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Our expert researchers, evaluators, and veteran educators synthesize information gleaned from our research and blend it with best practices gathered from schools and districts around the world to bring you insightful and practical ideas that support changing the odds of success for you and your students. By aligning practice with research, we mix professional wisdom with real world experience to bring you unexpectedly insightful and uncommonly practical ideas that offer ways to build student resiliency, close achievement gaps, implement retention strategies, prioritize improvement initiatives, build staff motivation, and interpret data and understand its impact.

Making a difference

By Blog, Technology in Schools One Comment

Working as a consultant, there are many aspects of my job. I travel across the country to big cities and tiny towns to facilitate professional development sessions with teachers. I conduct technology audits to help districts align their mission and vision with the tools that teachers and students have available. There are other times, as with any job, where I’m sitting at an airport late on a Friday evening or filling out a time sheet, that feel a little less grand, however necessary they may be.

Sometimes, though, you have those BIG moments…the ones that give you chills, remind you why you go into the office or board tiny planes for a living…the ones you know you will take home and share with your family at the dinner table that evening. I had one of those moments the other day that I know I will remember forever. I was in North Dakota, working with a group of early childhood teachers, helping them to create accounts on our online community. Some of them were extremely comfortable with the process, having joined numerous other Ning, Moodle, and other such sites before. Others needed a little more assistance. One older Native American woman, I noticed, didn’t seem to be typing anything. I went over to see if I could help.

As it turned out, she didn’t have an email address to enter into the registration form. She had never created an email account before. Finding the right person at her district who may have been able to give us her email account and password would have been too time-consuming, so we quickly created a Gmail account for her.  She turned to me, pointing to the new address she’d carefully written down. “So this is my email address?” she asked. “That’s your email address,” I confirmed. She laughed a big, hearty laugh. “I can give this to my grandkids! They can email me!”

Later that afternoon on the flight home, I thought about that woman and all the doors that had just opened up for her.  I pictured her sharing her email address with family members and friends and the excitement when she receives her first few responses. In a tiny, tiny, way, I made a difference in this person’s life. Moments like these are why I love what I do.

Come to think of it, I have a person I need to go email. ☺

Rethinking homework, Part 2 of 2

By Blog, Classroom Instruction that Works No Comments

In Rethinking Homework Part 1, I described how three chemistry teachers had made the decision to place their lectures on vodcasts, allowing students to listen at their own pace, while freeing class time for discussions, labs, and activities.

In another example of Rethinking Homework, Diana Laufenberg, from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, engaged her students in President Obama’s address to Congress on February 24 using Gcast, a resource that lets you record a brief podcast using your cell phone. Students were given the assignment of watching the President’s speech, then recording a brief summary of their thoughts and questions regarding Obama’s stimulus plan. The students were likely relieved that they did not have to sit and write a reflection, but instead were able to use their cell phones to give initial reactions to the speech.

These two examples paint a very different picture of homework than a student struggling through a worksheet late in the evening at the kitchen table. They make homework purposeful, engaging, and leave class time for higher level discussions and activities. If homework looked this way more often, educators and students would likely have a much more positive opinion of the practice than they currently do.

What other best practices have you heard of that engage students and provide meaningful learning experiences outside of class time? What steps do school leaders and decision-makers need to take to broaden these types of experiences to all students? We welcome your comments and questions!

Modernizing pedagogy

By Blog, Technology in Schools One Comment

The combination of past classroom experiences and traditional university training conspire to keep many teachers behind the curve of new pedagogical techniques.  Another impediment often occurs as new teachers are assimilated into a school’s culture. They frequently find that many innovative techniques they do want to try rub against the grain of the schools establishment.

For instance, many students learn about parts of speech in the same way I did when I went to school in the 1970s and 1980s by doing worksheets like the one below.


While this worksheet works fine for students with strong verbal/linguistic learning abilities, it does not work as well for student with other learning styles such as visual learners. Many graphic organizers are available online to complement or replace this activity. However, there is something even better. Dynamic or interactive web applications can allow students to evaluate multiple language connections and differentiates the learning in terms of both style and level of proficiency. One such resource is Visuwords at Visuwords™ uses Princeton University’s WordNet, an opensource database built by University students and language researchers. Combined with a visualization tool and user interface built from a combination of modern web technologies, Visuwords™ is available as a free resource to all patrons of the web.” It allows students to check their own understanding of the parts of speech, edify their own writing, and see how language is a web of infinitely connected concepts. As you can see below, I entered the word “sophistication” and found the verb “edify,” which I just used to describe how students can benefit from using visuword.  


I think one answer to better instruction is to combine proven instructional strategies like nonlinguistic representation- graphic organizer with interactive technological tools. Now I have two questions for you:

  • What other modern tools can be combined with tried and true instructional strategies?
  • What can be done to speed up the adoption of these tools by today’s teachers?

Written by Matt Kuhn.

You’ve got your education research in my real-world experience!

By Blog, Classroom Instruction that Works No Comments

You probably remember the television commercial—someone carrying a jar of peanut butter collides with someone holding a chocolate bar. At first, they’re angry with one another, until they taste their accidental creation and realize they’ve made an uncommonly good candy bar.

That’s a little like what happens here at McREL. We “mash up” top-notch researchers with experienced educators to generate new insights and uncommon sense about education. By taking rigorous research and blending it together with professional wisdom from experts, we create something more meaningful and reliable than either would be alone.

In our blog, you’ll hear a mix of voices. You’ll hear from our researchers, who have an uncanny knack for using data to analyze some of education’s most vexing challenges. And you’ll hear from our seasoned education experts, who combine creative thinking and practical experience to challenge conventional wisdom and come up with new insights to education problems.

We hope you’ll find that by blending our researchers’ command of regression analysis and data crunching with our education consultants’ experience with real-world breakthroughs and successes, that the result is something unexpectedly insightful and uncommonly practical in your work as educators.

Rethinking homework, Part 1 of 2

By Blog, Classroom Instruction that Works 8 Comments

Out of all of the instructional strategies originally identified by Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock (2001), homework continues to be among the most controversial. Every time I get to this strategy in our workshops, I inwardly steel myself for some lively conversations. At its best, homework is a fun way to bridge classroom learning with out-of-school experiences. At its worst, it is a mundane set of worksheets, math problems, and lower level questions. While educators see the benefit of the former, they far too often see the latter and it is this that brings such controversy. In recent readings and Twitter connections, I came across two very different homework strategies that teachers are using that I think show the dynamic learning experiences that can happen if homework is structured, purposeful, and (by all means) engaging. I’ll post these in two separate blog posts.

In the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology, chemistry teachers John Bergmann, Aaron Sams, and Brian Hatak described how they began creating vodcasts (PowerPoints with animation and recorded audio) of their chemistry lectures. Now, their chemistry homework is a quick, “just-the-facts” session while precious class time is used for labs, experiments, and discussions. These vodcasts can be found on the teachers’ Web sites (linked to their names). Delivering the basic content in digital format taps into this generation’s comfort of getting information when they need it, listening at their own pace, and being able to repeat sections that didn’t make sense the first time. Likewise, it actually enriches what happens in the classroom. No longer do they need to sit and listen to a lecture in order to get basic details. Now they can use the concepts and details to which they’ve been introduced to evaluate, generate and test hypotheses, and think critically.

In Part 2 of this post, I will describe how a teacher uses cell phones and the President’s address to Congress to engage her students in out-of-classroom learning.

Written by Elizabeth Hubbell.

Wanted: Everyday innovations

By Blog, Everyday Innovation 2 Comments

CS_fall2008In our fall 2008 issue of Changing Schools, we wrote that “Everyday, educators across the country are finding new ways to improve student learning. Too often, though, their innovative ideas and approaches to teaching and learning remain isolated. As a result, as an enterprise, education fails to build on these everyday innovations.”

Knowing that educators across the country are continually finding new ways to improve student learning, we asked educators to share their “everday innovations” with us and others. As a result, we received—and continue to receive—several examples of ways that educators, are everyday, doing what they do a little better.

We’ve decided to post the innovations we collected into this section of our blog and encourage you to use this space to submit your “everyday innovations.”