IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

#LATICinsights: Using Data As Your Driver

What drives a classroom in which students take responsibility for their own learning, are engaged in grappling with content, and are pursuing high academic standards towards higher achievement? Data!

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is a data-driven learning environment. It’s a highly structured learning environment that allows students significant voice and choice in their learning. While students have the freedom to set their schedules, work on what, with whom, and when they want, the success comes from the fact that most decisions are data driven. Here are some of the data structures that should be in place:

  • Teachers review state and district standardized test data to determine individual student weaknesses. Given the student-driven nature of classroom activities, teachers can more easily guide individual students toward appropriate activities, offering the maximum level of differentiation.
  • Students use rubrics to continually self assess where they are and set goals. The teacher meets with individual students to confirm progress and goals.
  • Students use their rubrics, assessment data, and activity lists to select the activities they need to accomplish. Even kindergarten students can manage their day!
  • Teachers carry facilitation grids to capture formative assessment data; they also use the grids to capture data from quizzes and tests. They then use this progress-monitoring data to plan scaffolded learning activities and teacher-directed, small-group lessons.
  • Based on a topical assessment, students can opt into an advanced small-group, mini-lesson to push themselves beyond the expected.
  • Students use Learning Dashboards of standards and curricular objectives to track their progress across the year, using the data to select learning activities.

When students are in charge of their own learning, it’s easier for the teacher to differentiate instruction. With data as the driver, teachers can plan benchmark lessons; small-group, mini-lessons; and activity lists to ensure that all students’ needs are being met.

Put students in charge of their own learning; have teachers act as powerful facilitators; and let data drive the action!

IDE Corp. offers differentiated, online courses facilitated by our consultants for maximum success of all our our participants, including one on formative assessment.

Standardized Testing Super Bowl Style

Yesterday’s historic Super Bowl win by the Patriots was an amazing example of grit and the can-do attitude that students need to take the state standardized tests. The Falcons were poised to win: with 17 minutes to go, they were leading 28 to 3; no team had ever come back from that far down to win; they had the game in the bag. What happened?

The Patriots had grit; the Falcons’ confidence shook. The Falcons were highly capable, with great players who know how to play the game well; but they lacked the can-do, fail-forward, grit that the Patriots had. It’s a good time of year to reflect on this and make sure your students walk into standardized testing with great grit!

About that test! Please answer the following question:

Ciò che è due più tre?

The answer to “what is two plus three” is five. Chances are, you know that content, but you might have been thrown by the question being written in another language. If you know the romance languages, you might have worked somewhat to figure it out and arrived at the answer of five, but it took you more time than if it were written in your native language, assuming you don’t speak Italian.

I believe many students know far more than their standardized test scores indicate, but the act of test-taking is not natural for most students. It is, therefore, important to spend some time before standardized testing helping students build familiarity and grit, so that what they know in their heads actually translates to the paper or computerized test situation. Here are some ideas:

1- Build test-taking familiarity. Throughout the year, provide students with tests similar to the format and test-taking conditions they will encounter on the state tests. I was once struggling with an earth science course (I admit I didn’t pay attention in class). I bought the state’s practice book, took the first test and scored a 20%. Without looking up the incorrect answers, I took all of the tests in the practice book. I then went on to take the actual test and scored in the high 80s. Familiarity with the test helped me greatly. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students are used to working collaboratively, talking, moving around, putting their names on a help board. None of this resembles the test-taking formality of standardized tests. Teachers must simulate test-taking conditions prior to state tests to ensure students are not overwhelmed by the situation so much that they can’t put what’s in their brains on the answer sheet.

2 – Build a “can do” attitude about strategic test-taking: looking for clues and insights to reading the questions and answering them; knowing where to place an emphasis. Use a superhero approach that fits for the age level, like _____ School’s Mutant Ninja TestTakers. Imagine if students considered the characters and their strengths, and related that level of grit to test-taking success! Imagine if they went into the test with superhero powers on their mind.

