Beyond the Core: What About Other Important Outcomes?

The expectation debate in this country has been focused on common math and English standards but there are other outcomes that can be even more important to life success. A University of Chicago CCSR review and a couple of popular books suggest, “We don’t teach the most important skills.” In addition to habits of success (e.g., persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence), important K-12 outcomes largely outside the Common Core include civic, digital, financial, and health literacy. Let’s define these ‘literacies’ as knowledge, skills and dispositions likely to lead to productive social contribution.
If you buy the argument that there are a broad set of desirable outcomes (let’s call it Core & More) stemming at least partially from formal education, this raises two important questions:

  1. How should states and districts adopt and communicate these expectations; and
  2. How should students demonstrate knowledge, skills and dispositions in these often hard to measure outcome areas?

Following are some (obviously incomplete) thoughts about innovations in learning in these important outcome areas.
Delivery innovations. Blended and competency-based learning represent an opportunity to boost the consistency of Core & More outcomes (see 125 blogs on the subject). As noted in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, the key is starting with good goals and measuring what matters.
EverFi is an EdTech company focused on teaching and certifying some of these critical skills including financial literacy, digital literacy, health and wellness, and civic engagement (they also cover postsecondary financial literacy, health and wellness). They work with 6000 K-12 schools and 70 of the 100 largest districts. EverFi works with hundreds of business sponsors to make curriculum free to schools.
Financial literacy. Nineteen states require some level of financial literacy education prior to graduation.
Simulations are a great way to teach cause and effect and reinforce the importance of delayed gratification. Junior Achievement has month long simulation that can be delivered online or onsite. The Federal Reserve created a couple interesting sims. EverFi’s Vault is a financial literacy unit for students in 4th-6th grades.
Not everybody agrees that we should add more to elementary expectations. Common Core math co-author Jason Zimba urged, “add nothing in K-5, nobody can be financially literate who can’t do arithmetic.” He would “strictly limit an initiative like this to high school.”
These important but hard to measure outcomes are a combination of knowledge and disposition. Zimba said “most financial decision making rests on character as much as it does on math. Can you save instead of spend? Pay back your obligations? Defer pleasure? The idea that if we simply knew more techniques we’d be better off is simplistic.”
Digital literacy. The rapid growth in high access learning environments and Bring Your Own Device initiatives makes digital literacy a priority. has a widely used app called Inquiry. Ignition is EverFi’s middle grade digital literacy program.
As noted in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, effective practices are even more important than a good Acceptable Use policy.
Health. Most states spell out some health and wellness expectations (as summarized by The National Association of State Boards). They usually include fitness and sexual health; they often include drug and alcohol awareness. Some are translated into credit requirements, many are recommended curriculum guidelines that districts can incorporate into K-12 instruction as they see fit–which is probably the best possible approach.
Over 4 million students, including more than 550,000 this fall, have completed AlcoholEdu, EverFi’s online alcohol prevention learning course.
Civic literacy. There are three common approaches to boosting civic literacy: democratic schools, service learning, and civics education–good secondary schools often use all three strategies.
The most widely adopted civics curriculum is iCivics launched by former justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2010 (see feature). Commons is a middle school unit on civic participation from EverFi.
Habits of success. Social emotional skills (or non-cognitive skills) gained attention in 2013 with the publication of a couple books on mindset and grit. These important dispositions are Characteristics of Great School Cultures. (Also see On Being a Real Person: The Missing Core of K-12.)
The high performing Denver network, DSST, provides staff and students regular 360 feedback on shared values (see Developing Character, Courage & College Readiness).
Summit Public School students develop habits of success-self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal skills, decision-making, and responsible behaviors-through projects and opportunities to contribute to the school community. Students gain real-world experiences through a series of career preparation, college readiness, and cultural appreciation expeditions supported by partnerships with Bay Area organizations.
Recommendations . This short tour of critical college and career ready skills not covered by the Common Core brings me to 6 recommendations:

  • States should signal the importance of these outcomes but should avoid incorporating them into efforts to ensure school quality.
  • States could replace credit requirements for health and civics with a recommendation for demonstrated growth and competence.
  • Projects are often the best way to incorporate and observe the development of hard to measure skills and dispositions. (See a primer on performance assessment and PBL Lessons from Ron Berger).
  • Rather than just a senior project, states could recommend that students complete projects every two years that allow the opportunity for demonstrated growth in these outcome areas (e.g., Mooresville NC is contemplating a required sequence of four projects).
  • At the secondary level, daily advisory periods are a great place to practice many of these literacies. (See Next-Gen Advisory: 10 Keys to College & Career Readiness.)
  • If leaders really believe these competencies are important, they should be reflected in school and district goals, and they should provide specific feedback after a school visits, like this note from Carmen Coleman to the Bate Middle School team. (Also see Ken Kay’s book, The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education.)

