Driving Innovation from the White House

Tom Kalil is a California guy but he has spent 14 years encouraging U.S. innovation from the White House. Kalil leads the Office of Science and Technology Policy (@whitehouseostp). He served president Clinton as well as president Obama.

OSTP promotes innovation and entrepreneurship, STEM education, basic and applied science, climate change, open data, and cyber security.

Over breakfast last week, Kalil said he was excited about the White House BRAIN initiative, a comprehensive research initiative seeking to understand the human mind to uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders. Launched as a $300 million public-private initiative, Kalil said it could guide the investment of more than $4 billion to be spent over 12 years.

The White House will host its own Demo Day (#WHDemoDay) on August 4. “Unlike a private-sector Demo Day, where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to funders, innovators from around the country will join President Obama to “demo” their individual success stories and show why we need to give every American the opportunity to pursue their bold, game-changing ideas,” said Kalil, who called it chance to promote an inclusive innovation economy.

White House efforts to grow inclusive entrepreneurship   include:

  • Startup in a Day: Working with cities and states to simplify the process of getting a new venture off the ground, developing online tools that help entrepreneurs discover and apply — in less than a day — for local, state, and Federal permissions needed to start a business.
  • TechHire: Engaging with local governments and the private sector to help Americans get the skills they need for a technology-driven workplace.
  • I Corps: Helping university researchers and students learn to commercialize their breakthrough inventions.
  • Startup America: A $1 billion impact investment initiative, connected clean energy startups with experienced mentors, supported legislation that is making it easier for startups to raise capital, and much, much more.

OSTP Chief of Staff Cristin Dorgelo and I worked together at the X Prize Foundation. She knows prizes and pull mechanisms as well as anyone. Kalil and Dorgelo have been instrumental in the big increase in the federal use of prizes to promote breakthroughs and creative approaches to market development.

Borrowing a market aggregation strategy for the global pneumonia fight, the Department of Energy promoted energy efficient buildings by developing a non-binding expression of interest which elicited a strong market response. “We need greater use of these approaches to solve domestic problems as well,” said Kalil.

Kalil sees more financial innovation internationally. Under Raj Shah’s leadership, USAID served as an important market shaper.

Big advances in society are often a product of partnerships that take advantage of the unique benefits of public, philanthropic, and private capital (as discussed in chapter 5 of Smart Cities) it’s important to use the right form of capital for the right job. Compared to the politically mired domestic conversation, Kalil sees a rich international conversation about innovative capital stacks that leverage private debt and venture capital.

Leveraging the venture strategy of milestone payments, the feds have been engaging private enterprise in useful ways. Kalil notes the use of commercial cargo flights to the space station and the development of open education resources as examples.

For more see:


10 Next Steps for EdLeaders: The Advanced Course

Fulton County Schools are inventing the future of learning. The suburban Atlanta district has empowered teacher leaders, engaged a blended learning partner, assessed school readiness, and launched new learning models, all backed it with community support and investment.

I’m visiting with Fulton EdLeaders this week; they’re ready for the advanced course. Building on an April entry, following are 10 next steps for EdLeaders (call it the 201 course).

1. Check Your Mindset. Over the last decade Dweck, Duckworth, and Tough reminded us that a growth mindset matters. In addition to the importance of hard work, we think students need the opportunity to make stuff, to take initiative and working collaboratively. In our last book, Smart Cities, we outlined the formula: Innovation Mindset = Growth Mindset + Maker Mindset + Team Mindset. (Read about classroom strategies for building an innovation mindset).

If leaders want teachers and students to develop an innovation mindset, they should start by examining their own approach to the work. Ask some tough questions: Do I recognize effort as well as reward performance? Do I create room and incentives for initiative and risk taking?  Have I created a collaborative environment?

2. Name the theories in use. Earlier this month Clay Christensen said theories have experience, they define causality, they help human beings create agreements and move forward. But you only gain that benefit by naming the theories in use.

Education is bounded by sedimentary layers of policy and practice that once had meaning but now form unexamined traditions. By being explicit about what’s going on, we have a shot at building a path forward.

Like the folks at the Christensen Institute, we see personalized learning as a grand unifying theory, one that acknowledges that different students have different needs at different times.

3. Create an LX vision. EdLeaders, particularly those in Fulton County, have the opportunity to lead community conversations about what is possible. That starts with putting students, and their learning experiences (LX), first. For hundreds of years schools have been organized around the needs of the adults and the enactment of a common curriculum. It’s now possible to customize a sequence of experiences for every student. Ask these 21 questions about learning experiences and environments.

As it is in Fulton, student choice and voice, flexible pacing, and options for demonstrating learning are central to a student-centered environment.

Hold community conversations about parenting for powerful learning. Our new book, Smart Parents is based on a vision of student centered learning: personalized, competency-based, anytime anywhere, with kids driving their own learning.

4. Expose new school models. What’s different between a struggling school and a next-gen school? Everything! New school models that incorporate lessons learned and new technology have different structures, schedules, and systems. You and your team need to study new models. Time for a road trip or at least a staff study project.

The most influential group packaging promising strategies into new and transformed school grants is Next Generation Learning Challenges. (We tracked 14 of the teams that received an NGLC grant and told their story in Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning.) Each of these teams embrace high expectations for college and career readiness and personalized learning. They are approaching their work in a way that is scalable and sustainable. Grant funding helps initiate and support the work, but even without grant funding the NGLC framework is a good set of design principles. Supporting new and transformed schools, the NGLC work has expanded to six regional funds.

NewSchools Venture Fund just launched Catapult, a new school grant program that focuses personalized learning, student agency, and an expanded definition of student success.

The best field trip is a day at Summit Public Schools in the Bay Area. Check out a day in the life of a Summit student and a summary of their efforts to share their model. Like Fulton’s focus on just-in-time direct instruction, Summit creates customized playlists that prepare students to engage in challenging projects.

5. Embrace broader aims. It’s clear that broader aims of student success, including mindset, self management and relational skills, are widely recognized as important to success in life. These hard to measure skills and dispositions require broader feedback systems than traditional standardized testing. Three examples with reviewing include:

6. Create community agreements. To move past a narrow focus on test prep, EdLeaders lead community conversations about What Should High School Graduates Know And Be Able To Do?

With clear commitments to equity and excellence and embracing the paradox of clarity and openness, EdLeaders should take every opportunity to describe a hopeful future where students and teachers benefit from personalized learning. It’s particularly helpful to be quite specific about the kinds of experiences you’d like to see more of (see #3). Harlem Success Academy principal Andrew Malone suggests simple powerful phrases packed with meaning as a result of lots of examples and conversation.

EdLeaders need to be conversation leaders and agreement crafters. When things are this dynamic, a sequence of temporary agreements that keep a school community moving is the best case scenario.

7. Model next-gen learning. Want to see more next generation learning? It starts with modeling the way, being authentic, vulnerable, and connecting with others.

Start modeling the way by exposing your routines for trend monitoring, sensemaking, and learning new things, including successes and challenges. Share your lessons in staff conversations and in social media. Blogging can be a great way to model clarity of convictions and openness to new pathways.

8. Personalize Professional Learning. Ditch the old boring school wide PD.  As discussed in Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning, educators should have the same kind of learning experiences as students–blended, personalized, and competency-based.

Platforms like Bloomboard (where I’m a director) make it easy to build an individual learning plan linked to quality learning experiences.

9. Improve your wellness. Managing a school is a big job. Orchestrating a transformation agenda requires what seems like superhuman powers. The first part of the solution is to distribute leadership. The second part is to take care of yourself. Build daily wellness habits. If you want healthy staff and students, modeling starts with you.

10. Stick around! Different than the revolving door common in many urban centers, real equity producing progress takes time, a broad web of leadership sustained over a decade. Stick around and see the fruits of your hard work.

For more:


Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0

Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0
Originally published September 2013, updated & re-released Summer 2015
Authored by John Bailey, Lisa Duty, Scott Ellis, Nathan Martin, Saro Mohammed, Daniel Owens, Beth Rabbitt, Luis Rodriguez, Carri Schneider, Alex Terman, Tom Vander Ark, Jennifer Wolfe
Download the full paper
In partnership with: Digital Learning Now, The Learning Accelerator

This paper is one of nine in the DLN Smart Series – a collection of interactive papers that provides specific guidance regarding the adoption of higher standards and quality assessments focusing on the shift to personal digital learning.

This guide offers recommendations for developing and implementing an effective plan to adopt a blended learning model that focuses on accelerating student learning for college and career readiness. Version 3.0 reflects feedback from schools and districts, developments in the field and educational technology trends.

“Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0” walks school leaders through a four-part process for blended learning implementation that begins with creating conditions for success and planning before moving into implementation and continuous improvement. The authors use exhibits, case studies and additional resources to help schools in charting their own course.

Download “Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0

[youtube http://youtu.be/pENW-RtPEIw]

BLIG-2.0-Infographic


Reconsidering Liberal Arts, the Gig Economy, and Global Trends for Generation DIY

My initial Generation DIY (GenDIY) aha moment – a sudden snapping together of seemingly random experiences that made me go, “Oh yeah,” came in a WalMart parking lot in Visalia, California, in 2006. My most recent ones hit me in an apartment block in Shanghai, at a Maker Faire in Washington DC, and near a fire pit in Alaska. The nuances in between and since have set my brain spinning. Like most things worth pondering, this GenDIY notion is a lot more complex than I originally believed.

Back in 2006, I was staffing an information table about a new virtual public school opening up in California’s Central Valley to meet the needs of young iconoclasts who wanted something different. All day long I’d been talking with parents about their bright, creative kids who were out of sync with school as it currently existed, who wanted to go faster or needed to go slower than their traditional classrooms would let them.

A text came in from one of my favorite nieces, a high school senior I’d been trying to strong-arm into college. “I got a 26 on my ACT!” she wrote. I let out a whoop. Then the next text said: “Decided to work next year instead. Maybe take an online class or two? Don’t be mad.”

I WAS mad – or maybe just terrified. What would happen to my bright, creative niece if she didn’t spend the next four years in college classrooms like those I had known? Where would she end up if she stepped off the conventional path?

And yet that was essentially what I hoped for the Visalia high schoolers whose parents I’d been talking to all day. A personalized route, tailored to who they were as each individually unique and quirky individuals, in a place and time-frame of their choosing.

Reconciling those two realities is what led me to conclude that GenDIY is both the chicken and the egg. Something in the zeitgeist is emboldening more young people to think of their lives not as a single straight road, but instead an assemblage of personally curated experiences that may zig and zag and double up and disappear. And, in response to that outlook – or maybe inspiring it in the first place – there are suddenly all these options: online school, early college, portable credits, boot camps, nano-degrees, job-juggling, multi-hyphenating.

I still believe all of those things, but my recent experiences are making me rearrange some of my original GenDIY conceptions.

Thinking vs. Doing

While my GenDIY poster-children are still coders and the kinds of hands-on innovators I met at the National Maker Faire, I have come back around to a new appreciation of the liberal arts. There really is something about wrestling with literature and humanities that makes you a more supple thinker, that opens your mind to new possibilities — and in the world that GenDIYers are inheriting, those are priceless gifts. While the traditional liberal arts pathway through higher education will need to adapt to new realities — becoming more modular, more on demand, certainly more affordable — I will confess the being influenced by Fareed Zakaria’s case In Defense of a Liberal Education.

Push vs. Pull

There is no question that the cost of traditional higher education has pushed Millennials toward different approaches to college. And it’s also true that the post-2008 economy has made secure full-time jobs harder to come by, pushing new entrants into multiple part-time gigs. But the more broadly I explore the GenDIY phenomenon around the globe, the more I believe that there is a powerful pull at work here too. I believe that just-in-time purposeful learning, passion-driven project work, free agency and flex-time all resonate with today’s young people in a way that can’t be completely explained by rocky necessity. Savannah Lamb’s recent post is a case in point, as are the choices of a group of talented young people I met in Southeast Alaska this spring, who are creating art and doing carpentry, writing code and working on fishing boats, all in the context of a “back of beyond” homesteading community of their own making.

