and try again, as well as, building perseverance, reflection and resiliency.

What is it about Projects that make education practice different? Is it the process of the project or the way in which we have to then assess projects?

Both. Project Work is not new. The process is open ended, helping students learn to make decisions and manage time. However, using technology to support teachers with organizing projects and connecting open-ended projects to assessment IS new. Being able to do it in one place is new. Supporting teachers to make it sustainable is new… and it’s what Novare is doing.

Well, I will certainly check out the Super School Project and what people are saying.

Yes, they’re mixing it up and it’s fun to watch.

Thanks, Molly! See you next time!

Mondays with Molly – Creating Classroom Culture!
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly – Creating Classroom Culture!

So we’re back to school!

Yes! Today is the first day for many students. Some started last week, some will start next week, but everyone is getting back to the full swing of things!

It’s always exciting, a fresh group of students, with different personalities and characters that are going to be with you for the entire year. That must be exciting!

Yes. Perhaps nervous excitement, but exciting all the same. And the same feeling goes for students too… new teachers, new curriculum, etc.

So what is the most important thing happening right now? Getting everything set up?

Well, I would say over and beyond that is creating the classroom culture for the school year. It can truly change the entire trajectory for the year… and you want to set the tone from the get-go.

Sounds like creating the learning environment during the first days of school is crucial.

It is. Teachers want to set the tone for the year and that happens in the first days of school. How these first days go help determine how the year will go. This is true for both teachers and students. The first day is so important. Students of all ages are anxious. They want to know who is in their class and who their teachers will be. Will it be a good year?

So what’s the most important thing for students?

I’d say their internal dialogue sounds like… Will my teacher like me? Will I like my teacher? That relationship is key to get students comfortable to make mistakes, be risk takers and truly learn.

I never really thought about that likability relationship… it always seems to be classroom organization, etc. But that makes sense, the more comfortable you are, the more you are willing to stretch yourself.

Exactly. We want children to be able to try things that are hard for them, and that means failing sometimes the first time they try something. Building a culture where it is ok to try and not succeed the first time is important. Analyzing ideas, being open minded and persevering when it gets hard are the life skills that are going to help students succeed in school and beyond.

I can remember a teacher who intimidated me and I never raised my hand… but can think of another one who I truly loved and I was sitting at the front of the room, hand raised, willing to risk it! That must be a tricky thing to manage though…How do you set up this culture?

Really it breaks down to respect and time. Teachers care about students, they want them to succeed. When students feel that support they are more likely to respond and risk being wrong. It means taking some time to build that relationship, talking and listening when things are on and off track to help students learn. The focus is on learning, not simply getting through work to get a grade.

How do teachers do this?

The first step is to give students ownership over their work. Support students. Really listening to what they have to say. Probing with questions and providing the opportunity to revise their answers. Let them fail (see the failure) and guide them with questions to find the right answers. And if you jump in too early with the answers, it cuts off that metacognitive disequilibrium that helps students realize they are wrong and develop the skills needed to find solutions.

Yes, to be patient and let them figure that out themselves. It’s really true. It also strengthens them for life too, not just in the classroom…

Agreed. Actually, I was reading an article in the NY times this month about college students. (My eldest is off to college next week), and found this interesting for parents, but also for educators, strengthening students to take challenges, fail, persevere succeed. I have it right here, can I read an excerpt?

Oh please do!

“Children “deserve to be strengthened, not strangled, by the fierceness of a parent’s love,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims wrote in a 2005 op-ed piece for The Chicago Tribune. If by adulthood they cannot fend for themselves, she asked, “shouldn’t we worry?”

..Troubled by the growing number of parents who not only stayed in near-constant cellphone contact with their offspring but also showed up to help them enroll in classes, contacted professors and met with advisers (illustrating the progression from helicopter to lawn mower parents, who go beyond hovering to clear obstacles out of their child’s way) …. robs children of opportunities to develop independence and resiliency, thereby crippling them emotionally later in life.”

Well then, the opposite question must be asked…. how do you set up a classroom culture for academic risk takers? Those who are extra comfortable?

First, show students you care about them. Realize you have individuals that like to learn different ways. Some kids hate being in the limelight, others live for it. Expecting each child to get up and introduce themselves can add stress. There is no one way to do this. No one way that works great for every student. Providing opportunities to have personalized learning helps.

Then how can you create something that works with different styles?

Well, we talk a lot about open ended projects. That can start on the first day of class. Set criteria.  Instead of stand up and tell the class about yourself …   It could be a project that is more open ended.

What would that look like?

An example would be generating criteria together.

Project:  Introduction

Goals:  Get to know each other, Incorporating Language Arts into the project,  Due tomorrow.

Having an open ended project permits students to meet the criteria and at the same time tailor it to their personal style. Possible examples, but certainly not limited to these could be a poem, posters, collages, videos, interviews, blogs, etc.