Little Kids, Big Numbers

Children are not blank slates. From the moment they’re born, they observe and try to make sense of the world. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that children develop ideas about math and numbers even before they are formally taught. What might surprise some elementary school teachers is that their students may be ready for multidigit numbers sooner than previously thought.
“Both research and the observations of teachers indicate that place-value notation is difficult for school age children to learn,” acknowledges a recent study. “However, multidigit numerals are ubiquitous in children’s environments – as room numbers, phone numbers, and street addresses; in books, calendars, and menus; and throughout stores on packing, price tags, and signs.” And this exposure, even if limited, may be enough to give children an idea of how multidigit numbers work – for example, two-digit numbers almost always have an “ee” sound (twenty, thirty, etc.), and “hundred” indicates a three-digit number.
Previous studies of children using base-10 blocks seemed to reinforce the idea that preschoolers are not ready for multidigit numbers, but the result of this study suggest that children do better with symbol-based instruction than base-10 blocks. Furthermore, “preschool children know enough about how large numbers are written to map them to their spoken names and to judge relative magnitudes.” They know, for example, that  numbers are ready from left to right, and that digits on the left mean larger amounts than digits to the right.
Overall, the study found it possible to significantly increase young children’s understanding of multidigit numbers, but emphasizes that further study is needed. But if you’re a preschool or elementary teacher, don’t discount the idea that your kids may be able to handle multidigit numbers.
For  math resources for young learners, see Give Math a Chance.

Everyone’s Welcome: An Approach to Special Education

By: Genevieve Thomas, Rocketship’s Director of Integrated Special Education.  She’ll be speaking on this topic at the California Charter Schools conference in 2014.
A school’s community values become clear by how it decides to educate its students with special needs. It’s far too easy to move students who need extra help into a separate space. But little good comes from keeping students apart. For students who have special needs, simply being included in a traditional classroom could be the key to academic success.
Traditionally, public schools have placed children with special learning or behavioral needs in separate classrooms first and then looked for opportunities to include them in the general education program later. At Rocketship Education, our approach is the opposite. We start with the assumption that all of our kids can be in their general education classroom for the entire day. Then, students are brought out for specialized instruction when their unique learning needs require it. Technology, specifically used in our widely-recognized blended learning model, helps make this possible. Based on a student’s individual needs, we may pull them out for targeted support for short periods of time or use a special app on an iPad to address a specific Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goal. This means each student’s day is customized to fit their needs and abilities.
This approach to inclusion is why a growing number of families with special needs children have chosen a Rocketship school.
I started my teaching career as a very traditional special education high school teacher in Los Angeles. Many of my students had been isolated in special day classes from their typically-developing peers since third or fourth grade. By the time they were in high school, they were so ill-prepared to tackle the social and academic challenges of the general education classroom that, even if there had been opportunities to include them in the traditional school day, the actual act would have been difficult. At that point, there was little I could do to change the trajectory of their post-secondary outcomes, which was incredibly frustrating.
This is typical of many special education programs. Right now, over 35 percent of special education students nationwide spend less than 20 percent of their school day in the same classroom as their peers.
Don’t get me wrong, inclusion is complex. However, it’s important to me to be working in a model where inclusion is non-negotiable. At Rocketship, we roll our sleeves up and do the work to get it done. There isn’t another option.
Welcoming students with special needs into a traditional classroom starts with offering specific tools each student needs to access and benefit from instruction. For example, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be given an active seat cushion to help regulate their sensory needs. A student with weak fine motor skills could benefit from having his own Chromebook to use for writing assignments. Students with autism may function better by having an augmentative communication app on a personal iPad, to be used to support functional communication in the classroom.
This year, as part of our blended learning platform, we are implementing a program called eSpark. Each of our schools has iPads that are assigned to students with IEPs in kindergarten through third grade. The iPads are programmed with a suite of apps that are customized based on the student’s unique needs. Individual playlists are automatically created for students, so they go into different apps every day based on their playlist. While eSpark wasn’t designed specifically for special education students, we’re finding that it works well with this student population.
We’re also finding students who enter our inclusion program are making significant academic gains. When Indy enrolled at Rocketship Discovery Prep in third grade, for example, he struggled. Indy is on the autism spectrum and had spent most of his day in his previous school separated from his typically-developing classmates. At the time, Indy was just starting to read basic books and adding numbers to 5. He was far below basic. Today, with the help of our inclusion and blended learning programs, Indy is nearly at grade level in both math and English. He has also become a more confident student who can stay in his seat during class.
Inclusion benefits all students, not just those with special needs. This year, we started a buddy program to foster 1:1 friendships between students with and without developmental disabilities. In one class, two students with special needs have helped the larger group understand how to interact safely and respectfully with others. In December, one of the special needs students, Alan, presented his poetry project from his iPad in front of the whole grade. As a result of the inclusion program, the fellow students were respectful and patient – a heartwarming testament to the influence of the peer buddy program.
In the real world, our children will continuously experience and need to work with people different from themselves. It’s our obligation as educators to prepare all students not only academically but also socially. That work starts through creating a culture and opportunities in which all are welcome.
Thomas_Genevieve headshotGenevieve is Rocketship’s Director of Integrated Special Education. Since graduating from the University of Washington, she’s held various roles within special education over almost a decade, including as a school psychologist for Aspire Public Schools and Green Dot Public Schools, and as a special education teacher in Los Angeles. Genevieve has many passions, but when forced to choose, she is caught between finding new ways to be active in the outdoors and finding ways to improve educational opportunities for students with disabilities.