Boomers vs. Millennials, Global Edition

Listening to parents, students, and educators in places like China and India has made me realize that GenDIY trends are truly global in the generational shift they represent. Parents in the emerging world who are one generation removed from rural poverty are banking on “do as I did” echo pathways to success for their kids: high school spent cramming for a high-stakes exam, then straight into university and out into lifelong white-collar employment. But they and their kids are also keenly aware that the ground is shifting beneath them, that the degree you sacrifice your childhood for may no longer guarantee a job and the job you’ve outcompeted your global peers to get may not be the safe harbor you expected. Meanwhile, EdLeaders everywhere are trying to re-engineer school systems to turn out innovators and critical thinkers.

It’s a new GenDIY moment.

About “GenDIY”
Young people are taking control of their own pathway to careers, college and contribution. Powered by digital learning, “GenDIY” is combatting unemployment and the rising costs of earning a degree by seeking alternative pathways to find or create jobs they love. Follow their stories here and on Twitter at #GenDIY.

For more blogs by Mickey, check out:


Mentoring New Teachers Toward Innovation

I’m in a very exciting position right now – I’m transitioning from having taught 7th grade science at my school for the past 8 years to now beginning a new position as the lead teacher of our new makerspace. But I normally would have been quite hesitant to take such a position… I adore my 7th grade science program, my students, and my teaching team, and – being the perfectionist that I am – would have worried about being able to find a new science teacher who could continue moving the program forward.

I was able to take my new makerspace position with absolutely no hesitation because we already had our new 7th grade science teacher: a young woman, recent college graduate with an ecology degree, who has spent the past two years as a teaching assistant and substitute teacher at our school. Kiki knows our quirky kids and our school values, and she has substituted for me when I was gone for long stretches at conferences and on class trips. I’m confident that Kiki is going to kill it as our new 7th grade science teacher.

She and I have been meeting to plan the coming school year, including both content and structures for a positive, growth mindset-oriented classroom environment. Below is a semi-comprehensive list of the work we’ve been doing and plans we’ve been setting to hopefully set her up for success.

Planning for regular weekly check-ins:

  • Our fabulous upper division assistant is scheduling at least one class period per week for Kiki and me to meet and discuss progress. This basic step is vital. With both new teachers and new-to-us veteran teachers I’ve mentored before, we’ve used this one class period per week to discuss background on entrenched school topics that arose in faculty meetings, to plan next steps for students reflecting on class projects, to troubleshoot class culture snags, and more.

Planning the year’s content:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
  • In planning content scope and sequence for the year, we started with the NGSS disciplinary core ideas. The middle school science team divvied up the core ideas a couple years ago, so we already knew the set that were needed in 7th grade life sciences.
  • From those core ideas, we drew from activities in my own previous units and tweaked to outline a general sequence for the year, aligning each unit with specific content goals.
  • With the sequence laid out, we planned alignment with the NGSS science and engineering practices. Since our school doesn’t give “grades,” our narrative reports to parents include explanations of each child’s growth in specific skills. For our science program, we report on growth in the eight NGSS practices. By aligning learning activities with those practices, Kiki will be able to easily point out to students what skills they are working on when, as well as track each student’s progress on each skill.
  • Kiki is designing this fabulous “Scientist of the Month” routine in which each class will Skype with a different scientist each month to learn about their research and then create a little bulletin board display to share their learning with the other classes. She’s putting together a schedule already, and focusing on women scientists and scientists of color.

Planning classroom routines/structures:

Planning positive communication with kids and parents:

  • A good-old piece of advice that remains true in any classroom: always greet students with a smile and by name.
  • Post LOTS of pictures to help parents peek into their children’s learning.
  • Send home at least two emails per day to parents just to share something great their child did that day. Keep a checklist to ensure that every parent gets that email every several weeks. (This is an idea I stole blatantly from a friend on Twitter, and it helped my students’ parents always know that I adore their children even if I’m also sending home an email about a concern.)
  • If a student is struggling to understand a concept or demonstrate a skill, or falling behind in a project, catch it early. Before sending home an email to parents, check in with the student to form an outline of a plan. That email home to parents should include both the concern and the plan!

Many new teacher guides focus on carefully planning your gradebook ahead of time, but an innovative teacher should always plan learning outcomes first. Similarly, many new teacher guides recommend laying out your classroom rules and disciplinary structures immediately, but an innovative teacher should plan to get to know their students as individuals and create learning plans or disciplinary plans in collaboration with the student who needs it.

The idea of providing new teachers with a specific mentor is becoming more and more widespread – certainly much more so than when I was a first-year teacher. As we develop these mentorship programs, we need to ensure that our new teachers are receiving guidance towards better teaching practices, and the books and guides available to new teachers need to catch up.

For more blogs by Lindsey, check out:


NewSchools Ignite: Funding Entrepreneurs and Filling EdTech Gaps

Prizes have been known to inspire, encourage and promote innovation. Earlier this year we worked with The Foundation for Excellence in Education to launch the My School Information Design Challenge. The challenge sought out to find a better design for state level school report cards that could more effectively share school accountability information with key stakeholders like parents, policy makers, educators, students and community members. The challenge drew dozens of design submission from talented organizations and individuals around the country that will help inspire new school report cards that are more user-friendly and accessible.

Today NewSchools Venture Fund announced NewSchools Ignite, an EdTech accelerator that will support entrepreneurs creating solutions to the most challenging gaps in K-12 EdTech.

NewSchools Ignite will launch challenges open to companies and nonprofits to build digital tools that support teaching and learning. The initiative will activate growth in areas that are crucial for teachers and students but have undoubtedly lacked innovation. The winners of each challenge will receive grant funding, targeted content and support to help bring new tools created into classrooms around the nation – especially in communities that are commonly underserved.

To kick off the initiative, NewSchools Ignite also announced the Science Learning Challenge, open to entrepreneurs “building digital learning experiences that support students’ development of science and engineering skills”. NewSchools plans to distribute up to $1.5 million in grants to up to 15 entrepreneurs who are developing digital tools for science education. Entrepreneurs who have already gone through accelerators or who plan to pursue accelerator opportunities in the future are invited to apply.

“The edtech ecosystem is bubbling over with talent and ideas, yet teachers nationwide have identified a void in digital tools that support science learning across the K-12 spectrum. Our Science Learning Challenge will mobilize entrepreneurs to develop their most  promising ideas to fill this void and give them opportunities to receive invaluable feedback from educators and researchers.” said Stacey Childress, Chief Executive Officer of NewSchools Venture Fund. “Through this program, we hope to empower more underserved students as explorers and creators, and to ignite students’ curiosity for deeper learning across the sciences.”

WestEd will partner with NewSchools Ignite to facilitate a research-based product development and will provide the Science Learning Challenge winners with recommendations, product design feedback and additional research perspective. Winners will also work with WestEd to evaluate product potential for improving outcomes for students and usability/feasibility in the classroom.

Visit NewSchools Ignite to learn more and apply for the Science Learning Challenge.

For more on prizes see:


9 Digital Learning Resources: Hitting Refresh on the #SmartSeries

What is it about Summer that makes us want to start fresh, start a new project, or revamp an existing one? While many educators and school leaders are spending this summer focused on how to innovate their classrooms and create next-gen learning environments for their students, our team has been busy updating important resources to help guide that work!

Over the last three years we worked collaboratively with our advocacy partner Digital Learning Now, an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), to bring you a series of interactive white papers that provide specific guidance regarding the adoption of higher standards and quality assessments focusing on the shift to personalized digital learning. More commonly known as the “DLN Smart Series.”

The series originally included 12 papers and a free ebook – Navigating the Shift to Digital Learning. Given all that has happened in schools across the country since the release of our first paper in August 2012, it was time to return to the series to assess what was still relevant, throw out what was no longer helpful and add in loads of new resources and updates to enrich the papers in the series.

With the support of our original co-authors and leading experts on education innovation–including iNACOL, Data Quality Campaign, The Learning Accelerator, Curriculum Associates, and Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture— we’ve refreshed and released 9 papers!

The new DLN Smart Series highlights recent resources, strategies and information needed to help more educators, policy makers and school leaders make the leap to personalized, competency-based digital learning.

The updated Smart Series publications include:

  1. Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles
  2. The Shift from Cohorts to Competency
  3. Funding Students, Options and Achievement
  4. Improving Conditions & Careers
  5. Online Learning: Myths, Reality & Promise
  6. Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0
  7. Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement
  8. Personalizing and Guiding College & Career Readiness (formerly: Core & More: Guiding and Personalizing College & Career Readiness)
  9. Using Prizes & Pull Mechanisms to Boost Learning

Let us know what you think of the series and keep us informed about what additional resources would be most helpful to you in the future! Join the conversation on social media by following @Getting_Smart and @DigLearningNow or by using #SmartSeries. For the full offering of Smart Series publications, click here.


Exposing Every Student To STEM

When we think about the jobs of tomorrow, we can be sure of one thing, they will be different than the jobs of today. The speed at which technology is advancing and shifting is only increasing and post secondary success will be largely dependent on the ability to navigate a dynamic path. We have to prepare kids for jobs that do not yet exist and the best way to do this is to build critical thinkers and problem solvers that are curious, persistent and dedicated.

Part of developing students that are future ready means encouraging them to make connections to their own interests and to bridge the gap between different content areas through projects that excite and engage. In this blog, Mark Elgart shares how STEM education for all, not just those interested in STEM careers will be key to developing such skills. This post originally ran on TechCrunch.


Mark Elgart

According to the National Center for College and Career Transitions (NC3T), about 20 percent of careers — and many of the fastest growing areas — directly relate to science, technology, engineering and math.

But by one count, an insufficient number of students today will pursue STEM careers. So how do we convince students that STEM is important even if they don’t think they will pursue a career in a related field?

“To varying degrees, every workplace is being transformed by enabling technologies,” writes NC3T President Hans Meeder.

Understanding technology is becoming an expectation in all roles within the workforce and as the workplace continues to evolve, everyone needs the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that STEM education fosters.

Put simply, to be an informed citizen requires careful, methodological thinking to navigate the world successfully—financial decisions, health issues, parenting as well as making sense of politics and polls. No wonder, then, that Meeder argues “life skills are really STEM skills.”

In the video above, former Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department Education Jim Shelton makes his own case as to why STEM education is important even for students who aren’t considering careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Everything we know about the way the world is evolving is saying that STEM is becoming a more important part of not only the technology sector, but every sector of the economy—and, frankly, solving most of the world’s most important problems,” Shelton says. “So STEM education is important for every student, no matter what they want to do in life.”

What does it mean to be STEM literate? It means understanding the fundamental concepts and approaches used in science, engineering, technology and math—concepts such as the scientific method and how to frame and then solve abstract problems. It also means grasping the extent to which these STEM skills are needed in a broad spectrum of careers, including the growing number of middle-wage jobs that require some college or credentials, but not necessarily a traditional four-year college degree.

In adolescence, “you start developing ideas of what you’re good at,” says Yvonne de la Peña, Ed.D., director of learning and engagement for CodeNow, a nonprofit program that helps introduce less advantaged students to technology. “If you never have the opportunity to try something like programming, you may never realize you’re really good at it.”

The question, then, is how do we expose all students to STEM—if a four-year degree, much less a career in technology, isn’t on their radar screens? This question is especially critical in middle school and high schools, when students begin making their own decisions about what classes they take and what subjects they study.

More importantly, students may not understand the connection between STEM subjects and the future careers they are interested in. As part of AdvancED STEM Certification, we have reviewed and certified schools that have the qualities and components vital to creating and sustaining superior, student-centered K-12 STEM teaching and learning programs.

We have found that schools that weave technology into other subject areas in authentic ways and set clear expectations for student outcomes are helping their students make the connection between STEM and 21st century skills.

At Logan High School in Ohio, for example, students in advanced biomedicine classes investigate real-world medical problems by using data acquisition software to monitor body functions, including respiration and blood pressure, in a variety of settings. Along with getting hands-on biology experience, these students quickly learn the value of technology in what can literally be life-or-death situations.

Quality STEM programs like the one at Logan High School provide important  benefits. They expose students to real-world science while encouraging students to think and work with the mindset of a STEM professional—solving interdisciplinary problems that require problem identification, investigation and analysis.

As was the case with CodeNow alumni Wilfried Hounyo, these programs also help students understand just how pervasive skills like computer programming are, and the connections these skills have to everything around them.

“You can use coding for so much more than I realized,” Hounyo says.

Those of us in the technology sector are all too aware of the growing challenges of finding, training and retaining skilled workers. Ensuring that all students, not just the future computer science majors, are exposed to skills like programming could be the best way to broaden and improve skills within our workforce.

One of the most exciting approaches to bring more students into STEM fields is happening not in K-12 schools, but in the nation’s community colleges that are establishing career and academic pathways to bring students into fast-growing career fields.

By offering the growing numbers of students who attend two-year colleges a more cohesive and focused course of study in which they can gain academic and career skills in tandem, students can grasp why they need specific STEM classes—say, computer science to pursue a career in business operations, or algebra to become a civil engineer—to reach their career goals. Finding ways to do something similar in middle school or the early years of high school could help more students connect STEM skills to their own personal goals, resulting in a smarter, more STEM-literate workforce.

“I think every kid has their own special interest,” Hounyo says. “If you can find a way to tie programming into it, it’s a good way for them to learn it.” Our challenge, our opportunity is to help every student discover how STEM skills can be the foundation for success throughout their life no matter the pathway.

For More on cross-curricular student-centered and project based learning, check out:

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Mark Elgart, Ed.D. is President and CEO of AdvancEd. Follow Mark on Twitter, @MarkElgart.


Happify: The Science of Emotional Wellbeing in a Mobile App

Having a bad day? Join more than a million users of Happify and log in and cheer up.

What is happiness? It’s not being rich or feeling good all the time. It’s a set of habits more than a destination. The research, according to Acacia Parks, Hiram College, suggests that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life and how good you feel day-to-day.

It turns out that about 40% of your happiness is controlled by your thoughts and actions, 10% by your circumstances, and the other half is genetic. It’s hard to change your genetics and circumstances, but you can train your brain to be happier.

Happify’s S.T.A.G.E. framework helps you build five key happiness skills:

  • Savor: The practice of being mindful and noticing the good stuff around you, taking the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment, making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible.
  • Thank: Identifying and appreciating the things people do for us fills us with optimism and self-confidence
  • Aspire: Feeling hopeful, having a sense of purpose, being optimistic.
  • Give: Being kind not only makes us feel less stressed, isolated and angry, but it makes us feel considerably happier, more connected with the world, and more open to new experiences
  • Empathize: The ability to care about others, to imagine and understand the thoughts, behaviors or ideas of others, including those different from ourselves.

Backstory. Four years ago, Tomer Ben-Kiki shared the research on wellbeing with fellow entrepreneur Ofer Leidner. Both studied at Tel Aviv University and co-founded Oberon Media, a leading casual gaming company. Ofer found the data equally compelling and they launched Happify in New York City in 2012.

The app is designed to build skills for emotional wellbeing, resilience, mindful and lasting happiness. The business plan is to become the online destination platform for science-based emotional well being–the go-to place to use data to generate actionable behavioral and emotional insights

Backed by $12 million in equity from investors who appreciate the double bottom line focus, Happify has grown to more than 30 people including a Latvian development team.

Happify is one of the most popular Health and Fitness apps in Apple and Google stores. Employers and health providers have taken notice and Happify developed an enterprise program.

OK, you’re still skeptical, you’re thinking of those brain training apps that you bought, used twice and dumped. Many are not helpful and based on weak scientific claims. The science behind Happify is well documented and the experts are impressive.

Demo. Each experience within Happify includes a “Why it Works” section with a simple explanation supported by cited research. For example, the effectiveness of a “Serenity Scene” activity (below) is underscored by research involving brain scans that have shown that looking at photos of natural scenes can provide a calming cognitive boost.

Want to check it out? Sign up for a free account. Here are some examples what you can experience.

  • Need help focusing on the positive? A game called “Uplift” can help train your brain for positivity, lift your mood and reduce negative thinking. As hot air balloons float by, click on words like “joy” or “radiant” while ignoring words like “criticize” or “angry.” The goal is to focus on the positive and bypass the negative.
  • Need to relax? Choose the “Serenity Scene” activity. Perfect for someone feeling overwhelmed with a long to-do list, a guided relaxation track can help people unwind, feel less anxious and get a fresh charge of energy (grounded in brain scan research).
  • Fun for kids to try? Negative knockout is an ‘angry birds’ like game where you choose your biggest challenges that day (procrastination, irritability) and destroy those words with a slingshot.

happify-info-graphic-650pxw

For more, check out:


EdTech 10: If You Build It, They Will Come

In this week’s EdTech top storylines, new structures, frameworks, and resources were released and launched that will support in building new visions for learning.

Are you planning for fall conferences like we are? The SXSWedu PanelPicker voting window will open soon – look for an upcoming blog post on how to vote for your favorites. National Education week registration opened this week and join our team at iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium in November.

Blended Schools & Tools

Comm’ on man. Communications Planning for Blended Learning is a new step-by-step guide from The Learning Accelerator that helps district leaders understand the importance of, and how to develop, a blended learning communications plan. Check out our re-released Blended Learning Implementation Guide 3.0 for recommendations for developing and implementing an effective plan to adopt a blended learning model.

Digital Developments

Turn it up. The Getting Smart Podcast is now available on iTunes and Stitcher! Download the apps and start streaming today. Check out our last episode on why talent matters, stay tuned, episode five on student-centered learning and our new book Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful learning will be launched in August.

Who’s going first. Smart Sparrow is EdTech’s first instructional design platform that allows instructional designers to create adaptive online learning experiences. For more on platforms, check out how learning will work in the near future.

Evaluating Evals. K12 Inc. and the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching released a rubric for evaluating, coaching, and teacher development in K12’s online learning environments. Teacher talent matters (listen why). That’s why we we’re really excited for this next-gen teacher evaluation tool.

A story to tell. Just in time for the annual release of the Common Application and the ‘15-’16 College Admission cycle, Story2 released an update to EssayBuilder that lets students research colleges, and find and track application essay prompts and deadlines. As high school seniors begin to rethink college, this is big for students as the essay prompts can give a glimpse into the values of institutions.

Dollars & Deals

Big funding. BrightBytes, which helps 1 in 5 US schools make better decisions, landed $33 million in follow on financing.

Konichiwa. Pearson announced the sale of FT Group to Nikkei Inc. for £844 million (and it looks like the sale of the Economist is right behind it). With FT Group circulation increasing by 30% in the last five years and with digital circulation growing to represent 70% of traffic, and mobile driving almost half of all traffic this has big implications for our Smart Planet.

Seed & Grow. Investment firm, University Ventures announced allocation to a $5 million seed portfolio for early stage EdTech startups that are working to solve challenges in HigherEd and workforce development. “To be successful, emerging companies need more than just access to capital. They also need access to market insight, relationships, and domain experience,” said Paul Freedman, Founder of Entangled Ventures.

Stem Gems

Absolutely Fab Lab. Thanks to support from Chevron, The Fab Foundation announced the expansions of a fabrication lab (Fab Lab) in Washington DC. The Fab Foundation supports Fab Labs worldwide in a wide range of projects that foster and accelerate education, innovation, entrepreneurship, business development and community building.

Higher, Deeper, Further, Faster Learning

Free from MIT. A new website, founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University is providing clutch resources for AP students. Free lessons designed by Davidson College for high school AP calculus, physics and macroeconomics are now live. Move over massively open online courses, make room for massively open online lessons.

For more EdTech 10’s, check out: