Category Archives: iowa1to1

Parallels Between the Iowa Education Blueprint and #IACoPI

Hello, I am Shaelynn Farnsworth, a high school English teacher at BCLUW.  We are a rural school located about 15 minutes from Marshalltown. We are also currently in our third year of 1:1 laptop implementation, meaning that all of our students have laptops that they take home with them. Last year I was given the opportunity to be part of Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation, I was excited for the opportunity and feel that this work must be continued to offer students in Iowa the best education in the world.
Being an educator at a laptop school, technology infusion and blended learning is status quo. IACoPI does this but in a community setting. Passionate teachers from around the state creating curriculum that is aligned with the common core in a collaborative setting has changed the way I teach and allows my students access to a multitude of engaging units. After reading the Iowa Education Blueprint, it is clear in my mind that IACoPi must be continued and supported if we are to meet and exceed goals set by our Education Department. There are 5 points I wish to highlight that show the parellel between IACoPI and the Iowa Education Blueprint.
1. The Centerpiece: “Great Teachers” The Blueprint specifically mentions the need for quality educators in each classroom to create a world-wide school and education for our students. Nothing is more powerful than when these educators are given time and means to collaborate together to plan, discuss, and create curriculum that is engaging, relevant, and aligned with the Iowa Core. IACoPI does this. Nancy Movall brought together carefully selected educators to pilot the project. The time that we spent together was amazing. Broken into content areas, I met with 40 other English teachers across the state, and together ideas were shared, best practice strategies demonstrated, and innovative curriculum designed that would provide students rich content within a 21st century model. When my students work through the various English units they have 40 great teachers in their classroom not just one! If you ask any of the members of the group, they will all agree, the time we spent together was a key to success. A model that all of us wish would be replicated in the future.
2. “Learning how to design dynamic and engaging lessons and greater support” is another important piece in the Blueprint on how to support “Talented Educators”, and although it states for new teachers, this should be a goal in every school district. If we continue to teach the way we always have taught, ignoring the ever changing world around us, we become dated and students’ learning decreases. IACOPi offers training in pedagogy and tools to aide in the development of the blended curriculum. We learned about Project Based Learning, Symbaloo, and Moodles last year. Organically, we also taught each other. Wikis were created, resources shared, and google docs compiled suggestions. In fact, I offered 2 webinars on how to blog in the classroom to support student learning. IACoPI offers educators opportunities to learn new skills and then utilize what they have learned in curriculum development. This support strengthens the groups knowledge and teaching practices.

3. Educator Leadership Roles – Under this heading it suggest “a weekly meeting with small groups of educators to plan and collaborate as well as a teacher-led curriculum committee.” Again, I feel that IACoPI is a perfect example of how powerful these opportunities can be for students. It would have been easy for the state of Iowa to purchase an on-line curriculum that is avaliable for use, this would not sit well with the educators in our state, and I bet would be under utilized. We know our students best, plus developing our own curriculum allowed us to align it to the Iowa Core, as well as, collaborate together providing students with a collective greatness found within the groups. We all have invested interest in this project. It is our work and our voice that is being represented. Supporting this would be a powerful message to educators in Iowa that we trust you and we value your talent and time.

4. Improve and Expand the Iowa Core – one key bullet is “under the direction of educators across Iowa, designng a rigorous ‘model’ curriculum that can be used as a starting point.” This is exactly the aim of IACoPI. Together, we created stellar units and paths for students to investigate and ignite an engaging learning environment. These units were created by Iowa teachers collaboratively, keeping the Iowa Core in the forefront. Our vision would be to continue this work, adding to the repository, units that meet all of the goals of a world-wide education teachers and students. Much like we have done this year, teachers could pull out these units and design a specific curriculum strand for each student. An individualized plan that is relevant, engaging, and chosen by the learner all while teaching the important skills outlined in the Iowa Core is a new vision of education for Iowa Students.
5. Finally – According to the Blueprint, under the Spirit of Innovation and Education section, “the plan to provide our students a world-class learning environment and curriculum praises educators who are always working to improve, innovate, and accelerate, who arent afraid to try new things and take chances. Educators who are evaluating approaches and continuously seeking to raise student engagement and achievement.” This, in essence, is what brought us all to IACoPI. We are life-long learners ourselves. We understand the role of technology in society and its impact on education. Students need different paths to recieve an education that is tailored to them. Many of them turn to dual credit or online classes. IACoPI provides these opportunities for our students. This blended state curriculum will only increase in demand as technology saturates our schools. We want to make sure that the blended curriculum that our students receive is up to our state standards. By supporting IACoPI we are doing just that, the momentum and excitement will only grow.

Thank you for taking the time to allow me to share my story with you. Three years ago, I would have never dreamed I would have the opportunities to change the future of education in our state. I urge you to continue supporting our efforts. In its earliest stages many stories of success have been shared. Iowa Community of Practice and Innovation Teachers are forever changed by being part of this group. Our students find fun and relevance in learning. They just need the right delivery system mixed with a collective energy from Passionate Iowa Educators! “Better Together Iowa” is a slogan that Nancy continually uses. I agree with this and hope that you allow us to continue the revolutionary work that is ahead of its time. We owe it to Iowa students and  we have built a foundation in which to work from!

