IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Clarkstown, NY Superintendent of Schools Shares His LATI Classroom Workshop Experience

Mr. Martin D. Cox, superintendent of Clarkstown Central School District attended the first day of an IDE Corp. Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom workshop for teachers.  Mr. Cox shared his experience in his blog on the district website.

TR Rathjen, Instructional Strategies Specialist, launched the day in the Felix Festa Middle School library, the first of six sessions, with a quote from Albert Einstein, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Mr. Cox described this as “a powerful way to begin a training workshop”.

In his blog post, Mr. Cox also shared a quote from Dr. Michael St. John, Secondary Curriculum Coordinator, who said “at today’s session, TR provided a powerful experience, modeling the LATI Classroom and engaging our teacher participants as if they were students within the model”.  Dr. St. John continued, claiming that “it was an exciting and enriching day for our teachers”.

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.



Rethinking Success: Engagement, Empowerment, & Efficacy

Like it or not, to most schools, achievement means strong performance on state tests. Some claim to value life preparation and social/emotional growth over test scores, but that never plays well in the annual newspaper articles. What if you could have it all? What if you could rethink success and have happy, healthy, excited students from all walks of life, with strong test scores?

I love to build sand castles, particularly with young children; and I usually start with a large hole in the middle that hits the water (easier to retrieve wet sand.) I begin by sharing a vision and a dream of a sand castle; then I share the news that if we dig dequoteep enough, we will hit water. The dream of hitting water from the sand on the shore is usually all it takes to engage my building partner. As the hole grows, there are skills to retrieving the wet sand and building up the walls. I coach in those skills and share my belief in my building partner’s ability to carry them out (empowerment). Finally, the walls are in place and we begin the work of carving with shells (my dad always told me you carve away everything that doesn’t look like a castle.) Soon, the castle begins to emerge. Now, my building partner spreads wings, creates, and shines with self-belief (efficacy) and the castle grows more and more awesome until there is no more sunlight to guide us.

One of my favorite quotes:

build a shipIf you want an increase in test scores, don’t drum up teachers and coaches to gather up resources and teach to the test. Instead, teach them to long for a day when their students are self-confident, responsible, and excited about learning. Your strong test scores will emerge. Make these your goals:

Engage students with authentic, open-ended, problems to tackle related to the content to get them in “flow“: get them grappling! Instead of focusing on the skill; focus on where they will use that skill and start there (flip the triangle!)

Empower students by giving them increasing responsibility for their own learning. Let them decide which activities to pursue and when in order to learn the skills they need to accomplish the task that has engaged them.

Build their efficacy through leveling up activities that continue to offer them success, building a belief in their ability to achieve a goal. Let them self-assess, set goals, and accomplish their goals. Essentially, facilitate their learning.

If you aim for engagement, empowerment, and efficacy, your students will be proud, happy, and loving learning; and your test scores will rise! Perhaps success for our students is, in fact, engagement, empowerment, and efficacy.

Triggering Awareness: A Path to Learning

Imagine teaching a short lesson to introduce students to the concept of a preposition:

Prior to the lesson, on the whiteboard, write the same sentence four times:  The book is _____ the desk. Stand by a desk and hold up a book, asking students to identify the desk and the book. “These are two things, or as we have learned, nouns. Nouns are persons, places, and things. “Now watch me.” Place the book on the desk. “Where is the book?” When the students say on the desk, fill in the first blank with the word on. “How about now?” Place the book on the floor under the desk. When the students say under, fill in the second blank with the word under. “And now?” Place the book in the desk. As students respond, fill in the second blank with the word in. “This one is a little trickier. What do you think? Where is the book now?” And hold the book above the desk. Students may say over or above. Some may say floating, but press them to identify where. Fill in the remaining blank. “I have the same two nouns written four times, but that one word makes all the difference in your understanding where the book is in relation to the desk. That word describes the relationship between the book and the desk. This part of speech is called a preposition, and it helps describe a relationship.” 

You might then offer an exploration of a preposition that explains a time relationship, such as, “I like to read _____ lunch.” You could fill in before, during, or after. You might discuss how such words help an author convey meaning and describe situations, and how they help the reader have a better understanding of the meaning of text.

