Colorado Impact Days

Indigo Education Company is honored to be one of 60 organizations selected for the 2019 Colorado Impact Days, taking place next week from March 11th to March 14th. Colorado Impact Days was founded as a way to connect social enterprises and nonprofits with individuals and foundations looking to increase their impact on their communities. On Tuesday, March 12th, CEO and founder of Indigo, Sheri Smith, will present Indigo Education Company and its vision to change the education system starting with the individual.

This marks the fourth year of CO Impact Days, a venture that has helped invest over $201 million in social enterprises and nonprofits since 2016. The event will take place at the Curtis Hotel in Denver and includes the National Opportunity Zone Summit, the Social Venture Marketplace, and speaking engagements from foundation leaders and investors.

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4 Easy Ways To Help Students Believe in Themselves

4 Easy Ways To Help Students Believe in Themselves

April 19th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson

Why Do We Focus on the Negatives?

The thing that frustrates me the most in life is negative self-image. In our culture, people often struggle to acknowledge their strengths and passions. They focus on weaknesses. It’s so bad that people often warp their strengths into sounding like weaknesses! Being “outspoken” turns into “I talk too much”. Being a “planner” turns into “I’m not spontaneous”.

I see this throughout our society. Where I see it the strongest is within schools.

Students are disengaged, disconnected, and struggle to find their value. It can show up as behavior problems or academic failure. Rarely is it a problem with the student’s ability to learn or interact with others. They act out and struggle because they don’t see value in themselves.

Maslow’s Hierarchy and How it Affects Students

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular tool used in sociology research, psychology training, and even management coaching. The insight is simple and profound – to reach our highest potential, we need to first have esteem for ourselves. To gain esteem, we must feel we our accepted by our peers. But we can’t process acceptance if we don’t feel safe, and we can’t even meet that need if food and shelter needs are not met. Without a base, students can’t aspire for higher levels.

Put simply, students can’t self-actualize and reach their full potential overnight. It takes work getting there.

Here is my question: do you think students are self-actualizing and reaching their full potential? Do you think they have esteem for themselves? Are they even socially accepted by a group of friends in school or their community? The more students I meet across the nation, the more I begin to doubt it. I think many students feel uncomfortable in their schools because they don’t feel like they belong. They don’t feel like they have value.

So how can we turn around students? What is the point of trying to get students to self-actualize if they haven’t even felt accepted yet? What is the point of launching a new STEM lab if students feel like they are outsiders? What is the point of bringing community-based companies to talk about careers if students think they won’t amount to anything in life? What is the point of encouraging students to “be the best they can be” when they think their best will never be good enough?

What is the point?

There is nothing wrong with STEM labs and career days and pushing students. Before we can do that, however, first we must convince students that they have value.

Change the Conversation: A Focus on Positives

“Jack, you seem like someone who gets the details right and are passionate about learning everything there is to know about how to play soccer better – and I think that is fantastic.”

Students need to hear affirmation. Not only do they need to hear that they are valuable, but they need to hear why they specifically have and bring value to others.

It’s a simple thing – and it takes time. But it pays dividends. I have watched students transform over the course of months when educators, leaders, and mentors speak life into them. I have seen them start to see themselves as people with something to give the world. They come alive. They transform.

So how do we do it? Here are just four ideas:


Here are 4 easy ways to help students feel their value:

1. Turn a Weakness into a Strength:

I once met a student who loved anime – but he felt awkward talking about it. It felt uncool. So I flipped the script on him. I talked about how watching anime was exposing him to Japanese culture and helping form an international perspective. I turned what he thought was a weakness into a strength no one else in the room possessed.

2. Push an Opportunity:

One of the students I knew well was complaining that he had to find a summer job. He goes to camps frequently, and didn’t know how he could find a job that would fit his schedule. So I pushed an opportunity on him and led with a strength. “Blake, have you thought about teaching English online? It’s really flexible hours, you can do it from home, and I feel like you would be great working with kids who are trying to learn English. You are a naturally patient guy.” It doesn’t matter if he does or doesn’t do it. He heard affirmation.

