What Phineas and Ferb Can Teach Us about Why Kids Hate School

Sure they break you down and strip you of your identity. But, school is school.” Baljeet


If you’ve seen Phineas and Ferb, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never seen the show, you are missing out. Phineas and Ferb are two step-brothers who are always on summer vacation from school. Their intro song sums it up,

104 days of summer vacation,

And school comes along just to end it,

So the annual problem for our generation,

Is finding a good way to spend it

So, how do they spend it? Inventing things, of course. Being creative. Learning what they want to…when they want to. And it all STOPS when school STARTS. Bummer.

I know, I know, it’s just a Disney TV show. And it’s a cartoon. But it parallels life in a lot of ways.

All kids start out curious, and are constantly amused and amazed by what they learn. I think most kids start out thinking that school is fun. But then we spend 12 years sucking the joy out of it…out of them. Most kids I know are disillusioned by third or fourth grade. Occasionally, they do have a “good” year. That’s not enough.

I recently read an article titled, Why Kids Should Hate School (Joshua Knaak, LinkedIn, September 12, 2014). Learning should be hard and not fun, claims the author. That way, when kids graduate and get a job, it will be an improvement in their lives. In fairness, the author was arguing against coddling kids…against telling them their work is wonderful when it’s not…against grade inflation. (You can check out Knaak’s article here and see what you think.) I agree that we should have high standards. We don’t do students any favors when we expect too little.

But many people equate fun with not working hard. I maintain that you can work hard AND have fun. If students choose their own curriculum and work at their own pace (read: personalized learning), they WILL be interested in what they are learning and they WILL have fun doing it. And they will be more motivated, not less productive. We have to get over the idea that if it’s fun, you’re not learning anything.

In the meantime I have been thinking about why (many) kids hate school and I have come up with a list of reasons for that. Maybe you have reasons of your own to add.

  • They aren’t allowed to learn what they want
  • They already know what is being taught
  • They are fearful or unsure of how to do the work
  • They have to sit still for long periods of time
  • They have to be quiet
  • They get in trouble a lot (for not being still)

In the world of Phineas and Ferb, learning is cool. It isn’t dictated by others. Phineas and Ferb are fascinated by a wide variety of subjects. There are no limits on what they can do. There are interesting problems to solve. The first one is always, “What are we gonna do today?” That sounds like fun. Let’s make school more like that.

Conclusion: Minecraft IS Educational

Is Minecraft Really an Educational Game? The short answer is “Yes”. Here is some perspective on why.

I’ve been reading a few articles about Minecraft lately. The one that got me started (eSchoolNews, July, 2014) was written about a teacher who uses Minecraft in his math classes. He created Mathcraft, an entire (Common Core Math!) curriculum focused around Minecraft.

This third grade teacher, Jim Pike, has his students use formulas to calculate the number of blocks they need to build entire structures such as the Parthenon. He gives them equations to solve before they play Minecraft, so they can ‘request’ the amount of building materials they need when they begin playing the game. Then he has students create ‘signs’ in front of their structures displaying their completed equations and their names.

Pike is also Director of Education for Learn by Pike, along with Learn by Gaming’s two co-founders, Jordan Hicks and Doug Watkins, uses gaming to teach kids through summer camps, after school activities, and projects. Their aim is to “foster a youth gaming community that our generation never had.”

Minecraft has also been used in Social Studies lessons. According to Christina Barron in a Washington Post article, “the popular video game is being used in classrooms as kids work together to create ancient Roman cities.” Teacher Hank Lanphier built a Roman city’s sandstone block walls, then he and fellow teacher Amy Yount assigned each of their sixth graders a plot of land on which to build a house.

In addition to classroom lessons, one middle school teacher, Brian Eastman, started a Minecraft club as part of his school’s after school program. The first week, about 50 seventh and eighth graders showed up for 30 spots in the club.

There is even a company that helps schools set up and use Minecraft for instruction, Teacher Gaming ( It has two ongoing projects, MinecraftEdu, “Bringing Minecraft to Classrooms” and KerbalEdu, “Launch Kids to Space.” The second one is still in early stages of development, but you can request to be among the first to test KerbalEdu’s mod if you are an educator.

The point is, Minecraft is apparently here to stay in education. What is it about the game that promotes its use in learning? In an article for Yahoo Tech, A Parent’s Guide to Minecraft: 5 Reasons to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Cubes, Dan Tynan wrote, “It’s what’s known as a ‘sandbox’ game, meaning that there is no end to it and no overarching goal. You’re largely responsible for bending your game world to your will.”

When I asked my 12-year-old grandson what he has learned from playing Minecraft (he has been playing for at least 2 years) he said, “I don’t really know.” But as I watched him play while trying to explain to me what he was doing, I realized that he learned a lot. There are no instructions in Minecraft and no clues about what to do next. You have to figure it out as you go.

And he has figured out what happens in the different modes: Creative, Survival, and Adventure; what characteristics the creatures (animals, zombies, endermen, creepers) possess; and what can be built from blocks. I found an article giving 10 tips for surviving in Minecraft, but he already know about all of them.

Then he wrote his own list of tips for me. And he is willing to share. Contact me by clicking Leave a Comment and I will be happy to send you the list.

Blended, Hybrid, and Flipped, Oh My!


blended learning2

Blended Learning, Blended Education, Hybrid Learning, Flipping the Classroom, eLearning…so many buzz words, so little time.


So, what is blended learning anyway?  Is it the same as flipped? Hybrid? eLearning? “In essence, blended learning is any formal education program that combines online learning with brick-and-mortar schools.” Julia Freeland, Blending toward competency, May 2014.


Blended learning always includes the use of technology, but … “Blended learning is not the same as technology-rich instruction…Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, meaning increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of his or her learning.” Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Education

As I see it, blended learning is the collision between traditional “brick-and-mortar” schools and technology. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about this because a collision breaks things apart and then they can be rebuilt.

Blended learning is different than ‘flipping’ since nothing has to break to flip a classroom. Basically, flipping is a reversal of jobs. Lecture is viewed online away from school, leaving the classroom available for discussion and extension.

Hybrid learning is considered to be synonymous with blended learning. And eLearning (although in its pure form means learning that is done online) is a component of both flipped classrooms and blended or hybrid learning.

So blended learning is about personalizing learning with a goal of creating an individual education plan for each student. The term originated in Special Education where an Individual Education Plan (IEP) was created for the student by the teacher and reviewed by the student and parents. But in blended learning, the student, teacher, and parents create it together.

The Innosight Institute released a white paper in 2013 titled Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, in which they define four categories of blending learning.

1)      Rotation model

2)      Flex model

3)      Self-blend model

4)      Enriched-virtual model

This classification may help teachers understand how to incorporate blended learning into their classrooms or schools. So let’s take a look at each model.

In the rotation model, a teacher can set a schedule where students rotate between learning modalities such as online learning, group projects, small group or whole-class instruction, individual tutoring, or more traditional paper-and-pencil assignments. To be considered blended learning, one of the modalities must be online learning. Students may rotate among stations inside a classroom or rotate among locations inside (such as a computer lab) or outside (e.g. home, library, etc.) of a school building.

The flex model is a program in which content and instruction are mainly delivered online, with teachers on-site to provide face-to-face support as needed.  The teacher may also deliver small group instruction or individual tutoring, or supervise group projects.

If students use a self-blend model, they choose to take one or more courses online to supplement their regular curriculum. In this case, they would have a classroom teacher and an additional cyber teacher for each online course they take. Some schools create ‘cyber lounges’ at school where students can work on their online courses, but many courses are done remotely.

The enriched-virtual model is a whole-school experience rather than an individual model. Within each course, students divide their time between attending class at a campus and learning remotely using online instruction.

I love the new models that are being tried in classrooms today. Every step away from the “factory” model of education (created during the industrial revolution) is a step in the right direction. Each step is a step toward truly personalized education.


Getting Up Close and Personal…with Learning

“Up close and personal” is actually a word in the Collins English Dictionary and it means ‘intimately.’ So if we use it in conjunction with learning…learning intimately? Personalized learning?

I’ve seen the term ‘personalized learning’ in quite a few articles lately. It’s related to ‘competency-based learning’ and ‘blended learning’. But what is personalized learning, exactly?

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, personalized learning “refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students.”

iNACOL, The International Association for K-12 Online Learning has a more specific working definition, “…tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, and when they learn…” Mean What You Say, October, 2013

So, we have personalized learning defined. But isn’t that the same thing as differentiation? Or individualization? Those of us who read and write about education have heard a lot about those terms in the past.

Personalize Learning (a company whose founders believe “personalizing learning is the key design element to transform education”) claims there is a BIG difference between personalized learning and differentiation and individualization. “Personalization is learner-centered. The other two, differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered.” See their chart below for details.

Personalization v Differentiation v Individualization Chart (v3), (2013)  by Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative  CommonsAttribution- NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License -  For permission to distribute copies, please contact Personalize Learning, LLC at

Personalization v Differentiation v Individualization Chart (v3), (2013)
by Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative
CommonsAttribution- NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License –
For permission to distribute copies, please contact Personalize Learning, LLC at

It sounds wonderful and empowering for students. But how can a teacher create personalized learning for every student? Is personalized learning even possible in a classroom with up to 30 students?

The short answer is YES! But it takes planning and commitment. The good news is there are innovative people in the world who are dedicated to changing the face of traditional education and making personalized learning not only possible, but accessible. And they are showing us how.

Sweden seems to have figured it out. Well, at least Vittra: International Schools in Sweden has. Vittra runs 30 schools in Sweden which it likes to call ‘Schools without Classrooms.’ In this model, it is acknowledged that children learn in different ways.

The school buildings were designed by Danish Agency Rosan Bosch to “encourage both independent and collaborative work” and even the furniture is meant to encourage learning. Pictures here:

There are spaces for meeting in large groups as well as spaces for being able to concentrate individually. There are spaces for collaboration and movement is encouraged. There is also a prominent digital component: all students have personal computers. At the Telefonplan school in Stockholm students also have access to a music studio, a film-editing studio, and a recording studio for both film and sound.

If you speak Swedish, you can learn about Vittra here: For English, check here:

There are inspiring places for personalized learning in the United States as well. Forest Charter School in Nevada City, California embraced this model because it “enables students to pursue learning choices that optimize their learning potential according to their individual needs.” Forest Charter offers a variety of learning choices both within and beyond the classroom and strongly encourages parental involvement.

When a student enrolls at Forest, a supervising teacher is assigned to the student and the teacher, student, and parent begin collaborating. They form the “educational team” that discusses the student’s educational goals and decides on curriculum options and delivery methods. Find out more here:

And there are organizations springing up to help. New Classrooms, a non-profit organization, was created to design personalized instructional models for schools. They recognize that the traditional classroom model of 28 or so students cannot possibly account for each student’s needs. That model assumes that all students arrive at school with the same academic foundation, experiences, and ways of learning. Everyone now knows that is not the case (I hope).

To address this challenge, New Classrooms designs “new instructional models that reimagine the role of educators, the use of time, the configuration of space, and the use of data and technology to better meet the needs of each student.” And they not only help with the redesign, but provide ongoing support for the teachers and schools that are implementing models.

So, for those of us who believe our educational system needs serious renovation, there is hope.  We are slowly moving toward student-centered learning…personalized learning…one inspired classroom or school at a time…making our education up close and personal.

What’s So Hot about Project-Based Learning?

People are talking about project-based learning. A lot. Every time I check Twitter or LinkedIn, I find an article praising project-based learning or PBL. So, what is it, exactly? And why is it such a hot topic?

Project-based learning involves students tackling realistic problems that involve complex tasks and some form of student presentation and/or creation of an actual product or artifact.

–Vanessa Vega, Project-Based Learning Research Review, June 11, 2014 Edutopia

“Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.” Buck Institute for Education ( What is Project Based Learning (PBL)?

Let’s be clear though. PBL is NOT just an add-on to regular content taught by traditional methods… it is central to the curriculum. While many teachers engage students in projects at the end of a unit of instruction, PBL involves them in real-world projects that may take anywhere from a few weeks to an entire school year and require them to use resources such as the community, outside experts, technology, and each other.

  • PBL is NOT having students choose between topics and projects given by a teacher to be completed by a given date and turned in.
  • PBL IS designing (with the teacher’s help) products and projects that address issues or challenges that are important to students.

In, The Difference Between Projects and Project-Based Learning, the Teach Thought staff discussed the personalized learning process inherent in PBL.  Amy Mayer’s chart (below) spells out the differences between doing projects and project-based learning.


What’s the Difference Between “Doing Projects” and Project Based Learning? Image attribution flickr user josekevo; The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning; © Amy Mayer,  @friEdTechnology, The Original WOW! Academy, Please copy and use freely!


Where did PBL get its start? Some people think it started with Socrates and ‘Socratic Inquiry.’ According to the Center for Ecoliteracy, “’Socratic inquiry’ is named for Greek philosopher, Socrates, who believed that questions—not answers—stimulate learning.”

Instead of teaching facts, Socrates engaged his students in discussions about controversial issues. They listened to others, clarified their own statements, and provided evidence for their reasoning. True project-based learning is based on challenging questions that require complex thinking.

Fast-forward to John Dewey, a 20th Century leader in educational theory. He preached “learning that’s grounded in experience and driven by student interest.” Dewey challenged the view of his contemporaries that students should be passive receivers of knowledge that is transmitted by the teacher as a static body of facts. (Sounds familiar, no?) Instead, Dewey argued for, “active experiences that prepare students for ongoing learning about a dynamic world.”

Today, you might want to read 2 books by Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss, Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, 2007, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry, 2013, Corwin.  Both authors are current experts in the field of project-based learning.

It’s time we recognized and addressed the great divide between most classroom experiences and the real world. Today’s students need to be able to ask important questions, find answers in a variety of ways, and collaborate with others to solve important problems. Project-based learning might just be a way to accomplish these goals.

3 Very Good Reasons to Love CCSS

Education in this country needs to change. America’s students need to have the knowledge and competencies necessary to compete in a global economy. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the foundation that will help make that happen. It’s high time we stopped criticizing and started supporting CCSS. Here are 3 GOOD reasons why.

1)    American families are mobile. CCSS will ensure that our students’ education doesn’t suffer when they change schools.

Many families in the United States move frequently. According to a 2010 study released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “…students who change schools the most frequently (four or more times) represented about 13% of all kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8) students…”  Keep in mind, this is an average. Some schools have a much higher percentage of transient students.

Research suggests that mobility has a negative effect on student achievement. This is due in large part to the vast differences between schools and districts concerning what students are required to know and be able to do.

There has been no alignment from state to state on what’s being taught, so when a second-grade student learning advanced addition and subtraction in the first quarter of the school year suddenly moves to another state in the second quarter, she may find she is being tested on multiplication facts.

Adoption and implementation of CCSS will help ensure that every school has the same requirements. Students will be able to transition more easily between schools and districts without losing ground academically.

2)    Memorizing facts does not equal thinking. CCSS holds students to a higher standard by requiring them to analyze, evaluate, and explain. 

For most of our history, classroom instruction has focused on a low-to-middle skill level, leaving students that aren’t there yet confused and students that are beyond it bored. All students have been simply asked to regurgitate what they were fed by teachers. No real thinking or engagement with the learning material was required.

The Common Core holds all students to a higher standard by requiring them to take part in their own learning and to think critically about content. Rather than simply reading a story and indentifying the plot from a memorized definition, students may be asked to evaluate the author of the story (voice, style, intention) or to read a non-fiction piece on the same topic and do a comprehensive comparison between the two.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) did a remarkable job of writing assessment questions that require students to show they know rather than merely choosing one of several multiple-choice answers. I know, I know, now we’re talking about assessment. My point is, when teachers use these assessments, they will necessarily alter their instruction. They will ask students to explain their thinking…in spoken words, through visual representations, in writing, or in other creative ways.

See an example below from the Grade 3 SBAC math practice test. Students need to drag the fractions to the number line to show they know how to compare fractions before they answer the Yes/No question. It is a much better window into what students are thinking than simply asking them to choose Yes or No, where the choice could easily be a guess.


3)    Future careers will include the use of technology. CCSS will force faster implementation of technology in schools.

A vital skill in the workplace today is the ability to work collaboratively on projects with people who are not physically close together. Students unfamiliar with communication and collaboration technologies will be at a clear disadvantage in digital workplace environments. In fact, this is already happening.  “Organizations…are looking for their leaders who possess classic management and leadership capabilities to lead the business…but at the same time, they need to develop future leaders who have the ability to operate in technology-driven environments.” Amy McDonnell, The Hiring Site, November 16th, 2010,

Also, more students each year fall into the “digital native” category: they are growing up with technology. When these students do not (or are not allowed to) use technology in schools, there is a huge disconnect between their lives and their educational experiences. According to Marc Prensky, (who coined the term “digital native”) one of the most fundamental causes of the decline in US education is this: “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.” Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, from On the Horizon, MCB University Press, October 2001

The current piece-meal approach to acquiring and using technology in education is not working well. This approach only increases the divide between schools that are “haves” and those that are “have-nots.”  All of our students need to be adept at using technology, not just those from affluent families and schools.

Schools are notoriously slow to change. Adopting the CCSS will force changes to happen much faster than they normally would. If students are required to take the CCSS assessments online, schools will have to work harder to acquire the technology students need to succeed. When districts and schools are required to use technology, they will find a way to get it. In fairness, many schools already have. But we need ALL of our schools to have and use technology if we truly want to be competitive in the world economy.


For more information on the 2 Common Core consortia or to take the practice tests, visit or

In Defense of Noise in the Classroom

One of the main reasons I went into teaching was because I didn’t like school as a child and I thought I could create a better experience for kids as a different kind of teacher.I was determined that my students would not spend endless silent hours watching the clock hands move and trying to stay awake. I resolved that they would be active learners. I wanted a noisy classroom.

Noisy Learning

I am NOT talking about noise from nearby airports, elevated trains, or construction projects. There are studies that show those kinds of noise can be harmful and make learning difficult as kids tune out the teacher’s voice along with the outside noise.

I am NOT talking about noisy chatter in a classroom, where students are talking among themselves about things that have nothing to do with the subject they are supposed to be learning. Students (and teachers) should be talking about the subjects they are studying.

I AM talking about productive noise, the kind of noise that comes from earnest discussions, movement as collaborative groups change or supplies are gathered, demonstrations of problem-solving strategies…the kind of noise that happens when students explore topics they are passionate about…the kind of noise that happens when students and teachers are engaged in learning together.

Active Learning

Students should be actively taking part in their own education; predicting outcomes, sharing hypotheses, experimenting, sharing results. They should be discussing their problem-solving strategies with each other because there are many possible approaches to problems. If students are allowed to take ownership of their learning, they are more likely to succeed.

Learning should consist of many more ‘ah ha’ moments than ‘ho hum’ moments. According to Nick Provenzano, “A noisy classroom is a classroom where learning is happening. Learning should be noisy, it should be messy, because that’s what exploration is.” How can teachers inspire learning? By empowering students, Dennis Pierce, eschoolnews, May 20, 2014.

Talking About Learning

In traditional classrooms, though, teachers still do most of the talking. When students talk, they are usually answering teachers’ questions rather than solving problems through talk or explaining their thinking. But the days of “the sage on the stage” are numbered. Technology is helping. So much information is available online that students now need the skill of asking the right questions rather than the skill of giving rote answers.

“Since the dawn of language, conversations have been powerful teachers. They engage, motivate, and challenge. They help us build ideas, solve problems, and communicate our thoughts. They cause ideas to stick and grow in our minds. They teach us how other people see and do life, and they teach other people how we see and do life. Conversations strengthen our comprehension of new ideas.” Academic Conversations by Zwiers and Crawford, 2011

Projects for Learning

Students should be doing projects that engage their interest and demonstrate their learning. The Buck Institute for Education focuses exclusively on Project Based Learning ( because it, “is a transformative teaching method for engaging ALL students in meaningful learning and developing the 21st Century competencies of critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and communication.”

Exploring and solving problems collaboratively necessitates noise. Rebecca Alber, (Edutopia Consulting Online Editor) describes what she calls a “coveted scenario” for collaboration in a classroom, “several children gathered at a table engaged in a high-level task, discussing, possibly debating an issue, making shared decisions, and designing a product that demonstrates all this deeper learning.”  Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom Is Key, December 31, 2012

This kind of scenario (especially multiplied by 5 or 6 groups in the classroom) cannot be done without noise. And collaboration, along with learning to listen and ask good questions, are skills people need in the world today. So say goodbye to silent classrooms. Let’s make some NOISE!