Preschoolers “On the Go” at the Department of Education

Children begin their learning activities after receiving a sticker from the “Word Machine” (upper left). Each sticker has the name and picture of a vehicle. (Photo courtesy of HINN/Rodrigo Sanchez)

Children begin their learning activities after receiving a sticker from the “Word Machine” (upper left). Each sticker has the name and picture of a vehicle. (Photo courtesy of HITN/Rodrigo Sanchez)

“Things That Go” was the theme of a recent Family Day Event at the Department of Education headquarters that featured the latest efforts of the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network’s (HITN) Early Learning Collaborative (ELC), which uses an innovative transmedia approach to early learning.

More than 30 young children from the University of the District of Columbia Lab School and the Barbara Chambers Children’s Center of Washington, D.C., many of them English language learners, attended the event, along with their teachers, parents, and education professionals.

HITN Coloring (cropped)

A preschooler colors his vehicle as part of his journey to Baby Bird’s birthday party. (Photo courtesy of HITN/Rodrigo Sanchez)

Through a series of hands-on activities, the children and adults engaged in a rich variety of experiences based on ELC’s English language development transmedia PlayGround called “Things That Go.” The PlayGround includes non-digital and digital materials, Web-based games, and the PlaySet— ELC’s tablet-based app.

This transmedia approach develops pathways to early learning through play and multiple, interconnected platforms that include storybooks, puzzles, picture/word games, as well as Web-based games and highly engaging digital apps. In 2013, ELC launched the pilot phase of its transmedia preschool learning PlayGround and tablet-based PlaySet at the Newseum (see this OII home page article for more information).

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i3 Arts-Integration Project Delivers Content in Special Education Classrooms

For teachers in New York City’s District 75, which serves more than 20,000 special needs students across the city, an innovative arts-integration approach to instruction is improving students’ social-emotional and communications skills and helping students and teachers to achieve both individual and classroom goals.

Supported by a $4.6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from OII in 2010, the Everyday Arts for Special Education (EASE) project is also being adapted by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where special education leaders are using the project’s arts-integration techniques to help achieve a system-wide goal of reducing the number of self-contained classrooms and schools. The Urban Arts Partnership, which manages the EASE grant for District 75, began leading professional development sessions for LAUSD teachers two years ago, and this year is working with 45 teachers in L.A. and nearly 350 in New York City.

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Students Learn About the Power of the Arts and Serendipity

Eighteen middle and high school students from Los Angeles and Lawrence, Mass., learned about the power of serendipity at the ED headquarters on May 15. The students — from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles and the Elevated Thought Foundation — were there to demonstrate their artistic achievements and speak to both the importance of arts education and the power of student voice in education reform. The lesson on serendipity was courtesy of ED’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows program.

Former Teacher Ambassador Fellow Linda Yaron shares the experience she and her students had in preparing for their art exhibit and exposition on what it means to be a learner.

Former Teacher Ambassador Fellow Linda Yaron shares the experience she and her students had in preparing for their art exhibit and exposition on what it means to be a learner.

Linda Yaron, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF) at the ED headquarters, worked with seniors from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities to showcase their art and writing in response to the question: “What does it means to be a learner?” As plans for the exhibit were discussed with the Student Art Exhibit Program team this past winter, current Washington TAF Emily Davis shared her experience with students from Elevated Thought, an extra- and co-curricular program in Lawrence that uses the arts to examine societal issues that the 12- to 18-year-old participants encounter in their community.

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OII Staff Celebrate and Connect With America’s Teachers

They didn’t go bearing apples, but tidings of appreciation nonetheless for the important work teachers do in preparing students for college and careers. As part of its contribution to Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9, 2014), the U.S. Department of Education took teacher appreciation to another level by “respecting through understanding” during its third annual ED Goes Back to School. On May 6th, 70 ED staff members — eight from OII — shadowed teachers throughout the country in order to better understand their work and the challenges teachers and their students encounter on the road to making America’s public education system the best it can be.

For ED headquarters staff, the day is an opportunity to see firsthand how principles of effective teaching and learning translate from the likes of grant applications to the classrooms of teachers in the D.C. metro area.

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Slammin’ on Education

Slammin' on Education cross-post

(Left to right) Malachi Byrd, Devyn Jefferson, Juwan Middleton, and Cynthia Johnson performed original spoken-word pieces as part of the School Leadership Program conference. These students represent CONTRA VERSE, a spoken-word team from Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy, which is led by their teacher and coach, Michael Bolds. Throughout the two-day convening, these students and others shared insightful perspectives on education and the impact of current reforms on educators and students.

What happens when you invite students to a project directors’ conference on school leadership? They infuse the atmosphere with energy and enthusiasm, push the envelope in thoughtful ways, inspire with their creativity, and remind the adults why our work is critical.

OII’s School Leadership Program office recently hosted a convening for 45 of its grantees currently implementing projects that prepare and develop principals to serve in high-need schools and districts. The conference provided an opportunity for districts, universities, partner organizations, Principal Ambassador Fellows, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and other experts in the field about how to improve and promote school leadership. Throughout the two-day conference, student performers graced the stage to intermittently bring our work back in focus while also challenging us all with provocative questions, such as “At what point does patience give way to urgency in our reforms?”

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NWP Teacher-Leaders Promote Civic Engagement in Cyberspace

Every spring, the National Writing Project (NWP), an OII grantee, brings together a core group of teacher-leaders from across the country to study and share effective practices that enhance student writing and learning. This year’s Spring Meeting was held on March 28 in Washington, D.C. Matt Williams, educational technologist at KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s award-winning PBS affiliate, led off the day with an engaging discussion about the powerful role of digital tools in promoting and improving civic engagement among the country’s youth. Matt was joined by NWP teacher-leaders Janelle Bence, Chris Sloan, and Meenoo Rami, who are implementing the Do Now project in their classrooms as part of a collaborative effort between KQED and the NWP’s Educator Innovator network. There are currently 150 schools across the nation actively participating in this endeavor.

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2014 Investing in Innovation Competition Continues with Invitation for Scale-Up and Validation Applications

(April 23, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education today announced the start of the 2014 grant competition for the Investing in Innovation (i3) program’s Scale-up and Validation categories. This competition will continue the Department’s investments in promising strategies that can help close achievement gaps and improve educational outcomes for our neediest students.

“This year’s Validation & Scale-Up competition is an opportunity for us to continue supporting strategies that help our highest need students succeed,” said Nadya Chinoy Dabby, assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement. “These efforts are part of our larger commitment to investing in what works.”

The i3 program aims to develop and expand practices that accelerate student achievement and prepare students to succeed in college and in their careers. As in years past, the program includes three grant categories: Development, Validation and Scale-up. This year, school districts and nonprofit organizations, in partnership with districts or schools, are eligible to compete for nearly $135 million across all three categories. The maximum grant amount available in each category is based on the evidence of effectiveness.

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Jazz Takes Center Stage Nationally, Internationally, and at the Department of Education

2014 JAM PosterJazz, that most American of art forms, takes center stage all of April as we celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in the U.S. and throughout the world. Under the leadership of the Smithsonian Institution, JAM annually focuses on the music as well as its connections to America’s history and democratic values, including cultural diversity, creativity, innovation, discipline, and teamwork.

This year, JAM celebrates the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, a four-part suite that marked the melding of the hard bop sensibilities of the iconic saxophonist and composer’s early career with the free jazz style he later adopted. The annual JAM poster features Coltrane’s likeness, captured by American artist Joseph Holston from his screen print Jazz.

The Department of Education annually distributes the JAM posters to more than 16,000 middle schools in America. In a letter accompanied by the poster, OII’s Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary Nadya Chinoy Dabby encourages the schools’ principals to participate in JAM activities taking place in the 50 states and to take advantage of the Smithsonian’s jazz collection and its many Web-based educational materials that support learning across the K-12 curriculum.

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Philadelphia Schools Leader Helps Arts Stay Strong for All Students

A tireless champion for the arts in education, Philadelphia Assistant Superintendent Dennis W. Creedon draws on nearly 30 years of working in or partnering with schools in Philadelphia to make the arts part of a well-rounded education for all of the city’s 131,000 students.

As a senior administrative leader in the district’s central office, Creedon, who began his education career as a theatre teacher in 1987, combines his understanding of research into the nature and value of arts learning with creative approaches to tapping Philadelphia’s rich array of cultural institutions to weather the latest budget reductions. Since 2008, Philadelphia schools are required to have art or music offerings and a commitment to every student having at least one arts lesson weekly. The policy, which Creedon was instrumental in developing, appeared to be in jeopardy last year as the district faced a $304 million budget deficit.

Creedon quote 1In a recent Education Week profile of Creedon, the conductor of the All-City High School Orchestra, Don S. Liuzzi, draws on the meteorological metaphor to explain the school leader’s importance. “The ship was sinking,” he said, describing the district’s most recent round of budget reductions that threatened the jobs of nearly 4,000 teachers. And while some arts specialist positions were lost, the arts education ship is still afloat, according to Liuzzi, because the district’s top arts education advocate is “a very persuasive and avid supporter of the arts.”

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Washington State Teachers Bring Real-World Problems to the Classroom

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Teachers at Sammamish High School meet for collaborative PBL curriculum planning. (Photo courtesy of Gabriel Miller/Edutopia)

Changing a high school curriculum — such as moving it from traditional pedagogy and assessment to problem-based learning (PBL) — is a huge challenge, and one that the faculty and students at Sammamish High School in Washington state’s Bellevue School District know well. They’re three years into a five-year transition to PBL with support from an Investing in Innovation (i3) Development grant.

Since the inception of i3 project in 2010, teachers and administrators at Sammamish High School have collaborated and redesigned 30 courses to incorporate PBL. They believe it will better prepare their students for college and careers by making content across the curriculum more engaging and relevant to the world students will encounter after high school. “Turning the school inside out,” is how Suzanne Reeve, a Sammamish High teacher leader, describes it.

Sammamish High teachers describe the process of integrating problem-based learning into a traditional curriculum through thoughtful planning and implementation.

Collaboration has been key for teachers and students as they make the transition from Sammamish’s traditional curriculum to problem-based learning. Seventy-five teachers so far have worked in subject-area teams to create rigorous coursework that engages all students. It’s a “really challenging mental shift” for the teachers, according to Adrienne Curtis Dickinson, another of the PBL teacher leaders, but the course redesign process is giving teachers a voice and the ability to decide where best to integrate problems or projects into the curriculum.

Dickinson, who is social studies teacher at Sammamish, is reporting on her school’s journey in Edutopia™, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, that is collaborating with the Bellevue schools on the implementation of its i3 project. Click here to read her latest report and watch a companion video in “Case Study: Reinventing a Public High School with Problem-Based Learning.”

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