                                        3. Challenge Them:

Sometimes I run into students who seem defeated. They have thrown in the towel, and given up on being a leader, or an engineer, or friendly – fill in the blank. They are stuck in an unhealthy self-pity cycle. Push back against these students. “I’m going to challenge you on that. You think you’re not an influence, but I see students every day follow you around and model your behavior. What do you call that?”

This only works with some students – but when it works, it is an effective wake up call.

4. Put Up Circles:

I saw this for the first time at a school recently, and I love the concept. It’s the reverse of a “put down”. You circle up the classroom, the group, or even the whole school. Students and teachers give call outs to each other for specific things they did that week that were great and helped the community.

Not every school will have the time to fit this into their schedule. But even if you do this as just an individual teacher, it can set a cultural tone of, “You have worth. You have value.”

This is why my favorite part of my job is when I am in front of students, especially ones I get to see consistently. I get to play a small role in seeing this transformation happen. It’s powerful.

Indigo transforms schools and districts. That’s part of the vision. We work at the administrator, faculty and student levels. On the ground with students, however, we are helping fight a much grittier battle. We are fighting to get students to acknowledge their own worth. We are fighting to get students to love themselves.

It’s hard work. But it’s the basis of any meaningful change we can make happen in a school.

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There are Better Answers than the “No Excuses” Model

There are Better Answers than the “No Excuses” Model

March 23rd 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson

Almost two months ago, The New York Times released a video of a first grade teacher at Success Academy in New York City berating her students. The teacher, frustrated, tore up a student’s homework and told her to go to the calm down chair. “There is nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper.”

Nothing personal, but it sounds like the teacher needs to go to the calm down chair more than the student.

The teacher in question was suspended from the school for a little less than two weeks before being reinstated. Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academy, defended her.

That is part of our culture — not having kids getting away with just not trying.
— Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy

Parents are outraged at the video – but not for the reasons you would think. At a press conference the school held, parents were actually angry against The New York Times.

I read the story in the morning, and I thought it was not only unfair — it was insulting.
— Youssef Senhaji, a father of three Success Academy students
I don’t understand why The New York Times thinks it has to educate me as a parent about the school that I choose to send my children to. I’m not some poor, uninformed parent or someone who is not aware of what’s available in New York City schools. I chose Success. I made that choice because it’s the best choice for my daughters.
— Natasha Shannon, a mother of three Success Academy students

The video has sparked a larger conversation about the benefits and drawbacks of strict discipline in schools. One of the leading voices in the argument acknowledging the gray zone in the issue is Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green.

It’s complicated, more so than you might think. Coming to any personal conclusion requires understanding a deep and very active debate about discipline, race, and the conditions that brought Charlotte Dial, the teacher in the video, to the moment that was caught on camera.
— Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat CEO

One of the chief conditions is an education philosophy called “No Excuses.” “No Excuses” advocates for strict discipline as a critical foundation for learning. It pushes students by giving no room for them to not give it their all. However, it can be argued that this makes the learning environment become hostile. Success Academy was in the news less than a year ago because students were wetting their pants during standardized tests. They didn’t want to lose time going to the actual restroom.

Do you want that in your school?

I understand that it is easy to criticize a school from the comfort of an online blog post. I won’t be so blind as to suggest students do not sometimes need to be addressed differently in certain behavioral situations. I also won’t be so dogmatic as to claim that this video discounts all positive impact this 34-school New York City charter network is having. Discipline, when facilitated in a healthy way, begets respect, temperance and character.

But here is a question I would pose to you: what if there is another way to instill these positive characteristics in students without an authoritarian approach? How can discipline dovetail with a healthy learning environment?


Replacing Punitive with Restorative

Schools are environments that deliver not only learning in the core subjects, but in all areas of life. It’s where we grow the next generation of citizens. So let’s capitalize on that – how can schools do discipline in a way that is conducive to the growth of our children and also teaches them how to later carry out discipline in society when they are grown?

Some of the schools we work with have a restorative justice program. Restorative justice focuses on the needs of the victim, the offender, and the community involved. It focuses on learning to prevent the issue from reoccurring. For example: instead of suspending a student for saying something racist against Latinos, mandate that they go to two Hispanic events in the community and use what they learned to write an apology letter.

We are inspired by their approach – and we want to take it a step further. In the personalized learning system we are launching in the coming months, we want to give schools the option to explore how they want to improve their discipline and character development. It’s our hope that some schools will go a step farther and launch student committees that are in charge of creating restorative justice opportunities for their peers that help them grow as individuals and as a community.

It will be a challenge to make this shift. Not every Indigo school will want to make it – or they may have even greater needs that must be addressed first. But these are the types of questions we are constantly asking ourselves at Indigo: What are better ways for schools to get to their objectives? What are better ways for schools to get to even better objectives?

We are trying to find solutions so that we don’t live in a world where teachers feel like they need to yell at their students in the first place. There are answers – and we will find them.



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Personalizing School Culture Causes Radical Transformation

Personalizing School Culture Causes Radical Transformation

March 14th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson

Your School is Struggling? Tacking on a New Computer Lab is not the Answer

I remember when my district began introducing smart boards into my high school. Teachers fought for a classroom outfitted with the new technology. Educators began to build lesson plans around the boards, excited as they imagined how students would gape in awe at the digital equivalent of a whiteboard.


However, as a current high school student at the time, I remember how my friends and I actually responded. A lackluster comment here, a raised eyebrow there, and any interest the smart board may have initially garnered dissipated within a matter of weeks. Math was still math, whether you wrote it with a dry-erase marker or a digital marker (we frequently mixed up the two types of markers, much to my teachers’ chagrin).

In college, the same trend continued. I remember how bullishly the journalism school fought for students to get iPads. The professors felt like rock stars handing out 100 iPads in a lecture hall – their class had now been validated as a “cool” place to learn because of 1:1 hand-held technology in the classroom. I am remember looking quizzically at the fresh iPad with a university branded cover, tossing it in my bag, and then opening up my computer where all of my files were stored. The majority of students followed the same behavior. 

Technology in schools is a boon for innovation – new tech brings new applications and options for educators. However, smart boards and iPads are not the solutions – they are not the independent variables that drive educational outcomes. You need to go deeper than surface-level tech plugins to impact schools in meaningful ways.

Put simply, technology needs to be married with personalized learning. Schools need to be using more applications that facilitate tailoring pedagogy, curriculum, school culture, and even the school environment to students. Any technology that doesn’t contribute to personalizing learning holds little to no value in improving the quality of education.

Personalized Learning – Why it’s Important, Why it’s Hard, and What We’re Doing About It

Personalized learning means diversifying academic instruction, strategies, and experiences to meet the unique strengths and needs of individual students. In short, it’s the transition from a one-size-fits-all teaching approach to inviting students to help co-create their own education. It’s the power of listening for how students actually want to learn, and building a path that makes sense for each individual.

Although the modern wave of personalized learning is still nascent, schools that take on personalizing learning are seeing tangible impacts in their classrooms. Schools that are taking personalized learning are seeing major shifts such as 20% more students pursuing college and 14% more satisfactory grades across the board. Personalized learning isn’t just an interesting trend, it’s something that is unlocking student potential across schools.

In reality, however, personalized learning is difficult to implement because educators cannot copy and paste successful initiatives from one school to another. Since successful personalized learning is tailored toward an individual school’s culture and students, there’s no guarantee of repeated outcomes from any schools attempting to mimic them. While there are models that exist to help guide schools through the conceptual path, there is no easy solution. Because of this, 78% of teachers say meeting the personalized learning needs of students is too difficult.

So how does technology come into play with personalized learning? Schools are in need of technology that gives them more avenues to reach students. Cloud technologies and products that track meaningful student data provide new, innovative, low-cost avenues to make personalized learning possible in all types of school – from upper-end private schools in California to inner-city public schools in Detroit.

Technology that helps schools personalize education is what we need– but what does that technology look like? How do schools avoid throwing EdTech products at their teachers until something works? How do education leaders cobble together a series of ideas and philosophies that actually fit their students without getting frustrated by trial and error?

At Indigo Project, we believe that the most crucial piece of any personalized learning initiative is knowing the answer to the following three things:

  1. Who are the administrators? How do they like to work?
  2. Who are the teachers? How do they like to teach?
  3. Who are the students? How do they like to learn?

