Apps That Rise to the Top: Tested and Approved By Teachers

Michelle Luhtala/Edshelf

With the thousands of educational apps vying for the attention of busy teachers, it can be hard to sift for the gold. Michelle Luhtala, a savvy librarian from New Canaan High School in Connecticut has crowd-sourced the best, most extensive list of appsvoted on by educators around the country.

“I wanted to make sure we had some flexibility because there’s no one app that’s better than all the others,” Luhtala said. Some apps are best for younger students, others are more complicated, better suited for high school students. Many apps do one thing really well, but aren’t great at everything. Still others are bought, redesigned or just disappear — so it’s always good to know about an array of tools to suit the need at hand.


30Hands allows a user to make pictures, annotate them, record a voice explainer and then packages it all into a video. Luhtala likes it because it’s intuitive and easy to use with no training. Its simple interface and ease of use make it great for young students, like kindergarteners. One downside is that the teacher has to manually enter individual student accounts.

Adobe Voice is a recently released education product from Adobe that allows students to narrate a story over an array of digital images. It doesn’t require any video, rather the tool moves images forward in a cinematic fashion. “It has gorgeous templates in terms of storytelling and a huge library of copyright friendly music and images,” Luhtala said. While schools often want to teach students about good digital citizenship, including copyright laws, having a pre-reviewed library can be useful for quicker projects. It can be seen on any platform since it is web based.

Book Creator is only available for iPads, allowing kids to easily create their own iBook by importing images, multimedia, text, and audio. Its simplicity makes it good for kids of all ages. Even though it has been around for quite some time, some educators still call it their number-one tool. One downside is that the output can only be viewed on iOS devices.

Tellagami is a tool to share quick animated messages. Users pick a character, record an audio message or type text and send it to someone else. It can be used in conjunction with other tools to make it even more powerful.

ExplainEverything is another tool for creating video like tutorials. Students or teachers can take photos or images, annotate them, record voices over them and explain different concepts that way. It could be good for giving students directions or for having students explain what they’ve learned.

Haiku Desk is a free presentation tool with many themes and Creative Commons images to choose from. Users can import photos, make charts, and generally tailor a presentation to their own style.

SlideIdea is another tool that allows teachers and students to make presentations come alive. The tool allows users to embed polls, annotate slides, and add audio recordings over images or text on a slide. “The thing about iPads and iPhones is they have cameras and microphones so we should use them,” Luhtala said. “The idea is to embed the world you are experiencing in your presentation.” This app is free.

Knowmia is a free presentation tool alternative to ShowMe or ExplainEverything. While these tools have similar functionalities, some teachers see them as progressing in sophistication withScreenChomp best for elementary school teachers, ShowMe a good choice for middle school, and ExplainEverything a better option for high school students. Knowmia includes a class roster list and some learning management system functions in addition to the presentation tools.

ReadWriteThink Timeline allows students to arrange work sequentially. “It used to be that you would have to finish your task online before you could stop or you would lose it and now you can store it,” Luhtala said of the updated version.


iMovie is still the preferred tool for many teachers using school issued iPads or other Apple products in their classrooms. It comes preloaded on the devices, is a powerful tool and can be used in conjunction with other apps like Green Screen or Tellagami.

Green Screen is an app that allows students to combine recorded video footage with a background of their choice ($2.99). The weatherman standing in front of a map is a good example of the green screen effect. Many educators report using it in conjunction with other video apps.

iStopMotion is a fairly simple tool for creating animated videos. Students can record or import audio and match it up to their visuals. One teacher used this app in conjunction with Aurasma to create a live diorama in the library. It’s pricier than most education apps at $9.99

CrowdFlik is a free app that allows a group of people observing the same event from multiple perspectives to combine all their photos or video footage together. Users upload all the collected footage and CrowdFlik stores it in the cloud. Then users can edit the media clips together into a video containing multiple viewpoints or perspectives of the same event.

Koma Koma is a simple stop-motion animation tool. It only has four commands — shoot, delete, play and save — so kids can focus on the content without having to worry about complicated controls. One teacher asked her students to use the app to record music videos that include claymation and collage. The simplicity allows for lots of creativity, and it’s free.

VideoScribe is another, more expensive, way to create animated videos. It replicates the stop motion fast note taking style that has become popular in advertisements or when explaining things. The British app is available under a licensing fee of 16 pounds per month.


Pixlr Editor and Pixlr Express allow for free, easy photo editing and fun filters and overlays respectively.

SnapSpeed is a free photo editing tool which, in conjunction with a camera phone, lets a user select a part of a photo and highlight that without discoloring the rest of the person. It’s a good way to call attention to different parts of a photo.


Aurasma is one of the most popular augmented reality tools and it’s free. It allows teachers to “tag” physical objects with videos, animations or 3D scenes so that if a student hovers over the object with their mobile device they’ll see the attachment. In Luhtala’s school students record videos of their excitement about different books in the library and attach them to different books. Students looking for something to read can get a direct recommendation from a classmate.

Another librarian made a claymation video and attached it to a diorama in the library. When students scanned the diorama using Aurasma, they watched it come to life.

Chromville is a free app that is part augmented reality experience and part game. Focused on younger students, it’s centered around a world in a galaxy far away where the colors are fading. Students download a blank coloring page, fill it in with color and then hover over the images to make them come to life.


BiblioNasium is not a mobile app (yet) but Luhtala finds it to be a great way for younger kids to engage socially around reading. Similar to GoodReads, but aimed at a younger audience, the platform allows teachers to pose reading challenges in a set time period. Students can add books they’ve read and post reviews. Some librarians have found this gamification approach can make reading more fun and can inspire young readers.


Subtext allows teachers to upload PDFs and embed questions to help students be close readers and understand point of view: “This has been the one thing that has wowed our English department to get them on board with iPads,” Luhtala said. The department is using it in single articles, to compare to articles and with e-books. It also prompts readers to write comments at the end of each chapter, creating a reading journal. It is free.

StripDesigner lets students become comic book writers using their own photos and templates available within the app. Student can write text bubbles, place them in the frame and create color gradients for added effect. The app costs $2.99.

Kidblog offers a free, safe place for younger students to blog. Teachers have control over all the publishing features and student blog entries are private by default. Despite the sanitized environment, many teachers feel their student write better for the larger class audience than they do when they know only a teacher will read their work.

Poems By Heart is a game to help students memorize classic poetry. While many teachers are moving away from memorization as the most important skill in the classroom, it can be fun for brain training.

Poetry, a free app made by the Poetry Foundation, is a wheel that spits out a poem. Luhtala likes it because it’s a way to broaden students’ thinking about what kinds of poetry they like and gives them access to a wide range of poetry in different styles.


Ask3 is a tool for quickly sharing text and audio between teachers and students. It allows a user to turn an iPad into a whiteboard, record voice and text to either ask a question or get feedback. It’s a good way to have an interactive conversation with another student in the class. Students sometimes send Luhtala an Ask3 video and she can record comments or annotate and send it right back. allows educators to screen share with students so both parties can control the same desktop. “We’re trying to offer online services to students at night when they’re doing they’re homework,” Luhtala said. This tool has allowed her easy access to the problem a student is working through. She also likes it because it’s easy to set up accounts for students. There are free and pro versions, but for education uses free offers lots of useful tools.

PDF Expert is an app that allows students to annotate, highlight, place bookmarks and in other ways mark up digital texts. Luhtala recommends using it with smaller classes. One frustration is that it doesn’t integrate well with Google drive, which many schools are now using for student work. It’s also a bit pricey at $9.99.


Hopscotch is a simple, free app to teach rudimentary coding ideas to younger students. Students can make characters of their choosing do actions using a visual coding language consisting of blocks of code.

LightBot is another programming tool for slightly older children. Rather than trying to make a character move or create an animation, this app is more of a game, with students using a visual programming language to move through various levels. The “lite” version is free, but the version with codeable puzzles costs $2.99.


Clear is a simple, gesture-based to-do manager. It’s easy to stay organized, take notes, make different to-do lists and delete things.

Evernote is a note-taking and organizational app that has become common in and outside of education. One nice feature allows users to upload handwritten notes to better enable users to keep all their thoughts in one place. Luhtala suggests that the more users tag their notes the more effective this tool can be.

Notability is favored by many schools for note taking. It allows teachers and students to share notes and annotate PDFs. Luhtala wishes it allowed her to grab a document out of a student’s document folder, comment on it with her voice and send it back. But using the app so fluidly is a bit tricky. The app costs $1.99

PaperPort Notes offers a free alternative note taking tool to Notability. Luhtala likes it because she almost never writes text notes to students, preferring to record herself explaining comments and attaching the recording to specific parts of a document. This app does allow for text notes too.

Paper allows for more creative note taking for those who like sketches, diagrams and other non-textual notes. It has clean, simple visuals. “This is a beautiful application,” Luhtala said. “The problem is that it has in-app purchasing, which is always a problem for iPads that are circulating.” In other words, it’s free to try, but if a user wants more functionality he can click over the app store and go wild — not something schools want students doing.


Digital PassPort is one of Luhtala’s favorite tools for teaching digital citizenship lessons. Created by Common Sense Media, a non-profit that has been creating digital citizenship content and curriculum for schools, it comes highly recommended.

Nearpod is a participatory presentation tool that allows students to interact with the content while keeping control with the teacher. Luhtala says it’s as a good tool to transition middle-schoolers into appropriate behavior online. They can practice by interacting with the teacher first.


EasyBib and NoodleTools are both bibliography tools that can help students stay organized and track their research online. Once a student signs in for the first time these apps connect him or her to other online resources they’ve stored.


Educators have been using Pinterest for a long time to share ideas with one another. Now some educators are finding it to be a simple portal to parents who want to support their learners at home. Teachers can stash resources on different subject areas on boards so parents can further learning at home. It can be a great way to bolster the school to home connection in some communities.

Instagram is best known as a social media tool, but some educators are using it to help students document their experiences. “The next big thing is Instagram,” Luhtala said. Hashtags can help keep photos of the same topic together and students can use it in the field to take notes. Later their ‘grams and tweets from the field can be pulled into something more cohesive using Storify.

Storify is a way to archive social media. Some educators are finding it to be a good way to archive a school’s backchannel over a day or week. There’s no app yet, but this could be another powerful tool for adding transparency to the discussions taking place online.

APPS FOR EDUCATORS/LIBRARIANS is a community of educators discussing tips and trends through online discussions. While the site hosts webinars that teachers can attend for continuing education credits, Luhtala uses the mobile app to keep tabs on different evolving conversations with her professional learning community throughout the day.

Follett Destiny is a powerful tool for active librarians who spend more time visiting classrooms than sitting in the library — librarians like Luhtala. When she does an activity in a classroom, she can check out books to students on the spot using this mobile app. It’s a handy way to make sure a student gets the resource he needs at the moment it is suggested to him.

DestinyQuest is a free app that allows students and teachers to access the library catalogue from a mobile device. Students can search for resources, leave reviews, and check account information.

Follet TitleWave gives librarians an easy way to order new books. When out and about, if an educators sees a book that would make a good addition to the library she can take a picture of the cover and the app will automatically start populating a cart.

Google Voice Connects is a call forwarding service. Luhtala uses the app to make herself available to students after hours without releasing her personal phone number. Text messages can be collected through the app or in an email, making it less intrusive.


EduClipper is a popular portfolio tool that allows teachers to manage the portfolio for a secure environment, but still allows kids to work independently. Students create their own content, use online resources and mash it all together to create projects.

ThingLink is a free app that lets a user tag images with audio or video and share them widely. “It’s one of my favorite go-to things,” Luhtala said. She uses it to feature book awards or other things she wants students and staff to notice.

Remind101 is an easy way to text students through a distribution list. They can see the message, but have no access to the teacher’s cell phone number. “I’m all about finding ways to reach out to your kids,” Luhtala said.

Socrative offers free versions of its app for students and for teachers. It’s an easy polling app that gives teachers an instant assessment of whether students are understanding concepts in class. Teachers can also create short answer questions in the app. Polleverywhere is a similar tool.

Symphonizer is great for music classes. Teachers or students upload sheet music and can then turn the page by smiling.

Voice Dream Reader will take any text, like an online article, and read it aloud. It has a much nicer computer voice than many computer assisted devices and could be a good alternative.

WordLens is the free app to go to for a quick translation from one language to another. Just hold a mobile device over the text and scan it for a translation.

WhatWasThere is a free, interactive app that tells users the history of the spot where he or she is standing. It could be a good tool for history teachers.

Three Trends That Define the Future of Teaching and Learning

In today’s dynamic classrooms, the teaching and learning process is becoming more nuanced, more seamless, and it flows back and forth from students to teachers. Here’s a look at current trends in teaching and learning, their implications, and changes to watch for.

The Three Key Trends

1. Collaborative.

If Web 2.0 has taught us anything, it’s to play nicely together. Sure, there are times for buckling down and working alone, but in most cases, the collaborative process boosts everyone’s game. In progressives schools across the country, students and teachers are learning from each other in all sorts of ways.

Sharing information and connecting with others — whether we know them personally or not — has proven to be a powerful tool in education. Students are collaborating with each other through social media to learn more about specific subjects, to test out ideas and theories, to learn facts, and to gauge each others’ opinions.

They’re finding each other on their ownkid-specific social networking sites, on their blogs, on schools’ sites, and of course on Facebook and Twitter. Though Facebook is still a red herring when it comes to school policy (Massachusetts districts have threatened to fire teachers who friend students on Facebook), and educators are split over whether tweeting in class is disruptive or helpful, the sites continue to be pervasive in both higher-ed and K-12. Educators know they can grab students’ attention where they naturally live outside the classroom — the online social world, whether or not it’s Facebook.

“If you’re teaching something that’s usually bland and you insert a simple tool that allows students to connect with each other or their peers in other schools and countries whenever they want, you just see kids’ faces light up,” says veteran educator Chris Lehmann of theScience Leadership Academy.

Educators Unite

But social networking is not just for teens, as evidenced by the 500 million-plus Facebook users. Teachers are putting their collective smarts together to find the best ways of engaging students, using social media to teach everything from reading and writing to Shakespeare. Educators are also using social media to connect with each other, share ideas, and find the best teaching tools and practices. Sites like Classroom 2.0, Teacher TubePBS Teachers,EdmodoEdutopia, and countless others are lit up with teachers sharing success stories, asking for advice, and providing support. Collaboration is happening offline, too, at schools where educators team-teach and organize professional learning networks.

Collaboration is also finding its way into curriculum with open-source sites to which everyone is encouraged to contribute. Working together is woven into the fabric of project-based schools like the Science Leadership in Academy, which focuses on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship, and Napa New Tech High High. The idea is simple: by working together, students figure out how to find common ground, balance each others’ skills, communicate clearly, and be accountable to the team for their part of the project. Just as they would in the work place.

Watch for: (1) Department of Education working to establish a one-stop shop for teacher networks. (2) Commonly accepted guidelines for using YouTube, Facebook, and other social media in schools.

 2. Tech-Powered.

Pens and pencils are far from obsolete, but forward-thinking educators are finding other interactive tools to grab their students’ attention. School programs are built around teaching how to create video games. Teachers are using Guitar Hero, geo-caching (high-tech scavenger hunt), Google maps for teaching literatureWii in lieu of P.E., VoiceThread to communicate, ePals and LiveMocha to learn global languages with native speakers, Voki to create avatars of characters in stories, and Skype to communicate with peers from all over the world — even augmented reality, connecting students to virtual characters. And that’s just a tiny sampling.

Creating media is another noteworthy tech-driven initiative in education. Media permeates our lives, and the better able students are to create and communicate with media, the better connected they’ll be to global events and to the working world. To that end, programs like Digital Youth Network focus on teaching students tocreate podcasts, videos, and record music; and Adobe Youth Voices teaches kids how to make and edit films and connects them to documentary filmmakers.

Tech-savvy teachers are threading media-making tools into the curriculum with free (or cheap) tools, like comic strip-creation site ToonDoMicrosoft Photo Story 3 for slide shows,SoundSlides for audio slide shows, Microsoft Movie Maker, and VoiceThread to string together images, videos, and documents, to name just a few.

Students in high school and college are using digital portfolios — the equivalent of resumes — to showcase the trajectory of their work on websites that link to their assignments, achievements, and course of study, using photos, graphics, spreadsheets and web pages.

Watch for: The explosive growth of high-tech companies and venture capitalists investing ever-more capital in the education market.
3. Blended.

Simply stated, blended learning is combining computers with traditional teaching. Knowing that today’s learners are wired at all times, teachers are directing students’ natural online proclivity towards schoolwork. It’s referred to as different things — reverse teaching, flip teaching, backwards classroom, or reverse instruction. But it all means the same thing: students conduct research, watch videos, participate in collaborative online discussions, and so on at home and at school — both in K-12 schools and in colleges and universities.

Teachers use this technique in different ways. Some assign interactive quizzesand online collaborative projects at home, some use computer time in class, some assign watching videos and lectures at home and use class time for hands-on projects, some place most of the curriculum online and work one-one-one with students in class. However they choose to do it, the best examples of blended learning programs involve teachers who use home-time online discussions and collaborative projects as fuel for content and discussion in the classroom.

This movement is growing quickly — the Department of Education plans to spend $30 millionover the next three years to bring blended learning to 400 schools around the country.

Why Kids Need Schools to Change


Flickr: Elizabeth Albert

The current structure of the school day is obsolete, most would agree. Created during the Industrial Age, the assembly line system we have in place now has little relevance to what we know kids actually need to thrive.

Most of us know this, and yet making room for the huge shift in the system that’s necessary has been difficult, if not impossible because of fear of the unknown, says educator Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well.

“People don’t like change, especially in times of great uncertainty,” she said. “People naturally go conservative and buckle down and don’t want to try something new. There are schools that are trying to do things differently, and although on the one hand they’re heralded as having terrific vision, they’re still seen as experimental.”

During this time of economic uncertainty, especially, Levine said parents want to make sure their kids won’t fall into the ranks of the unemployed and disenfranchised young people who return home because they’re unable to find jobs. “There’s so much anxiety around the economy, they’re thinking, What can I do to make sure that my kid isn’t one of the unemployed”? she said.

Yet therein lies the paradox. It’s exactly during these uncertain times when people must be willing to try new things, to be more open, curious and experimental, she said. In education, although there are great new models of learning and schooling, they are the exceptions, and the progressive movement has not gained much momentum.

“I’m astounded at the glacial pace of change in education,” she said. “Like many academic areas, there’s a huge disconnect between what’s known and what’s in practice. It’s very slow moving.”

Levine, who was a teacher herself for many years, said she has tremendous respect for educators and believes they need full support from parents and administrators. But until the directive comes from those in power — national and state policymakers, superintendents, principals — what can teachers do individually to make learning relevant for their students?

“One thing we know for sure is that kids learn better when teachers are invested and paying attention and showing they care,” she said. “The biggest impact you’ll have as a teachers is the relationship you establish with your student.”

Try to integrate what students are interested in within what’s happening in class, get to know each student, and have high expectations. Taking seriously the range of interests kids have, she said.

In addition to individual attention, Levine believes a child’s time in school should look much like what kindergarten did.

“There’s probably no better example of the throttling of creativity than the difference between what we observe in a kindergarten classroom and what we observe in a high school classroom,” she writes in Teach Your Children Well. “Take a room full of five-year-olds and you will see creativity in all its forms positively flowing around the room. A decade later you will see these same children passively sitting at their desks, half asleep or trying to decipher what will be on the next test.”

In an ideal world, the school day would reflect kids’ changing needs and rhythms. There would be time for free play; school would start later to allow time for students’ much-needed rest; the transition time between classes would be longer, allowing time for kids to walk down the hall and say hi to their friends and plan their next moves; kids would have the opportunity to step away from school “work” in order to regroup and process what they’ve absorbed. “The actual encoding of information doesn’t take place when you’re hunched over a desk,” she said.

And just as importantly, the arts would be integrated into a curriculum, not as an ancillary addition, but as a primary part of learning. “For developing creativity and flexible and divergent thinking, we need to bring back the arts,” she said. “It’s a travesty that kids don’t have arts anymore.”


“We’re operating on a 200- year-old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set,” she said. “When we talk to business owners, we hear this large and increasing drumbeat that the jobs are there, but kids applying for jobs don’t have the kinds of skills they need.”

Levine spends a lot of her time at Challenge Success, a school training program at Stanford that’s been incorporated into about 100 schools across the country. The five criteria that Challenge Success brings to schools attempts to modernize the obsolete system in place today: scheduling, project based learning, alternative assessment, climate of care, and parent education.

  • PROJECT BASED LEARNING. Project-based learning has shown to be a much more effective way to think about learning, “particularly when you live in a world that’s incredibly unclear on what content is going to be relevant in not just 10 or 20 years, but in three years,” she said. “Over and over business leaders say kids need to be collaborative, work across time zones and cultures because problems are so complex.”
  • ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT. “You don’t have the opportunity to show what you know in a regular school because standardized tests that are mandated only show what some kids know, but leave out a whole bunch of kids who aren’t able to show what they know in different ways,” she said. We should have alternative criteria for gauging students’ knowledge and ability to show what they know.
  • SCHEDULING. Neuroscience research on sleep is becoming more compelling by the day, particularly around depression, Levine said. “We’d always thought fatigue is symptom of depression, but now it’s looking more like lack of sleep causes depression, and that’s something looked at seriously.” Kids needs nine hours of sleep, and if schools were in synch developmentally with teenagers, should would start at 10 a.m., especially when kids enter adolescence. Teachers should also coordinate their exams with each other to ensure that students are not taking multiple tests on the same day.
  • CLIMATE OF CARE. Research shows that kids do better in classes where teachers know their names and say hello to them, and when they have their own advocates or advisers at school. “Almost every private school has advisory, a person for each kid to go to,” Levine said. “But in public schools, there are just a few counselors for a thousand kids or more. By the time you’re hitting high school, you need someone apart from parents to test ideas with, to kick around problems, a go-to person who a kid feels knows them.”
  • PARENT EDUCATION. Well-meaning parents are confounded with how to approach managing their kids’ times. Kids needs playtime, downtime, and family time, Levine said. “We’ve robbed kids at each stage of childhood and adolescence of tasks that belong in that particular stage,” she said. “You can’t push kids outside their developmental zone and expect them to learn. You want to push them towards the edge of it, but not over.”

21 Things That Will Be Obsolete by 2020


Flickr: Corey Leopold

Inspired by Sandy Speicher’s vision of the designed school day of the future, reader Shelly Blake-Plock shared his own predictions of that ideal day. How close are we to this? The post was written in December 2009, and Blake-Plock says he’s seeing some of these already beginning to come to fruition.

[Update: I asked Blake-Plock to respond to comments to this post. Read it here.]

By Shelly Blake-Plock

The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: ‘Our concept of what a computer is.’ Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we’re going to see the full fury ofindividualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can’t wait.


The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.

Books were nice. In ten years’ time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the ‘feel’ of paper. Well, in ten years’ time you’ll hardly tell the difference as ‘paper’ itself becomes digitized.

Bio scans. ‘Nuff said.

A coat-check, maybe.

Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade’s worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT — software, security, and connectivity — a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

School buildings are going to become ‘homebases’ of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will begoing out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN (professional learning networks) in their back pockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide professional development programs. This is already happening.

There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade — in the best of schools — they will be.

Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we’ll have finally woken up to the fact that there’s no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and I.T. in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

10 Ways to Teach Innovation | MindShift

By Thom Markham

One overriding challenge is now coming to the fore in public consciousness: We need to reinvent just about everything. Whether scientific advances, technology breakthroughs, new political and economic structures, environmental solutions, or an updated code of ethics for 21st century life, everything is in flux—and everything demands innovative, out of the box thinking.

The burden of reinvention, of course, falls on today’s generation of students. So it follows that education should focus on fostering innovation by putting curiosity, critical thinking, deep understanding, the rules and tools of inquiry, and creative brainstorming at the center of the curriculum.

This is hardly the case, as we know. In fact, innovation and the current classroom model most often operate as antagonists. The system is evolving, but not quickly enough to get young people ready for the new world. But I do believe there are a number of ways that teachers can bypass the system and offer students the tools and experiences that spur an innovative mindset. Here are ten ideas:

Move from projects to Project Based Learning. Most teachers have done projects, but the majority do not use the defined set of methods associated with high-quality PBL. These methods include developing a focused question, using solid, well crafted performance assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, enlisting community resources, and choosing engaging, meaningful themes for projects. PBL offers the best method we have presently for combining inquiry with accountability, and should be part of every teacher’s repertoire. See my website or the Buck Institute for methods.

Teach concepts, not facts. Concept-based instruction overcomes the fact-based, rote-oriented nature of standardized curriculum. If your curriculum is not organized conceptually, use you own knowledge and resources to teach ideas and deep understanding, not test items.

Distinguish concepts from critical information. Preparing students for tests is part of the job. But they need information for a more important reason: To innovate, they need to know something. The craft precedes the art. Find the right blend between open-ended inquiry and direct instruction.

Make skills as important as knowledge. Innovation and 21st century skills are closely related. Choose several 21st century skills, such as collaboration or critical thinking, to focus on throughout the year. Incorporate them into lessons. Use detailed rubrics to assess and grade the skills.

Form teams, not groups. Innovation now emerges from teams and networks—and we can teach students to work collectively and become better collective thinkers. Group work is common, but team work is rare. Some tips: Use specific methods to form teams; assess teamwork and work ethic; facilitate high quality interaction through protocols and critique; teach the cycle of revision; and expect students to reflect critically on both ongoing work and final products. For peer collaboration rubrics, see these free PBL Tools.

Use thinking tools. Hundreds of interesting, thought provoking tools exist for thinking through problems, sharing insights, finding solutions, and encouraging divergent solutions. Use Big Think tools or the Visible Thinking Routines developed at Harvard’s Project Zero.

Use creativity tools. Industry uses a set of cutting edge tools to stimulate creativity and innovation. As described in books such as Gamestorming or Beyond Words, the tools include playful games and visual exercises that can easily be used in the classroom.

Reward discovery. Innovation is mightily discouraged by our system of assessment, which rewards the mastery of known information. Step up the reward system by using rubrics with a blank column to acknowledge and reward innovation and creativity. I call it the Breakthrough column. All of the rubrics on the PBL Tools section of my website have a breakthrough column.

Make reflection part of the lesson. Because of the coverage imperative, the tendency is to move on quickly from the last chapter and begin the next chapter. But reflection is necessary to anchor learning and stimulate deeper thinking and understanding. There is no innovation without rumination.

Be innovative yourself. This is the kicker, because innovation requires the willingness to fail, a focus on fuzzy outcomes rather than standardized measures, and the bravery to resist the system’s emphasis on strict accountability. But the reward is a kind of liberating creativity that makes teaching exciting and fun, engages students, and—most critical—helps students find the passion and resources necessary to design a better life for themselves and others.

This post originally appeared on ThomMarkham’s blog.Thom Markham, Ph.D., is a psychologist and school redesign consultant who assists teachers in designing high quality, rigorous projects that incorporate 21st century skills and the principles of youth development. He is also the author of the Project Based Learning Design and Coaching Guide: Expert tools for innovation and inquiry for k-12 teachers.

10 Ways to Teach Innovation | MindShift.