Category: Novare

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On / by Brandon Hess / in Novare

Competency Based Reports: A Shift in the Right Direction

Competency Based Education presents a unique opportunity to individualize student learning and measure student growth and progress. It varies from traditional education by focusing on skills and proficiency levels instead of points and grades. Using Novare, a platform that grew through a Reggio approach and created for Competency Based Education, ensures communication with learners and families are optimal to promote a Growth Mindset as intended, to close the achievement gap, not hide or perpetuate it.

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Highlands uses two types of reports in Novare. This is one example of the many Competency Based Reports Novare can easily generate.


This pedagogical shift can be challenging for schools. What do parents think of it? What about teachers? We went to Highlands School to ask them about Novare and how it helps communicate with a different type of reporting for their 4k-3rd grade classrooms. We spoke with Treasure Horton, an insightful elementary teacher at Highlands School to gain her perspective.


Treasure describes how easy it is to personalize and communicate  learning. She recalled an example when her class played a math game to help her determine math fluency in addition. Using Novare, she captured the proficiency level easily and could quickly add a note to provide insight, noting that one child surpassed the fluency and was mastering place value.


highlands greenhouse

Students congregate outside a green house under a solar paneled pergola.


The new reports provide a clear picture of personalized student growth, and speaks volumes to the benefits of competency based reporting as is evidenced in Highlands School community. Such reports provide a vivid understanding of student growth when communicating with families.


Shifting to this new model is extremely helpful when you have support. Highlands appreciates  the support of their Curriculum Director, Elise Blackerby who provides teachers time to learn new systems and reflect on criteria that measure student learning. The shift was facilitated by the ease of use of Novare’s platform.  Treasure highlights, “It is fantastic and smooth and is an easy to use program.” Treasure also was quick to point out that she’s thrilled  Novare has strong and immediate customer support, “you never hear anyone  from Novare say ‘ok, we will get to it’, there is always a timely response to all questions.” Having a platform to support teachers and save time helps teachers focus on students.


yello chair


Thanks Highlands for your time and feedback! We appreciate the perspective of a school that is on the cutting edge of providing an engaging education. While visiting, we loved seeing the gardens, science labs, flexible seating, and even mood lighting to reduce stress, engage students and invigorate learning!

kids in grass writing
On / by Molly Anderson / in Novare

Choosing a Competency Based Platform to Support Students

Discovery Charter School, located in San Jose, California. It has an amazing program and a competitive lottery for acceptance to the school. Discovery Charter School is dedicated to creating lifelong learners that are prepared to meet the challenges of the future. They focus on educating the whole child through strong family involvement, project-based learning, and respect for individual learning styles and developmental readiness. They recently chose Novare to help them implement their mission. Novare is a learning management platform that facilitates project based learning by connecting competencies to student work and creating portfolios. Novare helps schools communicate with learners and families through competencies, proficiency levels in the language of the school and competency based reports.

We recently interviewed 6th grade teacher, Toni Sindelar, to learn her perspective about why Discovery chose Novare and how implementing it has been.

What first drew your school to Novare?

Creating efficiencies for teachers to create competency based reports

“Our educational philosophy is based on a growth mindset and tracking students’ learning through skills. Our current student information system forces us to tie a letter grade to each assignment, and we wanted to use an assessment system that does not rely on a letter grade. Novare is great for this because the focus is on understanding what skills the students are gaining, rather than simply providing a letter grade. Novare also connects to our student information system, so we have the flexibility to use both platforms in sync.”


What is your experience with Novare?

“The platform has been really fun to play with and very forgiving. If I make a mistake, I can easily undo it. It is adaptable and flexible.”


What about Novare Team members and customer service?

“It has been great. The team is extremely responsive, very patient, and accommodating. They are willing to work with us, and are transparent every step of the way. Whereas other systems that we use charge us for every communication or support issue, Novare has a one time fee and the team continues to help us at no extra cost.”


Would you recommend Novare?

“Absolutely. We have been very happy with Novare so far and would certainly be willing to refer Novare to other schools.”

Novare looks forward to connecting with you to further your vision in competency-based education. We are all about building relationships and putting learners at the heart of our work.


education, elementary school, learning and people concept - group of school kids with pens and notebooks writing test in classroom
On / by Molly Anderson / in Novare

4 Key Components to Assessing Critical Thinking

Assessing critical thinking can be tricky.  Figuring out the tasks, isolating the skills, and knowing what you are actually assessing. Here is a summary of the key components for assessing critical thinking in even very young students.

 1. Take out the noise. If you are measuring reasoning, focus on reasoning. Do not focus on other skills, such as spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Reasoning assessment should be done through conversations for kindergarten and first grade students. Beginning in  second grade, activities that incorporate writing may be used.

2. Don’t scaffold. When assessing reasoning skills, do not provide support. Give them the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding without help from teachers or other students. Here is an example of a task for second or third grade students.


First generate a class list of what makes a hero.  Make certain you discuss heroes that are not super heroes. Typical lists may include brave, strong, faces challenges, clever…. Then read Jack and the Beanstalk retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg.  Each student should have a copy to follow along to read and look at the illustrations.  Review any questions on vocabulary. This version shows Jack as morally ambiguous. Next ask students according to the characteristics, was Jack a hero? Support your answer with specific evidence from the text.


3. Use a scoring guide. Know what you are looking for to demonstrate different proficiency levels. Here is an example of a scoring guide for grades 2 and 3 with different proficiency levels. The first row describes the skill for that proficiency level. The row below shows the evidence to look for in determining at which level the student performs.



4. Analyze student work together.  Comparative assessment helps calibrate expectations between classrooms and provides rich dialogue for understanding criteria and student outcomes.


This topic was one of many explored at EL National Conference. Many thanks for the insights and resources provided by Jeff Heyck-Williams and Jill Clark, who taught the master class on Creating Assessments of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving!

Teachers in schools have saved countless hours by utilizing Novare’s assessment platform to organize and share resources for assignments, evaluate student work and easily aggregate and manipulate data.


On / by Molly Anderson / in Novare

Life Lessons & Risk Taking

Our friends offered to take us rock climbing last weekend.  My family has NEVER been climbing outside of the occasional indoor climbing wall. We were thrilled and a bit nervous about the experience. After a beautiful drive up to Summit Rock, we began to hike.


The day was exhilarating.  It is hard work rock climbing. There is a great deal of problem solving and trust involved.  The problem solving involved figuring out how to use the space to climb to the top – using your body as a lever, where to position hands and feet to get the next few inches up. Learning to trust is the other critical part to climbing – trusting the people have you, trusting your ability, trusting the rope that holds you.

Thinking back to the day, the most thrilling experience was climbing over the precipice, dangling at the top of a cliff and rappelling down the rock.


Why did I risk it? Exhilaration, joy, the view, the self confidence?  But in truth it came down to feeling safe to risk the climb.  I knew there was someone below to slow my descent if I lost control. I had a careful teacher at the top guiding my hands with advice. I was able to take that jump, because of the scaffolding of support.


As a teacher, a parent, the CEO of a company that supports teachers and students, I want to create the scaffolding to permit teachers, students and my children to take risks, learn from mistakes, grow and thrive.

May each of you climb mountains.

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On / by admin / in Novare

7 Essential Skills for PBL Teachers

Master teachers are usually measured by their ability to deliver high quality instruction and manage classrooms so that every child learns. These basics apply to project based learning (PBL) as well, but I have found that successful PBL teachers must possess a more diverse—and demanding—set of skills to make project based work effective.

I call these skills the seven essentials for PBL teachers. The skills can be parsed separately, as I’m going to do, but they only work synergistically. Designing and executing engaging projects that move students to a new level of learning and self-awareness—which should be the goal of every project—derives from seeing PBL as a set of moving parts that mesh to create a powerful experience for students. Partly, PBL is an instructional process powered by teacher knowledge; partly, it’s a facilitated process that draws heavily on people management skills; and partly, it’s an intuitive process that relies on open communication between students and teachers.

Some of the essential PBL skills can be taught or learned, and some, frankly, are more personality driven. But every PBL teacher should think about becoming skillful in these seven areas:

  1. Know world-class PBL methodology. Project based learning and ‘projects’ are two different worlds. Over the last decade, PBL teachers in many countries have developed high quality methods that work. The methods begin with organizing a project around a central, vital, and engaging question, moving students through a deliberate process that requires them to think, inquire, share, reflect, and perfect their products and reasoning, and concluding with a meaningful demonstration of their learning that surfaces content acquisition, conceptual understanding, and application of 21st century skills. Getting results from PBL is not serendipitous; it comes from using thoughtful, replicable methods.
  2. Create a culture of care.  You might prefer to call this a ‘student-centered’ culture, but I believe that the underlying dynamic that drives better performance in PBL is a personalized classroom culture in which every student feels known, respected, and communicated with. This isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s the known result of years of youth development research that demonstrates that a culture of care allows you, as the teacher, to assume a mentor role. The mentor role allows you to both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ students through the ups and downs of the PBL process. If you’re not in that role, you will find it difficult to move from a classroom manager to a project manager, a crucial shift for successful PBL.
  3. Shift from teacher to coach. In a traditional classroom, human variation is muted by rows, a standardized lesson, and the teacher’s ability to keep an eye on every student. In PBL, personalities bloom, tendencies—good or disruptive—emerge, and students often confuse the freedom to inquire with the license to mess around. The messiness can be cured only by coaching individual students to perform better—by speaking to their strengths, helping them see their challenges, and returning at all times to the standards and norms for top performance. In a traditional classroom, the end product is paramount. In PBL, the process of learning assumes equal weight as an outcome. Success on the journey often entails what I term the art of ‘ruthless compassion.’ Give every student maximum support; require every student to perform at their best.
  4. Use the tools of people management. Like the methods for world class PBL, a set of tools has been developed, largely in industries outside of education, that help people stay on task, achieve goals, and work harmoniously. In PBL, nearly everything you do has people management ramifications. This begins with norms and performance expectations, agreements on behavior, and clear directions. But other elements contribute just as much: (1) A clearly stated Driving Question that captures imagination and starts the project in the right direction; (2) a consistent explanation of the why behind the project; (3) an air of experiment, problem solving, and discovery; and (4) a promise that, at the end of the project, the results will matter to someone besides the teacher or the test designers.
  5. Make teamwork productive. PBL is a group based form of learning. But an essential step is to move from the language of groups to the more powerful vocabulary of teamwork and to teach team members to think deeply together. To achieve high quality work in PBL, there can be no, “Well, she’s sick today and she has all the stuff and we don’t know what to do.” Or, “I did all the work and I got a ‘C’ because my group slacked off?” In teams, everyone is committed to each other’s success and everyone assumes accountability. PBL teachers have developed tools to spur this process, including work ethic and collaboration rubrics, contracts, and bonus point systems to reward initiative and empathetic behavior. If you’re not using these tools, you’re not taking advantage of methods that work. And, most important, if your teams don’t work, neither will your projects.
  6. Know how to teach and assess 21st century skills. PBL is the best method we have for teaching students how to solve complex problems. But to get to a meaningful solution, students need to master the skills of collaboration and self-management. And, to show us how they arrived at a conclusion or created a product, they need to communicate effectively. That’s a short version of why PBL is central to teaching 21st century skills. But PBL teachers face a challenge: Nothing has been standardized in regard to teaching or assessing these skills. Solid performance rubrics have been developed, but are rarely used school wide. I urge PBL teachers at every school to band together and agree on rubrics and methods for assessing 21st century skills (this is a prime topic for PLC work), as well as sharing ideas on how to teach these skills.
  7. Value reflection and revision. Finally, educators can learn from the slow food movement. High quality PBL requires a different time frame and expectation, primarily because problem solving is not a linear, 50-minute period experience. This means not just being flexible (one of the prime qualities of the successful PBL teacher), but also making reflection and revision, in pursuit of excellence, central to the process of learning. This takes several forms. First, during a project, encourage drafts and prototypes, then structure time for peer debriefs, jig saws, or other disciplined ways for students to share and exchange ideas. At the end of a project, reflect and debrief thoroughly. Make excellence a standard for your projects.


About Author:

Thom Markham is a psychologist and school redesign consultant. He is the principal author of the Handbook for Project Based Learning, published by the Buck Institute for Education, and the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for inquiry and innovation for K-12 educators., as well as Redefining Smart: Awakening students’ power to reimagine their world. Download the Top Ten Tools for PBL on his website, or contact him at


PBL World and Novare!
On / by Molly Anderson / in Novare / 1

PBL World and Novare!

Novare is proud to be invited to participate in the Ed Leaders Tech for Schools Workshop at PBL World! PBL World is a National Conference that promotes Project Based Learning. We agree with the Buck Institute for Education, co-host of Ed Leaders Tech for Schools at PBL World and a leader in helping teachers prepare students for successful lives, that PBL engages students in real life problem solving, supported by research and develops deeper learning!

Why PBL” by the Buck Institute for Education as shown on their website.

Why Project BasedLearning (PBL)?

Project Based Learning’s time has come. The experience of thousands of teachers across all grade levels and subject areas, backed by research, confirms that PBL is an effective and enjoyable way to learn – and develop deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career, and civic life. Why are so many educators across the United States and around the world interested in this teaching method? The answer is a combination of timeless reasons and recent developments.

  • PBL makes school more engaging for students.Today’s students, more than ever, often find school to be boring and meaningless. In PBL, students are active, not passive; a project engages their hearts and minds, and provides real-world relevance for learning.
  • PBL improves learning.After completing a project, students understand content more deeply, remember what they learn and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply what they know and can do to new situations.
  • PBL builds success skills for college, career, and life.In the 21st century workplace and in college, success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build their confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
  • PBL helps address standards. The Common Core and other present-day standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, and the development of success skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL is an effective way to meet these goals.
  • PBL provides opportunities for students to use technology.Students are familiar with and enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit with PBL. With technology, teachers and students can not only find resources and information and create products, but also collaborate more effectively, and connect with experts, partners, and audiences around the world.
  • PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding.Projects allow teachers to work more closely with active, engaged students doing high-quality, meaningful work, and in many cases to rediscover the joy of learning alongside their students.
  • PBL connects students and schools with communities and the real world.Projects provide students with empowering opportunities to make a difference, by solving real problems and addressing real issues. Students learn how to interact with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces and adult jobs, and can develop career interests. Parents and community members can be involved in projects.

EdSurge, co-host to the Ed Leaders Tech for School Workshop at PBL World, describes the summit and demonstrates the value of attending this free conference.

“The Ed Leaders Tech for Schools Workshop at PBL World will give you the inside track on emerging tech & trends directly aligned with best practice Project Based Learning.”

The purpose is to “focus on deep engagement between education leaders and edtech companies through a personalized program based on district priorities for supporting teachers and school leaders in using Project Based Learning.

The workshop showcases innovative, effective technology tools for classrooms and schools that directly support high-quality PBL.”

Novare is honored to be selected to participate in this workshop.

See you at PBL World!




Ventana A Case Study
On / by Marcy Barton / in Novare

Ventana A Case Study

Why Novare Works for Us

We are an independent, Reggio-inspired Episcopal school in the heart of Silicon Valley serving children in preschool through fifth grade. Our mission states, in part, [we] ‘value innovation and tradition.’ And in our quest to educate the ‘whole child, we inspire children to have an inquiring mind and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, and the gift of joy and wonder in the ever-changing world.’ (c.2010)

Early adopters of Novare’s Authentic Assessment Tool, we began to use it as our assessment and reporting platform in 2013 as our elementary program was beginning to take shape. We have found that Novare’s Authentic Assessment Tool provides crucial flexibility as we align our assessment and parent reporting needs with the philosophy and growth of our organization.

An example of this versatility can be found in the recent upgrade of our semester report (i.e. report card). As an independent school our curriculum is guided by, but not strictly tied to, state and national standards (e.g. Common Core, Next Generation Science, C3 Frameworks). Previously, when attempting to assess student progress our educators found these sets of standards ponderous and overwhelming, and our parents found our ‘standards-based’ report difficult to interpret. We determined to simplify both the standards and the assessment scale. We synthesized the standards documents by combining critical ideas, simplifying the language, culling all but the essential learnings appropriate to our student population, and reducing the assessment calibration scale from four to two (i.e. developing, consistent). That done, it was a simple matter to insert our new, home-grown sets of standards into the Authentic Assessment platform. An added plus are Novare’s artifact archive and digital portfolio features. Teachers and parents appreciate this multi-media corroboration of student learning and the dynamic repository of student growth over the years.

With our in-house refinement of standards into developmentally appropriate and meaningful benchmarks, then making them accessible to our teaching staff, we have remained true to our Reggio-inspired philosophy of teaching and learning, and have prepared a parent reporting document that clearly communicates student progress.

We have found that Novare has the breadth, depth, and flexibility to serve our (indeed any) school population.

Kidizens & Novare Partnership
On / by Fiona Watson / in Novare

Kidizens & Novare Partnership: A Case Study

Kidizens – A unique civic and economic enrichment platform

Kidizens is an innovative educational environment where students build, inhabit, manage and govern their own LEGO city. We encourage collaborative and guided discovery of real-world concepts while role-playing and having fun in a universe built of LEGOs.

In designing, building, and governing an interactive LEGO society, our ‘kidizens’ are truly engaged as stakeholders and motivated to learn about everything from the intricacies of a city council meeting to the importance of managing a budget. Along the way, they learn important skills, such as problem-solving, decision making, conflict resolution, public speaking and leadership. The goal is simple: Inspire our students to develop the skills they need to learn how societies function and evolve and become the good citizens and responsible future leaders of tomorrow.


Kidizens Philosophy

At Kidizens, we believe in the benefits of encouraging experiential learning that engages the whole child. Our students learn by exploring, experiencing and addressing real-life situations. It’s a highly interactive, project-based learning environment where they build with LEGOs to think, explore, and act.



Kidizens has deployed Novare to measure the benchmarks of progress for all groups of kids enrolled in various programs, vis-à-vis Kidizens’ common core and national social studies standards. We are able to use the assessment criteria to see how the children progress and map what we need to teach and cover next. This ensures that the program is geared towards the children in this particular group. We are able to upload all their documentation that they create. As part of the program they are producing commercials, PowerPoint presentations and researching about their product market place. Having a central area where everything can be stored allows us to access all the work, and to look more closely at individual pieces. It also allows us to communicate with the students, offering feedback so, adaptations can be made to pieces of work.



The Young Entrepreneurs project at Sunnyvale Middle School is an enrichment elective for middle schoolers, designed to give children a greater experience of entrepreneurship. The ten-week interactive session allows students to generate their own original business ideas, analyze the merits of the business, develop a detailed plan, think through advertising and explore ways to bring product to market. The session culminates with a ‘Shark Tank’ style presentation, where the original business ideas are presented to small panel of judges, who decide if the business plan is feasible and a ‘good investment opportunity’.



The most effective use of Novare is dependent upon the kids AND the teachers using the system. For those students who were able to access Novare, it helped us not only assess the child’s understanding and grasp of concepts but gave a bigger picture of their awareness of business and enthusiasm for the project. The ability to define our own standards of communication, successful collaboration, and common core was unique and very beneficial. We were successfully able to track the work that was completed and the concepts covered, and understood, so we could shape the next class to meet the needs of the kids. Initially, the set-up is slightly time consuming but by working through things regularly work gains momentum. It has certainly benefitted us, as teachers, at Kidizes and we can see the direct impact it has had on the children we teach at Sunnyvale Middle School.

Product Update-Customize Proficiency Levels!
On / by Molly Anderson / in Novare

Product Update: Customize Proficiency Levels!

Attention Novare Users! We are excited to announce that we have added another level to our 4 previous levels. You can now select “incomplete”. This level helps track students who were absent, you can now circle back with them and let students know if they have not submitted their work.

Also, schools can determine different proficiency levels and how to best describe them.