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Educated By Design Blog

Filtering by Tag: 21st century

Using The "Bad Idea Factory" To Help Build Creative Courage

Michael Cohen

Years ago I heard about the "Bad Idea Factory" like any buzzword I try to plumb the depths of Google to find the creator of these actives. The best I could do is find a 2012 article by Kevin Brookhouser tilted, 20% Project: Bad Idea Factory. In the article he shares that he learned about this activity from Ewen McIntosh at NoTosh but the link to his article is broken. I reached out to him on Twitter to get more information so hopefully he will respond and I can embed the tweet…

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Five Ways Multimedia Can Help Teens Tell Their S.T.O.R.Y.

Michael Cohen

I’ve been working on developing a framework for teaching more effective storytelling.  Storytelling is not just for kids books or a fun hobby. It is a method of communicating ideas in a way that is so concise and crystal clear that your audience immerses themselves in the ideas shared and Ken to an extent visualize them.  I would say that this is probably one of the most critical skills for the next 50 years. 

Read more on my S.T.O.R.Y. Framework on


The Secret To Learning With Technology Is Not What You Think. It's Why You Think.

Michael Cohen

When I was eight years old living in Southern California, my parents bought a video conferencing system to talk with my grandparents in Philadelphia. To this day I could never figure out how my grandfather, set it up on his end. The mammoth devices used a combination of wires to connect to our house phone and television delivering a blurry 200x100 image of my grandparents whose movement was delayed by 45 seconds as they their voices echoed through the telephone. It was at that moment through a mixture of “Hi Michael” , long pause, and a 45 second delayed handwave,

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4 Ways Soft Skills Will Prepare Students To Overcome Hard Challenges. #4 Will Surprise You.

Michael Cohen


In education today, there at times can be an overemphasis on the value of specific skills. It is these skills that then define the success of our students. We then expect students to automatically appreciate and value these skill sets to the same degree as we do. Just last night I was discussing the value of memorization with a new colleague. He was adamant that memorization helps build capacity and allows for great problem solving skills later. While I agreed with him, I questioned memorization as a skills and ability rather than a rote process. I can recite to you the preamble, tell you where just about any country in the world is located, and even name drop a couple elements from the periodic table. For what?!? Why do I need any of that? Is it to be considered well rounded? Intellectual? Please. If my entire learning experience 4th-12th can be googled then what do I need school and learning for? This is NOT what we want our students to be able to say.  

The struggle in education is that our reference point worked for us, but it simply does not work anymore. Technology has developed a tool for knowledge access and that is a threat. It's the same level of threat as the pencil was to Socrates and the Greek methods of learning. What we need to do is step back and look at the essence of these skills that we are programing, I mean preparing our students succeed with are similar to mini Google search engines. The problem is that Google is way better than any student could ever become. Remember, a good robot stores and recalls information efficiently, executes commands within a hair’s breadth, and does not deviate from its pre-programmed parameters. Sound like the “ideal student” right? In the end, we are teaching students from a very young age not to think for themselves, discover on their own, and more importantly take risks knowing that those risks could help them reach a higher level in their learning. That is why it is critical to help students develop a mindset that focuses not just on skill and ability but on how they output and manage their learning experiences. As an educator we need to aid students in rising above these standardized skills as the sole method of success. This will also allow them to better understand technology’s role in helping them reach greater heights.  


Now there are dozens of ways that technology can help us in teaching and learning. I have found the following four to be impactful but most importantly scalable. Yes even creativity is scalable. 


Artifacts of Learning






This is one of the most critical areas of learning. Where is the evidence? How is success measured?  How do I know you learned something, or better yet how do you know you learned something? In general this area is addressed via worksheets, quizzes, and cumulative tests. It's all about the sumative. While there is nothing wrong with these assessment tools, they tend to rank low on the engagement scale, high on the anxiety scale, and give you a very standardized and even limited glimpse into the minds of students, only to the point of knowing they can regurgitate pieces of information and forget it after the test successfully. There are many ways in which technology is able to completely redefine how learning can been showcased as an artifact. These articles of learning can not only demonstrate students understanding but can also be used to support the learning of other students. The reason why I tend to describe student work as artifacts, is because I want student work to have life to it, and have substance. I want their work to tell a story. I want student work to be something someone can look at, learn from, and appreciate. I have never seen a worksheet achieve that, but you never know.


Artifacts of Learning in Theory

Traditional evidence of learning is found through essays, worksheets, and tests. Consider how technology can empower students to development artifacts that can provide evidence of understanding. 

Artifacts of Learning in Practice

Using social engagement as a reference point, consider what excites students in today's world. Look at how visual, audial, and interactive media outranks almost all other experiences. Look at how students could create a video, graphic poster, or interactive publication or game that provides the same or even greater level of understanding than traditional work. How can we design learning so that student output is used to facilitate the learning of other students? I share some lessons in depth in one of my iBooks here


The creativite process seems to be purged right around the 3rd grade when students then become inundated with standardized and constraining learning experiences. We define creativity as a talent rather than a way of thinking and approaching problems to solve. These problems could be your own inter struggle of expression, or those affecting others. So how is creativity manifesting outside of our schools? Think for a moment about the massive success of social media. What is it that makes it so contagious? Two words, Creativity and Shareablity. At one point social media was about “what you ate for breakfast today” or “that awesome vacations to Tahiti”. The main players in the social media game Snapchat and Instagram have shifted their strategy to that of telling stories, and storytelling is ALL about creative expression. Creativity is about promoting ownership, choice, and knowing that others will benefit from or enjoy your work. Creativity pushes us to go the extra mile and challenges us to create a product or solution that makes an impact. While it's ok to set limits and create guidelines, it is beyond vital to bring creativity back into the classroom. When I was in 9th grade I taught myself how to use Photoshop 6.0. While 1998 might not seem that long ago, it was still years before Youtube or Google, so my skill development was limited to experimentation, asking a friend, or Photoshop 6 for Dummies to master this complex software. Still, I was driven by a thirst for creativity and control, and drove me it did. Nearly 20 years later, I have taught Graphic Design courses to 5th graders, High Schoolers, and even at the College level through the lens of creative freedom, opportunity, and experience.


Creativity in Theory

Creativity is about challenging ourselves to thinking in a non linear way to solve problems, communicate ideas, and help others. It give a person pride and ownership that can be shared and seen by others. This is a powerful ingredient for the classroom.

Creativity in Practice

There are so many ways to engage creativity in the classroom. Students can use photograph, film, animation, and design to create projects that are unique. Further they can use strategies like Design Thinking to understand how 50 ideas synthesized together will solve a challenge to a greater degree than one or two ideas. Take a short movie or graphic poster for example. Such a project not only shows student learning but it can be used as a resource for others to learn from unlike a student’s filled in worksheet.



It all started with someone drawing in a cave. It might have just been some scratch paper, or maybe a manifesto for generations, but one thing is for certain. Humans are designed to connecting and communicate. Two of my favorite communication quotes are “Communication is key” and “Communication is a two way street”. It's not enough for our students to simply understand their teacher They need the space and the ability for their teacher to understand them as well. This is one of areas in a classroom that is critical to foster a potentially positive and successful learning environment. Verbal, written, and even visual communication all play a role in how we connect and share information with each other. Our ability to communicate with students effectively and give them a voice as well will directly enhance the other areas of life and lead to an increase in student’s academic success. 


Communication in Theory

Communication is one of those differentiation challenges every teacher faces. How, when, and to whom we communicate with is very complex. The question that should be asked is how can technology or other methods of instruction besides frontal teaching allow for communication to change or be enhanced.

Communication in Practice

Two amazing examples of how communication is redefined in the classroom is through the use of technology and student leadership. Technology can allow for discussions to take place in a way that students who are introverts can feel empowered to contribute to a conversation, or be used as an archive for reference later. Remember, you can't be paused yourself, and while recording a lecture is one way of using technology, it does not produce a very engaging artifact. The second is student leadership which beyond clubs and the extra curricular, should be about identifying students who can be lead learning in the classroom. Instead of enriching advanced students with “extra work”, challenge them to help their peers. This is a nature always demonstrate their level of understanding of the material. 



There is a double edge sword with efficiency. Efficiency doesn't mean getting done quick or being first. At times, it might mean extending an experience to ensure that later down the road things will run quickly and smoothly. It's where their short long road and the long short road meet up. In education, we are so focused on the short long road because of our ability to measure success more often. Many times in fear of not covering all the curriculum we rush through areas of learning, or feel that technology and other tools, methods, and process can not be incorporated for fear that we won't meet curricular objectives. That is because efficiency is about quality AND quantity. Therefore it is critical as educators to ensure that we are making the best use of time, being properly organized, and clear in our expectations.


Efficiency in Theory

Efficiency allows for us to not just get work done, but complete it in an organized and effective way. This has two benefits. One is that it allows for work to be completed at a faster pace allowing for more learning to occur and second it allows for students to learn at a self paced rate allowing for enrichment for strong learners and support for struggling learners.

Efficiency in Practice

Mapping out learning is critical for success in the classroom. It isn’t enough for you to have a carefully planned lesson or unit outline. Students need to have this as well to allow for them to best organize and plan out their learning. Consider creating a week long list of objectives that promote student choice in how they are completed rather then you being the exclusive guide of the learning process.


These four areas should focus on complementing or enhancing your teaching practice and student learning. We sometimes compartmentalize teaching and learning. The crossover between the two is where meaningful learning occurs. These teas are meant to enhance the learning culture of the classroom to allow successful learning to occur. It also gives a foundation when considering how other models such as SAMR, TPACK, RAT, Design Thinking, and PBL can be used in the classroom to avoid extremes or overstauration of progressive models that can support learning. These are some of the fundamental skills to prepare students to succeed. In the end no model will achieve success without a high quality, passionate, and self-sacrificing educator in the room aka you.


Coding Your Story



If you asked me as a kid growing up "what's Python?", I would tell you it was a snake at the zoo. Today it isn't just a slithering reptile, it's the name of one of the most powerful coding languages ever created, and it's the main ingredient in a program sweeping the nation. Scratchcat.svg

Meet Scratch. He's not just a cat, he's part of the MIT coding program "Scratch" being embraced by K-5th students and teachers alike. The program takes strings of Python code and turns it into process based blocks that allow users to build a process and establish its values.


As a technology aficionado, I love coding. There is something about building a string of code and watching the process unfurl that I find exciting and challenging. From HTML to Visual Basic, I enjoyed coding starting in high school and always kept it as part of my arsenal of odd skills. In 2013, when the Hour of Code launched, bringing simplified coding into the classroom I asked myself,

what percentage of students will find coding to be a serious hobby, or even more, a future profession?

Without data to back it up, I would say no more than 5%. So what is the role of coding in the classroom for the other 95%? Many Pro-Coding educators will tout its ability to foster 21st-Century skills such as higher-order thinking, problem solving, organization, sequence, and syntax. While this might be true, what is the expense of using coding as the medium to acquire these skills? Is there another medium? Is coding really the answer?

For me, coding is a powerful and practical tool, and that is because at the root of it,

coding is nothing more than telling a story.

And like all great stories, there are characters, dramatic structure, and most importantly a sequential flow. If any of these is missing it's hard to engage your audience. It is through this theme of storytelling that some of my greatest technology integration moments have been born, and I want coding to be no different.

As 21st-Century educators we must embrace technology as a method that empowers our student to not just share their message but to believe their ideas can make a difference.

As educators, we must put emphasis on 21st-Century competencies because they give our students the ability to lead, articulate, solve, and redesign experiences around them. It's not enough to simply memorize information and pass a test. The future requires something more of us and whether it's programming the next groundbreaking application or better understanding project management, coding deserves a place in our classrooms.