The Future of Learning—Digital, Mobile, Real-Time

By: Jessie Woolley-Wilson
There’s no need for a crystal ball, since it’s clear that the future of learning and education is becoming easier to predict every day: it’s digital. According to a 2013 Cisco report, the number of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Internet-capable phones will exceed the number of humans on the planet this year. That’s mind-bending, and projections indicate that numbers are going to continue upward at a swift pace.
President Obama and his administration are urging widespread technology adoption in education, such as every student having a digital book by 2017. The President also advocates that every student learn to code in school to master the tools and technology because, as he rightly states, it “is changing the way we do just about everything.”
That’s true, particularly in education. The combination of ubiquitous mobile devices and dramatic improvements in personalized and engaging digital learning experiences has resulted in drastically reduced time-to-market for high-quality, technology-enhanced educational content. Gone are the days of waiting several years for textbooks to be revised and reprinted. As a nation, we spend between $7 and $9 billion dollars every year on printed textbooks that are often times obsolete before they’re even delivered. Remember that set of encyclopedias in the family room growing up? They were the go-to resource for everything from book reports to curiosity and exploration. Do you think today’s students would tolerate those clunky books, or would they insist on doing a simple Google search that would provide up-to-date articles, research reports, images, and videos about the topic they are researching? We need to make learning relevant for today’s digital-savvy student. We need to provide learning tools and experiences that ready them for the Information Age, 21st century workplace, and global economy.
I’m intrigued by the thoughts of futurist and author Alvin Toffler. For a while now, he has talked about the need for speed in learning—and relearning—and the essential skills required for success. He’s said, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” While I believe fundamental skills in reading and math are essential building blocks to future success, I believe that they are insufficient for achieving that sort of success. We have no idea what industries and companies—let alone what jobs—will exist 20 years from now for the kindergartners who currently grace our classrooms. We must help children learn how to learn so that they can drive progress in the 21st century. Those who can develop a nimble intelligence that is responsive to a rapidly changing world will be those who will drive innovation and thrive in that world. Skills will likely have a shorter shelf life as we get further into our fast-moving century—just think about all the jobs as well as the items and activities that have been advanced or outdated by technology. The ability to individually access current information and adapt to it in real time will and must be the new normal.
A major element of the Framework for 21st Century Learning is the “ability to learn through digital means, such as social networking, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy, technological awareness, and simulation.” This is critical because it enables students to function in social networks, and contributes to the development of the social and intellectual capital we need to become and stay competitive.
On-demand access via mobile devices and broadband facilitates highly personalized learning pathways that will be supported by dynamic technologies such as Intelligent Adaptive Learning™. The latest results from Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow and an advisor to DreamBox, and her Speak Up 2012 National Research Project and Project Tomorrow survey of 364,233 participants, shows the upward spiral of tech use, even by the very young. Seventy-one percent of students in Grades 3–5 use the Internet from home to help with schoolwork; and within that same cohort, 40 percent have smartphone access, and 41 percent have tablet access.
Our digital and connected world calls for changes in how our children learn and how our teachers teach. We’re evolving from the “sage on the stage” model to one of coach and facilitator, and that’s a good thing. Technology is allowing teachers, particularly those who have been in the field for some time, to recharge through professional development that gets them up to speed in the technology use that enables differentiated instruction and the delivery of authentic digital learning experiences for their students. Additionally, colleges and universities, where our future teachers are being trained right now, need to ensure that they’re fluent in blended learning techniques so they can better connect with their students. We have the opportunity right now—and this is very exciting—to partner with schools and proactively design the future of learning and teaching in tandem.
I believe that the most effective educator is one who deeply understands the learner—where he or she is in the moment of their learning journey. These educators use every skill, technology, and method to anticipate the changing needs of the individual learner. Right now, technology such as Intelligent Adaptive Learning empowers teachers to do just that—to see a student’s learning trajectory, identify if it’s going in the right direction, and make adjustments in the moment to place the learner on his own accelerated path to mastery. On some level we are giving teachers a crystal ball that not only shows them the “now” but also provides a glimpse of the amazing future available to their students.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson is President & CEO DreamBox Learning.
Dreambox Learning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. 

