Equity for English Language Learners: Quality Two-Way Immersion

By Lilah Ambrosi and Kenneth C. Williams
There exists a clear and persistent achievement gap among students labeled English Language Learners (ELL). In U.S. classrooms, one out of every ten students is an ELL and 71% of them come from Spanish-speaking homes.
Of all at-risk subgroups, these students are the least likely to graduate high school and in some tragic cases, have been encouraged to drop-out. The reasons for this achievement gap are legion. But let us suggest two important ones, and then offer a hopeful look at how we can ensure equity in our educational offerings for these students.

1. The nomenclature of “English Learners” is one of disadvantage

Those students who come from homes where English is not the primary language are certainly learners of English, but so is every other student in the U.S. Our nomenclature of disadvantage misses the forest for the trees. These students are not just learning English; they are already learning in two (or more) languages. They are nascent bilinguals. Far from being disadvantaged, they come to school with a fantastic advantage.
We wouldn’t tell a first grader who comes to school doing algebra to slow down and work on basic addition. Rather, we would build on that foundation by accelerating her individual program and providing the support needed to continue developing her math skills. We certainly would not tell her to stop using the knowledge she already has about math. Yet, for some reason, we treat language skills differently.
Unlike the hypothetical burgeoning mathematician, the growing population of ELL students represents a systemic challenge: How will we provide effective programming for nascent bilinguals which does not strip them of this advantage, but builds upon it?

2. A monolingual mindset lowers expectations for ELLs

While the business world rewards multilingualism, and our international peers in education expect multilingualism of their students, we often treat our growing bilinguals (especially those who speak Spanish at home) as though they have a disability. We end up making judgments about what they can’t learn rather than working to ensure every student masters what they must learn. This judgment is killing a very important opportunity we have as a nation.
The tectonic shifts occurring in our nation’s demography and economy have combined to make multilingualism a non-negotiable 21st-century skill. When the increased problem-solving capacity and cross-cultural acuity that accompanies multilingualism are thrown into the mix, we can imagine multilingual American graduates shaping and leading an innovation economy.
Unfortunately, our current ELL “support” systems work to fit every student, regardless of home language, into the English monolingual pipeline. The result is the loss of the student’s home language and inadequate proficiency in English. More bluntly: illiteracy in two languages.
Changing our nation’s monolingual mindset will take time, but when the expectation is that all students can and will gain advanced proficiency in multiple languages, ELL students will be understood for what they truly are: nascent bilinguals poised to lead in a multilingual world.

Quality immersion programs offer hope and equity for ELLs

Ensuring equity for our nation’s nascent bilinguals means adopting an additive approach to language acquisition. Research shows that the most effective way to help nascent bilinguals develop their language proficiency in English is by first strengthening literacy in their home language. This additive approach typifies quality language immersion programs. However, not all immersion models are created equally.
Bilingual models that do not dedicate adequate instructional time to the minority language will never help ELLs develop the literacy skills they need in either language. Without a clear understanding and professional development surrounding the how of immersion education implementation, we create programs in which teachers “double teach” concepts in both languages and waste precious instructional time better spent enhancing literacy skills.

A proven effective immersion model does exist

The 90-10 two-way immersion model has been proven to be the most effective method for developing literacy in two languages for both native Spanish and native English students.
In this model, English-dominant and ELLs each comprise half of the class. Early literacy instruction begins in the ELLs’ home language, ensuring that students are not only able to speak Spanish but also read and write Spanish (or Mandarin, Korean, etc.). Their side-by-side English-dominant peers are learning in a second language, both from their teachers and interactions with their classmates.
As students progress through the grades, they eventually receive 50% of instruction in Spanish, and 50% in English. Content is not taught twice, but rather cross-linguistic skills are developed so students can make connections in both languages, regardless of the language of instruction.
When quality dual language immersion programs are created, the status of the minority language is raised and families that have traditionally felt excluded by our educational system begin to feel welcomed and valued. Communities built around these programs empower ALL parents to advocate for their children by valuing the language of the home and allowing parents to understand their child’s education experience.
Equity in action for our nation’s ELL students means ensuring they reach the same bar expected of all students. By making multilingualism our aim and taking the necessary steps to bring programs into alignment with research on language acquisition, we can provide students and families with the equitable education they deserve.
For more, see:

Lilah Ambrosi is a co-founder of add.a.lingua. Follow her on Twitter: @lilahambrosi
Kenneth C. Williams is chief visionary officer for Unfold the SoulFollow him on Twitter: @unfoldthesoul

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

PhotoBlog | Teton Science Schools & The Power of Place-Based Learning

I recently had the opportunity to visit Teton Science Schools (TSS), our partner in Getting Smart’s “Power of Place” campaign.
The campaign aims to build awareness of Place-Based Education–a learner-centered approach that prioritizes student engagement with the world around them.
We’re looking forward to sharing insights from the students, teachers, staff and leaders I connected with at the TSS campuses I visited in Wyoming and Idaho in an upcoming podcast. Until then, I couldn’t help but to share this PhotoBlog. I think the images do a good job of showing how schools can engage deeply with their local geography, culture and community in a way that creates powerful academic, cultural and social-emotional learning experiences.

Teton Science Schools, Jackson Campus

Situated on more than 900 acres just outside of Jackson, Wyoming, the TSS Jackson Campus is home to the Pre-12 Journeys School, Dining Lodge, Teacher Learning Center, Residential Lodges & Facilities, Education Center, Playfield, Ropes Course, Hiking Trails, Welcome Center and Equipment Outfitters.

The Outfitting Building contains all the necessary supplies for exploring in any season – like camping supplies, snowshoes, cross country skis, daypacks, waders, coolers, paddles and boots. Younger students each have their own all-weather suits for staying comfortable out in the elements.

Classroom spaces are well-equipped with technology and reflect a range of traditional classroom configurations. Yet, one noticeable difference from most classrooms I’ve visited is the presence of student work and student projects. Displays are set up in such a way that visitors can learn from posters and signs that explain the story behind the art piece, example of student work or community space.
The walls are also covered with images that reflect the school’s core values. Pictured below you’ll see an image that shows “high-tech” can accompany “high-touch,” a student-designed school library and young learners inside their classroom working in morning circle with their teacher. There’s also a student poster that captures the range of place-based learning at TSS from a student who spent two months living abroad during high school, volunteered at a Raptor Center, took the full courseload of IB classes and penned an extended essay that applied historical frameworks to questions of peace and terrorism.


Teton Valley Community School

Teton Valley Community School (TVCS) is a Pre-K-6th-grade project-based independent school in the Teton Science Schools network on a 10-acre campus in Victor, Idaho, that will soon expand up to eighth grade.
The school is surrounded by beautiful farm land and sweeping landscapes. Farmhouses and a yurt have been converted into student classrooms, and the outdoor learning spaces are just as special as those created for learning indoors. This school stands out as one of the most truly learner-centered approaches I’ve seen–with student curiosity and community needs that drive rigorous, project-based learning from its inception through execution and reflection.
Pictured below: Students during multi-age recess use “loose parts” during regular outdoor play to construct and engage with their own imaginative worlds. (Feature image above shows three of the upper elementary students in front of “Sage City” – the village they constructed that blurs work/play lines by simultaneously serving as a place for imaginative play as well as the basis of a long-term project-based lesson that covered academic standards across multiple subject areas.)

Students at all TSS schools have “Hands to Work” school community responsibilities. At Teton Valley Community School, students can be found caring for the chickens, goats and alpacas as well as tending to the garden and greenhouse.

Thoughtfully-adapted indoor spaces are set-up to enable student movement, flexible use of spaces and project-based learning. Classroom displays highlight student work and community values. Visitors can quickly get a sense of the learner-centered approach by observing these student artifacts, as well as teacher-created materials such as the “daily documentation” sent to parents pictured below that provides an overview of the day’s activities and student quotes about the experience.

Teton Science Schools, Kelly Campus

The Kelly Campus of Teton Science Schools is nestled inside Grand Teton National Park in the shadow of the Gros Ventre and Teton Mountain ranges. This original campus of Teton Science Schools has a main lodge, dining hall (with one of the most stunning cafeteria views I’ve ever seen), the Murie Museum (with 1000s of bird and mammal specimens) and bunkhouse dorms that house groups from student visitors to grad students and visiting teachers/leaders.
Pictured below are students and teachers making use of these beautiful facilities in the myriad ways it’s possible to do so–from Journeys Schools students who were visiting as a part of their fall overnight program to study water quality, to students from the local public schools who were wrapping up a couple days on campus by presenting their findings about the invasion of non-native species in local streams and ponds, to grad students working toward education degrees and so much more.