So I challenge you to jump into coding, not because you need to make the next new app, but because your story deserves to be shared.

The Third Grade Teacher


I have been working on this article for awhile. When I saw this post during the #1to1techat on twitter I finally knew how to phrase it.

Students teaching students is totally awesome meaningful learning.

Becoming a teacher might not be on everyones bucket list but after watching eight year olds teaching eight year olds about native american life, I hope they realize just how powerful the ability to educate someone really is. Being in charge of other peoples learning was a new experience for these third graders. I began the conversation by asking them the following question,

How do you know how much you know? 

One answer is, teach it to someone else. Our next challenge? If our students are able to become independent learners working towards becoming facilitators of learning, then where does that leave us as the "real educators" in the classroom? The massive outpour of information as well as the technology to harness its power actually leaves educators with a very powerful and humble mission.

It empowers us to help students become caring, thoughtful, and serious learners. 

If we choose to answer this calling and put aside our slightly bruised ego and title of sage on the stage, then the student, teacher, and technology partnership can begin to create some truly awesome results.

Third Grade Native American Tribal Life Project

in collaboration with Deborah Littman and Joanna Benporat, 3rd grade classes

Digital Publication using Book Creator for the iPad

[googleapps domain="docs" dir="a/" query="" width="440" height="280" /]

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The initial planning phase of the project went very routine. Questions of purpose, time spent, objectives, and curriculum alignment were asked. Questions about student's understanding of the applications of choice were answered. We projected the project would integrate technology between the A and the M on the SAMR model due to its use of audio-visual capabilities as well as how the technology would allow the learning to be shared. The objective of the student was to demonstrate their knowledge of a Native American tribes to the class. After reflecting on the final outcome of the project, we compared the projects use of technology to how the project was accomplished by traditional means.

21st-Century Skill Acquisition

Traditional Method

Learning With Technology

Oral Communication



Visual Presentation



Understanding of Content



Cooperation and Collaboration



Engagement and Enthusiasm



Organization and Time Management



Students as Facilitators



Now each one of these skill sets that students developed during this project have a specific objective.

Oral Communication: Through the use of audio recording and filming, students had the ability to clearly and effectively share their learning with other people in an engaging way that gave the viewer a sense of choice. The traditional method consisted of students presenting in groups in the front of the class reading from index cards.

Visual Presentation: The traditional method consisted of hand made poster boards and dioramas. In the past digital slideshows such as PowerPoint we used as well. Using the iPad students could create an audio-visual multimedia presentation that incorporated hand made artifacts into the project.

Understanding of Content: Many of the traditional methods of learning were still utilized by students including reading from books, note taking, and basic researching. The information was internalized further through the use of multimedia such as audio record, video filming, drawing, and creative writing.

Cooperation and Collaboration: Through the use of technology, this area yields unbelievable results in respect to frequency and sustainability of student partnerships. Students in traditional group projects tend to have one dominant student or have other students who lack motivation to fulfill their group responsibilities. Through the use of the iPad students were able to work independently, build off each others ideas, and help their peers create better quality work.

Engagement and Enthusiasm: At this point in our 1:1 program the "iPad excitement" has worn off. Students were engaged on a much higher level due to the personalized learning experience that allow for independence, choice, and serious ownership over their work. Students were not only enthusiastic to create something their peers would see, but even more so when they worked on traditional worksheets answering questions based on viewing their peers projects.

Organization and Time Management: This is a hit or miss with technology. Technology in of itself doesn't make either of these qualities shine, but with the proper mindset students can use technology as a powerful tool to develop these critical skills. Having all their work in the cloud to work on at home and use the iPads together in class did contribute to success in this area.

Students as Facilitators: This was the best part of the entire experience. Students were on inspirational fire as they shared their learning and made sure students understood the valuable information that they had learned. Students concluded this unit with an in-depth understanding of a specific piece of the unit, as well as a general albeit superficial understanding of the rest of the unit due to their peers amazing ability to share their learning in a serious, but fun and engaging way.