It’s about the journey, not just the destination!

Active Learning = Real Learning

It’s been too long since my last post. TOO LONG. Not for lack of thinking or amazing things that have been percolating in my brain. Just TOO LONG. Intimidated by the process of writing cogent prose? Probably. Lazy? Maybe. Here goes….

One of the joys of being part of a learning community – a REAL PLC is the ability for all to step up and step back. We share, we trust, we empathize, we care. And we read and reflect with religious fervor. (shout out to Phil, Deanna, Sophie, Melissa, Susannah, Josh and Leigh). This post is from one of those things we passed around and shared.

In Peter Nilsson’s “Educators Notebook” from the week of September 15 there was a published article from the National Academy of Sciences titled “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom”. Two major ideas:
Students involved with active learning learn and remember more than their peers who were learning in more traditional passive (teacher centric) classrooms. OK. For those of us Deeper Learning evangelists not a big surprise.
Students who learned in teacher centric (lecture) classrooms felt they had learned more than students who were in active learning classrooms. Even though they had not!
At some level this should not have surprised me as much as it did. After a decade of Deeper Learning work in my MPX classroom, it was not uncommon to have some students feel they weren’t learning as much as their peers who were in more traditional classrooms.

Why? The authors of the research put it well:

Having observed this negative correlation between students’ FOL and their actual learning, we sought to understand the causal factors behind this observation. A survey of the existing literature suggests 2 likely factors: 1) the cognitive fluency of lectures can mislead students into thinking that they are learning more than they actually are (30, 31) and 2) novices in a subject have poor metacognition and thus are ill-equipped to judge how much they have learned (27–29). We also propose a third factor: 3) students who are unfamiliar with intense active learning in the college classroom may not appreciate that the increased cognitive struggle accompanying active learning is actually a sign that the learning is effective. We describe below some evidence suggesting that all 3 factors are involved and propose some specific strategies to improve students’ engagement with active learning.

The money line in that paragraph is “students who are not familiar with intense active learning…may not appreciate increased cognitive struggle”. Yes. Knowledge construction is a process that only the learner can do by “grappling” (a word that Ron Berger uses a lot) with new ideas, concepts and skills.

It reminds me of a great graphic that epic teacher Marco Torres shared at one of the early Schools of the Future Conferences:

His point: If you are travelling, which journey will provide the most rich opportunities for learning? In our rush to get to CONTENT, we have lost the value of challenge and grappling that is fundamental for powerful learning. We have paved too much of the roadway, forgetting the journey has value, not just the destination.

In the Article from NAS, the authors make the case that by going Meta with learners – explaining WHY active learning feels harder, WHY it might feel like you are learning less, WHY grappling is good you can improve learner’s perceptions of whether they feel they are learning. Indeed. The journey, not just the destination, matters!

Reflections on Water and Wailele

(This post a reflection from a class visit from our Kumu (Teacher) Makana Kane Kuahiwinui, who spoke to us about the Hawaiian cultural perspective on water, in general and specifically in our Manoa Valley.)

The work we have been doing and thinking about water consumption at times seem disconnected from a real problem, situation and solution. Kumu’s sharing today broadened my thinking because I usually see most things through a western science perspective. Is it dirty? How do we know? How can we clean it? I deepened that meaning by really backing up and considering what the water all around, the rain (Tuahine) we see every day, the running water on campus, Wailele and how it sits with Kahala O Puna in the middle of campus. I need to recommit myself to not just going for learning information but learning to be present in this moment and know why and how it matters.
The connection to this place in Manoa is something that we can do something about if that speaks to us. The importance of how water is around us and why and what we could do with it is a lesson and a challenge. And an opportunity.

I also think that the idea of ‘amakua and the importance of Pueo is interesting. The fact that Hawaiian culture speaks of the importance of a generational tie to what might be our guardian’s ties to families and their histories binds us together to this land.

Lastly I am struck by the importance of story. The value of connecting events, places, people through a compelling narrative is a uniquely human characteristic. I can do better job of using stories as a means to conveying ideas, values, concepts, etc. I should find more storytellers to help engage and tie together our work… Who might this be?
What was my wish for Wailele? That I don’t go by without checking in on her and asking how we are doing with her. We, our students, can visit and ask “how are you doing, how are WE doing?”

