Beth Holland

Food for thought…

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I Moved!

I started this blog back in 2008. Strangely, I remember sitting in the exact same spot as I am right now and deciding that I should start writing. 839 posts later, I’m moving.

Thanks to Michael Boardman (yes, he’s also my husband) I have an all new website at This one will stay here, but I won’t be updating it any longer. Come on over to my new digital digs and check it out.

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Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching?

I didn’t write this blog title. The editor at Edutopia changed mine before publishing my latest article. Originally, I thought that I wanted to discuss the promise and the peril of blended learning. However, I am thankful that he had a better idea.

Admittedly, this post began as a rant against blended learning. Not the effective version as described by the tremendous educators in Bellevue, Nebraska whom I feature in this post, but the “I regularly put digital versions of analog assignments on ___ (insert platform name) and then collected them back” kind.

True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process. With students freed from the confines of the school day, the walls of the classroom, the sole expertise of the teacher, and the pace of the rest of the class, blended learning could fundamentally change the system and structure of school.

And yet, as illustrated by the varying perspectives of what constitutes blended learning lies the issue that I am really wrestling with: how to create a vision for innovation. For my dissertation, I am looking at how to scale up change, more specifically, how to help districts expand the pockets of innovative teaching within classrooms and buildings to the rest of their ecosystem. As I think more and more about this, the real challenge may lie in first helping districts to recognize innovation versus digitization.


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Beyond the Binder: 3 Strategies for Empowering Digital Tool Use in the Classroom

Sabba Quidwai and I have been discussing ways to leverage the power of digital tools to support deeper inquiry for quite some time. Since she started her job as the Director of Innovation at the USC Keck Medical School in the Physician Assistant program, we have bounced ideas for ways that she can support her graduate students with this task. Once I also became a student last year, then we gained even more opportunities to explore this concept of digital note taking for a greater purpose.

Last fall, the two of us recorded a Google Hangout as we introduced the idea of tagging and organizing as a means to ask better questions (you can watch below). Our work also inspired us to co-author a new blog post series. The first product of this collaboration launched on EdSurge as Beyond the Binder: 3 Strategies for Empowering Digital Tool Use in the Classroom.


The BEST Holiday Presents for Students This Year? – The Gift of Design

This month, the Global Search for Education Global Blogger Series takes on the all important question: “What’s the best gift you would recommend for your students this holiday season?” Since I have just about wrapped up my holiday shopping, I have a few suggestions.

2016 may become known as the “Design Thinking & Making Christmas” to all who receive presents from me though it started as the year of the Kiwi Crate. According to the web site, Kiwi Crate aims to inspire a new generation of “scientists, artists, and makers.” Whether you buy one crate or a monthly subscription, each box contains a mini project for kids to design and build.

Different crates for different ages

Different crates for different ages

This year, I also became enfatuated with the Extraordinaires Design Studio. Earlier this fall, I wrote about how this game inspires teachers and students to embrace design thinking, making, and innovation. For a few of my older friends, I bought the Deluxe version of the game and can’t wait to see what they do with it. Not only do the Extraordinaires inspire kids to use their imaginations and create new products, but it also gives them a chance to think like a designer. For even more fun, they can download different Design & Make instructions to learn how to physically create some of their creations. The video below provides a great overview.

This holiday season, I wanted presents that would last longer than a few hours and hopefully inspire the recipients throughout the new year. These seemed like fantastic options to achieve that goal.

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Maximizing Arts Education in a Traditional Classroom

This month, as part of the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series, I have decided to tackle the question, How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

This may seem like an odd topic for me as anyone who knows me well can attest to my complete lack of artistic talent (especially visual arts) and mediocre musical skills. However, over the summer, I read The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools by Dr. Mariale Hardiman. In learning about two of her targets — Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills, & Concepts as well as Teaching for Extension & Application of Knowledge — the arts played a central role in enhancing the potential for student learning within more traditional subjects.

Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills, and Concepts requires students to gain a deeper understanding of a domain of curricular knowledge such as history or science while forging stronger connections between their learning experiences and their long term memories. Arts integration creates hands-on experiences that allow students to make those deeper connections. As they delve into topics through drawing, painting, music, and even drama, they generate new types of information and learning artifacts as well as physically engage in the learning process. These active learning experiences not only help students to make varied neural connections to the content but also engage them in more divergent thinking – generating multiple, varied solutions to a problem.

Most assessments in traditional subjects value convergent thinking and encourage students to generate a single, correct, response. However, the arts inspire creativity, incite students to seek out novel approaches that demonstrate both their content knowledge as well as their critical thinking, and support Teaching for Extension and Application of Knowledge. In her book, Dr. Hardiman describes a language arts teacher who encouraged students to design a guidebook of survival tips for their community based on their understanding of themes from the novel, Hatchet, as well as a biology teacher who placed her students into “medical teams” charged with diagnosing the genetic disorder of a fictitious patient. In this latter example, the students collaborated to diagnose the problem, determine a solution, and then present their findings to their peers.

In Assessment and the Learning Brain, Hardiman and Whitman state that to determine the innovativeness of a school, ask about their thoughts on assessment. Innovative schools provide their students with multiple opportunities to creatively demonstrate their learning and can be characterized by motivated students who focus on mastering domains of knowledge rather than performing on tests. Instead of considering the arts (and technology – had to fit that in) as something to “fit in” with a traditional curriculum, we need to start considering it a necessary strategy for forging deeper connections, engaging in more creative and complex thinking, as well as inspiring students to learn.

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What are the important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students need to become contributing global citizens?

This is the question that I chose to tackle this month for the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series. In many ways, it spoke to me as part of the larger question that I am addressing in my dissertation research at Johns Hopkins – systemically innovating American public school districts to better prepare students to meet the intellectual demands of the knowledge economy.

However, to date, most of my research has focused on student skills. In 2003, economists Autor, Levy, and Murnane published a paper about the changing task composition of the labor market as a result of computerization and globalization. As computers became cheaper, smaller, and faster, they could replace many of the routine tasks that people had previously completed. (Think about ATM machines, credit card readers on gas pumps, data entry positions, etc).

In his book Raising Innovators, author and Harvard Professor Tony Wagner, claims the world needs “problem seekers.” So if we want our students to have these new skills – to seek out problems, to find novel solutions, to analyze and synthesize information across sources, to communicate and collaborate using the available technologies across distance and time (those all come from Levy & Murnane’s paper, Dancing with Robots) – then we also need to consider their attitudes and behaviors.

The most important attitude that our students may need to become contributing global citizens is empathy. How can we expect them to seek out problems and design novel solutions if they cannot connect with the individuals whose problems they need them to solve? Our students need to be able to deeply engage with others and embrace their perspective. And as educators, we need to give them the initial experiences on which they can then build new knowledge and understanding. (I credit Christine Boyer for that sentiment.)

Finally, as Tony Wagner said, we need to instill in our students the behavior of problem seeking. Our students need to be able to act to actually do something in the world around them. In a global society, we need students who have determination, persistence, and the internal motivation to seek out solutions to problems that we have never seen before, with technologies that have never existed, and in a world that none of us as educators, parents, and adults have ever experienced.

Today, I am wrapping up a three-day EdTechTeacher workshop with an amazing group of elementary teachers from across the United States and abroad. On day one, we came to a consensus about one critical fact: it’s not about me. As educators, we also need to develop the skills that our students will need, to engage in empathy with our students to deeply understand their reality, and to become problem-seekers ourselves to help prepare our students for the global world that they will enter, and hopefully, improve.

>> Make sure you read the rest of the answers from the other Global Bloggers!

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Why I like a Stylus

I started this conversation via Twitter with @DimitrisTzouris and realized that I needed more than 140 characters.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 10.15.49 AM

So, here’s my answer to Dimitris…

My one frustration with “touch screens” that do not have real inking capabilities is that they are essentially just acting like big trackpads. I think that there is tremendous value in students being able to have the kinetic ability to draw, handwrite, and highlight. Whether you choose an iPad or a Windows tablet/convertible, I think there is a huge value in being able to actually ink on a screen. Chromebooks are great, but a current limitation (I realize this could change tomorrow) is the lack of ability to easily ink.

Consider this:

  • Students need to be able to write out math problems/science equations. Typing is pretty inefficient.
  • Many students learn more effectively when they have the option to hand-write their notes and ideas. I can speak to this personally, as I handwrite when I need to synthesize and comprehend as it slows down my brain. Typing is too fast.
  • A lot of students engage more deeply with text when they can make a physical highlighting motion to annotate text as well as “write” in the margins with either physical or digital ink.
  • Think about the ability to differentiate. How about the students that may learn best by sketchnoting, mapping, or drawing out their thoughts.

If you are at the beginnings of making a choice, it may be worthwhile to do a needs assessment to figure out what device might best support all of your learners. I like having the option of being able to use text and ink. There’s also amazing benefits to having a front and rear facing camera (also available on most tablet/convertible devices). So, that’s the long reason for why I like a stylus if given the choice.

Though slightly off topic, one last question to consider: what do you want student learning to look like once they have these devices?


What are the best ways for a teacher to engage their classroom in a global conversation?

This month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, posed the question “What are the best ways for a teacher to engage their classroom in a global conversation?

Wonderful examples already exist of students engaging with others from around the world. Through the Primary Blogging Community, teachers of grade K-4 students can connect with other classrooms in five-week cycles. Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) launched the Global Read Aloud in 2010. Since then, students from over 60 countries have participated and connected. With Mystery Skype, students engage in 45-60 minute inquiry sessions with other students to make geographic and cultural connections. To learn how to get started, Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) has an excellent guide for educators. Just this past month, students circled the globe 120 times in just two days as part of Microsoft’s annual Skype-a-thon.

However, all of these projects have one element in common: they each require the teachers to be connected and engaged in a global conversation. I often hear teachers talk about how they wish that their students could conduct themselves better online or engage in more effective communications. Most of us grew up in a time before Google was a verb; you could tweet to someone; and AIM (remember that?) existed. Our parents and teachers modeled how to write letters, make phone calls, and engage in conversation. Now that the platforms and audiences for conversation have increased exponentially, the best way that we can engage our classrooms in global conversation may be to engage ourselves.

Right now, I’ve been watching #12daystwitter unfold online. To learn the backstory, I reached out to Ann Feldmann (@annfeldmann1) of Bellevue, Nebraska. She explained that the #12daystwitter kicked off on December 1st and in just a few days had reached a global audience. Last year, during a local unconference outside of Omaha, educator Mickie Mueller (@mickiemueller) suggested the idea.  Now in its second year, this tangible challenge has reached thousands of people from around the world. “Joining an upbeat conversation is a great way to engage in a global conversation,” Ann tweeted to me.  “I am always amazed at the people power collaborating in the Twitterverse.”

Whether you choose Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Edmodo, or any other platform, the first step is to introduce yourself. Join a Twitter Chat, hop into a Google+ Community, or subscribe to a LinkedIn Group. To engage our students in the global conversation, we need to make sure that we first engage ourselves.