Education Innovation in NYC

I made a 24 hour visit to NYC to check out two of the schools in their iZone project. It’s worth reading a little more about the concept at their site.

New York City has designed the iZone to free schools from the compliance-oriented culture that has inhibited real innovation in our nation’s schools. Schools within the iZone are provided the resources and support to pioneer new models that transform what schools look like, personalizing instruction to the needs of each individual student, and dramatically improving student achievement.


The following comments are based on about two hours at each school during which we toured a few classrooms and got a variety of people related to the school telling us various things. Add my own biases and other personality issues and you’ve got a fairly superficial view of things but it’s probably more than you had before. I freely admit that this is surface level and probably more reflective of my own opinions than any sort of objective reality.

School of One

The School of One

To organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on his or her academic strengths and needs. As a result, students within the same school or even the same classroom can receive profoundly different instruction as each student’s schedule is tailored to the skills they need and the ways they best learn. Teachers acquire data about student achievement each day and then adapt their live instructional lessons accordingly.

My one sentence description: A math curriculum that tries to use software and algorithms to create daily differentiated schedules and experiences based on student performance on task based activities.

That’s a convoluted sentence, no doubt. To make it more plain, they have students doing a fair amount of work within a LMS type system where they can track “mastery” of concepts through multiple choice quizzes. They take those data, combine it with self reporting on preferred learning styles and start to build schedules for students that take those things into account.

What I liked
It makes sense to-

  • change instruction for individuals based on demonstrated results and preference.
  • use computers to help students efficiently memorize basic content and master basic skills.
  • offload some of the work of differentiation onto computers.
  • offload a chunk of low level grading to computers where the data can be tracked and broken down in more useful ways that actually change how and what students are taught.

Expanded Notes

The learning is done in one large long room- think giant shoe box shape. I believe they had to tear down walls to create it. The rationale is that having one giant room will result in teachers holding each other accountable and that it saves time (extends the school year was the way it was stated) by eliminating time lost by moving to different rooms. I’m not sure how that works as it seems like the students would still have to move, although the distance would be less.

The focal point on entering the room is a large monitor displaying student names indicating where that student should be (see image above- names blurred out of paranoia). There are various rough sections with signs. You have students involved in direct instruction, doing 1:1 online tutoring, participating in various online activities with a guide circulating to help if needed.

It is fairly loud due to the fact that there are numerous teacher led direct instruction sessions going on at once. Teacher instruction looked traditional in form and manner while we were present. “Class” sizes were smaller than the 30 or so you’d see in most classrooms (10 on average?) but some seemed to be in the high teens if not twenties. Whiteboards were in use and seemed to act as impromptu walls in many cases.

It seems like it’d be hard for students to make connections to teachers in this situation because of the way kids move from teacher to teacher. This was brought up as well, citing the importance of the teacher-student relationship and learning. The reply was essentially- “Students don’t get stuck with bad teachers all year either.” I’m not a fan of that reply.

Another aspect which had me thinking some was that teachers had core lessons they taught. Like, I might be the “multiplying fractions” guy or the “area of quadrilaterals” guy. In order to deal with the way students shift, teachers needed to cut down on prep time so they became “experts” in certain specific lessons. There are some positive aspects to teaching the same content to a bunch of different students, multiple times in a day/week/year if you are breaking it down and really learning from it as a teacher. I, as an individual, might also go crazy. I like some variety and feeling of linear progression in how I teach students. I’m not sure I’d get that in this system. It’s hard to tell.

They are trying new things. They are new things that seem to be custom made for the kind of multiple choice tests that are currently in vogue. There are pieces that are worth thinking about but I’m not sure how this system, as a whole, would fare under different testing conditions.

Anyway, that ought to break up the parade of #ds106 posts. I’ll save the second school for another post, as I’m rapidly approaching 900 words here.

First Blood Poster


This is an early iteration of a Rambo poster I’m working on. It was harder than I thought to find an iconic silhouette to represent a movie (at least a movie that I liked).

Things I like-

  • the knife- iconic enough to represent the movie (although it needs some polishing)
  • the idea of the Vietnam and American flag blending to parallel the forces in the plot
  • Rambo as blood on the tip of the knife. Where I doing this project in an English course, I could go into much more detail about how my choices reflect the movie.

Things that need work-

  • I think it’s too complex still. Rambo may need to be black and white.
  • I don’t like the font. I may write First Blood instead (also leads to a First Blood/Vampire movie mashup possibility down the road)
  • The dimensions are all wrong.

I’m putting the not quite right stuff out there so anyone who might be interested can see the process and the thoughts going on. I think that’s good. I also don’t want people worrying about only posting perfection. This course ought to be fun and should allow people to brainstorm on ways to improve product together and continuously.

Community Chest

Bizarro Card

This is kind of what I’m thinking of for #ds106. I’d like participants to have a random selection of these cards and play them in the comments. They’d embed the image in a comment on someone’s blog and link to the post they’d like to see them act on (flip in this case).

I think it’d add an interesting element of randomness and participation. I also want the cards to be open to interpretation. “Create the opposite” is a fairly wide open. It could mean opposite media type (motion vs still, text vs image etc.) or opposite theme, or any number of other opposites.

I’m curious if others think this is feasible/interesting. Preferably, I’d like it to be both.

Here are a few other possibilities.
Picture 6
Make it new

For what it’s worth, I think this could be a really interesting thing to do in k12 classes. You could give out these cards with assignments as well. Imagine assigning the topic and having students giving out the assignments, or choosing from their own options.

More #DS106 Possibilities

Some of this stuff is reposted from the distant past, most of it will work very well in English classes.

