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Interview by Laura Isensee for Houston Public Radio, June 2, 2016CaptureListen to the interview here.


Post for the Clayton Christensen Institute, May 2016

For the past year, 75 districts and charters in Texas have focused quietly on a vexing puzzle: how to use technology to jumpstart student achievement, but without wasting dollars on unwise technology bets that never pay off?

These 75 organizations first confronted the puzzle together last summer, when Raise Your Hand Texas, a privately funded organization that advocates for public schools, invited all 1,200 Texas districts to compete for five opportunities to receive up to $500,000 each and intensive technical assistance to implement blended learning. Raise Your Hand Texas selected the book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools as the training manual and CA Group as the implementation leaders for the project.

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Published with Getting Smart, April 28, 2016

Point Isabel ISD. Cisco ISD. Birdville ISD. Pasadena ISD. KIPP Houston. Never heard of those school districts before? That’s about to change.TexasMap

Each of these districts was selected as one of the top five school systems in Texas for showcasing blended learning. From a national perspective, Texas is about to shake things up.

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RYHT_HstakerThe past two weeks I’ve worked with 40 teams of superintendents, principals, and teachers from across Texas to develop prototype blended-learning programs for their schools and districts. Over the next week I’ll work with 40 more. The quality of the prototypes these teams are creating and the number of teams participating have convinced me that, as a result of what’s happening right now, Texas is poised to lead the national discourse on how to modernize schooling for the 21st century.

The effort, called Raising Blended Learners, is sponsored and produced by Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit that works to strengthen public education across the state. Teams are doing the prototyping work in two-day workshops, which are structured as blended experiences in themselves. Participants use the Agilix Buzz platform to complete online coursework throughout the two days as they rotate among a variety of both online and offline activities and stations. The theories and frameworks in Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve School provide the research backbone for the work.

RYHT_Hstaker2After the workshops, which are taking place in Fort Worth, San Antonio, and South Padre Island, teams have until November 20th to polish their plans and submit them to Raise Your Hand Texas. A panel of outside judges will then select ten finalists for technical assistance and, ultimately, at least five teams for grant funding of up to $500,000 each to implement their plans. FSG will track the winners over three years and report their progress. The winners will serve as demonstration sites for the rest of the state.
RYHT_Hstaker4Raise Your Hand Texas produced the video below to summarize the opportunity:

So far I’ve been stunned by the energy these teams are bringing to the work and their enthusiasm to innovate their way out of problems that have beset their systems for years–mostly related to flat test scores, disengaged students, and frustrated teachers. They seem to be leaving with new hope that, by following the patterns of successful innovation, they can leverage disruptive opportunities to transform their system.

I believe they will!

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water 4

As the new school year begins, parents and teachers are working hard to get into a productive routine—in the ideal, one that will maximize learning and minimize resistance! How can organizations, including both families and classrooms, set up a strong culture of learning to facilitate the year ahead?

Edgar Schein, a professor emeritus at MIT, is one of the leading scholars on organizational culture. He defines organizational culture in these terms: “Culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.”

Professor Schein suggests these steps for creating a powerful culture:

  1. Define a problem or task that recurs again and again.
  2. Appoint a group to solve the problem.
  3. If they fail, ask them to try again with a different process.
  4. If they succeed, ask the same group to repeat the process every time the problem recurs.
  5. Write down and promote your culture.
  6. Live in a way that is consistent with the culture.

In our book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, Michael Horn and I give several examples of this method in practice, both at the family level—see the story in Chapter 9 about the Eyre family’s culture for getting chores done—and at the level of schools and classrooms.

One of my favorite routines that has become Staker family culture is our annual back-to-school Water Lesson.

Click here for more about the Water Lesson.


Interview by Amy Murin, August 18, 2015
Alison1For today’s school tour, we are going to visit one teacher’s blended classroom at Burnett Elementary School in Milpitas, CA. All of the teachers at Burnett have shifted to a blended learning model that includes small group instruction with the teacher, small groups of students working collaboratively, and students learning independently using technology such as Khan Academy. As of school year 2014-15, every classroom has Chromebooks, and each grade level has access to a full set of Chromebooks.

We asked Alison Elizondo, a 4th grade teacher at Burnett, to show us what a blended classroom looks like and how she has set up the classroom and class time to facilitate learning. Ms. Elizondo began using Khan Academy in a blended format during school year 2012-13.

Q. How does your day get started?

A. Every morning we say a pledge and promise to start our day. We talk about making quality choices, showing random acts of kindness, and living by the golden rule. Our promises are posted on the wall to remind us of them throughout the day.

Q. Is there a theme that drives learning in your classroom?Alison2

A. Our theme in the classroom is “We <3 2 Learn.” The letters on the wall are made of Khan Academy stickers, and the leaves represent each student’s yearly math goal related to Khan Academy. Every day, I model how learning can and should be a fun experience. It is important to me that my students see me as a lifelong learner, as this lesson will be relevant to their future.

Keep reading about Alison’s classroom here!

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By Heather for the Huffington Post’s Smart Parents series, July 24, 2015

Acton-Photo4Our family has resisted spending time on screens and devices. We believe that richer relationships develop in person. Several years ago, however, I began studying blended learning as a researcher for the Christensen Institute. In the course of that research, I encountered Acton Academy, an independent school network based in Austin, Texas. The philosophy behind Acton Academy is that each student is on a hero’s journey and that adults should empower students to drive their own learning. After observing Acton Academy for a day, my husband and I decided to move from Hawai’i to Texas so that our children could attend that school.

Two aspects of the blended model at Acton jumped out. First, students are empowered to set and accomplish their own learning goals. The “what” is specified, but the “how” and “when” are student-driven. Students work for roughly two hours each morning on their personal goals, relying mostly on the Internet for the content and skills they are seeking to master.

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By Heather, June 16, 2015

doctored - IMG_1818The Staker children and I dropped in on the Brain Chase team this week to get a peak at the mayhem of employees and interns who are putting in overtime to ensure that this summer’s season launches without a hitch on Monday. Hundreds of packages are already in the mail, en route to children around the world who are about to have quite an unusual summer!

doctored - IMG_1816

After families sign up, they get an email inviting them to onboard. That means providing a summer mailing address and creating login credentials. Participants also get to make two content choices. The first is whether to learn a foreign language on Rosetta Stone or submit a weekly journal entry for feedback from Brain Chase’s credentialed writing coaches. The second is whether to complete weekly reading challenges using books from the myOn digital reading platform or from Google Books. After students onboard, the Brain Chase team hustles to send them their first mysterious delivery from the Grayson Academy of Antiquities.

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I’ve long hoped that some of America’s savvy for creativity and entertainment would migrate to education. Little did I know that Allan’s Hollywood background would play a part in making that happen! I love also that my husband is a detail guy–from the brown paper packages tied up in strings to the hand-applied wax seals on every delivery.doctored - IMG_1748

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Summer learning should focus on fun

Post by Heather Staker for Brain Chase Productions, June 3, 2015
cameraChildren do not need to slouch on the couch during the summer and lose months of hard-won academic progress. In fact, summer is a great time to awaken kids to the love of learning and help them discover that learning can be joyful—even if they think that school itself is not. Here are three ideas for encouraging joyful brain development over the summer:

Make reading the centerpiece of summer. According to Jennifer Sloan Combs, Ph.D., a senior officer at the RAND Corporation, reading tops the list of activities to do during the summer to stay smart. Children of all ages benefit not only from free reading, but also from having books read to them. The beauty of summer is that it frees students from book reports and comprehension tests. Unbound by those formalities, many students are surprised to discover that freely reading can be fun! A few of our family’s favorite read-aloud books include…

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How to keep children from drowning in the device deep end

Guest post by Heather Staker for Getting Smart as part of its new “Smart Parents” series

Most children in the developed world meet their first computer at an early age. Mobile phones, tablets, and laptops are in their homes, their schools, and many times, their backpacks. Is this accessibility all good?

I’ve long been an advocate of blending online learning strategically into the school day. But my enthusiasm falls far short of blanket endorsement. The fact is that too many children are being thrown in the digital deep end, without the skills or supervision they need to survive.IMG248

On a recent trip to London, I noticed this headline in The Telegraph: “Are smartphones making our children mentally ill?” The article states that in the United Kingdom, emergency visits to child psychiatric hospitals doubled in the past four years and young adults hospitalized for self-harm is up 70 percent in a decade. Julie Lynn Evans, a child psychotherapist in the UK for the past 25 years, points her finger at one primary culprit: smartphones.

“Something is clearly happening,” she says, “because I am seeing the evidence in the numbers of depressive, anorexic, cutting children who come to see me. And it always has something to do with the computer, the Internet and the smartphone.”

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A message to next year’s blended learners

Speech given by Heather Staker to the new 6-12 grade students admitted to American International School of Utah (AISU) and their families, May 23, 2015

Good evening. Thank you to Superintendent Michael Farley and his team for the invitation to speak tonight.

What if I told you that by attending AISU, you are among the first students in the world to benefit from my second favorite moment in the history of education? I’ve researched and written about innovation in education for several years, and of all the episodes in the history of education, the moment we’re in now is my second favorite.

Why is it only my second favorite? My very favorite moment was in the years between 1041 and 1048 AD, during the reign of Chingli, when the Han Chinese printer Bi Sheng invented and developed the world’s first movable type printing. He took sticky clay and cut it in characters as thin as the edge of a coin. He baked them in a fire to make them hard. Then he placed these types close together and used them to imprint on paper.


Imagine how ignorant we would be without the invention of movable type printing, and later, the printing press. Imagine the mass illiteracy if none of us could ever possibly own a book—let alone know how to read one!

Now the astounding truth is that all of us in this room are living through the second best moment in the history of education—ever. The rapid growth of online learning during this past decade marks the ascendance of the second major disruptive innovation that is fundamentally transforming the way the world learns. Like the printing press, online learning is shredding apart our long-held assumptions about how schooling must be and stretching our imaginations about the upper limit on how smart the human race can become. I am convinced we will one day look back and say: “Imagine how ignorant we would be without the invention of online learning! Imagine the mass illiteracy if none of us could ever possibly access the Internet!”

My message to you is that you are at the very cutting edge of this vanguard moment in the history of education. You are the generation that is arriving first. You are making history. So make the most of it!

Tonight I am going to ask you three questions that I hope will help you make the most of the unusual opportunity that has emerged for you right here in Murray, Utah.

Part One: The Mismatch

First, can you see why the traditional classroom design that your parents experienced, and likely your grandparents and great-grandparents too—is no longer the best fit for the world that you will encounter when you walk out these doors at the end of 12th grade?

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Blending online learning into schools

Innovative blended models are opening the way to personalized learning

Published in the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE) Magazine, April 2015. Download the PDF here.


Power of Moms Podcast: Navigating Online Learning for our Kids

Interview of Heather Staker by Saren Eyre Loosli, co-founder of Power of Moms, April 14, 2015

Power of Moms

[Listen to the Power of Moms podcast episode 107 here.]

School Tour: Acton Academy

By Heather, April 14, 2015
Acton Academy

In 2011 we moved to Austin, Texas so that our three oldest could attend Acton Academy, a promising blended school that Jeff and Laura Sandefer founded in 2009. The independent school, which serves students in grades 1-12, has no age-based classrooms and zero teacher-led direct instruction. Instead, each elementary, middle, and high school studio welcomes 36 students of mixed ages.

Students learn through a blend of online learning, Socratic discussion, and hands-on group projects. This personalized strategy has helped most students perform above grade level. They also have ample time for art, sports, and process drama.

This week I got caught up with Laura Sandefer. As you read her words, you’ll discover the source of the warmth, whole heartedness, and humanity of her schools. I think every school leader can learn from her wisdom.


Q. Tell us about Acton Academy.

A. Acton Academy is a tightly knit community of learners, clustered into three studios: grades 1-5 in the elementary studio, grades 6-8 in the middle school studio, and grades 9-12 in launchpad. Our program combines state-of-the art, interactive technology with hands-on projects and Socratic discussions around moral dilemmas.

To give you an idea of how the day works: Upon arrival, students usually circle up in a large group for the opening discussion. Then they spend the morning mastering “Core Skills” through personalized, independent work, mostly online. They use Khan Academy, ALEKS, NoRedInk, DreamBox, Spelling City, Rosetta Stone, and other content providers. After an hour or two, students change gears to work on collaborative offline projects, art compositions, writers’ workshops, gardening, and Civilization discussions.

Q. Acton doesn’t use letter grades. How do families know if their children are growing?

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Five mindsets to change about how schooling must be

By Heather for Brain Chase Productions, April 3, 2015

History is full of examples of people who thought that how things were was how they always must be. Consider these fixed mindsets from the past:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
– Ken Olson, president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” 
– Lord Kelvin, president Royal Society, 1895

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” 
– Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

In each example, an innovation arrived that changed everything.

Education is facing a similar assumption-busting moment. For over 100 years we layered on assumptions about how schooling must be. But at this moment, shaken by the arrival of digital technology, those layers of belief are starting to fall apart. Here are five obsolete notions that students will be especially glad to see fall:

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Podcast episode: “Turn summer learning into an online adventure”

By Megan Strand, March 31, 2015

Download the Lifehacks for Working Moms Podcast: “Turn Summer Learning Into An Online Adventure With Brain Chase’s Heather Staker

Champion blended teacher keeps students “on edge”

By Heather, March 21, 2015

Urban Meyer photo

Most college football fans know that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer pulled off an amazing feat earlier this year when he relied on his third-string quarterback to win the national championship. ESPN commentator Jon Gruden called Meyer’s accomplishment “the greatest coaching job of all time.”

What most do not know is that Meyer’s success is attributable, at least in part, to blended learning.

According to Wall Street Journal sports writer Jonathan Clegg, when Meyer arrived in Columbus three years ago, he decided to abandon old-school chalkboard sessions. He wanted to find the most efficient way to educate his players and bring inexperienced players up to speed with his complicated playbook in a hurry.

So Meyer decided to flip his classroom.

Meyer’s football players watch short video lectures or online slideshows on their own outside of practice. Then the coach uses face-to-face time for what he calls “on-edge teaching,” in which players are kept on the edge of their seats during team meetings through a series of quizzes and cold-call interactions designed to keep them engaged.

Regarding Meyer’s success, Gruden said: “Winning a national championship with his thirdstring quarterback—I’ve never seen that before.” And yet that’s precisely why flipped learning is taking off. It gives a chance for third stringers of any variety—in football, yes, but also in math and reading and chemistry—to get up to speed faster. That gave Ohio State’s players the competitive advantage they needed, and it’s providing an equal boost for students of all sorts.

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A design guide for blended learning: Q&A with Heather Staker (Scholastic)

By Tyler Reed, November 4, 2014

As schools and leaders across the country consider technology’s role in student learning, Heather Staker and Michael Horn have served as guides.

Their research into “blended learning” has helped shape the national dialogue about educational technology and online learning, and provided a compass for school leaders looking to make smart decisions based on best practices.


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