Over a period of ten minutes, you might explore several of these with your students. In the end, students will become aware of the set of words that describe relationships between other words in a sentence. Note that you did not introduce the list of the twenty or so most common prepositions; you didn’t explain how to find the preposition in a sentence; and you didn’t show students how to identify prepositional phrases, nor that a preposition is followed by a noun. What you did was “trigger awareness” that such a category of words exist, that they help a writer more clearly describe a situation, and that they help a reader better understand the meaning of a passage of text. You introduced the power of prepositions to convey meaning, which will be important to students as they read and write. Students will then engage in a variety of instructional activities, targeted to their readiness level and learning styles, to tackle the skill of working with prepositions.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (Students Taking Charge, 2011), this short, whole-group lesson to “trigger awareness” in students of skills, concepts, and content is called the Benchmark Lesson. It is a powerful strategy to motivate and prepare learners to dig more deeply into concepts, skills, and content.

While the efficiency-driven, factory model of education propelled the practice of teaching skills from the front of the room to a large group of students, the reality of the learning process points to how ineffective this practice is.

  1. Lev Vygotsky introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): We all have a current body of knowledge, knowledge that we are ready to learn (ZPD), and that which we are cognitively not ready to learn (the Distal Zone.) Effective instruction would target a students’ Proximal Zone, which would be impossible when teaching to a large group of students.
  2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book, Flow, explaining that we are most engaged in learning when the activity offered is just above our ability level. Again, this is not possible when teaching to a large group of students.
  3. Caleb Gattegno sums up the connection between teaching and learning in his famous phrase, “only awareness is educable.” He purported that a teacher cannot teach a student anything; the teacher triggers awareness; the student is then driven to learn and must personally construct meaning.
  4. Albert Einstein said ,”I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.”

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, teachers do not attempt to teach skills from the front of the room, even for short periods of time, as this will frustrate some and bore others. They use short, whole-group sessions to trigger awareness of concepts related to learning. Even if a student already knows the concept, the lesson challenges them to draw on what they know and expand their ideas moreso than when teaching skills; and fewer students become frustrated with a well-crafted Benchmark Lesson.

South Orangetown, NY Students Go Back to School and to the LATI Classroom

SOCSD_RocklandTimesArticle8-18-2016In its August 18th, 2016 edition, the Rockland County Times states that the “South Orangetown School Administration has been working this summer on a valuable series of initiatives to enhance student achievement for the 2016-2017 academic year.” The newspaper quotes Dr. Robert Pritchard, Superintendent of the South Orangetown Central School District as saying, “We want students to exercise the part of their brains that allow them to solve problems that have yet to be solved. Integrating the arts, sciences and humanities fosters creativity and innovation for young learners.”

Dr. Pritchard goes on to describe the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as a place where “students are ‘empowered’ to take responsibility for setting goals, scheduling time, using resources and making decisions. They are more focused and get involved with problem-solving on open-ended situations by working independently or with their classmates.”

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.

Transformational vs. Transactional Learning

Whether in the classroom or teachers’ professional development, the instructional goal should be transformational learning rather than transactional learning.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  • Transaction: “an occurrence in which [something] is passed from one person … to another”
  • Transformation: “a complete or major change in someone’s … appearance, form, etc.”

Much of today’s instruction, whether for students or teachers, involves someone having information and passing it on to another. The time and method are usually controlled by the instructor, and the instructor usually engages in some form of direct instruction with the hopes that the learner will now possess the information as well. However, I don’t believe that learning should be a matter of filling up a brain, particularly in today’s world when the Internet acts as your external brain.

blog quoteI believe learning should be life-changing. Each learning experience should spark in learners that “aha” moment where they begin making connections, asking “what if?” questions that spur further learning, driven by their own “felt need” to master the content. As they learn, they should feel accomplished, capable, and intrigued to learn more.

