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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i3 Validation Grant Fosters Continuous Learning in Education Organization Going to Scale

An estimated 340,000 beginning teachers, according to the National Center on Education Statistics, will enter America’s public school classrooms this year, a more than 50 percent increase in new teacher hires compared to 1999. Many are teaching in classrooms and schools that serve some of the most disadvantaged students — those with the greatest need for a strong, skilled teacher. These new teachers, who are just beginning to master their craft, are working long hours trying to meet those students’ needs, planning lessons, and managing complex curriculum requirements, often with very little assistance.

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Mentor Shalini Patel (right) meets with new Chicago Public Schools teacher Emily Lopez to provide feedback following Patel’s observation in Lopez’s classroom. (Photo by Daniel Shea, courtesy of New Teacher Center)

Even the most promising new teachers are not fully prepared for the challenges of leading today’s classrooms. In too many cases, it’s a sink or swim experience, and students pay the price.

The right kind of support for new teachers is critical

Many district leaders across the country have recognized this issue and are responding by providing new teachers with some form of onboarding. Some districts simply offer a summer orientation, or a “buddy system,” that pairs new teachers with a teacher down the hall who can help them navigate school facilities in the first weeks. But districts implementing more robust models of induction — full systems of intensive support more focused on instructional delivery — say they are seeing more effective teaching and higher teacher-retention rates.

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Solving the Innovation Alignment Challenge With an Ecosystem Approach

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A New York City school student and parent, with the help of a software developer, view data on high school choice available through the School Choice Design Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Innovate NYC Schools)

“The lack of innovation in education is not due to a lack of creativity, but the misalignment of student and educator need to the market supply of innovations.” That’s the guiding premise of Innovate NYC Schools, a 2011 i3 Development grantee that is using technology to increase the degree of alignment and making students and teachers integral to the change process. The project is furthering the development and evaluation of the “Education Innovation Ecosystem,” a network of NYC schools, partner districts, solution developers, and investors that is helping to meet the STEM-related learning challenges of middle and high school students.

Two dynamics in school system bureaucracies combine to stymie innovation: On the one hand, changes in policy only get you so far; they “don’t lead to durable improvements in practice,” contends Steven Hodas, Innovate NYC Schools’ executive director. Moreover, this fact, he says, often causes the most innovative companies on the outside of the school bureaucracy to take a pass on responding to school systems’ RFPs to develop new products or services.

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i3 Director Looks to Retirement as Latest Change Opportunity

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Carol Lyons (center) is joined by members of OII’s i3 Team to celebrate her 39 years of federal service and wish her well in retirement.

Earlier this month, OII said goodbye to Carol Lyons, who directed the Investing in Innovation (i3) Program since 2011. Carol retired after 39 years of federal service.

As i3 director, Carol supervised two busy years of complex grant competitions, annual project director meetings, and day-to-day monitoring of an ever-increasing portfolio of i3 grantees, including the recently announced 2013 cohort. While her time as the i3 director was likely the most hectic, she has had many wonderful opportunities in the federal government throughout her career. Carol worked at the Library of Congress, on Capitol Hill, and at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, before it was split to create the Department of Education as we know it today. She also taught school briefly before embarking on her federal career.

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The End’s the Beginning for TQP Director Peggi Zelinko

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Last month, OII said a fond farewell to Director of Teacher Quality Programs Peggi Zelinko. Peggi retired at the end of November after 19 years of service at the Department of Education.

Peggi was named the Director of the Teacher Quality Programs (TQP) in OII in 2005. In that role, she oversaw a number of discretionary grant programs focusing on teacher quality and school leadership. These programs have included Transition to Teaching, Troops to Teachers, Teaching American History, the National Writing Project, the School Leadership Program, Supporting Effective Educator Development, and Teacher Quality Partnerships. She also served for a year as acting director of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, while maintaining her leadership role of TQP. Before her leadership role with TQP, Peggi served as a program officer for the Transition to Teaching program and team leader for the School Leadership Program in OII, and as the program officer for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s teacher quality initiatives.

Peggi was a practitioner as well as a policy maker. Formerly a staff member with the U.S. Department of Labor and the West Virginia State Department of Education, she also worked as a teacher educator at the collegiate level and as a high school marketing teacher. Her work at ED was defined by this background in education. One of her chief goals as a program director was to ensure that programs show results. “To what end?” was one of her signature comments when assessing grant program activities.

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Time-Tested Routines at Heart of Common Core Transition

As states, districts, and schools implement the Common Core State Standards, a new resource to help them with the change process is available from The Achievement Network (ANet), an OII Investing in Innovation (i3) grantee. Focusing on the How: Guidance for School and District Leaders on Supporting Teachers Through the Transition to the Common Core addresses the uncertainty that educators may have about the transition to the Common Core.

Educators’ traditional sources of stability and direction are undergoing change as they implement the content changes associated with Common Core. It is “time-tested routines,” according to ANet, that can provide an infrastructure for implementing the new standards. These include “consistent, collaborative routines for planning from standards, evaluating student progress, and adapting instruction based on student needs.”

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Department Announces Highest-Rated Applications Secure Match Funding and Become Grantees for Investing in Innovation 2013 Competition

(Dec. 13, 2013) The U.S. Department of Education today announced that the 25 highest-rated applications (HRAs) for the fourth round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program competition have secured private-sector matching funds and will be awarded approximately $134 million by the end of December to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement.

The 25 grantees were selected from 618 applications, representing 13 states and the District of Columbia. With this new cohort, the i3 program will encompass a total of 117 projects that are using more than $1 billion in federal funds and nearly 200 million in private-sector dollars to address some of the most important challenges in education.

“In this era of rapid change, these i3 awards will help grantees prepare students for the rigor and changing demands of the global job market,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “The collaborative efforts of these grantees and their private-sector partners will further our focus on ensuring students are successful in education and careers.”

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Video Series Reveals How i3 Science Project is Unfolding

Want to get a firsthand look at how elementary school teachers in Virginia are changing the way they view science and how they teach it because of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant? You can by tuning in to the VISTA Voices: Inside the Elementary Program video series. Teachers from across the state attended summer institutes where they worked with students, gained hands-on practice using new teaching methods, and made plans for implementing new approaches, both individually and as school-based teams — all part of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA).

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Department Announces Highest-Rated Applications for Investing in Innovation 2013 Competition

(Nov. 8, 2013) The U.S. Department of Education today announced results for the fourth round of the Investing in Innovation (i3) competition, which will award the 25 highest-rated applications (HRAs) more than $135 million to expand innovative practices designed to improve student achievement. These 25 potential grantees, selected from 618 applications and representing 13 states and the District of Columbia, must secure matching funds by Dec. 11, 2013, in order to receive federal funding.

“In this era of rapid change, we must make sure that our students are keeping pace with the rigor, relevance, and changing demands of the 21st-century job market,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “I am encouraged by the innovative ideas to accelerate student achievement demonstrated in these applications.”

Of the 25 HRAs, 18 are in the “Development” category and seven are in the “Validation” category (see list of applicants below). This year, the Department did not identify any potential grantees for the “Scale-up” category, instead choosing to invest in promising projects in the other two categories. The Development category attracted the greatest participation similar to the past three years of the competition. With the 18 Development HRAs from this competition, there will potentially be a total of 77 Development i3 grantees nationwide implementing new, promising practices to improve outcomes for students.

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Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary Joins Back-to-School Bus Tour

OII’s Acting Assistant Deputy Secretary (ADS) Nadya Dabby will participate in the Department of Education’s annual Back-to-School Bus Tour. The Secretary’s bus tour, themed Strong Start, Bright Future, will run from September 9 – 13, beginning in Santa Fe, N.M., and concluding in San Diego, Calif., with stops along the way in Texas and Arizona.

Strong-StartActing ADS Dabby will begin her travels on Wednesday, Sept. 11th, attending the Secretary’s school visit to Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Ariz., for presentations on the use of technology in the classroom. That afternoon, Ms. Dabby will tour Bisbee High School, in Bisbee, Ariz., an Investing in Innovation (i3) Implementation grantee site, where she will meet with teachers receiving a new professional development program that is part of the i3 grant project.

On Thursday, Acting ADS Dabby will spend the day in Phoenix, touring two charter schools and meeting with leaders from both public charter and traditional public schools to discuss charter schools in the state and areas of collaboration between charters and traditional public schools. She will also visit Trevor Browne High School to tour civics and history classrooms and meet with teachers who are participants in an OII Teaching American History project. They will discuss the unique and content-specific professional development the teachers have experienced through the grant.

In Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego, Ms. Dabby will join Secretary Duncan for the final event of the bus tour at one of the schools in the Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood. The Secretary and Ms. Dabby will attend a pep rally for students and families and take a tour of the campus. The tour is followed by panel discussion and town hall with Secretary Duncan, members of the Chula Vista community, and other local education stakeholders.

You can follow Acting ADS Dabby’s trip at https://twitter.com/ED_OII and also look for the hashtag #edtour13 for updates on Strong Start, Bright Future events throughout the week. Also visit ED’s bus tour page at ed.gov/bustour.