Uncommon Schools, a network of 32 public charter schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and current grantee of the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) — is winner of the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. Roberto J. Rodriguez, special assistant to the President for education, announced the winner on July 2nd at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference in Washington, D.C.
President Obama, in the 2013 State the Union address, challenged the country to move forward simultaneously on two key educational fronts — providing high-quality preschool for all four-year olds and preparing a new generation of Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects. Teaching artists from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts and preschool educators in the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, are developing an innovative approach to achieving both of these national goals.
The Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts (Early STEM/Arts) is pioneering an innovative, research-based arts integration model for early childhood learning — one that supports math teaching and learning through active, arts-based experiences in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms. Preschool teachers participating in the project receive professional development that enables them to apply arts-integrated lessons in their classrooms. Some report “a-ha!” moments as they work alongside Wolf Trap Teaching Artists such as Amanda Layton Whiteman (pictured above). “When I found out it was going to be math, I was saying, oh jeez, this is going to be hard,” said one teacher. But after being involved with the artist and the arts-integrated approach, she “realized that math is everywhere.” And incorporating the arts into her everyday lessons “helps you reach every child.”
With the help of a $1.15 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Early STEM/Arts program will disseminate evaluation results in early 2014. In the meantime, Wolf Trap Regional Programs in 16 locations nationally are gearing up to implement the new model in the 2013-14 school year.
Read OII’s “Wolf Trap Institute Unites the Arts and STEM in Early Childhood Learning” to hear more stories from those at the Wolf Trap Institute.
Last week, I met with a group of high school students with learning disabilities who attend a dual-enrollment high school/college program at Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California. The program emphasizes the use of technology, including the Bookshare accessible library, to help students earn college credit while still in high school.
The Mission Middle College educational program is a collaboration of Santa Clara Unified School District and Mission Community College. The program takes on a student-centered learning environment where seniors can complete required high school courses while accumulating college credits. Each student focuses on individual educational choices and academic and vocational studies relevant to future goals. The idea is to provide learning choices and empowerment for students. The program is inclusive of all students, with or without a disability.
Some of the students have print and learning disabilities that impede their ability to easily read and comprehend grade-level text and complex curricula in print. Many of these students felt stuck and considered dropping out of school. Their instructors believe in every student’s learning potential and set high expectations. They teach students first to choose appropriate reading technologies for their learning needs, and then to find the reading assignments in digital accessible format, such as DAISY text and DAISY audio.
“We expect high standards from all students,” said Jennifer Lang-Jolliff, the Program Coordinator at Mission Middle College. “And we provide them with the instruction, tools, and resources to rise to the challenge of learning rigorous curriculum. Individualized instruction and timely access to curriculum in digital formats enable many students to feel more confident and prepared. Our high expectations and the e-literacy services available to students helped to shift their views of themselves personally and academically. They see their way through to college, community service, and good careers.”
Indeed, I was pleased to learn that starting with the graduating class of 2009, 100% of graduates at Mission Middle College had a viable postsecondary plan that included a college or university. This is right in line with President Obama’s key goal of being first in the world in college completion by 2020, and Mission Middle College is helping America meet that goal.
The students at Mission Middle College with print disabilities (including visual impairments, physical disabilities, and severe learning disabilities) are empowered to find the right assistive technology, computer software application, or device to help them achieve academically.
The students I met are members of Bookshare, a free and federally funded online library from the U.S. Department of Education. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. Bookshare provides timely access to curriculum in digital formats and offers a large collection of eBooks (currently over 190,000 books and growing) as well as reading technologies to enable students to experience multimodal learning—the ability to see and hear text read aloud.
I met Kate Finnerty, a high school senior with dyslexia, who qualifies for Bookshare. Kate has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that requires technology accommodations to aid her in her studies. She told me, “The library is very helpful. I use it to keep up with reading and research. Without it, I would have fallen behind.” Kate is pursuing graphic design—she received acceptance letters from five U.S. colleges!
