Bracken Academy Runs on STEAM Power

There’s a school in Nevada with an unusual name that is helping students to achieve promising results: Bracken STEAM Academy of Las Vegas.

The STEAM in Bracken’s name comes from its focus on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, with the largest emphasis on engineering. The school also is placing a renewed focus on holding all students to rigorous, college- and career-ready standards.

Michelle Wheatfill, who teaches Bracken fifth-graders and has taught at the school for nine years, sees a difference in the classroom after teaching with heightened standards. “The students are learning exponentially,” Wheatfill said. “And because of the technology we have, they take charge of a lot of their learning. We’re there just to help guide them, instead of teaching every lesson with direct instruction.”

Bracken-Photo

Teacher Michelle Wheatfill introduces a lesson to her 5th grade class. (Photo Credit: Clark County School District)

Victoria Zblewski, a fourth-grade teacher with seven years of experience at Bracken, agrees. “As a result of the higher standards, my students are able to explain why we’re doing something,” she said. “We actually have kids write out their thinking, not just write their answer.”

But what do the students think of how they’re being taught? Wynn, a third-grader, said that she likes the opportunities that are presented. “Bracken is so good because the teachers don’t stop you at certain levels. They keep pushing you so you can keep going higher and get better.”

“Bracken is such a good school because the teachers push us to our level,” said Aden, a fifth-grade student. “I like when we get to do accelerated levels.”

Principal Kathleen Decker, who has led Bracken for 13 years, also sees the differences. “I’m in the classrooms all the time,” Decker said. “I do see teachers using a lot more hands-on, a lot more project-based learning, and a lot more differentiated and individualized instruction than in the past.”

Bracken’s commitment to higher standards is supported with two grants from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The Bracken STEAM Academy’s collaboration with Las Vegas’ Smith Center for the Performing Arts is funded by the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Program which, in turn, is supported by ED’s Arts in Education National Program.

In addition, ED provides the school with $27,000 per year in a Title I grant, which helps keep the computer labs open before and after school, and funds a parent volunteer coordinator.

Principal Decker emphasized that teaching the children is the top priority and, one way or another, supporting the kids will always get done. At the same time, Decker said, “The federal money we receive at Bracken helps us engage everybody. The dollars do make a difference.”

Joe Barison is the director of communications and outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office.

 

Engaging Young Women in an Authentic Mentoring Experience

STEM Mentoring Cafe LogoThis is a cross-post from the Department of Energy’s blog.

It is a well-known fact: The percentage of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and careers is disproportionate to the amount of men in those same fields. As jobs in the 21st century become more technologically based, it is imperative that capable creative minds from diverse backgrounds integrate themselves into these STEM arenas. From leaders in government and industry who understand the critical shortage of STEM workers (especially females) on the far end of the pipeline to educators of all levels on the near end of the pipeline, there needs to be a concerted effort to bridge the gap between these two seminal points. Enter the STEM Mentoring Café, a unique pilot program in Washington, DC, the brainchild of AnneMarie Horowitz of the Department of Energy and Camsie McAdams of the Department of Education.

The mentoring event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, took place on May 19, 2014 from 4:30pm-6:00pm. Thirty female STEM professionals from 16 different government agencies arrived with their “tools of their trade”, ready to interact with eighteen (18) teachers and thirty-eight (38) 5th-8th grade students to share their passion for their STEM careers. The participants assimilated quickly to the “speed-dating” format, with STEM professionals moving from table to table during the five rounds of 10-minute intervals, enabling students and teachers to ask questions and learn about STEM professions during each roundtable discussion.

As a facilitator, I watched the students engage and listened to their well-versed questions from “What is the favorite part of your job?” showing distinct interest in how the professional connected to her job, to “How does that work?’’ exuding excitement and curiosity in the science and engineering aspect of the profession. At each “mini-interview”, the students carefully recorded the mentor’s name, job, cool facts and additional notes in their STEM Mentoring Notebook provided at the event. The collective “vibe” in the room was palpable; the symbiotic relationship of mentors describing what they love to do in their work-life with students’ searching for the jobs that synced with their passions and interests created an incredible buzz—full of smiles and fun throughout. By the end of the event, many of these young women had found their voices and were happy to share their favorite part of the day with the group.

It was a fantastic event in and of itself, and there’s even more. Research shows that female student’s self-concept plays an integral role in choosing a career path. In addition, the more students identify with same-sex experts the more likely they will be to pursue a STEM career. So not only did the STEM professionals attend the event and personally meet the students, they also committed to follow-up mentoring sessions with the teachers and students in the coming school year.

Reluctance to leave an event is typically an indicator of success. That was certainly the case at the STEM Mentoring Event! Students gathered their certificates and slowly made their way to the exits with their teachers, sometimes stopping to chat with their new friends whether a STEM professional or a peer. As the teachers and students left the auditorium, they were given a collection of educational resources from many of the agencies. As the lights dimmed and the last of the guests departed, it was readily apparent that something had changed in the last two hours. It was quiet now but the echoes of the sounds remained, the delightful cadence of bridges being forged and the hope of what would come.

Melinda Higgins is an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at NASA’s Office of Education, Headquarters and Goddard Space Flight Center.

Recognizing Green Schools on Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day, earlier today U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2014 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) and District Sustainability Award recipients. Joined in an online live stream by Acting Chief White House Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots, Secretary Duncan celebrated the forty-eight schools and nine school districts chosen for their exemplary efforts in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.

Students gardening at an elementary school. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Students gardening at an elementary school. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Reiterating the Department’s support for green schools, Secretary Duncan praised the selected schools and districts, stating: “Today’s honorees are modeling a comprehensive approach to being green by encompassing facility, wellness and learning into their daily operations.” Duncan went on to say that the recipients “are demonstrating ways schools can simultaneously cut costs; improve health, and engage students with hands-on learning that prepares them with the thinking skills necessary to be successful in college and careers.

The forty-eight schools and nine school districts were selected from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by thirty state education agencies across the country. The schools serve various grade levels, including 29 elementary, 16 middle, and 18 high schools, with several offering various K-12 variations. Many schools also serve pre-K students, demonstrating that health, wellness, and environmental concepts can be taught to every student, even the earliest learners. Selected schools and districts also demonstrated that their efforts not only improve physical, environmental, and nutritional health of school communities, but also save schools money in utility costs which can be applied directly back to where it is needed most – the classrooms. Read all about this year’s honorees and their tremendous achievements.

In addition to recognizing this year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees, Secretary Duncan announced a new nomination category for the 2014-2015 awards cycle. This award will offer higher education institutions the chance to receive much-deserved recognition for their  resource conservation, healthy living and learning environments, and commitment to education for sustainability. For this award, states are encouraged to document how the nominees’ sustainability in facilities, health and learning has also reduced college costs, increased completion rates, led to higher rates of employment, and ensured robust civic skills among graduates. As with the Pre-K to 12 school and district nominations, which have honored 48 percent disadvantaged selectees over the course of the last three cycles, authorities are also encouraged to consider diverse types of institutions.

There are many tools and resources available to all schools, Pre-K to postsecondary, to help with resource conservation, health and to ensure education for sustainability. You can find free resources available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides Resources and Webinar Series. You can also stay up to date through the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ webpage, where you can connect with the Facebook, twitter, and newsletter.

With these tools, next fall your school may be ready to apply in your state for one if its nominations to the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools! State education agencies are encouraged to indicate their intent to nominate next spring by August 1, 2014 and schools, districts and postsecondary institutions to contact their state agencies for more information on applications.

Kyle Flood is a confidential assistant in the Office of the General Counsel and social media manager for the ED Green Team.

Award-Winning Science Teacher: “How I Came to Study, Teach, and Love Science”

Obama greets teachers at the White House

President Barack Obama meets with Presidential award for excellence in math and science teaching winners in the East Room of the White House, March 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Recently I stood in the East Room of the White House as President Obama welcomed and congratulated recipients of the 2012 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). This immense honor made me feel very proud, and I experience pride by reflecting on the people who have guided me toward an accomplishment.

I began to reflect about how I came to study, teach, and love science. I recalled a friend, braver than me, who encouraged me join her at the remote scientific station where I learned to love fieldwork. And I thought of professors whose contagious enthusiasm got me excited about photosynthesis. But I suddenly realized that the reason I saw myself as capable in science at all was because a teacher once told me, “You might be the first woman to walk on Mars.” I was surprised to discover how much my identity as a scientist was largely shaped by his belief in me.

Many of my PAEMST colleagues were already aware that role models get children hooked on STEM. In fact, the importance of STEM role models was one of the major themes of discussion among PAEMST recipients and the scientists with whom we met during four days of celebrating and learning in Washington, DC.

During a visit to the National Science Foundation, a group of scientists fondly shared stories of teachers who inspired their career paths.  At another discussion, teachers buzzed with agreement when a panel of physicists called for greater visibility of female scientist role models to inspire more girls to pursue science.

My fellow educators don’t just agree; they’ve designed school-based programs to foster relationships between students and STEM role models. One teacher organizes single-sex conversations among scientists and students, so that relationships are build on interest in science, as well as gender identity. This teacher does not leave mentoring to chance because she knows role models can inspire a life-long love of science and the confidence to pursue STEM careers.

Recently, my student Tattiana confessed, “People don’t think I like science because of the way I look.”  We began talking about what it’s like to love science and to be a woman, when her working image of a scientist is an elderly white man. Our conversation highlighted that, as a woman and her teacher, I might be the person most responsible for fostering her identity development as a female scientist this year.

My fellow PAEMST recipients constantly inspire young people like Tattiana to engage with science and math. I’m glad that so many women among this year’s winners are modeling our passion for STEM for the young girls we teach.  However, teachers of color were underrepresented, and as a result recipients did not reflect the diversity of America’s students. This year, I hope educators, parents, and students will visit https://www.paemst.org/nomination/nominate to nominate more amazing science and math teachers of color. By recognizing a diverse group of science and math educators, we will help all of our students discover their own potential to succeed in STEM careers.

Erin Dukeshire teaches sixth grade science at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, Mass. She is a 2012 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Five Excellent Ways to Celebrate Pi Day on 3/14

It’s time to celebrate Pi! And if the very thought of the irrational number is making you hungry for knowledge, you’re not alone.

Pi Day

(Photo courtesy of djwtwo on Flickr.)

Pi Day (3/14) is the unofficial holiday dedicated to pi. Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and it’s an irrational number, so it can’t be expressed as a simple fraction of two integers. The number starts out with 3.14, but it goes on for infinity!

This special day is also the perfect time to plan STEM-themed activities for your classroom or with your children at home.

Here are five excellent ways to celebrate Pi:

          1. Head to your local or school library and check out a book about Pi! These three titles are a good place to start.
          2. Demonstrate Pi in the real world. San Francisco’s Exploratorium has an entire webpage devoted to simple and easy hands-on activities that introduce the concept of Pi using everyday objects.
          3. Make Pi plates. Have students trace the Pi symbol on a piece of construction paper and then cut it out a glue it to a paper plate. Decorate the border of the plate with Pi’s digits.
          4. Write a Pi-ku, a math version of the traditional 5-7-5 syllabic haiku. A Pi-ku of course, follows a 3-1-4 syllabic pattern.

For example:
Math is fun
When
Mixed with some pie

 5. And, of course, you could always bake a Pi-themed pie!

Find more fun Pi facts and resources free.ed.gov.

Dorothy Amatucci is a new media analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Working Together to Build Tomorrow’s STEM Workforce

Cross-posted from NASA.gov

On January 13, NASA and the U.S. Department of Education marked the successful completion of a pilot program designed to engage more students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

Attendees at the half-day event, held at NASA Headquarters in Washington, included senior officials from both agencies as well as invited guests. The group reviewed the pilot activity and associated evaluation approach, identified best practices, and discussed potential follow-on efforts. The highlight of the event was the presentation of successful student entries from the design competition.

In July 2013, the two agencies signed a Space Act Agreement to launch the collaborative pilot education initiative, which began in the fall. It infused NASA content into the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The 21CCLCs provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours or expanded learning time for students and their families, particularly students who attend schools in under-resourced communities.

In support of the pilot initiative, NASA provided online STEM challenges and associated curriculum materials to 21CCLCs in three states: Colorado, Michigan and Virginia. The pilot leveraged resources between NASA and the Department of Education to address the national need for a STEM-educated workforce and to create and evaluate STEM resources for 21CCLC grantees’ future use.

The pilot featured three NASA student design challenges: a simulated parachute drop onto the surface of Mars, a radiation protection system for astronauts and flight hardware, and a recreational activity that astronauts could perform in the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station.

Student teams worked with mentors to develop their products. They then submitted 3- to 5-minute videos of their design entries for evaluation. A team of NASA education professionals and technical staff reviewed the submissions and selected four submissions to showcase based upon creativity, use of the engineering design process, and student data collection and analysis. The highlight of Monday’s event was the video presentation from each of these teams:

Parachuting Onto Mars

Team Name: Thinkers of Tomorrow

Video Name: Working Today, Parachuting Tomorrow

School: Atherton Junior High, Burton, Mich.


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

Team Name: Team Imaginators

Video Name: The Awesome NASA Inventors

School: Bruce Randolph School, Denver, Colo.


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

Exploration Design Challenge

Team Name: Team Cupcake

Video Name: Space the Final Frontier

School: Stonewall Jackson Middle School, Roanoke, Va.


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

Spaced Out Sports

Team Name: Team Spaced Out

Video Name: Good Banana, Bad Banana

School: Washtenaw International Middle Academy, Ypsilanti, Mich.


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

The successful completion of the collaborative activity demonstrated two of the key goals of the federal Committee on STEM Education: increase student engagement in STEM experiences and implement more effective coordination among federal agencies with STEM education investments.

To learn more about the NASA challenges used in this pilot STEM program, visit: y4y.ed.gov/NASA

To learn more about NASA’s education programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/education

Rural Students in Florida Get Chance to Become STEM Scholars

FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

FloridaLearns STEM Scholars program is giving students opportunities to work with peers to solve problems in a variety of technical fields under the guidance of professional scientists and engineers. Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a senior at a high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days with top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, and he attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned about STEM career paths. Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.

“The STEM program allows our students to make better sense of what they’re learning on a day-to-day basis, and it helps them become better-prepared employees for our local industries,” said Ralph Yoder, superintendent of Calhoun County.

In other efforts to boost the skills of Florida’s labor force, the State is investing in training college graduates in STEM fields to become teachers, and encourages them to share that knowledge by becoming an educator.

“Funds from Florida’s Race to the Top award have expedited efforts already underway to better prepare students for college and careers,” said Brenda Crouch, Program Manager for the FloridaLearns STEM Scholars Program.”  It is a win for Florida’s economic future.

Students chosen to participate in the program are paired with mentors and receive intensive hands-on experiences with STEM professionals, rigorous courses during the school year, and opportunities to collaborate with other advanced students. Pam Stewart, Florida’s Commissioner of Education, said that the State had seen a 49 percent enrollment increase in accelerated STEM courses and STEM career academies since 2009. In some rural counties, students received industry certifications for the first time in 2013. More than 1,000 high school students have participated in the STEM Scholars program since 2012. Roderick Robinson, who mentors students in the program in Franklin County, said watching his students’ interest in STEM grow has been a “phenomenal experience.” Prior to the STEM program, many of his students were unfamiliar with STEM careers. After participating in the program, however, Robinson estimates that 95 percent of his students are now interested in STEM majors.

Read More

Shooting for the Stars: Let’s Read! Let’s Move!

LRLMnasa1The third installment of the Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer series at the Department of Education took kids’ imaginations all the way to the moon and back this week with space-themed activities and a strong focus on STEM. The event was part of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! summer enrichment series, which engages children in summer reading and physical activity over the summer months, and promotes healthy eating habits.

Thanks to NASA, educators from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, the children received a special opportunity to “Train like an Astronaut” through core strength exercises, and learned about the solar system through an interactive “mission to space” dance.

Hagan, along with Secretary Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and two-time space shuttle astronaut, George Zamka,  joined forces to read Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery to a room of eager young learners. Zamka told the children that Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” was only achieved through a series of preceding little steps, like working extra hard on homework.

LRLMnasa2The Let’s Move! portion of the afternoon, carried out with the help of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, included a “Shooting Stars Jumbo Jam,” “Comet Blast Relay,” and food tasting station with healthy star fruit. At the end of the active afternoon, children were encouraged to keep their minds active as well, by taking home a new book and book bag, courtesy of Target.

The last two installments of this summer’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series will take place on August 1 and 6. Each event supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, dedicated to promoting healthy eating and an active lifestyle, while also encouraging strong early learning programs to ensure children get started on the right track.

For highlights of this week’s event, watch our video wrap up here!

Sandra Ramos is a student at Cornell University and a current intern in the Office of Communication & Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Reimagining Learning in Philadelphia

Jeff Scott and Students

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

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

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

Students at Drexel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students Fly High at Aviation High School

Duncan and students at Aviation HS

Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (left), and Secretary Arne Duncan with Aviation High School students.

As a former middle school math teacher, at the end of every academic year, I worried about what would happen to my students when they entered high school. I often wished they had different options, including more career and technical education (CTE) schools that would prepare them for the demands of a high-tech economy.

Last week, I participated in a roundtable discussion at Aviation High School in Long Island City, N.Y., where Secretary Arne Duncan spoke with students about their experiences. This school is an example of a CTE school I would have loved to see my students attend.

With a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Aviation High School prepares students for careers in aviation maintenance and the aerospace industry. In addition to traditional classrooms, the school has 17 real aircraft where students practice repairing planes.

Secretary Duncan highlighted this school as a compelling example of what the Obama administration is trying to replicate through the High School Redesign initiative proposal. This new, competitive grant program would encourage school districts to rethink the traditional high school model and focus on providing rigorous real-world experiences to students that will put them on a path for success in both college and careers.

Through grants to local educational agencies in partnership with colleges, universities, and other organizations—such as nonprofits and community-based groups—the High School Redesign initiative will challenge schools to personalize learning. Redesigned high schools will customize content and instructional practices so that students not only master challenging academic concepts and skills, but also pursue their individual interests.

Further, these schools will align teaching and learning so that all students graduate with college-level coursework or college credit and career-related experiences and skills.

Today’s high-tech, knowledge economy requires that our schools connect learning to what students will be required to do in college and careers.

Located close to two New York airports, Aviation High School has strong partnerships with local businesses, such as JetBlue, that provide internships and mentoring for students.  As one student said, “What we learn here, we apply it in real world situations.”

During the roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan, Aviation High School students discussed how hands-on experiences through internships and other job-related experiences help them to perform well in traditional academic subjects like physics and math.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew further emphasized this point, “We know students in this program outperform on academics because they are engaged in the learning process.”

Many students talked about the pride and accomplishment they felt as a result of their work at the school.  One said, “When you actually work on a plane and watch it take off, that’s a good feeling.”

Students also emphasized how teachers and mentors challenged them and prepared them with skills they planned to use after graduation as they pursue college or aviation careers.

When asked how high schools in the nation could provide similar experiences for other students, one student replied, “You have to start that fire. Get that spark. Make them determined to be successful.” Aviation High School is a powerful model that is clearly sparking so many of its students to succeed.

For more information about the High School Redesign initiative, please see here.

Nicora Placa is a full-time Ph.D student at NYU researching teaching and learning mathematics, and a 2008 Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

Sign up to receive email updates from the Department of Education’s Homeroom Blog.

Young Children Learn Math Through the Arts

Amanda Whiteman

Wolf Trap Teaching Artist Amanda Layton Whiteman integrates the arts with math in preschool classrooms as part of the Early STEM/Arts Program. (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

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.

Games Win Big in Education Grants Competition

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog.

“I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create… educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up.” - President Obama, March 2011 

ostp-ed-games graphicToday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the final winners of this year’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract awards—funds that are reserved for entrepreneurial small businesses using cutting-edge R&D to develop commercially viable technologies to solve tough problems.  And there’s something that may surprise you about the winning contracts: More than half—or 12 in all—are for games and game-related projects, more than in any previous year. That says a lot about the increasingly creative field of educational games, and the growing base of evidence indicating that games can be an important and effective component of our strategy to prepare a highly skilled 21st century American workforce.

The SBIR program at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the Department of Education’s research division, provides up to $1.05 million to small businesses for the R&D of commercially viable education technology products. The program holds an annual competition and awards funds in several phases: Phase I awards, up to $150,000 for 6 months, allow for the development of a prototype and research to demonstrate its functionality and feasibility; and Phase II awards, up to $900,000 for 2 years, are for full-scale development of the product, iterative research to refine it, and a pilot study to demonstrate its usability, feasibility, and promise. A small number of Fast Track awards are made each year for funds to cover work in both Phase I and Phase II.

This year’s prominent success of games-related proposals reflects three factors. First, the IES SBIR program has gained a reputation for recognizing and supporting—and so increasingly, attracting—bold innovators such as Filament Games (winner of the National STEM Video Game Challenge in 2011), Sokikom (winner of several industry awards and recent recipient of $1M in angel funding), and Triad Interactive Media (winner of a 2013 SIIA CODiE award). Second, educators are increasingly learning to use games to motivate students in new ways, creating increased demand for new ideas and products in this sector. Third, the recent meteoric rise in popularity of mobile devices has enabled game-playing anywhere and at any time, providing an expanded market of players interested in purchasing education titles.

This year’s SBIR games winners share several themes:

  • Most include an adaptive component that auto-adjusts the game difficulty to the competency level of the player.
  • Several use story-based narratives to engage students.
  •  Most include rewards and competition to drive game play.
  • Most include a teaching component that supports the implementation of the game as a supplement to or replacement for standard instructional practice.
  • Several include teacher dashboards, where formative assessment results are provided to the teacher in real-time to inform them of player status for further instruction and remediation.

The winning 2013 IES SBIR awards for games this year are:

Phase I

Phase II                                                               

Fast Track (Phase I & II)

Information about other awards can be found here.

Congratulations to all the winners and we can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor for Digital Media at OSTP

Edward Metz is a developmental psychologist and Director of the Institute of Education Sciences’ Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.