This is a nice way to build a culture. Day 2 could be revising projects for more details…  It makes the project more engaging when students can own it and by making it a work in progress takes stress off of the first share and reinforces a culture focused on revision and learning.

Gotcha. So if I had to sum up your perspective on culture, I would say 1. the first days are paramount to setting the tone for the year, 2. be intentional about creating a culture that encourages engagement and risk, being ok with failing, and 3. create long term projects that can allow different students at different paces to go as wide and as deep as will challenge them.

Wow! That’s perfect. Yep. I think that is a great overview.

Ok, until next time… have a great morning!

You too.

Additional Reading: Top Tips to Set a Positive Tone for the New Year

Mondays with Molly-High Stakes Testing II – Solutions
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: High Stakes Testing II – Solutions

So, last week we talked about high stakes testing… this week I want to talk about solutions. Can you sum up last week?

Sure. Last week we focused on the problems high stakes testing causes: it’s the only metric to gain access to high level classes, the only metric used to decide if a school is successful, thus forcing teaching to focus on test taking skills, and causes teachers to mainly focus on kids teetering the border with less attention to high and low performers, and finally it stresses everyone out.

Ok so if these tests are so catastrophic, why don’t we just eliminate them all together? Are there anything good points to be made about these tests?

We can’t eliminate tests all together. We do need a way to compare student progress and a metric is an excellent way to streamline that across the county. Having a metric is necessary to evaluate how schools and children are doing. And we do want to evaluate programs.

We do?

Yes we do. What and how we choose to evaluate will drive the day to day happenings in the classroom. A national metric should give an unbiased look at what is happening in classrooms. And based on what is happening, guide schools to look at programs and strategies to help children.

So it’s less about discovering the ineffective teachers and more about finding the areas that need help?

Yes, one reason is testing identifies students that need resources and justify qualification for special programs. Students need another window into performance to ensure they are learning and if they are not, getting the necessary resources. Districts only need to provide resources when a need is demonstrated… that doesn’t always happen in the classroom. Testing provides another source of data that districts may not have otherwise identified.

This data can help evaluate programs, teachers, and discover/support student needs…

,,, and not only is it a tool to evaluate children and programs, It holds the school accountable. If a school is not doing a good job, then a process needs to be followed to improve the program and school. If no progress is made, again there is a process to change leadership to make new changes for students. We owe it to the students to have data to make changes so children get the education they deserve.

How can we then balance the accountability needs with the needs of the schools, teachers, and children?

First, evaluate the metric. Right now we use standardized tests. But in my opinion, we don’t need to use basic bubble tests to determine student success. We could have students submit portfolios that are evaluated using a national rubric by a group outside of the district.

How can this be done?

We need to start tapping new resources that are available to us in the 21st century… For example, organizations like The National Center for Fair and Open Testing help evaluate the tests and provide useful information about them. Utilizing organizations like FairTest to ensure the metric is fair for all students is one way.

And I’d imagine technology is on that list?

Absolutely. Technology has dramatically changed the landscape in our country in many industries… to not use it in education is borderline irresponsible. With today’s tech, we shouldn’t need to evaluate children based on traditional bubble tests. Technology has enabled  multiple ways for children to demonstrate learning. We could set up assessments that demonstrate learning throughout the year, not limited to a single week of testing.

How would you use new tech?

I would recommend a portfolio metric… this way we eliminate the stress of one week of high stakes testing and focus on meaningful learning throughout the year. Students could create portfolios based on tasks similar to New Hampshire’s PACE program. This would promote multiple ways to demonstrate learning and be engaging to students. Students could even defend their portfolios to an outside panel of evaluators that would be able to ask questions.

Is this PACE program actually happening now?

Yes! It is happening right now! New Hampshire is leading the nation in developing and piloting Competency Based Education. Four districts are reducing standardized tests and using Performance Assessments of Competency Education (PACE). They use a task bank supported by Stanford research with problems for students to solve at different grade levels. Here is a real-life example:


New Hampshire sounds like it’s truly blazing a trail, are there any other examples?

Yes, Envision High Schools are spearheading truly innovative project based education in California. They have students defend their portfolios to a panel of evaluators that can ask questions. As freshman, they start building the skills needed for the defense of their senior portfolio. They learn to problem solve and use deeper learning skills by analyzing, synthesizing and articulating their thoughts. They have specific guidelines to help them learn the needed skills and timelines to let them revise and resubmit if needed, reducing the high stakes and focusing on learning. So the “test”, so to speak, is happening throughout the entire year, not in a “one day will determine your fate” scenario.

So in essence teachers would still be “teaching to the test” because the tests will always remain important…

Well of course. We’ll never take the importance out of these tests, they are crucial in so many ways. But if the tests themselves shape learning in a better way, a real way, then it’s a win win even if teachers “teach to the test”!

How so?