As we shift teachers’ mindsets about the role of teacher, thus creating a transformation in them, school learning environments become more transformational. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, learning begins with an overarching authentic, problem-based task that drives a “felt need” for learning. Teachers crea
te, as Einstein onBlog quote 1ce said, the conditions under which students learn. They design learning activities that are not necessarily assigned, but rather are available. They don’t dictate student action, they guide students in self-assessing and making effective decisions as to how they will learn. Teachers transform students from receivers of information to designers of their own learning paths.

The road to transformational learning begins with transformational professional development. All educators hold mindsets (paradigms, mental models, etc.) about teaching. Your mindsets are formed from your past experiences; they reflect your beliefs and guide your actions. They drive your cause-and-effect thinking. No one can “tell” you to take on a new mindset; you have to engage in experiences that cause you to challenge your own mindset and form new beliefs, thus shifting your mindset.

Powerful mindsets include:

Transformational PD shapes teachers’ mindsets. It engages them in personal experiences that cause them to rethink their belief systems.

If you are planning PD for others, think about how you can move away from transactional activities to transformational activities. Decide what mindset you want to create and model it throughout your workshop.

Pursue that which is transformational!

Greetings from ASCD 2016

At ASCD 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia, people are talking about:

Screenshot 2016-04-03 at 3.46.26 PM

We’re enjoying the many great conversations with old friends and new.

ascdpic01 ascdpic04 PeeDee2016




Pedro Noguera: “How do we teach teachers to make their classrooms come to life?” “Good teaching takes art and skill.” “Equity is the issue of our times.”

Carol Dweck: “Growth mindset isn’t just about praising effort.”

Manny Scott: “Student Voice – help them find it as the world needs to hear it!”

In light of this, our favorite shares of the conference:

Great conference! See you next year.




From Best Practices to Systems Practices

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.” This speaks of the shift from teacher as the purveyor of information to that of an architect of a complex environment in which students learn; a shift from “teacher as ferry” to “teacher as bridge builder.” How does one create the conditions under which students learn?

Schools place considerable focus on best practices, which are necessary but not sufficient for creating the conditions under which students learn. Best practices are often approached as individual strategies for supporting student learning. Consider some best practices that would create the conditions under which students learn:

  • Using problem-based learning to launch a unit of study creates a “felt need” for students to learn, thus motivating them to pursue curricular goals.
  • Using an analytic rubric to provide students with clearly articulated expectations offers them a sense of responsibility for self-assessing, setting goals, and pursuing nodesthose goals.
  • Developing a set of rich and diverse opportunities to learn, including multiple pathways to the same objective, based on learning modalities, provides students with the differentiation necessary to ensure that all students learn at high levels.
  • Allowing students to schedule their own time empowers them to make decisions about when and how they will pursue individual learning goals.

These seem like worthy practices; however, the power of these practices lies in their interconnectedness, their interdependence. The key to creating the conditions under which students learn is in creating a systems-based classroom.

Consider the four best practices mentioned above. Teachers can build their ability to employ each of these, and, no doubt, this would enhance the instructional process. However, looking at these practices as independent strategies or structures falls short of creating the conditions under which students learn. What is needed is systems-thinking: how does each component of the classroom affect every other component of the classroom?

Fig Str 2 in progress

To determine the health of a system, you look not at the nodes; you look at the lines. It is in the interdependencies that one creates a strong, effective system for learning.

For illustrative purposes, this diagram presents just four of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, designed to put students in charge of their own learning by creating the conditions under which they learn. The actual system includes many more nodes and lines. In order for students to take charge of their own learning, teachers must view the classroom as a self-sustaining, interdependent system.

First, think about the classroom as a system of interdependent components and identify the relationships among the components. You can then start building a system that removes the teacher from the position of “ferry master” and, instead, creates the conditions under which students learn.

Break the Cycle: Shifting the “How” of Math Instruction

In spite of mounting research on how the brain learns, math instruction often falls into the category of, “we’ve always done it this way.” Guest blogger Shané Beauford shares her experiences in shifting math instruction . . . 


