Designing Learning Environments that Ensure Success for English Language Learners

It’s difficult to truly appreciate what the phrase “language barrier” means.

The closest I’ve ever come to simply not being able to communicate was during my freshman year of college. I was taking a biology class, and I remember sitting there and hearing the professor say words, but I had no idea what he was talking about, what the words meant, or how I was supposed to respond. The words and phrases meant nothing to me, yet when I looked around, there were other people taking notes, nodding, and conversing with him. I felt like an outsider, like I was in the wrong place, and I didn’t belong. My confidence was decimated, and I felt like yelling, “Wait! Come to my Shakespeare class. Come to American Literature. I’m not dumb. Really.” Most of us have “visited” times of having a language barrier like I’ve described, but few of us have lived it. As teachers, we must draw on our own experiences to foster an attitude of empathy, and do everything in our power to help English as a New Language Learners (ENLs) to flourish.

In addition to the language barrier, ENLs have an entirely different dilemma that classroom teachers can fail to recognize if they are not deliberately being culturally conscious and sensitive. Looking back, the reason I was lost in my biology class was because I had only taken a basic science class and didn’t have the background knowledge to put the words in any context.

Imagine an 8th grade social studies class. When the teacher says the words “Rosa Parks” the native speakers will recognize not only who she was, but also the lexicon surrounding the subject: boycott, civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr, race, segregation, and many others, depending on their experiences. However, it is safe to say that students will have at least a cursory knowledge of the topic, a connotation at the very least. Yet, an ENL student is usually hearing all the words for the first time context free.


In an effort to better understand what classroom teachers should do to support ENLs, I interviewed Nicole Miller, a middle school ENL teacher in Hamburg, New York. She is currently writing curriculum to help define the classroom teacher’s role in an ENLs life and the significant impact our teaching and cultural responsiveness can have. Specifically, I wanted to understand how to help the students in my class navigate a project-based learning environment. Nicole Miller answers my questions in an interview here:

What challenges, in addition to the language barrier, do ENLs typically face when doing Project-based learning?

One of the major challenges that ENLs face is the lack of background knowledge about various topics that can lead to research for a project. For example, if we are launching a project about our current class novel study and the students are required to show what they have learned about race relations in the U.S., during the setting of the story this may prove to be a significant challenge.

Many ENLs may not have a strong sense of U.S. history and the struggles with race equality that native English speaking Americans would have. We teach about the struggles of race from a very young age in the U.S. and many of our ENLs will not have experienced the same instruction about this topic. ENLs might need specific scaffolding to understand the racial dynamics in the country.

Another challenge is the deadlines for projects. Often times the project deadlines are a bit of an issue because students at varying proficiency levels require varying levels of support and this can impact deadlines. ENLs often take longer to complete the same tasks as native English speaking students because of the demand in English to show proficiency and understanding.

Can you explain the role of parents (or not) of ENL students when it comes to providing support at home for their child?

Often times the parents or guardians of the student don’t speak English. This is a much bigger concern in low-income communities.. Parents may not understand what the student is required to do or how to access the information to help their child. The parents may not have access to community resources in their native language to explain how to borrow books from the library or use a particular website. Furthermore, the students may not have access to a computer or other technology required to complete a project. Additionally, some cultures and families might value success in the classroom differently. Some cultures hold other priorities alongside education such as religious and/or familial obligations.

What are some specific ways the classroom teacher can make sure that an ENL student is successful when assigning a project?

Be culturally sensitive and know what your students know. The teacher should work closely with the ENL teacher to ensure that the tasks assigned are linguistically appropriate for the students. Teachers can provide background information for the students and allow them to talk about their experiences with the topic.

Videos and field trips are awesome ways to create experiences for ENLs. This is important because it gives the students a chance to use English and create a shared experience.

ENLs may have very different experiences than your typical English speaking students. Channel their experiences. The teacher should set realistic expectations for the ENLs. All students desire to feel successful and this goes for ENLs, too! They are faced with unique challenges every day and the more successful they feel, the more confident they will become.

Classroom teachers should set frequent meetings with the ENLs to discuss the project and make sure that the ENLs are meeting the requirements. Teachers must be responsive and adjust the demands as needed. Chunk the tasks to make them more manageable.

The classroom teacher should also place the ENLs in a group with students that are proficient in English. Good models of the language are important as ENLs will often look to their peers for some support or guidance in the moment.

Be flexible. Present completed projects as examples. Model the expectations and what is acceptable. Don’t assume that your students know what to do. Check for understanding often. Differentiate for your students so you are causing their brains to sweat but not shut down. Work within their Zone of Proximal Development.

How do you think the language barrier should be handled in the presentation aspect of project-based learning?

I think that speaking in English in front of peers can be very intimidating for native English speakers and even more so for ENLs. I think that the students should have the opportunity to present if they choose. The teacher should push the student to do as much as they feel comfortable. Some ENLs go through a “silent period,” where they are not expressing any oral language in English.

Obviously, requiring this student to present should not happen. But, if you have a student who is social, enjoys participating in class, is confident and linguistically developed enough to present, they should!

I do not advise a student presenting in both languages with or without an interpreter. I teach in a free-standing ENL program. This does not allow for students to receive structured native and English language instruction.

Often times a student will not know the content language in their native language to successfully present a project. This is especially true when the student has little to no knowledge about the topic in their native language. The student will only be able to talk about the topic in English as this is the language of instruction. If I taught in a bilingual setting and the student received instruction in the content areas in both their native language and English, I would support them presenting bilingually.

Our conversation, I admit, left my head spinning. There is a definite need for the class Nicole Miller is designing, and I plan on being the first to sign up. Project-based learning can be complicated to begin with, so it is clear that very specific measures must be taken to ensure success for  ENL students.

For more blogs by Amber, check out:

Also check out our recently published The Next Generation of World Language Learning, a Getting Smart and Rosetta Stone Education white paper that describes a vision for next-gen world language learning and the opportunities blended learning creates for foreign language instruction.

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Insights into Effective Instructional Games and Videos

Adam Blum

Remember when you were in elementary school? What engaged you in learning more: a filmstrip with a monotone narrator or a short Schoolhouse Rock? The answer is pretty obvious.

While filmstrips are a thing of the past and today’s students might not know what Schoolhouse Rock was, use of videos in the classroom is now pretty much mainstream. Forty-eight percent of teachers surveyed by PBS Learning Media reported that they use videos to enhance their teaching, and that number is growing year over year.

And research conducted by OpenEd, demonstrates that what students find most engaging, and what most quickly moves the need on learning, are engaging animations—not videos that simply put the traditional “sage-on-the-stage” teacher in front of the camera.

OpenEd was the first to create a searchable catalog of the videos on YouTube and elsewhere. We tagged each so that teachers could support their lectures by finding videos to complement their teaching no matter what subject, standard or textbook. This searchable video catalog has proven extremely possible with over 250,000 US teachers signing up for free accounts over the last 12 months, and more using it not logged in.

Finding aligned videos was the first step, but teachers have also been asking which videos are actually the most effective in helping their students learn. Therefore, we recently published a study of what kind of videos are most effective in boosting educational attainment, sorted by publisher, length, style of video and other. We now sort results on our resource library to preferentially return more effective online resources automatically, and have also published lists of which publishers do the best. 

Although there has never been a study published on what kinds of videos are most helpful, there have been a few studies done on the effectiveness of videos in the classroom in general. The studies to-date have primarily been conducted on Khan Academy for reasons that are not entirely clear. 

Research shows that niche publishers will typically outperform Khan Academy and other generalists on any given topic. More generally, the Khan style of speaking over a blackboard tends to have low impact on educational attainment.

Clearly, being able to find the best educational videos, by standards, textbooks, topics and keyword search, will boost educational attainment. The data hints that teachers who find more engaging video resources of high production value will significantly help their students, and we welcome more in depth studies and analysis.

Insights Into Effectiveness        

Analyzing data from the more than 250,000 teachers nationwide who use OpenEd resources and assessments with their students, the analysis, documented in the white paper Insights Into Effectiveness of K-12 Online Instructional Resources, revealed that more focused specialty publishers, such as those who concentrate on a specific subject (such as math or language arts) or a limited grade range were more likely to have higher effectiveness scores than bigger-name publishers who covered a wide range of subjects or grades.

The same study revealed that, when it comes to moving the needle on student achievement, short, engaging instructional games and videos are most effective.

Effectiveness scores were calculated by considering students’ actual assessment scores after they viewed a certain educational resource. So, for example, consider two students who watch a video lesson on calculating the area of a triangle and then take the related assessment on that lesson. If one student scores a 90 and the other scores a 70, that resource would have an effectiveness rating of 80 for that particular standard.                                 

The analysis also showed that online educational games (which earned an average effectiveness score of 70) are more effective learning resources than videos (66). But both drastically outperform other resource types, such as printed worksheets or supplementary text. The message for teachers: Although games can be harder to find for certain topics and at the high school level, they should be included in your instructional resources whenever possible.

As part of the analysis, we also assessed the effectiveness of five different types of instructional videos. In order of their effectiveness scores, they were: 

  • Flashcards, a specific type of animation, with a pause to allow students to answer questions, which had an average score of 72.1
  • Lessons, a slide deck or PowerPoint presentation narrated by a teacher. Average score 68.6.
  • Cartoons, animations often accompanied by music or songs for younger students. Average score: 66.7.
  • Teachers, with a live teacher being videoed as a “talking head” or standing by a blackboard. Average score: 64.6.
  • Blackboards, with drawing on an electronic slate (as popularized by Sal Khan). Average score: 63.5.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the research also revealed that shorter videos—particularly “fragment videos” lasting two minutes or less—are more effective than longer ones. Videos of less than one minute had an average score of 70, and those lasting one to two minutes averaged a 69. Videos lasting from two to three minutes (which make up nearly 35 percent of our video catalog) had an average score of 66, which was also the overall average for videos.

Meanwhile, the effectiveness dropped for videos of five minutes or longer, and videos 10 minutes or more had an average score of 63.

In the months ahead, we plan to analyze the data to gather more insights about resources’ effectiveness based on subject matter and students’ age, which we will post on our website,

What are you seeing with students in your classrooms? Does it support our research?

For more, check out:

Adam Blum is co-founder and CEO of OpenEd. Follow Adam on Twitter, @adamblum.

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6 Trends in Students’ Use of Mobile Devices In and Out of the Classroom

Seth Reichlin, Ph.D., and Liane Wardlow, Ph.D.