I came away from my few days of place-based professional learning at Teton Science Schools with a full heart and inspired mind. This part of our beautiful country is truly breathtaking, and it’s easy to see how such a stunning corner of the world is ripe for place-based education.
But the real lesson from TSS goes beyond the beauty of the blue skies, the bison that you might see driving to school one morning or the luck of catching the season’s first snow on the Tetons. The real lesson is that it doesn’t take a national park or a mountain range to get kids out into the world for authentic and powerful learning experiences.
All it really takes is a commitment to making that happen – regardless of the corner of the world where you sit.

Thanks to Nate McClennen, VP for Education and Innovation at Teton Science Schools, as well as the dozens of students, teachers and staff that made my visit so special.

This blog is part of our “Place-Based Education” blog series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, check out the PBE campaign page. Join in the conversation on social media using #PlaceBasedEd. For more on Place-Based Education, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

3 Ideas to Make Your School’s First Open House Rock

Will Rogers once said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” which is one of the reasons we want to make our school’s Open House a huge success every year.
It is the first opportunity we have to get off on the right foot with our new group of students and their parents, so here are three ideas I use to help make the Open House experience successful for everyone involved.

1. Give Them a Mission!

53b9afde-1001-4b1e-9bd8-e249acd32fb5_IMG_1906It can be a scary time for students (and teachers), so I want to ensure we make everyone feel as comfortable as possible. To help avoid awkwardness, I have my new students do a scavenger hunt as they walk in. This hunt help give them purpose, which helps free me up to chat and take pictures.
One idea I’ve used on the scavenger hunt is to take “photo booth” pictures of the families. I bought three different brightly colored table cloths at the dollar store and I hung them up as a backdrop. Then I added the year on a large pencil I made out of bulletin board paper. It made an adorable memory for me to email home as a thank you for coming to Open House.
Another idea I’ve used is to display brochures my students from the year before made. I do this in the hopes that it alleves some anxiety. My new students can read what my former students said about me, my class and our school.
Click here to see my scavenger hunt checklist for families, and feel free to adapt it so you can use it in your own class.

2. Gather Information.

f07d148d-5bfd-4013-9d61-265910ceec56_photo203Typically for me, more parents come to Open House than any other school event throughout the year. I use this time that I have parents captive to get important information.
Parent communication is key for a successful year, and within minutes I can collect information that makes all of our lives easier for the rest of the year. I do this in two ways at Open House:

  • Make a Google Form with a few questions for parents. I try to have several computers set up and I also make a QR code with the link for parents so they can fill it out from their phones if they prefer.

You want to keep this form simple–I only ask for names, numbers and emails (you can see mine here). I cannot stress how helpful this one form is for me. Even though it saves automatically, I still screenshot this for easy access for parent contact information.
One of the first things I do after open house is to copy and paste the parent emails to my address book. Having parents type these in has saved me hours of time deciphering handwriting over the years.

  • Have parents sign up for the parent communication tool Remind. This is an amazing tool that helps bridge the gap between school and home. I simply display the instructions from the site and make it a part of the scavenger hunt, which really raises the participation rate compared to just sending the paper home. Plus I am there to assist with any technical difficulties.

3. Help Them Feel at Home.

This is going to be our home away from home for the next nine months. So something I used last year to make my classroom feel more like home was flexible seating. This was a huge success, as on any given day you would only find a few of my students sitting at an actual desk. They loved the chairs and couch I added. It was a privilege to use them and it really helped students stay on task.
Please know that doing this in your classroom does not need to break the bank–almost every piece of furniture I have is second-hand. Just let people know what you are looking for and they will help. My 17-year-old even called me to pick up the couch he saw on the side of the road (note: we did ask permission).
Another thing that can help students feel at home is to label their desk so they will feel comfortable in knowing where to go when they come in on their first day.
One last thing that can help in giving a warm welcome is to give a treat. I mean, really, who does not love something sweet? Two of the ideas I love are to make (oh who am I kidding? buy) cookies and add this poem to hand out with them. Or just buy a bag of mints and add this note. I have seen both of these be a big hit.
All of these things can help your new crew feel welcomed, but don’t forget that you are the most important part in helping your student feel wanted and loved. These are just a few simple steps that can help increase your chances for a great start to your school year. Remember, this is your first impression–make it great!
For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

Shifting to Competency-Based Education: A Tale of Three States

By Karla Phillips
There is momentum growing in states across the U.S. to replace the traditional, time-based education model with a system that is better designed to equip students for the demands of the modern workforce.
Our current system moves students through grade levels based primarily on their age, regardless of their depth of understanding. By not ensuring mastery, the current system can push students forward who are not yet ready, leaving them with gaps in critical knowledge or fundamental skills that must be remedied later. Concurrently, the traditional system often prevents students from excelling more quickly, engaging more deeply in their interests or pursuing additional academic challenges.
There are new, more learner-centered approaches that simultaneously address challenges with the current system and illuminate a promising path forward. Competency-based education (CBE and also referred to as mastery or proficiency-based) is a system where students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.
Shifting from the current system to one that is fully competency-based is comprehensive and can appear prohibitively complex. Each state has a unique policy landscape and political environment, and the path towards a competency-based system will reflect that.

Tale of Three States

Policy, Pilots and the Path to Competency-Based Education: A Tale of Three States, produced by ExcelinEd in partnership with Getting Smart, features the stories of how Idaho, Utah and Florida launched CBE pilot programs. The three featured states had the same goal, but took different paths.
While there is much variation in their stories, there are common themes that emerged and formed the basis of the report’s recommendations. These recommendations include prioritizing CBE communications and messaging, designing and passing pilot legislation and looking ahead to implementation.
CBE pilots provide a reasonable and actionable first step for policymakers and empower and embolden innovative school and district educators and leaders. This report seeks to inspire other states to implement pilots as a first step on the path to competency-based education.
Future research efforts will focus more in-depth on the pilot implementation efforts and a greater review of supportive policies as well as unique state solution examples.
For more information on these resources and others, see ExcelinEd’s Competency-Based Education Resource Page. There are also resources specifically designed for state use, such as CBE Fundamental Principles, Policy Summary, Innovation Pilot Model Legislation and a CBE Communications Toolkit.
Register now for ExcelinEd’s National Summit on Education Reform held November 30th – December 2nd, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
For more, see:

Karla Phillips is Policy Director at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Follow her on Twitter: @azkarla

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

What Is Our World’s Greatest Challenge?

By Catherine Browning
If you Google: ‘What is our world’s greatest challenge?’ the titles go on and on. 9,600,000 results to be exact.

  • What are the 10 biggest global challenges?
  • The Biggest Challenges of 2016
  • 15 Current Environmental Problems that Our World is Facing
  • Water – one of the 21st century’s biggest challenges

It’s obvious – our world doesn’t have a single challenge. We face multiple challenges. Complex challenges that require varying, innovative solutions developed for various and dynamic regions, cultures, customs and environments.
So how do we transform the way education once was to prepare educators, students and leaders for how the world is–not just as it is now, but for how the world will be?

It starts with problem solvers. It starts by applying educational methods and expanding instruction to generate creative, strategic problem solvers who adapt, anticipate, innovate and decipher the complex challenges before us. But to change mindsets and to change instruction, not just in the United States, but also around the world. It’s not a simple task.
Imagine 61 instructors and administrators from universities and vocational institutions throughout Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand who took to the streets of Bangkok to answer the question:

How can you improve the daily experience of people who live and work in this area of Bangkok?

In teams of six, instructors who are pioneering USAID’s MekongSkills2Work approach were tasked with analyzing the challenges – transportation, pedestrian, environmental or economic development – that people face every day. Instructors began by observing environments, surveying individuals and conducting neighborhood inventories to research. Then they evaluated and developed an innovative solution for their final pitch.
To build a better Bangkok, instructors were taken out of the classroom–but more importantly, out of their comfort zone.
Click here to learn more about the MekongSkills2Work Training Model and its Sourcebook.

Achieving a Mindset Shift

Thinking about and applying project-based learning is a mindset shift for any teacher–a shift from the status quo of what teaching was to what learning could become. Taking teachers out of the classroom is the first step to achieving a mindset shift that resonates beyond a thought and into sustainable action. Ensuring instructors learn is the first step to ensuring that all students, of all ages, in all areas of the world, receive not just a technical understanding but the work-readiness skills necessary to compete and to thrive in employment opportunities.
Our world is changing. Economies are changing. Populations are expanding. The future – a project-based world – is now our reality, where entrepreneurs and problems solvers must question the status quo and innovate to improve their communities and our world.
As everything around us changes, there is little expectation that things will stay the same; education – the foundation of learning and opportunity – should be no different. But in order for a project-based world to thrive, we must equip all students, from rural Vietnam to inner-city New York, with the knowledge and the skills required to compete and excel in the world we are moving towards.
Instructors throughout the world are shifting their instruction towards project-based learning in order to match our increasingly project-based world.

A GlobalEd Readiness Network

The five-year USAID Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (USAID COMET) project builds the MekongSkills2Work Network, starting with these 49 instructors, 12 administrators and 12 institutions in five countries that will develop, foster and grow a network of universities and vocational centers to ensure all students receive an education that allows them to succeed.
As a part of this project, instructors will apply instructional best practices, communities of practices and industry linkages toolkits within their instruction and institutions, ultimately exposing hundreds of thousands of students to the work-readiness and technical skills required to compete and thrive in employment opportunities now and in the future.
Every student has a right to an education – but every student has a right to an education that prepares them for the world as it is now and the project-based world that we create for tomorrow–a world that will require project-based learning and project-oriented skills in order to excel and achieve.

This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series. To learn more about this series and to learn ways that you can contribute, click the icon below to go to the Project-Based World page.

Join in the conversation at #projectbased.

For more, see:

Catherine Browning is a Country Manager for Vietnam through the USAID COMET program. Follow her on Twitter: 

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

EdReports Tells Districts Which Materials Make the Grade

EdReports reviews instructional materials for standards-alignment and usability. The nonprofit organization helps educators make informed purchasing and instructional decisions that support improved student outcomes.
The inaugural report published in 2015 showed lots of gaps in middle-grade math. The reports make it clear that some publishers made some edits and added a Common Core-aligned sticker.
Earlier this month, EdReports published their first review of English Language Arts curriculum materials; three series met the grade, three got partial credit and one failed the test.

Comprehensive Curriculum Matters

In a mix and match world, well designed comprehensive curriculum matters according to EdReports Executive Director Eric Hirsch.
“Research concludes that the quality of instructional materials have as large an impact as who is teaching and how they’re teaching,” said Hirsh.
3f0e1bd1-c4d4-4cd3-ad8c-e9fbba60254d_Screenshot202016-09-242013.33.45Formed in response to a need by educators and administrators to identify college and career ready materials, EdReports seeks to inform the marketplace.
States have been modifying standards over the last year, but in most cases standards remain very similar with underlying instructional shifts with a focus on text complexity and gathering evidence.
Even more than English Language Arts, “Math curriculum claiming alignment didn’t reflect the focus and coherence called for in standards,” said Hirsch.
Some grade levels were worse than others. Compared to eighth grade, there were major work clusters in seventh grade that align with standards.
Alignment is typically better for content designed around the new standards rather than tweaking old curriculum. For example Eureka Math from Great Minds gets a green light for K-8. In ELA, the EL Education content gets the green light.
EdReports reviews both print and digital content. Hirsch said they are seeing more hybrid content with both print and digital components.
The shift to digital has certainly expanded options and resources but it’s also caused confusion. A RAND study suggests the #1 place teachers go for resources is Pinterest.
“Piecemeal is a challenge,” said Hirsch. He thinks mix and match content can be a problem but believes, “teachers should be empowered to personalize learning.”

Credible Reviews

Over 90% of surveyed districts report that identifying or developing Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge. EdReports was formed two years ago to meet this challenge with evidence-based reviews of instructional materials.
Expert reviewers are selected through a highly competitive, national application process and receive over 25 hours of training. In teams of four or five, they use review tools and evidence guides to examine materials. Every team member reviews every grade and indicator. Team leads ensure consistent application of the scoring tool.
Eric Hirsch has a great background for the review challenge, having served in executive roles at the New Teacher Center, the Center for Teaching Quality and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The nonprofit is supported by Broadcom and six national foundations.

Next for EdReports

Price point and publisher aren’t important to EdReports, although they do hope to review more open education resources (OER), according to Hirsch.
They have only reviewed year-long core content and haven’t looked at adaptive or supplemental curriculum (unlike sites like Graphite that review apps).
For more see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

How to Create a New Culture of Learning

By Julie Keane, Director of Research and Evaluation VIF International Education
What is needed is a system that can recognize and celebrate the professional experiences and aspirations of all educators. 
In 2012, Digital Media and Learning Competition: Badges for Lifelong Learning supported the development of “digital tools that identified the rich array of skills, knowledge, accomplishments and competencies for twenty-first century learners.” 
Open digital badging systems were built upon existing traditions from gaming platforms and informal learning organizations that had figured out how to empower their users, enable them to demonstrate their own learning and build reputations within those systems based on their expertise.
The competition acknowledged that it is essential to build a systemic, open and connected approach to empower the learner to pursue their own learning based on their needs and professional and educational contexts. Most importantly, open badge systems are built on the premise that learning happens everywhere — in classrooms, at home, at museums and libraries or on street corners. Therefore, the challenge is creating an alternative credentialing system that is built from both the bottom-up and the top-down.
Essentially, collaborative learning environments and micro-credentials support educators by allowing them to:

  • Take ownership of their learning.
  • Gain recognition for their accomplishments.
  • Put learning into practice.
  • Be confident knowing they have the freedom to fail.

The connected learning movement is built from a century of understanding that learning never occurs in one place, in isolation or divorced from context and community. We need educators to have access to meaningful learning opportunities, be able to demonstrate their expertise and for their educational systems to acknowledge and create professional pathways that take advantage of this innovative learning. We cannot promote connected learning for students if we do not provide it for teachers.
All of the ingredients necessary to empower and inspire teachers and learners in the 21st-Century are within our grasp. Now is the time to create new recipes for professional development that can organically blend the tools, resources and ideas educators are exposed to each day into more impactful lessons and instruction. We are all collaborators in this process.
Teachers are sharing digital resources and ideas for putting them into practice through Twitter and other social networks. Administrators must recognize and incorporate the flexible learning teachers are doing on their own into formal professional development programs. 
The challenge and opportunity for administrators is to harness this passion for continual and perpetual learning in a way that complements, reinvigorates and expands existing professional development programs. This should be predicated on an alternative credentialing system that incorporates and builds upon input from teachers and administrators.
The success of virtually every educator and school today is measured by how well students grasp skills and ideas required to succeed in the 21st century, yet we are asking teachers to adhere to dated professional development models. Design-based research methodologies can provide the framework to ensure that self- and interest- driven PD is integrated more systematically to create a connected learning environment for all teachers.
Teachers are recognizing this movement and discovering ways to empower their professional development. Now is the time to embrace collaborative professional learning that supports where teachers are going, rather than PD that lingers in places where they no longer want to be.
This post is part of a blog series titled “Professional Development: Learning Through Collaboration” produced in  partnership with VIF International Education (@vifglobaled). Join the conversation on Twitter using #collaborativePD. For more, check out Professional Development: Learning Through Collaboration and see:

Julie Keane is Director of Research and Evaluation at VIF International Education. Follow her on Twitter: 

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

Place-Based Learning: Wherever You Are, Whenever You Go

By Gary Gruber
In this modern day of high-tech, in-school learning, parents are rediscovering that there is an entire world outside of the formal classroom that is full of rich learning experiences.
Whether you call it homeschooling or unschooling doesn’t matter. What we are seeing is place-based learning, and it’s increasing everywhere. It does not have to replace traditional schooling, but it can. It can also enhance and enrich a school experience whenever a family explores the larger world. However, there are some families that are full-time “on the road” as part of a lifestyle.
You don’t have to go to another country, a national or state park or a visitors’ center or a museum, although most of those resources are readily available and rich with learning opportunities. There are also numerous other parks and natural resources in fields, forests, mountains, lakes and streams, deserts and beaches.
Remember too, your own backyards and gardens. Cities and towns abound with stories and people who are willing to share information and experiences. This is much better than a static, virtual world of a cold screen. (It may be that virtual reality will add a dimension to learning about the natural world. We’ll have to wait and see how that develops in the next few years.)

