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Feature: Writing and Learning in the Digital Age – "Digital Is"

"Writing today," say the authors of the book Because Digital Writing Matters, "is pervasively and generally digital; composed with digital tools; created out of word, image, sound, and motion; circulated in digital environments; and consumed across a wide range of digital platforms."

Teachers today face a number of challenges as they design writing instruction for their students in our new digital world. Not only must educators address the ever-present challenges in writing per se, including adapting the writing process to an increasingly diverse population of students, they must first adopt the best methods to employ the new technological tools and integrate this knowledge into a complex learning environment. Inadequate training, an array of student technological skills, shifting notions of texts, as well as the ever-changing definition of a "literate" citizenship, are just some of the realities of today’s classroom. Add to these challenges the importance of privacy and personal safety, public scrutiny, and a fluid paradigm of standards and autonomy in the digital writing world, and it becomes quite evident that teaching writing in today’s classroom is starkly different from what it was just 20 years ago. At the same time that technologies have made drafting, editing, and modifying documents quicker and easier, the Because Digital Writing Matters authors note that the technologies have simultaneously "expanded options for writers and have probably made writing, and learning to write, more complex."

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Teaching American History Program Participants Receive National Honor

The more than 85,000 participants in OII’s Teaching American History Program are winners of the 2013 Friend of History Award from the Organization of American Historians (OAH). The award, which is given in recognition of outstanding support for historical research or the public presentation of American history, was presented to two representatives of the TAH program at OAH’s 106th annual conference on April 13.

Military Children Share Their Experiences Through the Arts at the Department of Education

Students cut the ribbon to officially open the exhibit.In celebration of the Month of the Military Child, the U.S. Department of Education Student Art Exhibit Program partnered with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) to host the art exhibit “America’s Children.” The exhibit features some 50 works of visual art and writing from students based around the U.S., including Puerto Rico, and Canada and Germany.  Communicating the unique life experiences of military-connected children at the event were Taylor Walton, MCEC Student 2 Student president at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Va.; the Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs Eric Waldo; Mary Keller, president and CEO of MCEC; Patricia Shinseki, board member of MCEC; and student performers from Mount Vernon High School.

i3 Project Combines English with Science to Meet the Needs of ELL Students in Both Subjects

Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant projects allow school districts and their educational partners to take a good idea and make it better. In 2008, school leaders in California's Sonoma Valley School District launched an initiative to bring not just science instruction to the elementary grades, where it had been neglected, but to also combine hands-on science with English in a novel multidisciplinary approach that they knew had significant potential to help the district's growing population of English language learners (ELLs).

In 2010, the district's partner in this venture, San Francisco's Exploratorium museum, took the lessons learned from their combined efforts at an elementary school in Sonoma with the highest percentage of ELLs, applied for and received a five-year, $3 million i3 Development grant to expand the initiative to all five of Sonoma Valley's elementary schools. With matching funds contributed by two local philanthropies that began their support in 2008, the new collaborative project became Integrating English Language Development and Science: A Professional Development Approach.

Ready to Learn Grantee Launches Research-Based Digital Education Resources for Preschoolers

Children pilot the “At the Beach” Pocoyo PlaySet at Kingsbridge Community Center in the Bronx, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of HITN's Early Learning Collaborative)The Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network’s (HITN) Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) is piloting tablet-based “playsets” designed to provide fun and engaging learning experiences for young children as they develop English language, reading, and math skills. The playsets, which are available as apps for iPads, use a combination of activities, including interactive games and storybooks, sing-along songs, and a word machine, to help close the achievement gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged children.

The playsets feature Pocoyo, an internationally recognized preschool character created by Zinkia Entertainment, a partner of HITN in the development of the playset applications. Research during the pilot phase will assess the educational efficacy of these digital products before their commercial release, expected in late 2013. The Michael Cohen Group (MCG) is conducting ongoing formative research during the piloting phase as well as large-scale summative studies of the playsets. The development of the Pocoyo PlaySets will be also be guided by feedback from more than 25 pilot sites in New York, Alabama, Maine, Florida, and California.

When Charter Schools and Non-Chartered Schools Work Together: A Grant to Encourage Collaboration

Charter schools were originally created to serve as labs of innovation, developing best practices, and then sharing them widely to improve the work of all students.”

                     —  Shannah Varon, executive director, Boston Collegiate Charter School

The Charter School Exemplary Collaboration Award, a National Activities grant-award competition in the Charter Schools Program (CSP), is designed to provide just what Ms. Varon describes – an opportunity for high-quality charter schools with innovative ideas and a history of results to share their promising practices with non-chartered public schools and districts. The Collaboration Awards, funded for the first time in 2012, are grounded in a belief that trust and teamwork between high-quality charter schools and non-chartered public schools will accelerate educational excellence in all public schools. Additionally, successful joint ventures between schools can vary in their structures and objectives, while still remaining focused on the goal of strengthening a community and its schools.

Office of Innovation and Improvement Begins 2013 Investing in Innovation Competition

On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, the Department of Education announced the start of the 2013 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program competition. The Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) for the pre-application process for the Development category and the Notice of Final Priorities for the overall i3 program were published the same day in the Federal Register.

The Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and the i3 team are looking forward to a successful competition, beginning with the pre-application process for the Development competition, to be followed by the announcement of the Validation and Scale-up competitions later this spring. This year’s competition includes a few changes from previous i3 competitions that are designed to incorporate lessons learned from the first three years, while maintaining the dual goals of supporting new innovations and scaling effective ones.

KIPP Impact Study Relevant to Its OII-Supported Efforts in Network Growth and Leadership

A recent study of middle-school students attending KIPP charter schools compared their performance in four core academic subjects over a three-year period and found that they gained between 11 and 14 additional months of learning over students in comparable traditional public schools. The study, “KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes,” was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research (Mathematica), using multiple research strategies, including a rigorous, random-assignment methodology that compared students admitted to KIPP schools through its lottery system with students who applied to KIPP but were not admitted.

Jazz is Feted, Nationally and Internationally, Throughout April

Swinging beats, improvisational melodies, and ear-pleasing harmonies are all hallmarks of jazz. The quintessentially American art form channels the feeling of freedom, invokes the spirit of creativity, and puts a premium on collaboration and teamwork, all inherent values of democracy and essential ingredients of the American experience.

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The Arts Matter — in March and Throughout the Year

More than 4,000 art educators gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, early this month to “draw connections to their communities” — the theme of this year’s annual National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference. And what a great way for these P-12 teachers of art, along with museum educators; university professors of art education; and school-, district-, and state-level arts and education administrators to also kick-off the month during which all the arts are recognized for their importance to a well-rounded education — Dance in the Schools Month, Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month.

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