Tablets, smartphones, laptops, notebooks, Chromebooks, hybrid computers: each passing year expands the pool of mobile devices from which schools, parents, and students may choose.

Five years ago – soon after the iPad launch – Pearson worked with Harris Poll on the first survey about the ownership and use of mobile devices  by college students. Three years later, we added a second survey, looking at students in grades 4-12.

The tracking poll results have provided keen insights into the impact that students believe mobile devices can have on learning; their device preferences; and what they would like to see in the future. This year’s surveys were no exception.

The top findings from the 2015 college and grades 4-12 studies include:


  • Students of all ages think tablets will transform learning. Both school and college students continue to have very high expectations of the potential of tablets to transform learning. Ninety percent of students in grades 4-12 think that tablets will change the way that students learn in the future. Seven in 10 college students agree that tablets help learners study more efficiently, and that tablets will effectively replace textbooks as we know them within five years.


  • A disconnect exists between college students’ expectations of the potential of tablets for learning, and how much they actually use them. Although most college students believe that tablets are efficient and effective for studying, laptops are still the most commonly used device for learning. Among college students aged 18 and 19 (generally freshmen and sophomores), only one in 12 use a tablet every day for school work, while two out of three use a laptop daily for their school work. About one in four college students aged 25 and older use tablets every day for school work.


  • Elementary, middle and high school students are learning with tablets. The use of tablets for learning continues to grow in grades 4-12. In 2015, nearly 80 percent of elementary students reported using a tablet regularly for school work compared with 66 percent in 2014. Nearly 70 percent of middle school students used a tablet regularly in 2015 compared to 58 percent in 2014. Almost 50 percent of high school students use a tablet on a regular basis versus 42 percent in 2014.


  • Mobile device preference depends on students’ age and stage. This year’s surveys also provided interesting insights into the relationship between students’ ages and the devices they prefer. Elementary and middle school students most enjoy doing schoolwork on tablets. High school students and college students prefer laptops, notebooks and Chromebooks. Then, interestingly, tablets become more popular with adult students with about one in four college students age 25 and higher use tablets every day for school work.


  • Students own smartphones, but don’t generally view them as learning tools. Smartphones are a bit of a different story for school and college students. While smartphone ownership for college students has stabilized at 85 percent, ownership among students in grades 4-12 has risen since last year, and increases with grade level. For example, 81 percent of high school students own a smartphone. Yet, while smartphone ownership is up for school students, use for learning has increased only nine percent over 2014.

    And the story is the same for HigherEd. Despite the higher usage/ownership of smartphones, students don’t necessarily think they are best for learning. When asked which device they learn best on, only six percent said they learned best on a standard smartphone.


  • Access to Wi-Fi at home approaches 100 percent for all students. Wi-Fi connectivity at school lags woefully behind home. Nearly all the students in grades 4-12 (96 percent) surveyed reported having Wi-Fi access at home. However, only 68 percent of those same students said they can connect to Wi-Fi at school, presenting a significant stumbling block to realizing the potential of mobile learning.

There are many more data points that provide insight into today’s students and their uses and preferences related to mobile devices and learning in the full survey reports, which can be found on the Pearson website – school and college.

When you look at the reports, you will see that what the nearly 3,500 students that participated in our 2015 mobile device surveys shared with us offers a lot of food for thought for those of us working at companies to develop learning tools, as well as education leaders and policy makers. One thing that has been crystal clear since we started doing the surveys five years ago is that all students have a distinct vision of the powerful ways that mobile devices can transform learning.

Moving forward, it is critical that we all continue to create solutions, increase access to connectivity and provide opportunities for that shared vision to be realized.

For more check out:

Seth Reichlin, Ph.D., is Pearson’s Senior Vice President of Market Research for Higher Education.

Liane Wardlow, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scientist in the Center for Learning Science & Technology at Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network. Follow Liane on Twitter, .

Follow Pearson on Twitter, @PearsonNorthAm.

Pushing Professional Learning to New Heights: What Will it Take?

Stephanie Hirsh

“Oh great, next Friday is our district PD day – let’s be sure to get seats in the back to plan our next unit.”

“Yes, we have team time every Wednesday – but we haven’t really been sure about what to do at that time.”

“Our standards session was really helpful. I wonder when we’ll get back to that?”

I can’t be the only one who has heard comments like these over the years. Education stakeholders have a love-hate relationship with professional development. On the one hand, anyone invested in improving education outcomes for students, with all that entails, knows that the quality of the teaching is paramount. Subsequently, doing everything we can to build educators’ knowledge and skills should be a top priority. And no one disagrees with that.

On the other hand, professional development often fails to meet its promise. Too many educators have been obligated to attend professional development that didn’t give them what they need. Too many systems have invested money in professional development that didn’t produce better outcomes. A recent report from TNTP found that teacher supports in the school systems that they studied didn’t have meaningful impacts.

The tolerance for ineffective professional development is rightfully low right now. Teachers themselves find that many of their experiences aren’t meeting their needs, as they indicated in last year’s Teachers Know Best. Teachers and schools are in the spotlight while districts and states across the country implement college- and career-ready standards, new assessments, and revamped educator effectiveness systems. Given these high-stakes demands, the need for deep understanding of effective professional learning is critical.

Those who advocate for effective professional learning know that no other school improvement strategy is as essential as building the knowledge and skills of educators along with the contexts and structures that make continuous improvement possible. Meanwhile, the body of knowledge that helps educators understand effective teaching is growing.

We know with greater confidence every year that meaningful collaboration among teachers improves their knowledge and skills, as evidenced most recently in a study of more than 9,000 teachers in Miami-Dade county. There are schools and systems around the world that have created learning systems that result in changes in practice and results, as highlighted in the report A Global Network of Teachers and Their Professional Learning Systems. The challenge is to apply the evidence in meaningful ways to inform immediate and long-term actions.

Learning Forward has long championed the view that professional learning is only effective when it leads to better teaching and learning. Through three versions of the Standards for Professional Learning, now used in more than 35 states, we have led the field in demanding meaningful professional learning and helping educators to understand what that is.

As stakeholders consider how to take next steps in ensuring that every educator has access to authentic support for growth, Learning Forward posits these foundational precepts as a starting point for designing a comprehensive professional learning system:

Articulate a vision for professional learning. Until educators at all levels establish that professional learning can and should be an integral and meaningful component to how a system reaches all students, the status quo will reign. Education leaders have an obligation to establish a vision for professional learning, share it widely, and devote resources to reaching it. Vision without the resources behind it will be an empty promise, so, for example, districts will need to find ways to create time for learning as did the 17 high-performing schools highlighted in Time for Learning from the National Center for Time and Learning.

Adopt Standards for Professional Learning. Just as systems establish rigorous standards for the learning that students experience, so too should they hold high expectations for the learning of educators. This echos the case made in Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning. Standards not only outline the essential elements of professional learning and the conditions that make it possible, they also help to ensure equity. If systems hold all learning to the same high standards, then every educator will have access to the support they need.

Involve all stakeholders in professional learning. Establishing professional learning systems that have impact isn’t possible without the active participation of the leaders and the learners the system is designed to support. Including all stakeholders’ voices contributes to greater engagement, more effective learning, and widespread implementation. In addition, finding ways to validate teacher-driven learning, such as the micro-credentialing system highlighted in Making Professional Learning Count offers strategies for increasing not only engagement but innovation.

Measure for results. Professional learning can’t really be standards-driven or achieve a vision without constant monitoring to ensure that the learning is leading to results for educators and students. While adoption of standards is essential, until systems measure the degree of implementation and the connection to results, standards are only aspirational. Measuring impact has implications for resources, planning, and staffing. Any complexity involved in assessing results doesn’t excuse the obligation to do so.

What additional precepts would you put forth as educators demand more meaningful professional learning? Leave your response in the comments below.


This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Transformative Professional Development” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with Knowledge Delivery Systems (@KDSI). Join the conversation on Twitter using #TransformPD. For more, check out:

Stephanie Hirsh is the Executive Director of Learning Forward. Follow Stephanie on Twitter, @hirshlf.

Let’s Get Personal: Paths to Meaningful Individualized Learning

When it comes to powerful learning for students, the education community has come up with a variety of models that seek to improve student outcomes. Be it personalized, deeper, blended, project-based, next-gen, or student-centered, the new vision of learning is one that gives high importance to the learner experience. As we think about what’s next, we will continue to see power in the union of more than just one of these models.

Lydia Dobyns, President and CEO of New Tech Network, a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner, shares NTN’s vision for the future of project based learning, one that is highly personalized to ensure that the individual student experience is memorable, engaging, and powerful. This was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Lydia Dobyns

Personalization in education is a hot topic. Conferences on blended or personalized learning are huge draws. The EdTech space is filled with products and promises. So how does a teacher or parent or district leader separate hype from promising strategies? Let’s start with a basic premise: personalization is not a pedagogy (a theory and method for teaching and learning). Simply adding technology tools to old school models will at best reproduce better ‘old’ outcomes, and we ask is that what we want for students today? Take a look at this great article by Tim Hudson on why less instructional time will solve the math problem we have in this country.

We think the aim of “personalized learning” should be to move students through increasing levels of independence and self-direction while addressing critical knowledge and skills development. To achieve true personalization as an outcome for all students, we believe in a focus on the whole school design and on changing district and state policies that move us away from a “compliance” orientation to one of continuous improvement and growth (for individuals and for schools). While personalization happens for students through classroom-level interactions, our experience is that it takes coordinated school-wide attention to have enduring changes in practices that meaningfully impact student outcomes.

As a national non-profit school development organization our aspiration is huge. We want to help create a nation proud of its education system, where every public school has the capacity to realize the full potential of each student.

We know we can’t achieve what we hope without increasing the capacity of schools to better attend to the individual needs of students. For our work we see this as “getting personal” in ways that are consistent with our beliefs about education and our espoused pedagogy.

We believe the way teaching and learning happens within the classroom can allow for personalized learning to occur in a very different way than is currently being thought of, and practiced. A rigorous, high quality project and problem approach to teaching and learning creates a set of environmental conditions where good teachers can do tremendous personalization work. This approach allows students to enter the learning at their level and make sense in a very personal way.

The conversation around personalization has increasingly come to represent a narrow strategy of computer-based remediation designed to close individual skill gaps at an accelerated pace. Moreover, the practice often happens disconnected from the core educational experience of the students (e.g. as an intervention period or as tailored homework).

Instead of searching for the best add-on or parallel edtech product to address personalization, let’s look for ways to make all classroom instruction more effective at meeting individual student needs. This means supporting teachers to develop quality deeper learning experiences for all students be a top priority. We see Project Based Learning as a powerful context for personalization. Our work with nearly 200 schools around the country includes helping principals and teachers think about the ways in which technology can further enhance that experience. Marrying PBL and personalization can multiply the teacher’s presence, giving students access to the learning tools adults use in the “outside” world to answer our own questions and needs, and produces better data around learning student and teacher reflection and decision making.

This is not yet the norm in every classroom in each of the NTN schools, however it is the desire. We have been “learning our way” to resolve the tension between a collaborative/group-based pedagogy with the need to assess and instruct at the level of the individual student. Since 2011 we have embarked on a series of new instructional practices within the New Tech school model to incorporate literacy tasks, individual assessments of knowledge and thinking and college ready performance tasks. As we articulate what we mean by “personalized learning” we see this as part of the ongoing evolution of our robust school model – not a wholly new undertaking.

Our hope is to re-imagine the “personalization” conversation for our network in a way that is consistent with our beliefs about what quality learning experiences look like, focusing on a more personalized total school experience that reflects the following elements: 1) Students who are empowered to be self-directed in their interests/passions through, 2) the process of inquiry/PBL, while 3) using assessment data to design experiences that 4) intentionally seek to address critical areas of improvement that either impede student learning or are essential for future success.

We are experiencing an exhilarating time in education innovation. For many the pace of change is too slow and for others the “new techniques” being implemented are band-aids applied to an antiquated system. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could recognize that we don’t know the answers so much as we agree on the diagnosis of the problems we are trying to solve? We think this is an essential first step to get us on the journey to create a vibrant public education system.

For more, check out:

Lydia Dobyns is President & CEO New Tech Network. Follow Lydia on Twitter, @LydiaDobyns.

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Smart Cities: What is the Secret to Pittsburgh’s Innovative Mindset?

Justin Aglio

The City of Pittsburgh will proudly celebrate its 200th year anniversary on March 18, 2016. In the last 200 years, Pittsburgh has continuously reinvented itself by demonstrating an innovative mindset. In 1911, Pittsburgh was the nation’s 8th-largest city in America, accounting between a third and a half of country’s steel output. Near the end of 20th century, the area shifted its economic base to education, healthcare, finance, and technology including opening the world’s first Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Through embracing the startup community, innovative educational models, equality across the region and health, Pittsburgh shows no signs of slowing down.

What is the secret to Pittsburgh’s innovative mindset? Is it the secret sauce on McDonald’s Big Mac sandwich that was invented in the Pittsburgh region in 1967? I argue that the secret to Pittsburgh’s innovative mindset is its people. The people of Pittsburgh are an unique blend of intelligence, hard-work, and resilience – including August Wilson, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, Rachel Carson, Thomas Starzl, Jonas Salk, Kenny Clarke, Perry Como, Billy Porter and Roberto Clemente, just to name a few.

But there was one person that captured innovation more than any other in Pittsburgh’s history. This educator captured Pittsburghers’ strength to change and adapt while also capturing hearts. He was the person who invited us into his home from 1968 – 2001. Fred Rogers, creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, first came into our living rooms in 1968. In the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on February 19, 1968, Mister Rogers asked a question that is at the center of innovation, “How do you feel about new things?” His response to that question a few minutes later was, “Change is good”.

Fred Rogers used an innovative technology, television, to disrupt the way that knowledge was transferred to students. This innovation spirit continues to flow throughout Pittsburgh and disrupt education through its ecosystem of organizations and people. In 2014, Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to win the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award. A pivotal force behind this award was the Kids+Creativity initiative – now called the Remake Learning Network – a collaborative ecosystem of people, projects and organizations working together to reinvent learning in schools, libraries, museums, after school programs, community centers and online.

How is this education ecosystem supporting the Pittsburgh Innovation Mindset? A list of some of Pittsburgh’s established innovative educational organizations that work collaboratively as part of the Remake Learning Network are as follows:

  • Center for Creativity is housed at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and connects the region’s diverse and creative resources with educators and administrators as they infuse arts and technology in creative and inventive ways into the curriculum. Over the past six years, the Center (with help from the Grable and Benedum Foundations) has provided over $4 million in grants to help nearly 70 public school districts in the region create remarkable learning experiences for students. The Center is the region’s go-to creativity-hub for preK-12 educators.
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh provides innovative museum experiences that inspire joy, creativity and curiosity. MAKESHOP® is a space for children and families to make, play and design using “real stuff”— the same materials, tools, and processes used by professional artists, builders, programmers and creators of all kinds.
  • Carnegie Science Center inspires and entertains by connecting science and technology with everyday life. In addition to providing valuable scientific experiences, Carnegie Science Center engages in outreach programs that serve Pittsburgh’s diverse community.
  • PAEYC supports high-quality care and education for young children from birth until age nine across 10 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Zulama Games creates information, systems and tools that inspire life-changing educational experiences for students and their mentors.
  • Fred Rogers Center enriches the development of current and emerging leaders in the fields of early learning and children’s media by supporting the professional advancement and mentoring of the next generations of Fred Rogers.
  • League of Innovative Schools: Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward, and South Fayette
  • Carnegie Mellon University, including its Community Robotics, Education, And Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) which explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies, and it’s Entertainment Technology Center, which works with schools and other nonprofits to add meaningful gamification to the learning process
  • The Consortium of Public Education is working to ensure that all children in our region start school ready to learn and graduate from high school prepared for lifelong learning, careers and citizenship. Through its Forum for Collaborative Leadership and Innovation, The Consortium convenes to support multi-disciplinary teams of educators with research, coaching and other resources to pursue systemic improvements in their schools and districts.
  • Schell Games is a full-service game design and development company, which specializes in creating transformational games and innovative, interactive experiences.
  • Assemble is an open physical space in an urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh. They unite artists, technologists, and makers with our neighbors of all demographics.
  • The Sprout Fund has been a key steward of the Remake Learning Network. They bring the community together through large and small scale events, as well as offer catalytic funding to bring innovative ideas to life.

In addition to Pittsburgh’s established educational leaders, Pittsburgh has also seen new and emerging organizations and schools of Innovation:

  • Pearl Club University is a 6-year college success sisterhood for young women beginning in 11th grade. TPCU is comprised of two schools, the School of College Readiness and the School of College Success.
  • Environmental Charter School at Frick Park is a K-8 public charter school that strives to graduate students who are problem seekers, critical thinkers, and thoughtful innovators. ECS believe that connecting student learning to an authentic, place-based experience sets the stage for deeper student learning – which means they are using their knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines in a way that prepares them for real life.
  • Startups: Interactive Story Adventures, Project Playground, and Wrinkled Brain Project
  • Montour School District (3 Tips for Accelerating Innovation in an Historically Traditional District)
  • Holy Family Academy is a private Catholic School based on the Cristo Rey Model.
  • Energy Innovation Center is to contribute to socially responsible workforce development, foster energy and sustainable technology advancement, and assist in job creation through a commitment to diversity, innovation and comprehensive education.
  • Schools That Can is a national non-profit organization uniting leaders to expand quality urban education and close the skills and opportunity gap.
  • Art Groups: Dreams of Hope, Bricolage Production Company, and ARThouse.
  • The Citizen Science Lab is to engage and promote the limitless opportunities that the life sciences offer to the betterment of the community.

Pittsburgh is an exciting place to work and play. It is no wonder why Pittsburgh was named one of the Most Livable Cities in the World and is often referred as KidsBurgh.

For more check out:

Justin Aglio is the Director of Innovation at Montour School District. Follow Justin on Twitter, @JustinAglio.

8 Online Learning Trends that are Changing the Learning Landscape

Seeking access to more and better learning opportunities, a state official called and asked about next generation K-12 online learning. Despite recent headlines, we’ve seen online learning make a big impact in K-12. And we see eight trends–some emerging from K-12 providers, some from HigherEd–improving the opportunity to learn online. 

  1. Broader aims. Like place-based education, online learning is beginning to embrace a broader set of outcomes including success skills and global citizenship.
    • Connections Education curriculum helps develop the 4C’s: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Creativity and innovation, and Collaboration.
    • Global Personalized Academics (Julie Young’s new venture) offers a personalized student-centered online dual degree program for international students that includes  leadership and entrepreneurial learning experiences, college counseling, career exploration and English as a Second Language. “We believe the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow must become global citizens today, which is why we’re trying to create opportunities for students all over the world to exchange ideas with peers from other cultures,” says Young.
  1. More project-based learning. Like traditional schools, we’re seeing more focus on student engagement particularly project-based learning.
  1. More personalized learning: Providers are using data to personalize learning experiences and sequences for each student.
    • In many K12 schools, teachers are talking about data on student academic performance—not just talking but analyzing the data and, based on their insights, changing the way they teach. It’s all part of an effort to improve student academic achievement by implementing the principles of Data Driven Instruction.
    • Connections Education Math Teachlets in Algebra and Geometry are instructional modules that supplement the asynchronous model and help students understand challenging topics by presenting them in fresh and engaging ways (winner of the 2012 Tech & Learning Awards of Excellence). LiveLessons provide synchronous support which helps to further personalize the instruction based on individual student’s needs.
    • Some learning sequences will incorporate game-based and adaptive learning strategies.  
  1. More interactive: “Engagement is even more important than in a traditional model — lack of engagement is directly related to lack of achievement,” according to a Digital Learning Now report.
    • Research affirms the importance of engaged and approachable instructors in online education.
    • Connections Education State Signature Courses: Interactive state-specific history courses for grades 2-4 in Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Utah; they feature an inquiry-based approach, virtual timelines, Google Earth tours, and interactive presentations (winner of the 2012 Tech & Learning Awards of Excellence).
    • K12 is getting mobile friendly with the launch of an updated course catalog with over 90 tablet ready courses that will allow even more students to learn anytime, anywhere.
    • Corporate trainers suggest micro-interactions (of less than five minutes), challenges, game-based strategies, and frequent feedback.
    • Some courses will incorporate augmented and virtual reality.
  1. More support: Quality programs offer strong online and on site support.
    • Connections Education has improved its onboarding particularly for late enrollers (who, not surprisingly, complete and achieve at lower levels on average). Students are connected to a Learning Coach for training sessions and support services.   
    • Georgia Cyber Academy improved onboarding and wrap-around services and demonstrated significantly greater gains than similar students who did not receive these services.
    • Hoosier Virtual’s administrators spend more time observing teachers and working with them in data meetings to focus on improving student outcomes. Administrators are also working to provide teachers with streamlined data reporting and data driven instruction-related professional development. Academic Administrator Patricia Herron says that “Hoosier has become a very positive environment. Teachers are ‘owning’ student data and their decisions.”
    • K12 combining data science and increased school support staff and piloted a differentiated start of school on-boarding program  at 17 schools this fall.
    • For full-time online students leading operators are expanding college and career planning services (more on virtual CTE soon).
  1. Stronger relationships: In Smart Cities we noted that “Learning, especially for children, is and will remain a distinctly relationship-based enterprise.” Quality online learning providers recognize that teacher and advisor relationships are key.
    • The success of Wisconsin Virtual Academy is based on powerful relationships. Head of School, Dr. Leslye Moraski Erickson values strong collaboration and teamwork, she actively recruits and hires teachers she describes as “collaborative in spirit.”
    • Relationship tools, like Fidelis, are helping providers monitor academic progress, scheduling, career and college guidance, and challenges that require links to youth/family services.
  1. More competency-based: Most high school and college learning will continue to be organized as courses with end of course exams or demonstrations. WGU, the largest provider of math and science teachers, features a rich course of study including ebundles, home-delivered labs, digital simulations. The program relies heavily on end of course exams as competency-based gateways.
    • TEACH-NOW from the Educatore School of Education is an example of innovative, learn by doing, online teacher prep and certification program that provides an interactive collaborative and efficient certification option for next-gen educators. Learning modules are mapped to specific competencies.
    • College for America (discussed in #2) replaces courses with a sequence of projects that support individual progress. Big Picture high schools in Providence use the CfA projects for dual enrollment.
  1. More part-time: Full-time enrollment in virtual schools will continue to grow slowly but part- time online learning that supplements a blended core will continue to grow rapidly. Course Access describes state policies that allow K-12 students to access a variety of quality courses outside the school where they remain enrolled. This policy strengthens the traditional classroom and school, and allows students to an expanded and targeted course catalog.
    • Through a partnership with Florida Virtual School and Fuel Education, Miami Dade County School District created Blended Learning Communities (BLC), computer labs where students can take at least one online course.  
    • Credit recovery: Fulfilling a credit for a dropped or failed course–is a common application of part time online learning

To support more high quality next-gen online learning, states should adopt:

  1. Portable and performance-based funding;
  2. Better growth measures of individual student progress;
  3. Quality provisioning and authorizing of online providers.

For more on College for America see

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Smart List: Connecting & Supporting Entrepreneurs

Getting Smart is acknowledging people and organizations making a difference with the 3rd Annual Smart Lists. During October and November you’ll see about 20 ‘Best of’ lists, not in order, not exhaustive, just people we appreciate doing innovative work.

Today we’re recognizing organizations connecting and supporting entrepreneurs.

Connecting & Supporting Entrepreneurs

Supporting Student Entrepreneurship

This Smart List was published in partnership with Getting Smart Services. Getting Smart provides advocacy, advisory, consulting and public relations services to turn ideas into impact. We help for-profit and non-profit organizations construct cohesive and forward-thinking strategies for branding, awareness, advancement and communications.

* Learn Capital Partner, # Getting Smart Partner, ** Board member or Advisor

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Next Generation K-12: 10 Implications for HigherEd

There are a growing number of next generation models in K-12 as a result of new thinking about learning design and deeper understandings of college and career readiness, enabled by cheap devices, better tools, and foundation support. They personalize learning in blended and competency-based environments. These models revolve around students and learning, rather than teachers and direct instruction as the primary pedagogy.

We’ve chronicled the development of next-gen schools (here and here) and see hundreds of districts and networks adopting next-gen strategies. We’re optimistic that broader adoption of these strategies will produce better student outcomes. Following are 10 examples of next-gen learning in K-12.

10 examples of next-gen K-12

  1. Summit Public Schools: well articulated goals, innovative platform blends playlists and projects.
  2. Brooklyn Lab built Cortex, their own personalized learning platform.  
  3. Kettle Moraine, a Milwaukee area district, created new small themed flex academies to expand options and manage change.
  4. DSST is the best high poverty STEM network and a values-first organization, it will soon account for 25% of graduates in Denver–and more will be going to college.
  5. IDEA Public Schools operates 44 schools in low-income south Texas communities. The blended elementary schools feed AP/IB high schools which send all of their graduates to college.  
  6. Quest Early College, Spring Texas, where 80% of grads leave with an AA degree from Lone Star College; great service learning program.
  7. Metro Early College High School in Columbus features the Bridge intersession team taught by OSU and Metro faculty demonstrates readiness for college classes.
  8. Career Path High on campus of Davis Applied Technology College is a CTE early college.
  9. RAMTEC, Marion, Ohio, where students learn and teach robotics.  
  10. VLACS offers full and part-time online learning to New Hampshire students which are part of a statewide, policy-fueled push for proficiency-based graduation and college admissions.

These examples are not single course innovations, they are engineered solutions. The first half are districts or networks; the other half are schoolwide models. There are hundreds of examples and they have big implications for HigherEd.

We see 10 implications for HigherEd; some directly as a result of next-gen models, some resulting from next-gen policies, some from EdTech and consumer variables impacting both K-12 and HigherEd.

Preparation variables

  1. Better prep: Almost every state has adopted higher standards in reading, writing, and math that will, over time, result in better college preparation.
  1. Better mindset: Following the lead of next-gen models, a growing number of K-12 schools are promoting a growth mindset and high agency learning. Stronger executive functions should result in improved persistence and self management.
  1. More credit: The expansion of dual enrollment and other college credit options are increasing the percentage of students entering college with a significant amount of credit.

Consumer variables impacting K-12 and HigherEd

  1. Better employability: Led by next-gen models and scholars like David Conley, there is a stronger K-12 focus on success skills. Persistent youth unemployment following the Great Recession has made more young people aware of the need for work experiences and job skills.    
  1. Better LX: The widespread use of personalized and blended learning is creating a generation of demanding consumers that expect high engagement learner experience (LX) with some ability to customize their own pathway. Many learners will be seeking more active and applied learning in more authentic settings.
  1. More CBE: There is a slow but steady increase in the percentage of K-12 students able to learn at their own pace and progress based on demonstrated mastery. Competency-based education (CBE) is working its way in from the edges including credit for prior/outside learning, individual pacing, rolling enrollment.
  1. More options: In addition to school choice, high school students in most states have access to online learning options and, increasingly, to authentic learning experiences outside of school (externships); the combination is creating a more demanding consumer and setting the stage for a unbundled HigherEd experience.

Infrastructure variables impacting K-12 and HigherEd

  1. Blended staffing: Next-gen models incorporate differentiated and distributed staffing. New models leverage the talent of great educators and support educators in teams, with most working in facilitating/coaching roles. Speech therapists, language teachers, and mentors are all available at a distance address problems and expand options.
  1. Mobile: with nearly ubiquitous mobile penetration, learning platforms and tools must increasingly be optimized for mobile use (e.g., DreamDegree).  
  1. Integrated IT: The old challenge of “technology integration” is being replaced by an integrated design opportunity, next-gen learner experience supported by an integrated IT stack (LX+IT, e.g., College for America). Behind all of it is machine learning: adaptive learning, conversion optimization, and operational efficiency. Some HigherEd models will take advantage of this opportunity, but most likely will not.

In short, HigherEd institutions will need to enable a bundled multi-provider experience (or risk becoming part-time providers), focus on employability skills and experiences, and take learner experience much more seriously.

For more, check out:

This blog was co-authored with Andy Calkins Deputy Director of Next Generation Learning Challenges, an initiative of EDUCAUSE. Follow Andy on Twitter at @andrewcalkins.

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EdTech 10: Shining a Light on Progress

With winners announced for NewSchools Ignite’s Science Learning Challenge, 22 districts added to Digital Promise’s League of Innovative, $3 million in new awards from the US Dept. of Education for STEM, and Skills Fund raising $11.5 million… This week’s news shines a light on exciting progress in EdTech.

Blended Schools & Tools

In a league of their own. Digital Promise announced the addition of 22 districts to the League of Innovative Schools, a coalition of forward-thinking districts and district leaders (including our friends in El Paso). The League now includes 73 school districts in 33 states, representing more than 3.2 million students. Karen Cator, President and CEO of Digital Promise recently joined us in crafting 25 Impact Opportunities in US K-12 Education.

Digital Developments

From dream to reality. Seattle-based technology product design and development company Artefact, shared their work with DreamBox Learning of designing and developing a new Insights Dashboard, an intuitive, actionable app that features real-time data visualizations for educators. Another example of the innovative work of DreamBox Learning in building unstoppable mathematicians.

Cue the Opening Bell. Noodle launched Noodle Markets, dubbing themselves as “the first marketplace for K-12 education.” But, before you buy, check out the Smart Series Guide to EdTech Procurement.  

Acquisition and implementation navigation. Navigating the Digital Shift: Mapping the Acquisition of Digital Instructional Materials is a new report from SETDA that provides information and guidance on the acquisition — similar but different to Navigating the Digital Shift: Implementation Strategies for Blended and Online Learning.

Micro-credentials, macro-potential. Making Professional Learning Count Recognizing Educators’ Skills with Micro-credentials is a new report from Digital Promise. Micro-credentials have HUGE potential when it comes to EdLeader PD — for more, check out Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning.


Dollars & Deals

Mills for Skills. Skills Fund raised $11.5 million to issue loans to students of leading high-quality accelerated learning programs. Launch partners include top schools such as Galvanize, Dev Bootcamp, Hackbright Academy, Metis, CodeU, and Sabio.  

Stem Gems

Starry night. It was Astronomy Night at the White House last week. As part of the event new private-sector commitments were announced that further Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign. Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Noyce Foundation, who work with 30+ states in supporting over 500K students in after school STEM programs, were cited as leaders to note in this effort.

STEMming success. $3 million in new awards from the US Dept. of Education is going to 13 colleges and universities that serve largely students of color to strengthen STEM learning. Here’s 34 STEM networks and maker resources worth noting.  

Let’s Get Personalized

College & career RFP. Nellie Mae Education Foundation (supporters of Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning) announced a five year, $200 million initiative, “with the goal of driving college- and career-readiness for all students,” said CEO Nick Donohue. Listen to our recent podcast with Nick.

Movers, Shakers & Groundbreakers

Eye on the prize. 15 companies and nonprofits were selected as winners of NewSchools Ignite’s Science Learning Challenge. Prizes continue to inspire, encourage and promote innovation.

For more EdTech 10’s, check out:

DreamBox Learning, Connections Education and K12 are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.

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