8 Things We Could Learn from Agent Peggy Carter


I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Comics universe, so I was eagerly awaiting the premiere of Agent Carter after the first of the year.  Finally, this under-developed character was going to become more than Captain America’s unrequited love interest! We were going to really get to know the enigmatic Agent Peggy Carter!  What I *didn’t* expect was eight lessons in pedagogy, community and school change.

1. Don’t let the jerks get to you.  In every field, in every job, there are badly behaved, ignorant, fearful, condescending…well, you get the picture.  They’re there.  They’ve always been there.  Don’t let them beat you, don’t let them decide your fate, don’t spend too much time railing against their idiocy (because you can’t change them), just go around them.  The best revenge is being right, you know?

2. Ask for help- or at least accept it when it’s offered.  Jarvis.  Oh, Jarvis.  Not just a butler, a willing ally able to anticipate where help is needed before our dear Peggy is able to ask.  Learning that there’s no single person who can hold the whole world- that we all need help and that there’s no prize for doing it alone?  That’s a lesson I’d love every single teacher, principal, and student to learn.

Know how to use the tech you have- even when it’s not ideal.  Got a watch that can help you bust into a safe (or at least count your steps and measure your heart rate)? A Smartboard that ALWAYS works? Great! Learn how to use it- really use it- before you need it.  Same with your smartphone, the 2 iPads the library has available or the ancient flip video camera you have in the bottom drawer of your desk.  You can’t use them if you don’t know how they work- and you can use them more creatively and effectively if you do.

3. When push comes to shove, a stapler is as a good weapon. Sometimes low-tech works. Don’t be ashamed to pull out the overhead projector, use paper and pencils and scissors and glue if they’re the right (or most expeditious) tools for the job. Just because you have the fancy gadgets doesn’t mean their use is always the most effective.

4. Problem solving is a seriously badass skill.  We don’t give problem-solving (especially when it’s done on the fly) nearly the props we should.  As any teacher who’s ever modified a lesson plan on a moment’s notice (read: every single teacher ever) knows, thinking creatively and quickly to use what you have is a serious superpower.  Give yourself credit when you do it. Serious credit.  MAD credit.

5. Feelings, man…Grief, frustration, loss, anger- they’re all real.  Now, whether you’re mourning the loss of Captain America, lost at the bottom of the sea in an effort to save the US from destruction, your favorite project because the school has allocated that time for RTI, or changes in the profession that feel too big to bear; we’re all dealing with feelings all the time and they can get in the way.  Know how to put them aside and focus on the things you can change.  Action is good medicine.

6. Make friends who aren’t secret agents.  You’ll need them.  Make connections outside of school.  Have conversations that have nothing to do with education, school, or students.  I’m not suggesting you move into a women-only hotel on the upper east side, but maybe join a book club or take yoga or find someone to play D&D with.

7. Have one really great hat.  Okay, maybe not everyone can pull off a little red hat, but have something that you can put on when it’s cold and dark and you’re tired and you feel like there’s just no way you can pull yourself out of bed because it’s February and it’s cold and it’s Wednesday.  When you look fabulous, you can do great things.

Phineas and Ferb Teach “Transfer”

Today I’m welcoming the return of Reuben Duncan, Assistant Superintendent in our own SAU 29 here in Keene. Thanks for sharing, Reuben!

“There’s a hundred and four days of summer vacation, ‘til school comes along just to end it, so the annual problem for our generation, is finding a good way to spend it—Like maybe building a rocket, or fighting a mummy or climbing up the Eifel Tower, discovering something that doesn’t exist, or giving a monkey a shower—surfing tidal waves, creating nanobots, or locating Frankenstein’s brain…”

This past summer, over 50 educators in SAU 29 spent three days learning about Understanding by Design and the concept of “transfer.” The best definition of transfer I have come across is not found in any book or peer reviewed article; rather, a children’s cartoon, full of witty humor, an evil villan, and a secret agent platypus named “Perry” provides the perfect description of what “transfer” actually is.

Phineas and Ferb have mastered collaboration, problem solving, and higher Phineas-and-Ferb-2order thinking strategies that enable them to invent, create, innovate, and discover new approaches to achieving their goals.

Over the last decade in education, schools have moved away from the mindset of transfer. And why wouldn’t they have? After all, the state assessments were com- prised of acquisition and low level meaning making questions. Couple that with punitive actions taken toward schools “not making the grade,” scared school boards, and handcuffed administrations, it is no wonder why schools spent significant amounts of time doing test prep and adopting standards-based programs that, if followed verbatim, would promise a school or district improved test scores.

Inevitably, schools that were successful in raising test scores typically raised them for a specific group of students while not having a great deal of success with others (economically disadvantaged and special education). Then special efforts were made to carry or lift students on the edge of passing over the proficiency threshold. And while schools increased a percentage or two in one subject area, they often went down in the other area. Then the school would focus on the areas in which it decreased and this seesaw activity began— all to avoid becoming a school or district in need of improvement. And even though they were cute little names, no one seemed to want to be labeled a SINI or a DINI.

With an intentional shift to accomplish what the Common Core Stadards call for, our system as a whole can move past the injustice of the past and lift all of our students to greater heights. We will know when we are on the right path, when our students are able to TRANSFER their learning to multiple situations, many of which they have not yet experienced.

And, yes, we still do have state assessments. However, these assessments will honor those students who can think differently and apply their learning to situations with which they may not be completely familiar. These assessments will honor those schools and districts that ensure its students think in manner that promotes TRANSFER. Those students who have been provided a firm foundation from which to build further understanding and application will succeed.

Reflect and Connect- Witch Way to the 5K Challenge

One of the key pieces of the Critical Skills Classroom is the parallel nature of the learning experience.  Kids and teachers are co-learners, engaged in the same cycle and experience, with kids focused on learning content and skills and teachers learning this new way of teaching while they continue to learn their kids.  The teacher cycle begins earlier (in planning) and lasts longer (with reflection on the entirety of the experience- often on the drive home from school.) I’m happy to share Monica Quirk’s reflection on one of her first challenges with her 8th grade FACS students. She’s a student in my Instructional Design class and graciously allowed me to share this.  Our school has a huge race every October to raise money for technology.  I have my students for about 15 days and then I get a new group, so I do not have time for a challenge that will take several weeks for them to solve.  I thought this would help with community building and our use of technology.

Dear 8th Graders, I am the Witch Way to the 5K coordinator and need your help.  The race is quickly approaching and as you know, all the money earned goes directly to our Technology Fund.  Last year we raised over $35,000.  We were able to purchase several Chromebooks and Laptops, as well as a Poster Printer.   I would like to display posters printed from our new printer for the racers and the spectators to see.  These posters should promote healthy lifestyles, including eating healthfully and staying active. I have heard that your FACS classes are learning about the 5  food groups and the 6 essential nutrients needed to promote good health.  I would like you and your team to come up with a poster design by Oct. 22. The posters will be viewed museum style and voted on by a panel of judges.  The three posters will be displayed at the Witch Way to the 5K race on Sat., Oct. 25.  Good Luck!

I just finished my challenge lesson and had a few minutes before my next group.  I thought I would reflect while it was fresh…. This group that came in was very excited to help out with the race, but a bit disappointed they weren’t cooking today.  They definitely bought into displaying it so the town could see.  One boy even said we should post them along side the roads in the community so the racers will know what to do before the race :) So I was walking them through the brainstorming sheet to guide them toward a plan.  I noticed right off that they could communicate well with each other and had a lot of ideas but no one was writing down the ideas.  So I quickly shifted my focus from collaboration to planning as my disposition. (Note from Laura: Remember, Critical Skills Classrooms always focus on not only content learning, but also practicing carefully targeted skills and dispositions.)  I gave them examples of what I was hearing and how they could list those ideas to help them stay on task, that they were actually planning, not just “winging it.”  I did let them wing the sketch prior though.  As I said they should have a sketch first, they quickly reminded me that using the technology would be easier and they could find images and ideas as they researched – so smart!!  So gone with the sketches.  I observed who was participating and adding information.  I had never used the Brainstorming Sheet front the Toolkit page 1.  I really liked how the kids have to identify the problem (top box), and we set up the criteria together  (bottom box).  They used the middle section to put notes found and ideas discussed.  Great tool. Laura, thanks for helping me think through ONE skill.  I guess we all teach multiple, but to truly focus on one feels less overwhelming for me and the students.  They were on task and had few difficulties.  Another thing I liked about this challenge was the students were able to complete a real life task without taking up weeks of precious class time. The challenges don’t have to be long and involved just relevant.   They did decide to finish what was left outside of class, so they could cook the next class!!  They added to their plan sheets what needed to be done by who and when.  Cooking is a great incentive too!! A bit of encouragement for those just starting PBL, it takes time to let go of the original plan, to make messes and go the direction of the kids but it really pays off. It’s amazing how much they can do when you let them! The thing I love most about this is that it’s not perfect.  Things didn’t go exactly to plan and the teacher had to adapt and adjust as they did, which means she had to be totally present and aware of what was going on. This teacher was willing to step to the side a bit, let her students make the challenge their own, and work with what they were bringing to the problem (rather than insisting they work within her framework) Learning is messy, no matter which side of the desk you’re on, right? Thanks for letting us see into your thinking!

Getting to the Emulate-ability of Deeper Learning

So this article in EdWeek peaked my interest this morning. I’ll share the quote that grabbed me before I go any further.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which funded the reports and some of the learning networks that were studied, defines deeper learning as education that emphasizes core academic content, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication, self-directed learning, and an academic mindset.

Now,  it’s not rocket surgery figuring out why I found this interesting. This is exactly what the Critical Skills Classroom does so I was pretty much ready to do the happy dance.   So when I read this further down:

“it’s not a set of findings that say let’s run out and emulate what these schools are doing, because the schools are not all doing the same thing.”

I wanted to do this:



I get that it’s hard to “emulate” when people are doing different things- particularly if by “emulate” you mean “push everyone into single, lock-step curriculum and step-by-step pedagogy” (which I’m assuming hoping praying isn’t what they mean but I’m a wee bit cynical jaded experienced with this sort of thing so pardon my temporary straw man).

However, emulating a PROCESS by which teachers plan for the kids they have in front of them, using experiential methods that we know work because they reflect what we know about human development and learning theory and the way brains work? That seems INFINITELY emulate-able.  It’s down right emulate-alicious. Because this:

On average, students at deeper learning schools had better test results and people skills, the studies found. They were also more likely to graduate from high school on time and enroll in four-year colleges.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time for some serious emulation.

Guest Post: When the wheels come off


We tell lots of stories about amazing Critical Skills Challenges that rock kids’ worlds and bring powerful, meaningful learning to all kinds of classrooms.  What we *don’t* do very often is tell the stories of the times that things go a little pear shaped, when they go off the rails, when the pedagogical wheels completely come off.  This fall I’m teaching the Instructional Design class at Antioch.  It’s part of our Critical Skills Classroom/ PBL Concentration, so we get a mix of students who are in the program and students who are just beginning their Critical Skills journeys and want a bit of guidance as they start out.  As you can imagine, we have a lot of conversations about less-than- perfect outcomes because that’s what learning is all about in Critical Skills Classrooms- try, reflect, learn, plan, and try again. Today I have a great guest post about an absolutely BRILLIANT First Attempt In Learning from Morag Bradford, Arts Integration Specialist at Creative City Public Charter School in Baltimore, MD.  

So I’ve been thinking about Challenges and, following a trip to a field of sunflowers last Sunday, decided to jump right in…spot the not-so-deliberate mistake that made this challenge go down like a lead zeppelin. (This was with my most easy going and cohesive first grade class.)

sunflower+field-2The sunflowers were amazing- as big as your head and as tall as the kids. I had never stood in a field like this (it went to the horizon!) and wanted to share what I could with my students. So back to school with a bunch of giant sunflowers, photos of the field, a poster of (one of) Van Gogh’s famous paintings and some oild pastels. The kids loved the flowers- were amazed and loved that they got to see them up close and touch all the parts. We talked about the size and the color and the shapes and the textures and we looked at and discussed projected images of the field and of Van Gogh’s paintings. All was well. I told the students, “We are going to work in teams to create life size images of the flowers with oil pastels!”

20140925_160608_1_ The students generated quality criteria- not a new activity as I often create process charts and have the students create the rubric for a lesson as that really solidifies what I am asking for and how the students will know if they are successful ( and if they are finished- goes some way to saving me from the ‘I’m done!’ after two minutes of drawing).

Good quality criteria- all was well. I did a quick demo on the use of oil pastels (hard/soft pressure, blending, qualities of line) and then divided up the students into groups by counting around the group 1,2,3,4.

By the time I had finished counting the first students could not remember which number they were.


Recount, sending children to their tables (four groups of 4 or 5) as I said their number. This is the point at which the wheels came off completely. Right away there was shouting recriminations, loud crying, quiet crying and screaming! The classroom aide and I went from table to table to try and ‘fix’ the situation but there was too much dischord to be able to get anywhere. The noise level was a real problem!

After a few minutes of trying to get everyone to calm down we called all the students back to the rug and adressed what a disaster it was. I noted that the assignment was not going so well and asked how I could have better prepared the class, and what we as individuals and as a group could do differently.

This morning I was reading more of the K-3 Coaching Kit and came across Elizabeth Reid’s statement; “Never mix a new process with new content.” 


So back at the drawing board I am am thinking that my options are;


  • Read Camille and the Sunflowers to give some more student-friendly background on Van Gogh and his sunflower paintings.                 ,
  • Have students experiment individually with oil pastels.
  • THEN- either ask students to work in pairs and have a conversation about how each pair would decide who would draw what- OR have each student create a sunflower and put them all together in a community vase.

 She did *exactly* what Critical Skills teachers are supposed to do.  When the wheels come off (and they will, have no doubt, it happens to everyone), she made the right call when she brought the group back together to talk about what was working, what wasn’t working, and what she could have done differently to make it work better next time (way to model reflection!) She took the time to reflect individually and to take a look at the at different resources (man, those Coaching Kits are are GOLD MINE, aren’t they?) and combined that new information with what she’d learned from her students in planning for the next go ’round. 

You see what she did there? Morag made an Experiential Loop for herself AND herSnail students! It wasn’t the loop she expected, but it was a dang good loop nevertheless!  

Well done Morag!

(And thanks for being brave enough to share your experience with us!)

This is what AUNE’s EdTech and PBL/ Cri

This is what AUNE’s EdTech and PBL/ Critical Skills Programs teach you to do! Mazlow’s needs for students using technology for learning | CLOUDUCATION http://ow.ly/BVdOf

Building a Classroom Community that supp

Building a Classroom Community that supports Collaborative, Problem-based Learning via @leadingedgejack http://ow.ly/BMC6N #CSP #PBL