The tests would be students creating portfolios, demonstrating the needed skills for college and beyond. They would present projects that are engaging and demonstrate deeper learning. This ensures the students truly understand the material because the tests themselves, showcase true learning. There’s nowhere to hide!

Are there programs out there today that can support this model?

Yes. Platforms that integrate portfolios with standards are what you are looking for. Novare is built with this model in mind. Novare helps students and teachers organize many types of work including multi-disciplinary projects. It also helps communicate expectations and provides opportunities for discussion and revision of work. Novare connects the work to learning goals and standards. Systems like Novare will help change education.

Wow that is so exciting. Where could someone go to learn more?

Competency Works and The Buck Institute for Education are amazing resources for educators and schools. They provide guidelines and resources to implement this type of program as well.

Thanks so much. I will go check this out right now!

Mondays with Molly-High Stakes Testing I
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: High Stakes Testing I

Hi Molly, I hope you had a great Mother’s Day! You get a Happy Mother’s Day x4!

I did! Thank you. I had a great weekend.

Fantastic. So today’s topic is High Stakes Testing. I see a lot of talk in the news about high stakes testing… perhaps since we’re nearing the end of the school year, but it seems there is a big debate. Can you tell me what high stakes testing is?

Sure. High Stakes testing are tests that students take that have significant effects based on the their performance.

So effect on the students themselves?

Right. So for example, the SAT or ACT is considered ‘high stakes’ because the student’s performance on the test plays a large role in which colleges they will attend.

Other examples are tests like CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress), ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) and PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). Performance on these tests can determine student placement in classes… or how much support a student receives.

So these scores can really affect students’ educational career, from elementary school on.

Yep. And the effects don’t stop at students, for schools, not meeting goals or having too many students opt out provide some punitive consequences.

What kind of consequences?

Let’s talk about K-12 schools public schools for example. If 95% of the students do not take the test or the students in the school do not score in the areas needed to show improvement or be satisfactory… the school is then considered failing and gets a mark of not meeting its AYP (adequate yearly progress). Then steps need to be taken to fix the issues. After five years of not meeting the goals, one of the following must occur.

  • Chartering: Closing and reopening as a public charter school
  • Reconstitution: Replacing school staff, including the principal, relevant to the failure in the school.
  • Contracting: contracting with an outside entity to operate the school.
  • State takeovers: turning the school operations over to the state education agency
  • Any Other major governance restructuring: engaging in another form of major restructuring that makes fundamental reforms.

No wonder schools put so much importance on these tests! Are there any other factors that add to creating these “high stakes”?

Well, take funding for example. Schools want high API (academic performance index) scores to have more flexibility in funding, sometimes merit pay, prestige in the community, not needing to do major shifts in how the school operates… and how schools can spend money, like Title One funds, which is also connected to testing… all of that is really important to schools.

I’ll bet it gets murky when money is involved!

And you’d be surprised how far the impacts hit, if a school has a high API score, then the school is perceived as “good” and the value of housing in those areas increase. So Real Estate is effected.

I can already see the problems… I would imagine cheating may come into play.

Well look at the Georgia situation. Those teachers are in jail for cheating… because the people who they’re hurting the most is the students. This really messes it up for them.


But teachers aren’t the only ones. Students may not be placed in appropriate classes or get the resources they need. If this test is the only metric to determine placement or do an initial identification for resources, it can set students up for failure. All based on ONE WEEK of testing! Obviously this can be frustrating and stressful for them

Wow, real estate, funding, stress, cheating… that all makes sense but you don’t really think about that when you consider you are just trying to gauge where children are at.

Yes, that’s why it’s so complicated. The idea behind NCLB is truly wonderful… Having a standard metric to ensure every student is learning.  And if students aren’t learning, putting steps in place to reform schools.  But the unintended consequences are startling; more standardized tests, losing the creative aspect of teaching and learning, focusing mostly on students on edge of passing or failing without attention or resources given to students performing really well or very poorly.

How are people reacting to this pressure?

Actually, many parents are opting out of the testing. And some teachers are refusing to administer the test. They worry about how the long hours of testing and added stress and pressure without giving an accurate look at student performance.

When you say that, you mean that the focus then becomes solely on the test?

Well yeah. If these tests are sooooo important, then the whole year becomes one big preparation for these tests and a focus on test taking skills and not necessarily about learning! Teachers actually want their students to learn, retain, understand, and process… they don’t care as much about these “high stakes” test scores.

That makes sense. Is this why you often talk about different ways of assessing students… like not with standardized tests…? Is this part of the reason?

Oh, Novare doesn’t think all tests are bad! Obviously it’s bad when teachers are going to jail for cheating on tests because those scores mean so much… but we offer a way to showcase understanding and learning in different ways. Many teachers and schools have wanted to incorporate other forms of assessment, but let’s face it, it’s super hard to scale it.

What about Novare makes it easier?

