A “21st Century Report Card”?

I just finished reading the article, A Plan For Raising Brilliant Kids, According to Science, from the NPR Ed website. It’s a summary of an interview with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist with Temple University and the Bookings Institution, and Professor Roberta Golinkoff from the University of Delaware. The pair have written a book titled Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children.

In the book, Pasek and Holinkoff propose a new model for educational assessment, which they call “the six Cs”: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. I don’t think they’re the first to propose these ideas as fundamental to modern education, but I do like the way they link all of them together. Here are the six Cs in the authors’ own words:

Hirsh-Pasek: The first, basic, most core is collaboration. Collaboration is everything from getting along with others to controlling your impulses so you can not kick someone else off the swing. It’s building a community and experiencing diversity and culture. Everything we do, in the classroom or at home, has to be built on that foundation.

Communication comes next, because you can’t communicate if you have no one to communicate with. This includes speaking, writing, reading and that all-but-lost art of listening.

Content is built on communication. You can’t learn anything if you haven’t learned how to understand language, or to read.

Critical thinking relies on content, because you can’t navigate masses of information if you have nothing to navigate to.

Creative innovation requires knowing something. You can’t just be a monkey throwing paint on a canvas. It’s the 10,000-hour rule: You need to know something well enough to make something new.

And finally, confidence: You have to have the confidence to take safe risks.

Just to be clear: I’m not endorsing the book (I haven’t even read it myself). I was simply struck by how different these ideas are from the way most schools, and many of us teachers, measure students’ achievements and progress. In my experience, all Cs but the content have been relegated to secondary status on report cards, lumped together in a general “effort” or “approaches to learning” category.

Happy learning!

Mr K

I’ve been creating HyperDocs for my students, and I didn’t even know it!

The Cult of Pedagogy article “How HyperDocs Can Transform Your Teaching” appeared in my Twitter feed recently. While cooking dinner last night, I listened to the embedded podcast and realized that I’ve been using this great tool for a while without even realizing it has a proper name!

My enthusiasm for the Google for Education universe is based primarily on the following reasons:

  1. GAFE allows for an almost entirely paperless classroom. Documents, presentations, diagrams, drawings, and data sets can be emailed, shared with peers, and/or published online with only a few clicks and keystrokes. This cloud-based connectivity also makes it a lot more challenging to lose work!
  2. Collaboration among teachers as well as students is incredibly easy and intuitive, especially since there’s no downloading required, training others how to “track changes” and return an updated file is no longer necessary, and each user’s favorite operating system is irrelevant because each person can keep using their platform of choice without inconveniencing others.
  3. Personalized, differentiated learning is more achievable through what I’ve always referred to as a “menu” of activity choices provided to students: a selection of relevant YouTube videos, online learning games, animations and simulations, traditional worksheets, and news articles about recent scientific developments in the current topic of study. The menu concept allows each student to engage with a unit of study at his or her own pace and preferences.

Early versions of my HyperDocs were less open-ended and quite sequential: “First, complete these two activities and email your teacher when you’re ready to share your work. Then complete the following worksheet, and after that….” It was a great way to use the hyperlink feature of Google Docs to keep students organized, but there wasn’t really much choice involved.

As I became more and more competent with the Google platform (I’m now a Google-Certified Educator), I began to use hyperlinking differently: “If you’re curious about X, click here. If you’d rather learn about Y first, follow this link. When you’re ready to develop your final product, make a copy of the document linked here and follow the instructions within it.” My team-teaching colleagues and I started using Docs to develop entire units of study in which we collectively shared and used all the resources we’d found individually, and that was really empowering as an educator.

In the Cult of Pedagogy podcast, Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Kelly Hilton, Lisa Highfill, and Sarah Landis, authors of The HyperDoc Handbook. All 3 women teach outside Silicon Valley, and they summarize the benefits of HyperDocs as:

  • Fewer lectures
  • More face-to-face interactions with students
  • Flexibility
  • Multimodal opportunities
  • Student privacy

Listening to their story, and the way they describe these benefits, I think they’re onto a truly transformative teaching tool. Even though I’d already developed my own approach to this idea, these 3 educators have refined some “best practice” approaches that I’ll be incorporating into my Chili-pepper menus from now on.

Happy learning!

Mr K

Steal This Presentation!

Good afternoon,

Communicating ideas clearly is one of those ultra-important skills critical for successfully navigating school, relationships, jobs, and…well, life in general.

As a teacher, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of sitting through hundreds of excruciatingly, mind-numbingly boring presentations over the past 15 years. Surprisingly, many of those were generated by educators, myself included. So many PowerPoints/Keynotes/Slides were little more than text on a wall. So many class presentations involved students standing at the front of the room, back to the audience, reading verbatim from the screen.

As my late grandmother Thelma “Toots” Hayden used to say when my cousins and I were in trouble, “For the love of all that is good and holy, DON’T DO THAT!

Several years ago, Jesse DesJardins‘ brilliant SlideShare presentation, “Steal This Presentation!” came to my attention, and I’ve used it ever since to push students down a more creative presentation path. It’s a great contrast between how most people create presentations and how they should create presentations.

In addition to Jesse’s presentation above, I collected a few rules from a teacher, whose name I have long forgotten, at the American International School of Lusaka, in Zambia. Those rules, which I’ve bullet-pointed below, along with “Steal This Presentation”, comprise my instructions to students every time they have to present to class.

The 10-20-30 Rule: How to structure a presentation for success.

  • Maximum 10 minutes – attention spans aren’t that long
  • Maximum 20 slides – don’t overwhelm your audience
  • Minimum 30 point font – make sure the people in back can read it

The Rule of 6: How to build great slides, engage with your audience, and avoid plagiarism.

  • Maximum 6 lines of text per slide – minimize temptation to read the slide
  • Maximum 6 words per line – focus on the most important key words and vocabulary

There you have it – short, sweet, and to the point, just like a presentation should be!

Happy learning!

Reflections on Genius Hour for Science

Good morning.
In response to an email I received from alert reader Tamara Gonzalez at the Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, I’ve been reflecting on the Genius Hour projects my students have completed over the past decade. Today’s post outlines how I structured Genius Hour to maximize student learning, facilitate meaningful feedback during the creative process, and minimize the stress of overseeing several dozen individual projects simultaneously.


My first attempt at a Genius Hour-like project was for the AP Physics and grade 9 general science classes I taught at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) in DRC. I’ve also run a Genius Hour for my MYP science students in grades 8, 9, and 10 here in Tanzania. In all of these classes, I’ve had the luxury of teaching in 85- or 90-minute blocks meeting on average 3 times per week. In general, students have had at least one full 9-week term to complete the project so that students complete four Genius Hour projects over the course of a school year. A couple of times my team and I elected to give students more time, so that they completed 2 or 3 projects during the year.


I ran 2 Genius Hours with the AP physics class: a projectile motion project in the 1st semester and a Rube Goldberg project during the 2nd semester. The objective of the projectile motion project was to design and build a trebuchet, catapult, or ballista capable of hitting a 1-m² target with a 1-kg projectile from a distance of 50m. I introduced each project at the start of the term with interim due dates every 2 weeks and a final due date in the last week of term. Students had “normal” lessons (notes, problem solving, lab practicals, quizzes and tests) in blocks 1 through 4, with every 5th block dedicated entirely to work on the Genius Hour project, when I’d conference individually with each student. The Rube Goldberg project had a similar structure, but the objective was to have 5 distinct steps from units other than those covered in the projectile motion project. In addition to the dedicated block every other week, students had access to my classroom every day after school so that they could work on their designs as needed. Students were also encouraged to work on their projects at home and film their work as evidence of progress.
For the MYP classes, I’ve made extensive use of Google Classroom and Drive to monitor students’ progress. I wrote and shared the Genius Hour task instruction sheet with view-only privileges. Then I created a color-coded organizational document, which I shared with the “make a copy for each student” option in Classroom. The organizational document is an easy-to-follow repository of information at all phases of the project, from brainstorm to publication, where the student completes formative tasks and records progress toward his or her final goal. Work is not lost or misplaced, and because it is a shared document, I can monitor each student’s progress and verify whether they’ve met interim deadlines.


I collaborated with our librarian so that my students were always in the library during that 5th block dedicated to Genius Hour. The first few library sessions incorporated her lessons on research, plagiarism, and citation skills, with students using my organizational document to keep notes and record progress toward their final product. During the GH-dedicated block, I opened every student’s organizational document and used it to guide a 3-minute individual conference about his or her project, during which I added comments to the document so that they’d have a written record of my feedback. This arrangement meant that every student received both verbal and written individualized feedback from me at least 4 or 5 times before the final product was submitted, and because of the commenting feature of Google Docs, they could ask questions at 1am if that’s when they were working on it.


Overall the quality and depth of student work was far superior to anything I’ve gotten via other projects or assignments, enough that Genius Hour has become a central feature of my teaching. The first time my team submitted student work for MYP moderation, our scores were moderated down because the projects weren’t all standard essays or research papers – we submitted videos and podcasts as well as traditional papers – but I view that more as a reflection on the IBO’s rigidity around moderation samples rather than on the quality of student learning. In subsequent years we figured out that it was best to only submit the essay/research paper products, and the moderation marks were fine.
That’s a bit of a rambling analysis, but it touches on most of the major questions I’ve had while discussing Genius Hour with other educators.
Happy learning!

Sun-Earth-Moon Interactions

Good afternoon,

While doing some site maintenance today, I realized that I never actually published several of my class notes presentations, which doesn’t really mesh with my Knowledge is Power philosophy: “I believe that the free flow of information leads to informed decisions, which create an open and equitable society.” Therefore, I’m publishing every class presentation I’ve ever created. Whenever I discover one that hasn’t been shared, I’ll add it to the appropriate class and unit pages, as well as writing a brief post about the presentation here.

Today’s slides are from an 8th-grade astronomy unit that I developed a few years ago, focused on the MYP science concepts of relationships, movement, interactions, and patterns, I hope you find it useful.

Happy learning!

Mr K

Science Apps for Your Smartphone

I just stumbled across this Slideshare presentation by Stephen Taylor, and I think it’s a fantastic resource. He’s done all the research and written succinct explanations, so I won’t try to improve upon his work. There’s something in here for students and teachers of almost every discipline.

Thank you Mr Taylor!

Happy Holidays!

Today is the last day of the term for my children and for many of my teaching colleagues and friends around the world. In honor of all the hard work this year, I simply wish to share with you two videos. The first is, in my opinion, one of the all-time-classic Christmas songs. The second is brand-new, and I think I listened to it 4 or 5 times in a row last night.

Have a great break everyone!