During the roundtable discussion, students, educators, parents, and administrators explored how Mission Middle College’s use of assistive technologies (AT) helps each student face their learning challenges with individualized approaches, which include digital books and reading technologies. Roundtable takeaways include:
- The emphasis on self-advocacy. The students set clear goals and high expectations for their future.
- Teachers give each student individualized attention, creating plans for their future and how to get there.
- Students who qualify with print disabilities can receive timely access to curriculum and feel more independent and empowered in the reading process through Bookshare and the AT it provides.
- Many of the students will be doing internships at Benetech this summer and will get work-based experience that will help prepare them for college and career.
- Technologies can deliver flexible instruction based on learning needs and preferences, including multimodal reading (to see and hear text aloud) that may unlock the reader’s ability to decode words and more fully comprehend information.
Programs like this at Mission Middle College are about making sure every student graduates from high school and is college and career ready. Students who once had to wait for books now receive timely access to the curriculum in alternative formats. Many activities are streamlined for students who may not fit traditional models, and those who once felt like academic failures are now completing high school courses and are on track to college.
I often speak about the broad values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity for youth with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of school and life. Programs like that of Mission Middle College, which use assistive technologies and digital accessible books provided by Bookshare, are truly models for others. They promote high academic standards for all, enabling more students to be college and career ready.
Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
Writing is an important part of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts, but what about students learning to employ the digital tools so natural to them outside the classroom to express themselves in school? The challenges to “going digital” with writing instruction range from choosing the best methods to employ the latest technological tools to accessing quality in-service and joining communities of practice to staying current with the changing definition of a “literate” citizenry.
Fortunately, there is Digital Is — a forum for teachers to share and engage with other educators in the field of digital writing — to meet these challenges. Developed by the National Writing Project, a venerable source of professional development, curricular and instructional resources, research findings, and best practices based on experiences of K-16 educators, this free Web portal is serving thousands of educators, writers, and K-12 learners.
In “Writing and Learning in a Digital Age — Digital Is,” the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Margarita Melendez conveys the multiple facets of this unique resource that is supported by funding from the Department of Education. Readers of the feature will also learn about two other OII-supported National Writing Project efforts that are providing teaching modules connected to the Common Core and a professional development program focused on rural school districts. Read the full piece: Writing and Learning in a Digital Age – Digital Is.
Thanks to the implementation of a five-year, $3.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo., is getting a second chance. Six years ago, Skyline was considered a “ghetto school with low expectations and low requirements,” said principal Patty Quinones. Today, everyone is focused on the bright future ahead. “It is exciting now to see families talking realistically about college,” she said.
The exciting changes at Skyline are in large part due to the school’s STEM Academy program—made possible through the 2010 i3 grant. The Academy focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum and includes collaboration between the St. Vrain Valley School District and the University of Colorado Boulder. The Academy’s goal is to provide 400 high school students with an alternative path to graduation through a STEM certificate program. This program develops students’ 21st century skills to prepare them for future career opportunities.
The i3 STEM Academy project, which will operate through the end of the 2014–15 school year, also addresses the literacy and mathematics achievement needs of 400 elementary and 550 middle schools students in feeder schools to Skyline High School. Working with the elementary and middle school students ensures better preparation for the STEM curricula in the high school program. As a development grant in the i3 program, this K–12 project intends, by the end of its fifth year, to sustain its efforts across the three grade levels, and to replicate them in schools throughout the St. Vrain Valley School District.
During the STEM Academy’s 2009-10 inaugural year, 103 ninth- and tenth-grade students began the program; during this school year there are 291 students, with 41 graduating this spring. Students who satisfy the requirements of the STEM Academy program are guaranteed admission to the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science because of the school’s direct partnership with the University.
Regina Renaldi, St. Vrain’s executive director of priority programs, says that the unique requirement of the i3 grant has built bridges between the business community and the St. Vrain school community. “Our partnership [with corporations] allows students the opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field; students participate in roundtables discussions and design challenges where brainstorming and feedback are from engineers and scientists,” she said. “Students aren’t interested in simulations; they want real-world opportunities for thinking, learning and problem-solving.”
The director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Muñoz, recently visited Skyline High School for a roundtable discussion on Career and Technical Education with Colorado educators and business leaders. The roundtable began after a tour of the school, which included visiting with elementary and high school students. Promising to share what she saw with her colleagues in the West Wing of the White House, Muñoz said, “I can assure you I’ll take this back to Washington. It’s going to inform the work that we’re doing in the educational sphere.”
While it is still too early to conclude how the i3 project has affected long-term student outcomes, the i3 grant has enabled a school that was once dismissed as a lost cause to have a positive impact on the outcomes of its current students. Through this program, these students now see their dreams of going to college as a reality. “We are doing true transformation here; not just shifting kids from one school to another,” said Don Haddad, superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District. “This is what real reform looks like.”
Diana Huffman is a public affairs specialist in ED’s Denver Regional Office
On Dec 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the St. Vrain Valley School District was one of 16 winners of the Race to the Top – District Competition.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama –The Rocket City – has launched one of the largest school district transitions to digital learning in the nation. I recently visited Huntsville to learn from their experience, and my conversations there reinforced for me that community and family partnerships are essential for the success of digital learning. We have unprecedented investment in education technology, but we don’t yet have the corresponding developments in partnerships to help transitions to digital learning succeed.
Community partnerships are key to realizing a digital learning revolution that is more than trading textbooks for tablets. This is an inflection point in education – a critical opportunity to transform how schools, parents, and community-based organizations collaborate to ignite student curiosity and engagement in learning.
Community and family partnerships can also reduce the possibility that digital learning transitions will exacerbate achievement gaps. Students that face the greatest challenges in and outside school need comprehensive supports to evolve so that digital learning doesn’t further disadvantage them.
Our community organizations, including faith-based organizations, have tremendous opportunities to support and shape the digital learning transition through four key areas of collaboration:
- Expanding access and digital literacy;
- Bridging between schools, families, and communities;
- Service and volunteering in education; and
- Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning.
Expanding access and digital literacy.
Many students don’t have access outside school to computers, broadband connections, and basic technical support. The Obama Administration is working with a public-private partnership called Connect2Compete to expand low-cost internet, computers, and digital literacy instruction to low-income families. Connect2Compete is building a network of local community partners, and community organizations can go here to learn more and link up with their efforts.
Bridging between schools, families, and communities.
Community and faith organizations can bridge the gap between home and school with their strong connections to families. Internet-based student data and learning management systems can improve collaboration between teachers, families, and community partners. Community-based organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, a Together for Tomorrow challenge winner, are using joint data systems with schools to focus student support services where they have the greatest impact.
A new report from the Department on Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, highlights the need for more efforts that connect community partners with school data systems. The report emphasizes that “young people learn and develop in a wide range of settings,” and we need to better use data “to support the full range of student needs and interests—both inside and outside schools and classrooms—to improve learning outcomes.”
Service and volunteering in education.
Digital learning systems are making it possible for partners to assist students using lessons developed by educators that are aligned with the school curriculum. This is expanding the range of volunteers that are confident and effective at assisting students inside and outside the classroom. Service and volunteer partners can also advance student learning through digital tools such as remote connections into classrooms, Open Education Resources, and internet-connected real-world experiences.
Digital partnerships aren’t limited to academic assistance, and can boost other key student outcomes. iMentor is using digital learning to improve student behavior and increase college access. Their internet-based systems help train and support adult volunteers, who mentor students both virtually and in-person.
