Reimagining Learning in Philadelphia

Jeff Scott and Students

Engineering doctoral candidate Jeffrey Scott instructs students during the workshop on Music Information Retrieval at Drexel University in Philadelphia

It’s “full steam ahead” for Philadelphia area high school students participating in Drexel University’s Summer Music Technology program focused on connecting technology with the arts.

For the past seven years, more than 150 aspiring young engineers and musicians have participated in hands-on, multi-media workshops funded in part with a National Science Foundation grant and housed in the College of Engineering. This year, with continued support from private funding, 28 students attended a week-long session at Drexel’s new Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center. The Center is a hub where teams of faculty, students, and entrepreneurs collaborate on multi-disciplinary projects in a variety of fields.  It’s part of a nationwide effort to enrich teaching and learning in the science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – fields, by adding a focus on the arts. Supporters have dubbed this approach STEAM.

Students at Drexel

Students Brandon Tran and Chia Chen, with Dr. Youngmoo Kim, demonstrate musical instruments produced in a 3D printer at the ExCITe Center.

“Our goal here is to explore the benefits of arts-integrated research and learning, or STEAM education, for everyone, from ‘K to gray.’ We especially work with young high school students and hope that the things they learn here will help them make good career choices,” said the Center’s director, Dr. Youngmoo Kim.

In one workshop led by Jeffrey Scott, a doctoral candidate in engineering, students learned about Music Information Retrieval (MIR) and worked in groups to develop playlists, label and tag features of songs, and create a collaborative filtering system. MIR is a growing field that develops efficient and intelligent methods to analyze, retrieve and organize music. Dr. Kim hopes this kind of targeted, experiential learning will develop future engineers.

The workshops aren’t just for fun: the approach has attracted several aspiring engineers to pursue higher education and the STEAM fields.

Seth Nicosia, a current sophomore at Drexel’s College of Engineering, attended the summer engineering program in 2010, and attributes his decision to major in engineering to that experience. “I have always been interested in music, and the Summer Music Technology program showed me how I could apply my musical knowledge in new and practical ways,” said Nicosia. “The program motivated me to enroll in college and major in engineering.”

Drexel’s ExCITe Center is a feast of fun for anyone interested in innovative, engaging research in technology and the arts.  There’s a magnetic resonator piano that allows the piano to create sounds that were previously impossible on the instrument. There’s a life-size robot that students program to play percussion.  There’s Darwin, a soccer-playing robot. And, there’s a 3D printer that students use to make musical instruments.

This May, at a conference titled, “Reimagining Education: Empowering Learners in the 21st Century,” Secretary Duncan emphasized the need to create a bold new vision for our classrooms. “Our students need to experiment, engage, and create in the areas they find truly exciting. Schools are a crucial part of that vision, and better access to technology and the worlds that technology puts at our fingertips, is an essential part of this work,” said Duncan. “To accomplish this, we need mentors, employers and artists working together in new ways to get all of our students involved and interested in their own learning.”

Clearly, this vision for high-quality STEAM education is helping to power Drexel’s ExCITe Center, as it fast-track students to academic and career success.

Elizabeth Williamson is a supervisory education program specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach in Philadelphia.

Strengthening the American Workforce through Innovation

St. Petersburg (Fla.) College engineering and technology student Tungo Harris has a plan: “I want to get gainfully employed — and I figure I will be after this — with a decent salary,” Harris told the Tampa Bay Times. Thanks to a new $15 million grant announced last month by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at St. Petersburg, Harris, a Navy veteran who is recovering from a brain tumor, can now get help in fulfilling his plan.

Overall, $500 million in grants will go to almost 300 community colleges and universities around the country as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. The grants promote skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.

The Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the Department of Education. The grants announced in September are the second installment of a $2 billion, four-year initiative.”These federal grants are part of the Obama administration’s ongoing commitment to strengthening American businesses,” Solis said.

“It’s a big deal,” St. Petersburg College President Bill Law said in the same Tampa Bay Times article. His college is leading a consortium of a dozen Florida colleges in developing programs to prepare workers for advanced manufacturing jobs. “Our goal is to take the Florida college system and see if we can build on some success across the state.”

Patrick Kerr works in the ED Office of Communications and Outreach’s Region VII office, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Duncan Talks Tech at SXSWedu

Secretary Duncan speaks at SXSWedu

Secretary Duncan speaks at SXSWedu March 8, 2012. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

“The future of American education undoubtedly includes a laptop on every desk and universal internet access in every home,” Secretary Duncan said earlier today at SXSWedu (South by Southwest Education), in Austin, Texas. “But a great teacher at the front of the classroom will still make the biggest difference in the lives of our students.”

Duncan addressed a large audience of educators and tech entrepreneurs at the annual conference that focuses on innovations in learning. The Secretary spoke to the importance of technology in education, and noted that the Department of Education remains committed to doing “all we can at the federal level to support the use of technology.”

In 2010, ED issued a comprehensive Education Technology Plan to support the broader trends in education today. Elements of the plan include:

    • Aligning learning materials with the college- and career-ready standards that states have developed and adopted.
    • Engaging students by tailoring learning to their needs and interests and providing real-time information to teachers about student learning.
    • Connecting teachers with their peers so they can share learning materials and classroom strategies.
    • Building the infrastructure to support this learning environment and using technology to become more productive.

Duncan explained that technology has become essential to learning, not optional. He also reminded the audience that even if Beethoven would have had a computer, “the Fifth Symphony would still have come from the mysterious gray matter between his ears.”

Following Duncan’s speech at SXSWedu, he held a college affordability town hall at Austin Community College (watch here), and will hold a town hall with San Antonio’s Hispanic community later this evening.

Read more about the Department’s Education Technology Plan at the Office of Education Technology’s new website: www.ed.gov/technology, and read Secretary Duncan’s SXSWedu speech.

i3 Grant Puts “I” in Team

As a 9th grade counselor at St. Louis Park Senior High School in suburban Minneapolis, Angie Jerabek was jarred by the 45 percent failure rate posted by the school’s freshmen in 1998.  She responded to the challenge by developing a structured, tag-team approach called Building Assets Reducing Risks (BARR) that cut her school’s 9th grade failure rates in half. It also more than doubled the number of students choosing to take rigorous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes over the past 14 years.  St. Louis Park—a diverse school of about 1,300 students with about one-third of them low income—additionally credits significant decreases in truancy and discipline problems to BARR.

St. Louis Park Students

St. Louis Park students get extra math help at a learning lab implemented this year as part of the Search Institute’s i3 grant. From left to right are 12th grader Sam Lieberthal, Math Resource Teacher Will Tanberg, 12th Grader Shukri Ali, 10th grader Avril Bowling, and 9th grader Eric Ndon. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Park Senior High School.

In 2010, ED awarded a $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to fund BARR’s expansion to 10th-12th grades at St. Louis Park, and to 9th grades at three high schools in Maine and California. The grantee is the Search Institute, the long-time training and technical assistance collaborator with BARR. Another partner is College Possible, a nonprofit that employs AmeriCorps members to help low-income students get into college and succeed there through intensive coaching. 

I visited St. Louis Park earlier this month to learn firsthand about this innovative program and had the opportunity to talk with Jerabek and others. The premise is simple. Currently, teams of 9th-grade teachers, counselors, social workers and others are assigned “blocks” of freshmen. They regularly collaborate to discuss individual students’ progress, identify challenges and prescribe interventions as needed. All team members are responsible for the overall progress of all students in their blocks.

“High school teachers tend to work in silos,” said Jerabek, now the i3 BARR Innovation Project Director for the Search Institute.

“We have a different mindset here.  We’re teaching people, not math,” said St. Louis Park Principal Robert Metz, a former elementary school principal. He sees correlations between the strong teacher-student relationships typically developed in primary grades and the connections that BARR builds in high schools.

The team concept itself isn’t new to all high school teachers, and “some arrive at St. Louis Park jaded by other districts’ efforts,” said Justin Barbeau, a veteran teacher who is now St. Louis Park Public Schools’ i3 coordinator.

“The difference here is the structure,” said Barbeau.  “Not all teachers are good at making or leveraging relationships.  BARR provides training and clear steps that make this work.”  The i3 funding expands that training to St. Louis Park’s teachers who work with 10th - through 12th-grade students. It also includes scaling up the program for 9th grade teachers and students in Bucksport and Sanford, Maine and Hemet, Calif. schools.  Ten new positions have been created at St. Louis Park as a result of i3 funding, and it’s supporting four new jobs at the Maine and California schools.

The individualized attention afforded students through the BARR approach also makes strong impressions on parents—critical partners in the program’s success. “A mom—new to St. Louis Park – raved about a call she’d gotten from a teacher,” said Brad Brubaker, a teacher helping to lead the 10th grade transition. “The teacher just wanted the mom to know that her daughter was doing really well in all of her classes. This mother had never gotten a call like that from a teacher before.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region   

Countries Gather to Talk Education Innovation

Earlier this month, deep in the Canadian Rockies, delegations from 19 countries and a mixture of research institutions, foundations, and professional education organizations attended the International Conference on Innovative Learning Environments in Banff, Alberta.

For three days, participants met to discuss inspiring new forms of learning environments and strategies for scaling up those considered most successful.

As a teacher, I was excited to lend voice to a policy dialogue that intimately addresses what’s going on in my classroom. Participants highlighted exemplars of innovation in extraordinary circumstances. I also appreciated prominent policymakers noting the danger of continually showcasing the “shiny examples,” given the resource challenges many educators face.

Several significant concerns also were discussed during the conference. In a climate of cutbacks and acute testing scrutiny, policymakers are concerned that school improvement agendas are perceived safer than innovation agendas. It’s simply a tough time to take risks.

As a teacher on the ground, the conference raised for me two questions: How do we highlight, tap into, and scale up the innovations that are already going on? I have seen many very low-income schools successfully innovate to meet their needs in an economically taxing climate.

Further, how do we decrease judgment around new practices so that more school leaders are willing to take the risks necessary to support the innovative ideas?

In the end, delegates walked away understanding that innovation is not just about technology products, but could and should also be about process. It’s not about more resources. It’s about designing systems that are more efficient so that we foster stronger learning environments, period.

Claire Jellinek is a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

There is no question that innovation is a critical focus of President Obama’s education agenda. In his State of the Union, where he said that education is “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the President invokes the word “innovation” nine times. In his recent American Jobs Act proposal, he alludes to modernizing 35,000 schools, and installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across the country. The Investment in Innovation Fund (i3) and Promise Neighborhoods are powerful examples of initiatives that reward innovation in learning.

I believe that this truly is our “Sputnik moment.” Education has captured a front seat in national and international dialogue. I hope we seize this opportunity to welcome ideas around meaningful change.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Increasing Educational Productivity: Innovative Approaches & Best Practices

Expectations for students and school systems continue to rise while many states face the toughest financial challenges of recent history. These dual realities mean that policy makers and practitioners must do more with the resources they have during these difficult budget times. Though this “new normal” is certainly a steep challenge, it is one that presents opportunities for states, districts, and schools to innovate, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and accelerate reform.

Increasing educational productivity by doing more with less will not be easy. It will mean graduating a significantly greater number of students—with higher levels of mastery and expertise—at a lower cost per outcome. This will require leaders at every level—from the classroom to the statehouse—to work together to rethink the policies, processes, tools, business models, and funding structures that have been ingrained in our education system for decades.

In March, to help states meet the challenge of doing more with less and to protect public schools from counterproductive cutbacks, Education Secretary Arne Duncan released promising practices on the effective, efficient, and responsible use of resources in tight budget times. Building off of this work, the Office of Innovation and Improvement has compiled additional information to help schools, districts, and states increase educational productivity.

This information has been pulled from a variety of resources, in particular the work of leading thinkers in the field. The information assembled is not intended to represent a comprehensive list of efforts. Instead, it is a collection of ideas and actions from different places and serves as a starting point for additional investigation into the methods being pursued and implemented across the country. To further this work, we would like leaders to share with us the strategies and practices in place to help increase educational productivity. Broadening the dialogue around successful steps to achieve more with less is a critical component of this national conversation.

The information compiled is organized into 10 reform categories, each aligned with various strategies, practices, or approaches that seek to increase productivity by:

  • Improving outcomes while maintaining current costs;
  • Maintaining current outcomes while lowering costs; or
  • Both improving outcomes and lowering costs.

These strategies seek to invest in what works, make better use of technology, reduce mandates that hinder productivity, pay and manage for results, take advantage of existing opportunities, and make short-term investments for long-term results. Guiding these strategies are two underlying principles: putting student learning first and protecting the neediest children and communities. While some of these strategies will have a greater impact on budgets and spending than others, each nonetheless represents a potential opportunity to contribute to improved productivity at the school, district or state level.

Productivity Categories:

Improving Student Achievement

1. Competency-based learning or personalized learning
2. Use of technology in teaching and learning
3. New and alternative sources of student support and funding
4. Better use of community resources

Improving Processes, Systems, and Resource Allocations

5. Process improvements
6. Pay and manage for results
7. Flexibility to ease requirements and mandates

Improving Human Capital

8. Organization of the teaching workforce
9. Teacher professional and career development
10. Teacher compensation

Resources on Framing Educational Productivity

Cross-posted from the OII homepage.

Challenge to Innovate: Tapping the Potential of Mobile Technologies for the Classroom

When personal computers first emerged in the classroom more than two decades ago, the tools they offered to teachers and students were limited in scope, and some of us may only remember dying of typhoid while playing the educational game The Oregon Trail. Today’s students often have access to powerful computers with exciting communication and learning capabilities. These computers aren’t just the ones in the back of the classroom, they are also the handheld smart phones found in a student’s pocket.

Smart phones provide ample opportunity for educators, which is why the NEA Foundation and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) have teamed up to issue a new challenge seeking your ideas on how mobile phone technology can transform teaching and learning.

The Challenge to Innovate (C2i) initiative is open to public school educators, students, and other creative thinkers with an interest in improving public education. In June, the NEA Foundation will award up to five individuals $1,000 for the best ideas posted on the C2i page on ED’s Open Innovation Portal.

How it works:

  • Submissions will be accepted from April 4 – May 13, 2011.
  • A proposed solution must effectively incorporate smart phones or cell phones.
  • Portal registrants can also review, comment and vote.
  • In June, up to 5 solutions will be awarded $1,000 from the NEA Foundation.
  • The solutions selected will be shared by the NEA Foundation and CoSN via multiple outlets.

Get started and submit your idea today.

Keeping Pace With The 21st Century

“Education reform and our global competitiveness depend on all of us embracing innovative ideas and technologies,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller earlier today at the Educational Innovation and Technology Think Tank at Harvard University. Miller highlighted the fact that millions of American jobs are unfilled because employers can’t find qualified applicants, and the number could rise if our students aren’t prepared to work with technology in the 21st Century workforce.

Increasing the number of Americans who are earning college degrees is going to take an education transformation that relies on technology innovation and new business models.  President Obama made this case during his State of the Union address by noting that “we need to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competition.”

Miller referenced the President’s call to win the future, and provided examples of how places of learning across the country are already using technology to save money, improve services, and connect teachers like never before.

Deputy Secretary Miller explained that the Department of Education, through initiatives like the National Education Technology Plan, is doing everything it can to embrace the transformative potential of technology and ensuring that educational environments offered to students keep pace with the 21st century.

Broadband Availability to U.S. Schools and Colleges

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education is providing a comprehensive picture of where broadband is available in schools and colleges across the country with a new interactive map released last week.  The map extends the National Broadband Map effort launched in February by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  The education broadband map can be viewed online at data.ed.gov.

Broadband holds the potential to address issues of educational access and equity of opportunity.  Broadband connections are the building blocks of a digital learning environment, where students and teachers have customizable digital learning resources at their fingertips, instead of one-text-fits-all print materials. Such digital tools greatly extend the quality and variety of materials available to support teaching and learning.  In these classrooms, broadband powers learning environments that respond to a student’s needs in real time and move aggressively to elevate achievement.  Quality broadband service also provides students in rural America the same online access to these digital resources as students in the heart of New York City.

Where exactly does the data for the interactive map come from? A nationwide understanding of broadband access in schools is now available through the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, a matching grant program that implements the joint purposes of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA) administered by the NTIA.  In less than one year, grantees performed two rounds of data collection from 3,400 broadband providers operating in states, representing more than 1,650 unique broadband companies nationally.  Grantees also surveyed broadband connectivity at community anchor institutions, which included schools, colleges, universities, libraries and community centers.

The conclusions from the data show that community anchor institutions are largely underserved. For example, based on an analysis by state education technology directors, most schools need a connection of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students. However, the data show that two-thirds of surveyed schools subscribe to speeds lower than 25 Mbps. In addition, only four percent of libraries reported subscribing to speeds greater than 25 Mbps.  To see which areas have quality access to a high-speed Internet connection and those that are reported underserved, visit the Education Broadband Map.

The Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan sets a goal that all students and teachers will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning, when and where they need it. Broadband access is a critical part of that infrastructure. This map shows best data to date and efforts will continue to gather better data and continually refresh the maps.

For additional information on this project, please see The National Broadband Map, Broadband Classroom, National Broadband Plan with Chapter 11: Education.

Karen Cator is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.

Answering Questions About ED Tech

The National Education Technology Plan seeks to apply the advanced technologies used in our daily personal and professional lives to our entire education system to improve student learning, speed up the adoption of effective practices, and use data for continuous improvement.

Edutopia.org, a project of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, sought questions about the National ED Tech Plan from its Edutopia community for the Department of Education’s Director of the Office of Educational Technology Karen Cator to answer on YouTube.

Betty Ray, an Edutopia Community Manager said that:

“It’s extremely encouraging to hear Ms Cator speak so clearly about what it takes for the U.S. to remain competitive in the 21st century. She speaks in explicit terms about what technology can (and can’t!) do. She describes meaningful learning environments and outlines steps needed to get there. She acknowledges very real issues like disabilities and learning styles as well as privacy.”

You can read the National Education Technology Plan, and don’t hesitate to join the conversation in the comments below.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Taking “Boring” Out of the Classroom

Image of Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton (ed. note: Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton was in Austin, Texas last Friday for the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive conference and appeared on the panel: “Asleep in the Classroom: A Wake Up Call from Tomorrow.”)

For too many of our students around the country, “boring” has become the adjective of choice to describe their experiences in the classroom.  Students have been locked down by the concept of seat time and locked out of the technological revolution that has transformed nearly every sector of American society, except for education.

To prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs and rapidly changing society, we must build a high quality and highly effective education system that takes advantage of everything we know from the learning sciences and every learning tool and opportunity available.  This is especially true given the “New Normal” of needing to do more with less. At the Department of Education we are committed to this pursuit, from articulating a path forward in our National Education Technology Plan to creating the required infrastructure such as the recently proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED). And with the help of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, we’re working towards providing all students with a robust and affordable Internet that will provide the communications network of the future.

In an age of Facebook, Amazon.com, online collaboration and rapid technological change, the world of chalk and blackboards simply won’t meet the demands of today let alone tomorrow.  Technology has the potential to greatly enhance student engagement, increase personalized learning, enable students to earn credit and progress at their own pace, and equip teachers with the tools needed to differentiate instruction (i.e. diagnose student needs, interests, and learning preferences and adjust their teaching and content based on that diagnosis).  Technology can empower students of all ages to take control of their learning, and to find and pursue their passions – waking them up not only in class but to the many opportunities before them and their own potential.

Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement