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Look Into the Future Ready

Future Ready SchoolsⓇ (FRS) is a bold effort to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts, whether public, private, or charter, move quickly toward preparing students for success. Schools that are Future Ready are those with empowered teachers, courageous leaders, students who take charge of their learning, and the tools available to support personalized approaches that ensure college or career readiness for all students.

The Alliance for Excellent Education leads the effort alongside a vast coalition of over 60 national and regional partner organizations, including CUE. Future Ready Schoolshelps districts build capacity to:

  1. Lead with a vision for learning, not technology;
  2. Plan before the purchase of technology;
  3. Maximize a “return on instruction;”
  4. Build trust with educators and support them through personalized professional learning opportunities; and
  5. Systemically develop a culture of innovation.

This effort continues at a critical time as districts embrace college or career readiness as the goal for all students and recognize the potential of digital tools to help teachers personalize learning for each student. FRS provides districts with the needed resources and support to ensure that local technology and digital learning plans align with instructional best practices, are implemented by highly trained teachers, and lead to personalized learning experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities.

The History of Future Ready Schools®

Originally launched alongside the U.S. Department of Education at the “ConnectED to the Future” Summit at the White House on November 19, 2014, 118 of the nation’s most innovative superintendents gathered to share their experiences of implementing digital learning in their districts. The summit also recognized more than 1,000 school district superintendents from across the country who took the Future Ready District Pledge to show their commitment to:

  • Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning Within Our Schools;
  • Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity;
  • Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities;
  • Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices;
  • Providing Access to Quality Digital Content;
  • Offering Digital Tools to Help Students And Families #ReachHigher; and
  • Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.

Yet today, an estimated 21 million students in the United States still lack the needed broadband for digital learning while at school. An additional five million students lose connectivity the moment they leave their school campus. Gaining such connectivity, along with strategic planning by districts to maximize its availability, has the potential to transform the educational experiences of all students, regardless of their background.

During phase one of FRS in 2015, and through the support of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, a series of thirteen National Future Ready Summits took place where district teams collaborated to develop action plans and metrics to measure their progress in using digital resources to improve and accelerate teaching and student learning outcomes. During phase two in 2016, FRS launched five national summits and five newly created Future Ready Dashboard workshops, specifically geared towards supporting school district visioning and action planning for digital learning implementation. To date, more than 845 school district teams representing over 2,500 district leaders participated in the various Future Ready events that have been held across the country throughout the first two phases. These events enabled district teams to jump start their planning efforts and vision for student learning under direct guidance from Future Ready facilitators, national experts, and in collaboration with other district teams from throughout the region.

Today, over 3,100 district leaders, representing more than 19 million students (one-third of all students nationwide), have signed the Future Ready Pledge to move toward a digital learning transition that supports teachers and addresses the district’s vision for student learning. Furthermore, over 1,000 school district teams have used the Future Ready Schools Dashboard to gather data for a systemic plan—before they purchase any technology—for student-centered, personalized learning. Such an approach helps all students obtain deeper learning competencies they need to succeed in college and the workforce. These competencies include thinking critically, using knowledge and information to solve complex problems, working collaboratively, communicating effectively, learning how to learn, and developing academic mindsets.

What’s Next for Future Ready Schools®?
Momentum continues to build! Launching in early 2017, phase three will see an aggressive calendar of online and face-to-face events that will provide deeper professional learning opportunities and points of collaboration. These include Regional Institutes, designed to support the growing network of district leaders as well as innovative educators from around the country in the implementation of personalized digital learning. Whether you are just starting the FRS planning process or already in the midst, the regional institutes will provide many opportunities for participants to engage with colleagues with content-specific knowledge as well as with an array of regional leaders to network and share ideas on implementing personalized learning strategies in your schools. Finalized dates and locations, including events in Palm Springs and Sacramento, will be announced soon!  

Last summer, FRS announced its new Future Ready Librarians strand that supports school librarians as they lead, teach, and assist their school’s and/or district’s FRS goals through their professional practice, programs, and spaces. Due to the program’s tremendous success, FRS has continued to add additional educator strands throughout 2017, including Future Ready Teachers/Coaches, Future Ready Students, and Future Ready Principals, with more on the horizon. Together these programs build on FRS’s belief that all educators play a vital role throughout the digital transformation process; from planning through implementation. Finally, FRS will also continue to expand its Leadership Hub, a one-stop shop of free resources for all digital learning planning materials, tools, and activities. Keep your eye out for other tools and resources include a toolkit for rural schools, robust support for state leaders, and a brand new planning section of the Future Ready Dashboard aligned to ESSA’s Title IV. Let’s work together to provide every student with the ability to succeed in the years ahead!

Connect with Future Ready’s Tom Murray, one of our spotlight speakers, at the CUE 2017 National Conference! CUE 2017 will also offer a full “Future Ready Strand” with sessions aligned to the various gears of the Future Ready Framework.

Editorial note: CUE is one of the three conveners of FutureReadyCA along with ACSA and TICAL.

Thomas C. Murray serves as the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington, DC. Connect with him at thomascmurray.com or @thomascmurray.

Build, Test, Revise- Quick Builds and Problem Solving

One of the rules of teaching is to make your expectations as clear as possible to your students. 

“We’re going into the MakerSpace,” I said to my fifth-graders. “Using only the materials you can find in that room, each partnership is going to build a wind-powered car. This is all the description I’m giving you. You have an hour. Go.”
Teaching is also about bending the rules.

Winter break was long and we needed something to get the juices flowing again. Something active and creative and a little off the wall. So I booked an hour fifteen in the MakerSpace and went looking for a quick project to do in there.  A few Google and Pintrest links later and I found some lessons about building wind-powered cars. As is my whim, I took the part of that plan I liked (the final product) and tossed what didn’t work for me (everything else). And thus our Quick Build was born.

What I wrote above is exactly what I said to my kids before we went in. My student teachers created groups of two and three, students got into their groups, and in we went.

I like contracted time frames for projects. Jon Corippo describes lessons as being like a gas- they expand to fill the space they’re given. Give students three days to build wind-powered cars and most groups will finish with five minutes to spare. Give them an hour and the same groups will finish with five minutes to spare. Plus it’s fun to watch them plan, design, build, test, and revise as quickly as possible. Teaches efficiency and creativity.

It was interesting to see what students went for. A bunch started cutting Styrofoam into circles for wheels. Others found the Lego sets and pilfered wheels from there. Some found cardboard or wooden circles. This is where most ran into their first, and biggest, problem. Almost to a group they fixed their wheels to an axle and then fixed the axle to their car’s body. But they did it with tape, or by putting a hole in the body. And when they tried to make their car roll nothing happened. NOW the learning really starts. What’s the problem? The axle isn’t letting the wheels spin.  How do we troubleshoot this? Bigger hole? Rubber bands? There were all kinds of solutions. Only one or two groups used the straws they found as the fixed axle which attached to the car body, and put toothpicks they’d glued together inside the straw, connected to each wheel, allowing the wheel to spin freely. Most groups just made the holes bigger or figured out a way to get the wheels on the axle loosely enough that they’d spin but not come off. Hey, they solved their problem. Without me. Most groups didn’t even look at me for help. They saw their problem, got their heads down, and tried again. The solutions weren’t elegant. But I didn’t say the car had to be elegant. You’re not getting elegant in an hour. You’re getting working.

The next major problem was the wind power. Once the wheels where on I caught a bunch of groups laying on the ground blowing as hard as they could on the back of their car, trying to make it go. In a moment right out of MEN IN BLACK one group finally noticed the fan sitting unused, plugged it in, and stopped hyperventilating. The others came over quickly, “Can we get in on that?” But they still just turned the fan on the backs of their cars. I did a little prodding, “Why do you think it’s not working? Can you think of something else that is wind powered? What’s that have that yours doesn’t?” “A SAIL!” one group exclaims. Soon the idea to mount a sail spread across the room, as good ideas often do.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Testing continued and, “Our sail isn’t working, Mr Robertson.” “Hmm, turn the fan on it again. What are you seeing it do?” Some sails became flags, others were too tight. One-by-one groups realized their sails weren’t catching any wind and they started testing ways to keep the sail from being a flag and ways to catch more wind. Curved sails began to appear. But none looked like another. Rectangles, triangles, big, small, paper, fabric, tin foil. Every car was different.

At the end of the hour, and I want to stress again that all of the above design, building, testing, revision was done in under 60 minutes, we sat and watched each group go, marveling at the breadth of the creativity in the room. Two groups were unsuccessful in their builds, but they knew why and were on the right track. With a little more time they also would have had working builds. Some cars only rolled a few feet. One tipped onto its nose immediately and fell over, but the group noted that the Lego man they put in the front was throwing the weight off, removed him, and had a successful second run. And two or three rolled impressively far.

“Why does it have a spoiler?”
“Spoilers are cool.”

“We call it the Egg Roll.”

Afterward, back in class, we wrote reflections, talking about the process, struggles, successes, and reasoning behind the choices made.

This is a project that I could go back to if I wanted to. We kept the cars, I’m going to display them in a case at the front of the school reserved for projects. We could continue to revise. But I like having proof of what’s possible in a short amount of time. I can use that lesson in class for other things.

Designing, building, testing, and revising– isn’t that the learning process for everything we do? Isn’t that how we want our students to approach problems of all shapes? Make that process concrete. Make it fun. Let them surprise you, and themselves.

Here’s the video of the final products rolling along.


Doug Robertson is the CUE Blog Editor and an eleventh-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), one novel, The Unforgiving Road, and is an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

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