Solving the Biggest Problem in Education

This is a live blogging event of the work PDE SAS Institute teachers and leaders will be doing during our four sessions today. Please join in on twitter with the hashtag #edusolutions – or join us in the comment section!


Today we are going to solve the biggest problem in education.

And that is going to require all of us to roll up our sleeves, get our fingers warmed up for typing, our minds spinning for innovative solutions, and our vocal chords ready for talking.

This is not going to be a sit and get session.

This is an earn to learn session.

Sorry if you thought otherwise ;)

Oh, by the way….

I’m A.J. Juliani. I’m the author of “Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom” and work as an Education and Technology Innovation Specialist at Upper Perkiomen School District.

Ok, are you ready to get to work?


First thing we need to do is get set up.

Can everyone pull out a device (or open one up) and go to – this site will have all the resources you need for today’s session.

And will also have follow up resources for after the session.

Second thing is to look around you. See any paper you may have in your bad or on the table. See the people and spaces around you. Use them all to the best possible means today as we are working. Think like Jason Bourne.

Third. We are going to move extremely fast today. There is going to be time to talk, but that talk should lead to action. And the action should lead to some type of outcome or solution.

If you feel pressed for time, that is a good thing. If you feel like there is alot going on at the same time. That is also a good thing. This is the world we live in now. Lots of noise and not much time to get things done.

5: Here are the 21st century skills that we love talking about:

The problem is that these skills were created 20 years ago…and a lot has changed since then…much of it not “predicted” well.

What I found during my years teaching and in a leadership role is that the 21st century skills are a great starting point…but they should be just that…a starting point.

If we want students who are future ready. We must add the following skills to the mix:

  • Developing and Navigating Choice
  • Inquiry (ask the right questions)
  • G.R.I.T. (guts, resiliency, integrity, tenacity)
  • Authentic Challenges and Environments
  • Pace Management

Any classroom that has learners developing and working through those skills…is an innovative classroom.

Ok, enough of me talking. Time to get to work.

10: What (in your opinion) is the  biggest problem in education. And the biggest challenge at your school/district?

  • Why is it such a problem?
  • Can you solve this problem in your school?
  • Can you solve this problem in a specific classroom?

15: Get in group (3-4 people) to share your problems – see which one is shared across the group. 2 mins per person to share – then 2 minutes to see which one is shared across the group.

Example: Students are worried about grades and not concerned about learning.

25: Choose one problem to tackle today…

Understand the challenge: 1 minute for each question

  • Who does it effect?
  • Who makes decisions impacting this problem?
  • How has it impacted you and your school (stories)?
  • What do you and your group have control of, influence over, and no control of…?
  • What circumstance might lead to a solution?

Example: The game of school leads students to believe learning is always tied to a grade, and always needs to be something they are “forced” to do by a teacher. Students need to see that they learn all the time. I have control over my classroom (to a point) and a circumstance would be students learning because they excited about the content or possibilities of that topic/project etc.

30: Ideation: Creating and evaluating ideas for solutions.

  • What are some opportunities to solve this challenge?
  • Who are some people that could help? Can you contact them?
  • What can you write, record, create, build and/or promote to solve this challenge?

40: Prototype: Time to turn that idea into reality.

Choose an idea for a solution—
Use your device, hands, or mind to sketch out what this might look like.

50: Get feedback — jigsaw groups for 5 mins (share quickly – 30 second pitch – 30 second feedback)

  1. What problem are you solving?
  2. What are you making/creating/building to solve it?
  3. Feedback

55: Build (make and do something!)

Put the idea into action.

Take three actionable steps to make this a reality.

65: Evolve (something to think about today, tonight, tomorrow, and later this week)

  • What are the next steps to solve this challenge?
  • What did you do well and can build on?
  • What did you do poorly and should scrap?
  • What did you learn from mistakes/failures and what did you take away from successes/wins?

70: Whole Group—Reflection

Check those 21C skills off the list…

Check those new skills off the list…

Today we solved one of the biggest problems in education:

Talking about what we should do, instead of taking action.

Sometimes innovation is simpler than we think. Sometimes it’s about taking one action, then building on that with another action.

It’s going to be messy. We are going to make mistakes. But the innovative classroom needs students to experience exactly what you all experience today…a choice, a challenge, and a reason to fail and keep working for a solution together through any means necessary.

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Join the discussion 41 Comments

  • Michael says:

    Time is the biggest challenge

  • Erica Kolat says:

    Fear/unwillingness/inability to challenge the status quo

  • DougWinner says:

    When looking at a problem that is facing education today, we decided that it would be, meeting the collaborative, creative needs of the students in a system that is not structured for the real world.

  • Vince Hoover says:

    Time. Time to prioritize. Time to learn all of the new initiatives in an ever changing world

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Do we need all the new initiatives? Is there a better process to roll them out than the one we currently have in place?

  • Brian Heidenreich says:

    In our group we discussed the fact the many schools and classrooms are delivering instruction in the same way that they have 40 years ago, an industrial model of education, which does not necessarily translate to today’s climate. Education is afraid to move forward, out of the comfort zone, and adapt. The cliche of preparing students for Jobs that aren’t even created yet is all to true, but we continue to do the same thing over and over again.

  • Allyn says:

    Biggest Challenge – Everything is a Priority! – With limited time, what is the important to work on – due to mandates, compliance issues, SPP, Educator Evaluations, Technology, Athletics

    • AJ Juliani says:

      This challenge is so important. Different stakeholders are always going to have different priorities…but someone (or some group) needs to make sure they are prioritized in a way that matters first and foremost to our students and their education.

  • Our group has agreed that time is one of the most significant problems in education. Time not only to teach the students, but also time to meet with, train and update the staff with he ever-changing requirements set forth by the state.

  • John says:

    Less restriction regarding long term funding solutions for school district programs

  • Ken says:

    Challenge: The inequity of access to technology. Both the absence of a device and the lack of consistent use of the device in a 1:1 environment.

  • Solution: Contact various I.U.s to try to partner in developing a means to add an individual school’s EITC to an I.U. foundation.

  • Jesse Maine says:

    Our groups challenge that we have chosen to work on: “How do we move from an industrial model of learning to a 21st Century model that is conducive to student needs?”

  • Robert Fraser says:

    Meeting the holistic individual needs of our students, teachers, and individual communities within the context of our current system (e.g., significant mandates, lack of funding, student achievement pressures).

  • Pamela Czulewicz says:

    fixed mindsets vs. growth mindsets

  • Lori Ceremuga says:

    Our problem is lack of common instructional district goals which ultimately affects teachers and students.

    Our final solution is to create a database of information where teachers can specify needs for an upcoming lesson and other teachers can respond. From this, a direction can be taken for district-wide or building-wide professional development.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Lori, thanks for this solution. Would this be a mini social platform or just as database? Interested in what it would look like in a school setting.

  • Megan says:

    Students willingness to think and take risks without worrying about the grade. But, also reflected through the educators– are we willing to take risks and teach thinking without worrying about the test scores? Do we (both adults and students) believe that the results will take care of themselves?

  • Matt W., Bill, and Sybil says:

    Constantly changing world and how we keep up with it. (literally and financially)

  • Wendy says:

    Problem: Barriers to resources that lead to learner motivation and engagement.

  • Ketty, Michele, Barbara says:

    The biggest problem we face today is having students realize the value of learning.

  • Kelley, Mary Grace, Patrick, Bill says:

    Our group identified the largest problem as a lack of time. The problem impacts all students and staff in the educational system, although administration has the ability to change scheduling to some degree. Currently all of us have this impact as seen through various symptoms of not being able to keep up with trends. We have control over the pre-established school day and calendar – we control the daily operations. To better utilize the time given, we need to create a solution by focusing the priorities of the organization.

  • Jackie says:

    The inadequate resources that impact the quality of education provided to all children.

  • Amy says:

    To solve the problem: lack of coursework related to urban education

    Create a partnership between Erie Public Schools and Westminster College to provide a course for new teachers: Teaching in Areas of High Need

  • Matt W., Bill, and Sybil says:

    To help with constant changes in our society, we can make sub-groups within the school district to discuss various topics and then share the information with their individual buildings. A type of “train the trainers” and jigsaw method to dispersing information to the masses.

  • Ketty, Michele and Barbara says:

    Solution: Extensive research of school districts that are implementing PBL successfully, reporting out via a summer academy or opportunity to really engage faculty.

  • At Penn-Trafford School District we are trying to make 21st Century Learning real.


  • At Penn-Trafford School District we are trying to make 21st Century Learning real.

    Please visit

  • Wendy says:

    How a 21 century classroom should look to engage and motivate readers.

    AJ, we sent you the visual!

  • Aaronda, Stephanie & Su says:

    Time management as related to improvement of professional practice and professional learning.

  • Jeremy says:

    How do we empower students to learn and prepare for a future within a system that is over regulated and managed by over burdened educators?

    • Jeremy's group says:

      Solution goals:
      * We need to help students realize their own contribution to the whole.
      * We need to guide students to evaluate their own needs and plan for a response to needs.
      * We need to increas awareness/involvement of achievement/expectations for parents/community.

    • Jeremy's group says:

      Solution steps:
      1. Teacher-Student Coference to review achievement and growth in mastering standards… establishing goals… creating individualized plan with personal interests in mind as well.
      2. Communicate with parents and/or community in regard to step 1.
      3. Schedule “Me Time” to evaluate, reflect, establish goals, communicate with stakeholders, plan… and ACT on the plan with learning and experiences..

  • Tina, Sarah, Linda says:

    We agreed that our challenge would be how students, families and teachers all have conflicting values of education. Time is an enemy because kids need so much and resources can sometimes be limited.

    • Tina, Sarah, Linda says:

      A solution to adding value to a student’s education within the time constraints of the school day would be to create multi-age groups for instruction. This model creates more “buy in” for students because they are being instructed at a level that is not frustrational. Their success will motivate them, their families and their teachers. All parties see results more quickly and then in turn invest more time in their “issue”. Use of resources is restructured as well, the needed resources (remediation, differentiation, etc.) become more readily available and strengthen the system. Success becomes cyclical much like failure has been cyclical in the past.

  • Sherri says:

    We chose time as our issue. Time impacts everybody within a district – from admin to the teachers to the students. Teachers struggle to get everything completed in the classroom and struggle to find time to collaborate with other teachers. Too much time for administrators is often consumed by other requirements that may not impact instruction. The traditional day and its time is now an outdated concept, and changing times can create concerns and issues that impact parents and community.

  • Sherri says:

    We first must prioritize what is most important so that we can determine where time should be devoted. Once. We know the priority, we can create a plan to target that need.

    We also need to look outside the box and think about how to better manage time even if it is changing the way time in education has always been. For example, look at changing in-service day structures and students coming to school during strict hours.

  • Sherri says:

    Sharing with Sherri–teachers will ask questions to Sherri, our boss, and she can propose solutions for our time management issues. They will also share out of the box ideas for time collaborations and Sherri will choose one each month to grant.

  • Aaronda, Stephanie & Su says:

    When an administrator addresses this need from a school-wide perspective, many of the teachers’ needs can be met (i.e. creating systems in which loss of time is minimized and those that focus on relevant content, etc.). We also think that teachers can address this time-management issue by engaging students in authentic learning opportunities that directly connect to what they need to know.

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