A Slight #Engchat Re-Purposing of Widbook (Part 1)

It’s nothing short of amazing when I stop and ponder all the #edtech resources available today to help students showcase their learning in creative and engaging ways. Sometimes all that is needed to be inspired is a simple process of reviewing the intended purpose of a website, app, or gadget. After a solid understanding has been established, I strive to follow up with a limitless, free-thinking session that centers on one essential question: “How can this technological tool be repurposed as an educational instrument?”
Whether using Symbaloo to showcase students’ blogs, Twitter to launch our class high above our brick-and-mortar discussion and into a tweetup covering a presidential debate, or a Google Drive spreadsheet to anonymously critique a set of analytical essays, working collaboratively with students in Studio 113 and now in the E.P.i.C.C. Academy has taught me to always think beyond technology’s original intent in hopes of providing a memorable and unprecedented learning experience.
Although nothing groundbreaking, my recent holiday musings had me contemplating a project that hinges on my American Literature students connecting on personal, cultural, figurative, and thematic levels to a Romantic short story from Washington Irving. My ideas had me hunting for new educational technology that will help me curate my students’ authentic work in one, polished space to share with the world.
And now, thanks to a very informative tweet from a must-follow, my next, experimental #edtech tool of choice is clear. Widbook.

Widbook: A Definition and Overview

According to Richard Byrne of, “Widbook is a platform designed to help people collaboratively create multimedia books. The service is part multimedia book authoring tool and part social network.”
Here’s a quick overview of Widbook.

A Good Match for an In-Depth, Literary Assignment?

When I first read Mr. Byrne’s definition, I knew Widbook would be a good match for our next project in American Literature. By allowing pictures to be inserted, videos to be embedded, and Word documents to be uploaded, I can confidently ask and expect my students to perform a number of tasks to demonstrate their understanding of Washington Irving’s famous short story and how its message fits into their present world.
Although I am still fleshing out the entire assignment as it relates to the standards, I plan on asking American Literature students in teams of three or four to complete the following:
1. Create a still picture that accurately depicts Irving’s overall purpose for writing the assigned scenes. This picture, which can be easily inserted in Widbook in a matter of seconds, will be used as the front cover for the accompanying team’s section.
2. Write an analytical, literary criticism of assigned excerpts with attention to diction, symbolism, figurative language, style, purpose, tone, mood, and characterization. This criticism can be typed directly into Widbook or added via a Word document. However, to make this step effortlessly collaborative, I may ask students to work together through a shared Google Drive document first. After combining all knowledge into one piece of literary criticism, the Google Drive document can then be downloaded as a Word document and uploaded into Widbook.
3. Summarize assigned excerpts by performing the described scenes in a creative video that will be stored on our E.P.i.C.C. Academy YouTube channel. Teams wishing for an additional challenge will have the option of using our in-class green screen to add special effects. The video will then be embedded into our collaborative e-book.
4. Relate one of Irving’s central themes to a current issue by embedding a video from any reputable news source in Widbook.
5. Although Widbook does not yet allow for the creation of hyperlinks (something I found quite odd in these digital times), I will still ask each team to add a soundtrack to their assigned scenes. Normally, students could easily insert hyperlinks from SoundCloud or other music sharing sites, but I imagine they will choose to embed a musical video or add song lyrics via text.
If you know me, you would surely guess that I have already taken Widbook for a test run. Well, you would be absolutely correct. Click here to view what I created with my experiment or simply view the following video for a quick run-through.

Hopefully, in about two weeks, I will be able to share with you the results of the aforementioned lesson plan. If I know my students well, they will knock it out of the park.
Heck, it may be worthy enough to be bound in a book. A collaborative, multimedia e-book.

Smart Cities: Los Angeles Startup Weekend EDU 1/24

“LA has a rapidly growing entrepreneurial community, with a patchwork of educational technologists and do-gooders. However, up until now the community has been relatively quiet,” but that’s changing say the organizers of StartupWeekend EDU.
Last year, my Smart Cities: LA post complained about the lack of “innovation and collaboration” in the city, but things are more interesting a year later. The first Startup Weekend EDU in the City of Angels will take place on the weekend of January 24th at UCLA Anderson.