Creating new avenues for anytime-anywhere learning
Digital learning partnerships can help community-based organizations transform American education by expanding learning beyond the classroom. “Anytime-anywhere learning” is a key goal in our education technology plan and schools can’t accomplish this goal alone. Schools can partner with community-based initiatives like the HIVE Learning Networks that use new technologies and media to better connect students to their interests, aspirations, communities, and careers.
Community partners are using digital badges to change how and where students earn academic credit. For example, the Providence After School Alliance is developing digital badges as a central component of their credit-bearing afterschool and internship programs.
Getting started with digital learning partnerships.
There are valuable information resources at our Office of Education Technology web page and Epic-ed, our initiative to support digital learning transitions. If you are already part of a digital learning partnership, share your examples on our Facebook page at facebook.com/edpartners.
The guidebooks on community partnerships and digital learning are yet to be written, so it is vital that community partners, families, schools, and education technology initiatives work together to develop their pathways to digital learning partnerships. Together we can ensure that digital learning boosts engagement and learning for all of our students. Education technology can help us create a community culture of education success, where everyone sees education as his or her responsibility, and there are clear and compelling pathways to assist.
Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education
With math literacy a must for most jobs in our knowledge economy, Secretary Duncan has called math teachers “our nation-builders of the future.” Yet, just 40 percent of 4th-graders and 35 percent of 8th-graders are proficient in math, according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Aimed at increasing young students’ proficiency in math, Chicago’s Erikson Institute is transforming how teachers in pre-K through 3rd grade approach mathematics lessons through a research-based training funded by a five-year, $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant awarded by ED in 2010. i3 “Development” grants support new and high-potential practices to improve student learning, and pairs that support with funding to evaluate the impact of the practices.
Through Erikson’s Early Mathematics Education Project, teachers are trained to lead “classrooms that celebrate critical thinking, not correct answers,” according to Erikson Senior Instructor Rebeca Itzkowich. For this i3 grant, teachers at eight public elementary schools in Chicago are participating in the professional development, which will ultimately support more than 4,500 students each year.
The project’s professional development includes learning labs, individualized coaching, school-based learning groups, and classroom implementation. Erikson’s professional development model produced almost three additional months of mathematics learning during a school year, in comparison to a matched contrast group, and helped teachers narrow the math achievement gap before children entered elementary school.
These new strategies fueled a new energy around math lessons for teacher Michelle Quinton and her 2nd graders at Federico Garcia Lorca Elementary School in Chicago.
“Students’ attitudes have been extremely different. They are excited. They are verbal. They are expressing themselves in new ways. They now feel success where they hadn’t before,” said Quinton, who participated in Erikson training throughout the 2011-2012 school year.
Some of Quinton’s new practices have more to do with what she doesn’t do, than what she does. For example, when pupils struggle with problems, she often steps aside to let them work out solutions with their classmates rather giving them quick answers.
“Kids hearing it from me doesn’t always work. Kids hearing it from other kids has been a huge success,” she said.
Recognizing that kids learn differently and don’t respond equally well to common math processes, Erikson’s training also filled teachers’ “toolboxes” with multiple calculation methods for math operations.
“For different kids, certain algorithms make more sense and are more comfortable; it’s like different shoes for different people,” said Itzkowich. “We all have different shortcuts to get to the same place.”
While teacher training to improve instruction is the heart of the project, family help outside of school is vital. To ensure that math reinforcement was successful, Erikson took into account the realities of modern family life, said Itzkowich.
“We had to find ways that parents felt successful supporting their kids’ mathematics learning that are pleasurable and can be incorporated into their home life,” she said, noting that after long days at work, “parents often have a hard enough time just making dinner, getting their kids to eat and brush their teeth.”
Using items that many families already had in their homes — like beans, dice and board games such as Candy Land — Erikson faculty members provide teachers with simple games that engage young students in mathematical learning and understanding in a fun way. Teachers, in turn, shared these activities with their students and parents at “Family Game Evenings” during the school year.
“Parents left the classrooms feeling like ‘I never thought this had so much mathematical possibilities, this is fun and I can definitely do this,’” said Itzkowich.
Erikson Institute is one of 72 organizations awarded funding by ED in the first two years of the i3 program, which supports the development and scaling of ambitious, effective practices that improve student achievement. The program encourages school districts, nonprofit organizations and local partners with a record of achievement to work together on innovative efforts. Applicants must have a history of closing achievement gaps, improving student achievement, increasing high school graduation rates, and/or increasing college enrollment and completion rates. Awards for 2012 will be announced later this year.
Julie Ewart is the director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office
I recently gave a TEDx MidAtlantic talk entitled Unlocking Human Potential: Why We Need a New Infrastructure for Learning about Learning. My premise was that we have the opportunity to tap into vast amounts of latent human potential; but, to do so quickly, we need to build a new national research agenda and apparatus focused on breakthrough learning outcomes.
The theme of this TEDx event was Be Fearless: Take Risks. Be Bold. Fail Forward — IMHO a perfect theme for all of education today. I have come to believe that “being fearless” requires one to ask oneself two foundational questions: (1) What do you believe (is possible), and (2) what are you willing to do? Therefore, I began my talk by addressing a common misconception that limits our ability to believe unprecedented learning outcomes can be produced at scale. Consciously and subconsciously, we often allow the conflation of potential (capacity) and performance to limit what learning outcomes we believe can be achieved by all learners. However, without entering the long and embattled debate about the existence and shape of the bell curve describing individual intellectual potential, we can turn this misconception on its head.
Rather than arguing about the range of human intellectual potential, the more important issue is the current use of the bell curve to describe the expected attainment of specific learning outcomes (i.e., educational performance) and the presumed correlation between the “potential” curve and the “performance” curve.
There is general acceptance of a broad distribution of performance in certain academic pursuits (less so when it comes to something like the alphabet, but very much so as subjects become more complex, like trigonometry and physics). We have become accustomed to the wide bell curve with grades F through A arrayed from left to right. Many are not only accustomed to this distribution, but comfortable with it because it validates the underlying belief that some individuals have the intellectual capacity and will to master certain topics and others do not. In math and science, as a country and culture, we are, unfortunately, exceptionally confident that there are “math and science people” and then there are others — often including ourselves among the “others” (aka the “neverbeens” — I’ve never been a “fill-in-the-blank person”). All of us should be discomforted by all of this, as it possibly represents the single most costly misunderstanding in the history of our country and potentially the world.
In most cases, the current performance bell curve could most reasonably be described as “the distribution of performance demonstrated by students on certain types of assessments after specific periods of time being taught in particular ways.” When described this way, it would seem absurd to assume that a student’s location on the curve is indicative of her true potential; but we and, more importantly, the students almost always say and believe that to be true. This has to change.
More than three decades ago, Benjamin Bloom, acclaimed researcher and creator of Bloom’s Taxonomy, demonstrated that one-to-one tutoring produced a two-standard-deviation improvement over classroom instruction. If the U.S. school population improved by just one standard deviation, we would be the top-performing nation in the world; our bottom decile of students would perform at the level of our current top-quartile students. (Would that then qualify them as “math people”?) Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman was famously able to redesign his physics course to produce more than two standard deviations of average improvement across instructors, effectively doubling the percentage of students passing the course and seemingly supporting their belief that they are “science people.” Others have produced similar results in mathematics courses, often while significantly reducing the required in-class time (i.e., reducing cost).
Student achievement improves dramatically for students who receive one-on-one instruction over traditional classroom instruction — Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem.If we know these kinds of results are possible across student populations and various rigorous topics, then on what basis are we allowing our young people to be labeled as less than capable and, worse, believe themselves incapable of performing at the highest levels?