We help schools find the answers to all three with the Indigo Assessment, a corporate-level assessment that measures the Behaviors, Motivations, Skills & Strengths, and Social Emotional Health of each individual. We test everyone – from the youngest freshmen to the most tenured administrator – and use the data to paint a picture of the school body. Once you understand who the administrators, teachers, and students are, how they operate, and what they want, you can start effectively personalizing the school to fit its people.

We’ve worked with more than 30 high schools and universities – more than 8,000 students and teachers. Below are three stories from schools that began to personalize their schools based on Indigo’s data and saw their schools begin radical, positive transformation.

Pinnacle High School – Identifying Leaders

In Pinnacle High School in northern Denver, Principal Todd Bittner and his teachers are using Indigo to identify potential leaders who may otherwise go unnoticed. Teachers are pulling in “problem students” into their office hours to talk about their strengths, skills and passions, and connecting them to clubs and opportunities where they can put those strengths to use in a positive way. For example, one teacher looked up the Indigo Report of a student causing issues in his class and discovered one of his top skills was leadership. Instead of shutting him down, he decided to give him a leadership position in the classroom and it transformed the entire dynamic of the class. The student went from being a “problem” to being an engaged, positive example of a leader.

“It’s giving students confidence,” Principal Todd Bittner said. “They start thinking ‘maybe I can go to college’ – Indigo is giving us hope.”


The Academy – Change School Culture

Indigo has the potential to change the whole culture in a school. At The Academy, Principal Cody Clark is giving students control of clubs and activities and watching the community thrive. The Indigo test identified that his students want to give back and make a positive impact in the community – and so he started providing opportunities to do just that. As a result, coat drive donations went up, food drive donations went up, the student council doubled the attendance at the homecoming dance, and classroom behavior referrals went down 50%.

“This has been transformational for the school,” Clark said. “It breaks down barriers.”

Peak to Peak – Building Strengths Improve Grades

Helping students understand their strengths improves academic performance. At Peak to Peak High School, Counselor Kimberly Gannett ran a 10-week group with failing sophomores. They all took the Indigo Assessment before beginning the group. Each week, they focused on the different strengths in their Indigo Reports and how they could use them in their school and in their futures. As a result, at the end of ten weeks the number of failing grades in the group went from 30 grades to only 3 grades.

“I really do feel it was the first time for those kids in their entire lives where we focused on what they were good at instead of what they were failing,” Gannett said. “I’ve never seen a change like that in my 20 years of education.”

The common denominator of change wasn’t new technology; it was creating opportunities for students that let them take charge of their education. If you give students the opportunity to connect their strengths to your curriculum, leaders emerge, referrals go down, and failing grades disappear. It’s all about leveraging your resources to create learning opportunities that make sense for students.

Indigo does use technology in our process – our assessment and online cloud-based platform are key parts of how we execute. Although they are key parts of what we do and help catalyze change, educators don’t walk away praising the tech. They walk away in awe that they found answers to the three questions Indigo solves when we begin working with any school – they discover who are their students, who are their teachers, and who are their administrators.



Nathan and Student.JPG

Indigo is pushing our schools into new territory. We’ll be launching a long-term personalized learning plan that will use our data as a base to guide schools to the next level of personalized learning; students and teachers will be working together to set school culture, seniors will be teaching social emotional resiliency to freshmen, and all students will be advocating with their community and school to find opportunities that enhance and push forward their studies in impactful ways.

As we continue to grow and add tools to our arsenal, however, we fight to make sure we don’t lose sight of why our work is important. It’s not because of the tools, the gadgets, and the plans. It’s important because of what that helps schools accomplish. We don’t celebrate Indigo’s accomplishes – we celebrate the accomplishments of schools like Pinnacle, The Academy, and Peak to Peak.

Indigo isn’t another EdTech thing to slap on the wall next to the smart board. It’s a process that engages with the one thing in school that’s not going out of style anytime soon – people. 

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National Education Week: 7 Lessons from America’s EdTech Community

National Education Week: 7 Lessons from America’s EdTech Community

January 14th 2016, Written by Nathan Robertson

Right before the Christmas season, I went to the National Education Week conference hosted by the EDGE EdTech Accelerator in New York City. As one of the directors at Indigo, I spend the majority of my time serving as the boots on the ground in schools throughout Colorado, Arizona and Nebraska. This was a rare opportunity for me to take a break after the 50 workshop I did last fall and see what else was going on in the EdTech world.

The conference exposed me to the heart of action in NYC’s education-entrepreneurism space, and here are the 7 insights with which I walked away.


1. The Education World of Today is Not the Education World of Tomorrow

Chancellor Carmen Farina pointed out that in her 20 years of working in education people spent too little time innovating and too much time reacting. There are great EdTech companies out there, but are they providing services that equip students for the world they live in today or the world they will graduate into tomorrow?

Farina challenged us to think more critically about the schools we serve. Based on your students, and their interests, and technology’s advances, and where the economy is predicted to be in five years, what are the best things you can pass on to your students that will prepare them for the future?


2. Students are “Digital Ready”—Use Those Skills

88 percent of teens have access to a cell phone, and 58 percent of them to a tablet (Growing Wireless, 2016). Some children carry in their pockets more computing power than my entire 5th grade computer lab possessed—and they know how to wield it. We need to see curriculum that leverages that skillset.

Last week I was in a school where the teacher commanded students to put up their phones before the class could move forward. Instead of suppressing the desire to use technology, imagine if we could find ways to redirect it through coding classes, research projects, or even incorporating apps in a blended model.


3. Teachers are – Surprise – Still Important

One of the startups I saw at the conference was an early-stage company that is building an artificial intelligence math tutor. That’s right, despite all the movies about AI taking over the planet, in the real world they are teaching Algebra I. Many companies are looking for ways to remove human interaction from education (Coursera, Khan Academy) by teaching online or removing teachers from the equation.

But General Assembly CEO Jake Schwartz brought up an interesting point. “We’ve have had the technology to spread knowledge for 500 years since the Gutenberg Press—and it still has not replaced our teachers.”

EdTech startups should spend less time thinking about how to work around teachers, and more time thinking about how to work with them. They are the true difference makers in students’ lives, and the ones with power to innovate in the classroom. We need them for successful, long-term change.

At Indigo, we see teachers as the pivot point that bridges administrators and students to communicate, generate ideas and implement new initiatives in schools. Teachers are not just important– they are absolutely critical.

4. We’re Forgetting about Community College Students

Imagine the stereotypical college student. Who do you see? 19-year-old frat star? 17-year-old coding genius? 22-year-old student council president?

How about 28-year-old mother who is working two jobs and taking night classes?

According to Dr. Gail Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College, 50 percent of all undergraduate students are in community college, and most of them don’t look like they stereotype we imagine. Most of the time EdTech companies want to partner with Ivy League universities or similar to boost their prestige—as result 12 million students in community colleges are not getting solutions build for their problems.

For me, this was one of the biggest questions in my mind. How do you create a product that works for community college? How do you create a personalized education that can meet people who, while they may go to the same community college, are in all different phases of life?

This is one area that I think could be incredibly exciting for Indigo in the future. Since we are a strengths-based organization that focuses on the individual strengths of each student, we have the potential to help these non-traditional students find their voice. There will definitely be things to learn from them about the best way to deliver, but being able to impact students that other EdTech companies may be ignoring gives me a thrill.

5. Many Programs Give Only the Illusion of Learning

I have an app on my phone for language learning. I’ll spend 15 minutes jabbing buttons and repeating back words into my iPhone’s speaker, and just like that I’ve got 30 points and have passed the animals and pets lessons. Congratulations, you’ve just pass your fourth German course!

Many education programs take pains to make students’ progression very visible. Tracking points, multiple levels, badges and stars. How many of these types of programs are actually facilitating the learning they claim to provide?

Companies working with schools possess an ethical responsibility to test their products and really understand the impact it has on students. Did students really become better leaders? Are their writing skills truly better than they were last year because of what EdTech companies sold the school?


6. Students > Your Newest EdTech Idea

In an earlier point I mentioned the need for teachers to be involved in education innovation. Another fact that must be emphasized is that students need to be involved in change as well. Too often I wonder if companies are building products that meet the needs of the gatekeeper—an administrator, a district official—and miss the needs of students.

The reality is that students possess the power to drive demand in schools. Not only are there tax dollars associated with each student that chooses your school, but they deserve the highest standard of holistic education that an institution can provide.

If we want to look toward the future of schools, it’s not just in listening to the big picture from administrators. It’s listening to the every day problems of students who are living and learning in the system we have built for them today.

At Indigo, it’s not about the technology. We have technology, and building out our Indigo.Fathym platform will be one of the major developments for the company this spring, but that is not the focus. The focus at Indigo has always been, and always will be, the students. If we aren’t reaching and changing them, then we aren’t doing our job. It’s that simple. 

7. Implementation is Everything

I heard a lot of great ideas while I was at this conference. Seriously, the best and brightest of EdTech entrepreneurs and education leaders were present. However, I think the most poignant quote came from Wendy Kopp, Teach for America Founder:

“Technology is not the answer. Implementation is everything.” –Wendy Kopp

It doesn’t matter how great our solutions are, how innovative our models, how competitive our teams, if we are not going into schools and doing something. Without action, all of our efforts just amount to more tools on shelves that do nothing for education.

The more time I spend in schools working with administrators, teachers and students, the more this truth resonates with me. Schools don’t just want another platform. They want a partner who works with them to help begin the kinds of changes they want to see in their school. It’s one of my favorite parts about the job. When I can look at a school and know that Indigo played a roll in impacting their culture and how they treat their students, it reminds me how much I love my job.

For me, this conference taught me a lot. It gave me a better sense of where Indigo fits in the world of education, and why what we are doing in schools is important. Indigo is not an EdTech product—we’re an EdTech process that can transform schools and spark changes that schools can sustain.

It’s been so encouraging for me to see the impact and hear the stories of changes that are happening in schools. I will go back to that conference one day—and when I do, I want it to be because my CEO is talking about how we’ve changed the way one million students receive education in this country by shifting school culture away from test focus and toward a holistic, student-centered education.

Catch you next time, New York.


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Bringing Humanity Back into Education: Thoughts from the ASU/GSV Summit

Bringing Humanity Back into Education: Thoughts from the ASU/GSV Summit

April 13th 2016, Written by Sheri Smith

“So you are bringing ‘humanity’ back into the education process?”  quipped Jamie Moran from the Florida Online School during the opening keynote of the ASU+GSV Summit.  “Yes, can I quote you on that?” I replied.  “That is exactly what Indigo is doing – and we are doing it in a scalable way that connects each student’s genius to something practical in the greater world.”

The ASU+GSV Summit (April 6-8) brought together some of the greatest innovative minds in today’s educational landscape, all addressing the question: “What is best for students?”  Despite our deepest efforts to create an education system that empowers students, however, we have not been able to change the tragic fact that 20% of high school students have contemplated suicide. Somehow, we have been unable to communicate to these students the enormity of their potential impact – the difference one life can make in a community, a country, or the world. 

Consider my friend Eric Gulstrom, who founded Educate at age 17. He has literally transformed the entire education system of Uganda with the simple idea that you can lift people out of poverty by incorporating social entrepreneurship into education. 

Or what about Roberto Rivera, self-proclaimed “dope dealer converted to a hope dealer,” who found a way to inspire and engage inner-city youth through music, art, and self expression? There are countless stories of ordinary individuals literally changing the world, and it’s all possible for America’s youth. Yet the only thing many of them can see is an SAT score that won’t get them into a top university. 

Where have we gone wrong?

When we reduce education down to academics, we inadvertently feed the children of America the lie that “if you don’t have straight A’s, you aren’t going to make it in the world.”  However, the exact opposite is true: what matters in the real world generally has little to do with book knowledge. Creativity, resourcefulness, grit, kindness, and passion – these elements and many more are the defining characteristics of humanity, and they constitute true brilliance. 

Throughout my work with Indigo, I have found that the “problem” students are often the most talented.  At a recent teacher workshop we used one such individual as an example to help the teachers see students from a different perspective.  When I revealed this young woman’s report to the teachers (she volunteered to share her information), I described her wildly creative mind, her capacity for futuristic thinking, and her extreme independence.  I could see the teachers’ heads nodding; they all agreed that she was a bright light. 

Then they began to voice their frustrations.

“. . . but she won’t read my books in English class.” “She won’t do her homework.” ”Her mind is always someplace else.”

I couldn’t help thinking, God bless her for being someplace else!  I want to know what she is thinking about, imagining, and believing in, because it is quite possible that this high school student has answers to problems we haven’t even conceived of. What if her teachers’ goal was to harness her genius instead of corralling her into reading the “right” book in English class? That would be integrating humanity and education. 

Like many at this month’s Summit, I believe that we need to look at education from a different perspective. Indigo makes it possible to incorporate hard science and measurable data into the education system, thus uncovering the specific qualities that constitute human brilliance. Since Indigo’s genesis in 2013, I have seen students once labeled “problems” begin to understand their own value, utilize their innate strengths, and take an interest in their education for the first time. It is my profound hope that by integrating non-academic skills with traditional educational structures, we can harness the human elements of an entire generation.   

The ASU+GSV Summit is the Knowledge Economy’s Mecca of conversation and activism devoted to accelerating learning innovation around the world. The 2015 Summit brought together many of the greatest minds in education technology as well as innovators like Sir Richard Branson and Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks).


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Indigo’s Pick for ACT Prep

Indigo’s Pick for ACT Prep

February 19th 2015, Written by Jahla Seppanen

For high school students with college on their minds, springtime means one thing: SAT/ACT season. This can also make spring a time of stress for many students, as they worry about test-taking strategies, scores, and the weight standardized testing has on their future academic careers.

Indigo is here to remind students that success is possible, and there are tools that can help. This week we are spotlighting Magoosh’s new ACT Blog, a resource for student guidance compiled from Magoosh’s best test-prep advice. 

If you are a student preparing for the ACT or a parent helping your child through the process, you probably know that the key to success is using the right resources. Now, before you randomly search the net for whatever free resource is out there, slow down a bit—Indigo has done the hard work for you. You can find plenty of thorough (and free!) ACT prep material on Magoosh’s ACT blog, including pre-made study schedules, tips for tackling each individual section of the test (math, reading, science, writing, and English), and tried-and-true strategies that will improve your score.

Before letting negative self-talk get the best of you, visit Magoosh’s ACT Blog and gain confidence in your ability to rock the test!

Magoosh is an online resource for GRE, GMAT, SAT, and TOEFL prep. Magoosh was founded on the belief that test prep should not be expensive, inconvenient, or outdated. For more information visit them online at

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Students Sacrifice Wellbeing for Academics

Students Sacrifice Wellbeing for Academics

January 29th 2015, Written by Jahla Seppanen

In today’s education landscape, teenagers are asked to go above and beyond. The pursuit of excellence, however, can generate unhealthy perfectionism among students. The Indigo Education Company, as well as the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), believe that non-academic education is key to promoting both emotional health and academic achievement.

According to the 2014 annual survey by the American Psychology Association, teenage stress levels are far above those of working adults. Students express pressure to perform without flaw: to be the best in their classes, to win academic awards, and to take on extra-curricular activities by the handful. At this week’s Colorado Leadership Conference, Sheri Smith of the Indigo Education Company encouraged students to balance their personal dreams with external pressures.

Smith asked a room of over one hundred teenagers participating in FBLA, “How many of you have heard this before? ‘I think you should do this – you should go to this college, get these grades, and pursue this career.’” Every teenager in the room raised a hand.

“A should,” Smith explained to FBLA students, “is very different from a want.” Smith urged students to reconnect with their internal desires.

Smith asked FBLA students to share their personal desires by anonymously texting Smith’s cell phone. A stream of responses poured in: I want to be an aerospace engineer; I want to own my own business; I want to go to college out of state; I want to be happy, to be a mother, to love myself. The list of wants consisted of academic and career goals as well as hopes for personal wellbeing.

Smith believes that students have internalized perfectionist expectations and, in the process, have forgotten how to be happy.  “Learning to listen to your heart is a skill,” Smith said.

Developing non-academic skills, such as Confidence, Creativity, and Personal Effectiveness, can play a major role in balancing academic stressors. The Indigo Education Company and the FBLA both work to incorporate non-academic competencies into current education systems, enabling students to manage the stress associated with college applications and difficult homework.

A group of three students attending Smith’s talk explained that FBLA has given them the confidence to pursue their “wants” instead of their “shoulds.”

These girls are learning to reconnect with their individual goals, both academic and personal. “I’m the quiet type,” high school senior, Kailey, said. “[FBLA] helped me with Leadership, because I want to be in a position of influence and respect.”

Classmate Brianna said, “I’m very anti-social, and it’s given me experience in being social. [FBLA] built my confidence. School can feel like a popularity race, but now I feel like I should just be myself.”

Non-academic instruction can happen at school and in the home. Smith proposes an exercise for parents, which will help their students focus on the trajectory of their schooling while make the teenager feel acknowledged and listened to:

Ask your student what their “shoulds” are. Listen, but do not respond. Then ask the student to name their “wants.” What should result is a clear and honest look at the expectations your student is carrying, and the true passion they hope to develop through their education and career. Try helping your student develop a healthy notion of hard work that acknowledges their intrinsic brilliance.

Resource cited:

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) is a non-profit education association servicing over a quarter million students with career skills that will prepare them for the business world. FBLA goals include, developing competent, aggressive business leadership, strengthening the confidence of students in themselves and their work, and creating more interest in and understanding of American business enterprise.

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Competency-Based Degree Programs on the Rise

Competency-Based Degree

March 14th 2015, Written by Anya Kamenetz

Indigo is excited to see competency-based learning incorporated into the college curriculum and credit structure. After all, we go to school to get a degree to get a job. It only makes sense to include job-skills and non-academic competencies into the learning journey, or as Anya Kamenetz puts it, “credits in exchange for direct demonstrations of learning.”

January 26, 2015

Competency-based education is in vogue — even though most people have never heard of it, and those who have can’t always agree on what it is.

A report out today from the American Enterprise Institute says a growing number of colleges and universities are offering, or soon will offer, credits in exchange for direct demonstrations of learning. That’s a big shift from credit hours — the currency of higher education for more than a century — which require students to spend an allotted amount of time with instructors.

A “competency” might be a score on a standardized exam or a portfolio of work. These are types of credit familiar to most people: think AP exams. But they are being applied to core requirements, not just used for skipping electives or introductory courses.

And in a newer, even more experimental trend, institutions such as Western Governors University are offering entire degree programs that allow students to move at their own pace, completing assignments and assessments as they master the material.

The major argument in favor of competency-based programs is that they will offer nontraditional students a more direct, more affordable path to a degree. This argument is especially made on behalf of older students who can earn college credits based on prior workplace or life experience. The AEI report, by Robert Kelchen, found that 9 out of 10 competency-based students are older than 25.

The business and instructional models of competency-based degree programs are diverse.

Some, like StraighterLine and Capella University, are for-profits; others, like Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America Program, are nonprofits, still others, like University of Maryland University College or Rio Salado College, are part of public university or community college systems.

And the numbers are large. Most programs don’t report their competency-based enrollment, but there are nine colleges that are entirely competency-based; these nine colleges alone enroll more than 140,000 undergraduates and 57,000 graduate students.

Continue reading here…

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5 Predictions for Education in 2015

5 Predictions for Education in 2015

January 26th 2015, Written by Michael Horn

What changes can we hope to see in education in 2015? One of Indigo’s top goals ranked #1 on the Forbes list, and we are certain it will create better academic and career opportunities for students across the world! 

It’s the new year and with it, hopes for new developments in education. Here are a few scattered predictions from around the world of education about what we might see.

1. Competency-based learning gains steam

Fueled by interest from hundreds of higher education institutions and the Department of Education, competency-based learning will gain steam. Coupled with online learning, as my colleague Michelle Weisehas written, it will constitute a disruptive force in higher education unlike any we’ve seen.

2. The rise of the LRM

The LRM—learning relationship management software—akin to a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for sales—will rise as a new category to make online and blended learning, competency-based learning, and theunbundling of the university far more fruitful and productive for learners, educational institutions, and employers. The trend will grow fast in higher education this year, followed by corporate learning and then K–12 education in future years. The early leader is Fidelis Education (where, full disclosure, I’m on the board), and Motivis Learning, a spin-off from College for America, Southern New Hampshire’s online, competency-based institution, won’t be far behind.

Continue reading here…

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