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Blending, Reshaping, Expanding

Laura Horan (@laura_horan) is the Curriculum Coordinator at Manson Northwest Webster.  She has taught grades 3-5 and 7th grade Language Arts.  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.


As I think the importance of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation work and what it means for school communities, teachers, and students, I think about an article written by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel entitled, “I Just Want My Kid to be Happy…and Successful.” The authors express what we, and particular parents, all want for our students. They say we want all kids to be, “Happy, motivated, college-bound, work-ready and prepped for success…”

So, what does this mean?  My connections with my own work and learning are a simple example.  My definition of work has changed. Because of technology, I can now conduct my work from anywhere and it is more driven by results rather than driven by time and place.  But more importantly, the way I learn has changed dramatically.  My learning has changed from attending meetings and trainings, reading books and articles written by a handful of tried and true experts in the field of education, to attending webinars, reading blogs, websites and comments of experts and practitioners from all over the world. Some are educators, some are not.  While I still value my face-to-face meetings with colleagues, my learning has expanded to include a greater community, and I depend on this new personal learning network as I learn, share, and do my job.  My thinking has been challenged in ways that I never thought possible.  I have become much more of an independent learner which in turn has motivated me to stretch and learn more.  As I think of the IACoPi work, and the blended learning courses the teams are creating, I imagine students experiencing similar changes as we move away from the traditional classroom, instruction and learning.  How exciting!

As we prepare kids for their future, we know that the traditional fact-based, rote curriculum of the past won’t cut it.  We need the work of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation which is project-based, research-driven, and taps into the digital lifestyle our kids are growing up with.  As I follow the Twitter hashtag #IACoPi, and read the Better Together Iowa blog entries, I’m excited about what is happening in the content teams.  The curriculum is incorporating higher order thinking skills, technology, multimedia, and the multiple literacies of the 21st century. The teacher teams are striving to create the kind of online experiences we want for all students.  And while some may still worry, “What about the facts and the basics?” the teams are not forsaking foundational information, but instead are creating experiences that enable students to gain that information through investigation and relevant activities.

These blended learning opportunities will create a new learning environment that will enable all students to be engaged, motivated, independent learners.  Students will still have face to face contact and instructor support, but also experience expanded learning outside the classroom.  It’s the best of both worlds and is what we need to prepare our students to be “Happy, motivated, college-bound, work-ready and prepped for success.”

The IACoPi teams are truly pioneers in the field of online learning.  I want to thank Nancy Movall, the IACoPi leaders, and Iowa teachers who are creating the blended courses.  Together you are reshaping what it means to teach and learn in Iowa.

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Better Together: An Example Explained

Jen Sigrist, director of teaching and learning at Van Meter Schools and former social studies teacher, is leading the social studies team to create blended curriculum as part of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation (IACoPi) pilot to scale project.

Social studies is an important part of the 21st Century learner’s education. It is the one content area where students can make sense of and connect all the other fields of learning into a common frame of reference. It’s the doorway to becoming a responsible, global citizen. 21st Century learners are more connected with the world than ever before, and it takes an understanding of social sciences as a whole to participate in this environment -Jen Sigrist

The social studies team is truly working together to accomplish the unprecedented work of Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation (IACoPi). The team consists of classroom teachers, special education literacy specialists, project-based learning experts, and district level administration. The collaborative dynamic is working, and Sigrist explains the group was cohesive from the beginning. “We are challenging each other’s thinking. We are connected by our drive. We are passionate about improving social studies education, so it is meaningful for our kids.”

To support the improvement, many IACoPi social studies educators attended the Buck Institute on Project Based Learning professional development. The professional development supports the mission of the social studies group, the promise of Iowa Core/Common Core, and the goal of IACoPi. Project Based Learning invites students into the content making the learning and assessment relevant, meaningful, and authentic. As educators across the state continue to address curriculum, the need for a paradigm shift becomes evident, and the need for educator collaboration becomes necessary. Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation brought passionate professionals together, and amazing work is being accomplished.

Housed on a Moodle server, the social studies curriculum is impressive. Since its birth, the project has evolved, and the metamorphosis was inspired by a need to create essential content. The blended curriculum is aligned with universal constructs. “When you think of the stereotypical social studies education, it is irrelevant. Relevant is global citizenship, empathy, information literacy, civic activism, and civic responsibility.”

One of the many collaborative gems is the global citizenship project. Sigrist and the team knew to be effective, the curriculum would have to center around current issues. The blended ecurriculum is designed to be malleable. The community will utilize the adaptable work to meet the needs of students and their respective districts. The blended learning format is not about covering the content, but about students uncovering.

There is no doubt, teachers working together will benefit Iowa students. The enthusiasm is evident in the work, and the relentless journey to improve is impressive. Jen Sigrist believes in the curriculum and the quest, “I am proud of the way we are working together, proud of the type of unit, and I am sold it is the type of thing kids need, but teachers have not been given.”

Educators involved in the Iowa Communities of Practice Innovation blended ecurriculum mission will meet the end of July to further develop and examine curriculum.

#IACoPi feature post authored by Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher)

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Brief Overview for the July #IACoPi…

Guest Blogger, Monte DeArmoun is a 7-12 Social Science Instructor at Northwood-Kensett Jr./Sr.  Are You Ready For July’s #IACoPi Meeting?

We are a month away from meeting at the Sheraton Inn West in Clive for our July training and the continuation of the development of blended units for the modules. Hopefully you have been prepping yourself for using the eCurriculum this coming school year since our last meeting in April. The “Facilitating eLearning in a Blended Classroom” course is wrapping up for most of the CoPi group and starting for the Social Studies teachers. The CoPi Design Team has been planning the July training focused on providing the best possible training for you. There are roughly 20 members that have met via conference calls since the April training. Below is a tentative agenda:

Thursday, July 28

8:00-10:00 Registration

8:30- 10:00 Meet to socialize/network (Breakfast provided)

10:00-10:10- Welcome and agenda overview

10:10-11:00 Scope & sequence conversation

11:00- 12:00 Web 2.0 walkabout/Poster session

12:00-1:00 LUNCH (provided)

1:00-2:00 Symbaloo introduction and overview

2:00-2:15 BREAK

2:15-5:00 Module work

Friday, July 29

7:00-8:30 Registration and Breakfast (Breakfast provided)

8:30-10:00 Innovation Fishbowl

10:00-10:15 Director Jason Glass, Iowa DOE

10:15-10:30 BREAK

10:30-12:00 Module work

12:00-1:00 LUNCH (provided)

1:00-3:00 Module work

3:00-3:30 Blended Pedagogy video activity

3:30-3:45 Closing

I am part of the Design Team and member of the Blended Pedagogy subcommittee. During the Blended Pedagogy segment on the July training date we will discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of teaching in a Blended Classroom. See you all in July! “Better Together”

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Living the Project

Guest Blogger – Leslie Pralle Keehn (@LPralleKeehn) is a 7-12 Social Studies teacher at Northeast Hamiliton CSD

The first IACoPi Buck Institute on project-based learning took place June22-24 in Coralville. The venue for the event, the Coralville Public Library, was quite fitting in terms of the themes of project-based learning. To paraphrase a favorite show of mine, libraries offer learners of all ages a place to hunt the white whale aboard the Pequod, fight alongside Napoleon, sail with Huck and Jim, ride a sad train with Anna Karenina, or live alongside the Swiss Family Robinson. Libraries, and books, let the reader be in the moment. In project-based learning (PBL), it is equally important to let the student “be in” the project.

PBL can be an opportunity for students to realize that they can do whatever they want to do and be whoever they want to be. PBL should offer a real-world role for students, providing them with an opportunity to be the change they want to see.

As the teacher, we should provide an outlet for students to not only create a meaningful project, but to present that project to an authentic audience. The role of the audience inspires the desire to create a “finished” final product.

Giving students “voice and choice” in the project allows them to take ownership. Ownership, student- inquiry, and passion will produce results far superior to those of a purely teacher-driven project. Let students discover or feed an interest within the context of your driving question (the question that communicates the purpose of the project and focuses on a philosophical or controversial issue). Never forget the “Why should I care” component. Students should be inspired by the project.

Finally, make the project the main dish. Pre-teaching the project or adding the project as dessert causes disconnect between students and the project. Give students the opportunity to filter learn through the project; even “drill and skill” work with commas can be part of an end project letter to the editor. Let students apply learning to the project throughout a unit. Revision and reflection through continued learning allow students to gain mastery of concepts and skills.

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Buck Institute: Lie, Cheat, and Steal

Guest Blogger – Tim Hadley ( @MrHadleyHistory), Social Science Instructor at Pekin High School

“I teach you to lie, cheat, and steal, and as soon as my back’s turned you wait in line?” -Dr. Gregory House, main character from House, M.D. This quote is used in the context of Dr. House scolding his colleagues for not taking every possible avenue to fulfill their hippocratic oath to heal the sick. The scene is not only one that can play out in any hospital, but could easily be transcribed to the classroom setting.
The Buck Institute, with the philosophy of Andrew Miller (@betamiller)  – “lie, cheat, and steal” has retooled this phrase to apply to educators. Espousing Project Based Learning, the Buck Institute is encouraging classroom leaders to use every opportunity to engage students in learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. By choosing to use Project Based Learning, online environments such as Iowa CoPi, are giving students the opportunity to interact with content as never before.
Dr. House has no problem with being willing to deviate from the norm to solve a patient’s condition. We as educators should not only wish for students to reach optimum engagement, we should be willing to make it a reality, with whatever means necessary. Project Based Learning serves as a vehicle to make this happen, will you be one to step up and drive?

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