  • Organizers include Craig Jones and Kevin McFarland, Co-Founder & COO SmartestK12 (both are 4.0 Schools), myself and the guys from Educated Ventures, Christopher Nyren (@cnyren) and Todd Maurer.
  • Judges will include Howard Marks (@HowardMarks), co-founder of Activision, and Mike McGalliard, Executive Director, Imagination Foundation (@Imagination).
  • Mentors represent Corinthian Collleges, StudySoup, cielo24, and Flinja.
  • Contact [email protected] for more.

Acceleration. The StartupWeekend event reflects an uptick in incubator and accelerator business and entrepreneurial support over the last year including:

  • Amplify LA is a hands-on startup accelerator and multi-faceted entrepreneurial campus (@AmplifyLA).
  • Launchpad LA is a startup accelerator and mentorship program offering $100k, a huge network, free office space and lots of perks (@LaunchpadLA).
  • StartEngine is Howard Marks’ rapid accelerator focused on helping Los Angeles-based technology startups build a solid foundation for success in 90 days.
  • Cross Campus (@CrossCampusLA) and CoLoft (@CoLoft) are coworking spaces in Santa Monica.
  • General Assembly LA offers the best in startup, design, and tech learning (@GA_LA).
  • ProSky helps young people arrange project-based internships (projectship) to expand their experience base and boost employability.

EdTech. The SoCal breakout EdTech successes include:

  • Engrade is a standards-based gradebook with a suite of classroom management tools used by more than 400,000 teachers. Engrade is backed by Rethink Education, New Schools, and Greg Gunn.
  • Nonprofit MIND Research Institute is based in Orange County and provider of engaging visual elementary math programs. ST Math instructional software has doubles annual growth in math proficiency at schools where it is implemented. The visual-based ST Math played a pivotal role in closing the achievement gap between its 76 percent English Language Learners and native English speaker in Santa Ana, where MIND has seen the most longitudinal data. The 36 elementary schools in Santa Ana Unified School District went from 32 percent of students proficient in math to meeting the statewide average of 67 percent proficiency in 2012. District wide deployment of ST Math in Anaheim helped boost math proficiency from 39 percent to 63 percent. The 35 LAUSD schools that fully implemented ST Math K-5 boosted math proficiency by 12 points. ST Math was historically used in a computer lab but the new iPad version is popular in a class rotation model.

EdTech achieving some scale include:

  • Flinja is the nation’s’ largest college centric marketplace where students can get the experience they need, and employers can test before hiring full time. Flinja is the Uber for Work (@FlinjaWorld). They got their start through LA’s StartEngine before moving on Kaplan TechStars in NY. LA remains a home base for their founder and CEO Victor Young.
  • GameDesk – GameDesk was created to develop a “next generation” model of education, revolutionizing the way we teach and learn. They are a research, game development, and outreach organization that has evolved out of seven years of research at the University of Southern California.
  • Woogi World is a game-based primary digital literacy program claiming 1 million subscribers.
  • cielo24: a provider of high quality, searchable metadata including indexes, transcripts and captions, including for all of the leading online education companies.
  • StudySoup, a browser based, interactive course material platform built for the world of education. They also got their start in LA with their founder’s studies at UC Santa Barbara and their team is split between LA, Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

You can learn to play music with two LA startups:

  • Chromatik is a Santa Monica startup that is redefining how people practice, perform, and learn music. The iPad app let you upload, record, and share music (@Chromatikmusik).
  • Miso Media teaches anyone to play the guitar. Maybe you saw Miso on Shark Tank (@misomedia).

A couple of the SoCal EdTech startups on include:

  • is the student loan platform (@TuitionIO).
  • GetBonkers is a game development studio that is focused on making fun and engaging mobile applications for all ages (@LetsGetBonkers).
  • Piglt is a crowdsourced effort to deal with college cost/debt.
  • RECESS is inspiring the next generation of world-changing entrepreneurs through innovative online content and a nationwide campus concert tour (@RECESS).
  • TestMax offers comprehensive iOS test prep for the Bar, LSAT, and SAT.

More in January. If you’re anywhere near LA the last weekend of January, check out StartupWeekend EDU.
MIND Research is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner. Tom is a board member for Imagination Foundation. Chromatik and General Assembly are portfolio companies of  Learn Capital where Tom is a partner. 

The Benefits of Blogging as a Learning Tool, Part 2

By: Kristen Hicks
This post first appeared on on December 16, 2013.
In part one, we looked at many of the ways blogging enables greater communication between classmates and educators. Beyond that, it also helps students develop crucial skills and share ideas and resources throughout the week.
Here are a few other key benefits of student blogging as a tool for learning in higher ed.
4. Blogging increases the ease of sharing and discussing relevant resources.
If you’re teaching a class on Latin American history and there’s an important and relevant piece of news that comes out of Argentina 4 days before the next class, your blog makes it easy to share the article with the whole class right as it happens.
Even better, if a student comes across an article that is of importance to the class discussion, he or she can take the incentive to share the link with everyone else with some comments and get a discussion going.
Having a forum to share their thoughts and findings can help students get excited about their own research and explorations. Without that forum relevant thoughts they have and resources they come across are more likely to go forgotten and unshared by the time the next class rolls around.
5. Blogging gives students the opportunity and incentive to take ownership over their ideas and voice.
With some students, this was never a problem that needed solving. Certain personality types will come into a classroom confident and quick to voice their views on everything. Others will be content to sit quietly and let their classmates do the talking.
For the former, the timid or introverted, the blog can give them a needed platform to join the conversation. Some may even find that the feedback and relationships from blog comments give them the extra boost they need to get more involved during class.
For all the students, writing about their ideas consistently and in a public forum can help them gain confidence in their own ideas and refine how they discuss them.
6. Blogging provides ample opportunity for writing practice.
The need to communicate effectively in writing is important in many professions in the Internet age.  Writing regularly is one of the best things any person can do to improve writing ability—students given a clear incentive to do so will quickly improve beyond those that don’t.
Additionally, the blogging platform enables immediate feedback. Seeing what their peers and professor have to say about their writing can help students form an idea of their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve.
7. Blogging increases student engagement.
Many of the other points discussed come back around to this one. Students who are only ever given passive assignments in a course may very well be tempted to do the bare minimum and squeak by. Students who are given incentives to actively think about, discuss and engage with the course materials and other students will almost certainly get a much more effective and lasting education out of a course.
The ideal student is one who’s excited to learn about a subject, quick to do extra research on his or her own, happy to learn from other students, and eager to get them thinking about new ideas as well. Student blogging won’t magically create a classroom full of ideal students, but it may very well be the push needed for many in your class to take an extra interest and approach the class and its subject more proactively.

What is Performance Assessment?

In the narrowest sense, according to ETS, performance assessment is “A test in which the test taker actually demonstrates the skills the test is intended to measure by doing real-world tasks that require those skills, rather than by answering questions asking how to do them.”

Many educators use five criteria from Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design (UbD) when creating and evaluating performance assessments: Real-World Goal, Role, Audience, Standards for Success, and Product/Performance. A productive alternative to coverage and activity-oriented plans, over the last decade UbD has become a widely used strategy of backward design of units and projects.

Similarly, Marc Chun, now at the Hewlett Foundation, wrote a paper on performance assessment in 2010 where he described the features of a quality performance task:

  • Real-world scenario: students assume roles in real-world scenarios.

  • Authentic, complex process: scenarios reflect complex and ambiguity of real-world challenges.

  • Higher-order thinking: requires critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and problem solving.

  • Authentic performance: the ‘product’ reflects what a professional would produce.

  • Transparent evaluation criteria: the learning outcomes drive the creation of the task.

More broadly, performance assessment is part of an approach to teaching and learning that values application over rote memorization.  An ASCD publication says, “In the act of learning, people obtain content knowledge, acquire skills, and develop work habits—and practice the application of all three to ‘real world’ situations.” Performance assessment is the “application of knowledge, skills, and work habits through the performance of tasks that are meaningful and engaging to students.” These tasks, occasionally marking gateways in learning, are “strategically placed in the lesson or unit to enhance learning as the student ‘pulls it all together’.” ASCD says performance tasks “are both an integral part of the learning and an opportunity to assess the quality of student performance.”

Projects. The broadest use of performance assessment is project-based learning. Schools that value Deeper Learning assign projects to students both as a learning experiences and a form of assessment. As noted in August, schools that exhibit Deeper Learning:

  • Engage students in authentic interdisciplinary work that is often community connected.

  • Ask students to explore–and often solve–real problems faced by employers and community members.

  • Ask students to produce and present professional quality work product to community audiences.

  • Value employability and they track work skills as well as academic progress

Schools in the Asia Society, Big Picture, Edvisions, Envisions, and New Tech Network provide best practice examples of schools that, in addition to project-based learning, incorporate work- and community-based learning.
Other Performance Tasks. There are many forms of performance tasks: short and long constructed response, drawings and videos, interview.  Technology enables production of quality products as well as complex engagements and simulations; it expands the number of ways that teachers can observe, share and assess student work.

“Some innovative game-based and adaptive learning programs embed key elements of performance assessment,” said Tim Hudson, Dreambox Learning. “These programs present students with new and unfamiliar situations that require them to engage in critical thinking and strategic problem solving to accomplish challenging and meaningful goals.”

Visual game-based ST Math from MIND Research Institute involves challenging scenarios, requires critical thinking, demands a constructed response (not just a mouse click), and is constructed around learning outcomes.

Problem-based platforms like Mathalicious “ask real questions in open-ended ways that require students to make sense of problems and empower students to develop their own strategies for solving them.” Students learn to support and justify their conclusions; they evaluate the validity of others’ arguments; they model findings in a variety of ways–they use math to understand how the world works.

The Role of Performance Assessment.  At most schools, performance tasks supplement more traditional forms on teaching and learning–they extend and apply learning and provide a form of alternative assessment.

There are a few hundred schools (most are part of Deeper Learning networks) where the instructional program is a sequence of performance tasks. Projects are the heart of the instructional program at Summit Public Schools.  The Summit assessment plan says, “They are the assessments that frame our curriculum and define our courses,merging cognitive skill development with the most important content knowledge that students need to be prepared for college

There are four reasons to use performance assessments:

  1. Personalized Learning. Performance assessment is a critical component of creating high engagement learner-centered environment and show what you know culture. Many open ended forms of performance assessment are at least partially interest-based. Project often give students some control over themes, pacing, and the final product.  Compared to didactic instruction and selected response tests, performance tasks can produce high levels of motivation and engagement.

  1. Formative Assessment. Short performance assessment can be incorporated into units of instruction to check for understanding. Performance tasks can be combined with other forms of assessment to guide progress through units of study.  In schools operated by Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority, each student is responsible for bringing forward three forms of evidence for each learning target, including a performance assessment.

  1. Competency Education. Longer and more comprehensive performance assessments can serve as a matriculation gateway in a competency-based environment.  For example, end of year projects at Expeditionary Learning schools, called Passages, demonstrate a student’s preparation to advance to the next level.  Senior projects are required for graduation at many high schools and in some states.

  2. Standards-based Education. Performance assessments are often the best way to apply knowledge and skills–particularly those difficult to measure in traditional ways such as critical thinking, collaboration, effective communications, and academic mindset.

Mastery Tracking. As formative and summative assessments, performance tasks and resulting products scored using standards-aligned rubrics can be important role in demonstrating academic growth.  However, creating standards-aligned projects, scoring projects, combining performance assessments with other forms of assessment, and providing useful reports can be very challenging and time consuming because the toolset available to schools remains weak and undeveloped.

Useful performance assessment tools and resources make it easier for teachers to create, support, and assess performance tasks.  Mastery tracking tools capture assessment results in a standards-based gradebook and provide reporting tools for individual students and aggregation and analysis tools for groups of students. Data visualization tools, like MasteryConnect’s mastery tracker (below) provide useful summary level details.  


Badges (and other data visualization strategies) can be used to certify and celebrate achievement. They can also personalize learning by guiding choices on what to learn, how to learn, and how to demonstrate learning. Badge systems are likely to become common matriculation management systems.

Portfolio systems, like eduClipper and Pathbrite, create a running record of artifacts that reflect personal bests. Portfolios are gaining post-secondary importance as an alternative market signaling device that supplements or, with a badging system, replaces traditional degrees and certificates.

Well constructed performance assessments and useful mastery tracking tools can create a high agency learning environments where students take responsibility for their own learning.  Sonny Magana, Marzano Research, said, “When students use technology to chart their progress toward target learning goals, it prompts them to take an active role in understanding the learning target, processing their current level of achievement, and planning action steps.”
Watch for a full report on performance assessment tools, strategies, and resources in February.
MasteryConnect, eduClipper are portfolio companies of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.  MIND Research and Dreambox are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners 

The Benefits of Blogging as a Learning Tool, Part 1

By: Kristen Hicks
This post first appeared on on December 13, 2013.
As technological tools like blogs and social media take on increasing importance in the business world, students have more reason than ever to learn some of the basics in using them before finishing college.
Helping students with their future professional prospects should be a pretty strong argument in favor of bringing blogging into the classroom, but blogging offers a number of added benefits to the learning process.
1. Blogging increases student interaction with course materials.
When you assign reading or viewing materials for students, you can hope they all take the time to review them and think carefully about them before class. Or you can give them blogging assignments that require a certain amount of thought and interaction with the material before class.
A student who has to take the time to write a blog post, for the professor and all the other students to see, will have more incentive to really take the time to approach the material thoughtfully. Even the act of reading another student’s blog post and responding with a thoughtful comment will require a greater investment in the material in advance of class.
As a professor, you have an idea of what the students are thinking before they get to class and the assurance that they have been thinking about the material. That information can help you lead a stronger classroom discussion, one that you know students will take interest in since they helped influence its focus.
2. Blogging increases student opportunities to interact with each other.
By requiring a certain amount of student participation in the blog comments, you’ll encourage students to interact more with each other. Giving students access to other students’ thoughts on an assignment will show them new perspectives and ways of interpreting the material, ensuring that they’ll come to class with a deeper understanding of it.
Additionally, by monitoring how students talk to each other online, you may have the opportunity to help them learn better online comportment —an important lesson in the Internet age. Students who leave school with a better grasp of how to present themselves and communicate with others online in a way that’s thoughtful and respectful will help avoid some of the problems and embarrassments many young people experience in the work world today.
3. Blogging gives students an extra touch point for interaction with the professor.
This benefit goes both ways. You get to see more of what they’re thinking and how they communicate it, and they get more opportunities for feedback from you. You can get an idea of the questions and issues they have in mind before coming to class, and respond to any confusion they express in advance.
You can always add posts or comments to the blog yourself to create further discussion in between class times. If a student post gets you thinking about a related issue, you can get students thinking about it before the next class with a blog post.
Student blogging is a powerful tool for enabling new forms of communication and interaction between all the members of your classroom community. But that’s not all—there are so many benefits to using a blog as a learning tool that we had to split this post in two. Check back soon for part two!

One Family’s Holiday Gift: A Love of Mathematics

One Family’s Holiday Gift: A Love of Mathematics first appeared on Sums and Solutionson December 17, 2013.
By: Matt Feldmann
“I never thought that I could have an hour-long conversation about two-digit numbers,” my mother said on Christmas Eve when we were gathered as a family to celebrate the holidays. I took the hint that my enthusiasm for what many people see as everyday numbers might not be as interesting to all of the family. Math is deep, and I can appreciate that not everyone, even people who love math, want to jump into the deep end on Christmas Eve. I’ve never been a person accustomed to small talk though, so a conversation about place value on Christmas Eve seems like as good a topic as any. That fall I had joined a small band of individuals at MIND Research Institute dedicated to solving our country’s math education problem. Prior to working at MIND, I had underappreciated just how deep knowledge of two-digit numbers can be.
My mother’s comment wasn’t an attempt to steer the conversation in a different, lighter direction, however. She was ready for a game. Like me, my family doesn’t do small talk either. We talk about all of the topics that are supposed to be taboo like politics and religion. More often, though, our family gatherings revolve around a game table until late hours in the evening. Some people might jump to the conclusion that we are ultra-competitive (which may also be true – my wife would certainly say so), but I think we are all really looking for a good problem to sink our teeth into. A challenging problem to solve – that is how my family and I prefer to fill our free time.
Some might say it was inevitable that the son of two bankers would love numbers, but that would be a slight to the constant influence of my parents to foster, support and nurture a growing love of numbers and problem solving. As a new parent myself, I can appreciate the dilemma my mother faced standing in front of a four-year old that refused to join the family at the dinner table until he finished the 1000-piece puzzle that he just started five minutes ago. Perseverance in problem solving is a value I am very grateful that my parents worked hard to instill.
The feeling of making progress towards a challenging problem and an appreciation for the depth that can arise from seemingly simple concepts are why I love mathematics. Through elementary, middle and high school, I could go to the well of mathematics to drink up as many problems as I could handle.  Mathematics provides a training ground for all types of thinking by posing a mixture of different types of well-formed problems. Unlike any other field of study, there is a certitude to mathematical results due to the precision that characterizes mathematical study. The rigor in mathematics that is imposed by the use of definitions, axioms and proofs provides the certainty of solution that is unique to this field of study. Just as an athlete can monitor their growth in speed, strength and endurance, mathematics provides a longitudinal field of study in which all people can monitor their growth in problem solving.
We can go all the way back to 375 BC and Plato’s writings to see that this belief about the value of mathematics has been long held by humanity:
Then this (mathematics) is a kind of knowledge which legislation must make a subject of study; and we must endeavour to persuade those who are in positions of authority in our State to go and learn arithmetic, not as amateurs, but they must carry on the study until they properly understand the nature of numbers…those who have a natural talent for calculation are generally quick at every other kind of knowledge; and even the slow-witted if they have had an arithmetical training, although they may derive no other advantage from it, always become much quicker than they would otherwise have been.
I have no doubt what Plato’s solution to many of our country’s current problems would be – send all of our politicians off to study mathematics!
My love of problem solving and mathematics has lead me to MIND Research Institute where I work with a team of individuals dedicated to solving the greatest problem that our society faces and that is the mission of MIND – ensuring that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world’s most challenging problems. A core value my parents have always demonstrated is the dignity and value of all people.  At MIND, we value learning and problem solving because we also believe in the dignity and value of all people. In order for all children to be able to become the people they were created to be, to realize their full potential, Plato would agree with MIND that improving the mathematics education situation should be at the top of the list of our nation’s priorities.
MIND Research Institute is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.