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As The World Changes, How Should School Change?



Image attribution flickr user Spark Fun Electronics

As The World Changes, How Should School Change?

by Terry Heick

As YouTube replaces television and all media seeks to be social, there is a growing civic discontent over the economic chemistry of our nation.

As foreign policy is carried out in real-time over social media and entire news cycles last less time than it used to take to print a newspaper, there are new questions for education to answer.

As users can read exactly the news they want than what is actually news, the context for learning–and students–is being turned upside down.

In a digitally-connected and increasingly ‘global’ world, the very nature of democracy and laws and discourse are challenged. While America has long a blue-collar nation established through notions of rugged individualism and close-knit communities, issues of industrial gravitas were born during the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, and metamorphosized into wider-reaching corporate influence and greed which arrived in the public consciousness in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily through film (e.g., Wall Street featuring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglass).

In this system, the vast majority of the power—political, influence, and financial—is controlled by a select few, where a symbolic ‘1%’ (or maybe closer to 3%) have control and others scramble for what they can get. While straight political discussions are mercifully beyond our interest, the issue can’t be ignored entirely, primarily because the systems of education—i.e., formal learning institutions–have inherited a parallel infrastructure stricken with a parallel imbalance–one that promotes a narrow vision of academic success that works well for the ‘1%’ while clumsy and woefully inadequate for the rest.

Consumerism and Education

As consumers, Americans demand high levels of quality. Cell phone carriers strive for ‘zero dropped calls,’ automotive manufacturers offer not 36,000 mile warranties but those that last 100,000 miles, and online purchasing is increasingly social, allowing for unprecedented roasting and yelping of any app, service, or product that doesn’t cater to every conceivable consumer whim.

But strangely, we don’t demand the same level of excellence in our formal learning systems. Movies like Waiting for Superman paint the average American family—very much ‘consumers’ of our multi-billion dollar education system—as helpless and passive.


While not quite passive, families stir and rant and flail, all the while hoping for district-sponsored lotteries to decide the fate of their children. In a nation full of grit and can-do spirit, this is curious. Perhaps some of the reason is perception. In a society that has trouble evaluating the quality of a learning experience, it might make sense why more people aren’t upset. If students can read, are getting ‘good grades,’ seem happy enough, and get into college, then K-12 has done its job, yes?

Who can complain when there is only accountability for test results and not the quality of learning experiences or life outcomes–precisely because the layperson cannot begin to evaluate the quality of those learning experiences beyond those test-based measures? Amazon has 800 word reviews on exercise machines, but the best we can do to evaluate the quality of learning is to ‘hear’ school X is ‘good’ or know a teacher that’s ‘good’ at school Y, crude measures we would never accept in our food, electronics, or sports wear.

The Credibility of Academia

As public and civil discourse is often anything but civil or even true discourse, the needs to know and terms for communication have chnaged. Further, the ability for the average citizen to carefully ‘curate’ exactly what they want to read and see and view creates new opportunities for critical empathy, thinking, and reasoned research and dialogue. It’s just an entirely different world today than it was even just ten years ago and our most recent efforts at ed reform/ focused on standards and data have done little to prepare students for any of it. The world they see on their screens and see in the classroom couldn’t be more different.

At the district and school levels, schools utilize various incarnations of ‘professional learning communities’ and ‘data teams’ to promote collaboration for teachers in pursuit of the ultimate goal: 100% ‘proficiency’ of each of these highly academic standards, as measured on a state-administered test dominated by multiple choice and short-response questions. An example of these standards includes the following English-Language Arts High School standard for literature:

“Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.”

While it is difficult to argue the importance of close reading of a variety of digital and non-digital text, there is tremendous challenge in establishing whether or not a student ‘understands’ how to do this—if they have ‘mastered’ this standard.

To measure mastery, teachers give assessments—informal and formal, quizzes and tests—to provide a starting point. Then, after ‘research-based’ instructional strategies are implemented, standard-mastery is measured again, and data is compiled, analyzed in said ‘data teams,’ and instruction revised again accordingly. On paper, this all makes sense. If a track-and-field athlete can be considered as an analogy, you see how far the athlete can jump, train him to jump further, then measure how much further he’s gone. The challenge here is that jumping distance is black and white, while notions of ‘understanding’ are not.

And the highly academic nature of reading and writing standards—while full of ‘rigor’–only serve to further detach the learning from the reality of the learner. If the ultimate measure of understanding is the ability of a learner to transfer understanding from a highly scaffolded situation to one without scaffolding—and hopefully from the classroom to the ‘real world’—highly artificial and academic standards, instruction, and assessment ‘data’ only serve to further obscure the learning process from those who matter most: the learners and their families.

In creating this highly academic world, we’ve moved the content, the instruction, and the notions of success beyond the grasp of learners, into institutionally-centered constructs that ultimately erode learner and social capacity.

Paraphrasing Ken Robinson, schools seem setup to make ‘little college professors,’ instead of vibrant, creative, self-aware members of a healthy and interdependent community. The big idea behind PLC-driven reform of standards and outcomes-base instruction is to make more learners able to achieve ‘success’ within this dated model of academic performance. But what if we revised how we measured proficiency?

Or, if we insist on constant measurement and data, widened the scope of what we were measuring and the data we’re documenting?

Or brought in communities to make decisions on curriculum, assessment, and instruction—and not via a school-sponsored PTA meeting, but on equal ground, where the school’s role in the community—and the community’s role in the school—have been carefully reconsidered. (Families won’t engage? Don’t know how? Well, it could be that parents and families don’t know how to help in schools and then we know where to start.)

Or, in perhaps the ultimate current model for a vision of learning, personalized learning for each student for their unique knowledge demands. Sound daunting? Of course it is; have you considered the alternative? 


With modern digital and social media, and potentially innovative learning cycles available through project and problem-based learning, there are tools available to discontinue hurtful traditions that are primarily academic. The key will be to awaken that 99%–the families and communities–to the very serious issues at hand, and help increase our collective cultural capacity to spot, produce, and revise authentic learning forms for learners who have the universe at their fingertips.

It seems to me, then, that we have three choices:

1. Leave things alone. Academics trump everything.

2. Integrate applied academics in pursuit of critical literacy–personal and social change.

3. Shift away from academics entirely.

Towards what? Well, that’s the exciting part. Once you’re willing to turn away from academia, a thread comes loose in the tapestry of scholastics as we know it, and we’ll be forced to sew something altogether new and different. Created in the 21st-century, this would necessarily be created with 21st-century thinking in modern contexts.

This will require a humbling modesty on the part of institutions to once and for all admit that they cannot possibly educate children alone–and to stop pointing at sporadic success as proof that ‘school works.’ While a decent number of students can be caused to be ‘proficient,’ this evaluation–and thus the product–is almost entirely academic. And thus imbalanced in a decidedly non-academic world.

Rather than improve ‘school,’ maybe we should think of what students need to know to grow healthy communities, and work backwards from there. To do that, we have to be willing to leave ‘school,’ as we know it, behind.

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What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers



What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers

by TeachThought Staff

What is Edcamp? In summary, Edcamp is a low-cost, ‘bottom-up’ approach to teacher improvement where ‘conference’ participants gather, decide what’s going to be learned, then set out to teach one another in a laid-back, communal approach of sessions.

Obviously, the big idea is in the contrast to large conferences or formal professional development (which we also offer and believe has a role in education improvement) that is more ‘top down’ and pre-determined–that is, where a few people come and deliver content to a lot of people about a topic more or less out of their control. Edcamps are often called ‘unconferences’ and the video below explains why.

According to, in an Edcamp event, educators simply gather to learn:

EdCamps are ‘unconference’ events with a focus on education and learning. Most professional learning is done where participants listen to one person who shares their presentation with the audience. EdCamps on the other hand are meant to encourage conversation and participation among the attendees. Participants determine the topics for the day and take an active role in setting the direction of the conference. In the first hour of EdCamp NEPA, attendees will meet and interact over coffee and a light breakfast. An empty session board will be available for everyone to post session titles. From that, a session board will be constructed that will provide the schedule for the day.

Common Elements Of ‘An Edcamp’

A session board for day-of session planning

Participant-driven ‘PD’

Teacher collaboration

Food and ‘swag’

Sponsors (cheap doesn’t mean zero-cost)

Short 30-60 minute sessions

Use of social media to share learning and connect with teachers inside and beyond the Edcamp event using twitter and hashtags like #edcamp and #edcampusa, for example

Teacher-driven ‘promotion’ of Edcamp event that often includes blogs, digital/social ‘groups,’ and larger sign-up tools like Eventbrite

Why Edcamp?

In a previous post on TeachThought from 2014, Dawn Casey-Rowe offered her view on Edcamp:

EdCamp is the essence of collaboration–melding and sharing of ideas in the spirit of excitement. How many school professional development days have seen faculty disappointed that there wasn’t enough slots to do all the interesting professional development?

Now, imagine this. Imagine that your faculty meeting had no agenda. Imagine that there was simply a grid in the front of the room with a certain amount of empty spaces with corresponding rooms and participants could put “I’m going to present this!” Some rooms might have (academic) standards, others might have co-teaching, still others could have “physical fitness and student/teacher wellness.” It could be anything. People vote with their feet–the sessions that were the most helpful for people would be the ones that fill up. It might be that there were a couple of mandatory sessions. It might be the entire day could be up to the participants. But to really do it right, you’d have a nice table full of coffee and treats, and just let the day flow.

Consider having an Edcamp or Edcamp-style PD event at your school and getting your rock star faculty to take ownership of the subject material. You’ll save money, give respect to your on-staff experts, and have a day full of community building and interesting collaboration. Set up a twitter board and tweet between sessions. I give a guarantee this will be a PD format you’ll want to continue.

The Background Of Edcamp

According to their About Us, the story of how Edcamp got started is fairly simple: Educators got together to improve independent of a conference, local requirement, or large-scale training. They just gathered and grew.

The first Edcamp was organized in 2010 by a group of teachers in Philadelphia who met up for a computer science “un-conference.” At BarCamp, they collaborated with others to create discussion sessions based on the interests of the people in the room. There was no presenter; no boring slideshow. The entire day was personalized and learner driven with those in the room sharing their experience and expertise. At the end of the day, the teachers decided this model was too good to contain! They exchanged contact information, and within the next few months they used the “unconference” model of BarCamp to target educators.

We’ll have more on Edcamps soon. In the meantime, if you want to search for Edcamps near you, here you go.

If you’d like to see what they look like ‘ in real life,’ here are some pictures of previous Edcamps shared by participants.

What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers

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Actors Theater Announces New Voices Young Playwrights Festival For Students



From a press release

LOUISVILLE, KYActors Theatre of Louisville is proud to announce the return of the New Voices Young Playwrights Festival. This year’s lineup will feature eight new plays by local high school students. The 15th annual festival will be sponsored by the LG&E and KU Energy Foundation. The New Voices Festival will run from April 27-29, 2020.

This year, 833 students submitted plays in consideration for the New Voices Festival. This includes students from 31 schools in 6 counties in Kentucky and Indiana. Selected plays for the festival were chosen by a group of 37 readers, made up of Actors Theatre staff and volunteers. The winning playwrights represent seven different high schools.

This year’s festival marks the first time a winner has been chosen from Central High School.

The festival is produced by the Learning & Creative Engagement team at Actors Theatre. Each piece is assigned a director, dramaturg, design team, and group of actors from the Professional Training Company (PTC), who work in conjunction with the playwrights to bring these pieces to life. Together, each team participates in workshops, production meetings, and a full rehearsal process before the festival in April. Each year, the plays produced in the festival are also published in the New Voices Young Playwrights Anthology.

To reserve tickets to review, to request images or for any other press inquiries, please contact Elizabeth Greenfield, Director of Communications, [email protected].

Actors Theatre’s Professional Training Company is generously supported by a significant grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation. The $1.2 million award supports grants over a ten-year period for each apprentice during the nine-month program, and enables year-round employment for the program’s leadership. Founded by Roy Cockrum, the Foundation supports world-class performing arts projects in not-for-profit professional theatres throughout the United States. The Foundation considers grants by invitation only and is dedicated to helping non-profit theatres reach beyond their normal scope of activities and undertake ambitious and creative productions. 

The selections for this year’s 15th Annual New Voices Young Playwrights Festival

Once Upon a Breakroom
by Alexandra Rapp (Mercy High School)

The Bow and Its Arrow
by Jocelynn Pry (Brown High School)

Posthumous Mishaps
by J.C. Hyde (Floyd Central High School)

His Lesson
by Lita Van (Atherton High School)

Sister Shook
by Skylar Wooden (Central High School)

Waffle Angel
by Aiden Kash (St. Francis High School)

by Katie Dobson (Ballard High School)

Postmodern Dad
by Ethan Bower (Salem High School)

Honorable Mentions:
A Bite of Strange Fruit
by Olivia Benford (Moore High School)

by Islan F (Brooklawn)    

Listing Information


15th New Voices Young Playwrights Festival
An Evening of New Work
Written by local high school students
Sponsored by the LG&E and KU Energy Foundation.
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Bingham Theatre

Press Opening
Tuesday, April 27
7:00 p.m.
Bingham Theatre

April 27, 28, 29 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are $5.
Tickets will be available starting in April.

Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 or visit

To reserve tickets to review, to request images or for any other press inquiries, please contact Elizabeth Greenfield, Director of Communications, [email protected]About Learning & Creative Engagement at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Erica Denise, Director of Learning & Creative Engagement
Janelle Renee Dunn, Learning & Creative Engagement Associate 
Abigail Miskowiec, Learning & Creative Engagement Associate

As the home of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville is world-renowned for developing new work by playwrights with varying styles, interests, opinions and innovative approaches to making plays. Learning & Creative Engagement shares this energy and passion for playmaking by venturing into classrooms and teaching the art and craft of playwriting in fun, collaborative and differentiated ways.

By harnessing the wildly creative resources under its roof, the Learning & Creative Engagement department at Actors Theatre of Louisville aims to create outstanding artistic and learning experiences, where young people of all backgrounds, from elementary school to college, are invited to see plays and make theatre happen.

About the New Voices Playwriting Residency

Since its inception in 2003, the New Voices Playwriting Residency has introduced thousands of students from around the region to the basics of playwriting. Over the course of nine sessions, character development, conflict, dramatic structure and stakes are explored, as every student completes a ten-minute play. The Residency has inspired an annual New Voices Play Contest, a New Voices Young Playwrights Festival—fully produced by Learning & Creative Engagement and the Professional Training Company—and published New Voices anthologies of student-written work.

About the Professional Training Company
Jonathan Ruiz, Professional Training Company Producer

Now in its 48thyear, the Professional Training Company (PTC) is the cornerstone of Actors Theatre of Louisville’s commitment to education. One of the nation’s oldest pre-professional training programs, the PTC is a one-of-a-kind immersive program designed to elevate early-career practitioners in the American theatre industry by teaching the business and art of being a theatre professional. Members of the Company work directly with Actors Theatre artistic, administrative and production staff leaders as well as visiting guest artists, to receive hands-on training in their respective fields. The PTC is a diverse ensemble comprised of 39 talented individuals who are the next generation of American theatre. 

About Actors Theatre of Louisville
Robert Barry Fleming, Artistic Director

Now in its 56th Season, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the State Theatre of Kentucky, is the flagship arts organization in the Louisville community. Actors Theatre serves to unlock human potential, build community, and enrich quality of life by engaging people in theatre that reflects the wonder and complexity of our time.

Actors Theatre presents almost 350 performances annually and delivers a broad range of programming, including classics and contemporary work through the Brown-Forman Series, holiday plays, a series of theatrical events produced by the Professional Training Company, and the Humana Festival of New American Plays—the premier new play festival in the nation, which has introduced more than 450 plays into the American theatre repertoire over the past 43 years. In addition, Actors Theatre provides over 15,000 arts experiences each year to students across the region through its Learning & Creative Engagement Department, and boasts one of the nation’s most prestigious continuing pre-professional resident training companies, now in its 48th year.

Over the past half-century, Actors Theatre has also emerged as one of America’s most consistently innovative professional theatre companies, with an annual attendance of 140,000. Actors Theatre has been the recipient of some of the most prestigious awards bestowed on a regional theatre, including a Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement, the James N. Vaughan Memorial Award for Exceptional Achievement and Contribution to the Development of Professional Theatre, and the Margo Jones Award for the Encouragement of New Plays. Actors Theatre has toured to 29 cities and 15 countries worldwide, totaling more than 1,400 appearances internationally.

Currently, there are more than 50 published books of plays and criticism from Actors Theatre in circulation—including anthologies of Humana Festival plays, volumes of ten-minute plays, monologues, essays, scripts, and lectures from the Brown-Forman Classics in Context Festival. Numerous plays first produced at Actors Theatre have also been published as individual acting editions, and have been printed in many other anthologies, magazines, and journals—making an enduring contribution to American dramatic literature.

You can find more information at

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Survey: High School Students Are Tired, Bored, And Stressed



image attribution flickr user Tulane Public Relations

by TeachThought Staff

Researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center surveyed 21,678 American high school students and found that nearly 75% of the students’ emotions about school were negative.

Yale News published recently the results from the survey–with co-author and research scientist Zorana Ivcevic admitting that the percentage was surprising.

“It was higher than we expected,” Ivcevic explained. “We know from talking to students that they are feeling tired, stressed, and bored, but were surprised by how overwhelming it was.”

The article continued to break down the gist: High school students are tried–and not just tired, but stressed and bored:

“They are on the positive side of zero,” Ivcevic said, “but they are not energized or enthusiastic.” Feeling “interested” or “curious,” she noted, would reveal a high level of engagement that is predictive of deeper and more enduring learning.”

It continued, “In the open-ended responses, the most common emotion students reported was tired (58%). The next most-reported emotions — all just under 50% — were stressed, bored, calm, and happy. The ratings scale supported the findings, with students reporting feeling stressed (79.83%) and bored (69.51%) the most. When those feelings are examined with more granularity, said Ivcevic, they reveal something interesting. The most-cited positive descriptions–calm and happy–are vague.”

We investigated students’ feelings at high school in a nation-wide survey of 21,678 US students (study 1), and in a four-week study using experience sampling methodology (ESM) with 472 students across 5 high schools (study 2).

Abstract Excerpt

Study Highlights

75% of all feelings students reported in their open-ended responses were negative.

Feeling tired was the most prominent feeling, across measures and samples.

Negative feelings about school prevailed across all demographic groups.

Survey Takeaways

We’ve explored emotion as a cause and effect of learning for years–even going as far as to suggest that emotion is more important than understanding. when Terry Heick explained, “While you look for your students’ attention and try to cause engagement, it’s their emotion you need to skillfully identify, navigate and masterfully manipulate.”

In general, the survey is data that reports what most teachers already know: Students are tired and, mostly, bored. And stressed. The conclusions we take away from this data are more critical–and we might consider answering some of the following questions:

Why exactly are students bored? Content? Learning models? Pacing? Their expectations? Pressure? Agency and ownership (or lack thereof)? The survey looked at demographic data. Are there any co-relations with learning models, teacher experience, content areas, letter grades, and said boredom/tiredness/stress?

What are the primary causes of the ‘tiredness’? Mental health? Engagemet? Sleep quality? Sleep duration? (The former could be psychological while the latter more behaviorial.)

What is the impact of negative emotions not just on academic performance but the long-term quality of life for ‘students’ (i.e., young human beings)?

And maybe most critically and broadly, in the face of this data, how should we respond?


“We investigated students’ feelings at high school in a nation-wide survey of 21,678 US students (study 1), and in a four-week study using experience sampling methodology (ESM) with 472 students across 5 high schools (study 2). Both studies combined mixed methods, including open-ended questions and rating scales (e.g., PANAS). In study 1, seventy-five percent of the feelings students reported in their responses to open-ended questions were negative. The three most frequently mentioned feelings were tired, stressed, and bored. Similar findings emerged with rated items, The prevalence of negative feelings was largely similar across demographic groups. Study 2 largely corroborated the findings from study 1. Although the retrospective measures showed similar results to study 1, the in-the-moment measures also showed frequent positive feelings. We discuss the findings in light of the ‘sleep deprivation epidemic,’ the achievement motivation literature, and implications for the validity of state- and trait measures of academic emotions.”

To analyze the data and methodology, you can download the full survey results here.

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