Think Like A Startup

Last week I was fortunate to go to Amsterdam with four fabulous colleagues to attend the European Conference on iPads in the Classroom hosted by the International School of Amsterdam.

Our trip started like this:

And then on to the ‘real business’ – two days of guest speakers, breakout groups, classroom observations, speed geeking, and great conversations about the use of technology in the classroom. The tech team at ISA offered some great tips and ideas about getting started with iPads including appointing iPad Point People to support learning across the school and they had some practical ideas for making the day-to-day use of iPads easier for everyone (students and teachers).


The Keynote speaker for the conference was Warren Apel – the former Tech Director at ISA who currently is operating his own startup, Scholastico, before moving to Tokyo in the fall as Director of Technology at the American School in Japan.

As a sidenote, Warren’s company offers a way for schools to set up Parent-Teacher Conferences that is so quick and easy. If you or your school are interested, it really is worth your while to read the brochure linked above or to watch this 2 minute video on how it all works. It really looks awesome!


With his recent experience in building his own startup business, Warren’s keynote “How Schools, Teachers, and Administrators Can Learn To Think Like A Startup” was a great combination of his experience as a teacher and tech director, and his past year of starting a company. He presented his 12 lessons that he learned over the past year that could be applied to the work we do in schools when looking to innovate or start a new project:


  1. Be curious
  2. Focus on what could be – not what is
  3. Be disruptive
  4. Learn from failure
  5. Move with speed
  6. Embrace a playful attitude
  7. Get the team right
  8. Communicate!
  9. Be transparent
  10. Learn together with the customers (or in this case, students/parents/teachers)
  11. Dream big – go for your Moonshot!
  12. Start with “why?”

Warren has written up his keynote as a blog post (linked above) and it is a really worthwhile read for those looking to lead change within your school. I was most grateful that there were five of us from my school hearing this message together. There is such a lot of power and added value to sending a small group to the same workshop or conference that I think some schools overlook. As the conference went on and conversations bubbled up, it was great to see the ideas and suggestions forming within our group and the enthusiasm for what could be regarding our iPad program at MIS.

This group of go-getters, early adopters, innovators, were motivated by what they saw and heard and inspired to bring these ideas back to their own classrooms and teams. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the two day event. The other thing I loved was that the conference was held during the week which allowed us the opportunity to observe classes in action.  The opportunity to walk through a school when the kids are there was fantastic and in itself, was a great PD session full of ideas and tips for cultivating a mindful learning environment.  Here are a few shots from around the school:

As the two days progressed, I made notes that I later turned into an iBook titled “iPad Integration Guide”. It focuses on technology in the PYP classroom, a core set of apps for learning and sharing, coding apps, students as authors with a focus on Book Creator, and a ‘nuts and bolts’ section which gives a few tips and tricks for rolling out iPads into the classroom. Click on the link below to download for free from iTunes.

We have had a less than ideal (!) start to the year with our iPads as we transitioned to the VPP program and a new MDM system so this conference was just what was needed to help us recalibrate and set ourselves up for the rest of the year and the year ahead. I am looking forward to seeing the authentic, purposeful, and innovative advances in teaching and learning that will come from all of this!


Why Minecraft?

Yesterday’s post briefly touched on the subject of Minecraft. The article, How Minecraft and Duct Tape Wallets Prepare Our Kids For Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet had this to say about the game that kids are crazy about (and some adults too!):

It’s difficult to predict which skills will be valuable in the future, and even more challenging to see the connection between our children’s interests and these skills. Nothing illustrates this better than Minecraft, a popular game that might be best described as virtual LEGOs. Calling it a game belies the transformation it has sparked: An entire generation is learning how to create 3D models using a computer. Now, I wonder, what sort of businesses, communication, entertainment or art will be possible? Cathy Davidson, a scholar of learning technology, concluded that 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet. I bet today’s kids will eventually explore outcomes and create jobs only made possible by the influence of Minecraft in their lives. Why take any chances and build your dream house with blueprints alone? The Minecraft kid could easily make a realistic 3D model of one for you to walk through before you build. That’s why DIY treats Minecraft as a tool, not a game, and encourages our members to use it to pursue art, architecture and community-building.

I was first introduced to Minecraft by students when teaching in Boise 4 years ago. They were excited, engaged, and enthusiastic by this ‘game’ that seemed so much more than that.  Yesterday, I read a great post about Minecraft: a definitive guide to setting it up in your classrooms with different levels of autonomy on the part of the student and different paths with graduating degrees of responsibility for students – each with pros and cons of the particular approach.

Published by Common Sense Media on Graphite, the article: Getting Started With Minecraft in the Classroom, is one of the best I have read about the benefits but also the how-to’s of Minecraft in the classroom. What was particularly interesting to me was the third (of three) tips: Interaction with the game.  “The game” could be replaced with whatever it is you are asking your children to interact with: the lesson, the resource, the ideas, the concepts, the tools, the questions….etc. The article describes three levels of interaction:

  1. Low-level interaction
  2. Mid-level interaction
  3. High-level interaction

In the classroom, this looks like:

  1. Fooling around, playing, seeing what happens
  2. Teacher led, teacher initiated, expanding on given prompts
  3. Student directed learning

I would argue that in every classroom there is a time and place for varying amounts of each type of interaction. As an art teacher, I would begin each clay unit with “Clay Play Day” and the kids spent their 90 minutes doing exactly that – playing.  Within that time, there were opportunities for them to ask questions, teach each other, browse through books/examples of clay techniques, watch videos, collaborate, or tinker on their own. The lessons evolved into a mix of those routines with some specific lessons from me on techniques and the unit was rounded out with student-initiated clay projects.  This is exactly how Minecraft can work too.

While I love playing with Duplo blocks with our daughter, I will be the first to admit that my husband is far more creative than I am in that area of building and design – which is probably why he is most often requested to be the Duplo partner!  If you feel the same way then find the kid (or kids!) in your class who you would want to work with and have them take the lead on bringing Minecraft to your classroom.

If you are ready to bring Minecraft to your classroom, Check out Graphite’s  Minecraft review and MinecraftEdu review.

If you are looking for further advice, inspiration, or commentary, try these posts:

If you want a quick tour into a Minecraft world, try the Hour of Code Minecraft experience.


Do It Yourself!


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Back in 2012, I wrote a post titled Become An Enabler…Of Creativity!

One of the sites I referenced was the newly launched website. I thought it looked great then and it has only gotten better since, with the addition of so many more categories of skills, the option of paid courses with tutors, and (for those who love tangible rewards) the option of purchasing cloth badges when challenges have been met.

Here’s where I think this site is most awesome/useful:

  • the skill list is MASSIVE – I think every kid could find a category that interests them and within that category is a range of activities that will likely be both familiar and new to them, encouraging them to do something they love and something they have not tried before.
  • if you are a homeschooling parent or are lucky enough to go to a progressive school that doesn’t have busywork homework assigned, this is an awesome portal for kids to delve into to put their tinkering skills into action
  • the skills and challenges are multi-faceted: if you choose the Athlete skill, one of the challenges is to prepare an Athletic Diet which involves not only finding a recipe for a meal to suit your athletic endeavors, but preparing it and then writing about or making a video to explain why this meal is good to eat. Reading, research, measurement, nutrition, sports science, video production, explanatory writing – all covered in this task.

Today, a link popped up on my Facebook feed to an article published in May last year: How Minecraft and Duct Tape Wallets Prepare Our Kids for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet.  Written by Zack Klein, founder of, the article is awesome and points to so many ways in which we need to allow our kids the opportunity to create and be creative with the things they are passionate about:

It’s crucial that kids learn how to be passionate for the rest of their lives. To start, they must first learn what it feels like to be simultaneously challenged and confident. It’s my instinct that we should not try to introduce these experiences through skills we value as much as look for opportunities to develop them, as well as creativity and literacy, in the skills they already love.


…the childhood passions that seem like fads, if not totally unproductive, can alternatively be seen as mediums for experiencing the virtuous cycle of curiosity: discovering, trying, failing and growing.


I don’t think it’s important that kids use the skills they learn on DIY for the rest of their lives. What’s important is that kids develop the muscle to be fearless learners so that they are never stuck with the skills they have. Only this will prepare them for a world where change is accelerating and depending on a single skill to provide a lifetime career is becoming impossible.


The DIY community is awesome. The forums are positive and encouraging and they have loads of steps in place to keep it open but also safe for kids. Even if your kids are young, the site has great ideas for activities you could do as a family.  Here are some of the skills that were intriguing to me:

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I think what I like most about this site is that it is such a great model for a personalized approach to education in which kids can be given agency over their learning. It’s not about what “we” want them to learn or want them to be interested in. It’s about letting them know that the things they love to tinker with are important and relevant. I didn’t know until I read this that the brains behind the site, founder Zack Klein, was also the brains behind the video hosting platform, Vimeo – something that started as a tinkering passion as a young kid.

With the rapidly-changing job market and the mind-blowing idea that many (or most!) of the jobs our kids will move into are not yet even created, giving young people the forum and the freedom to tinker and explore and try and experiment are vitally important.

How could you use the approach in your classroom?



Student Voice

When I was at the ADE Institute in July last year, we were asked to write down the big idea or theme that was most pressing for us in terms of what we wanted to focus our attention on in our school.  Mine was student voice. 

I think voice, choice, and agency are three things that students need more of in schools. I would even go so far to say that many problems faced by students and teachers, and even by parents, would be resolved should greater focus be given to these three factors.

Student voices are powerful.

Just take a look at these three high school students:


We are taught that it is better to be silent than to make them uncomfortable.


Student voices can also disrupt for good – and in the process, break world records.

How do you provide opportunities for your students to share their voice? How do you let them know that you would rather they use their voice – even if it makes you uncomfortable?

At Least I Tried….Again.

A year ago, I published a post on this blog titled At Least I Tried.  It referenced a daily cartoon from Gaping Void that was accompanied by this text:

In light of yesterday’s post, this was (again) very timely for me.

But this post is also about the power of our words and how a few thoughtfully chosen ones can really help a person who needs to hear them. Within hours of posting, four different people from different parts of my life reached out with words that I needed to hear. It made me grateful for these people but it also made me think how important timely feedback is.

As educators, how are we supporting our students with our words? 

For EXCELLENT advice about feedback including what it is, what it sounds like, what it isn’t and how to use it effectively, take a look at this 2012 ASCD article by the late Grant Wiggins. His work is an amazing reminder of the talent and wisdom we lost when he died last year. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback” will also give you insight into the difference between feedback and advice, and feedback and grades/evaluation.  It is a great read.

Last year’s post also made me think about Seth Godin’s mantra to “Pick Yourself” – in reference to the idea that waiting for someone else to validate you is nonsensical. Time is precious and your ideas are worthwhile and waiting for someone to ask for them will get you nowhere.

So last night, I reached out to an author I admire with a suggestion for a potential collaboration idea based on a comment she made on Facebook. And I drafted a new book idea for building momentum in schools.

Opportunity is everywhere.  You just have to look – and leap.

Begin as you mean to continue…


I came across this on Twitter just before (or after) the New Year. It seemed timely and thought provoking and I have been pondering calling this my ‘motto’ for the year ahead.

In many ways, this is how I do things. I tend to take massive bites and try and wrap my head around large ideas (and ideals) in a very ‘gung-ho’ manner. My aim is not greatness but more the desire to do something of significance and magnitude.

But what if I have been going about it all wrong?  Would smaller nibbles that potentially yield greater outcomes be a better option? Maybe making a difference one person at a time rather than expecting a revolution?

Which method would help add the most value?

A wise thinker I know said recently:

The journey to disruption may be lonely but fundamental to our ability to serve and add value.

-Will Northrop What If Concepts

Is he advocating for a nibble approach? Or is he just reminding us that not every attempt to serve and add value will be done with fanfare and a loud support squad? And that some of our most important work might be the work done alone?

So which approach to take?

What will you do this year to serve?  To add value? To disrupt? To innovate? 

As for me, three separate opportunities recently were in my path. I put myself out there for all three and was summarily rejected. For all three. On the same day. This led me to question many things but then to reflect on the purpose for seeking those roles in the first place: to inspire, to lead, to learn, and to grow. Are these ideals now out of my reach? No. Just moved to a different (yet to be determined) context.

I then got three new opportunities (over different days this time!): to work on a project involving math videos for lower primary students, to share ideas on “Swamp Dwellers, Fence Sitters, and Go Getters” with a school developing a 1:1 iPad environment, and a book in the mail recommended by a parent in order to develop a personalized learning approach to how we do school.  Inspiring? Leading? Learning? Growing? Yes, on all counts.

I will continue to “choke on greatness” but also with the thought in mind that not all ‘greatness’ will be heralded by a crowd – or known to anyone at all for that matter.

Stop, Start, Continue…and CHANGE!

How often do we take the time to really think about what we are doing and more importantly, WHY we are doing it? Do any of these sound familiar to you in response to WHY something is part of our teaching and learning:

  • It is written in the parent handbook that we will do it.
  • We did it like that last year.
  • The parents really like it.
  • It’s a fun activity for the kids.
  • We have all the resources for that already.

I read a great article by David B Hawley, International Baccalaureate (IB) Chief Academic Officer, titled: Stop, Start, Continue: Conceptual Understanding Meets Applied Problem Solving. As I began reading, I realized he was going to give suggestions on 3 things: What to stop doing in our schools, what to start doing in our schools, and what we should continue doing in our schools. I quickly thought that of the three things, maybe one or two would be useful (I am somewhat cynical at times!) but as I read on, I really found myself nodding along to all three lists. So much so, that I wished I had written my own list before reading his!


Stop reading now and write your list before you read his article or scroll any further!   Seriously!


What would you put on your list? Better yet, have your whole team or department or faculty do it.

What would I say?

STOP: Teaching to the masses. I believe that a more individualized approach to education is the way of the future. I think when we start to really reach individuals instead of teach grade levels, we’ll start to make a difference.

START: Talking about what isn’t working as a way of moving forward to something more positive. We tell the kids that they learn from their mistakes – let’s be brave and share ours with each other.

CONTINUE: To try new things and to always be curious.


Here is the summary of David Hawley’s thoughts:

What Should We Stop Doing?
  • Stop teaching as if we have the answers.
  • Stop rushing.
  • Stop talking.


What Should We Start Doing?
  • Start looking for problems to solve, actions to take, and beauty to create.
  • Start teaching with new discoveries about the brain in mind.
  • Start seeking out authentic, high-stakes audiences for student work.


What Should We Continue Doing?
  • Continue with your professional development, and model the growth mindset in action.
  • Continue to place our work with students in global contexts.
  • Continue believing in the potential of every student.

In international schools, there is a lot of teacher movement and it is hard (at times) for newer teachers  to feel like they have ownership of how things are done. Tradition is great and definitely has its place, but so too does being open to new ideas and hearing fresh voices on change.

Change can be a difficult topic for people to deal with. What if the things that end up in the STOP column are things you really love? What if the things that are suggested you START to do, terrify you?

When I was at Nanjing International School in September to talk about iPads, I used a model for change that was shared by another teacher from another course and tweaked it a little to suit our purpose. The basic premise was to get people thinking about change and how they would proceed.

STEP ONE: Determine what is ‘comfortable’ for you.

iPad Zones

In many ways, I loathe the word ‘comfortable’. To me it seems soft, too laid back, and too much focus on what the teacher is ok with rather than what the students deserve. But we have to start somewhere, so let’s be honest and say what makes us comfortable.

STEP TWO: S-T-R-E-T-C-H from there!

iPad Zones2

I love this one! I think we all know that stretching is good for us and the long term benefits are amazing, so what are we waiting for? Where will we change happening? What will we stop doing?  What will we start doing?

STEP THREE: Don’t start a riot!

iPad Zones3

What would send you into a panic?  What are your roadblocks? What are you really not ready for? I like this outer ring because it forces people to give a voice to those things they can’t or don’t want to do. It opens up opportunities for self-reflection on professional development needs, it offers people the chance to mentor other teachers, and it lets leaders know how best to support their teachers.

What will you STOP, START, and CONTINUE doing in your school or classroom?