Author: Liz Walhof

Aligning the 10 building blocks for future ready schools

A growing number of schools are recognizing that they must start transitioning their learning environments toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and robust technology infusion. Making those transitions is complex work, however, and many school administrators and teachers aren’t exactly sure how to proceed beyond some vague ideas about doing things differently.

One of the themes of my InnEdCO Leadership Academy keynote this year is the idea that there are multiple paths to future ready schools. That said, as I work with educators around the world, I see future-oriented schools playing around with some, or all, of these building blocks:

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments
  2. Authentic, real-world work
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives
  5. Digital and online (and often open access) information resources
  6. Online communities of interest
  7. Adaptive software and data systems
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms
  9. Flexible scheduling
  10. Redesigned learning spaces

Much like children exploring with Legos, TinkerToys, and Lincoln Logs, schools are experimenting with various combinations of these components to see what interesting things might emerge. One school might dive deep into student inquiry and flexible scheduling to foster greater student motivation via passion projects. Another might focus on its 1:1 initiative, bandwidth upgrades, and the use of open educational resources to create new instructional opportunities. Yet another might work toward integration of its teaching staff into online, project-based learning communities of practice, with a goal of sparking more student-driven learning in its local classrooms. Variations in configurations and depth are what give innovative schools their unique identities.

Whatever the combinations look like, it is imperative that they be driven by shared understandings and commitments and be aligned with other school and district initiatives. Too many school organizations are guilty of implementing numerous disconnected change projects, none of which is deeply understood, seen as truly important by front-line staff, or implemented well. When done in combination and with fidelity – and when owned by those charged with front-line implementation, each of these building blocks can be a powerful lever for change. Each also can be disastrous if implemented poorly or in isolation.

Educators and policymakers need to be exposed to various school models to see how these building blocks can be used together to accomplish future ready schooling environments. As varied as innovative schools are, they share one aspect in common: they’re amazing places for student learning.


Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver and is the Founding Director of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). He can be reached at Dangerously Irrelevant or at @mcleod.

Green screen science

Cue the music…the student director slaps the clapboard together saying “TAKE 1” … and… ACTION!   Three first graders stand proudly in front of a green screen reporting “live” from a swamp as zoologists.   Our first grade learners completed a collaborative, technology-rich project meeting all sorts of CCSS and ISTE standards in a fun and innovative way and YOU can too!

The first grade and technology integration teachers spent 30 minutes planning together so students will become experts scientists through research.  From there, the two teachers co-taught lessons over a period of two weeks that innovatively incorporated basic research, science, literacy and technology in every lesson.   

Picture of three 1st grade students in safari gearWe started by showing a short video so students could build background knowledge and excitement about recording in front of a green screen!  We narrowed the science topic to six extreme weather types (in 2016) and six different animals (in 2017).

Students “voted with their feet” by standing by the image, posted on the wall, that they choose to research: either a weather topic or an animal  Students remained in these collaborative groups for the duration of the project.

Students researching on PebbleGoOur first grade students used the online database, PebbleGo, to conduct collaborative research.  To jigsaw the learning, one student became an EXPERT in their field by being in charge of one tab of learning in the PebbleGo program. All students completed a graphic organizer for their notes.  Organizer Weather and Organizer Animals.

After student research, a teacher helped students succinctly write their script.  Here are script templates you can use: weather script template, an animal script template,  a weather script student example and an animal script example.

Students also selected transition phrases such as This just in,”  “You won’t believe this!,” “Breaking News!,” etc. to add flair to their scripts.  Our students worked and worked to memorize their work.

On the big day students “became” a zoologist or meteorologist and recorded their script in front of the green screen to display their learning. A call to the district costume shop enabled our learners to dress the part.  We used iMovie to publish the movie.  A small group of enrichment students helped create the iMovie using this student guide to help them.

Mike Nelson visits elementary schoolLearning didn’t end there! We then invited the Denver Zoo for an in-house field trip.  As a Title 1 school, our fee was very reasonable!  Students interacted with live animals with a real, live zoologist sharing his knowledge.  We also invited Mike Nelson for a school assembly.  Contact Mike to invite him to your school!

Innovatively integrating technology into your classroom can be intimidating, but a little risk can have a HUGE payoff as students become active agents in their own learning.  Enjoy the final projects of our first grade meteorologists and zoologists.


Guest author Robbi Makely is a Digital Learning Coach for Denver Public Schools.  Follow her on Twitter @RobbiMakely.