We offer a platform that organizes this information, provides evidence of learning with multiple ways to look at the data… it’s super visual and easy to change perspectives with just a click.  We also have a very innovative way of connecting data from portfolios… to standards. We want to focus on deeper learning, knowing those are the skills students need to be successful in life.

Ha! You can’t get away from standards!

Having standards isn’t bad.  Knowing the skills you want students to attain makes sense.  Ensuring your teaching that deeper learning with standards takes skill.  Many schools must adhere to the Common Core Standards, which is already in our system, so it makes it easy to connect portfolio data to them… You can truly have a Common Core Report Card made in one click. But you know, some independent schools have other types of standards… they often call them learning goals. But yes, in the end, all of this data needs to be pointing to some sort of conclusive outcomes! This way we know… did the child learn or not?! To me, it’s still holding both students and teachers accountable to learning goals or standards or whatever you want to call them… but Novare allows alternative routes to getting there…

Thanks so much Molly, have a great Monday!

Mondays with Molly-Portfolios
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: Portfolios

Happy Monday everyone! This morning we are talking to Molly about portfolios. What are portfolios? ….in reference to education?

It is a collection of work. Often portfolios represent a student’s best work at different times of the year. It can be very powerful to see what you have accomplished in a year. It can show revisions or a series of projects that demonstrates what a student has learned. It is an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways and for students to be creative and engaged in school.

It is especially powerful if it is curated by the teacher, student or combination by both teacher and student. This way we can also learn why different works are important. We can reflect on what was learned and understand how different pieces are connected.

Why are portfolios so important?

There are many reasons portfolios are important, but most importantly because many schools are moving towards evidence based assessment.

What does that mean?

Evidence based assessment allows teachers to assess students on things like projects or presentations, really a whole host of different forms of demonstrating understanding. In turn, students have to use higher level thinking (as opposed to memorizing and test taking) and thus it promotes deeper learning. Basically, it offers an alternative to standardized tests.

What was a portfolio before there was technology? What did that look like?

Often people created binders of work, with reflective pages curating the different pieces. I remember making a professional portfolio binder for graduate school. It included information that showcased my accomplishments and projects preparing me to be a principal. But that’s very labor intensive and would be a lot for a teacher of say, 30 to 300 students!

How are portfolios being created today?

Some are still manually putting them together, others use technology to assemble them.

Technology like LMS’s?


Is it safe to assume all LMS’s offer portfolios?

No not all, but many offer them. However, their focus may not be compiling different versions of student works to truly move toward deeper learning… and working with teachers to design function and flo… so the functionality and features of other platforms may be challenging. The key to success is how easy it is to manage it and how it links to assessment… or the ability to curate different artifacts from multiple perspectives. And that is what we do well. I imagine because we built the product with portfolios and portfolios connected to assessment and deeper learning, as our focus.

So what’s so special about Novare’s portfolios? What makes it different?

We support video, pictures, google docs and Word or Pages documents. Different versions of documents can be grouped together to show growth over time. But what is amazing is, a teacher can set up a folder about a topic. As artifacts are uploaded, they can be tagged to specific students. Some artifacts may be collaborative and show multiple students, others’ reflections or conclusions submitted by one student. The teacher can see everyone’s contribution in one place, but the students will see only the items assigned to them. Also teachers may group multiple types of portfolios to organize information how they choose.

How are standards connected to portfolios?

The teacher can link the artifacts to standards. They can add their assessment to the standards, by individuals or groups. Then when viewing the portfolio, each artifact will show the assessment, standard and date. It will also show any notes the teacher added… and soon the student notes as well.

That’s cool. Are you working on anything new in regards to your portfolios?

Always! We are always adding and building our products to make them better, constantly using customer feedback to make it better. In fact, this summer we are finalizing our student portal, enabling students to manage their own portfolios. They will be able to upload artifacts and place them directly into their portfolios, even tag the artifacts to the students they are collaborating with. New features include dialogues with fellow students (if they are associated with the artifact) and also to ask questions, answer questions, offer opinions or reflect about the different artifacts. You really need to dive into the product to see how cool this functionality really is!

Sounds like it. If someone wants to get a demo or a tour of the product, what is the best way to do that?

You can go to our website and click on any of the Learn More buttons and we will email you right away, also you can also just email us directly at if that’s easier! We’d be happy to skype and share our screen with you and show you around.

Perfect That is great. Thanks so much Molly.

Mondays with Molly1
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly

Hi Molly, wow it’s been Spring Break and I haven’t seen you. What have you been up to?

This is always a busy time of year.  The Lead 3 conference was last week. Then on Thursday upon my return, the Design School at Stanford had a great speaker, Bob Lenz. He talked about project based education and the value of portfolios.

What was the conference all about?