Two standard deviations would move average U.S. performance two times as far ahead of the world’s top-performing “nation,” Shanghai, as Shanghai is ahead of the U.S. today; and it would put our bottom decile students at the Shanghai average. The benefits in terms of global economic, political, and social leadership would be unequivocal; but, to date, our inability to affordably produce these kinds of outcomes — Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem — has perpetuated an educational model that wastes tremendous human potential and has allowed the U.S. to lose its position as an educational leader.
This is not an insurmountable barrier. It is the kind of challenge that America has used research, development, and systemic innovation to conquer time and again. If we believe the aforementioned learning outcomes are possible, we must simply be willing to build the infrastructure to do the same in education and training. If we are successful, there is no doubt we and our young people will “win the future.” So, we must ask ourselves: Are we willing to be fearless: take risks; be bold; and fail forward?
Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.
Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement.
The Department of Education (ED) seeks to encourage innovation in higher education teaching and learning to drive productivity, quality, and equity. To contribute to the national conversation in this arena, ED, in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, convened 175 people at Georgetown University this week to discuss technological innovations that can be instrumental in transforming teaching and learning.
The group was intentionally diverse: college and university leaders; innovators in the education technology space; foundation officials; associations and accreditors; researchers and policy analysts as well as state and federal officials. Participants were encouraged to talk across sectors and blur any real or perceived boundaries.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked off the symposium by challenging the participants to continue to be innovative and to push ED to support innovation. “We need to catalyze innovative changes that can be sustained and have the potential to dramatically increase completion while enhancing quality and gaining productivity,” he said.
The need to discuss innovation in teaching and learning for higher education has never been more pressing, with at least three dynamics converging at this moment in time. First, we know more than ever before about the learning sciences. Second, there is a proliferation of innovative resources that aim to transform teaching and learning, many of which take advantage of rapidly changing technology. And third, it is a time when colleges and universities are being asked to do more with less, in a climate of increased attention to affordability.
While participants reported leaving with new energy and armed with new information and tools, the symposium was not just a series of conversations. Its success is measured by the commitments made and actions taken after the event. Near the end of the day, participants had the opportunity to gather with one another to discuss collaborations, partnerships, and commitments. ED collected these written commitments and will follow-up with the participants to ensure that this symposium is a catalyst toward creating new momentum and broader action around innovation to drive productivity, quality and equity.
Tweets from the day:
— Jeff Selingo (@jselingo) October 1, 2012
— Jim Shelton (@JIMSEDU) October 1, 2012
— Camsie McAdams (@camsiemcadams) October 1, 2012
Rosemarie Nassif is a special advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Postsecondary Education, and David Soo is policy adviser to the Under Secretary of Education
For each of the last three years, Secretary Duncan has started the school year with a bus tour visiting schools and communities across the country to find what’s working in education and to hear the concerns, insights, and lessons learned from students, teachers, principals, parents, and the communities supporting them. It’s always a welcome grounding in “real education” — the kind that children and families experience everyday — versus the “education system” policymakers and pundits love to caricature and debate.
This year, I participated more fully than I have in years past — visiting schools, grantees, education reformers, and advocates in California, Missouri, and Kentucky.
In California, I watched a Sequoia High School (Redwood City) student, who entered the school as an English Learner, introduce the music video he produced with his classmates on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to an audience of more than 500 attendees. Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, then shared anecdotes of individual students, whole classes, and entire schools achieving dramatic gains and fundamentally changing learning and teaching practices.
In Missouri, I visited the New Franklin School to see Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grantee eMINTS at work. Teachers and students were using relevant and engaging project-based and personalized learning powered by technology to improve student engagement, effort, and outcomes. A class of self-directed 5th-grade teams pursued Web quests on American Indian civilizations. High school juniors and seniors completed self-paced accounting courses. Teachers spoke of being renewed by the approach and the new tools. Everyone used words like “ownership,” “empowered,” and “independence” to describe the shift in the school’s learning culture. All of this was especially exciting after hearing from school and system leaders working hard to implement the program despite the challenges of decreased funding, lack of technology infrastructure, and burdensome regulation.
In Kentucky, I visited Sayre School, a high-performing and well-resourced independent school focused on building great character as well as providing rigorous learning opportunities. The students showed extraordinary poise and confidence as we discussed the relative strengths of their program and the infusion of technology as a new, but increasingly ubiquitous, tool. This visit served as an excellent benchmark as I traveled to rural Kentucky to visit the i3 Development and Promise Neighborhoods (PN) Implementation grantee, Berea College, to see their work at Clay County High School (CCHS).
Clay County suffers from all of the ills often associated with Appalachia; but CCHS has leveraged the PN and i3 grants to substantially increase the number of AP classes offered and multiply the number of students taking AP classes and, most importantly, passing AP exams with a score of 3 or better. They’ve used the PN grant to create more comprehensive and coherent student supports that have begun to reverse the dropout trend and increase college going. Teachers and students spoke eloquently about the impact these efforts have had, not only on their practices, but also on their belief systems.
One student in particular helped me synthesize everything that I had seen in the past two weeks. As I was ending my visit at CCHS with a student roundtable, I asked the students what impacts the programs had on the school and them. They spoke about the access to more AP courses, the heroic efforts of the new academic specialists to keep kids in school, the impact of grant-funded college visits, and the difference tiny amounts of resources made to teachers who cared but had nothing to work with. Then one standout student I had met earlier in the day, Rex, said:
I know I talked about the AP classes; but that’s not the most important thing. And, I know I talked about the resources—ROTC students finally having real equipment after having used brooms for years—but that’s not the most important thing. CCHS used to be an I-can’t-school… Now, we are an I-can-school… I can take AP courses. I can go to college. I can do better than my parents.
Evidenced-based programs, technology, professional development, funding — I firmly believe all these are important; but in the end, nothing is more powerful than schools, teachers, and students that believe they can.
The question that motivates me is, what combinations of tools, resources, and know-how can make every school an I-can-school?
Jim Shelton is assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education
What do tech startups, the Biggest Little City in the World, and great skiing have in common? They’re the first things that come to my mind when describing the early stops on ED’s Education Drives America cross-country bus tour.
Silicon Valley – Sept. 12
Secretary Arne Duncan will kick off the back-to-school bus tour on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, Calif., where he will join students, parents, teachers, and education stakeholders for an event focusing on equity and expanding opportunities to learn with emerging digital technologies. Audience members will use new media to ask questions through Twitter and Facebook. The event will be livestreamed and there will be a Twitter question stream for online participants. Read about additional events that will occur in Silicon Valley.
Sacramento – Sept. 12
From Silicon Valley, Secretary Duncan will spend time in Sacramento holding a stakeholder town hall with 30 superintendents and 30 mayors at the Sacramento Public Library to discuss district-level school reforms.
Reno – Sept. 12
Secretary Duncan will host a town hall with 700 stakeholders at the University of Nevada, Reno, where the discussion will focus on education issues impacting Hispanic Americans, college access and affordability, and the connection between education and jobs. Univision’s Anya Arechiga, will moderate the discussion and Hispanic community leaders, educators, parents, and students will also engage in the discussion. Read about other events happening in the Reno area.
Elko – Sept. 13
Secretary Duncan will leave the bus in good hands on Sept 13 as Deb Delisle, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, and William Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, will visit Great Basin College in Elko, where they’ll participate in a roundtable discussion on issues related to Indian education.
Salt Lake City – Sept. 13
Following Elko, the back-to-school bus will roll into the Salt Lake Valley, where Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, ED Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss and Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association (NEA) will join school officials, teachers, and students for a tour and roundtable discussion at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City. There are several more events surrounding this stop, click here to read more.
More specific details about each stop will become available as the time for the events draws closer. Look for information on the rest of the cross-country tour in the coming days. For up-to-the-minute updates from the road, subscribe to our Education Drives America e-mail updates by clicking here.
Cameron Brenchley is director of digital engagement at the U.S. Department of Education
The topic of “game-based learning” is gaining considerable attention as more and more young people are learning from games outside of school and more and more teachers are leveraging the power of games to engage students in school.
Well-designed games can motivate students to actively engage in meaningful and challenging tasks, and through this process to learn content and sharpen critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Education gaming experts have identified some of the key features of games that may have the greatest potential to affect student learning, including:
- exciting narratives and video-game quality graphics that motivate and engage students;
- challenging discovery-based tasks;
- adaptive supports that adjust to and support individual learners;
- formative assessment; and
- competition and rewards.
With the advent of modern web-based delivery mechanisms including smartphones and tablets, games are now available to young people anytime, anywhere.
The Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), recently announced a new round of awards through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, including several awards that focus on the development of game-based learning education technology products. This year the program made 11 new Phase I awards (eight of which are for games) of up to $150,000 to support the development and research of commercially viable education technology products intended to support student outcomes in regular and special education settings.
In this first phase, awardees will develop prototypes of their products and conduct research on their feasibility. A second round of competitively funded awards will be made in 2013 for awardees to further develop these prototypes into marketable products and conduct additional research in schools. Awards for Phase II will be in amounts up to $900,000 for two years. For abstracts for all of the projects, please click here.
Even before the Phase I awards were announced in June, the IES SBIR program has invested in several projects that use games to support student learning. Below are details on three such projects.
(Note: The Department has provided the information and links in this blog post as a convenience to educators, parents and students. The Department does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, completeness or effectiveness of these resources. The inclusion of particular resources is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed or products or services.)
With awards in 2009 and 2010, IES SBIR funded the development of a Sokikom, a web-based set of math games for elementary school students. Results of a pilot study demonstrated that after one month of play by students in two 3rd grade classrooms, the technology worked as planned, and students were engaged when playing the game. Compared to a control group of two classrooms that followed regular instruction and didn’t play games, game play was associated with higher scores on end-of-unit math tests. Since the product launched in 2011, Sokikom has been used by schools and students in all 50 states. Sokikom has been recognized with several industry awards, including the 2012 CODIE Award from the Software & Information Industry Association for the best educational game, the Distinguished Achievement Award from the 2011 Association of Educational Publishers, and the Winner of the Academic Gaming Solution from the Edtech Digest 2011 Cool Tool Award. For a video overview demonstration of Sokikom, please click here.
Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS)
With a 2010 award, IES SBIR is funding the Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS) suite, a set of five web-based life science games designed to facilitate conceptual understandings of the scientific inquiry process among middle school students, and especially among learners with disabilities. Research is currently underway to examine teachers’ best practices as they implement the games and to assess the promise of the games to improve student learning. GILS has received several prestigious technology awards. Most recently, the Software & Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum Innovation Incubator competition awarded GILS First Place: Most Innovative Education Technology Product. (Note: Another IES SBIR awardee won this award in 2011 for a dynamic program to support teaching and learning math). GILS took Grand Prize at the 2011 National STEM Video Game Challenge and Best in Show at the 2011 Games and Learning Society Conference. For a video overview demonstration of GILS, please click here.
With awards in 2010 and 2011, IES SBIR is funding a web-based environment for elementary students to engage with pedagogical agents (animated life-like characters) to solve tailored, social-problem-solving tasks. Through game-like scenarios and interactions, Zoo U supports students’ practicing and improving in areas such as cooperation, communication, emotion regulation, empathy, impulse control, and initiation of play. The Zoo U product will provide self-paced learning for individualized instruction, student progress reports, and implementation supports for teachers. For a video overview demonstration of Zoo U, please click here.
The SBIR program holds one annual competition each year. IES will seek applications in late fall 2012. For information on the program, and for video demos of more than 20 products supported by this program, click here.
Edward Metz is the SBIR Program Manager at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences