Category Archives: New Tech


Copyright by New Tech student Adrian Harris
I am part of a massive PBL project with the New Tech Network centered on the election this fall that I thought I would share with everyone. Joe Urschel and myself brainstormed the #MYParty12 project that asks students to not just follow the political banter this fall but to evaluate what they actually believe in themselves. Our main goals of this project include (but are not limited to):
  • Have students understand the history of political parties and the election process in the United States
  • Have students think about what issues are most important to them.
  • Show students how they can have a voice in this country.
  • Challenge students to develop persuasive arguments to support claims (Common Core)
  • Have students explore the civility of politics.

So we created a project that focuses on these points but is flexible enough for teachers and students to take in unique directions.

Every participating school will have students create their own political platform and then a 30 second video commercial. Schools will have primaries based on their own voting methods and the winning video from each school will be entered into a New Tech Network election. All of the schools’ entries will be narrowed down to the top five who will participate in an online debate leading up to the presidential election in November. On election day there will be a Network vote for the winning party.

But that is just the minimum requirements. Students and teachers can take this starting point and go in many directions according to their interests and class. We have made a Google Doc jam packed with resources that you need to get this project started and other suggestions of activities and how to implement it. Also check out the Election tab of my livebinder for other resources. Some of the suggestions include debates between different schools, having students develop their own civility rubric, skyping in state politicians and others involved int the election process, and having “debate parties” at school to watch the presidential debates live and tweet out thoughts with the hashtag #MYparty12.

Obviously this project is perfect for an American Studies (integrated U.S. history with ELA) or Government class, but is not limited to those subjects. This project could be completed in a stand alone ELA, digital media class, or adapted by any teacher. We are using the hashtag #MyParty12 to send out info. and to promote student work. 

I know that you may not be part of the New Tech Network of schools but feel free to follow our hashtag and watch the students commercials when they start to post them on the New Tech Network home page. Or better yet borrow from our ideas and set up your own collaboration with another teacher in another school.

#standardizethat live

Here is my ignite talk. If you ever get a chance to do one, go for it. It was both one of the most horrifying, best experiences of my career.

The script and slides are posted here.


The video of this talk has now been posted and you can watch it here.

Today I gave an Ignite talk at New Tech Annual Conference. It was intense. I will share the video later but I wanted to share my script and slides here:

#standardizethat by Mike Kaechele
This talk is dedicated to all of the politicians and ed reformers who think we can standardize our way into improving the American education system. I would like to share the things that I think that they should focus on standardizing instead.  

You have probably heard the saying that “weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter” so what then is the real purpose of the “standardization” obsession in this country? It is about comparing. School vs. school, state vs. state. We are now obsessed with comparing children with each other while we race to the top to leave no child behind.

Standardization is also about conformity to someone’s ideal of what an American citizen should be. We need everyone to know the exact same stuff and to be able to demonstrate it in the exact same way: bubble sheets and 5-point essays.

I would measure school differently. My main measurement of effectiveness would be “Do students want to come to your school or class?” Is your school a real community that students want to be at. Community.

Our students wake up at 5:00am or earlier to catch long bus rides to arrive at school before 7am because they want to be here. Why? Relationships.

Parents comment that they don’t have to fight with their child to get out of bed to go to school because they want to go to school for the first time ever. Schools that are places that care about students. Love.     

Students who love life, learning, and people. Students who share happiness with all that they meet. Joy.

The one word students use to describe our school is “family.” Our students come from 20 districts across our county including urban, suburban, and rural. They represent many ethnicities and previous levels of success in school. Family.

Students who work with all kinds of people not just their friends and build upon each others’ strengths. Students who work together to solve big problems impossible to achieve alone. Collaboration.

Mary created a fun memes page on Facebook about our school and later a freshman survival guide video. No, she didn’t have to. No, she wasn’t graded. Creativity.

In problem based learning students think deeply to solve authentic problems. Students also direct their own learning through voice and choice in what they study and how they present it. Choices.

We ended the year with a world simulation where students took over and “ran the world.” They made treaties, fought wars, negotiated and called a world conference on their own. They came to me before and after school to tell me their strategies. Problem-solving.

I watched my students get concerned about injustice in the world such as the Holocaust, genocides, racism, women’s rights in the Arab Spring protests, and the effects of war.
Students who care about democracy, human rights, and justice. Empathy.

You see I care more about my students being caring human beings than their test scores. Caring.

Students learning how to speak in public about what they are learning and what they care about. Communication.

In PBL students can demonstrate their learning through creative ways. One pair of girls made a mock up of glamour magazine critiquing society’s worship of women’s bodies. Fighting stereotypes.

Students are controlled in schools. Don’t touch this. Don’t talk out of turn. Don’t..bla,bla, bla… At our school students can eat and drink in class, and move freely without a pass. Students are the ones who created the norms for how everyone should be treated in class. Respect.

Students are not some kind of widget that can all be taught the exact same way like a part is fashioned on an assembly line. Students need to have their individual needs met. Personalization.

My son wants to be a geologist and loves rocks. This year he had no science until 2nd semester because it is not a tested subject. Students should be given freedom in the curriculum to explore their passions. Passions.

I gave a collaborative, open internet test. You know the way real historians work. Peyton said, “ I wrote a lot. This test was fun. I hope we do this again.” Love of learning.

Anna on Facebook said, “People count down the days until the end of school, but I count down the days of summer! Look what this school has done!!!! It makes me dread summer!!!” Acceptance and belonging.

Hey politician and ed reformer, you want to make sure no child gets left behind?
Community, relationships, love, joy, family, collaboration, creativity, choices, problem solving, empathy, caring, communication, fighting stereotypes, respect, personalization, passions, love of learning, acceptance and belonging.
#standardizethese for every child in every classroom and you will not have to worry about the rest of their education.

Space Matters

Our new team visited Columbus Signature Academy a New Tech school in Indiana this week. I want to reflect on some of the amazing things we saw there.

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. We almost drove past the building because it is a fairly small storefront building with a small sign attached. As soon as we walked in we could see that it was much larger than it looked from the outside and continued down a long hallway back from the front. Turns out it is a converted warehouse which you can see in a 2 minute video here 

The design was modern with exposed ceilings in the hallways. The classrooms all had large glass panels on the interior walls so you could easily observe any of them. Some of them even had the complete walls made out of glass. 

They were designed large enough to house 50 students and 2 facilitators. Most of the furniture was on wheels so any room can easily be reconfigured for any purpose.

The hallways were spacious with numerous meeting spaces for students like you might find at a restaurant or coffee shop. 
Students were working independently or in groups everywhere. You had to really search to find the facilitators (teachers). Students were busy and engrossed in their learning.  I think this space really speaks to the values of this school.
They believe in transparent learning that is shared openly with the community so nothing is hidden. 
They assume students will be responsible so they trust them with varied spaces rather than controlling them in rigid classrooms. Students have to prove that they are irresponsible rather than vice-versa.
There were less rules and more principles of responsibility such as this sign encouraging appropriate gum-chewing.
In the large class above students were practicing debate with topics such as Trix vs. Coco Puffs and Oatmeal Creampies vs. Swiss Rolls. At the end of class all of the students put all of the furniture back in its “regular” position with zero instructions from the facilitators. Students take care of their school because it is theirs. Every space has behavior expectations created by students even bathrooms!
Anyone entering this school could immediately “feel” that this school was different from a traditional school by its design. It is also obvious that the students and staff embrace it to become motivated learners in their group projects. The design fits the emphasis of collaborative problem solving.
To top it off my principal told us that this is what our school will look like. It is being re-modeled currently and I have seen the prints but have not been in the building yet. 
Does what your school looks like represent / accommodate / facilitate / encourage student learning?
Most of us do not get the opportunity to design a school, but how can you re-design your classroom so that it is student-focused and student-friendly?
Part II of this visit about the students is posted at the TeachPaperless blog.