VREP: A Student’s Perspective

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Jacob Meade has been actively involved with the VREP program for a little more than two years. He is  currently a freshman electronic media major at the University of Northern Iowa with the career goal of becoming a film director.

So first, what is VREP? Or at least, what is VREP from my student perspective?

First, what is VREP literally?

VREP stands for Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders and is a program that originated in East Marshall School District. Currently VREP encompasses over 50 Iowa schools and 10 Ohio high schools, but VREP is expanding rapidly with interest coming from Connecticut, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona, and numerous other states.  It is administered in Iowa by Trace Pickering (twitter: @tracepick)

Essentially VREP encourages students to APPLY the knowledge they acquire in class by CREATING a 3D model using 3D modeling software (in most cases the software used is the freeware program BLENDER). What is so very, very cool about this concept is students can experience real-world applications of their schoolwork that before were unreachable at the middle and high school level. Student projects cover a wide variety of areas, delving into topics such as engineering, science and math, design, film and animation, and history to name just a handful.

Alright, that is the “average” definition of VREP, but what does VREP really mean at a student’s point of view?

Well, when I first started VREP I was a busy high school junior, and quite frankly I did not put in the time I should have to learn the 3D program to articulately express my ideas. After motivating myself to commit more to my projects, I noticed a change in the way I was thinking about the projects, and ultimately my schoolwork as well. First, for some background on myself, school was never overly challenging for me, and I would try to excel more through organizations and extra-curricular activities than through schoolwork.

Not that I did not enjoy school, but I was never pushed. VREP forced me to push myself. With many projects with VREP, you are forced to research what you are making (therefore, learning) and you need to know a wide variety of math and science concepts to create a believable product in the 3D program. It takes work and dedication, but sooner rather than later it takes PASSION. VREP helped me find my passion. That is really what the “PATHFINDER” part of VREP stands for. Finding your passion.

I was selected to be a student VREP guide at a VREP learning institute in Cincinnati, Ohio ( a guide is essentially a student teacher/ambassador for VREP). The experience was amazing. I spent a great week with Trace Pickering and Rex Kozak, the adult leaders of VREP, and three other great colleagues that were my age, just teaching Ohio students about the program and the value of such an opportunity. It is such a reassuring and completely amazing experience to know that adults are willing to allow high school students to teach and truly take charge of education.

Shouldn’t it be that way though?

It kind of reminds me of putting the lid on the bottom of a ketchup bottle. Doesn’t that just make putting ketchup on a hamburger better? Education is like a bottle of ketchup. We are still stuck with the skinny-necked bottles that are slow and not overly efficient. Our education system is just a factory assembly line of grades, meaningless tests, and dream-crushing. Why don’t we reinvent the bottle?

That is what VREP does.

It puts the power in the hands of the students. There are no limitations as students; you can’t do TOO much; you can’t plateau; you can’t overwork yourself but you can’t sell yourself short. Real-world skills are ACTUALLY being developed. In many ways it destroys how most “classic” teachers teach right now.



Now if there are any teachers reading this blog, you are probably digging out the bow and arrow trying to hunt me down for saying this. Hold on just a second.

I actually was truly considering teaching before I decided shift my focus to film. Teaching is THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN OUR SOCIETY. Hands down. Without education society falls FAST. It happened before. The Greeks and Romans built up a great society. Then people stopped learning. And suddenly….(cue evil music)….we have the DARK AGES and peasants and lack of democracy and dictators and kings and lords and famine and slum cities…..

Things eventually got back on their feet when the average Joe Citizen started learning again.

So, teaching is important. What VREP does is it turns the teacher from a talking textbook into a great reference and a facilitator. “Classic” lecturing and homework is still an okay concept, but only if there is worth to the information. Only if the students need to know it for more than a test point. Classes suddenly gain worth if you change from a test-oriented class to one that has application. Honestly though, we live in a world where I can use a cell phone to find out any bit of information I want to. “Learning” facts for a test isn’t nearly as important as knowing the critical thinking skills and application of knowledge.

