Flipped Learning Sure Sounds a Lot Like Special Education

I’m here at the Flipped Class Conference in Chicago learning more about what Flipped Learning is all about. There are some great ideas and tools being shared and some intriguing questions being asked.

This may sound odd but listening to various speakers, watching videos and reading more about the concept of Flipped Learning, I’m beginning to draw major parallels between Flipped Learning and special education. Many of the ideas being put forth mimic the daily life of a special education teacher.

The Hechinger Report recently put out this article on Flipped Learning. Check out these snippets:

“She uses class time to tailor instruction to students who started the school year behind their classmates in reading and math, and she has seen rapid improvement.” -Sarah Butrymowicz, Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts, Hechinger Report

“Praised by advocates for letting students work at their own pace, flipped classrooms also allow teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students.” -Sarah Butrymowicz, Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts, Hechinger Report

Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like differentiated instruction? Yesterday, I attended a session called Alternative Assessments during which Dalia Zygas shared multiple styles of assessment including. Judging from facial expressions, many teachers in the room seemed to think these ideas were innovative, but almost all of them were taught in courses during my Master’s Degree in Learning Disabilities. (I want to be clear that the point I’m illustrating bears no reflection on Dalia as a speaker. In fact I thought she did a great job of sharing helpful information and I am impressed with her for pioneering new ideas in her classroom. Her school is lucky to have her.) 

During the Flipped Class Conference I heard a lot of people talking about:

  • Reaching all learners (AKA Differentiation)
  • Individualized feedback
  • High engagement
  • Inclusive settings that foster acceptance of all learning styles
  • Rethinking the physical space of a classroom to maximize student independence
  • Teaching using multiple modalities
  • Offering choice
  • Using multiple (and non-traditional) forms of assessment
I am not saying that Flipped Learning is synonymous with special education by any means but I do see clear parallels. A great special education teacher is already thinking of all the bullet points mentioned above on a daily basis. Let’s be honest, if differentiation was quick and simple, everyone would do it! Differentiating instruction is a a true art. The best lessons I learned here at the conference were the ones that would support general education teachers in thinking more like special education teachers, allowing them to reach a broader spectrum of learners.
I still have some questions about Flipped Learning and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with the wonderful people I met at the conference. I am definitely sold on the idea that using video and other technologies can maximize student independence and make differentiation more efficient. I guess what I’m wondering is, why don’t we just move past the idea of  “special education” and require all teachers to know how to teach all students?

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I’ve been in Chicago for a few days now and sadly have not had a ton of time to write. I came out here to hang out with the Mentormob crew and to learn more about the Flipped Learning movement at the Flipped Class Conference. The conference is at the Flashpoint Academy, which is a sweet space with a ton of outlets in nifty places but very spotty wifi. The only good thing about not writing is that there is more time to think. After absorbing quite a bit over the past few days, I’ll do my best to share some thoughts.
Let’s start with Brian Bennett’s opening keynote, which rocked. I was completely captivated from the start – Jon and Aaron made a great call having him kick off the event. Here are a few of his most quotable moments:
  • “I never want to see a bell curve again – I don’t want to fail kids anymore.”
  • “What we call cheating, I call collaborating.”
  • “Why do we hang onto things that don’t work? (Then he went on to give the example of the Scantron, asking if anyone had ever tried using a #3 Pencil.)
  • “What’s your rubric? When do you want it to be due?” (Some questions he asks students)

What I loved most about Brian is that he sounded like a special education teacher. He really spoke my language. When discussing the concept of Flipped Learning he talked about changes in both physical space and in mindset. He illuminated the fact that all individuals learn differently and make different choices, sharing about how flipping his classroom has allowed him to reach more learners.

At some point during the day I stumbled across this article: Can the Flipped Classroom Benefit Low-Income Students? The title alone caught my attention as this had been one of my pressing and unanswered questions about flipped learning. All day I wondered if someone from the conference would respond to the article and after a long day of thinking and learning, I read this response on none other than Brian Bennett’s blog.

I appreciate his response and agree that the title of the piece is a bit misleading but I definitely hear the concern regarding funding in low income communities. Getting funding is not impossible by any means, but it is a challenge without a doubt. Teachers are often exhausted…anything that is time consuming is often a drag for even the most dedicated teachers. Brian is right when he says “A defeatist attitude will not help anyone move forward,” and in all honesty, I wish all teachers had a little bit more Brian Bennett in them. However, I fear that when faced with choosing between spending their limited free time on applying for grants that may get denied or planning for tomorrow’s lesson, many teachers will choose the latter.

The stronger point that he makes in his post (and in his keynote) is that Flipped Learning is not about watching videos at home. He writes, “If the responsibility is put back on the students, whether its in class or out of class, the class has been effectively flipped.”

In education there is no black or white, only gray. And as with all educational movements, philosophies and products, I’m always looking to take what I can and use it in a balanced way. I am so excited to be amongst the pioneers of Flipped Learning and look forward to learning more tomorrow.

As for B. Bennett, I’m hooked. Definitely check out his website – he is one smart dude.

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NMC Summer Conference Day 1 Highlights

Day 1: Highlights

Opening Keynote: Innovation in Open Networks

What a great first day at the NMC Summer Conference! The Opening Keynote: Innovation in Open Networks by Joichi Ito was an inspiring way to kick off the day! Here are my major takeaways from Joichi Ito:

  • Taking risks and asking questions are imperative to discovering new things.
  • Peripheral vision is key to serendipity. Serendipity can lead us to opportunity and luck, to which Ito attributes much of his success.
  • Focus on agility over strategy because by the time you figure out the strategy, the world has changed.

Check out my first Posters, Interactives, and Art Show

One of the highlights for me was getting to experience the “Interactives.” Many educational conferences have “Expos” or “Poster Galleries,” but I often find myself wondering how a 2-D poster can best describe a hands-on tech project. What I liked about the NMC’s Posters, Interactives and Art Show exhibit was actually interactive. Individuals and groups set up projects that were connected to projectors, laptops, ipads, mobile devices, etc. The guests were able to learn about each project by trying it out, and isn’t Learning by Doing what we’re all about?

As for the projects, I was most moved by: “Theatre of the Digital Classroom: Multi-modal Performance for Stage and Screen,” a project by Marlon Kuzmick and Elise Morrison of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University. This project prepares graduate students and faculty members to teach in flipped classrooms.















Challenge Based Learning:

Strong teachers know that presenting a problem and asking students to work on finding a solution can yield extremely high engagement for students. Creating units that offer these experiences for our students is extraordinarily time consuming…when making up the problems. In today’s session: Challenge Based Learning: Take Action and Make a Difference we pondered why teachers create problems that don’t exist? Aren’t there enough real problems in our homes and schools that we can begin to try to solve together?

Challenge based learning is a framework that can be adapted or differentiated to work in  the K-12 space, Higher Education, or even a business setting. Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is engaging for students because during a CBL unit they are treated like adults (which they love!) When presented with a challenge and asked to take action to impact others, our youth will rise to the occasion. CBL taps into our youth’s innate desire to help others and make change.

Want to learn more about CBL? Here is a great place to get started!


Emerging Leaders

Today’s closing session featured six young individuals from around the world identified by the NMC as Emerging Leaders to watch. Too often, we look at who is changing our world today, but this last session encouraged us to take a look at the individuals who will change our world over the next five or ten years.

With only 6 minutes, each individual had an opportunity to share about their project. Each speaker was unique and special, but something about Ignacio Rodriguez really struck me. Perhaps it was his dedication to supporting students who live in environments that don’t allow for learning. His project to help public school students build math skills is geared specifically toward students living in communities where violence, crime and poor teaching conditions are dominant. Somehow, these students are missing from so many of our conversations, so it was refreshing to hear about a project built upon this missing community. He began his talk with the word “vulnerability” and he captivated me from the start.

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The Coming Weeks…

In the coming weeks, EdGeeks will look a little bit different than usual as I will be covering two conferences. Next week I am headed to MIT for the NMC Summer Conference. I am really looking forward to meeting the uber-friendly NMC community. I will be blogging from the conference so make sure to stay tuned, and of course if you’re headed that way, drop me a line:) In the mean time…

Top 5 Things I Can’t Wait For at the NMC Summer Conference

  1. Opening Keynote: Innovation in Open Networks by Joichi Ito (Because Joichi Ito is pretty remarkable!)
  2. Challenge Based Learning: Take Action and Make a Difference by Apple (Because it will be a new topic for me and I’m looking forward to learning something new.)
  3. MIT Media Lab – Reception and Dancing (Because I CAN’T WAIT to see the MIT Media Lab and because receptions are the best for networking and meeting interesting people!)
  4. It’s Here! The NMC Horizon Report > 2012 K-12 Edition (Because I think this session will tie the other sessions all together by discussing emerging tech, key trends and opportunities in the field.)
  5. Fellows Award and Closing Plenary: Education – No Silver Bullet? (Because I have heard wonderful things about Lord Puttnam and I am excited to hear him speak on the possibilities for acceleration of tech for learning.) 

    Stay tuned next week for more on the NMC conference.

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Taking in the moment…

Hello Friends and Fellow EdGeeks,

I could not be more excited to share that this Saturday Bryan and I got engaged! We will be taking the week to celebrate and embrace this special time in our lives. I will be back on Tuesday, May 29th. Have a wonderful week and a relaxing Memorial Day Weekend. See you soon.


Off to Smile


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An NYC 4th Grader and a California Parent Demonstrate the Power of Writing

Over the past two weeks, parents, teachers and students from across the country have been reaching out to EdGeeks to share about their experiences with standardized testing. In an attempt to engage conversation, support families, share knowledge, and bring about change, EdGeeks will share these pieces with the public. Today, I am featuring two very different voices.

This first piece is an original poem written by an NYC public school student in the fourth grade.

This original student poem was submitted to EdGeeks by a local, NYC parent.

Thank you BBJ! You are a strong writer and a brave fourth grader for sharing your thoughts with the world. I also want to take the opportunity to let you know that many of the teachers I have been hearing from would disagree with the line, “taking tests is a ‘gift’ to teachers.” I thought it was important for you to know that not all teachers enjoy giving tests…in fact many of us want the testing to stop too:)

The following is a letter written by a parent in California. The goal of the letter is to opt her child out of standardized testing. She decided to share this letter as a sample for other families who are considering opting out but don’t quite know where to begin.

This letter was submitted to EdGeeks by an elementary school parent in California.

Feel free to email any submissions or questions to Remember, this is a place to share proactive voices in an effort to bring about change. Thank you to all of my readers who have been submitting their work. You inspire me daily:)

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EdGeeks Goes Back to School

Recently, I reached out to some local public school PTA parents to see how I could best support the families at their school. One school, PS 165 invited me to come speak about EdGeeks at their April PTA meeting. Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of meeting the PS 165 Parents’ Association. Being back in school and speaking with parents brought back memories. This experience reiterated the value of the parent-teacher relationship and reignited the passion I have for sharing information with families.

At the meeting, I introduced EdGeeks and explained how many of the posts come from questions submitted by parents and teachers. I also created a list of resources for NYC families. What I found most interesting was how engaged the parents seemed in the list of resources I gave them. The Internet can be quite daunting. If you google “Struggling Reader,” or “Math Games,” it can take hours of research to sift through the trash and get to the resources that will actually help. It reminded me of the fact that even a simple list of websites can go a long way for eager parents.

The families at PS 165 seemed excited about submitting questions to EdGeeks, and I hope you are too! I invite students, families and teachers to submit any and all questions to If I have the answer, I’ll create a post about it because chances are, if you have a question about learning or teaching – you are not alone. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll do the best I can to pull together resources that CAN help you.

Someone recently said to me, “You are more than just a Twitter handle,” and of course I laughed. Sometimes I forget how much of my life has moved online. Visiting PS 165 grounded me by reminding me of what a difference a human conversation can make. Thank you to the wonderful families at PS 165. I look forward to speaking with more local parents in the near future.

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Penny Conference: If we could redesign learning for the 21st Century, what would it look like?

“There is more that I don’t know, than what I do know” –Baratunde Thurston on learning more about the book he was writing from others

Once we can get past this idea, we will be both stronger teachers and more active learners.

Last Friday was the first Penny Conference by Skillshare. It is now a week later and I am still floating on cloud nine from the event. Skillshare and all of the speakers at the Penny Conference asked themselves this question: If we could redesign education for the 21st century, what would it look like? Each speaker captivated the audience in a different way, but the thread that tied them altogether was the idea that sharing knowledge is the key to learning.

The Penny Conference was so unique is because it was not a conference about education reform, it was a conference about learning and sharing knowledge. Tony Wagner spoke about the difference between the words “reform” and “reinvent” and in my estimation, Skillshare’s Penny Conference was more about a reinvention of the way we learn through redefining how, when and where learning happens.

My Top Takeaways from the Penny Conference (in no particular order):

  • Learning should not be restricted to the classroom environment
  • Everyone is an expert at something and anyone can be a teacher. [Teen teacher (and student!) Adora Svitak proved this to us during her speech.]
  • Many teachers are working with a curriculum that will soon be obsolete. We need to begin teaching the skills that will benefit our students in today’s society.
  • Engagement must be a top priority for all teachers. Don’t ask yourself: “Do they know it?” Ask yourself, “Do they love it?” -Adora Svitak
My Most Memorable Moments from the Penny Conference:
  • Michael Karnjanaprakorn did not only offer inspiring words, but speaking with him 1:1 after the conference made me realize that a large part of why Skillshare is so amazing is because their CEO is a great visionary. Michael was approachable and friendly, and the way that he spoke about his vision for Skillshare was incredibly engaging.
  • Adora Svitak made me think about how the engagement factor in learning must be a top priority for all teachers. Don’t ask yourself: “Do they know it?” Ask yourself, “Do they love it?”
  • Aaron Dignan won me over on gamification for learning while speaking about how even in games, people want to skip the tutorial and figure out the rules while playing. As a teacher, I sometimes forget what the draw of gaming used to be, but Aaron’s words took me back to the era of DuckHunt, Myst, and Oregon Trail (how embarrassing!) His words illustrated such a clear example of human nature craving learning by doing.
  • “Learning is not about competing with others…” –Eddie Huang (followed by a freestyle rap session)…enough said.
  • Charles Best discussing how organizations such as Donors Choose, Etsy, Kickstarter and more are trying to stop traditional gatekeepers from standing in your way.
  • I’m not sure how but Zach Sims managed to convince me that I want to learn to code. Do I hear a movement towards coding as a second language in schools?
  • Im not exactly sure what to say about Adam Braun. From the second he set foot on the stage, he was completely captivating. I love everything that Adam Braun stands for and am in awe of his organization, Pencils of Promise.

I’ll leave you with this. I was so moved by the attention Kio Stark paid to failure. She put forth the idea that embracing and allowing failure will bring us closer towards success. That is a difficult concept for us (teachers) to grasp today, especially when everyone in the education industry is penalized for failure. With all of the testing in NYC this week, I have continuously been thinking about Kio’s description of how in order to move forward, more people need to risk failure and make mistakes…

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A Call to Action: Submit your work to show that you are Pro-Learning

Calling All Teachers and Parents:  I recently came across a group of parents in NYC (Change the Stakes) who have chosen to Opt Out of standardized testing. I have been moved by the actions they have taken to ensure that their children get the best possible education. Although I am pretty sure we can all agree that creativity, high engagement, imagination and innovation are key factors in learning, not all of us are ready to Opt Out. There has to be something in between…a way for people to show their support without putting their children or their jobs at risk. That is why EdGeeks is creating the Pro-Learning project. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with the direction in which education is heading, then let’s do something about it together. I was a classroom teacher for years. I was busy. I was tired. I was frustrated, and perhaps scared of the consequences…but to bring learning back into classrooms, we must bring the voices from the field together to raise awareness about the issues surrounding high stakes testing. That means teachers, students, families and administrators should begin engaging in or leading conversations in their community. If you are not ready to Opt Out, read below to find out what you can do to show your support.