A mother is cooking a ham dinner. She cuts off the end of the ham, places the larger piece in the pan, and begins to roast it. Her young daughter says, “Mommy, why do you cut off the end of the ham?” Mom responds, “You know, I’m not sure but my mother always did that. Go ask grandma.” The young girl goes into the living room and asks her grandmother the same question. The response is, “I don’t know; my mom did that so I did too,” and she turned to her great-grandmother and asked why. The elderly woman responded, “Well, otherwise it wouldn’t fit in my roasting pan!”

– Dr. Nancy Sulla, Students Taking Charge (pg 2-3)

Shané Beauford

Shané Beauford

Math instruction today might be reflected in this humorous anecdote. How has math instruction changed over the years? Thinking back on the math classes I took and when I taught math, the structure of the classes were not that different.

  1. Students begin bell work or get started
  2. Teacher reviews the homework from the night before with the whole class
  3. Teacher presents new lesson to the whole class
  4. Teacher gives guided practice questions to students, and teacher reviews them with whole class
  5. Teacher assigns independent practice questions to assess students’ knowledge of the material just learned
  6. Teacher assigns homework from the section – probably the even questions so that students don’t have access to the answers in the back of the text

How is it, that the teaching and learning of mathematics has looked relatively the same for 50+ years? I was taught using that model, my teacher was taught from that model, so on and on; therefore the tradition must continue, right? Who will break the cycle?

As I reflected on this anecdote and my own teaching, I began to realize that my students were not all benefiting from this type of instruction. Two main issues emerged: the lack of differentiation and the lack of student buy-in to the content being taught.

When teaching whole group, I was teaching to the middle. I wasn’t reaching my struggling learners nor was I pushing the learning of my high achieving students. Considering this, I made some changes to my math classroom.

First, after gathering some action research data, I no longer reviewed homework as whole class. Students would group together to review a few questions and I would offer small group instruction for students who needed extra assistance. I reduced the time I was spending instructing students in whole group homework review, maximizing the time for teaching new skills, which led to better homework results.

Second, students had been compliant in the learning process, but not actively engaged. It was no wonder that at the start of each school year, I was confused as to why students hadn’t retained the math they learned the previous year. They had no connection to the content; they had not bought into it. What if, in lieu of going section by section through a math text, I engaged students in solving 10 authentic problems throughout the year? In order for them to solve these multi-layered problems they would need to use varied concepts of mathematics; for example, a unit in which students are asked to create a budget for a trip causes them to need and learn about decimals, measurement conversions and simple equations. What a change that would be! Students would have a “felt need” to learn (and retain) those math concepts because they connect to something that is real. Students would see the “why” in the math concepts.

Just those two modifications can shift the “how” of math instruction toward higher achievement and better retention.

1:1 Classrooms: The Case for Rethinking “School”

Change is hard! It requires some paradigm shifting; that is, a rethinking of the “why” in order to decide on the best “how.” A new technology, such as the ability to put a computing device into the hands of every student, offers tremendous possibilities. However, unless it’s coupled with new thinking, it could just produce a fancier version of the same old approach. This dilemma is not unique to schools, however. Here’s a fun look back in time . . .

With the invention of the gasoline-powered engine came the “horseless carriage,” better known as the automobile. Prior to this, people used horse drawn carriages to travel. The picture below is of a 1902 Lambert, among the first automobiles to be manufactured.

1902Lambert Note that this automobile was steered by a tiller, fastened at the front center of the passenger compartment. Prior to the development of the gasoline powered engine, the driver held the reins of the horse and moved them from side to side; so now the driver had a metal bar to simulate that movement. Of course, without the horses, there was no need for this sweeping left-right motion, but it felt comfortable and perhaps it was hard to see another way. Within a few years, steering wheels replaced tillers. Note the headlamps. Rather than hanging lanterns on the front of the carriage, the new automobile sported headlamps that looked just like those lanterns. Again, they were soon replaced by larger, round lights.

This picture is a fun look at how, as humans, we tend to fit new technologies into our current way of thinking. If you’re involved in a 1:1 technology initiative, be careful to avoid fitting those computing devices into your current “how” of learning. They’re not pencils, books, notebooks, or teachers. They have the power to allow us to rethink classroom processes to meet the needs of all learners.

See our view of technology infusion and our technology hierarchy.