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A public audience is a crucial component not only for a PBL project, but also for authentic and relevant learning. We know that the quality of student work increases when we have students share their work with an audience outside of the classroom. We also know that it can help keep students accountable in getting the work done. While it’s powerful to bring in the experts at the end of a unit or project, having them there along the way is helpful in providing authentic feedback. Of course, bringing an outside audience into your classroom can be a challenge — not to mention finding them first. Edutopia recently updated its Building Community Partnerships resource roundup, which includes some great videos, blogs, and ideas on how to connect with members of the community in different ways. Here are some further strategies you might consider.

Just Ask

I know it may seem simple, but just ask! Sometimes there is a strange fear associated with asking. Yes, it can be a little awkward to reach out and connect with someone outside of the classroom, but we need to be willing to take the risk. The worst answer you’ll get is, “No.” The best answer could be, “Sure, and let me bring in 20 of my colleagues!” You never know what the possibilities might be. In fact, many businesses and organizations require that their members spend time doing community service or even specifically volunteering in a school. Start early — the sooner you think you might need an audience, the sooner you should contact that potential audience member.

Ask Parents About Their Work and Lives

Parents are critical partners in learning, and they are also experts in their own right. One strategy I have employed is to send a quick survey home to parents asking them, “What do you do in your work or career?” and “What are some of your hobbies or other areas of expertise?” This gives me a list of parents that have at least two areas of expertise I can address. In fact, the more teachers in my building who ask, the more experts I have on my list. I encourage you to build a comprehensive list at the grade or school level. This list can be organized and curated by a teacher leader or even a parent community liaison.

Be Specific

Instead of asking parents or community members if they can come in on a certain day, be more specific. Tell parents and experts exactly what you would like them to do. Do you want them to provide feedback? Do you want them to ask questions to probe student thinking? Both? Either way, having very specific tasks and objectives for these community partners is crucial to making their connection not only more valuable, but also more meaningful. Provide a rubric or give them questions or prompts to drive feedback. Don’t forget to give them a context for the visit. Also, offer time slots to make it more possible for a visit to occur. It’s much easier to find an hour or two, rather than a full day. Instead of asking, “Can you come on Friday the 8th?” say, “I have six 30-minute time slots where I’d like to have students receive feedback. Are you available for any of these times?”

Use Technology

Technology can be used to make the walls of the classroom and school more permeable by way of virtual visits and meetings. Use message boards and blogs to get feedback as formative assessment from experts. Record videos from experts and from students, and exchange asynchronously if you are having trouble scheduling synchronous time. Skype is another tool that you can use to get experts into your classroom virtually. If you aren’t able to visit the expert or parent at their workplace, then consider a virtual field trip. Even with minimal technology, teachers can connect with people outside of the classroom.

Have Experts Ask Their Colleagues

In your request to experts and parents, ask them to ask their colleagues at work. When one teacher was looking for a subject matter expert to support a wing design project, he asked his colleagues and got around 20 volunteers. Parents and experts have amazing connections through their friends, spouses, relatives, and colleagues. If you try this, you could build a network of audience members that you never thought possible.

Now, I’m not saying that these strategies will bring every expert or parent that you ask into your classroom, but it can’t hurt to try. In fact, you should be excited even if you get just a few people to support your work. It’s generous of anyone to donate his or her time to support student learning.

What are some of your strategies to bring outside experts and parents into the classroom?

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Building Community With Restorative Circles

Our students come to school with many issues on their minds and in their hearts. As educators, we can help them process their thoughts and feelings so they can better handle their situations and be more present in class.

Restorative circles are a useful practice to do just that. While frequently used to replace punitive forms of discipline, restorative circles are equally important in proactively building the relationships and skills students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face. 

Restorative circles are most effective when they’re an integral part of school culture. After all, you can’t “restore” a community that you haven’t built or sustained.

7 Steps for Facilitating Meaningful Circles

1. Cocreate a safe, supportive space: Circles work best if teachers invest time up front to build relationships, skills, and practices to draw on throughout the school year—especially if the going gets tough.

Early in the process, teachers and students together explore values—like empathy, patience, kindness, courage, and open-mindedness—that need to be respected for people to be willing to share openly and honestly in circle. They also determine best ways of working together (circle practices). These include honoring the talking piece, which goes around the circle as an invitation to share while everyone else listens (participants may pass if they don’t wish to talk). People are encouraged to speak and listen from the heart. And what is shared in circle, stays in circle, though educators should let students know at the outset that we are mandated by law to report when a student threatens to harm themselves or others, or when students divulge abuse.

2. Be prepared: Make sure that you, the facilitator, are well rested, calm, and focused.

To hold the circle space effectively, it’s important to be fully present and able to sit with other people’s stories and feelings as well as your own. Center yourself. If you’re exploring sensitive issues that may require follow up, consider alerting support staff.

3. Plan ahead: Decide together on a topic or theme that sustains students’ interest.

Find a relevant opening ceremony to open the circle space, such as a poem, quote, or piece of music. A mindfulness activity can also be used to bring students into the space after a particularly stressful class or noisy hallway experience.

Look for information to ground the conversation, and develop questions and prompts to invite student perspectives into the circle. 

Keep in mind that the bigger the circle, the more time you’ll need for the talking piece to go around. Think about how things might unfold and be ready to adapt to what comes up. 

Make sure to leave time for a closing ceremony, giving students a chance to transition into spaces that may be less conducive to being vulnerable. A closing ceremony can be a commitment to safeguarding the stories shared in circle, or a breathing exercise in which we provide students with prompts and time to put themselves back together again.

4. Invite student experiences into the space: Encourage students to connect with the circle content by sharing stories from their own lives.

Include storytelling rounds by asking students to talk about “a person in your life who…” or “a time when….” Share authentically of yourself. This gives others permission to do the same. Model good listening as the talking piece goes around the circle. Be fully present as others speak. Remind everyone that listening is the key ingredient in circles. True listening can create the kind of welcoming space that encourages even the quietest voices to speak.

5. Acknowledge, paraphrase, summarize, and practice empathy: Listen closely to what students share so that you can build on their experiences.

When the talking piece comes back to you, touch on what you felt, noticed, or heard. If you sense that there’s more than surfaced in the first round, send the talking piece around a second or third time, asking students for their connections, reflections, or additions. 

If challenging or painful issues come up, model agreed-upon circle practices for students to follow. Listening mindfully and being present with other people’s ordeals and hardships can create supportive, healing experiences that strengthen community connections and build empathy.

If needed, let students know you’re available to check in with them later in the day or week. You might also have them consider speaking with other supportive adults or students to find solace if they’re troubled.

6. Explore what it means to be an effective ally: Beyond creating a supportive listening environment, ask what else, if anything, students need from you and from each other.

Explore how to be better allies in circle so that students know they don’t need to face their challenges alone. Invite them to talk about a person in their lives who is a good friend or ally, or a person they’d like to be a better friend or ally. Discuss the qualities these people have (or lack) and how they make us feel. Invite students to talk about a time they’ve been a good friend or ally themselves, and what gets in the way of being our best selves with one another.

7. Zoom out to promote understanding on the systems level: Explore whether there are larger systemic forces that underlie the challenges students have touched on (such as racism, sexism, or lack of access to resources). Introduce information, stories, and voices that might shed light on how these systems operate. Look for examples of people who took action to interrupt these and other oppressive systems.

Invite students to connect to this information by sharing their thoughts, feelings, and related experiences.

Studying larger, systemic forces in society can help students better understand their situation, and can be a useful starting point for students to become more active themselves. Action and activism can inspire hope, connection, and healing.

Link Building: Graph Theoretic Strategies

This is a continuation of the article Link building structures: hunters and collectors. What I’m doing is looking at web traffic control from a graph theoretic perspective. This is article is hypothesis, though I believe you can use the principles in reality.

Look at the diagram below. There are a number of different types of graph networks and clusters.

Overall graph shows nodes and clusters of mixed connectivity

The green node is a hub site.

not show links from each of the blue nodes to the green node. Instead, this is shown in shorthand visual notation using the larger circle encompassing each cluster.

Peach nodes are traffic “collectors” – they get traffic sent to them by the hub.

The curved green lines show traffic flow, from blue to green to peach nodes.

How can we use this link structure to send traffic from blue nodes to peach nodes? One possible scenario is as follows:

Blue nodes are part of separate blog network clusters. Their fully-connected link nature likely means high traffic for all nodes. That’s assuming, of course, that each network has high authority. Ownership is different for each network, and unrelated to the peach and green node network.

The strategy would be to get links on to the blue sites so as to draw traffic to the green site. Possible ways include:

Purchased text links on-site or in-feed.

Purchased reviews.

Targeted articles and linkbait on the green site to draw links from blue sites.

Guest articles on blue sites.

The green hub node could be some sort of general or portal site, with the peach nodes being niche domains.

The traffic redirection from green to peach is done through a number of methods:

By placing strategic articles on the green site, with links to peach sites.

The next article will discuss a traffic-building strategy that I’m trying for a client, using some of the concepts discussed here.

3 Effective Strategies For Non

Marketing your non-profit is essential to the success of your cause and luckily, the internet offers numerous possibilities – you just need to make the most of these opportunities

Non-profits and charities often have small budgets and few people to help with their marketing strategies. But without a good marketing strategy in place, how do you raise awareness of your cause? How do you attract more supporters and donors to help support your cause? Marketing your non-profit is essential to the success of your cause and luckily, the internet offers numerous possibilities – you just need to make the most of these opportunities.

In this blog post, I’m going to share 3 effective strategies for non-profits and charities.

Advertise online…for free?

Google Ads can be extremely successful; they appear right at the top of search results so they’re the first result people see when doing a Google search.

The issue with that, of course, is that it costs money. And although it might not be a lot, many non-profits and charities simply can’t afford this kind of investment.

Download our Business Resource – Social media communications for not-for-profit organizations guide

This guide aims to give a clear structure to help you grow internal confidence and buy-in so that the benefits of social media can become visible and it becomes more accountable, serving the long-term strategic aims of charities.

Access the Social media communications for not-for-profit organizations

Go to the link mentioned earlier to apply for the ad grant; first, though, you’ll have to check whether you are eligible for a grant – it’s not too complicated and you can check what exactly it entails here.

If you are eligible and you’re given the grant, make sure to do everything possible to follow Google’s instructions so that you can remain eligible.

Invest in visual content

There is nothing more powerful than visual content – particularly images and videos. They can say so much in just a few seconds and most importantly, they can have a big emotional impact on the viewer. So whether it’s your website, your blog, your social media, or any other digital channel, try to use as much visual content as possible to help attract a wider audience and most importantly, get them to take action (share your updates with your friends, make a donation, buy something from you to help promote the cause, and so on).

Here are a few useful ideas of what types of visual content you can create:

Tell a story with a video

Videos are incredibly powerful – especially when they tell a story that people can empathize with. As a charity or non-profit, you can use video to show how you’re making an impact on the world; for example, Charity: Water often publishes videos of success stories, including a little backstory to paint a full picture.

Motivational images

These super easy to create (just use something like Canva, Crello, or Pablo) and they’re highly shareable because social media users love them. One way to use these types of images is to grab quotes not only from known personalities but even from the people you’ve worked with or helped – and to make them even more impactful, include a short story or link to a blog post/video/etc. where you tell a story, like TWLOHA do in this post:

Behind the scenes photos and videos

Candid and behind the scenes visuals can help generate good engagement on social media and they help show the human side of your organization; even though your organization might be there to help people or make a real change in the world, you’re still, in effect, a brand. Here’s how UNICEF share selfies from their campaigns.

