IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Start the Year With a Priming Plan

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom students take charge of their own learning, guided by a masterful teacher who puts a bridge in place to ensure their success. That first week or two of school is your opportunity to prime your students for success in your classroom. The Priming Plan is the key to a powerful and rewarding school year.


There are three things you should accomplish in your Priming Plan:

  1. Have students build familiarity with all of the structures you will use to put them in charge of their own learning.
  2. Build in them a sense that they can succeed at high levels.
  3. Gather some assessment data regarding both academics and social interaction to use to make decisions.



Your classroom is outfitted with a resource table, help board, peer expert board, and other structures to support learning. Students will use rubrics to drive their learning, activity lists to access rich and diverse opportunities to learn what’s on the rubric, and folders to organize their work and communicate with you. They will sign up for small-group, mini-lessons and limited resources. They will negotiate with their peers to set times for group work, pairs work, and individual work, and note that on a schedule they’ll create to guide their actions. Your classroom will be set up with various areas, and maybe even flexible seating options, so that students will have a place to work quietly, join a small-group mini-lesson, have a discussion, work collaboratively, and more. Find a creative way to engage students in learning all of this. Consider a scavenger hunt with areas set up with how-to sheets or videos made by you or past students. Create an adventure where they have to find the clues to solve a mystery. Write a book or story about your room where students fill in parts related to how they work as they explore the classroom. Start with an easy rubric and activity list to help them through the early days. (For more on the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, read Students Taking Charge.) 


Students’ Belief in Themselves

John Bargh conducted research in which he had college students walk down a hallway to a testing room, unscramble words into sentences, and walk out of the room and back down the hallway. Students who unscrambled words that related to old age, such as shuffleboard, bingo, Florida, and retirement, were primed with old age; they left the room walking more slowly than their peers who unscrambled words that did not prime them for old age. Malcolm Gladwell shares powerful stories from research about priming students in chapter 2 of his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, referencing the phenomenon of “priming” — using auditory, visual, or tactile cues to nonconsciously shape behavior and thought. The words you use, whatever hangs on your walls, and the way you arrange your classroom all send messages to your students. How will you prime them for success? Have them pick out favorite quotes? Fill your room with gritty phrases? Have them write about the things they are good at? Consider using a Great Student Rubric (check out all three versions on the IDEportal) rather than hanging a list or rules to which they must comply. Spend time priming students to feel good about themselves and their prospects for the year.


Assessment Data

Your curriculum has prerequisites that you assume students have learned in prior grades. Find out! Offer short quizzes and activities to determine how prepared your students are for your curricular goals. Capture data on students’ learning habits and executive function skills. Rather than engaging a group of students for the entire Priming Plan, as you would in an Authentic Learning Unit (ALU), have students engage with one another through a variety of pairings and groupings. Get a sense of the students who work well together and whose styles complement one another. This will help you set your home groups for the first ALU.

While you may not dive into curricular content as quickly as you might otherwise, the time you spend ensuring the students understand how to use all of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom and building a sense of ownership over their learning will leave you well ahead of your prior pacing after a month or two into the school year.

A well-designed Priming Plan will make your year!  Here’s a planning guide to help you. Go change the world!


See also, “Starting the School Year: Priming Plan vs. First ALU

IDE Corp. to Present at NJASA 2017 Spring Leadership Conference in Atlantic City

IDE Corp is pleased to announce that it will be presenting at the NJASA 2017 Spring Leadership Conference taking place on May 17 – 19, 2017 at Caesars in Atlantic City, NJ.

“Creating the Conditions for a School-wide Student-Driven Culture” will be presented by Dr. Lee Nittel, Superintendent of Canfield Avenue School in Mine Hill Township and Dan Gross, Director of Client Relations of IDE Corp. on Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 1:15pm.

“Engagement, Empowerment, and Efficacy: Student-Driven Instruction in Action” will be presented by Ms. Jennifer Fano, Superintendent of Randolph Township Schools, Ms. Danielle Soldivieri, Director of Elementary Education of Randolph Township Schools, and Dr. Nancy Sulla, President of IDE Corp. on Friday, May 19, 2017 at 1:15pm.

Please stop by booth 6 to say hello and learn more about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom™.

Dr. Nancy Sulla is the Founder and President of IDE Corp. — Innovative Designs for Education — an educational consulting firm focusing on instructional innovation. She is the creator of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, taking a systems approach to creating student-centered, problem-based classrooms. Dr. Sulla is also the author of two books: It’s Not What You Teach But How: Making the CCSS Work for You and Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

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.

The #LATIC-RTI-UDL Convergence

How do you ensure that all students achieve at the highest level, thus opening myriad doors for their future? Three popular frameworks converge beautifully to provide the “secret sauce.”

IDE Corp.’s Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (#LATIC) is a framework for designing student-driven classrooms: it puts students in charge of their own learning to produce greater results. The key is to shift paradigms from “teacher as ferry” to “teacher as bridge builder.” (For more, read Students Taking Charge.) At the core are three tenets:


Response to Intervention (RTI) is a framework to “maximize student achievement and reduce behavior problems,” targeting struggling students. The key is to shift paradigms from labeling students as unable to reach high levels to providing different instructional interventions to ensure success at high levels. At the core are four essential components:

from the Center on Response to Intervention

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom actually focuses on Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction in the same setting by reducing the amount of whole-class instruction in lieu of providing differentiated learning activities. Students, therefore, begin by working at their cognitive level and learning style. Teachers are constantly gathering formative assessment data to guide student choices and develop learning options. Where a student is struggling significantly (Tier 3), special education teachers can easily provide a student one-on-one instruction in the classroom. All students receive one-on-one instruction naturally in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as well. The intent is to teach differently from the start to reduce the need for extensive interventions. While RTI was designed to address issues found in conventional learning environments, it’s important still to recognize the different levels of intervention at work as they emerge in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom setting.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework “to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” The key is to provide access for all at the start of the teaching and learning process. A great visual for this is the difference between buildings that were designed for the ambulatory, later retrofitted for access (left building with added ramp), and buildings that were designed with access for all in mind (the Guggenheim Museum on the right with its infamous spiral walkway.) Apply that thinking to instruction and curriculum and you have the concept of UDL!

UDL includes three guidelines:

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom framework naturally includes these guidelines. Students are engaged through problem-based learning and by the teacher using structures that create a “felt need” for learning. Teachers design multiple learning activities to represent content at a variety of cognitive levels and through a variety of learning styles. Students set goals and schedule how they will use their time; they have options for how they will demonstrate learning. IDE Corp.’s UDL summary sheet from the IDEportal may help in ensuring a deliberate and purposeful learning environment.

Incorporating all three frameworks into the classroom creates a powerful and effective learning environment. Try it! 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!


#LATICinsights: Form Follows Function

The term “form follows function” derives from an article by American architect Louis Sullivan entitled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. To summarize the meaning:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

The influence of the factory-model of efficiency had a profound impact on schooling, in spite of the fact that churning out products has little to do with nurturing thinking. Classrooms today still resemble the factory approach of individual seats set in rows, though in recent decades schools have worked to modify that by clustering desks or placing them in a circle. What must happen, however, is that schools need to rethink the function of schooling and outfit classrooms accordingly.

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students engage in learning in a social environment, as collaborators as well as individual content masters. Students are actively engaged in a variety of activities throughout the day; and while short, whole-group lessons are a part of the day, they are nowhere near the bulk of the day. Therefore, the form of the classroom should address the various functions related to student work. Students can then move seats and sit in a variety of areas for the whole-group lesson. Here are a few considerations for furniture purchases:

1. To create a culture of collaboration, ensure an unbroken surface among collaborators. Round tables ensure that equals sit around a table with an unbroken surface, thus not designating any area as belong to any member, and not having any member at the head of a table. I recommend 42″ tables for most four-person collaborations as it allows for discussion with lower voices than the more common 48″ tables. A clover table is a great “hybrid” — students sit at the indent, 42″ apart, while surrounded by a little more table space with a 48″ diameter at the longest side.

