FlipGrid: Connect with Other Classrooms

This year, my students are learning about the design thinking process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

My teaching team decided to begin the year with a low stakes high-interest challenge: design a water park for our community.

The first step in the design thinking process is empathy. Too often my students want to jump right to a solution without really understanding the problem. However, “empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process. The Empathize mode is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about the world, and what is meaningful to them.”

During the empathize stage, students walked downtown to interview business owners. They wanted to find how business owners would feel about a new water park opening in our town. They wanted to understand their concerns and learn from their experience.

Our students interviewed a class of kindergarten students to understand what young kids would find appealing about a water park. These conversations were invaluable because kindergarten-aged children are less concerned with what’s realistic, so their ideas were incredibly creative and “outside of the box.”

I wanted to connect my students with even more stakeholders, so I used FlipGrid–a video discussion platform–to post this question.

Then I sent a request out on Twitter asking other teachers to have their students record a 90-second video message for my class. We wanted to know if they had been to a water park before and what they thought my students should consider including in their water parks. The response was overwhelming! We received 127 video messages from classrooms all over the United States sharing their thoughts on what would make a water park appealing.

As we watched the videos, I was impressed by the issues students raised about sanitation, food vendors, rental equipment, etc. This FlipGrid connected my students to voices they otherwise would never have heard.

Technology offers teachers a growing number of options when it comes to connecting classrooms, but I love that FlipGrid is video based. It’s easy to create a discussion topic, share it on social media, and use the responses in class. For those teachers who have resisted social media, like Twitter, and view it as one more thing to do, I have to emphasize the power of having a social media presence as an educator. My engagement on Twitter made it so much easier for me to connect with other teachers and ask for help. I am so grateful to all of the educators who sacrificed precious class time to allow their students to record messages for my class!


Posted in Learning | 7 Comments

MindShift Podcast: Be The Change You Want to See

Last spring, Katrina Schwartz from MindShift spent two days in my classroom recordings students at work and interviewing me, my teaching partner, students, and parents for this podcast about N.E.W. School.

In this 21 minute podcast, Schwarts articulates what drove my desire to experiment with a new approach to teaching and learning, while highlighting the challenges, doubt, and pushback we’ve faced trying to change the status quo at a big public high school.

A project-based, student-driven, and technology-infused program like N.E.W. School may not be a perfect fit for every student, but I like that it gives students another option.

I’m excited that educators who have read my blog and heard about my different approaches to teaching and assessing can get a little window into my program via this podcast!

Posted in Learning | 2 Comments

Teaching & Assessing Soft Skills

The career landscape is changing dramatically. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before the age of forty. This requires a high degree of flexibility and adaptability.

Students who leave high school with strong soft skills will work more harmoniously with others and be more successful tackling unfamiliar tasks. However, teachers must explicitly teach these soft skills in school. Teachers cannot assume that students know what it looks like to communicate effectively. Many students have never been taught specific strategies for managing their time. These are skills they must develop and hone in school.

This year I am focusing on both teaching and assessing these critical soft skills. I identified key soft skills I wanted to focus on, including the ability to manage one’s time, communicate, collaborate, solve problems, and think creatively. Then I created rubrics so students would know exactly what these soft skills look like in practice.

Now my teacher team uses these rubrics to give each student feedback on where he/she is in relation to mastering these crucial skills. Because we are a project-based program, these soft skills are often as necessary to their success working on large scale projects as their academic skills.

Below are a few of the rubrics I designed. Teachers are welcome to click on the pictures and make copies of these rubrics to modify and use with their own students!


If you have strategies or resources you use to support students in developing their soft skills, please post a comment and share them!

Posted in Learning | 26 Comments