3 – Inspire your students with positivity! The worst thing you can do to a losing team is tell them they’re losers; that just demoralizes them. Coach Belichick didn’t go into the locker room at half time and tear down his team; he told them to “keep doing what we’re doing; play like we know how to play and not to think about what happened.” He inspired them to achieve the greatness he knew was inside them. Pump up your students to let the world know how much they know. You may have heard of the teacher who wrote inspirational #growthmindsetmessages on students’ desks. On test day some schools are known to have their teachers line up at the entrance and high-five students as they’re walking in.

4 – Get students learning from students! Students in Jessica Lutzke Heck’s class at Chester W. Taylor Elementary School take their roles as peer experts very seriously. They must first be vetted by Jessica to ensure that they know the content well enough to teach it. (Create a vetting quiz of questions like those on standardized tests.) Then they must submit a lesson plan consisting of four items:

  • The example they will use to instruct the group in the skill and the points they will make
  • The example they will use for guided practice
  • The example they will use for independent practice
  • How they will assess their group’s mastery of the skill

Identify key content and set up your students to teach one another through a week or two of small-group, mini-lessons using a student sign-up process. Imagine just lots of small group sessions run by students. Students learn well from one another; and they learn by teaching others. Ensure all students have the opportunity to conduct a small-group, mini-lesson.

5 – Prepare for greatness! Share with your students how great athletes prepare for competition: get a good night’s sleep; eat a good (non sugary) breakfast; and drink water (all good for the brain.) Inspire them to be as great as they are. In preparation for the test, try this activity. First, cover your desks/tables with butcher paper on which to write. Then put students into groups of 3-4 and ask them to recall everything they’ve learned this year about the subject, discuss it as a group, and write it on the paper. Challenge them to see how much they can fill in within 15 minutes. Then ask one student at each table to stay while everyone else moves to new tables. Let the remaining student answer any questions about what is on the paper for the others, then have them all continue to add content. After three rounds, bring the group together and comment on your observations: how much they remembered, key insights they may have had, and talk about any content that was glaringly missing. Let students know that they know what’s on the test: they just have to let it out!

Sometimes it’s not a matter of students not knowing content; it’s a matter of familiarity with the situation, and grit! OK, as the state tests approach, go change the world!

Rigor Through Convergence: Next Gen Science, ELA, and Math Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer an opportunity to build academic rigor in ELA and math. Schools tend to address content by subject, with separate programs and texts for each subject. The brain thrives on making connections. “To learn new knowledge, a person must build on information that is already stored in the brain” (Erica Cerino). If students make connections to prior knowledge and to knowledge gained across subject areas, they will solidify learning at deeper levels.

The NGSS include a set of Crosscutting Concepts that focus on important learning that transcends the disciplines. For example, patterns are an important part of understanding science in the world around you. They are also an integral part of understanding ELA and math. Consider these related primary standards:

Another key concept is that of cause-and-effect relationships. Here are some examples from grades 3-5 ELA and math standards:

And another is stability and change, with examples from middle school:

You can leverage the convergence of these standards in your instruction, pointing out the crosscutting themes in all of the subjects students are studying. Ask students questions about each subject area based on these concepts. To get started, use this planning sheet (if you are not an IDEportal subscriber, just click demo at the bottom of the screen) to review the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts and consider the connections to your ELA and math standards.

Make learning more meaningful; connect ELA and math to science; and change the world!


Technology Mindset Shift: From Means to End

If you’ve read my book, It’s Not What You Teach But How, you’ll know I promote focusing on the ends over the means of standards. It’s easy to focus on the means, or the effort, without focusing on the end, or the results. Let’s not make this mistake with educational technology.

My systems analyst days

People in the business world use technology to accomplish their goals. Few, if any, tout how many computers they have; rather, they use them seamlessly and purposefully toward a greater goal. In 1981, I made a side-trip from teaching to work as a systems analyst. Day one I was handed my terminal (precursor to today’s Chromebook; a gateway to a bigger computer.) I don’t think any of us bragged over our 1:1 environment; we didn’t focus on it at all. Instead, we focused on the software we were designing with it; the interoffice communication it allowed, and analyzing data.

Yet in the educational world, we tend to lead with “we’re 1:1,”  “we’re BYOD,” “we’re a GAFE district,” “we have a Mac graphic design lab,” and so forth. In reality, all of this means little unless you’re using it to develop students who can think at high levels, communicate well, collaborate, problem solve, and exhibit the skills and attitudes needed for their future. Don’t get me wrong, schools should have a lot of technology available for students and educators — a lot! The possibilities for the advancement of achievement are unparalleled. Just don’t stop at the inventory.

The greatest gift given to me by my stint in the design and coding world was that I returned to teaching with a mindset of ends-based computing: what are we doing with it? Over the years, I’ve categorized computer use in a variety of ways, including my Tech Hierarchy and Ten Characteristics of a ‘NetCentric Society. One, the Categories of Tech Infusion, offers seven ways in which students interact with computer technology in the learning process. (Note: this is not about the creation and design process; that’s another topic!) Let’s look at these categories through the lens of results.

As schools work to build skills in executive function, the information management aspect of technology can be extremely powerful. Teach students naming conventions for files so they can easily find them later, how to manage their documents, how to bookmark web pages, how to use an online calendar, and more. … What? You struggle with these skills too? See how important they are?

If you want students to master the ELA skills of the standards, they need to be immersed in an environment of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. A silent blog (students all discuss an issue at the same time, online, in silence) allows everyone to engage in the conversation (as opposed to just those whose hands are up.) Students need to read and respond to others: it’s real time, it’s engaging, it builds communication skills, and it gets them ready for Twitter chats! 😉

Sometimes, two heads are better than one, but only when they truly collaborate rather than trying to convince one another to switch sides. Collaboration skills are complex but so worthy of being taught. Cloud-based Apps that allow students and teachers to offers suggestions and comments, and to co-create, build a “felt need” for collaborative skills. With technology, students can not only collaborate with students in the classroom, but with those in other classrooms, schools, cities, countries, solar systems. . . (Ok, maybe not solar systems … yet!)

There are many experiences that are not available to students in schools, such as traveling in space or to the bottom of the ocean, engaging in a revolution, managing a city, building an amusement park, blood typing on a crime scene, and more. But these are all available through simulations. Simulations are powerful for building understanding of content, cause-and-effect relationships, and unintended consequences. I’m thinking many of us should use auto simulators before heading out on the road!

Students spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to wear, what backpack they want to carry, what language they want to use, and more. Why? Because they are appealing to an audience: in these cases, an audience of their peers. Nothing says “pay attention to detail” better than an audience. When students produce for an audience beyond the teacher, they tend to focus more on the quality of their work; and, they experience the power of one’s voice being heard. There are many websites where students can publish their writing and ideas anonymously (anonymity is a must!)

Building an understanding of concepts and skills requires grappling: struggling and wrestling with content. Teachers’ wonderful explanations just don’t do it. If you’re going to learn to swim, you have to get in the water! Provide students with ample time to explore content, solutions, and ideas. I recently saw a fifth grade teacher trigger students’ awareness by asking how the students’ plants (science experiment) were going to survive over winter break without anyone to water them. I asked a student if he ever heard of the term aqua globe? He immediately looked it up on computer and was excited to find the term, which led him to read more about the concept. He returned from lunch with a plastic soda bottle, armed with the grit to make one himself. He watched YouTube videos; he thought through different ideas, researching more and more. He presented his teacher and classmates with his idea for feedback. This powerful learning experience was made possible by the availability of technology to explore concepts and skills.

Gaining popularity are 3-D Virtual Environments, which are related to simulations. The two differences are that they are three-dimensional, in that you feel like you are actually in the environment, walking around, driving, etc.; and that you often interact with other live human beings as opposed to just a computer. There are virtual environments that are just simulations with better graphics; but there are also those through which you engage with others who are online at the same time as avatars, for maximum engagement! It’s not mainstream in schools yet, but just wait!

I hope these categories will help you to think through the opportunities you offer students to build higher levels of content understanding and application. You can access a blank grid for brainstorming on the IDEportal — our online instructional resource for student-driven learning.

If you’re headed to FETC 2017 in Orlando, find us at booth 2440. If you’re headed to Techspo 2017 in Atlantic City, find us at booth 104. For a look at our presentations at both, visit the news section of our website.

Hour of Code for Raising Student Achievement

As a former computer programmer, who believes that programmers run the world, I have a particular fondness for the first full week in December, known as “Hour of Code.” Coding deserves a lot more respect than it gets for raising overall student achievement.

Coding is the art and science of giving commands to a computer to make something happen. For students, it often focuses on moving characters or objects around a screen to accomplish some task, or giving commands to a robotic device to have it carry out specific tasks, such as picking up an object or moving. The Hour of Code site has many coding activities in which students (and you) can engage.

You can think of Hour of Code as an introduction to the field of computer science. However, the academic skills students will build during that hour are powerful. First, they will be exercising many executive function skills. The highlighted skills below are just some that stand out; you could actually highlight almost every executive function skill as being addressed through coding. As you plan or use existing coding activities, map them to executive function skills to see how you robust your coding activities really are.


Coding also building reasoning skills, which are essential to student achievement. Here are just three types of reasoning supported by coding:


For a more comprehensive list of types of reasoning skills, visit the changing minds website.

Try some of this year’s Hour of Code activities and think through how each one builds executive function and reasoning skills, both key to increasing student achievement. Then consider building coding opportunities into your classroom or course throughout the year. Promote coding; change the world!

#LATICinsights True North

Illustration of old fashioned nautical compass, isolated on brown background.

In navigation, “true north” is the direction to the Earth’s axis. It differs slightly from a compass’ magnetic north, and from a map’s grid north. So it takes some reflection, calculation, and adjustment to find. In life, the metaphor plays out to mean finding one’s authentic life and living it to one’s fullest potential. So I thought I’d relate it to the plight of a teacher running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, in relentless pursuit of the greater purpose of ensuring learning for all students.

In #LATIC, true north would be a set of beliefs to which you are striving, always pointing. They include:

  • All students can learn at high levels; it is a teacher’s job to help them figure out their personal path to success.
  • Engagement is key to learning: not compliant engagement merely through activity choice, but that which comes from grappling with real world problems that give purpose to instructional activities.
  • Students must be empowered through responsibility and choice in order to build executive function and be prepared for life beyond school.
  • Direct instruction in rigorous content is essential and is provided through carefully crafted learning activities; web-based activities; how-to sheets; and small-group, mini-lessons.
  • A teacher’s role during class is to facilitate: ask probing questions, challenge thinking at deeper levels, gather assessment data to drive further activities, and be a key part of a student’s learning process.

As you continue to design and perfect your classroom learning environment, keep your sights on true north. Check the daily decisions you make against the beliefs held by Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Teachers.


Learner-Active, Technology-Infused School Named 2016 National Blue Ribbon Winner

IDE Corp. is very pleased to announce that a long-time valued client, Icahn Charter School 4 in the Bronx, NY, has been named one of ten NYC schools selected as 2016 National Blue Ribbon Winners.  The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes “outstanding public and non-public schools” and “celebrates some of the most skilled and effective educators in the country”.


Icahn Charter School 4 has been named an “Exemplary High Performing School” which the Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon program website describes as “schools that have their state’s highest high school graduation rates and the highest achieving students (the top 15%) in English and mathematics, measured by state assessments”.

Learn more about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

Founded by Dr. Nancy Sulla, IDE Corp. offers a comprehensive instructional model that is the synthesis of the best research available on student achievement. IDE consultants work with school districts around the country to help them shift paradigms and design new approaches to instruction.  IDE Corp. has been providing instructional and organizational consulting to schools since 1987.

#LATICinsights: Protocols for Powerful Engagement

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, the teacher is a “bridge builder,” creating structures that allow students to take charge of their own learning. It’s important to ensure that at any point in time, you can look at a student and know what is going on in that student’s mind. Is real learning taking place?

Protocols can help! A protocol is a set of guidelines for interaction. A strong #LATIC bridge builder provides students with protocols. A direction sheet with clear steps to follow to complete an activity is a protocol for how students will engage with information toward learning. As students engage in group work and discussions, protocols can ensure that they are getting the most out of the experience.

You can teach students proper “rules of engagement” for discussions to make them productive. Once students build the skills, they will be able to schedule and engage in discussions on their own. Here is an example of a protocol for a group discussion (If you would like a pdf of this protocol and the others mentioned in here, please contact us using the box on the right.):


This protocol references a placemat activity to begin the discussion and a Six Hats and PMI chart for consensus building.

Thnsrflogoe National School Reform Faculty has a great collection of protocols to use with students. The key is to provide the “bridge” structures to allow students to take charge of their own learning.

That frees up the teacher to facilitate and engage in important discussions around content rather than organizing student action. Empower your students; change the world!





#LATICinsights The Power of Understanding

Learning means building knowledge that will empower you in your future; it means understanding a concept or skill to the point where you can apply it to novel situations throughout your life. As students engage in various assignments and activities, ask yourself to what extent each will lead to building an understanding of content that will lead to application. 

Let’s look at understanding. Most teaching in the past was for “procedural automaticity.” For example, what is the area of the garden below?


Most people have learned that area equals length times width; so multiply 15 by 25 and you have the answer. Memorizing a procedure and applying it to similar questions is procedural automaticity; it does not require understanding.

Suppose you want to know the plantable area of the garden, how would you calculate that?


If you understand the concept of area and how to calculate it, you would realize that you would find the total area of the garden and then subtract the area of the walkway in order to determine the plantable area. To figure that out, you had to understand area.

In another question, you might find a smaller garden attached to one side, thus requiring a different calculation.


In my book, It’s Not What You Teach But How, I introduce the term “novelity” as being the ability to apply learning to novel situations, which requires a level of understanding.

As students engage in various activities, ask yourself:

  1. Am I offering “learning activities” that ensure students are receiving direct instruction and opportunities to explore concepts and skills.
  2. Am I asking questions of individual students to push their level of understanding? Ex: “What if …?” “Explain how you know your answer is correct?”
  3. Am I offering students very different follow-up problems to which to apply the learning?
  4. Am I asking students to explain their learning?

Teach for understanding! Change the world!

#LATICinsights: Cultivating Rigor

When you first learn to design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you are faced with the paradigm shift of launching each unit of study with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve. You start by thinking through the problems students could solve at the end of a five-week unit if they learned everything. Designing the problem-based task statement is just the beginning.

Imagine the task as the gift box that excites students to delve into all of the rich and diverse opportunities to learn. Your next step, therefore, is to fill the unit by building a collection of learning opportunities. My latest video discusses this metaphor in more detail.

Learning opportunities include whole-class lessons, small-group lessons, teacher facilitation, and learning activities. Much of the learning in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom takes place through learning activities, rather than teacher dissemination of knowledge through lessons. Unlike activities to practice learning, learning activities should be narrowly focused on a skill or concept, include step-by-step direct instruction, and provide the student with some level of feedback. When designing learning activities, consider the following:

  • What is the grade level standard to be met?
    • All students must meet this standard.
  • What prerequisites would be needed?
    • Some students may need help in mastering prerequisites first, but they cannot stop there; they must achieve the grade level standard.
  • What learning activities can you find or design that provide concept exploration or direct instruction in skills, including a variety of learning modalities, related to the standard?
    • Differentiation should include not only cognitive differences, but learning style differences.
  • What supports/scaffolding could you put in place for students, such as partner work, how-to sheet or video, peer expert board, help board, and teacher facilitation?
    • Once involved in an activity, how can you ensure students will meet with success?

Rigor means ensuring that all students are learning at high levels of understanding and application of at least the grade-level standards. With LATIC students taking greater responsibility for their learning, teachers are freed up to engage more powerfully through facilitation toward greater rigor. Make your gift to your students complete with powerful opportunities to learn. Change the world!