Let’s change the bottle.

(Walks off soapbox)



Okay, my story again. Because of my work with VREP, doors have opened. Like I said before, my experience with Cincinnati was amazing. Earlier I said I wanted to be a film director, which is a very hard job to nab because of high competition. But I AM GOING TO DO IT. Much of that passion came from two sources: American Legion Boys Nation (which I won’t discuss here) and VREP. It is really quite crazy how much confidence you can build through VREP by learning skills, applying them, creating a finished product, and getting recognized for it.

Recently, through VREP, I was offered an amazing experience in film. I am currently working with a scriptwriter who wrote a great script about 1800’s racial issues and heroism. Because of my VREP ties, the writer wanted me to assemble a group of other VREP students to create a 3D “virtual storyboard” of his movie. What an awesome experience! And I am not the only student who has had doors opened (not by a long shot!) Universities, engineering firms, and large businesses are very interested in the skillsets that VREP students bring to the table, and many students easily earn internships and special projects through these institutions.

Well, hopefully I have you all convinced that VREP is more than a glorified video-game maker. This program is truly special, and I see it changing the face of education very, very soon.

Iowa has always been a primary state for education, and quite frankly, I think we are becoming a REVOLUTIONARY education state.

-Jacob Meade

If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me at

[email protected] OR
[email protected]

Changing Teaching and Learning with 140 Characters

Thursday, August 25th, 2011




Laura Horan (@laura_horan) is the Curriculum Coordinator at Manson Northwest Webster. She has taught elementary through 7th grade. She has been a part-time consultant with the Prairie Lakes AEA and was a member of the state Iowa Core Team. She blogs at Opening Doors to 21st Century Learning, and has been a guest blogger on the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation Blog.


The staff at Manson Northwest Webster uses a variety of social networking tools for teaching and learning, but in conversation among the staff, Twitter stands out as the number one professional learning tool. Learning is part of being an educator, and Twitter has had a tremendously positive impact on the adult learning environment district-wide. The staff has become empowered as they join in on continuous conversations in Twitter that allow them to make connections, share, learn, ask questions, and get answers to improve their own teaching and learning. As I browse Twitter in the evening, it’s not uncommon to see teachers sharing and connecting or participating in live chat sessions such as #elemchat, #sschat, #mathchat, or #edchat just to name a few.

Most teachers were first introduced to Twitter during the spring and summer of 2010 – over a year ago. The early adopters realized this was a gold mine as a supplement to our own district professional development. They soon saw that they had access to other educators around the world and joined in on the daily and self-directed learning. With Twitter, they were able to begin cultivating their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN) of people and information sources.

A year later, results of the Manson Northwest Webster’s Technology Integration Survey indicate that over 70% of K-12 teachers are using social networking for professional use on a regular basis. The tool of choice across the district is definitely Twitter. A few examples will help illustrate how teachers use it in their classrooms.

Annie Schreier, a 2nd grade teacher who was once skeptical of Twitter, has now built a valuable PLN. She says, “I have gotten so many ideas from Twitter and found so many dedicated, passionate teachers to follow and collaborate with. When I first joined Twitter about a year ago, I was convinced that it was way too time consuming. After I began using it for professional reasons to help build my PLN, I began to see the benefits and its potential. The opportunities Twitter provides are overwhelming. One of the benefits this summer was joining the #Daily5 hashtag because it allows me to tap into an amazing community of people around the world who discuss, share, and collaborate about reading.”

Mike Richman is a teacher at MNW Jr/Sr High School. Over the last year Mike and I have had many conversations about Twitter and his PLN. He is one of several teachers who have taken Twitter into the classroom and had students use it. Currently he is teaching a leadership class and is now using #leadmnw for his students’ microblogging platform. Through a tweet last year, Mike connected with Shaelynn Farnsworth, an English teacher at #bcluw. Mike elicited Shaelynn’s senior AP English class to talk with his 9th graders as he introduced blogging. Through skype, the seniors taught the freshmen the ins and outs, of blogging. What a powerful lesson!

Jodi Jacobsen, a 4th grade teacher, talks about using Twitter for connecting and collaborating. She says, “I have made many connections with great teachers using Twitter. A few of these connections have led to classroom projects, such as our Skype partners in Ohio. Following hashtags has led to useful websites, resources, and live chats with other 4th grade teachers.”

Christine Sturgeon is the new Teacher Librarian/Tech Integrationist at Manson Northwest Webster. She talks about the value of Twitter for making connections. “Twitter has been indispensible in reaching out to librarians across the state (#iowatl) and the country (#tlchat). Just now, I checked the #iowatl search and a librarian from Solon has a link to U of Iowa football coach talking about being safe online. Perfect as I work on my first lesson plans in elementary tech! I also follow library leaders like Doug Johnson and Joyce Valenza. A Doug Johnson tweet a few weeks ago led me to the ebook program we’re now implementing at the secondary school.” Twitter will also be instrumental in a PLN class Christine is co-teaching with high school TAG teacher Kandice Roethler. Students will have Twitter accounts and will use these to reach out to leaders in the field of their study. Without social media it would be nearly impossible to find such specialized instruction, help, information or advice.

And how do I use Twitter? While I depend on it for learning, sharing, and stretching my thinking, it has also become part of the way I do my job. As an example, here is yesterday’s use:

• Shared information and asked questions about the new version of the Iowa Tests • Asked a question and received input on my district’s APR

• Gave a thumbs up for the new #alignchat, to discuss alignment issues and the Iowa Core

• Had a short conversation with Prairie Lakes AEA Chief Administrator, Jeff Herzberg, about the ROWE pilot he is starting

• Commented on question from MNW’s Leadership Class #leadmnw

• Read and retweeted a blog post by Jason Glass “Learning From International Experience.”

Excitement is in the air as we begin a new school year, and the #mnwcougars hashtag is busy! The staff continues to learn, share, and connect via Twitter. We strive to prepare our students for life beyond school–to be self-directed and independent learners. Twitter is one avenue that helps our staff model that kind of learning,

Your Attitudes as Teachers Matter!

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I just read the blog post by Denise Krebs, who is an inspiring teacher I am excited to be doing some collaborative things with this school year. Her post was about Angela Maiers TEDx talk in DesMoines (original post.) Denise talks about how Angela’s talk and ideas have inspired her to have a great school year and to challenge students to show their genius and be noticed.

Angela’s talk is very inspiring and I will be using some of the ideas she shared with my students this year as well.

I have also just been reading Twitter posts (tweets) by various individuals stating thoughts about the bias of research and the fallibility humans. I am constantly noticing the inequities in the world in regard to how children and people in general are treated by other people.

With all of this spinning in my mind and with the current political environment within Iowa, the United States, and the world as a whole, I have thought much about the significance of the role of educator.

I know that I am not perfect. I know that I will not be 100% on fire as an educator everyday, but it is in my power to be the best I can be. This holds true for all of us: educators, parents, community members, siblings, and humans.

I know that it is only through action that things change or evolve in the world of humans, students in this case. Thinking is great, contemplating is wonderful, research is helpful, but actions are what create reactions and real changes.

As educators/adults we harness a great deal of power to truly inspire young people to feel positive about education and themselves and to believe they have important contributions to make in the plight of humanity and this world. It is our job to help them to do things as global citizens to make the world a better place and to do so ourselves.

As Angela Maiers and others have been saying for some time, we need to give some of our control over to our students to see greater buy-in and engagement on their parts. Being positive mentors and trying to help young people feel significant on a daily basis is a huge step to creating truly healthy and empowered young citizens!

I am ready to start to move students upward and forward in their journeys to adulthood and I challenge all others to do the same thing by letting others know that they matter, are noticed, and have genius to offer to the world.

Join me and others in facilitating a positive and challenging learning environment for our young people to foster the greatness within them all!

Have a great school year so that your students may too!


Digital Citizenship

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

A digital citizenship course will soon be available on the statewide AEA PD Online server for all Iowa teachers and students to access.


How did that happen? About eighteen months ago, my colleague, Deb Henkes and I,  were working with a district that was moving to 1:1 computing. Discussion centered around responsible use of the Internet and laptops. The district was concerned about helping students understand their responsibilities early on in the school year, soon after they received their laptops. We decided to develop an online course  using blended instruction — the classroom teachers provide face to face instruction and interaction, along with the online component.


We used Moodle software and Lesson Builder to create the course. Originally, we hosted the course on our area education agency’s server and made it available to any school that requested access. The course has been moved to the state Moodle server and eventually, will be available to all teachers and students statewide.


The course includes a combination of video, embedded quizzes, scenarios, text, and a test. It is intended for middle school through high school level students. The content currently includes three modules:

• Staying Safe

• Ethical Responsibility

• Appropriate Communication


Here is a sample of one of the videos:



Norma Thiese

Deb Henkes

The Parking Lot!

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Sometimes what you are looking for is parked right in front of you!

I am sometimes frustrated by the things that exist as hindrances and issues in public education and the impact those things have on the young people of this nation. Even more so, at times, I am amazed at how obvious some of the “problems” are!

While in the Des Moines area for the Iowa State Fair, we stayed at the home of a friend of my wonderful wife. The family lives in Ankeny, basically a suburb of Des Moines. In the interest of this blog post, this family consists of three children, a mother, who is college educated and now is a stay-at-home mom, and a father who is an engineer. They are an upper middle class family living in an upper middle class, mostly white suburban area of Iowa.

The day we were leaving coincided with the “Meet the Teacher” afternoon at the elementary school just about two blocks from the home of our friends, where their eight-year-old son will be attending school this year. We traveled past the school twice, and parking lot was full both times. I did not see a vehicle in the lot that was worth less than $20,000. They were all nice, shiny, relatively new vehicles, Toyota 4Runners, Chevy Tahoes, to Cadillac Escalades, Lexus vehicles, and many others I have never even test driven.

What does this have to do with education, or even this school, or my thoughts on what needs to happen to truly reform public education in Iowa or the nation? The answer is that parking lot spoke scores about equity in public schooling from funding, to teacher pay, to community support, and even to staffing opportunities just to mention a few connections.

Comparing this school to the rural district in which I teach there are some noticeable differences right off the starting line. That parking lot was nearly full each time we went by the school, suggesting very good attendance, my school would be lucky to have 50% attendance at a “meet the teacher” event.

Why does this matter? Because, it speaks droves about what kind of support the students have at home and what kind of support the school has from the community. At this school in Ankeny the parents are very involved and interested in the education their children are receiving. At my district some are.

At this school in Ankeny the majority of families with students attending this school make very near or over $90,000 annually while most families in my district make $42,000 or less, which is less than the value of many of the vehicles in that Ankeny elementary parking lot. This means the families there are able to provide much more economic support to their children and offer them many more items and opportunities for enrichment and learning at home. They are also able to provide economic support to the school or even individual classes for special projects or programs.

So, despite the fact that the students of Iowa are all assigned a similar dollar amount as far as the money any school district receives for educating them, some students have a far greater well to draw from at home.

In a household with more disposable income the family is more likely to spend money on books, games, computers, travel and other items and activities that provide learning opportunities and provide enrichment and a sense of worldliness to the lives of their children. In less well-off households, the resources do not always permit this, meaning the students from these households to not have the same opportunities outside of school to reinforce concepts gained at school and for providing motivation for valuing an education. How is this system equitable? It is not.

In Ankeny, most of the students who attend this particular school could quite easily walk to get there. In my district, most students have to be bused around. We have a 176.4 sq. mile district while Ankeny has 51.93 sq. miles and much more density. This means the cost of educating each child in my district has to include a great deal more for transportation than the Ankeny school district. That again is not equitable.

The teaching positions in most of the districts in affluent urban areas pay more than the same positions in a rural district like mine. I knew this going into my choice to teach where I do, but part of my choice was about my connections here. It is easier to obtain and often to retain the most energized individuals with the promise of good pay and benefits. It seems logical to assume that the affluent urban districts attract some of the very top teachers to their rosters. Again, this is not equity.

I will be returning to teach students who come from homes that are very different from what is still often the “assumed average” situation of two parents who care about them and their education. Many of the families of the children I teach don’t have one vehicle that would be considered reliable by most standards for the entire household. There are many single-family households. Unemployment is very high. Many of the parents in my district have little if any post secondary education.
I truly enjoy the place where I teach and I like the diverse backgrounds and the challenges. I think, however, that many of my students would be able to do and achieve things they do not even know of if they had the same (equity) educational opportunities offered to students in affluent public school districts here in Iowa or across the country.

I worry that our system is allowing too many students to fall behind before the even enter middle school, just based on how much money their household makes and where they are able to live.

Great teaching and a desire to move children to a higher level are not enough to overcome all that is broken with our public education system, though it is very important. Without motivated teachers, students in less affluent districts face even more inequity.

I am excited to be returning to my classroom again and hope that some of the inequities of our current system will be worked out with the help of teachers, community members, political representatives, and students.

I will work to try to make up for some of the outside inequities facing many of my students by trying to equalize what goes on within my classroom at the very least!

If we are to truly try to move our educational system toward more equity and a higher quality product for all, these inequities need to be acknowledged and addressed with any reform that is honest and true.

What kind of story does your school’s parking lot tell?

Some of my sources included:





Use Your Words

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Posted on August 16, 2011 by eolsonteacher

When my youngest was younger, he became easily frustrated. I would prompt, “Use your words…” Ironically, I never told him for what. He never asked either. I was reminded of this when my Twitter PLN tweeted this treasure:

The free printable Fable Vision pdf poster gives direction: Use Your Words to Inspire Joy

I hung the poster in my classroom, not necessarily for my students to see, but for me to be reminded: what I say does matter. Language does have power. The words I choose to use with my students in any given moment has an impact. I can deescalate a situation, or I can light the match to a burning fuse. The words I use in my classroom are heard, and my voice and my action are compared. Words do make a difference, and they are an valuable resource that will continue to make a difference. The power of language lasts long after the initial spoken word, for the spoken continues to play in the heart of the listener.

It is inevitable someone will be late, someone will forget something, someone will have a bad day, someone will be tired, someone will feel sick, someone will feel neglected, and someone will be angry. It is also inevitable my reaction will contribute to the events that follow.

I am conscientiously choosing my words to inspire joy, and that is the tone I am setting when my students arrive next Monday.

Let Your Words Inspire Joy


Created on Wordle: an easy-to-use word cloud tool


It’s Elementary!

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Kelsey Lage (@klc_ann23) teaches 4th grade at Baxter and will be starting her second year this fall. Here she shares her thoughts on “21st century skills” and an example of how she addresses them in her classroom.

21st Century Skills in an Elementary Classroom

In order for our students to become responsible, productive citizens, teachers must engage them in teaching 21st Century Skills that do not simply allow students to do their job, but allows them to think critically and solve challenging problems they may face.

The necessity of teaching 21st Century Skills allows teachers to get creative with how they present specific concepts. Teachers are also required to make material rigorous and relevant and by connecting the two, teachers are able to create projects that students are engaged in and relate to their lives.

Working collaboratively is a key aspect of 21st Century Skills and requires teachers to not only teach students how to be productive members of a group, but also to produce quality work. An example from my classroom:

As 4th graders, students are required to learn about the regions of the United States. After learning about the details of each region- culture, people, environment, products, resources, etc.- students will be split into groups and will be given a product related to their region they must sell. Students are given trends on product sales and then will be asked to find ways to increase sales of that product in their region. Students begin by creating long and short-term individual and group goals. Students then decipher what they’d like to spend, save, and will be educated on the different ways to purchase items. Students will also learn about debt and within their group decide how their business can stay clear from debt. Finally, students will be able to recognize the differences among regions in relation to wants, needs, and how particular decisions affect many people.


This project could be adapted to reflect global citizenship. Each nation must run a business but some nations have better means than others. This allows students to participate in something that is rigorous, relevant, and encourages critical thinking on how each member of the group will contribute to running their business.

Additionally, schools are seeing the importance and use of technology in the classroom. I have found that students are most engaged in a lesson when technology is present and also where they get to participate in the use of the technology. With new Web 2.0 tools, programs, websites, and applications teachers have an unlimited supply of resources related to what they need to teach. Adaptations in teaching the use of technology are already occurring. For example, I struggle with how to teach keyboarding. Growing up, I was taught there was a certain way to key and programs were used to teach that specific way. Now I have found that my 4th graders enter school already knowing how to key, but not the traditional way. These students are also faster typists than the average adult. So do I reteach them the traditional way or allow them to type the way they’ve taught themselves? There is an adjustment to be made between how we as educators learned in school and how students are learning in the 21st century.

Technology in the classroom is something I am passionate about because of the results I’ve witnessed. Students are engaged. Furthermore, each component of 21st Century Skills relates directly to the growth in technology the business world is using; what our students will use in the future.

21st Century Skills in an elementary setting are imperative for students to be successful in their later education and then later employment. When students learn to collaborate with others, think critically, communicate effectively, analyze information, and be creative then students will have the tools necessary to become productive members of society.

Education needs a running commentary

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Blog editor note: When I first heard of backchanneling, I was immediately reminded of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, where a scientist and his robots are forced to watch B movies and keep a running commentary of ideas throughout to stay sane and increase understanding. Students can benefit from the opportunity to share their ideas in the moment.  Erin Olson, today’s guest blogger, has honed this idea to an art. ==

My husband has requested I stop analyzing Simpsons and Family Guy while he is watching. I am not sure he appreciates my play by play commentary of the satirical overtones  It is satire, right? I am watching the same show filled with stereotypes. I see the symbolism and the allusions. I am watching the same show: a literary element candy store with fountains of political Crude-n-Crass Fondue! Even though the same show is playing, it might as well not be the same show. In the spirit of drama, I repeat: even though the same show is playing…it might as well not be the same show. We bring a different perspective to the experience.

Hmm…not much different than our students in our classroom. If we only listen through our individual filter, if we only view through our individual lens, our tunnel vision limits understanding. We should allow students to harness the power of social media not as an avenue for degradation or devastation, but for creation and collaboration. We cannot look at our classrooms and say we are creating global citizens, if we have not showed them how to be digital citizens. We cannot claim we are creating global citizens, if we have not allowed them to be contributing citizens to the classroom community. Students have something worthy to say and worthy to contribute.

Backchanneling can provide additional perspective, means for continued conversation, and opportunity for students to contribute to a learning community. There are numerous options for a backchannel. I use TodaysMeet. However, Twitter, Twiducate, and Chatzy are also worthy options for exploration.

How I have used backchannels in the classroom:

1) Media During a video, students can react to what they see by posting their contemplations, considerations, questions. The conversation can continue long after class dismisses…Read more about my class and social media on the NY Times Learning Network

2) Skype session During a Skype video conference, the presenter and the class can have access to the backchannel. The presenter would be able to answer questions. The conversation can continue long after class dismisses…Read more about my class on Harlan Institute blog

3) Fishbowl Using a Socratic Seminar format, a circle of students in the middle can discuss (x). The outside circle can comment on the conversation happening in the middle, and can also record major discussion points. The conversation can continue long after class dismisses…Read more about my class on the NY Times

We bring our experiences, our morals, our virtues, and our ideas to the learning table. Unlike a potluck, if that is all we bring, that is all we get. However, if we allow ourselves to learn with and from others, suddenly the menu becomes rich. We can benefit from othersʼ experiences, morals, virtues, and ideas. In a classroom filled with varied abilities, and varied ideas, the challenge to empower student voice becomes daunting, but it is not as difficult as one would first assume. We need to provide an opportunity for students to express and an equal opportunity for students to digest.

Feel free to follow my journey at:

Twitter: eolsonteacher
Blog: TravelENG
Co-authored blog: ConnectENG

Warning: A backchannel does not replace actual conversation. It will not replace a classroom teacher, nor does is contribute to the downfall of society. It does not create a society filled with silent students only able to communicate through thumbed text. It does not stop with a classroom bell, nor does it have to begin with a classroom bell. It is transparent, and students should be made to understand that concept. A backchannel is an extension.

New – Iowa, Did You Know?

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

New video mix, narrative by Scott McLeod and ©2011XPLANE Dachis | Group

Iowa, Did You Know?

Guide for using Iowa, Did You Know?

#iacopi in a Fishbowl of Ideas

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

#iacopi is a group of more than 140 teachers working together to develop blended learning in an online environment. These educators met most recently for two days on July 28 and July 29 to collaborate and get ready for a new school year. This post by Leslie Pralle Keehn (twitter: LPralleKeehn) highlights a group discussion among educators and other stakeholders.

Excitement filled the “twittersphere” as Jason Glass, Christian Renaud, Debi Durham, and Trace Pickering took their seats in the “fish bowl” at the Sheraton West Des Moines on day two of the #iacopi gathering.

The opening tweet on Today’s Meet set the tone for the conversation:

“Glass: Innovation is a garbage can: overused, overworked term. Don’t let fear get in the way of innovation- part of our brain is based in fear, have to shut that part off – keeps us from innovation”

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box – or to teach outside the box. In education we are taught to model what is best. You cannot model fear in the classroom. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy – so says The Magic Schools Bus’s Miss Frizzle, and these are words to live by.

A couple more quotes from Jason Glass were shared via Today’s Meet:

“Failing forward: ‘turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones’”

“If you are pushing at the edge of your capacity things are going to go wrong – get up, learn from it, get better”

The second one reminded me immediately of the phrase that former Iowa safety (and current New York Giant) Tyler Sash has coined – “Get better, not bitter” (#gbnb). Sash has shared that he gets up each day and reminds himself to work hard toward his goals. As educators I hope that we share that same enthusiasm for our profession.

Many of the fish bowl participants had questions about the message: “Is any school district asking the students?” “How can we make innovation welcomed in our schools?”

Entrepreneur Christian Renaud shared a concern that kids can google facts, but not necessarily think critically. It comes down to “data vs. actionable information… thinking more important than content”. Renaud urgently reminded us that students must be able to compete globally and there is not time to wait.

Teachers again had questions: “What is the level of critical and analytical thinking needed to be successful on the Iowa Tests?” “What do we keep? What do we change to keep moving forward?” “How do we deal with factors beyond our control?”

Glass had an answer for that one: “It is our moral obligation to take kids from where they are and push them to be better.”

Trace Pickering felt that “our system is fundamentally flawed.” He told the group of educators in the room that “You cannot change ONLY one part of education without changing others!”

As the panel continued the sense of urgency in the room seemed to grow. Many teachers felt as though they did not have the appropriate supports in place locally to be truly successful.

Debi Durham contended that the support may be lacking because education is a closed system. She feels as though superintendents should not need to come from an ed background – educators need to let the public in! She pushed for year-round schooling and foreign language at the elementary level.

The group largely supported the foreign language movement, but wondered (again) where the funds would come from to support such programs. Each of the panelists had a unique perspective and brought something different to the table. Renaud reminded us that there is no right answer: every mind is different, there is no one answer or system – personalize it.

The urgency, passion, and energy of the people in the room were easily recognized. The members of the #IACoPi are ready to set the pace. Ready to do something different. Ready to take risks, lead the way, and design a model that fits our kids – not someone else’s.

If I were to create a word cloud for the fish bowl the largest words on the page would be “change, global, students, innovate, and educate”. I know I am ready to make the changes, to prepare and educate students for a global, “flat” society, and to do it in an innovative way. What will you do to be the change you want to see? As Christian Renaud so eloquently stated: If you’re waiting for the rest of the community to understand (mainstream approval) – you need to choose another job.