Weird Books

A site devoted to weird books. You can write the story, the book blurb, you can use as many titles as possible in a short story, build a video around the concept, interview the author, etc. etc.

Augmented Reality

Photo contest for the National Archives

Remix Dylan

Remix Dylan and some other tracks. Some aspects of this site I like, some not so much. You lose a lot of freedom to embed etc. but it is easy.


Sometimes you have to make things because they scare you. From the linked video which offers just an endless rainbow of animated gif possibilities.

More Animation

Enough is probably enough but I’m enjoying the useless entertainment of the process. I spent all day writing a far more useless report and got no joy out of it so this helps with recovery. There’s also the potential of making a reservoir of these gifs for people to remix into stories.

Pulp Fiction

This scene has potential but I failed here pretty badly. I may have to break it half and match up the dancers separately in FinalCut. I think that’d work but right now it’s too much hassle. Christmas break is coming.


Of these two, I like the pushup one the best but the video quality leaves a lot to be desired. I need to order some of these on Netflix and get some decent resolution captures. There are a number of other scenes from odd movies that I can’t find on YouTube.


There’s a slow zoom in there that messes up the loop. I started hand resizing the frames to cancel that out but that was not what I was in this for. I do want everyone to see the Hulk petting the bunny.

More #DS106 Possibilities


Take a silhouette from a movie, fill it with another scene from that movie to create something evocative of both yet entirely new. Pay close attention to the colors you use. To increase difficulty make it monochromatic.

-via FFFFound


Re-imagine1 key elements/lessons/morals of the movie as coupons.
-via SuperPunch

Rid the World

Think up 12 creative ways to rid the world of your worst enemy. Create media to represent each piece. Don’t limit yourself to 2d or visuals.
-via SuperPunch


Use perspective to change the story a photograph tells.


Found this one and couldn’t resist posting it for Alan. Remake a movie in comic format with dogs as the characters.

via Blame it on the Voices

1 Copyright Jim Groom

WCYDWT English?

This post has to do with Dan Meyer’s What Can You Do With This? concept and my utter failure to come up with ways to do it the way I’d like in English.

I seem to be struggling with the same things that Todd Seal is/was struggling with over on Thoughts on Teaching.

I can come up with lots of ways to make media encourage actions (prompts essentially) but I’m failing to figure out ways to make questions that require specific skills/understanding1.

The question is the key element it seems. The question has to drive the whole thing and be simple enough that people will take a guess without feeling over invested. This primes the pump so to speak.

Every question I come up with ends up with possible skills all over the place but missing the requirement for a specific skill or set of skills. In English it often seems like you can accomplish an answer but it’s less a puzzle to figure out that will require specific skills and more of a task to accomplish that can be completed to a greater or lesser degree depending on a variety of skills2.

I wonder if it doesn’t come down to the fact that in English we often lack a definitive “right” answer. It could be I’m just failing to think properly about this.

Take the serial comma artifact that was posted on Dan’s site a while back. I ended up at Wikipedia pondering a way to make this into something that had a question and required understanding the serial comma to answer the question.

I wanted to ask was something like –”Given the sentence below, how many people went to Oregon?”
I went to Oregon with Betty, a maid, and a cook.

That creates the confusion. I can even resolve the confusion for this particular sentence but it’s more about reading it closely and just re-writing it as opposed to starting to understand something like Wikipedia’s explanation —

The list x, y and z is unambiguous if y and z cannot be read as in apposition to x.
Equally, x, y, and z is unambiguous if y cannot be read as in apposition to x.
If neither y nor y[,] and z can be read as in apposition to x, then both forms of the list are unambiguous; but if y or y[,] and z can be read as in apposition to x, then both forms of the list are ambiguous.
x and y and z is unambiguous.

There’s something to be said for just having fun with the language and letting some things be messy. That’s good and fine but I still think there are ways to get at more specific understandings using the WCYDWT format. I haven’t given up but I wouldn’t mind hearing the thoughts of some others who might have already fought this battle.

Then drop this one in-
I went to Oregon with Betty, a maid and a cook.
But I don’t feel like I end up with clarity.

1 General stuff is easy but making very specific skills a requirement to solve the problem in the way I see it happen in math is not going well for me.

2 Maybe that sentence indicates why I’m failing here.

Average Color Ideas

Just yesterday Jim retweeted Psychmedia‘s find. Essentially, this post shows the first 1000 frames of North by Northwest by average color.

Games you could play with these kind of data images1

  • Give someone the image. They tell the story based on the colors. The key here would be to map the writing to the image bands in a way that keeps it contextual. It also be nice to be able to stack columns of different interpretations out horizontally to see the different interpretations of the same bands.
  • Take three movies and break them down this way. How do the colors compare? Why do you think that’s the case? You could break down three movies from the same director and look for matches or just do it randomly.
  • Just doing this kind of analyzation and mapping to the actual stills would be a pretty intense assignment if you talked about whether the average color was representative of the scene/plot. Do dark colors always match
  • It would also be wild to produce your own movie with this kind of color breakdown in mind. If you knew people would see this, what color choices might you make? I’d try to send odd codes or make the average colors very misleading.

I love this sort of odd data display for common items. It reminds me of the really wild text arc stuff. I love that potential to look at things in odd ways. Even if it doesn’t end up making sense (Dan’s toast brightness values), I think you gain something in the pursuit.

1 It’s worth noting that you could do all of this in an English classroom and get at some really serious analysis. You could even reverse things and have students create the color graph for a novel. What would those colors be in the movie? Explain your choices.