2. For pairs discussions, and for speaking activities in a world language classroom, use smaller, 32″ café tables. A smaller table allows two students to converse with one another without adding to the overall noise level of the classroom. It provides a form that follows the function of a one-on-one conversation.

3. Consider high-top tables, particularly in middle schools. Students who are experiencing growth spurts and hormonal changes often need to move around and shift position during the class period. A high-top table allows students to continue to engage in learning whether they choose to stand or sit. While working, you’ll see students stand, sit, and stand again without interrupting the conversation.

4. For individual work, consider using some individual desks, perhaps placed in an area of the room away from the collaborative areas. Standing desks can be useful as well; a recent Forbes article pointed out the value of standing desks for energizing the brain.

5. For small-group discussions of, for example, the current problem students are trying to solve, consider soft-seating such as couches and comfy chairs so students are engaging in what feels more like a living room. Students can sign up to reserve the discourse center for their group work.

6. Teacher facilitation is an important part of the learning experience, and, while students are working, teachers should be moving around from table to table, area to area, to partner with them in the learning process. While facilitating, teachers should sit with students (or stand alongside them) rather than hover over them. To accommodate this activity, a stool makes a great seating option for the teacher. Teachers can carry around a lightweight stool or have several set up around the room.

7. For conferences; small-group, mini-lessons; and book discussions, you might want to use a rectangular table, allowing for a more formal environment with, perhaps, a group leader.

These are a few ideas for furniture that fits within the generally accepted ideas for classroom furniture. However, more and more school furniture companies today are developing unique options for various activities. Just consider the function, and find the appropriate form to match that function!

Here are some “tweeted” options from our client Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms (click on the image for the full tweet):




Desks with writeable surfaces


A variety of areas in third grade

Student-created areas

And more . . .


Starting the School Year: Priming Plan vs. First ALU

Note: if you click on a link to the IDEportal and are a subscriber, log in; otherwise, click demo mode.

The goal of engagement should be “minds-on” passionate entanglement with the task at hand. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, we achieve engagement through the use of real-world, problem-based tasks to launch a unit. Given a compelling, “non-Googleable,” problem to solve, students have a “felt need” to grapple with and learn curricular content. These Authentic Learning Units (ALUs) generally run three to six weeks and include collaborative aspects for brainstorming and pushing higher-order thinking. Engagement is enhanced by students being able to take responsibility for their own learning, not being held back by the teacher or classmates. It is enhanced by students having a growth mindset geared toward learning. How does a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom teacher set students up for powerful engagement?

On the first day of school, a teacher who is unfamiliar with the students’ knowledge levels, work habits, and personalities cannot effectively create productive groupings. Additionally, there are many structures and strategies inherent in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom that students must understand in order to take responsibility for their own learning. These include: reading a rubric to drive instruction, reading an activity list to select appropriate paths to success, scheduling time, using a folder for student-teacher communication, locating resources, effectively getting help when needed, and more.


Begin the year with a Priming Plan. Imagine students walking into class and immediately starting an activity with little overt direction from the teacher. Hearing from the teacher becomes one of several activities, as opposed to the dominant first order of the day. Students may walk in and be given a puzzle piece, a card with a question to answer, or some other means of identifying with others to form a small group. The group then follows a direction to retrieve a set of activities from a Resource Table, and the class has begun. After the first five or ten minutes, the activity schedule calls for the teacher to offer a short, introductory benchmark lesson to the whole class. Resuming with the activities, students may conduct a scavenger hunt of the room to identify various structures, such as the Help Board; Expert Board; small-group, mini-lesson area and sign-up sheet; discourse center; and more. They may sign out a book or computer, fill out forms, take a learning styles inventory, complete content assessments. The Priming Plan is used to introduce the structures of the classroom and gather early assessment data in a student-centered manner.

blinkThe Priming Plan should also be used to set students up for success by priming them for positivity and growth mindset. In chapter 2 of his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell shares research on the the phenomenon of “priming” — using auditory, visual, or tactile cues to nonconsciously shape behavior and thought.  He refers to research by John Bargh in which he has college students walk down a hallway to a testing room, unscramble words into sentences, and walk out of the room and back down the hallway. Students who unscrambled words that related to old age, such as shuffleboard, bingo, Florida, retirement, where primed with old age; they left the room walking more slowly than their peers who unscrambled words that did not prime them for old age.

To prime students for success, you can fill the walls with images and quotes of famous people who exemplify growth mindset. You can develop a Great Student Rubric that reflects growth mindset, and deliberately use language that fosters a growth mindset. You can engage students in designing the room.

With the start of a new year, begin by developing a one-to-two-week Priming Plan to prime students for success and to allow you to get to know your students. You’ll then launch your first Authentic Learning Unit a week or two into the school year, and students will be in a much better position to learn.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

I hope it’s been a great week of taking time to stop and thank a teacher! As this “focus” week comes to a close, let’s continue to remember how important teachers are to creating the future.

TeacherWeek_1As schools struggle with working to improve student achievement, the reaction seems to be teacher-proofing instruction: providing highly-scripted textbooks, school-wide pacing guides, printed curricular modules of lessons, and so forth. This can lead to teachers becoming human automatons and students becoming compliant order-followers.

When you walk into a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you see an environment in which students are taking charge of their own learning. Often, it’s hard to even find the teacher sitting among the students. But make no mistake, this powerful learning environment only emerges by the hand of a masterful teacher who serves as both architect and facilitator.

It takes hard work, time, and mental energy to design this classroom. It’s easier to deliver content than it is to create the conditions under which students will learn. We at IDE Corp. are fortunate enough to work with teachers every day who are taking on the challenge of making purposeful and deliberate decisions to design powerful instructional environments that are producing amazing results.

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom teacher is the epitome of the master teacher who:

  • Understands content at a deep level
  • Understands how children learn
  • Creates powerful pathways for students to travel to construct meaning
  • Empowers students to self-assess, set goals, and manage time using carefully-crafted structures put in place by the teacher

TeacherWeek_3The teacher considers the curriculum and identifies, or has students identify, authentic, open-ended problems to energize and inspire students to learn in order to solve the problems, establishing high expectations for academic rigor.

Rather than attempting to overtly control students, the masterful Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom teacher creates meaningful, respectful structures that enable students to take responsibility for their own learning. As students engage in the learning process, the teacher facilitates by asking questions that probe student thinking, pushing them to higher levels of understanding and metacognition. They gather formative assessment data and plan learning activities and small-group, mini-lessons based on the data. They believe it’s their responsibility to ensure that all students learn through rich and diverse learning activities to match cognitive levels and learning styles, and they don’t take that responsibility lightly.

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom honors teachers’ knowledge of content and the learning process and challenges them to design the most amazing “bridge” ever — each classroom slightly different from the next, reflecting the unique personality of a teacher. There’s no “teacher proofing” the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom — the teacher is everything! It’s just that from a student’s perspective, they think they’re doing it all themselves. 🙂

TeacherWeek_pull-quoteWe are so fortunate to work with thousands of amazing teachers who are continually innovating by redesigning their classrooms to provide the best learning environment for their students.

On behalf of all of us at IDE Corp., I want to thank our client teachers for partnering with us to make a difference, one student at a time. We want you to know how much we appreciate all of your enthusiasm, dedication, expertise, experience, and hard work. And for those with whom we’ve not had the pleasure of working, we hope someday we will, and we thank you for all that you do to contribute to the advancement of your students.