IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

#LATICinsights – Avoiding the No-Man’s Land of Innovation

Innovation requires a shift in mindset and action, sometimes taking you outside of your comfort zone. As you design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you will no doubt find times that you are outside of your comfort zone. Your tendency might be to drop a structure that doesn’t seem to work for you or your students. Don’t do it!

In the game of tennis, players first played at the baseline. The ball would cross over the net, bounce in the court, and as it approached the back line, the player would hit it back. Over time, the game, and tennis racquet fotolia_tenniscourt_xstechnology, evolved, and the net game was born. The player would run up to the net and hit the ball as it crossed, not waiting for it to bounce first. For some players, this was natural and comfortable. For others, being at the net was stressful, and they would begin to back up, fearing they would miss the ball. The problem is that if they backed up to just the middle of the court, they would find themselves in what tennis folks call “No-Man’s Land” (the center of the court between the net and the baseline.) The balls would bounce at their feet and they could not hit them.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, if teachers back up and drop a structure here and there, they end up in #LATIC No-Man’s Land. The classroom will not run as smoothly and the students may not achieve to the desired levels. The key is, you can’t drop a structure because each one has an important reason for being there, and the structures support one another. Take a look at the list below. This represents just some of the many structures that make the classroom work.


As you innovate, be sure to lean in, embrace the change, reflect and adjust, but keep moving forward. When something appears to not work, it’s usually because a structure or strategy is missing. Rather than reverting to former methods, find out what’s missing that needs to be added. Avoid No-Man’s Land! Innovate and change the world!

#LATICinsights: Social Learning Environments Accelerate Literacy Development

fotolia_kids-collab_xs_croppedIf you want to build literacy skills, leverage the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as a social learning environment. Consider that students engage in problem-solving as part of a learning community in which they engage with teachers, outside experts, and one another. They spend their day speaking, listening, reading, and writing! It’s a veritable literacy playground, if you set it up well.

Problems and Solutions word on wooden table

Through the solution-finding process, students discuss what they know, what they need to learn, how they will learn, what they’ve found out, possible solutions, and how they will present the solution to others. In addition, the structures of the classroom provide myriad opportunities for teachers to build literacy skills outside of deliberate literacy instruction.

When I ask students what they like about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, they invariably mention the ability to choose what they do when. That freedom is enhanced through literacy. Given students are motivated to control their own time and learning activities, teachers can use that motivation to deliberately build literacy skills. post-it-tenacity

  • Use your notes in the two-pocket folder to build vocabulary by using a word and then defining it.
  • Model strong language use on your activity list. Instead of saying, “Read article on water cycle and draw your own,” say, “Peruse (read thoughtfully) the article on the water cycle and illustrate a depiction of your own.” Instead of “Write down your ideas from reading the story and meet with a group member to share ideas and agree on one main take-away,” say, “Generate and capture in writing your insights upon reading the story; meet with a colleague to collaborate on determining one, key insight to glean from the story.” If you want students to build language skills, you need to model them. Create a culture of literacy!
  • Have students use a design process to work through a problem, keeping a design notebook in which they write their findings and ideas. (The problem itself will promote reading.)
  • When you facilitate, ask students to tell you about what they’re doing and why. Engage in conversation! Introduce vocabulary words there as well.

Below is a grid on just some of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom through which teachers can build literacy skills.


Deliberate and purposeful use of language in the classroom paired with maximizing opportunities for students to speak, listen, read, and write are foundational to building a culture of literacy. Add to that direct instruction in literacy through learning activities; small-group, mini-lessons; and concept-based benchmark lessons, and you have the formula for accelerating literacy development. And with strong literacy skills, you can … change the world!








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: Inspire Big; Teach Small

Teaching should not be transactional; it should be transformational. The goal of teaching is to ensure that students gain a level of understanding of content that enables them to apply it to new situations, thus transforming them.

Learning comes from making sense and meaning of content (Sousa, 2011) and is enhanced when students have:

  • a felt-need for the content
  • time to explore and grapple with the content
  • direct instruction in skills at the appropriate time in the appropriate modality
  • time to practice skills and content application

The first bullet speaks to a teacher’s ability to inspire students. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, that comes from the teacher providing students with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve, and from whole-group lessons that present concepts that leave students on the edges of their seats. Teachers can inspire through whole-class lessons: inspire big!

The remaining bullets are not accomplished through whole-group instruction, but through small venues: a small-group, mini-lesson offered by the teacher; one-on-one or small-group facilitation by the teacher; independent learning activities; and peer assistance. screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-12-07-33-amThese are critical structures in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as they provide the most meaningful instruction and learning opportunities for students.

When you stand before the entire class, inspire! Trigger students’ awareness of new content they can use.

quotePlan your lesson well; present for no more than 15 minutes; use a combination of voice and visuals. Do not teach skills! Skill development is a verycomplex process, taking place mostly through internal cognitive processing. Can some people listen to a teacher, cognitively process the information, and learn without missing the next sentence? Maybe. Can an entire class? Absolutely not; not even if they are all homogeneously grouped. Inspiration grabs students’ attention, focuses them, and causes them to generate questions they want answered. So you can inspire big! But . . .

Teach small! Provide ample opportunities for students to engage in a variety of learning activities. Offer small-group, mini-lessons on targeted content aimed at varying levels of ability. Rather than a lesson on “perimeter,” offer lessons, such as:

  • What Is Perimeter? (for beginners at the concept)
  • Calculating Perimeter of a Square or Rectangle
  • Calculating Perimeter of Various Polygons
  • Understanding Circumference: The Perimeter of a Circle (advanced mini-lesson that requires passing an entrance quiz to receive a ticket)

Also consider what videos are available or can be recorded to present lessons. Students who need more time to think than the pace of the lesson can stop and rewind.

Following are some classroom snapshots where you can see the “teach small” concept in action:

Inspire big! Teach small! 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.


#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!

#LATICinsights: Driving Achievement Through a Product or Performance

What would most motivate you to learn how to calculate the perimeter of a space?fence-bubble

  1. Someone tells you to learn it.
  2. You want to fence in an area of your yard and need to know the distance around it.
  3. Someone tells you you’ll need it for your future.

I don’t know about you, but I would pick b! Clearly, I learned a lot in school just because someone told me to learn it; and I also forgot it after the test.

David Sousa’s research on the brain, from his book, How the Brain Learns, points to the need for information to make sense and have meaning in order to be stored in long-term memory. Concepts and skills out of context make no sense and have no meaning to the brain, thus, the reason I promote the use of problem-based learning to drive instruction.

The core of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is driving instruction through an authentic, open-ended, problem. Real-world problems are the best! The purpose is to ensure that learning makes sense and has meaning. The keys to designing a powerful, motivating task are to make it:  

  • Standards-aligned (It’s too easy to have a great task that doesn’t get the job done!)
  • Open-ended, meaning there is no one right answer
  • Authentic, meaning the situation occurs in real life
  • Have an audience, that is, someone to whom the student could present the solution
  • Ensure that the task is aligned well with students’ interest so that they are engaged (grappling) rather than compliant

You might have students:

Once you have your problem, and have your students hooked, you must then fill their days with rich and diverse opportunities to learn, so they can, in fact, design the product or performance. Your problem-based task is your strong foundation. Create great problems for your students to solve; change the world!


#LATICinsights: Learning to Learn

You’re reading a book about gardening so you can plant a vegetable garden. How do you glean the information you need from the text and learn what you need to learn? You might:

  • Use text features as cues
  • Scan the text for the information you need
  • Underline words and phrases
  • Make connections to past experiences or other learning
  • Organize the information, perhaps into items to purchase, actions that happen first, etc.

These are cognitive strategies that you might take for granted: they’re the keys to learning. Students who possess these strategies will learn more quickly and easily.

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is a complex, student-driven learning environment with many components, including (read from the bottom up):


Often, students are all engaged in different learning activities or applying learning to solve problems. Given you’re not teaching the entire class the same skill at the same time, as it’s rare that all students need or are ready for the same skill at the same time, how do you ensure that each of your students is positioned to learn?

Cognitive strategies are an important part of learning; these are the strategies upon which students will draw repeatedly across the day. As with many of the structures in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students need both opportunities to learn and a structure to monitor that learning.

To allow students to self-assess and monitor their own learning of cognitive strategies, create an age-appropriate cognitive strategies chart with the strategies that will be most beneficial to your students. You can find a template on the IDEportal (use page 2.)



To teach cognitive strategies, first use a Benchmark Lesson to introduce the idea of cognitive strategies. You might use a metaphor such as relating cognitive strategies to tools, which are used to build larger structures.  Then use How-To sheets or screencasts to provide direct instruction in their use. Hold a Small-Group, Mini-Lesson for those who need more specific instruction from you.

Reference cognitive strategies in other learning activities, reminding students to use specific strategies and asking students to reflect on the strategies they used. Students who can explain a cognitive strategy and how to use it can become Peer Experts and help others.

It is important to deliberately teach students the cognitive strategies they need to learn. The more they know how to learn, the more they will learn. Go change the world!