The “Why” is Key

Retrieved from: 

We affirm that well-prepared career and technical education students are the backbone of tomorrow’s workforce.

We leverage technological innovations to promote learning that is flexible and student centered.

We prepare students to enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills necessary to be productive and valued leaders in their fields.

All of the lessons we learn about effective advertising in a Marketing 101 course seem to go out the window when we seek to bring about change to a large organization. I recall learning that an effective advertisement will, among other things, create a sense of urgency and will appeal to the consumer’s emotions–often times by personalizing the pitch. I was reminded of these tried-and-true marketing techniques when I viewed Dr. John Kotter’s videos, The Heart of Change and Leading Change: Establish a Sense of Urgency and Simon Sinek’s Start With Why.

By starting with a “why” statement, it forces the change agent to think beyond simply stating what an organization does; the “why” statement brings into focus and articulates a universal reason for existing. The why speaks to a higher calling.

Organizations are made up of people that usually are resistant to change. It is no mystery why…change brings about uncertainty, and the unknown is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, change is certainly needed–particularly in education. So the question becomes: how do we persuade stakeholders in our education circles to make the changes necessary in order to bring about better teaching and learning? Many educators are, well, well-educated. They are aware of the trends and the studies and the statistics. Repackaging this data and providing it to them in a new way will not bring them aboard the boat that will sail them to significant change.  We must find a way to appeal to their hearts. This is what Sinek and Kotter posit, and it is a strategy I intend to employ when sharing my innovation plan.


Kotter, J. (2011, March, 23). The heart of change. . Retrieved from

Kotter, J. (2013, August, 15). Leading change: Establish a sense of urgency. . Retrieved from

Sinek, S. (2014, March, 3). Start with why: Ted talk short edited. . Retrieved from

Pulling Together the Elements to Create a Significant Learning Environment

pull together

As I continue to refine my Innovation Plan, which allows for students to create virtual work sites using 360-degree photography for the Career and Technical Education classroom, I am keenly aware of how important it is to create a significant learning environment. Creating significant learning environments (CSLE) means putting the learner first. The learners’ needs are what dictate the activities and instruction. CSLE also calls for the teacher to relinquish the “sage on the stage” role in favor of the “guide on the side.” This means the instructor becomes a facilitator and mentor in the classroom. CSLE means embracing an approach to learning the provides learners choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning opportunities (COVA (Harapnuik)). Please read my previous post about Creating Significant Learning Environments here.

Developing this innovation plan also required me to think through my learning philosophy. The three major learning theories, Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism, each have appealing definitions that undoubtedly play a role in how people learn, but after studying each, Constructivism, with its emphasis on the learner’s active involvement of making meaning and knowledge, is what holds the most weight with me. Please check out my post on Learning Philosophy here.

How to carry out instruction is a crucial part of my innovation plan. I explored two different processes for designing instruction: Fink’s guide which utilizes the Three-Column table, and Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design. Both have attractive components in course development, but I appreciated the structure of the learning activities in the Understanding by Design model slightly more. Use the links above to view my posts for each model.

Finally, my Growth Mindset Plan looks at the transformation-inducing work by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Of all the elements necessary to create a significant learning environment, I find this to be the most important. Learners’ perception of their intelligence being fixed or able to grow is the foundation we all approach learning. If we view intelligence as static, we see little reason to put forth effort because, as the thinking goes, our intelligence is what it is. We avoid challenges and cower to obstacles, and above all else, seek to appear smart. Embracing a growth mindset, on the other hand, accepts the scientific research that through effort and persistence, we can expand our intelligence. We embrace challenges, accept criticism, and look to others’ success as inspiration.

It is with each of these elements that I continue to create a significant learning environment within my educational community, which includes myself, my children, and the CTE teachers and students within my district.


Creating Significant Learning Environments

Learning Philosophy

Three-Column Table

Understanding By Design

Growth Mindset Plan (Part A)

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (expanded second ed.). Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Harapnuik, D. COVA.

Harapnuik, D. (2015, September 29). Why Use an ePortfolio. Retrieved from

Dweck. C (2016) Mindset The New Psychology of Success Updated Edition Ballantine Books

Developing a Growth Mindset

Since being introduced to the ideas found within Carol Dweck’s work on the Fixed and Growth Mindsets in July of 2018, I have had some time to reflect on how it has impacted my thinking and my practice as a parent and member of an educational community. You can find my initial post on the Growth Mindset here.