Lead3 is really about leaders in education, at school or district level and beyond, coming together to share information… ideas… and ultimately inspire and encourage each other… with some incredible key notes. Jon Corippo talked about what they did in one year to help students work at higher levels of deep thinking… You should have heard what they accomplished in just ONE year! Renowned Michael Fullan spoke as well… he really gave us some hands on insight into how actual and sustainable change can really happen in education.

Did it seem like there was a trend happening?

There certainly is a trend in education right now. Schools are leveraging technology in the classrooms and at district levels. The goal is to use the technology to help students and educators both analyze, synthesize, create and organize. Instead of trend, you might think about is as a wave, to make systemic change.

A wave of change? Wow. In a good way?

Oh yes… there was a common thread in the energy of the speakers… empowerment, change, how to sustain change. According to Michael Fullan, the best way to implement change is to begin in the middle. The middle layer, means not top down and not haphazardly from the bottom, but with administrators who can truly offer support to teachers and focus on implementing their vision properly.

In fact, I blogged about it here.

That sounds inspirational.

Oh it was. And when I returned I spun right around and went to the Design School at Stanford. Scope and the Design School together sponsored Envision School founder, Bob Lenz to explain the ideas in his new book, Transforming Schools Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessment, and Common Core Standards, co-authored with Justin Wells and Sally Kingson. It was incredibly inspirational to see the videos of these young adults defending their education like a doctoral student defending a thesis!

A packed week indeed! Tell me about Envision Schools?

Envision Schools started as a charter school management organization in 2002. Now, it runs three high performing urban public schools in the Bay Area… and their goal is ultimately to prepare students for college, and in areas where they are most likely the first of their family to ever go to college.

What an awesome idea.

One reason I am so impressed with Envision Schools is that they focus on a population that typically struggles in school. The average number of high school graduates that go directly to college in California is 61.7%  For schools with similar student backgrounds to Envision Schools it is closer to 40%.  Envisions’ rate is 89%. That is impressive! They are truly preparing students for college.

So Bob Lenz believes in Project Based Learning (PBL)?

Yes. He talks a lot about how this type of learning better prepares students to thrive in college, in their careers, and in life. The teachers create project-based assignments that challenge students to use the 21st century skills… like thinking critically, solving problems resourcefully, and collaborating productively.

Was there anything special you learned about PBL?

One act we did was share our most powerful learning experiences with someone next to us.  My partner talked about preparing for a school trip to France. She had to bring her suitcase to her teacher’s house and they were practicing French for the weekend. First they had to walk around the block lugging their suitcase. Then they had to go through customs, speaking French in order to get into the teacher’s home. Next they had to unpack their gifts for the family they were staying with and explain in French why they selected these gifts for the family… She remembers it vividly and fondly. Going through that process really stuck with her.

All the experiences shared were powerful. And it really illustrated how impactful it is to solve a problem by doing something. I think that is the heart of Project Based Education.

So this is not just theory? It’s happening in schools right now?

Yep. They have three small schools and are growing. I get much more excited to work with thought leaders who aren’t just spouting ideas, but are doing something about it!

Just like you! Well, it sounds like a lot of schools are going to be ripe for change this Fall…

Yes, I think this Fall is going to be big for a lot of schools. They know it’s time to make a change and with technology, like ours, being so easy to roll out and use, it’s becoming more and more apparent that we can’t afford to wait.

Does that mean Novare is going to have a big Fall?

Yes. I’m sure of it. I think schools have been in R&D mode for a while, and when they get to learn about Novare, they are blown away by how easy it is to use and that it truly was made by educators, not by businesspeople….

Well thank you again Molly. And have a happy Monday everyone!

22 Top Tweets
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare / 1

22 Top Tweets from Lead 3.0 Symposium!

  1. “There’s no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” -Ronald Reagan @TimGoree
  2. This idea that “people don’t like change” is an educational excuse. Preach it! @jcorippo Amy Fadeji @mrsfadeji
  3. You don’t build a top school, you build top teachers and they build the school. @beautiful5day
  4. “Leadership from the middle” “Top down doesn’t work. Bottom up doesn’t work. Middle is force for change” @MichaelFullan1, Trisha Callella @shareTED
  5. “Read outside of education.” @TimeGoree, @Jcorippo, @GrumblesBrad
  6. The difficulty in being a pioneer isn’t in blazing new paths…it’s the perseverance, courage to push your ideas against the status quo #lead3 @DCulberhouse
  7. I see opposing wrongness more than opportunities to restore usefulness/wholeness. Getting deep with @TimGoree  at #lead3
  8. “We’re telling our story on social media not waiting for the community to tell it for us.” Trisha Callella @shareTED
  9. Another great example shared, Coachella Valley’s park the bus initiative to offer wifi access to homes without wifi via parked buses at night! #thinkoutsidethebox
  10. If we could put a hundred people in a cafeteria & give them a binder to fix education we would have fixed it  by now @jcorippo Will Kimbley, M.S. @willkimbley
  11. A good teacher in an ineffective group will leave sooner than later @MichaelFullan1 #lead3
  12. If the leader doesn’t answers emails promptly, it sets the tempo for the rest of the school/district. @jcorippo Absolutely!! Create a responsive culture. Model temp. Bo more “I didn’t get that email” #lead3
  13. Culture will eat initiative every time. #lead3 #FutureReady
  14. #leadwild (ers) focus energy on people, not program. Reflective, creative, innovative leaders who make ideas realities. Rebecca Davis @mrsdavisjw
  15. Definition of a good leader is to build a strong collaborative quality team and becomes dispensable! @MichaelFullan1 #lead3
  16. “We didn’t change the curriculum, we changed the environment.” Corippo on 360 Math #lead3 @CA_ASCD
  17. Everything is personalized, except our students’ education.. Robert Gravina launches our fascination @RobertJGravina Mike Fury‏@edtech_mike
  18. “Let’s look at the data and be willing to go where the data leads us” Look at data together, don’t use it to argue via @TimGoree
  19. “Leaders share everything, ALL information, so the team can see the big picture and step up!” #lead3 @TimGoree
  20. “Our strategy for going digital cannot be BUY.” @MichaelFullan1
  21. Judgementalism does not work as a motivator….. Truth Amy Fadeji ‏@mrsfadeji  @MichaelFullan1. #lead3
  22. The success you’ve had as a leader isn’t bc of YOU. It’s your TEAM! #humility @TimGoree

Are we missing any important ones? Be sure to share in the comments below!

Mondays with Molly-Meeting a child “where they’re at”
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: Meeting a child “where they’re at”

Hi Molly, I hope you had a great Spring Break! I often hear you say, “meeting a child where they’re at” what does that mean?

Ha ha. I know it’s not proper English, but it describes what I mean really well!

It means that children are really complex beings, and in some areas they’re going to have a lot of strengths and in other areas have some challenges… with that, the areas where they have strengths you want to stretch them, and in the areas where they have challenges you want to support them, help them from that point.

Meet them where they are performing, OK, but what about grade level?

I believe we should be less concerned with grade level and more focused on meeting the child where they are at… Here is an example:

My son, Eli came home with a middle school report card (unfortunately not one from Novare!)…  it had one line for writing with a 4 in the first column, a 2.5 in the next column and no comments.  I thought what does this mean? The rubric explained the 4 signified that his first term grade was on grade level and a 2.5 (his second term grade) was well below grade level. This was not helpful.

Ha! No, not at all. That sounds really confusing. So you couldn’t tell what the problem was, just that he was at a 2.5.

Exactly. What would be helpful is to understand which areas were strengths and which were the areas that need support. Was the decline in demonstrated ability due to careless punctuation, spelling, or neatness issues? Was it because he wasn’t turning in work? Was he struggling with organizing ideas? Was the task synthesizing different sources with his ideas?

I see. The grade was just an all encompassing “writing” subject. You couldn’t tell what specific parts he was struggling with.

Right. And it is important to know what this grade was based on.  Ideally to see a portfolio of his work ranging from the beginning of school, throughout the year. My son is extremely creative, he has a huge vocabulary and is very imaginative. Writing is an area he typically soars.

That’s interesting, so you’re saying that your son may have been performing above his grade level in the creativity of the writing assignment, but in the very same assignment he could be performing at or below grade level in terms of the punctuation and writing mechanics?

Right. So “meeting the child where he is at” means looking at what he is good at and stretching him… so in this example, it could be things like Wow, wonderful narrative! You have great ideas here, but you need that punch at the end! And in the very same assignment, supporting him in the areas where he is struggling… Do you want to type your paper to help with legibility?  or Read through and double check your capitals, look carefully, I see at least 4 errors.

That’s so true. If we, for lack of a better word, mush our strengths and weaknesses together, we’d all be getting C’s… or 2.5’s. It’s hard to pull out those strengths and weaknesses isn’t it?

Well, many teachers do this, but it doesn’t get communicated to parents or to other teachers. And if they have a lot of students, it is harder to remember each one’s strengths and challenges.  They need a system to help them track how students are performing to meet them where they are, regardless of grade level.

So you end up saying, is this child on grade level or not? My point is, that it’s not important. The important thing is,if that child is improving their learning on a continuum… you want them to grow and learn no matter where they are at.

What if a child is growing and learning on a continuum but still performing under grade level, how do you asses that child?

You still meet them where they are and continue moving them along the continuum…  You want to demonstrate growth over time… and if you can show where they perform and show a year or more of growth, that is very valuable. Even if they are still below grade level at the end of the year.

Got it. The point of meeting them where they are performing, is to have a benchmark so you can track their growth on this continuum, helping them along the way whether it be with stretching or with support.

Correct. I think ultimately, showing progress over time is very important. You want to have people who are lifelong learners and who want to grow.