Not sure where to start? I really like this one pager from Change the Stakes. It gives a ton of information and provides a network for NYC families.

For students, teachers and parents who are concerned that standardized testing and test preparation has impeded authentic and creative learning in the classroom, here is something simple you can do to show your support! 
  • Give your students (or your child) a meaningful HW assignment: “Create a piece of writing or art which captures a moment when you felt that standardized testing or test preparation got in the way of your learning.” Submit all work to to be published on EdGeeks. Please feel free to submit your own work too. We are collecting pieces from students, teachers and families. 
I knew I needed to do something last week when an 8-year old asked me, “Will you still love me if I get a 1?” (True story!)

When did you know? Complete this sentence by leaving a comment: I knew I needed to do something when…

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More teaching, less talking pineapples. Submit your work to show that you are Pro-Learning!

Created by Ari Joseph who attended NYC Public School and is Pro-Learning. Please download this image and share it to raise awareness about the issues surrounding standardized tests.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following the latest news on standardized testing here in New York. It is a controversial issue to say the least, and it’s about much more than a sleeveless, talking pineapple. Sadly, I do not have a perfect solution to suggest as an alternative to standardized testing, but I think we can all agree that we want children to spend their time in an environment that promotes creativity, imagination and innovation. Plus, if Pineapples can talk, I think its high time we begin speaking up too! (Sorry, I had to…)

This is not a new issue. Teachers have been complaining for years that standardized testing has taken a toll on authentic and creative learning. This year there seems to be a growing group of parents and administrators who are making noise and raising awareness around the country. Suddenly this crucial matter is gaining more attention. I believe that it will be the voices of students, teachers and parents that will ultimately make a difference in education and bring learning back into our classrooms.

I am only a former teacher (whatever that means)…but in an effort to be more of a doer and less of a talker I have come up with two ways that I can pitch in and advocate for better learning environments for children. I hope you will help me. Here is the first part of my action plan…


Action Plan Part 1: 

I would like to create a section of EdGeeks where I can feature the thoughts of parents, students, teachers and administrators who are Pro-Learning. Pro-Learning means that you believe in imagination, encourage innovation and embrace mistakes. The goal is to provide a platform where the people who matter can speak out about how and why they feel that standardized testing has led our classrooms away from learning. Here is a list of suggested ideas for work to submit. Please email all entries to and feel free to scan in any hand-written work. (If you wish to remain anonymous, please state that in your email.)

Suggestions for Student Submissions:
  • Write a piece about what you wish you could do in school instead of test prep
  • Write a piece about your favorite type of learning or a favorite project you have done
  • Write about an experience that you have had before, during or after testing
  • Interview a friend about how they feel about testing or test prep
  • Draw a illustration that represents your feelings about (testing, school, learning, etc.)
Suggestions for Adult Submissions:
  • Write about a time when you felt that testing was standing in the way of authentic learning for your child/your student/yourself (ie: testing, test prep, homework for testing)
  • Interview your child/student and submit a video clip of a moving response
  • Submit a photo of your child’s artistic demonstration: (ie: photo of a stack of test prep books, etc.)
  • Teachers/administrators can submit a story about a time when test preparation got in the way of learning
You can begin submitting your work via email ( immediately. In fact, the sooner the better! If you wish to handwrite- or your children want to handwrite/draw an illustration, feel free to scan and email as an attachment. Once I have received the first 5 pieces, I will create the section on my site and make it public. Think of this as an e-book of voices from the field.
Here is my very first submission:

This was a HW assignment submitted by a concerned parent of an 8-year old third grader. The HW was to practice filling in bubbles. No instructions, no questions asked. Gotta make sure those bubbles get filled!

Stay tuned for Action Plan Part 2, coming up early next week…

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