The power of storytelling

Previously, we’ve touched a bit on storytelling when we talked about videos and motivational quotes, and we’ve seen some examples of storytelling from charities and non-profits marketing strategies.

Storytelling is incredibly important on social media (and with all content in general, in fact), especially for non-profits, because it doesn’t just help inform them, but it pulls at people’s emotions. And when you can impact people’s emotions, you make them want to take action: to share your posts and help spread the word or your organization, to donate their time and/or money, and to help support you in your cause.

Stories can be told in a variety of mediums and channels; for example:

A blog post detailing the success stories of your work

A video of someone you helped or impacted sharing their own story

Powerful images with text updates telling the complete story (like the earlier example from TED Talks)

As to how to tell powerful stories, here’s what you can learn from this post from TED Talks:

Here’s what you can learn from it (as well as the previous example from Charity: Water):

You need a hero/heroine: like Shameem Akthar who had to change who she was in order to thrive in an extremely conservative environment

The villain: any good story has a villain. It can be a person, a country, an organization, and anything in between. In this case, the villain is most likely the society that she was born in – a society that didn’t allow her to get the education she wanted and needed.

A conflict: you need to conflict in order to build suspense. And people love success stories, they want to see the good one win – and the bad one lose. For example, the conflict in this particular story is that she was a girl and as a girl, she couldn’t go to school – and then comes the solution to the conflict: her uncle raising her as a boy so she could have more opportunities in life

A happy end – although that is debatable; sometimes there is no happy end – yet – but that just means the story isn’t over yet. You can still tell those stories and ask people for help so you can actually reach a happy ending for your story. But if you do have a happy ending, like the story above (with Shameem Akthar not only managing to play the system but also ultimately getting a PhD and helping change other girls’ life as a social worker) that too can have a big impact on people. Happy endings like these make us feel good while at the same time, they also inspire us to be better, to do better, and to try to make our own mark on the world, just like people like Shameem Akthar have done.


Non-profits and charities might have small budgets and few people to help them market their organization, but by using strategies like the above you can make a real impact on your success without spending all of your budget.

All you need is a great content strategy to help; follow the tips and ideas outlined in this article and try to incorporate more storytelling and more visual content (videos and live videos, images – both candid and created by you – and so on) on any digital channel you’re using.

A Big Building For Big Ideas

A Big Building for Big Ideas At 17 floors, Data Sciences Center would be hub for collaboration

The stretch of pavement between BU’s College of Arts & Sciences and Sargent College will, if all goes according to plan, soon give way to a towering addition to the Boston skyline: the BU Center for Computing and Data Sciences. Encompassing mathematics and statistics, computer science, and the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, the 17-floor building will orient this intersection as the academic heart of BU. It will also be awe-inspiring.

In spring 2013, the University’s leadership team held a design competition to “find an architect that would make a statement,” says Robert A. Brown, BU president. They selected Toronto-based KPMB Architects to construct a building that would “mark the dynamic change in the University and talk about the century we’re in”—one driven by computational and data sciences.

“Every industry is being formed by new and novel uses of data,” from medicine to media marketing, Brown says. “And those uses of data are going to keep transforming the way society works. It’s becoming inculcated in every discipline, so every one of our fields is developing a data science piece. As a university, we asked how we’ll meet that demand.”

Situated at 645 Commonwealth Avenue, at the corner of Granby Street, now the site of parking lot, the proposed 345,724-square-foot building would be the tallest on campus, at 297 feet high, with a footprint of 20,500 square feet. (By contrast, nearby Warren Towers is 174 feet tall and the Prudential Center is 750 feet high.) “By putting this building at the nexus of campus, we’re making the statement that it’s central to the University,” Brown says.

Following an approval process with the city of Boston that could take up to a year, the project could begin site preparation, including drilling test geothermal wells, in spring 2023. The team anticipates full construction to be under way in fall 2023. When the building is completed, approximately 60 percent of all BU classes will be taught within a five-minute walk of the Data Sciences Center.

“This will be a significant building that will change the architectural fabric of the University, integrating a cutting-edge design into the existing campus and enhancing BU’s—and Boston’s—skyline. People will know where Boston University is,” says Walt Meissner (CFA’81), associate vice president for operations. “You can have modern and old right next to each other if they can work well together.”

The proposed design for the Data Sciences Center picks up elements of the surrounding buildings, like the warm reds of Bay State Road’s brick townhouses, and it will change color, depending on the direction of the sun as it passes across the building’s fins. These fins “likely would be metal, a screening device that would help animate the building,” says Marianne McKenna, founding partner of KPMB. In addition to being architecturally unique, the fins are essential to the building’s energy efficiency. “The profile of the building will be quite extraordinary,” she says. “It’s very timely for BU to step out to have a landmark.” The fins echo the ridged face of the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering building, which opened in spring 2023, and its expansive windows reflect those of the new Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre and the College of Fine Arts Production Center.

The ground floor is designed to be a public space, incorporating a café, informal lobby spaces, and general-purpose classrooms, as well as BU’s Early Childhood Learning Lab. The second floor—which may be connected to the first by “collaboration terraces” and a grand staircase—would house the BUild and the BU SPARK! programs, as well as additional classroom, collaboration, and study spaces.

The higher, more specialized floors will be organized into departmental neighborhoods connected by a central stair. “Each department has developed a common language of modular offices clustered around open collaboration and computing spaces,” according to the KPMB executive design summary. Each department’s technology-enabled active learning (TEAL) classrooms and collaborative spaces will be tailored to its individual needs. For example, computer science (floors 6 through 10) will likely be designed on an open plan, while mathematics and statistics (floors 3 through 5) may have enclosed offices. The Hariri Institute will be housed on levels 11 through 17.

“The building is designed to have flexible spaces for students and faculty to gather informally and have opportunities to collaborate,” says Jean Morrison, BU provost and chief academic officer. “It’s really state-of-the-art space that is responsive to the needs of highly collaborative and interconnected work.”

Central to this initiative are the proposed interconnected collaboration terraces that form a ramp connecting the ground and second floors. These platforms may include furnished seating areas and walls and windows intended to serve as writing surfaces. Other floors may also feature terraces, event spaces, and cafés to establish the building as a public facility, and an indoor-outdoor conference room on the 17th floor will offer dramatic views of Boston and the Charles River.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about how this building will interact, on the street level, with its surroundings,” Morrison says. The design is intended to transform adjacent Granby Street into a two-way landscaped thoroughfare that will improve access to the new Dahod Family Alumni Center and BU Admissions at the Alan and Sherry Leventhal Center, both on Bay State Road.

The proposed plans also call for redesigning the park behind the building with terraced lawns, pedestrian ramps, and bicycle storage. “You’ll be able to walk through it to Bay State Road,” Morrison says. “We want the building to be a seamless part of Commonwealth Avenue so students can easily flow in and out of it.”

If all goes according to plan, the Data Sciences Center will promote sustainable practices like reducing potable water use through low-flow and high-efficiency plumbing fixtures and mitigating light pollution by way of light features that comply with LEED requirements. It would also have between 40 and 55 geothermal wells that use the earth’s natural heat to control the building’s temperature. These, and many other aspects of the design, would ensure that the Data Sciences Center would be a 90 percent carbon-free building.

When the BU campus emerges from the snow in spring 2023 and this new building opens its doors, it will mark the University’s new architectural era and its investment in the burgeoning industry at the center of society.

“For us to build a beautiful building at the heart of our campus attests to the University’s growing strength and impact,” Morrison says. “It’s important to our continued growth as a world-class research university that we build the Data Sciences Center, and that it be architecturally significant.”

Read more about the new Data Sciences Center here.

Lara Ehrlich can be reached at [email protected].

6 Strategies For Differentiated Instruction In Project

Project-based learning (PBL) naturally lends itself to differentiated instruction. By design, it is student-centered and student-driven, and it gives space for teachers to meet the needs of students in a variety of ways. PBL can allow for effective differentiation in assessment as well as daily management and instruction.

PBL experts will tell you this, but I often hear teachers ask for real examples, specifics to help them contextualize what it looks like in the classroom. We all need to try out specific ideas and strategies to get our brains working in a different context. Here are some specific differentiation strategies to use during a PBL project.

1. Differentiate Through Teams

We all know that heterogeneous grouping works, but sometimes homogenous grouping can be an effective way to differentiate in a project. Sometimes in a novel- or literature-based PBL project, for example, it might be appropriate to differentiate by grouping students by reading level. That way, I can take groups that need intensive work and ensure they are getting the instruction they need.

Teaming should be intentional, and we need to know the why of how we structure teams. Are you differentiating for academic ability? Are you differentiating for collaboration skills? Are you differentiating for social-emotional purposes? Are you differentiating for passions? If you’re a designer or co-designer of a PBL project, teams can be an effective way to differentiate instruction.

2. Reflection and Goal Setting

Reflection is an essential component of PBL. Throughout the project, students should be reflecting on their work and setting goals for further learning. This is a great opportunity for them to set personalized learning goals and for you to target instruction specific to the goals they set.

At specific milestones in a project, one teacher that I observed had students reflect on what they’d learned so far in math and science, and then create goal statements for what they still wanted to learn. The teacher then designed activities to support students in learning not only what they wanted, but also what they needed to know.

3. Mini-Lessons, Centers, and Resources

This is probably one of my favorites. In addition to being a great management strategy to prevent time sucks in class, mini-lessons and centers are a great way to differentiate instruction. Perhaps you offer mini-lessons or center work to support your students’ learning, or maybe you show students a variety of resources from which to learn, including videos, games, and readings.

I know a teacher who has a well-oiled PBL machine of a classroom. Students move seamlessly from product work to learning stations, resources, and mini-lessons based on what they know. Students are so in tune with their learning that they are able to truly take ownership of it, and the teacher provides instruction without assumption. Not all students may need the mini-lesson, so you can offer or demand it for the students who will really benefit.

4. Voice and Choice in Products

Another essential component of PBL is student voice and choice, both in terms of what students produce and how they use their time. With the products, you can allow students to show what they know in a variety of ways. From written components to artistic or theatrical, you can differentiate the ways that students are summatively assessed. Their passions actively come into play here.

Again, it all depends on the standards that you’re assessing, but don’t let standards confine your thinking. Yes, you may have a written component if you’re assessing writing, but ask yourself, “How can I allow for voice and choice here?” Embrace possibilities for differentiated student summative products.

5. Differentiate Through Formative Assessments

Formative assessments can look the same for all students. They can also look different. We know that students can show what they’ve learned in different ways, as mentioned above in terms of products produced as summative assessment. In addition, as you check for understanding along the way, you can formatively assess in different ways when appropriate.

Perhaps you are targeting collaboration in the project. You can differentiate a formative assessment of this in a variety of ways. Perhaps it’s an oral conference. Perhaps it’s a series of written responses. Perhaps it’s a graphic organizer or collage. More importantly, these formative assessments allow you to differentiate the type of instruction needed as you feed forward in the project.

6. Balance Teamwork and Individual Work

Teamwork and collaboration occur regularly in a PBL project. We want to leverage collaboration as much as content. However, there are times when individual instruction and practice may be needed. You need to differentiate the learning environment because some students learn better on their own, and others learn better in a team. In fact, we all need time to process and think alone just as much as we need time to learn from our peers. Make sure to balance both so that you are supporting a collaborative environment while allowing time to meet students on an individual basis.

As you master the PBL process in your classroom, you will intuitively find ways to differentiate instruction for your students. You will design the project to scaffold content and skills in a variety of ways. You will create formative and summative assessments to allow for student passions and goals, and you will manage the process so that it allows you to meet students where they are and move them forward.

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