Got it. Bottom line you want them to continue learning…

Exactly. Lets say reading…I have a daughter that loves to read, above all else, she is a phenomenal reader, whenever she finished her work, she was asked to read and would be happy to do that… although she could decode many levels above her grade, the content of highschool or college reading at 4th grade is not appropriate. It would have been better to have focused on something that wasn’t her strength and work on that…

Ok, yes, I get that that would be a better use of her time. But we come back to that same question, how is it even possible for teachers to handle this amount of individualized learning?

We circle back to the “solution” that I have been working so hard to develop. In Novare’s platform, teachers are able to use a rubric system that includes a timestamp associated to specific standards. As information is put in at the standards level, the platform makes it super easy to, at a glance, see patterns and growth over time. So you know which ones are strengths, and which ones are challenges.  It also makes it super easy to communicate that information to teachers and parents.

What if teachers don’t have Novare? Has this been a tough thing to manage?

Yes, it can still be done without technology but it is much harder to keep it organized and it is a great deal more work to communicate it to families and teachers. What is exciting about the convergence of technology and education, is that we can start building solutions for things like “meeting a child where they’re at” and being able to individually stretch and support them in specific areas, and have all of that organized… and have a system that can take that information and make it really easy to track, monitor, communicate, assess, spot patterns, and ultimately demonstrate growth over time.

Thank you again Molly for chatting with me.

Mondays with Molly-Process over Content
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: Process over Content

Good Morning Molly! I often hear you say ‘Process over Content’, What does that mean exactly? 

It is working on the skills rather than the data. So for example, content would be the fish, and the process would be the fishing… you see? Content is the information or data… but the whole process of learning the content is what’s important… those are the skills we can reuse over and over again. 

But the information and data is what we use to decipher if a child has learned something.

Well, it’s the first component of it. But its not the whole thing.

Here’s an example, you could do a math problem and get the right answer, but not fully understand the process. You could have memorized it, like we memorize the times tables, or you may have stumbled upon the answer.. but it doesn’t measure learning… 

What is the second component? Is that the process?

They will have to use information to demonstrate understanding but process is going to give you the necessary skills in order to learn ANY content.

Let’s say education is the learning skills then the practicing of skills… so the ability to memorize is a skill. You could memorize all of the capitals of the states and test for that. But just being able to spit out what capitals go with what states is… well, moderately important. I could also google the capitals. What’s more important is having a deeper understanding of how a state functions: the economy, natural resources, geography, environmental issues, how it relates to other states.  Being able to use process to develop skills to discuss, analyze, or demonstrate are much more powerful skills.  Students could demonstrate this learning in many ways .. presentations, models, books, examples of products a state produces,  games.  All are ways to demonstrate a deeper understanding of state commerce, geography, and resources.

Memorization is a skill, but process skills are at a higher level. Right now some of the highest level colleges are accepting excellent memorizers and generating graduates that excel at tests.  These graduates don’t have the higher level skills needed in life.  It is a problem we’re seeing as they enter the workforce. But that’s a conversation for another Monday.

Oh I can’t wait for that one! But getting back to what you just said… the focus on process isn’t just understanding how students approach an answer, it’s also building learning skills ?

Yes, it will teach being able to analyze and being able to find solutions. And then evaluate those solutions. It is going to help them understand bigger concepts as they progress through school and beyond. Life is about solving problems… not just science problems or math problems but social problems. Focusing on process develops deeper understanding and the ability to solve cross curricular, life issues. 

That’s exciting to think that valuing process in school, even in elementary school, will set up a student for life. Is problem solving and critical thinking the same thing?

Yes, … because critical thinking is the ability to look at a problem, analyze, come up with a solution, and then evaluate those solutions.

So how do teachers evaluate a student’s process?

Its tricky because it can’t be a fill-in-the-bubble type of assessment. Students need the opportunity to be creative and engaged in their learning and that means there is no one way that works for everyone. Having portfolios that students can manage is the first step.  Being able to connect the portfolios to the desired skills and in turn communicate how students are doing are all part of this process.

How are teachers managing this? 

Teachers are figuring it out now… it means it’s a new way of teaching, as well as organizing information. And then understanding what constitutes evaluation of a students process, and really what is the assessment… Novare is one solution because it facilitates project work and big idea thinking.  Novare helps organize student portfolios and connect that product to what students learn.  Novare helps teachers identify gaps in student performance as well as areas of strength.  Communicating this information in a way that saves teacher’s time is also crucial.

Have you seen others technologies approaching this challenge in assessing?

Right now there are a lot of companies trying to figure it out. Some focus on providing online curriculum through screen time.  We [Novare] provide a platform to organize information. We know technology will play an important role for students and teachers.  Exactly what that role will will look like is yet to be determined.

That is awesome. I mean it is wonderful that technology is making its way to education to help solve these problems. 

