i3 Grant Provides STEM Graduation Path for Colorado Students

Skyline High School students show their math and science skills through trebuchet building during the summer session of STEM Academy. Eighty-eight students participated in this summer’s 4-week program funded by an i3 grant.

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.

Skyline High School student works on her field rocket project during the summer session of STEM Academy.

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.

Community Partnerships for the Digital Learning Revolution

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.

Boy with tablet deviceCommunity 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.

The Department is participating in Digital Learning Day on February 6. Community organizations can learn more and jumpstart their digital learning partnerships at digitallearningday.org.

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

Early Math Teachers Celebrate ‘Critical Thinking, Not Correct Answers’

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.

Playing Games at Diego School

Student Richard Mitchell III and his dad, Richard Mitchell Jr. enjoy a math game that uses the Candy Land board game with kindergarten teacher Heather Gustafson during a Family Game Evening at Jose de Diego Community Academy.

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

Unlocking Human Potential: The Cost of Conflating Potential and Performance

Jim Shelton

Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton speaks at TEDx MidAtlantic on Saturday, October 27, 2012.

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.

JS curve graph

Student achievement improves dramatically for students who receive one-on-one instruction over traditional classroom instruction — Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem.

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.

Driving Productivity in Postsecondary Education Through Innovation

Innovation Symposium

Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed discuss technological innovations to improve higher education. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

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:

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

Schools That Can

Shelton Visits Berea Clay

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton talks with students during a stop at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky as part of the Department's back-to-school bus tour.

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.

Shelton discussing eMints

Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed eMINTS during a "Education Drives America" bus tour stop at the University of Missouri.

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

Click here to keep up with news and other developments of the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) by receiving email alerts about new posts on the OII news page

Back-to-School Bus Tour Takes Shape – CA, NV, UT

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

Bus Tour LogoSecretary 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

Connected Educator Month: Game-Based Learning

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.)

Sokikom

Screen shot from Sokikom

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)

A screenshot of the GILS game

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.

Zoo U

A screenshot of the Zoo U game.

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

Education Innovation Clusters: Accelerating Innovation Through Regional Partnerships

At a time when advances in technology and digital media hold the potential to dramatically reshape the way we approach instruction, assessment, and research, many barriers still continue to slow innovation in learning, teaching and educational technologiesAccelerating the pace of innovation requires collaboration between educators, researchers, and commercial partners to work through these problems and create a shared research and development ecosystem.

Across the country, clusters of innovation are beginning to emerge in regions where these partnerships are forming.  These clusters rely on collective expertise and resources to spur ideas, incubate new businesses, and most importantly, improve student learning.  From Boston to Los Angeles, communities are building on this model by focusing unique regional strengths in the learning sciences, learning analytics and learning games to name a few.

To encourage this innovative cluster approach, last week, the US Department of Education convened at the University of Pennsylvania thirteen groups of leaders from communities across the country. Participants shared the unique assets and approaches they are taking advantage of and discussed strategies for overcoming challenges that limit collaboration and impede innovation.

Jim Shelton, ED assistant deputy secretary for innovation, and Richard Culatta, deputy director in the Office of Education Technology, led conversations during the event that focused on identifying critical elements of successful clusters and approaches for solving common challenges in sustaining collaborative innovation. The event also included talks from Nisith Acharya, director of the Department of Commerce’s Office of Innovation and Adam Frankel, CEO of Digital Promise, about ways for these clusters to engage current innovation initiatives for support in building and sustaining successful clusters.

All participating leaders committed to taking best practices from across the country back to their respective innovation networks and communities.  More importantly, the respective leaders committed to finding ways to support each other as a national network of innovation hubs instead of series of stand-alone communities.  As regional partnerships become stronger and interconnectivity among regions increases, expect to see an acceleration of the development of educational tools and technologies that will improve learning for students across the country.

More information and elements of effective clusters can be found on the education innovation cluster website.

Richard Culatta is deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology

Reading Recovery: i3 Grantee Has Immediate Impact on Young Readers

When young children struggle to read, they can quickly fall behind their classmates in a number of subjects. Teachers with the 27-year old Reading Recovery program work one-on-one with 1st graders to rapidly reverse that descent, developing tailored strategies that respond to individual students’ unique hurdles in processing text.

“Over the past few weeks, I have seen such a change in my students,” said Amarisa Fuentes, an Elkins Elementary teacher in Fort Worth. “They came to me knowing only a few words and now they are reading and taking risks without fear of failure.”  Thanks to Texas Woman’s University’s $3.7 million share of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, her school is offering the early literacy intervention program for the first time.

A child and teacher use magnetic numbers.

Magnetic letters are often used in Reading Recovery lessons as children learn how letters and words work.

Texas Woman’s University is one of 19 colleges nationwide that is benefitting from a $46 million i3 grant that ED awarded to Ohio State University in 2010 to expand teacher training for Reading Recovery with the goal of training enough teachers to help 88,700 students by the end of 2013.

Reading Recovery is a research-based intervention strategy developed in New Zealand in the 1970s that came to the U.S. through Ohio State in 1984.  As noted in its i3 Scale-up application, “Reading Recovery has gone through a 25-year period of development and validation, producing the largest impacts on student reading skills of any intervention reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse. With its evidence of effectiveness in beginning reading intervention in all four reading domain outcomes — Alphabetics, Reading Fluency, Comprehension, and General Reading Achievement — the successful application was one of only four Scale-up grants in the initial round of i3 funding.

“We target 1st graders who are in the bottom 20% of their class for reading development and work with them daily for 12-20 weeks to bring them up to average level for their class,” said Jim Schnug, project administrator of Reading Recovery’s i3 grant at Ohio State University.

The i3 grant funds year-long professional development that even longtime teachers find “intensive.” Along with graduate coursework, the training requires future Reading Recovery educators to conduct lessons with coaches and classmates observing and providing feedback.

“It’s good to have another set of eyes and ears with you in the classroom.  It causes you to be very reflective about what you do and why you do it, and to learn new strategies,” said Eastgate Elementary School teacher Benita Smith, a 17-year veteran educator in Ohio’s Columbus City Schools who is now a Reading Recover teacher-in-training in OSU’s program.

Data bear out Reading Recovery’s success.  According to Schnug, the program has successfully enabled 75 percent of its students to reach their classmates’ average reading levels.  They then return to regular reading lessons with their peers and most maintain average or better proficiency with occasional “check-ups” from Reading Recovery.  Perhaps the most stirring proof of the program’s results come from those who know its students the best, though.

After having a tough time in kindergarten, 1st grader Jaylen Gamble “likes to show off by reading to everybody,” said Jaylen’s grandfather Dan Cunningham.

“My son is now reading everything he sees – magazines, stuff on cell phones….even the back of our bottle of bubble bath,” said Brandie Poindexter of her son, Ikiam Pass. “I’m so proud of him.”

“One parent told me he had never seen his child make so much progress in a short amount of time,” said Fuentes, in describing the impact of Reading Recovery in her class. “Tears came to his eyes as he watched his son read a book for the first time.”

With children’s self-confidence a precious and easily-lost commodity, time is a critical element of the program.

“We use the word ‘acceleration’ a lot.  We can’t waste time,” said Schnug.

–Julie Ewart and Patrick Kerr are the communications directors in ED’s Chicago and Kansas City Regional Offices

Open Data for College Affordability and Better Student Outcomes

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

The Obama Administration recently launched the Education Data Initiative to help students and their families benefit from innovation enabled by open data from the US government and other sources.  By working to make education data more available and useful to entrepreneurs and innovators, we’re confident that new products and services will continue to emerge to help American families make informed educational decisions and improve student outcomes.

The Education Data Initiative is part of a series of Open Data Initiatives—other ones include energy, health, and public safety—in which the Administration is working to help catalyze the development of innovative apps and services fueled by open data, while rigorously protecting privacy and confidentiality.

Todd Park speaks at the data jam

US Chief Technology Officer Todd Park speaks at the Education Data Jam

This week, staff from the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and the George Washington School of Business held an Education “Data Jam” in Washington, DC.  A diverse set of educational technology experts and entrepreneurs gathered to brainstorm new applications, products, services, and product features that could be developed using open educational data to drive increases in student success.

The MyData Initiative, which encourages schools, software vendors, and others who hold student data to make it available to parents and students in electronic, machine-readable formats, was an important focus of the workshop discussion.  Allowing students to download their own data enables them to maintain their personal learning profile, access customized learning experiences, and make informed school selection and financial aid choices.  At the workshop, the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid unveiled the MyData files it will be launching for student aid application (FAFSA) and disbursement (NSLDS) data downloads. Students will soon be able to retrieve their own student aid data in machine-readable format, which they could then share with online services that can harness the data to provide customized assistance with finding scholarships, choosing schools, or repaying loans.

The Education Data Jam also focused on Federal education data sets now available at education.data.gov.  Publicly available data about education outcomes can help fuel the next generation of customized services and tools for students, teachers, and school districts.

Data from the Learning Registry, a new open-source technical system to help educators and learners use and share digital content, was also a major subject of the brainstorm.  Developers interested in connecting student performance or teacher preparation tools to appropriate content can leverage the information stored in this crowd-sourced platform.

In wrapping up the event, we challenged participants to collaborate on building tools or services using the data demonstrated at the Data Jam.  Groups who successfully implement their ideas in the next 90 days will have an opportunity to potentially be featured at a follow-on event—an “Education Datapalooza”—that will celebrate private-sector education innovation fueled by open data.  The challenge to build innovative education tools and services, for potential demonstration at the Datapalooza, is open to everyone.  Information about the data sets presented at the Data Jam is available here.  And if you’d like more details about the Education Dataplaooza or if you have an idea or an example of a private-sector innovation (a product, service, website, app, or feature) that uses open education data, please send an email to edtech@ed.gov.

Todd Park is the US Chief Technology Officer, and Jim Shelton is the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

Summer Seminar Gets Personal

Recently teachers from across the country participated in a summer seminar to grapple with an emerging hot topic in education:  how to personalize learning in a classroom full of diverse students with varying interests, skills and learning styles.

The seminar, held at the U.S. Department of Education and via webinar, included presenters who are current and former classroom teachers who offered both the theory and practical strategies for teachers interested in moving their classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Personalized Learning Video Image

Click to watch the second summer seminar on personalized learning.

ED’s Richard Culatta defined personalizing learning as a way if individualizing learning for each student in the room by adjusting the pace, adjusting the approach, and leveraging students’ individual interests and motivations. He presented examples of schools and programs to illustrate some of the ways these strategies are being used in schools to offer teachers, students and parents plenty of data and formative information that empowers them to create systems that adapt to meet each student’s learning needs.

STEM teacher Matt McCrea took participants through strategies he has used successfully when personalizing instruction for his middle school math and engineering classes.  While teaching math, for example, McCrea’s students checked a classroom computer board to see whether they would be working at a computer individually, engaging in a small group task, or reviewing concepts with a peer tutor, pairing with another student, or working with the teacher in a small group or one-on-one setting.

Special education teacher and technology specialist Patrick Ledesma discussed what teachers can do to prepare for personalizing learning and how teacher leaders can help other teachers in their school to design effective personalized learning.

One thing all of the presenters agreed on:  using technology to personalize learning does not reduce the need for an effective teacher in the classroom.  If anything, there is more of a need for teachers who know their students and engage with them, who plan effective lessons, seek out instructional resources, manage student behavior, monitor learning, and modify instruction.  It’s about “moving the teaching profession into the 21st century,” Ledesma said.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is an English teacher from North Carolina currently serving as the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education.

View the Summer Seminars—including Civil Rights in the Classroom and What Teachers Need to Know about Personalized Learning—and download the slide presentations.

Read the National Technology Plan or the Executive Summary.