Free and Open Educational Resources for Digital and Face to Face learning

Working with students in blended and virtual environments can be challenging. This is especially the case when resources for academics are limited. There are sites by different organizations and Teachers-Pay-Teachers that offer resources at a fee. But why should teachers pay for resources when there is a global library of lessons, activities, and academic material that is FREE to use, aligned to standards, and reviewed for quality. Also, many of these resources give the user the right to revise and remix the material into a format that best meets learners’ needs. Where can you find these resources?

Read on to learn about three important areas for accessing Free and Open Educational Resources (OER)…

  1. OER State and National Resources Portals

There are many repositories that contain educational resources that are free and give users the permission to revise and remix (OER) to adapt for the needs of local classrooms and students. Find resources that add value to your work with students, check the creative commons license for the description of OER rights, download and use. The sites provided here conduct an ongoing vetting process of their resources. Most of these sites include standards based on the state, Next
Generation Science Standards, and/or Common Core. Find what you need. Share the resources and sites with others. Pay forward these free gifts.

  • OER Commons:
    Find many resources for lessons and activities that were created by teachers for teaching. The site provides the ability to search by standards aligned and grade level. Be sure to check out their library of curated resources, which as of this writing, includes the categories: Collections–including over 15 categories, Common Core, and STEM. Also, join or form a group to network with other educators, save resources, and share them to your group, such as the teachers in your school.
  • #GoOpenMichigan:
    On first going to the site, you’ll find it similarly structured like OER Commons. This is for good reason–they use the same platform. The Michigan site is closely monitored by a statewide team of educators to ensure quality and growth of the site. Visit here regularly as there is new OER material being added. Its curated section includes: Collections with over 28 categories (as of this writing), OER Textbooks, and Remixable lessons and activities. Most resources are aligned to standards for Michigan, Common Core, and/or Technology. Most standards across states and region are similar and easy for you to cross-reference to your own. GoOpenMichigan is currently one of the best models for state-level OER repository.
  • Curriki: or
    The library contains many lessons and activities that are free to use or open license. Check the terms of use of each item for specifics. The site makes it easy to search by subject or grade level. There are many interesting resources such as the NHL Future Goals: Stem Sports Curriculum for grades 4-7.

  1. Free Repositories

These sites contain resources that are free to use. Some sites may state that they have OER licensing, however, always review their “Terms of Use” and examine the license that is actually posted on the chosen resource. If the terms state that you can revise or remix than the license is OER. If neither is stated, it may be offered as free to use and share (check) but does not allow edits or changes to the content. The resources on this list are free to use, so enjoy and share the links.

  • Hippo Campus:
    There are a wealth of video tutorials that span core academic areas. Touting over 7000 free videos, there is much to find content that is an alternative to solely text based.
  • PBS Learning Media:
    PBL offers an in depth wealth of resources for free use in the classroom and for engaging learners into content. Search by subject, grade, and/or standard. Create a free account and curate a list of resources to use and share with others. For example, an exploration of writing, there was a variety of helpful videos including one on craft where an author shares his approach to writing: August Wilson on Writing.
  • Open Culture: 200 Free Kids Educational Resources:
    At first, and second, glance the list of resources on the opening page could feel overwhelming. It helps to take cleansing breaths while looking at the descriptions. Find 2-3 to explore and share with colleagues. Bookmark the page for a later return based on the needs of your students and the teachers in your school. Many of these resources are free to use, while some offer a free trial. There may be resources that include OER licensing. Always check the terms of use to know what permissions are given.

  1. Understanding What is OER

Now that you have reviewed a variety of sites that are free or OER, hopefully the value of these resources for staff and students is clear. To communicate the reasons for using these libraries of instructional materials treasures, it is important to build a foundational knowledge of what is OER, and why it is growing internationally in popularity. Use these resources to learn and understand how best to communicate to other teaches and educators about OER as time saving for quality content.


Please review the resources shared here for use of supporting your learners. What is provided is literally the tip of a gigantic iceberg of free resources that are vetted and reviewed for quality. Many of them offer terms of use that gives OER permissions to revise and remix the materials to suit the needs of your learners.

The next step is to pay it forward by sharing these resources with your colleagues in the school. There is so much we can do to help others during this challenging times. Helping other teachers positively impact the quality learning experiences by the students.

Online Professional Learning Courses & Registration Open

Announcing a collaboration with Teaching Times on offering rich online professional Masterclass Webinars to meet your professional needs. Teaching Times  is a publisher of articles and resources for supporting educators across the globe. John McCarthy will be teaching two topics that include a series of webinars.  Through these opportunities you will have the experience of engaging and expanding your network with educators from the UK, US, and elsewhere in the world:

Growing Successful Virtual Leaners through Effective Teaching Styles

  • Register & Payment Information Here
  • Dates: November 5, 12, and 19
  • Time: 11:30-1:00PM EDT / 16:30-18:00 UK time
  • Receive a certificate for 4.5 hours of learning participation**
  • Topics:
    • Successful Virtual Practices for Live, Real-Time, Learning (Synchronous)
    • Successful Virtual Practices for Off-Line Learning (Asynchronous)
    • Successful Virtual Practices for Building a Supportive Learning Culture

How to Use Project-Based Learning for Authentic Learning Experiences

  • Register & Payment Information Here
  • Dates: November 17 and 24, December 1 and 8
  • Time: 11:30-1:00PM EDT / 16:30-18:00 UK time
  • Receive a certificate for 6 hours of learning participation**
  • Topics:
    • Why PBL is Important for Students to Experience
    • Essential Elements for Effective PBL
    • Establishing a Call to Action to Launch Engaging PBL
    • How to Use PBL to Empower Student Voice and Agency

Here is a pdf list of other webinar series offered through Teaching Times.

**The certificates confirm completion of the hours from attending all scheduled sessions for learning. Certificates are provided on attending all live sessions and completing a survey that is shared during the webinar series. When taking the survey, participants must request the certificate of hours. Certificates will be sent within 20 business days of the date of the final webinar session. Please use the Contact Form regarding any questions about the courses and/or the certificates.


Different ways to be a Teacher Leader to your peers

Being a teacher leader is acknowledgement of your skills, experiences, and expertise in the classroom and your ability to work with your peers. This leadership role is no easy task. Peers do not respond as easily or in the same ways as the students who we teach. Effecting and nurturing systemic culture change take time and energy.

Here are some considerations as you embark on a path to serving your peers:

  1. Attend to foundational needs for logistics and resources

Make sure that the core resources are available to staff. Equipment, software, internet access, bandwidth, accounts, and other tools need to be in the hands of the people using them. Collect data on who does not have the basics and report the information to those who are responsible for providing the tools. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the staff will not feel able to proceed with full scale implementation if not fully equipped to do so.

  1. Organize the staff into groups based on level of needed support

Like a classroom of students, staff expertise and experiences may widely vary.

Power Users

Some will be highly experienced with the tools and programs that are being implemented. They may need periodic check-ins to ensure they are fully supplied to surge ahead. Feed them resources and stay out of their way.

Modest Users

This group are learning as they go. Their needs may be situational. Keep their momentum going forward by supplying them with tools and guidance based on building their base and helping them to proceed with minimal frustration. If this group experiences problems with implementation, be responsive to their needs as much as possible to keep them from sliding into the next group.

Minimalist Users

This group generally has the best of intentions and see the value of the initiative being implemented. However, they either move forward at a glacial pace or have reasons for why the program can not be done as is, such as not enough time, limited resources, or too difficult for students. This group may need more individual and smaller group support than any other category. It is possible to spend more energy with this group at the sacrifice of time with the others. Start support by being strategic in who and what support you provide. Begin with those who are most receptive with 2-3 starting steps that help them take a productive path. Leverage small group support based on commonly rising needs. Depending on how time permits, you can scale up and down individual support as needed.

  1. Anticipate and Automate access to common resource needs

Listen closely to the needs expressed by peers. Curate their concerns into resources that you provide on a public curation site such as a shared document or classroom (community) space. For example, if SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Microsoft Teams is being used, collect how to videos and articles from these sites and provide an annotated list. Search other sites like Youtube for video tutorials to add. If no resource is available make your own screen recording using such tools as Screencastify or the recorder on a phone or tablet. Maintain the annotated list of such resources on the public site. Collect resources from your network of teacher leaders and peers, especially from the Power Users who may already have done the research for you.

  1. Communicate regular updates and surveys

As you maintain an updated resources list, share those updates and successful practices by teachers on a regular basis. Consider sending out communications either once a week or twice a month. Include 1-2 new ideas and/or resources in a short email. If there is more information, include those details in the public curation site. Periodically, such as every 2-3 months send out a short survey to collect staff needs and found resources. Address needs and share the resources on the public curated site and communications.

  1. Provide scheduled sessions for support on common needs

Offer support sessions that are 30 minutes. These are short and hyper focused on one need. Offer these sessions 1-2 times a week. If done virtually, record them so that they can be updated to your resource library on the public curated site. Invite peers to share needs that can be included in these scheduled events. Surveys can be informative for this purpose.

Managing Time

Teacher leaders generally are responsible for teaching students. Time can become challenging to meet their students’ needs and fulfilling the expectations of their peers’ needs. Use the above list of suggestions as way to maximize time while doing your part to support the powerful and productive changes in your school that could have a positive and lasting impact for your staff and students.

Caravan of Knowledge – STEM through PBL

Welcome to Caravan of Knowledge!

This special event occurs in Kazakhstan to support innovative practices in teaching and learning. Through this event, teachers from all over Kazakhstan are exploring and planning ways to implement powerful practices that bring alive STEM and Project Based Learning experiences so that students build agency skills and take the lead in their learning.

A collection of international expert educators share their experience with implementation and support schools with successful practices in a variety of topics. See the schedule and descriptions below. Resources from these webinars will be made available after the event has concluded.


 Webinar Descriptions – Webinar ScheduleSpeaker Bios

Webinar Descriptions

Project Based Learning Series by John McCarthy

Participate in this series to learn about PBL and build a framework for engaging students in deeper learning through authentic learning experiences. Explore different aspects of what makes PBL a strong vehicle for learning STEM related experiences. By the end of this series you will have an outline for a PBL unit.

  • PBL: Management – Student Voice
  • Post Tasks
    • Watch two new videos from STEM
    • Work on pages 3-4 of the PBL Template


Level-Up Your Online and Blended Instructional Practice Through the Lens of the SAMR Framework by Dayna Laur

Online or blended learning is here to stay, and we must embed high-level uses of technology in our instruction. In this session, explore how online tools have the power to develop learner agency and support teacher practice through the SAMR Framework that redefines learning. The use of these countless free versions of online tools engages and empowers our learners to reach their full potential.


Ignite Learning with STEM and PBL by Cheryl Boes

How can the use of projects inspire students to apply mathematical and scientific thinking? Join this webinar to explore how you can enhance the learning experience for all by incorporating STEM and project based learning (PBL) principles. Research-based STEM instruction promotes critical thinking skills, innovation and science literacy. The latest ed tech tools, strategies and resources will be shared to help you find a learning path to engage your students.


Using Design Thinking to promote student agency in Stem Education by Ted Malfyt

As education continues to promote student centered experiences that build important success skills, it is important to develop tangible tools, routines and structures that support the actual teaching practices. In this session participants will explore design thinking within stem projects to promote student agency. Design Thinking is a structured process that helps support the work of solving complex and difficult problems. As a result, fresh looks into observation, discovery and wonder will anchor the important work of helping each student find their voice and transition into more than problem solvers… problem finders! 

Resources (Handout)

These design thinking sites include valuable methods, protocols and ideas to incorporate into your project sequence.
Design Kit
– Design Thinking For Educators

This website is a great place to access protocols and games to use in your project to help students move from beginning to end.
– Gamestorming 

When it comes to providing students a chance to use their observation skills to drive the process, these resources provide a lot of guidance and inspiration!
Nature Journaling With John Muir Laws
– Investigating Evidence: The Cornell Lab


FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) An approach to learning through Inquiry by Elizabeth Hutchinson

Inquiry-based learning supports independence and critical thinking, but without a process to ensure our students have learnt the practical skills in a structured way it is like asking them to run before they can walk. FOSIL is a well researched and used model of the inquiry process that provides a practical and usable inquiry-based learning model for all year groups and subjects. In this session, we will unpack FOSIL as an approach to learning, demonstrating how the different stages work whilst giving you access to resources and practical ideas to get you started.


  • IFLA. (2015). School LIbrary Guidelines. (S.-J. B. IFLA School Libraries Standing Committee, Editor) Retrieved August 15, 2020, from
    IFLA is the International Federation of Library Associations. This website not only gives you access to the School Library Guidelines explaining the importance of school libraries and librarians within the curriculum but also provides a plan of action to ensure they are used to their full potential
  • New York State Information Fluency Continuum. (2020). Assesments by Grade. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from New York State Information Fluency Continuum :
    This website provides resources that can be linked to the FOSIL resources to give you access to assessment resources needed to gauge understanding in the skills taught. This huge list of assessment resources supports teaching inquiry learning within your topic and guides you to the skills that your students need to succeed.
  • Teentech. (2020). Teentech Awards. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from Teentech:
    The Teentech Awards encourages students to enter a competition with an innovative idea they want to explore and share. Students need to demonstrate not only their idea but the research that has gone into it in order to establish if the idea will work.
  • The FOSIL Group. (2019). Home. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from The FOSIL Group:
    This website was set up in 2019 not only provides access to the FOSIL cycle and .resources that are free to use and can be edited with credit but also a forum for support. There are now over 200 people signed up to this website which include, teachers librarians and academics who all provide support and advice on moving forward with using FOSIL within the curriculum.
  • Toerien, D. (2019, March 29). Learning to Predict the Future by inventing IT – TeenTech Awards. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from Talking Books:
    Darryl Toerien, founder of FOSIL, explains the importance of inquiry based learning within a STEM project. The Teentech awards enables students to run open inquiries allowing them to use and demonstrate the skills of FOSIL throughout their project to great success.

Edcamp: Empowering Students through Voice and Choice by Janea Menicucci

In this session, Educators will learn the power of EdCamp. How to run an unconference for teachers as well as students. Learn how to set up and successfully run an Edcamp in which the students/ teachers become the teacher. Students/ Educators come with a question, a problem or an idea to share. These are then taken and matched to build sessions. Along with learning about Edcamp, I will share how you can use Flipgrid to empower students’ voices and icorportate this free tool into an EdCamp. 

Resources (Handout)

  • Presentation: View my presentation.
  • Session Board: This is a sample of a digital session board. It is one that can be easily recreated and used with educators and students.
  • Sample EdCamp Site: This is the site we have created in New Mexico for Educators to refer back to for resources and notes from the sessions they attended. 
  • Free resource to use with Educators, Students, Administrators. Use video recordings as a discussion board. Flipgrid: Try it out. Leave me a message. See how easy iHandoutt is. 
  • Slidesmania: These are amazing Powerpoint and Google Slides templates that can be used for educational purposes. 
  • EdCamp Foundation: Learn all about hosting an EdCamp


Open Educational Resources: Open or Free? Which will it be? by Gina Loveless

This session will introduce participants to Open Education Resources (OER). We will explore the difference between OER and Free resources as well as discuss copyright, fair use, and creative commons licensing. I will share stories of why schools that are switching to OER and the benefits for students and schools. 


 Webinar Descriptions – Webinar ScheduleSpeaker Bios

Webinar Schedule – All times reflect the time zone in Astana, Kazakhstan

Time Aug. 17 Aug. 18 Aug. 19 Aug. 20 Aug. 21
8:00 AM Open Educational Resources: Open or Free? Which will it be? by Gina Loveless  Ignite Learning with STEM and PBL by Cheryl Boes  Level-Up Your Online and Blended Instructional Practice Through the Lens of the SAMR Framework by Dayna Laur  Using Design Thinking to promote student agency in Stem Education  by Ted Malefyt 
9:00 AM Using Design Thinking to promote student agency in Stem Education by Ted Malefyt  Ignite Learning with STEM and PBL by Cheryl Boes  Level-Up Your Online and Blended Instructional Practice Through the Lens of the SAMR Framework  by Dayna Laur    Open Educational Resources: Open or Free? Which will it be?  by Gina Loveless 
10:00 AM Edcamp: Empowering Students through Voice and Choice by Janea Menicucci 

    Edcamp: Empowering Students through Voice and Choice  by Janea Menicucci 
11:00 AM FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) An approach to learning through Inquiry by Elizabeth  Hutchinson FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) An approach to learning through Inquiry by Elizabeth  Hutchinson
  PBL Series by John McCarthy – 
5:00 PM PBL: Introduction PBL: Foundation Steps PBL: Driving Questions PBL: Management, pt. 1 PBL Management, pt. 2


 Webinar Descriptions – Webinar ScheduleSpeaker Bios

Speaker Bios

John McCarthy, EdS – @JMcCarthyEdS

John McCarthy is a teacher, author of So All Can Learn: A practical guide to Differentiation, prolific writer, consultant and advocate for student voice and agency in their learning. He supports school cultures on improving leadership, teacher and learner capacity with instructional practices, including Project Based Learning, Differentiation, and Student Engagement. Over the years, John successfully helps teachers and administrators internationally to design and implement structures that benefit students taking more ownership of their learning and becoming the future leaders and entrepreneurs. He helps them connect pedagogical concepts into practical skill sets for successful implementation. He works with schools across the United States, and internationally, including Kazakhstan. Explore free resources found at his company, Opening Paths – 


Cheryl Boes, EdS – @boesca

Cheryl Boes is an educator with over 20 years of experience working with children and teachers. As a classroom teacher, she connected the curriculum with hands-on projects to promote creativity and independence among her students. Cheryl has served as a facilitator for professional development with a passion for helping teachers examine how ed tech tools can improve efficiency and engagement in the classroom. Currently, Cheryl serves as a K-6 media specialist and an instructor for online classes for educators. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator, a member of Discovery Education’s STAR Educator cohort and trained in Franklin Covey’s Leader in Me principles. Cheryl enjoys collaborating with teachers to improve the learning experiences for all students. 


Elizabeth Hutchinson, MSc., FCLIP, BEM – @Elizabethutch

Elizabeth Hutchinson is a Chartered Fellow of CILIP. She worked for the Guernsey Schools’ Library Service from 2003 and was appointed Head of Service in 2014. She is now an Independent trainer and Adviser for school libraries. Runner up in the 2016 LILAC Information Literacy awards and shortlisted again this year. She was awarded the BEM in this year New Years Honours for services to libraries. She is an international presenter, renowned blogger and writes for CILIP Information Professional. She is Vice-Chair of the Great School Libraries working party and in her spare time runs an online CPD forum for school library staff called #LibraryStaffLoveLearning.


Dayna Laur, ABD – @daylynn

Dayna Laur’s arc of professional learning began in 1998 as a social studies teacher and career academy coordinator and grew to include special education, Advanced Placement, and adult education. Currently, Dayna’s doctoral-level work focuses on the research behind connecting learners to technical experts as they leverage their value-added feedback in order to improve authentic challenge outcomes. Specifically, she is interested in the ways in which these connections can occur virtually to overcome the logistical challenges many rural schools experience.  Since 2008, Dayna’s used her diverse facilitation and coaching expertise to interact, globally, with pre-K to post-secondary professionals. At Project ARC, as a co-founder, Dayna strives to empower educators and their learners by implementing authentic learning experiences, a topic she pioneered in her 2013 book, Authentic Learning Experiences: A Real-World Approach to PBL. Her most recent publications Authentic Project-Based Learning in Grades 4-8 (and 9-12): Standards-Based Strategies and Scaffolding for Success were released in late 2019. 


Gina Loveless, MAET

Gina Loveless has over 30 years of educational technology experience in K-12 education in the United States. She has been a coach, teacher, instructional technology coach, data specialist, and technology director. She currently holds a position with the State of Michigan (United States) as an Educational Technology Consultant and oversees the state Open Education Resource platform and Educational Technology Competencies (MiTECS). She is also a current Board member and Past President of the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning.


Ted Malfyt, BS – @TedMalefyt

Ted Malefyt is a middle school science teacher for the STREAM school which is a joint effort between Hamilton Community Schools (West Michigan) and the Outdoor Discovery Center Education Network.  STREAM school places students in a gold standard PBL environment outdoors while using design thinking concepts to help drive sustained inquiry and student agency. Additionally, Ted has taught a local program where teachers work with high school and middle school age students solving real world problems at community businesses. Away from teaching, Ted provides PBL support for schools as a National Faculty member of PBL Works and Design Thinking support as a consultant for Advanced Learning Partnerships. Lastly,Ted supports the work being done with the Outdoor Discovery Center in bringing the natural world into the authentic context of teaching and learning in classrooms across the state of Michigan.  


Janea Menicucci, MA – @Janeamenicucci

Janea Menicucci, MA: has been a master educator for 20 years. She works for Explore Academy  as the Director of Informational/ Educational Technology. She helps teachers and schools integrate technology in their classrooms.  She is an Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Educator Level 2. She incorporates her background in Universal Design for Learning in all of her professional development. She is an active member with ISTE, Chair of Professional Development for the New Mexico Chapter (NMSTE),  Co Founder of EdCamp NM and  Treasurer for the NM ASCD chapter. 

Understanding the Six Elements for Planning a PBL Framework

By John McCarthy – Twitter: @JMcCarthyEdS –

Download: PDF version

Project Based Learning is a vehicle for powerful authentic learning experiences. With many structures available to use the application of quality PBL can sometimes be confusing as to how to ensure our practices lead to the intended outcomes: Student academic achievement and agency of their learning. The elements used in this PBL structure adapts work from “The Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning”[i]. Our approach to PBL units places an emphasis on authentic learning experiences that promote development of Global Professional Skills (GPS) and student voice and agency. The six elements include:

  • Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment
  • Authenticity
  • Public Product
  • Collaboration
  • Project Management
  • Reflection


Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment

At the heart of any PBL or ALE is students learning content, skills, and concepts based on curriculum and standards. However, the potential and intent are for learners to explore and grapple with the complexities inherent in the curriculum. Surface level understanding for knowledge and basic applications can be a starting place that leads to ongoing rigorous experiences that challenge all learners to grow and deepen their understanding.

Based on the core curriculum content, skills, and concepts that students should know, understand, and use, provide the following:

  • Establish a Call to Action
    Students should take on a Call to Action, which could be a driving question, challenge, or mystery. This Call to Action connects students to the end in mind, which may be a clear and concrete target that students must attain through a synthesis of concepts that leads to shaping a product or solution. Or, the beginning could be murkier, starting with an inquiry-based approach where students must explore and uncover the end in mind. Either path is supported by a foundation of curriculum expectations. The Call to Action is answered and/or resolved by what the students craft or present at the end of the PBL unit.


  • Pay attention to the learning journey
    It is during the unit that students learn curriculum in context of the project. Each week should include multiple opportunities for students to build knowledge and explore concepts through PBL experiences, so that they see the value and purpose of curriculum in the world beyond the school environment. Use the other elements listed here during this journey to provide the rich experiences that make PBL units worth doing: Student Agency and Voice.


  • Finish strong with the Curriculum in Mind
    Have students share prototypes, products, and/or presentations for their target authentic audience. Just make sure that whatever students provide demonstrates the focused curriculum content, skills, and concepts at the expected rigorous level. Not only does the work need to be aligned to the focused curriculum, students need to be assessed individually. There should be no group grades for curriculum mastery. This is why a traditional assessment is sometimes included with the performance task or presentation if needed.



One way to differentiate the good and great PBL from the rest is the level of real-world context that is incorporated. Authentic learning experiences gives learners meaningful connections of curriculum skills and concepts to applications by professionals in the world outside of school. For example, measurements and shapes relate to architectural designs, informational writing used to publish how-to guides for games and household tasks, and conducting environmental lab experiments for water quality in the community. Students practice the curriculum skills as one does in the various working professions. This PBL approach is what separates itself from traditional units. Students have a community platform to contribute their voice. They practice global professional skills that are important for post-secondary college, jobs-training, or career. The results of their efforts hold value to the expectant adult world.

A first step is to identify a target audience, preferably beyond the school world, who students will provide a service.

  • Raise Awareness or Inform
    Provide information and/or evaluation about a topic that concerns others or addresses a need. Some examples include, how to grow an indoor garden, explain the pros and cons of propositions to be voted on, and recommending habitats for new animals in zoos.
  • Advocate for an idea or cause
    Research and take a stand about a topic. The intent is to get others to rally support for and take action about the topic. Some examples include, raise money for cancer research, improve heart healthy practices by running a week-long event of group walks, and running a farmers’ market to provide fresh organic vegetables to the families.
  • Solve a Problem or Provide for a Need
    Identify a problem or need that a business, organization, or community member could benefit from a solution. Research and explore ideas and prototypes that could be a possible solution. Some examples include, creating a social media campaign for local restaurants who lack presence on food marketing apps, help local communities evaluate water quality of their wells to ensure safety, and present plans for a skate park to the township for approval.


When the focus of the work is to meet the needs of an audience other than the teacher or classroom peers, students are more likely to step up the quality of their efforts. Their reasoning may be because they do not want to disappoint or embarrassed their teacher or themselves. Another possibility is accepting the genuine responsibility to meet the needs of the target authentic audience. Or it can be any combination.

Good PBL units are based on at least a strong scenario that addresses an authentic need. The target audience might be a pretend representation; however, the context of the work is aligned with real world connections. Actual professionals and experts may work with students in the scenarios, which elevates the credibility of the experiences for students. Scenarios can feel like a safe way to launch one’s PBL experience. Over time, teachers and students realize that a good scenario is one easy step away from great actual authentic target audiences and needs.

Great PBL units are based on an actual target audience and authentic need. The work that students do leads to actionable steps that will be reviewed, considered, and/or implemented. There is no pretending. The rich experiences of success and failure can lead to deeper understanding and mastery of content and skills for student agency.

Public Product

Make student work public. This is a key goal so that students engage with an authentic audience as described under Authenticity. Publishing student work through live and traditional publication approaches helps students practice their voice in the world beyond school. Their voice has an impact regardless if the effort that they bring forth. This understanding can create a healthy tension for students to work harder and pay more attention to the details of building understanding of needed skills and concepts.

Public work can happen throughout the PBL unit. As students ideate and build prototype designs, these are opportunities for them to share for feedback by peers, professionals in the field, and their target audience. We learn most from uncovering gaps, mistakes, and failures. Students practice critique and revision with internal and external partners helps them to learn how valuable a feedback process can be for any career that they aspire to join. Practicing critique and revision with these different stakeholders provides deeper experiences with global professional skills, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, networking, and creativity, needed to successfully navigate any professional setting. Such a process also increases the chances of the final product or presentation being polished and aligned to the focus curriculum skills and concepts.

Public products can be in a variety of forms. Some examples include, live or recorded presentations using Youtube Live or other tool, blog articles and reviews on merchant sites, interviews with professional experts in the field, and participating in community forums based on informed understanding of the issues.



Project Based Learning is about collaboration. Working in teams, communicating needs and supports, problem solving, networking, reflecting about team dynamics, and synthesizing ideas are global professional skills (GPS) that support the collaborative experience. Even when working alone, collaboration plays an important role in getting resources, allies, and help with one’s progress and planning. We are familiar with the obvious examples of collaboration: students working in groups or teams around a task or problem. Sometimes the teams are study support groups who review and reflect on the core knowledge, skills and content that everyone must understand and be able to use in their individual assignments and assessments. Other times, individuals seek help from one other, or needs to conduct a focus group or survey with handpicked volunteers. Navigating these experiences requires knowledge and skills that specifically address collaboration.

The collaborative experience deepens in importance when we consider that colleges and employers rank teamwork highly, per the annual survey done by N.A.C.E. (National Association of Colleges and Employers). As referenced earlier, the Global Professional Skills includes a variety of skills like critical thinking, communication, creativity, and networking. Each of these skills are important in their own right; however, they can be applied under the umbrella of collaboration. Students do not magically have deep understanding and skill with collaboration. It must be directly taught, coached, and assessed in the same way that we do with skills in writing, reading, mathematics, science, and social studies. This necessity is proven every time a student team becomes dysfunctional, unable to work together. Each time the teacher is the first line of defense to “fix” the problem, that is proof that the students do not have the collaboration skills to solve the issue before it is beyond their influence to control. There are examples of students with strong awareness of collaboration skills. They know how to ensure that everyone is involved in the work, has a voice in decisions, mediates conflict before it taints the team, and seeks help from others when needed.

Building collaboration skills can be done through these steps:

  1. Define the Global Professional Skills being practiced.
    Establish common language. Describe each skill so that the observable behaviors are clear to notice. For example, listening is an important skill. It is evidenced by non-verbal ques of eye contact, nodding agreement, and encouraging head shakes to continue talking. It can be heard when someone restates or paraphrases the last person who spoke instead of talking over them or changing topics without acknowledging what was just said.
  2. Post coaching charts of the GPS to practice and reflect
    Make coaching charts[ii] available for each focus GPS. Review the charts formally at least once a week so that the language becomes embedded. Use frequent reflection opportunities for students to evaluate their growth and that of their team.
  3. Use protocols that support good teamwork
    There are many protocols that structure a group learning experience and empower students to lead the activity. Some examples include: Fishbowls, Socratic Seminars, Save the Last Word for Me, Say Something (see Collaboration as Learning[iii]). Such protocols are structure for all participants to run it themselves without teacher involvement. When the protocol ends, have students reflect on their participation and the group’s successes and challenges. Use the coaching charts as a guide to the discussions.
  4. Coach students on their collaboration practice
    Work with students in context of the activities that they are doing. Use the coaching charts as a reference for conversation about their work with others. Help them think through evidence of success and areas for improvement. Keep it positive: Everyone can always improve. Encourage them to show agency in their support of their team members.


Project Management

PBL units includes multiple tasks and timelines. It can feel overwhelming when looking at a glance the many steps and tasks that must be accomplished before the end of the authentic learning experiences. We need to empower students to lead their learning. This concept might be challenging for some or many of your students if their school experience has mostly placed them in the role of passive participant.

In kindergarten classes, students are working all over the learning spaces. They may be at stations or centers or designated areas for choice board activities. They work in small groups or individually. The teacher is the conductor who is aware of where everyone is and what they are doing, while she works with small groups. Kindergarteners are inherently active. In many schools, students’ career through grade levels eventually teaches them to stay still in their designated assigned seating and wait for the teacher to give the next task before starting. The point of this observation is not a critique on education, such results is a by-product of establishing classroom management for a variety of reasons. Instead, it is a recognition that if we want students to take the lead of their learning, we need to recondition them to what they learned in kindergarten. Active learning requires that learners be active.

Some important practices have already been discussed with the previous elements:

  • Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment leads with a Call to Action that provides opportunities for students get the end in mind so that they can plan steps within that context.
  • Authenticity uses learning experiences through working with a target audience.
  • Public products encourage students to practice critique and revision cycles to give and receive feedback.
  • Collaboration is used to develop global professional skills through approaches like protocols.


Just like the Global Professional Skills, students need to be taught, coached, and reflected on managing themselves and team members, time management, and organizing the work into accomplishable groups of tasks. Provide mini-workshops on these topics. Give students models or templates that they complete for time management and organizing the work. Structure time for weekly check-ins with individuals, teams and by team role as ways to track their progress in the work and growth in managing the related tasks. Near the end of the PBL unit have students reflect on their growth in the focus areas of Project Management that you teach and coach them on. Use their reflection as a reference point for further growth in later PBL units.



Metacognition, thinking about one’s thinking, is an important skill set for students to develop. It helps them to reflect on their actions, both successes and failures, and learn from the experiences. In PBL units, reflections should happen often and for a variety of purposes. We don’t know what we don’t know. Reflections are ways to uncover the gems of success and the opportunities for improvements. Students can use a variety of ways to practice reflection, such as journaling, video/audio record, and discuss. Areas of practice to consider include:

  • Curriculum learning
    Have students reflect on what they know, what questions they have, and what areas they feel they may struggle. Spread throughout the PBL unit, these check-in gives students opportunities monitor their learning and support needs.
  • Communication and work quality for an authentic target audience
    Working with an authentic target audience can be equally fulfilling and frustrating. Mentoring from the teacher can give them a broader perspective of what they are doing well and where they could improve on their practice.
  • Global Professional Skills (GPS) for Collaboration
    The GPS require students to think about how well they are using the tools and skills for collaboration, both personally and by the team. Open and constructive conversations by the team is a good practice of the tools as they seek to help each other become better skilled. Coaching conversations with the teacher is also valuable when paired with the coaching charts for what the observable behaviors for collaboration looks like.
  • Project management
    Organizing one’s time and managing the workflow for completion of tasks are important opportunities to reflect. Monitoring progress and personal practices become a bright focus when active opportunities are scheduled for reflection. Otherwise, the practices can become rote and lose awareness that something is being done incorrectly or ineffectively.
  • Personal growth with agency
    Students need to reflect on being an active participant and decision maker about their actions to lead their learning. An active learner needs to be active. Have students self-evaluate where and how they have taken initiative with tasks and people that moved forward the project and/or their personal growth.



[i] The Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning,

[ii] Coaching Charts provides concrete language of observable behaviors for Global Professional Skills (GPS) such as collaboration and communication.

[iii] Collaboration as Learning – provides resources and guidance about effective implementation for teaching and coaching collaboration skills.

Empower Student Voice through Collaboration and Communication

When my son was a 9th grader, he was on a team with a student who struggled with completing tasks. After a week, my son shared the team’s frustrations, as they felt helpless to convince the student to move past excuses and make attempts at the work. Fortunately, the teaching staff trained students on a 4-step process for how to address internal team problems.

Because I was aware of this, I advised my son: “Follow the process. The teacher will not step in until you start the process.” My son met with the student 1-on-1, twice, per the process’ first step. They devised a solution that got the student working, and identified what the teammates could do to be supportive.

Collaboration and communication skills are important tools that help students use their voice to navigate their education. This form of differentiation provides active experiences during their school time with teachers, and helps them hone skills for successful navigation of the world outside of school, including college, technical training, careers, and the global community. Students do not develop these skills to a high level without direct teaching, coaching, and reflection on the various practices. The adults in their lives, especially teachers and administrators, have the extensive experiences and practice of collaboration and communication skills. As mentors, teachers can differentiate through a variety of experiences, where students can learn, practice, and master these important skills.

Establish a learner-centric culture through Norms
What are the guiding norms that staff and students practice so that everyone feels supported during activities? Students buy-in is likely when they craft the norms. Otherwise, the “real” norms go underground where only the students know the rules. An example of a common unspoken norm is to not volunteer answers when a teacher asks a question, because it’s likely the teacher will answer the question if given a few seconds.

Official norms are behaviors that govern collaboration and communication by students and staff. Learners are empowered to help peers self-correct behaviors that support the work, and reduce issues of misunderstandings and lack of effort, as exemplified in my son’s experience. One approach to creating norms are:

  1. Class discuss the behaviors that makes for a positive culture as found on teams or community groups.
  2. Alone and/or in pairs, students generate a list of 3-5 behaviors that support collaboration and communication.
  3. In teams, share the ideas and craft a joint list of the top 2-3 behaviors.
  4. Teams report out their list, and clarify meaning based on peer questions. Teacher helps revise norms into positive behavioral descriptors.
  5. Students vote on the 4-7 norms.
  6. Students and teacher sign the final norms chart, giving their consent.

Once completed, the teacher and students reflect on the norms at least once a week as a formal practice. Informally, the teacher uses the norms to coach students on making better choices when problems arise. Students are encouraged to speak for themselves and others based on the norms.

Use a variety of teams to address tasks
Based on in-classroom interviews, students value the timely support they give and receive to their peers in teams. From a differentiation perspective, this eliminates the “waiting game” where work halts as students wait for the teacher to arrive to jumpstart their efforts with “the answers.” Instead, students learn to find answers and solutions from within their team. Student voice is valued.

Team formation can be for unit-long projects to paired reflective discussions. Group by similar skill level or shared interests depending on the academic needs. Using a mix of team formations offers students experiences to practice communication and collaboration as they address content based on the focus learning outcome(s). Some group strategies include:

  • Project or Study Teams
  • Clock Partners
  • Jigsawing
  • Think-Pair-Share

Ensure that each member has a role that contributes to the learning expectations, especially when grouping by a mixture of skill levels. A student with low academic skills can still be the team leader, who must use collaboration and communication skills to guide the team to move forward in the work and work together. The Managing Editor does not have to be the best writer. The person must understand how to facilitate the team’s conversation around critiques and revisions.

Use protocols that encourage mutual learning
There are a variety of protocols that serve the dual purpose of building deeper learning of content and concepts, while also providing practice of collaboration and communication skills. Once taught, students lead the protocols, and thus their own learning. The teacher is freed-up to coach and assess student progress with the collaboration and communication skills, along with content understanding.

  1. Harkness Discussion
    Students lead a discussion about subject-related topic, while the teacher draws a graph of the flow of communication. Some areas that may be noted: who’s talking and who is silent, are comments and questions substantive, and how is air-time self-managed. Here is a quality example by Dayna Laur.
  2. Mediation Process
    This is a version of the 4-step process that my son used to help his teammate start to contribute. The process helps students to self-manage teams so that curriculum assignments get done. The time taken to train students on this process, along with establishing classroom norms, pays off in the long term with students taking care of their team.
  3. Save the Last Word for Me and Say Something Protocols
    These two reading comprehension protocols guides students through discussion of assigned readings. Students chunk the reading in 2-3 parts. The team reads the first part, follows the discussion steps, and then repeats the protocol for each part. Students practice collaboration and communication skills as they develop a substantive understanding of the readings.

Preparing for an Evolving Global Community

Students need to develop a wide-range of Global Professional Skills (GPS) to navigate social and business networks to learn and build successful careers. Collaboration and Communication skills can strengthen other important skills that students need during and after their school career.

One constant about careers and job opportunities is that they are constantly evolving. Traditional careers adapt to global needs, and new jobs grow from the innovations that continue to shrink the distance between countries across the globe. Some careers that exist today may likely look different by the time our students are ready to be employed, and some jobs may not yet exist until after students graduate. High school graduates who get years of practice with collaboration and communication skills will have the tools to greatly impact colleges and career opportunities: #GameChangerED

“Why should I care?” – Learning with a Purpose using Authentic Learning Experiences

“Why should I care?”

This is the question that educators must address, as the answers can determine the level of engagement by students for curriculum experiences. The best answers are not explanations but learning experiences that are authentic to the learners’ world beyond the classroom.

  • In Michigan, 1st and 2nd graders design and maintain a greenhouse to grow vegetables for their annual community farmers’ market.
  • In Ohio, 3rd graders lobby local government to build a public garden as a sanctuary for pollinators.
  • In Texas, middle school students plan and facilitate an edcamp  where students teach peers and adults about their passion topics.
  • In Virginia, high school students advocate for better protections against sex traffickers in the United States.

Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE) help students connect curriculum with real world meaning. That’s it, in a nutshell. There are many educators who struggle with adapting traditional practices. The ones that do make the changes or tweaks are discovering the depth and extent that learners will commit time and energy towards the authentic tasks that are either provided or are student created and directed. There is a rising number of school districts that are committed to approaches that are based on Authentic Learning Experiences, which are leading to strong examples of systemic success over time. Some examples include:

  • Lake Travis ISD, TX
  • Isle of Wight School Division, VA

Each of these school districts have made an institutional-wide commitment to authentic learning experiences that engage and empower students to learn curriculum through job-embedded, aka real world experiences. Some ALE examples include:

1. Field trips at the start of a unit so that students can do on-site research and interviews of experts and staff, such as at zoos (habitats), museums (research), and park waterways (water quality tests).
2. Publication of student work from essays to videos about community and societal topics that target a specific audience outside of school.
3. Video conference meetings with experts and professionals from a variety of fields.
4. Doing work within the context of how an identified profession does similar tasks, such as scientists, authors, engineers, business people, and issue-based non-profits.


When students experience curriculum through the ALE lens, they can make connections as to how theory looks and feels in practice. Including an authentic audience is critical to the experience. When learners prepare products and presentations for a real target audience like business owners, scientists, government officials, or community members, those experiences carry greater weight and pressure on students for producing quality than turning in work to the teacher or presenting to classmates.

Getting started on this path works best when the school shares a common language for Authentic Learning Experiences. Here are two steps that support successful implementation.

Step One: Use a proven ALE framework

While the school districts referenced above have their unique approach to providing authentic learning experiences, they share some common elements.

Levels of the ALE framework

Each of these levels ensures that authentic learning experiences are tied deeply to learning outcomes (Foundation), provides contextual connections to academics with careers (Level 1), and makes the work public to a purposeful audience (Level 2).

Foundation: Significant content is the core of the work.
The work starts with the curriculum learning expectations.

Level 1: Students apply content skills as used by related professions.
Contextual connections of content are made to real world examples for understanding and through applications

Level 2: Students address an authentic purpose for a community or client need.
Experience value of skills & concepts through purposeful and meaningful contributions. Make work public!

The foundation level is essential. However, teachers can create lessons and units that only address Level 1 and achieve the goal of authentic learning experiences. Teachers who strive for Level 2 experiences should find students giving their greatest output to the tasks and learning outcomes. Explore this in more detail in this Edutopia article: Authenticity = Lifelong Learners.

Step Two: Identify the Target Audience through the Purpose

The best authentic learning experiences has an audience in mind based on a purpose for the work. Problem Solving, Advocacy, and raising Awareness are great places to start as the focus for the learning. Once the purpose is chosen, the best audience can be found who would benefit from the students’ work.

Publication is an important element for having an authentic audience. Regardless of the focus–Problem Solving, Advocacy, or raising awareness–students need to share their findings to someone(s) beyond the school. Learn more about this idea in this Edutopia article: 4 Paths to Engaging Authentic Purpose and Audience.

Explore Additional Resources

Here are resources to support your research for starting or strengthening Authentic Learning Experiences with your students and staff. Each item listed is annotated to help inform your exploration.


Henrico 21

Library of Ideas that have been teacher tested. Supports global professional skills (GPS) such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE)

This repository provides a deep explanation of ALE, structures, articles, and strategies to build into your development of ALE schoolwide.

Focus Documents by Isle of Wight School Division

Explore these resources by a forward thinking district. Following these documents, staff have successfully grown a systemic approach to Deeper Learning and authentic learning experiences, which have helped students find learning meaningful and purposeful.

Video Libraries

Isle of Wight School Division: CTE Videos

These videos offer examples of authentic learning experiences as structured in the systemic work at Isle of Wight School Division in Virginia.

General ALE Playlist

Here is a playlist showing examples of ALE in different schools at different grade levels.

PBL in Action

This playlist is focused on Project Based Learning. However the examples shared reflect the concepts of authentic learning experiences.

ALE Resources List (  

This is a shared document that is maintained and updated with more references and strategies to support your planning and implementation of Authentic Learning Experiences.

Making Differentiation Productive: A Planning Guide

Differentiation can be challenging and fruitful if done with planful intention. Below is a guide for bring forth more success in your work to meet the needs of ALL learners by ensuring that learning experiences have these elements or components. Post or tweet your questions or ideas to @JMcCarthyEdS

Core Steps for Planning Differentiation
  1. List the standard(s) or curriculum objective(s)
  2. For each, unpack the key concept(s) and/or skill(s) to be learned.

    What do learners need to know, understand, and/or do?
  3. How can learners practice and demonstrate growth towards the key concepts and skills?

    List artifacts and actions that develop and grow achievement of the key concepts and skills.

Where Differentiation Happens

Content: Based on the key concepts and skills, how can content be delivered, acted on, and used to show understanding.

Process: Based on the key concepts and skills, what activities and approaches can learners participate to reflect and make sense for personal growth.

Product: Based on the key concepts and skills, what are artifacts and actions (such as presentations) that learners could create and/or plan to demonstrate achievement towards mastery.

How Differentiation Happens

Readiness: For each key concept and/or skill:
  1. Identify the components that make up a concept and execution of a skill.

  2. Analyze 2-3 ways to teach and coach the components at different levels of complexity. Such as:
    1. Learners lacking major gaps in understanding
    2. Learners lacking minor gaps in understanding, yet can keep pace with the progression.
    3. Learners whose understanding exceeds the required level of understanding.
  3. Evaluate the accuracy of step 2, ie does each approach actually support development of the concept and/or skill.

  4. Create an activity or task within one of the following structures:
    1. Tiered: All students working on the same concept or skill. Learners are grouped by common gaps in understanding and those who exceed the mastery level. Similar work at a complexity level that accommodates each group of learners.
    2. Individualized – independent tasks: Each learner works on different tasks that align with their specific needs, such as gaps in understanding, or missing fundamental skills. The work is different for most students as also is the complexity level. The learning objective may be different for the learners, but the targets are building blocks to common overarching objective(s).
    3. Individualized – common tasks: All learners work within the same tasks. However, the tasks are made up of sub-tasks that range in targeting specific components of concepts and/or skills. Learners either choose or are assigned to specific tasks within the options. Some learners will share both the same and different tasks. Example: Think Tac Toe and Readiness Centers or Stations.

Interests: Get to know students and what they like to spend time doing.
  1. Prepare 3-4 options for learning and/or practicing the skills and/or concepts.
  2. Communicate the criteria for assessment of skills and/or concepts. Challenge learners to create the product or artifact that demonstrates the assessment.
  3. Design activities and stations that have multiple options to choose from.
  4. Enable students to complete tasks based on their personal interests.
  5. Co-design with the students the activities.
  6. Create inquiry-based learning activities and experiences.
  7. Create authentic learning experiences.

Learning Preferences: 
  1. Collect data about the various ways that learners prefer to process understanding and demonstrate skills.
  2. Provide learning experiences that incorporate a variety of learning experiences.
  3. Allow students to design artifacts or complete work based on their voice.

Student Voice: Making Learning Happen

by John McCarthy, EdS – Follow on Twitter

When it comes to learning, involving the learner is important. Reflect on how you learn best. Having a say so as to align or customize the experiences is something that most of us prefer. Why would our students feel any different. These resources below are part of a conference session about steps towards empowering student voice in the classroom. There are some simple steps to follow:

  1. Teachers give up sole control.
    Share decision-making with students. When we strive to control what others do, the results rarely meet expectations, if we want students to think and act for themselves. We don’t want robots at the end of the day. We want thinkers. And thinkers will want a say in what they do and how they do it, or they will go underground.
  2. Learners CAN rise to the occasion if given space to act
    When given free will to choose and act, students do need guidance on how to use this shared power. It’s a responsibility for the giver (teacher) and the receiver (students). Students are enculturated to sit quietly and with minimal movement. They are told what to do and when to do it. So when we give students freedom from these shackles, they either resist, wanting what has been normal and known. Or they go crazy, behaving in ways that are not as productive as we’d like.

    So, teach students how to act and think when given this responsibility. Coach them.

Learn more about Student Voice from my Supporting References listed at the bottom. Or follow and contact me on Twitter and InstagramSubscribe to my Youtube channel for new content and researched examples of best practices in learning and teaching.

  • Need to Know process (reference)
    This process gives students control of their learning by allowing them to list questions about the lesson and unit. They decide when a question is fully answered. The basic structure is similar to the K-W-L strategy, only more student-led.

  • Student-Generated Norms (reference)
    Students create the norms for how they and the teacher can support everyone in their learning. Here is an example of Norm development steps and of Norms:

  • Critique Protocols (reference)
  • Researchers
    Have students in teams collect and organize info that is normally included in a lecture about core facts. The teams then organize the information, and then share out. Teacher fills in gaps in understanding after each team has reported. 

  • Student-Designed products
    • Teacher gives criteria for evaluation. Keep guidelines to just the learning that students must demonstrate.
    • Let students propose products or performances that meet the evaluation criteria.
    • The teacher either approves the proposal or sends back students to develop a new proposal. 
    • Have 1-2 options that students can choose if they do not come up with an approved proposal within the scheduled deadline.

  • Project Based Learning & Authentic Learning Experiences
    References: onetwo
    Empower students with the voice to make a difference in the community. Authentic Learning Experiences and Project Based Learning are excellent ways to bring context to academics to students’ lives.

  • Let students determine learning focus and align objectives to their work. 
    Give students opportunities to explore their own learning, based on their interests. They can apply academic skills to ideas that they are passionate about. Here are 2 youtube playlists to give examples. Subscribe to my Youtube channel for new content and researched examples of best practices in learning and teaching.


Useful References for More Resource Ideas

Learning Supported by Digital Tools: MOCA

Using technology to support instruction continues to be a challenge that is tackled by schools and classrooms everywhere. How do we ensure that the focus is on the student learning, and not on the digital tool? One answer is to begin with the “Learning” and find the tools that support that outcome.

Learning through Technology Guide: MOCA

MOCA is a frame for identifying how learning could be supported by digital tools. Each level is valuable to the learning process. It is important for educators to be intentional about what level is the best need for student achievement at any given time. It is also necessary to review and reflect on practice for ensuring that students experience all levels, especially Collaborative Learning and Authentic Learning.

  • Managed Learning
  • Orchestrated Learning
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Authentic Learning

Managed Learning

Schools and teachers use management systems and tools to keep track of assignments, grades, and announcements. Communications to students, parents, and other stakeholders might also be included in such online platforms. Some examples include Schoology, Google Classroom, Blackboard, and Canvas. Students use these platforms to get assignments, submit work, and access files for learning tasks. Teachers manage these platforms, as well as monitor student growth and progress. Teachers maintain control of the processes and usage of the platform tools to manage the learning experiences.

Orchestrated Learning

Teachers are the orchestra directors of turning curriculum into learning experiences. They structure and provide assignments that students complete to grow academically. The tasks may vary from completing research, virtual lab experiments, posting responses to a discussion board, watching video tutorials, and completing foundational tasks through learning centers or stations. Students mostly work individually or with a teacher. Small group learning tends to be teacher structures for building knowledge or applying ideas. The teacher runs the show, while students follow their lead. Some examples include:

  • a group might jigsaw researching a topic and then filling out an online form or discussion board that everyone has access to.
  • the class practices a review of content through team play using a tool like Kahoot.
  • a virtual field trip is provided to the class to view sights and listen to virtual guide.

Collaborative Learning

Students lead the learning at this level of practice. Teachers plan a learning experience that empowers and requires students to be in charge of the work. Collaborative learning is based on where students’ skills are currently, then uses digital tools to support their growth individually and/or through the support of a peer team. Such student-centered work enables the teacher to facilitate thinking and coach growth that is personalized to each learner. Some examples include:

  • students participate in virtual centers or stations that include tasks that challenge learners based on their skill levels. Students are assigned a series of tasks with some choice of which ones to do.
  • teams use a collaborative space such as a shared google folder with docs for capturing meeting notes and/or slides and forms for crafting presentations based on survey data.
  • students attend a virtual field trip as part of gathering research notes. The experience includes a question session where students make deeper connections about the concepts based on the responses to their inquiries.
  • students participate in an online critique session (ie. Google Docs, Slides, or Hangout) about peer artifacts. The comment feature is used to post likes and suggested changes. Outside experts might be included in the feedback protocol.

Authentic Learning

Make learning public, and students will understand the value of the learning beyond subject curriculum. Students express their voice on issues and ideas that come from the world beyond their classroom, even at times beyond their building. Making learning public is important for students to understand the connections between the academic expectations and the applications to real world practices. These experiences include:

  • publication of student work on an online website such as a classroom blog, school webpage, or outside organization website.
  • stream student presentations through Youtube on topics that are meaningful to the local community and other audiences.
  • Facilitate a discussion with a public audience using an online discussion board, Google Hangout, Zoom, or Twitter Chat.

Here are some of tools to explore:

  • Blogs: Blogger (Google), WordPress, Edublog, Weebly
  • Wikis: WikiDot, Google Sites, PBWorks EduHub
  • Social Media: Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Vimeo
  • Classroom Platforms: Schoology, Google Classroom, Blackboard CourseSites
  • Podcasts: iTunes and Spotify
  • Live Stream presentations: Youtube or Twitter

There is much attention paid to Managed and Orchestrated Learning when using Blended Learning. This could be attributed to the understanding that for many teachers Blended Learning is a fairly new instructional approach. As learners, educators, like any profession, tend to start with what can be done without changing too much the practices that have brought them success. What has been accomplished by teachers with Managed and Orchestrated Learning is an important achievement of change in itself; yet these accomplishments should not be an end goal.

Time for Change is Now

Today’s students are ready to use digital tools for complex and collaborative learning experiences and to have a voice in the world beyond their schools. Educators with some Blended Learning practices can leverage what they’ve learned combined with student understanding of the digital world, ie. online gaming, social media, and news sites, to hone deep learning experiences through Collaborative Learning and Authentic Learning. Give students voice and practice with tackling 21st Century Learning tasks for public audiences. Start with the early years, and the result will be a new crop of students who are deeply skilled to do so much more than any previous generation.