Yes, these are not new ideas.  However, being able to scale this type of teaching is challenging.  Teachers have limited time and so many responsibilities. That is exactly why our platform is making so many waves, it’s enabling teachers to individualize learning and engage students.  It organizes assessment, shows patterns, and communicates how students are doing.   I’m really excited about it!

Thanks Molly! Until next time…


Mondays with Molly-Sir Ken Robinson
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare / 1

Mondays with Molly: Sir Ken Robinson

So who is this Sir Robinson fellow?

Oh he’s only the most brilliant thinker in education today! LOL… Well, as you can see I am a super fan… but all kidding aside, he really is one of the most influential people leading the discussion about how we’re educating our children. What he talks about,  I wholeheartedly agree with and I think he is on the right track.

(If you’re curious, here is his Official Bio)

And is he British? I am assuming by the “Sir”?

Yep. He was actually born in Liverpoool but now he lives in LA.

And was he really knighted?

Oh yes, he received his knighthood in 2006 for services to the arts and has been a champion for keeping art in school, providing multiple ways for students to express themselves, and this goes hand in hand with creativity and innovation. That actually highlights why I’m such a fan… his focus on creativity and art leads to engaging students in the learning process.

You really are a fan! What about him makes you so excited?

Well, his ideas resonate with me. If I had to list them, I would say…

  • Work with student’s strengths
  • Respect people
  • Create a love of learning
  • engage students
  • Individualize Learning
  • Accept multiple ways of assessment and multiple intelligences
  • Find time in your day to explore something you love

That’s a long list! What would you say his main focus is? or greatest issue?

I think the focus is to helping children be successful.   But I agree the key to be happy and productive is to engage them… and that means exploring, collaborating, innovating and creating…

As opposed to…?

Recalling facts, sitting still, one mode to answer, paper and pencil only.

The freedom to explore and create sounds very Montessori… is this in the same vein?

Yes, in a way. Montessori views children as naturally eager to learn, curious and thoughtful.  It is very child centered and focuses on creating the environment to stimulate the child physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally.

And actually, Sir Ken talks about this in his Ted talk as well…. “How Schools Kill Creativity”… He talks about children coming to school eager for knowledge and as they progress through traditional schools, they lose this curiosity because of the ways schools function. The focus is not on what the child is interested in, but what the test teaches.

What does it mean to be “child centered”?

Child centered means you are not looking at a child as a receptor for information, rather an engaged participant and able to shape the direction of what he or she is learning.

What are some examples of ways we can be “child centered”?

When demonstrating understanding, child-centered means the student is able to choose the way to present that information.  For example making a model, giving a speech, writing a paper are all ways a concept could be explained.  It can also mean they can choose the subject of what they are studying. For example, if the goal is to write a persuasive essay, they could choose the topic.

What is it about Sir Robinson’s style  that makes him special?

He is articulate and witty. He is able to shed light on issues in a compelling manner and most importantly, show positive ways people can make a difference.

There are a lot of people who talk a lot about what should be, but what are his solutions? What does he propose to do about it?

Well he definitely has some hands on tactical solutions. And perhaps that’s why I am such a fan…. He talks about needing to change the paradigms of education to meet the future. That our current system is based on old worldviews that are not truly relevant today. He brings to light that we need to re-think the purpose of schools and do it in a conscientious manner that will engage children and provide the skills they will need for the future.

In fact, his latest book, that comes out in the end of April, references some solutions as well, it’s called Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education and I can’t wait to read it!

That’s great, I agree, solutions are important. It’s the “now what?” response to the criticism.

Oh yes. I am all about solutions. It’s why I started Novare, to offer educators a tool to enact these changes… to do something about it. It’s truly a tall order to individualize learning and manage these exploratory and creative processes. As a visionary in education myself, I see the need for engaging students… to enable this type of learning. That’s why I am so excited.

I can certainly see the connection and why you’re such a fan. Is there anything you disagree with him on? Anything at all?

He is not convinced ADHD exists and that as a nation, we are making zombies out of our children. I disagree. I think ADHD may be over diagnosed and too much medication without proper supervision, but there are some children I have seen truly benefit from the proper dose and type of medication. It has not turned them into zombies, but helps them track more easily what is happening in the classroom and be more aware of their meta cognition. But like everything in life, we have to be extremely careful and moderate.

Ok, so to finish up, why don’t I ask the super fan some super fan questions! What is your favorite quote?

“The answer is not to standardize education, but to personalize and customize it to the needs of each child and community. There is no alternative. There never was.”

Favorite blog post?

How to Discover your True Talents

Favorite TED talk?

Oh by far his talk on How Schools Kill Creativity and btw almost 32,000,000 views!

Anything else you want to say before wrapping up? Shall I be calling you Lady Anderson now?!

ha ha! Well, I believe I need to be British for that! But if I was recognized for something, I would like to think it would be for creating a tool that helps solve these problems… that enables educators to truly implement tactical solutions that engage and prepare students.

Thanks again Molly for your time today.