by Beth Knittle on November 30, 2015

My daughter’s birthday was yesterday and I spent a good portion of that day thinking about how far she has come.  It occurred to me that she has not lived up to the expectations set for her and I could not be more proud!!!

She started life with a double knot in the umbilical cord, and multiple health related obstacles ever since. From the earliest days in school people held limited expectations for her success. As an educator I know they had the best intentions and honestly believed they were doing the best for her.  I do not fault them.  But these experiences have greatly informed who I am as an educator now and who she is as a person. Here are a few examples that stick out in my mine.

In kindergarten there was concern she could not read.  However she had been reading since she was three, after 4 months in school no one thought to ask her to read – it was assumed she could not.

In middle school she was place in a lower math class not because she was struggling in math but they wanted to put less on her plate. The next year they them moved her back to the higher math class, she had to play catch up, it was tough, but she did well. The result, she now believes she is not as strong in math as she once was.

In high school it was recommended she consider not attending a 4 year residential college, maybe take it easy and take a course or two at the local community college. She is set to graduate this May from a 4 year residential college on time and she has loved every minute of it.

These are just a few of the many examples where the expectations were low and she just ignored them and followed her heart, passion and love of learning.  When she wants to know something there is nothing that will stand in her way, even school and well-meaning educators. As a result she has a highly varied knowledge base, diverse skill set and interests making her a truly unique individual and highly competitive in her chosen career path.   She worked very hard to overcome any obstacle and to meet ‘normal’ life milestones; she has accepted that life is about never giving up.  She strongly believes if you don’t try you have already failed and failure really isn’t an option. You can’t move forward if you don’t keep whacking through the weeds.

For me as an educator it has shown me that we cannot view students through the lens of standards, testing and our institutional goals and objections. It is about focusing on each student and helping them to achieve their best; to harness their unique interests and passions, to help them explore the options they may not know are out there.   If we encourage a love of learning and the skills needed for critical thinking the rest will follow.

So happy birthday; keep forging your own path and thanks for teaching me so much.


Everything Old is New Again

by Beth Knittle on October 13, 2015

I feel like I am stuck in an episode of the twilight zone doomed to repeat past mistakes. It is as if someone has put my professional life on a loop. I just can’t break out of the cyclical madness of educational programs and trends.

Let’s take a walk down memory lane. There are many terms, phrases and programs that keep reappearing in education. Below are a list of some that have appeared in recent times, though likely they are rehashed from a previous era, this is what I can recall from my grad school days and 20 plus years on the job.


  • Project Based Learning, Teacher as Guide, Guided Inquiry, Interest Driven- William Kilpatrick – 1930’s-40’s
  • Discovery Learning, Spiral Curriculum – Jerome Burner – 1930’s
  • Self-Directed Learning – Maria Montessori – early 1900’s
  • Universal Design for Learning- Ronald Mace -1998
  • Multiple Intelligences – Howard Gardiner – 1999
  • Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design – Carol Ann Tomlinson – 1999
  • Personalized Learning*


In this day of data-driven decision making and standardization, schools are looking for the elusive perfect solution to educate a large number of people to a specific standard in the most efficient (ie cost effective) manner.  But learning is not a group process; it takes place within an individual.  Only the individual can develop meaning and understanding for themselves.

Learning is extremely complex. Let’s start with the individual. Each comes to the learning process with different abilities, experiences, attitudes, expectations, goals, desires, varying states of physical and mental health, language skills and previous knowledge to name a few. Not to mention the variations in learning spaces such a classroom, classmates, distractions, teachers, materials, etc. Add the complexity of the content to be learned and there are just too many factors to name let alone control and regulate. With centuries of formalized education experience under our collective belt and the last century’s primarily based on research and study one would think if there was one program out there that was most effective we would have found it. But there isn’t, instead we move from one program or trend to another striving for a one or two point gain in test scores, to demonstrate institutional growth and progress.

The study of how memory and meaning are created in the brain maybe a recent science but I bet the biology of how they are physically and chemically built in the brain has not changed much over time. Evolution is not speedy. What has changed is the way we educate, the ever increasing amount of information we are expected to understand and the ways we deliver and interact with that information.

If we look back to before formalized modern education learning was a very individual and personal endeavor.  If you were rich enough you had private tutors to see to your education, or were apprenticed to learn a craft or trade, or learned beside a parent. But not everyone received an education as we would define it today.  As the need arose for a more highly educated work force there was an increased need to educate more people more efficiently; dame schools, community schools and Sunday schools arose.  These had very local control and a wide variety of standards. As the depth of the curriculum increased and more students needed to be educated, control and standardization increased to where we are today.

With the advent of the digital information age we are cycling back to the time of the tutor, all be it with a modern twist.  Individuals can tailor their curriculum with online content to meet their learning needs.  Classes, certificates and self-paced learning options abound. Except in the case of needing specialized equipment for certain areas of study why do we need schools in their current format? High schools and colleges cannot update their curriculums fast enough to keep up with changing information and career skills. College no longer is an end to learning; in many professions you must continue to learn, and relearn as jobs and industries come and go.  Yet in schools we are refocusing our efforts on traditional whole group instruction where students must learn the same information, in a specific time frame, to demonstration understanding using a common assessment. Those who are quick learners must wait; those who are not as speedy (or interested) are often penalized.  We talk about individualized, personalized or differentiated instruction but we can never really achieve it with our standards and testing regiment. We are just spinning our wheels.

* For a good look at Personalized Learning check out Yong Zhoa’s thoughts.


Getting Ready for the New School Year

by Beth Knittle on July 18, 2015

As soon as one school year ends it is time to get ready for the next.  For me that means that I start getting materials ready for new teacher orientation and set up new professional development for the teachers.  This year we are developing our self-serve PD using Schoology and will be adding badges to mark staff successful completion of the various topics.

In prepping my material I review the old sites we recommend for teachers, as well as, look for new ones.  There are numerous sites that help teachers in developing dynamic and engaging curriculum. In going through them I was reminded about TED Ed and the tool they have to help develop flipped lessons and a list of curated lessons that are ready to use.  If you have not used it or need a refresher may I suggest starting with the website tour.


Remembering The Team Who Taught Me So Much

June 27, 2015

Once upon a time in a land far away I met an incredible group of people. We created, collaborated and learned together. Our time together changed me forever. From 2007 to 2011 I was part of a very effective and productive team, we met and worked virtually. At first only through text and later voice […]

Read the full article →

Game Design and the High School Curriculum

June 26, 2015

Game Design has come up a lot in these last few years in both my professional and personal lives. My youngest will attend college next year to study game design. My eldest will be a college senior looking forward to a career in the game industry. Both are interested in different areas of the process […]

Read the full article →

Updating the Diploma

April 15, 2015

Updating the curriculum is grounded in preparing students for today’s job market and the elusive future economy.  It is also about providing students an opportunity to explore their passions, develop a love of learning not to mention the skills a learner needs to keep on learning.   When developing curriculum we often ask two questions (1) […]

Read the full article →

Updating the Curriculum

March 22, 2015

Many school curricula have remained pretty much unchanged for decades some could argue centuries. The basic common elements of English, Math, Science and History are constants, it is the other curricular options that seem to come and go over time. When I was in middle school/ high school we had a choice of home economics […]

Read the full article →