I have come to realize that I have been entrenched in a fixed mindset for much of my life. Internalizing and trying to live by the precepts expressed in Dweck’s work has been powerful and comforting to me as a learner, parent, and educator. When I consider the best way to spread the Growth Mindset gospel, I believe the first step is to fully accept and live out the Growth Mindset one’s self and model it as a way of approaching learning. For me, this means embracing learning. This can be as simple as consciously flipping the switch in your mind from off to on. Instead of approaching new, unfamiliar learning with the attitude that says: “This doesn’t apply to me; I don’t need to know this; I’m not going to bother,” we should accept that learning anything new is fascinating and is a great opportunity to broaden our perspective.

My own children have forced me to think a lot about the Growth Mindset lately. Both are brilliant and talented in their own ways (would you expect a parent to have any other opinion?), but one clearly embraces a Growth Mindset, while the other exhibits more fixed mindset tendencies like her father. I’ve thought a lot recently about why that is. I don’t have any definite answers, but I have made some insightful observations. School has always come easy for my son. He was placed in GT classes in first grade, and throughout middle school and high school, he received only one B. He is a senior this year and has been accepted to Rice University. Thinking back on his secondary education, the thing I find interesting is that he didn’t seem to stress much about his grades. I think he knew they would be fine. When he worked on projects, he would get absorbed in the learning, and he thrilled at ways to reveal his quirky personality through the assignment. He loves puzzles and just seems to approach any mental challenge as something fun to work out.

My daughter is also a straight A student. She works hard to maintain a strong GPA, but she does so more by collecting dots. As an example, when studying for an AP World History test recently, she was rattling off facts about Mesopotamia. Her knowledge was impressive, but when I asked her what current country occupies this region, she replied with something like “we don’t have to know that,” or “that won’t be on the test.” I died a little inside at that moment. Her reply revealed that she was only interested in regurgitating what the teacher told her was important. She wasn’t trying to connect dots.

Knowing what I know now about the Growth Mindset, I have concerns for both of my kids. My son, who has received praise for his intelligence by well-meaning relatives, friends, teachers and (I hate to admit it) his parents, will soon be challenged like he has never been challenged before. Having spent a childhood being told how smart he is, how will he handle it when the work is extremely difficult? I hope his growth mindset is strong enough to see him through the challenges of university work. Lately, I have taken every opportunity to shift my praise to his work ethic and process rather than his intelligence.

For my daughter, I have been stressing the power of “yet.” When she struggles with a concept, as is sometimes the case in Algebra II, I reassure her that not grasping it yet doesn’t mean she won’t; we just need to try some different approaches and perhaps seek out some help from her mom and brother who are far more equipped to help her at math. I think the tendency to collect dots is a defense mechanism for many students.

Observing the profound differences in mindsets of my children, I ask myself what accounts for this difference? After all, they were raised similarly with access to the same resources. Yet, one is more likely to embrace challenges and persist in the face of setbacks while the other puts a premium on looking smart, which causes her to avoid challenges and ignore negative feedback. I will leave the answer to this question to the researchers and psychologists, but I do intend to combat the Fixed Mindset and stimulate the Growth Mindset every chance I get as a learner, parent and educator.

After modeling the Growth Mindset myself, I think the next most important thing I can do as an educator is to de-emphasize grades. When a grade is eliminated (preferably) or de-emphasized (practically) I have the power to fully implement the concept of “Yet.” “Yet” means removing the consuming pressure kids feel to get good marks and look smart. “Yet” means every child is capable of learning; it just means we must work on it and try different resources. And it is the working on it—the process—that will be praised in my educational community, not how quickly someone understood a concept.

If the effort and the progress are what is stressed in a learning environment, the tendency to cheat to look smart is diminished. Moving forward, I will be modeling persistence and rewarding effort and process in learning over grades. I will encourage my educational community to recognize the difference between fixed and growth mindset thinking, and when they recognize they are employing fixed mindset thinking to rebuff it with a growth mindset.


Dweck. C (2016) Mindset The New Psychology of Success Updated Edition Ballantine Books

Understanding By Design Lesson

Retrieved from

This post is a designed unit of instruction for an Arts Audio/Visual Career and Technical Education class in which students will create 360-degree, immersive virtual work sites for other CTE students to “visit.” I am using Wiggins and McTighe’s framework for planning called Understanding by Design to implement my Innovation Plan. This design model guides the instructor to identify learning outcomes first and work backward to identify learning activities that will elicit the desired outcomes.


Unit Title: Virtual Work Sites in the CTE Classroom

Established Goals

Learners will be able to coordinate and create a 360-degree virtual work site environment for CTE students to explore.

Essential Questions to be Considered:

  • What is 360-degree photography?
  • What equipment is necessary to create 360-degree virtual environments?
  • What is the difference between 360-degree photography and virtual reality?

Desired Understandings:

  • Technical skills associated with taking 360-degree photographs, e.g. lighting, tripod
  • Elements of project management
  • Concept of backward planning to ensure project success
  • How creating 360-degree virtual work site environments can be beneficial to CTE students

Students will know:

  • Technology equipment necessary for producing 360-degree photographs
  • Best practices for shooting in 360 degrees.

Students will be able to:

  • Communicate and Collaborate effectively with project stakeholders
  • Capture quality 360-degree images
  • Write a description of each photograph that details
    • Date and location of the photo shoot
    • Process for setting up the shoot with company representatives (special considerations regarding safety, protecting privacy, etc.
  • Create a portfolio of photographs and descriptions.



Performance Tasks

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”–Students will develop a step-by-step plan for the shoot. The process should detail how initial contact was made with the company to receive permission to shoot on site through the posting of the 360-degree photos with explanations on an ePortfolio.

Lights, camera, action–Students will create and share effective 360-degree photographs of real-world job sites that end users can explore.

Additional Evidence

  • Written samples of letters to companies asking permission to photograph job site.
  • Quiz
  • Check list of technology and equipment necessary to complete task
  • rubric-aided evaluation of other teams’ portfolios

Self Assessment

  • Self-assess individual 360-degree photographs
  • self-assess ePortfolio
  • Reflect on the most challenging aspect of the project and how you would approach it differently in the future.



The learning experiences listed below follow Wiggins and McTighe’s “WHERETO” model for implementing instructional planning.

  • Begin with the question: How might CTE students “visit” real-world work sites without physically traveling to them?     H
  • Introduce the Essential Questions and preview the performance tasks learners will be instructed to complete.     W
  • Provide examples of 360-degree photography of real-world job sites.     W, H
  • Introduce specific equipment needed to complete learning activities.    E-1
  • Present example template of letter to company, which will be used to introduce the project and ask permission to shoot on site.     E-1
  • Review and discuss with other students your and their letters to company representatives.     E-2
  • Revise letters.     R
  • Each student designs a portfolio (using Google Sites) on which they will post their 360-degree photographs.     E, T
  • Conduct a class discussion in which students have the opportunity to suggest criteria that should be included in the portfolio rubric.     T
  • Students apply the class-created rubric to their own portfolio for self assessment.     E-2
  • Students exchange links to their portfolio with three other students to assess using the class-created rubric.     E-2
  • Students compose a written reflection on the process of the entire project. Include what they will do differently in the future.     R


Understanding by Design vs. the 3-Column Table

My two most recent assignments in the Digital Learning and Leading masters program at Lamar University provided me the opportunity to work with two different frameworks for designing instructional units: Fink’s 3-Column Table and Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design. Both models utilize the backward design process in which the process starts at the end–learning goals (Fink)/desired results (Wiggins, McThighe) and works “back” toward assessments and learning activities. Each model has its unique strengths. I particularly like the 3-column table’s focus on the situational factors to consider when designing a lesson. Often, the context plays an important role for how successful the unit of study will be. Factors such as meeting time, class size, resources, characteristics of the learners and teachers are vitally important to bear in mind when planning.

Understanding by Design guides the lesson planner more deliberately than the 3-Column Table does. Specifically, in Stage 3, the Learning Plan, the designer is tasked with thinking through each learning activity and identifying how each will benefit the learner. To me this is a crucial step in examining one’s lesson planning. Using this WHERETO checklist of learning activities ensures that the design will:

  • W let the learners know where the unit is headed and why
  • H hook students into the learning and hold their attention
  • E equip learners with the tools and know-how to meet the performance goals
  • R provide for numerous opportunities to reflect and revise
  • E allow students to have chances to evaluate their progress and self-assess
  • T reflect individual talents, interests, styles and needs
  • O be organized to optimize deep understanding

I appreciate this step-by-step process that the UbD model provides and I think it is better suited for helping me to carry out my innovation plan. With it’s emphasis on giving students the opportunity to demonstrate their individual talents, interests and styles, it reminds me a lot of COVA–giving students Choice, Ownership and Voice through Authentic learning opportunities (Harapnuik).


Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (expanded second ed.). Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Course Design with the 3-Column Table


I jump at the chance to use technology to improve learning whenever I see an opportunity. The course I’m currently enrolled in for the Digital Leading and Learning Masters program at Lamar University is called Creating Significant Learning Environments. This course has provided me with an opportunity to strategically think through how I, as a district administrator, would plan a unit for teachers and students in the area of Career and Technical Education. In thinking about this unit, I started with the end in mind—a far-reaching objective that has the potential to significantly change how we facilitate learning for CTE students. My Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to:

“The learner will use 360-degree photographic environments and resources to explore real-world job sites and share these environments in the CTE classroom.

What follows is are documents, the templates of which were created by L. Dee Fink and Dwayne Harapnuik, that have been instrumental in my planning process.

Learning Environment and Situational Factors

Context of the Learning Situation
Generally, 25 students comprise a high school CTE classroom. Classes meet for 90 minutes every other day (block scheduled). Classes are primarily taught live, but, being that our district is one-to-one, there is a perfect opportunity to introduce blended elements to the class. Students have access to a plethora of technology tools. CTE students are expected to earn a state-recognized certification upon completion of a CTE pathway (at least two courses for three or more credits). In addition to these district expectations, there is a societal expectation for students to graduate from high school college and career ready.

Nature of the Subject
Career and Technical Education courses are by and large practical in nature. They focus on preparing students for the workforce using the latest methods and resources prescribed by industry.

Characteristics of the Learners
Student learners in my district vary greatly in demographic factors. The district is comprised of approximately 215,000 students, 40,000 of which are enrolled in a CTE course. With such a large sample, you can imagine that there is a wide range of socio-economic, personal, cultural, and family situations. CTE studens approach the couses offered generally in one of two ways: 1. They are taking the course as an elective because they have some interest in it, but might not have the room in their schedules to take an entire pathway; 2. They are actively preparing for a career in the industry their pathway is preparing them for.

Characteristics of the Teacher
For the most part, the CTE instructors in my district are eager to learn more about the content of their subject, and they are constantly seeking out ways to improve their teaching craft. One of the interesting (sometimes challenging) things about CTE is that the teachers fall in to two camps: longtime educators or folks who have recently entered the teaching profession from industry. Those who have been teaching for many years know very well how to manage a classroom, but they might not be as up-to-date on the latest trends of the industry. Conversely, the new teacher straight from industry is up to speed on the latest industry trends, but he or she might not be as comfortable running a class full of high school students as the teacher who has been doing it for a while. As an administrator, my goal is to build upon their strengths and provide or facilitate training where an instructor might be lacking.

Formulating Significant Learning Goals

A year or more after this course is over, I want and hope that students will reflect upon the process that they undertgook in this course and continue to leverage technology to enhance their educational opportunities.

Foundational Knowledge
Learners will analyze how building and using immersive virtual environments can impact the learning opportunities in the CTE classroom.

Application Goals
Learners will evaluate the best technology tools for creating virtual worksite environments. Furthermore, learners will create and share virtual environments with technology tools.

Integration Goals
Learners will visualize how to best virtually represent work-place environments and equipment. They will also compare the virtual environments they create with real-world physical workplace environments.

Human Dimensions Goals
Students will learn the choices they make around they technology they employ will have a direct impact on how they themselves and fellow students interact with their virtual environment creations.

Caring Goals
Designing a virtual world requires one to put himself in the shoes of another and consider how others might learn best. This action involves empathy. Additionally, a benefit to creating virtual environments means they will be available to those students who might not have the opportunity to visit a real-world, physical worksite for any number of reasons.

Learning-How-to-Learn Goals
It is my hope that this unit will allow students to reflect on creating environments that will help them and their peers have access to environments that will augment their learning experiences. By constantly reviewing the feedback they receive from their peers and instructors, they can continue to refine their work.


Fink, L. D. (2003) A Self Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved from

Learning Philosophy

Learning is a personal endeavor. Each of us can probably articulate a set of conditions that are optimal for us to engage in learning. For example, I prefer complete quiet in a well-lit room with a large clean desk on which to spread out papers and view my computer monitors. My daughter is similar to me, although she insists she can listen to music while studying. She cannot. My wife and son, on the other hand, seem to study best in a chaotic environment. When they are engaged in learning something new, they often will have the television on (my wife a drama; my son a sporting event). Both will have their phones nearby keeping an eye on texts and social media. My wife might even take an occasional break to work on a Sudoku puzzle. I detail all of this because it demonstrates how different we all are when it comes to learning.


When analyzed independently, I see the plausibility in each of the major learning theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. I don’t think it can be proven that one is right and the others wrong. Each has elements of truth, and surely reflect the way human beings learn. Perhaps it depends on the type of learning that the learner is engaged in that explains how that person is best able to accomplish the learning.

For example, a behavioral approach might best explain the learning processes that require muscle memory such as welding a circular pipe. Behaviorism emphasizes that learning happens best by doing. Repetition and practice are necessary for learning to take root. Also, with behaviorism, reinforcement is a strong motivator (successfully welding the pipe that holds is a positive reinforcer while a weld that breaks being a negative reinforcer). Behaviorism also holds that the potential for learning is greater when the objectives are clear. On the surface, all of these attributes sound like reasonable approaches to successful learning. It also sounds very similar to the way many schools operate today. I know that one of the first things an appraiser looked for upon entering my classroom to conduct an observation was whether or not I had the lesson’s objective printed clearly on the board.

With its focus on how individuals come to know something, Cognitivism is an attractive learning theory for several reasons, too. First, there is an emphasis on well-organized and clearly structured instruction. Cognitivism takes into account the learner’s prior knowledge and the fact that each learner brings a different perception of the environment to the act of learning.

Constructivism departs from behaviorism and cognitivism in a major way: whereas behaviorism and cognitivism are objectivistic, meaning that the world is real and external to the learner. The goal of instruction in these two theories is to “map the structure of the world onto the learner. Whereas Constructivists believe that knowledge “is a function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her own experiences.” The Constructivist does not deny the real world, but rather claims that it’s the learner’s perception of the world that activates learning. So, to take the falling tree in the forest adage, the behaviorist and cognitivist would say it makes a sound. The Constructivist does not deny that the falling tree makes a sound, but the important thing is the sound it makes to the lumberjack.

As I stated in the beginning, learning is a personal endeavor. This doesn’t apply only to the external conditions we learn best in, but it also applies to our individual perceptions of the world and how new experiences jive with the prior knowledge we have. While I can relate to aspects of each learning theory, the importance of the individual’s mind working in concert with the external world to create meaning resonates most with me; therefore, I consider myself a constructivist.

Creating Significant Learning Environments

If you were to ask me what the most important characteristic of a good teacher is, I would tell you without hesitation that it is the ability to make a student want to learn.


It has been said many times, but it bears repeating: We live in a world of constant change. The fact that knowledge and the way we put that knowledge to use is changing so rapidly, demands that we think differently about how we educate students—or more appropriately—how we set the conditions that are optimal for their education. It is or should be every educator’s goal to stoke passion and encourage imagination in the lives of his or her students. In their book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown offer some practical and informed insight into the ways teachers in classrooms across America can best impact their students in a positive way. As I think about the most effective way to create a significant learning environment (CSLE), I will look to incorporate the insights provided by Thomas and Brown.

What follows is my first attempt to create a significant learning environment by recognizing the components of this learning approach as identified by Dr. D. Harapnuik. Furthermore, I will weave into the explanation of my learning environment the tenets put forward by Thomas and Brown.

I don’t think I’m espousing a revolutionary thought when I say the focus of a learning environment should be on the learner, but, astoundingly, the curriculum is traditionally the starting point for what the student will be expected to prove learning of. Appropriately, CSLE begins with the learner. The first consideration when establishing a learning environment is the needs of the student. In the Significant Learning Environment I am trying to create, Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructors are the learners. My goal is to facilitate an environment in which these instructors will take ownership of their classrooms and teaching so that they, in turn, facilitate an environment that encourages job readiness skills that lead to student certifications, internships, and, ultimately, careers in business and industry, public service, and STEM related fields. The importance of the student’s role cannot be minimized here. When creating a significant learning environment, the onus for “taking control and ownership of their learning” lies with the learner (Harapnuik 2018).

If the learner is responsible for owning his or her leaning, what, you might ask, is the instructor’s role in the CSLE approach? The instructor’s role transitions to that of “presenter, facilitator, coach, and mentor (Haraphuik 2018). With learning in a classroom potentially veering off in multiple directions in pursuit of the different answers students are seeking, the instructor has no hope of being the sole gatekeeper of information. In CSLE, the teacher embraces the students’ use of technology tools; therefore, the teacher quickly realizes, that he/she has no hope of competing with Google for providing answers to the myriad questions that arise in a student-centered classroom (Brown & Thomas 2011). To illustrate this point in the CTE automotive classroom, imagine needing to learn how to replace a distributor cap on a number of different makes and models of automobiles. Do you think the most accurate and efficient means of learning how to perform this maintenance repair would be to rely on the one automotive instructor explaining how to do it, or would it be to consult various manufacturers’ websites and YouTube videos to see how the distributor cap is removed and replaced on different vehicles? I think the answer is clear.

Brown and Thomas dedicated a significant portion of their book to their examination of the collective as a powerful engine to further learning. They provided illustrative examples of how tapping into multiple people dedicated to an area of inquiry is so much more powerful and informative than the previous way of learning, which was by relying on a trusted informed source, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica or Walter Cronkite (Brown & Thomas 2011). When the computer programmer needed to understand the “machine-speak” explanation for the error codes he encountered, he took to the web for a human translation. These translations were provided by hundreds of other programmers who no-doubt felt the same frustration at an earlier time. When the patient was desperately seeking information about a serious diagnosis he just received, a collective group dedicated to diabetes support provided true peace of mind. Or when Sam was trying to improve his Scratch programming skills, he relied on a community of similarly minded people who helped him learn and meet the very particular set of needs that he had (Brown & Thomas 2011). In each of these instances collectives not only helped these people learn, but, undoubtedly, the fact that these people participated in the collective strengthened the group even more. This power of the collective through social networking is a key component to CSLE. To further the CTE example, imagine a collaborative of culinary arts teachers offering expertise to one another on the best way to teach students how to braise short ribs or sous vide tenderloin. The power of the collective is profound.

Another important component of CSLE is the instructional design wherein the end is the starting point; the instructor designs the learning with this end in mind. If we backward design our lessons with the outcome being the primary objective that frees us up to pursue that outcome in a way that makes the most sense to the learner. Instead of teaching one set way of approaching a problem, students bring their individual perspectives to the challenge resulting in many different approaches to finding a solution. Take the classic bridge design challenge in a CTE STEM class. A teacher can task a classroom of students to build a bridge. The teacher then introduces constraints into the assignment, e.g. length of the span, amount of weight it must hold and allowable building materials, etc. The students then must work toward that end—taking into consideration the constraints—to arrive at the best solution. Along the way, the instructor can provide mathematical formulas and laws of physics that will assist in their design. When approached this way, it opens up many more avenues for leaning, exploration, and imagination.

Finally, at the end of a unit, we want to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning. This does not—SHOULD NOT—always be in the form of an exam. Particularly in the CTE classroom, teachers have a unique opportunity to allow students to show mastery of a concept by building, programming, editing, cooking, welding, diagnosing, planning or arguing something. CTE is all about doing; we provide students the opportunity to show us what they have learned by demonstrating the skills they have acquired.

By creating significant learning environments that put the learner first, allow the instructor to act as facilitator and mentor, embrace the collective through social networking, introduce learning that puts the end result at the forefront, and allow students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, we have the power to embody the most important characteristic of a great teacher. We can create a climate in which students want to learn. And as Douglas Thomas pointed out in his TED Talk, when students want to learn, there is no stopping them.


Brown, J. S., & Thomas, D., (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. (Vol 219) Lexington, KY: CreateSpace

Harapnuik, D. CSLE vs Traditional.

Thomas, D. A New culture of learning (TEDxUFM) [Video].

Annotated Prospective Resource List

scholarly resources

Hedberg, J. & Alexander, S. (2006). Virtual Reality in Education: Defining Researchable Issues. Educational Media International, 31:4, 214-220, DOI: 10.1080/0952398940310402

This paper discusses educational outcomes and the efficacy of VR for the design of modern learning environments. It also seeks to link current beliefs about learning with the need to experience a world in which the pedagogical assumptions can be embedded into the objects, contexts and relationships from which the user might derive further complex concepts.


Youngblut, C. (1998). Educational Uses of Virtual Reality Technology. Defense Technical Education Center

This document reviews current efforts that are developing, evaluating, or using VR technology in education. It builds a picture of the states of the art and practice, and reviews some of the critical questions that are being addressed.


Bower, M. Howe, C., McCredie, N., Robinson, A. & Grover, D. (2014). Augmented Reality in education – cases, places and potentials,Educational Media International, 51:1, 1-15, DOI: 10.1080/09523987.2014.889400

This paper reviews uses of Augmented Reality both in mainstream society and in education, and discuss the pedagogical potentials afforded by the technology.

Vision for Embracing Transformational Innovations in Education

disruptive innovation

As not only a digital learner, but a digital leader as well, I must be able to recognize innovations that have the power to positively impact education. Successfully effecting change in the educational system requires a two-step process. First, I have to stay current with the latest information and writings in the fields of education and technology. Only by being aware of the emerging innovations that have the potential to change education, can I be prepared to proactively embrace those innovations. Second, once I have recognized an educational transformation opportunity, I will use that innovation to enhance my organization and all the stakeholders in it.

One such example of a cutting-edge innovation that has the potential to transform education is the use of virtual reality in the Career and Technical Education classroom. Imagine being able to take your students down to the engine room of a ship, or fifty stories up to experience the construction site of a skyscraper. Just like traditional core subject teachers desire to bring their lessons to life, Career and Technical Education instructors are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to bring real-world experiences to students so that those students can see—first-hand—the work environments of the occupations that their career pathway courses will one day lead to. Historically, this is done by taking students on field trips where they have the opportunity to tour a place of work, such as a welding or fabrication shop, a laboratory, a factory, or an automotive facility. While there is no substitute for bringing students on location to a job site, technology exists that could augment student site visits and eliminate the logistical obstacles that often prevent students from visiting many work sites.

Now, more than ever a digital revolution is transforming the way we do education. We now have access to tools that can bring learning to life like never before. By bringing the revolutionary medium of virtual reality into the CTE classroom, we can prepare students for a world in which they will grow and start a career. The links below will provide a detailed picture of how I intend to embrace the innovation of virtual reality to improve learning for the CTE students of the Houston Independent School District.

Innovation Proposal

Literature Review

Implementation Outline

Digital Story

Annotated Prospective Resource List

Innovation Proposal: Virtual Reality in the CTE Classroom

vr in cte


As you know, CTE places a premium on learning that is less theory based and more focused on working with one’s hands and performing a task. Be it welding metal, sautéing herbs or dressing a wound, CTE is all about physically practicing the craft or trade students learn about.

One way to bring learning alive, particularly learning that focuses on real-world occupations, is to arrange for students to take part in out-of-classroom experiences. However, because field trips are hard to coordinate and organize, they can be costly, and they often take away from class time in other subjects, an alternative (or supplement) is to create a virtual reality experience. My proposal is to work with Arts A/V career cluster students to create VR experiences in occupational settings. Imagine letting students tour the working conditions of the engine room aboard a ship, or welding on a construction site, or working in an emergency room. Creating virtual reality tours of workplaces has the potential to provide educators an opportunity to impact a greater number of students at a lower cost.

How To Implement?

Let me begin by stating that for this innovation proposal to be a success, I first need to learn a lot more about how virtual reality content is created. I do know that there are two different classes of headsets: one that requires a high-end computer to work with it, and one that can be used with a smart phone. Examples of the high-end type are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Examples of the smart phone dependent style are the Samsung Gear VR (better, but only works with a Samsung phone) and the dirt cheap Google Cardboard. I mention this because acquisition of hardware will be necessary to implement this project. Another component of this initiative is how to create the content. In addition to a 360-degree VR camera, I will need to coordinate with Arts A/V instructors and students who will create the content. I will also need to coordinate with business partners who will allow access to their facilities for filming. Finally, there is the matter of how to disseminate VR video tours. I envision needing to create an online repository from which the tours can be accessed.

What Does Success Look Like?

Ultimately, I will deem this initiative successful when CTE teachers and students across my district have access to a library of virtual reality experiences that immerse the student in the working environments of high demand/high wage occupations.