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do

Although this post is coming a little late, this is a reflection about our work in our MPX program for the second week of the school year. Not surprising, most teachers spend some of the initial time with their students setting the context for what they are doing. We take time to establish our norms, have students understand our routines and rhythms of the class so that we make it possible for them to work efficiently and to stay on task when they are with us. In our work with MPX, we did a few things that set the context for our work. It struck me that the quote that the title is based on (which is from Lewis Carroll) kept coming up as we were working with our students in these first few weeks on our mini project on conflict resolution in society. Let me give three examples of how this played out in our work this week.

Class Norms

We took time in our class to have the students consider what are the kinds of behaviors, attitudes and beliefs we bring in when we work as a class. We did a co-construction activity where the students offered ideas, and then we distilled those over 100 thoughts down to 19 key statements that they made about what it means to learn in our class. The key thing was to make sure the words were theirs, since our goal is to give them feedback and hold them to these agreed-upon expectations.

One of the beautiful things about having these posted clearly in the room is that we can proactively challenge and point out to the students that these are the things that powerful learners do. It acts as our roadmap to a class culture that will move us forward productively.

Assessment Criteria

When we ask students to produce quality work there are really a few ways for us to get there:
– looking at models that we admire and can use to help us set the language for what excellence looks like
– a process for feedback that allows learners to look at their current states and to know where they need to move next
– and lastly clear criteria that we have agreed on about what the end should look like.

One of our artifacts from the society conflict activity was a two minute video that the students made in news story format that would tell a story of conflict and resolution in society. In order to help the students get there, we needed to know the language of good storytelling, and then we needed a tool to help us operationalize our ways to look at our work and to judge whether it was of high enough quality. The rubric we used for this project is here:

The language from this came from our own research, from looking at quality examples, and by using expertise to help us make decisions about what goes into good storytelling. The students used this rubric to give each other feedback multiple times, and it was used in the final assessment as well.

Project Sheets and Descriptions
At the start of any project, we give the students a map out of what that project will unfold like with clearly defined goals, an essential question, an outcome that is important and challenging and the steps that are required to get there laid out with enough detail that they know what needs to happen to get from the start to the finish. When we do our professional work with teachers around the state, this is the key thing that we tried to instill in those teachers – that without a roadmap and clarity around the means by which students will have time to understand, give feedback and reflect on their learning, the likelihood of getting to the end is drastically less. We have seen many teachers talk about how they have implemented projects, and only a few or some of the students “got it” and produce a product that they had hoped for. More often than not, it is not a fault of the students, but lack of clarity of the roadmap on how to help them get there.

As we continue to move on into the school year we hope to continue to provide clear guidance for our students so that they do the traveling, but they have the support they need to end up in the right destination. It’s

Gentlemen, Start your Engines!

Well here we are at the end of our first week of school. Our most excellent MPX 9 team (John, Bob, Chris and myself) had decided back in July to start the year with a small scale project that would have the students look at societal conflict through a role playing simulation. It would give them a chance to experience a mini form of a project, lets us scaffold some of the baseline agreements we need (group norms, reflective blogging, storytelling, etc) and have a product in time for Back to school night on August 24 for our parents.

MPX 9 Teaching Team ready to go on Day1!

After some opening activities with students getting to know each other and us, we jumped into a group problem solving activity to have them work together and start thinking of what effective groups have in common. The students set up their blogs and other tools like Showbie to allow us to have a class workflow.

Students working on the collaborative puzzle activity

Students working on the collaborative puzzle activity

Students working on the collaborative puzzle activity

By the second day of class they were into the societal conflict simulation and were also developing norms for group work and reflective blogs. Chris Falk and I ran class together and it was a lot of fun having all 42 students in class together!

Students co-constructing group norms

Students co-constructing group norms

42 students together for conflict simulation – mayhem!

Students portray a tableau from their conflict

Students portray a tableau from their conflict

Since we wanted students to work with video for the project, we had them do a STEM challenge of building a bridge with popsicle sticks so they could capture video and images to create a short movie.

Students build and record popsicle stick bridges

Students build and record popsicle stick bridges

Lance Iwamoto shares how to create strong video stories

They made a quick video trailer

to practice creating video. Our excellent video storytelling teacher, Lance Iwamoto dropped in to give the kids some of the secrets of create quality video stories. He included showing some of his students’ award winning Hiki No videos like this

109 Shawn Kalei Kahookele from GWN Storytelling on Vimeo.

The Students finished the week planning a bit for their videos they will be making next week and reflecting on their learning from the week.

We are off to the races! We are excited about the great work the students will do this year.

Energy is the thing!

Our MPX 10 students were blessed to have a visit from a Mid-Pacific alumni: Yoh Kawanami c/o ‘97. He is currently the Director of Demand Response Programs at Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). Koh reached out to the school through his work with HECO and in particular with his interest in sustainability, resource management, and global interdependence, especially Japan and Asia. He agreed to come and meet the students, and gave us a presentation on energy sustainability with an emphasis on the challenges facing HECO with their work to move towards better resource management and the eventual goal of energy interdependence by 2045. Over the course of his talk with the students he shared his pathway after leaving Mid-Pacific, going to the University of Washington, and then to Duke before relocating to the islands to do work in Department of Defense and engineering resource management. The students were very appreciative of him sharing his knowledge and passion around this topic and our hope is to continue to connect to the work he is doing in the community.

Although our curriculum changed this year so that we were not doing as much with energy sustainability, Yoh’s visit reminds me how important it is to get back to the question about sustainability and the role Hawaii can play in helping the world see resource management: energy, water, agriculture, waste to name a few as problems that we can tackle with the right amount of energy and commitment. My hope is that we will continue to work closely with him and expand our relationships we have established with organizations like Hawaiian Electric, Blue Planet Foundation, Energy Accelerator, Kapiolani Community College, Mari’s Gardens and others. The task of doing real work with our students in the community is an ongoing process…

Yoh explaining the energy consumption profiles of different countries. Yes – the US is the Red bar on the right side!

Now We’re Cooking – Really!

“At its most basic, cooking is the transfer of energy from a heat source to your food.” from the wonderful resource Serious Eats

yes, we ARE having fun!

My friends and my family know that I spend way too much of my expendable income on dining experiences – not casual affairs, but going to interesting places and trying out new chefs in town when I can afford them. I also love cooking and my own kitchen, constantly playing with new recipes or adapting old ones.
**By the way – if you haven’t been to Scratch in downtown Honolulu, put it on your must do list.**

It’s no big surprise then, that I’ve always had it in my mind to figure out how to bring cooking into my students’ experiences. At so many levels this is such a important experience – research shows that families that cook and eat together have deeper relationships, healthier diets and also save money at the same time. Were living in a society in which “prepackaged” and “to go” are the main means that many of our students understand eating, and yet for most of society’s history food and cooking has been at the center of culture, interaction, and identity.

Moreover, the science of cooking is deep and powerful and cuts across many disciplines – physics, biology, health and nutrition, chemistry, sustainable science, environmental impact… the list goes on. So how do we make this happen in our classrooms? How far can we go with this to both engage our students and still have a safe learning environment?

We have been blessed over the last four years to work with a wonderful community partner: the Culinary Arts program at Kapiolani Community College (KCC). We have coordinated projects with them dealing with sustainable agriculture, food to table and cooking classes – but in the past these were focused on life sciences as our primary core standards. Our wonderful friend and colleague Daniel Leung from KCC helped us to design a project this semester that centers on cooking and thermodynamics. The underlying science of this includes heat and temperature, radiation, convection and conduction, and the first and second law of thermodynamics. Additionally, there is a wealth of information about the chemical phenomenon that happens around the process of cooking food including the way that plant and animal cells behave differently, how proteins work at different temperatures, and even the important Maillard reaction.

We mapped out a set of experiments and activities, readings and hands-on work that would allow our students to investigate this deeply and tied to our energy standards in our physical science curriculum. Over the four weeks of this project, our students will visit the KCC kitchen classroom/lab to prepare both Tuscan bean soup and a dish to be still decided – but something that involves braising and the three different types of heat transfer. In class we are doing things as simple as looking at the effect of different metals in the way they transfer heat, to the way that cooling happens, through looking at the heat capacity of different materials including food. In the end, two of the outcomes will be our students cooking a meal for their family and explaining the science behind it and the creation of a five-minute video in which they explain the science behind a particular cooking technique – modeled after the widely known show “Good Eats” with Alton Brown.

As usual, I’ve been posting pictures of our work on our Flickr site here

This first four-week unit we designed is the starting point for us expanding on this idea next year to create a deeper look at food, science and culture. We are excited to see where this will take us but we know it’ll be fun and powerful!

Here’s to good food, good science, and powerful learning! Cheers!

cooking the soup

Tasting our final product: Tuscan Bean Soup

We received training on prep use of knives as well!

Prepping the vegetables at KCC

Cooking away in our classroom

Working in Our classroom lab with cooking meat and vegetables

Ka Wai Ola – Water for Life

One of the great pleasures and challenges of doing real deeper learning work is finding real challenges in our community and community partners that can help us become part of the work in working towards a healthier, safer community. Some of our classwork this year centered on science standards in chemistry, which lend itself to looking at the water issues in our community. The island of Oahu is really a perfect water catchment system, and in particular almost all of that water resides under the island in aquifers that hold freshwater that filters down from the 1.8 billion gallons of rainfall that occur on the island every day. Many of us that live here sometimes take this water for granted, but if we go just a little deeper into this resource, we see that there are important challenges that are facing the island, and a real need for stewardship of these critical resources for us to enjoy the quality of freshwater that we have become accustomed to.

On December 2 our class of 10th grade MPXers visited the Board of Water Supply (BWS) to learn more about when, how and what gets tested to ensure the safety of our water.




**A quick note about the difference between field trips and community partners. Our Deeper Learning Hawaii Network group ran some community partner workshops a year ago and we developed the language of distinguishing one time visits (just to get some information) and an extended interaction with community experts in which students become part of a process in supporting the work of an organization or helping design solutions for that organization. There is a much more detailed version of that here: In this case, we are looking at a much deeper relationship and an extended investigation about water quality here on the island of Oahu**

Before we visited the site, we spent time reading through the resources about what the board of water supply does, and in particular some of the challenges that they face. I shared slides from a community meeting in October that detailed one of the most pressing issues in Honolulu, In particular, there is a situation with the water that comes out of the Halawa shaft ( which feeds water to one quarter of the island’s population. There are large jet fuel storage tanks that hold upwards of hundred 87 million gallons of jet fuel just 100 feet above the aquifer. There is already evidence that these tanks have leaked, and there is continuing tension between those who feel the tanks need stay where they are because of security concerns, and the community that feels that it endangers its water supply.

Our visit to the BWS allowed us to observe, deepen our understanding and ask questions about this key issue. The folks at the BWS were gracious in opening up their labs and sharing the process they use to test and ensure water quality for Oahu.




What role can we play? The Honolulu City Council has met with us and asked us to help them better understand the ins and outs of this issue. They worry that they don’t have a good enough understanding of the science of the water and what and how it might be tested and treated. Our class will be diving in to understand this problem and helping the city council to better see the issues and what they can do. The goal is to present our findings to the council in April and share our learnings and recommendations. It should be an exciting exploration in an important actionable issue in our community!

Scope and Sequence and …

Here in my 35th year of teaching, I think about some of my early experiences in my role as a teacher there was a lot of emphasis on What (scope) I taught and how it fit into the learning path of students (sequence). Most curriculum documents and textbooks are structured to map out the scope and sequence of a course of study. What often is left as an afterthought, or at least as a secondary action is How (pedagogy) that Scope and Sequence is delivered and by what means we assess success.

In 2012 I gave an Ignite Talk that was titled “Mobile Technologies & Personalized Learning: A quest to make thinking visible and technology invisible” (Slide Deck here). As a part of that talk, I emphasized that technology and pedagogy play an important role to move learners to a more personalized, powerful and lasting learning experience. The overlapping of Content, Technologies (tools), and Pedagogy is the place where where learning can be shaped.

In our work in the Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) program we spend as much time planning for how students encounter their learning as we spend looking at what they will be learning. For example, in our recent work, we have our students designing and building trebuchets for a project we call “Santa’s Little Helper”. Although the underlying content is from the Integrated Science 1 in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), our goal has been to create the conditions under which the students have an opportunity to create, make decisions, iterate, explain their work through real world activities and build in design and engineering as a part of the process.



This gives us a chance to create a classroom environment that has a strong culture of learning. In his recent wonderful book, Cultures of Thinking, Ron Richart lays out 8 Forces that must be part of learning to really transform classroom practice:

time, opportunities, routines, language, modeling, interaction, physical environment and expectations (more information here).

Note – none of these forces are the scope and sequence. However, they are just as important a component in the instructional design process for learning. In an earlier blog post, I discussed the “Pebble in the Pond” which is an instructional methodology that looks at whole problem learning. There are other frameworks that are structured like this – whether it is Wiggins and McTigue’s Backwards Design in UBD, the Buck Institute’s Gold Standard for PBL, or the TPACK framework for 21st-century learning.

Back in the 1990s when I was working with the ASU modeling instruction program for science education, it was impressed upon us that we were not learning a curriculum, we were learning a pedagogy of scientific inquiry. In much the same way, the work that we continue to do in our MPX program reflects that idea – that it isn’t just about what we learn (scope and sequence), but it is also important to consider how we learn.

Pebble in the Pond: Thoughts on PBL and causing ripples

One of the things we strive for in our MPX work are the effects it has on our larger educational landscape – both on campus and off. Somewhere in the last couple of years we adopted the language “pebble in the pond” to both encourage us to think both small and large about our work and the effect it has as it spreads out through the people we touch, the students we work with, and the artifacts that we share. For example, at the Schools of the Future conference (, our MPX led a session Titled “The Devil is in the Details” which was designed for teachers to both learn about and to start applying some of the simple but powerful ideas we use to bring our project-based work to a higher level. Specifically, in the workshop, we had teachers both look at examples of, and then try and develop a means to increase their active exploration in their work, as well as making it more authentic – both in terms of the work they do, and how they share this with their larger community. This terminology comes from the work from 20 years ago by Steinberg on the 6 A’s of project-based learning ( – one of the many excellent frameworks we use to help us strengthen our work. Our session had a standing room only crowd of at least 80 teachers and the feedback was really powerful. It is clear teachers appreciate and desire more contact, conversation and understanding about how to move towards this deeper learning work. (See more about Deeper Learning here

The teachers at our "Devil is in the Details" Schools of the Future presentation.

The teachers at our “Devil is in the Details” Schools of the Future presentation.

What is interesting about the phrase “pebble in the pond” is that it didn’t initiate with our PBL work, but instead came from my doctoral work in educational technology, community building, and instructional design. One of the privileges I had over the time I was working towards my dissertation was to take a class with and get to know Dr. David Merrill, Professor Emeritus
Utah State University. His “First Principles of Instruction” is a thoughtful, deep, powerhouse work that goes very intricately into best practice instructional design principles for learning. One of the articles we read when we worked with him was “A Pebble in the Pond Model for Instructional Design” (

In that model, the critical components include making sure the learners know and understand the whole problem before launching into their learning, that components skills and knowledge need to be broken into a series of scenarios or events that help the deepen their understanding of the parts that will move them towards the whole problem. He also talks about phases of instruction that are very similar to the mantra “tell, show, do” which is the basis of most kinds of powerful learning, but the “do” often gets left out in traditional education.

Centered around the problem, what are the elements of effective instruction. Note that the PROBLEM is in the center!

Centered around the problem, what are the elements of effective instruction. Note that the PROBLEM is in the center!

Dr David Merrill's "Pebble in the Pond" Instructional Design model

Dr David Merrill’s “Pebble in the Pond” Instructional Design model

If one looks carefully at the pebble in the pond graphic from his paper that I’ve attached here, you can even see a considerable similarity to the design process that is become such an important conversation in education today (see IDEO
So where does this take us?

A few thoughts:
– Good design is good design. It isn’t enough to teach component skills. If we want learners to be able to utilize what we are teaching them, we need to put problems in their context, have them understand the whole, and build up the component skills they need in order to successfully utilize that information.
– This kind of pebble in the pond design work is highly compatible with deeper learning practices like PBL.
– As we design our work in our MPX program we should stay mindful of these core ideas since it is highly compatible with and a core set of ideas that we can all agree on

Water, Water Everywhere…

There is a quote from the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge: “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink”. One of the continuing investigations for us this year is the issue of water. It ties nicely with some of the physical chemistry work that we are trying to do. Water has so many wonderful properties that make it special, including life on earth itself. The chemistry of water and its role in society provide so many different ways that we might approach it. Today, our work centered around our community water supply, where it comes from, how it is distributed, what are the ways that the Native Hawaiian people viewed this, and probably most pressing: is it safe to drink and is it secure?

We took a field trip today to the Waihee Water Tunnel (info here). We were ably guided by Arthur Aiu, community relations specialist for the board of water supply. After a 1.5 mile hike in, we entered a tunnel that extended into the mountainside for over 1/4 mile (1500 feet) and came upon the water that is directed to most of the communities on the windward side of the island. The graphic below gives you a sense of where the water comes from.

Info graphic that explains how water comes to the islands and is stored through a natural process

Info graphic that explains how water comes to the islands and is stored through a natural process

The purpose of this post is not really to teach you about where our water comes from, but it’s worth mentioning that Hawaii is really a special place in how the conditions of weather and mountains produce large reserves of water that are located both in compartments in the mountains called Dikes, as well as aquifers below the island that hold water. The students learned about how the water gets there, how it’s removed, why it’s handled the way it is and even what safety concerns there are about water quality and how the board of water supply manages that. For example, Arthur mentioned that all water on Oahu is treated with small amounts of chlorine to control for bacterial growth – that’s something that I had not been aware of, but we know from our chemistry work the reactive nature of chlorine and students should have been making the connection to why chlorine is such an ideal substance to interact with living matter to break apart contaminants. In other parts of the island where the water has become more contaminated from organic pesticides, activated charcoal is used. Another example of chemistry helping keep our water drinkable.

As you can see from the pictures posted below, and more here (Flickr account here) the water literally filters down through the rocks and drips through the fissures that have occurred through different volcanic events that have happened over time. The water that we were observing only takes about nine months to filter from the rainfall down through the mountain to these caverns, although it takes 25 years or more for the water to filter all the way down to the aquifer located below the island. The challenge for the students was to really consider how do we protect and ensure this precious resource since all we can plan to use is the water that we have here on the island.

Hiking into the valley

Hiking into the valley

Arthur AiuExplains the way that the water collects in Hawaii's mountains and aquifers

Arthur AiuExplains the way that the water collects in Hawaii’s mountains and aquifers

Our happy group before entering the tunnel

Our happy group before entering the tunnel

Arthur Aiu Explains both the Hawaiian legends around the water, as well as the structure of the compartments in the bulkheads

Arthur Aiu Explains both the Hawaiian legends around the water, as well as the structure of the compartments in the bulkheads


This leads us to the bigger question that were going to explore over the next couple of months. Our visit today was water that feeds the Windward communities, but there is a bigger problem brewing in Honolulu because the main source of water there at Halawa is in danger of serious contamination from fuel tanks that were placed above the source of water by the Navy in the 1940s (short history of that here , excellent presentation slides from Auguust 2016 meeting here ). Our next steps for the class are to understand this problem more deeply, attend the October 6 public hearing that will have presentations by both the Navy, and the board of water and start working with our city Council to figure out ways that our students might be able to be helpful. Our ultimate goal is to present information to the City Council in November to have them better understand the issues that are affecting our community and this problem. As always, our good work continues as our learning gets deeper…

Information about the October 6 meeting about the water situation at Red Hill/Halawa

Information about the October 6 meeting about the water situation at Red Hill/Halawa