10 Questions to Guide Place-Based Learning

If you want to make this exciting, place-based learning part of your children’s education and as effective and productive as possible, consider the following questions and assess your children’s responses, and yours as well. As you engage kids, regardless of their age, take note of what happens and use that feedback for future learning.
1. Are they engaged mentally, physically and emotionally? Watch for and listen to how they are connecting to the experience. Discover their passions.
2. Do they want to continue the experience or the activity? It is sometimes a good idea to stop before they are exhausted or lose interest.
3. Would they like to repeat this experience, or come back another time and continue further on? Ask them directly for their own assessment.
4. What do they see that catches their attention and what would they like to know more about? Help guide them to more depth in learning.
5. What can they think of that might be related to this experience or another one that is different that they would like to explore? Suggest possible connections between topics or subjects.
6. Is this something where they would like to find more information from other sources and dig a little deeper? There may be a place you can go for some further research or more details.
7. What would they like to share with friends and relatives about what they are learning? Encourage them to write a story and send it to someone. Keep a copy for their files.
8. Is there someone they would like to meet with who might know more about this subject? There is bound to be an expert not far away.
9. Where else might they like to go to explore and discover something new and different? Keep a list with several options and consider them together.
10. How would they like to record their learning–with notebooks, journals, sketchbooks and/or cameras? Help them organize and arrange their reporting.

Inspiration From Around the World

Think of the disciplines of design and building, language arts (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) science, meteorology, math, social and cultural history, art, music, and how you can find each and all of these in the natural world. Use these opportunities to connect your children to their areas of primary interest and then use those as avenues to other subjects that may not be as appealing. You can find a comprehensive list of A to Z opportunities – architecture and anthropology to zoology and zymurgy.
A number of families in the U.S. and abroad are writing about their experiences, along with some of the challenges they face and how they manage to provide their children with some high-quality learning opportunities. Here are just six websites of many you can find on your own:

  • Unschool Me: Introduction to terms and answers to questions.

My recommendation is to do your own research, find what appeals to you that you believe will meet your children’s needs (and yours) and enjoy the journey. It is full of glad surprises along the way and, while it will present its own peculiar challenges, I hope you will have a fabulous experience. Should you want additional information from a longtime educator, lifelong learner, parent and grandparent, feel free to get in touch.
This blog is part of our “Place-Based Education” blog series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, check out the PBE campaign page. Join in the conversation on social media using #PlaceBasedEd. For more on Place-Based Education, see:

Gary R. Gruber, Ph.D. is a lifelong educator and author. You can find him on Twitter: 

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.

EdTech 10: Smart Cities

By Getting Smart Staff
It’s officially Smart Cities Week! We’re celebrating with a blog from Tom and Mary on the 7 key attributes of “cities that work for everyone” and have a cool giveaway for copies of the book.
While you’re at, fill out this super quick form for a free download of our Smart Parents ebook.
But before you dive into your new library, check out our top ten news stories this week.

Blended Schools & Tools

1. School By Design

For more on cool schools with great design partners, see a summary of 10 XQ Super Schools.

Digital Developments

2. LinkedIn Learning

Want to learn more about the LinkedIn learning portal? Check out our blog here.
3. Minecraft Ed

Policy Pieces

4. A Tale of Three States

ExcelinEd and Getting Smart partnered on this report, which launched this week–read more here.
5. Student Data Privacy

6. Learning To Dream

Higher, Deeper, Further, Faster Learning

7. Augmented Reality MOOC

8. New VR Degree

Check out this summary of the 2016 NMC/CoSN Report that shares more about VR, AR and other tech in education.

Smart Cities

9. Smart City Innovations In Education

This week we’re celebrating national Smart Cities week–check out our blog and enter to win a Smart Cities book!

Teachers & Tech-ers

10. Teacher Growth Mindset Report

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

AI is Improving Healthcare… But Will Benefits Be Widely Shared?

Last month Stanford launched a 100-year study of AI (#AI100) with a report: Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030.
The study identified eight domains where AI is already having or is projected to have the greatest impact.
In this series, #AskAboutAI, we’re working our way through these categories attempting to identify questions that teachers and parents should be discussing with young people.
Why? We think AI and machine learning (the practical subset of algorithms getting smarter as they munch their way through terabytes of our data) will have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of young people–probably more than any other factor. Some of those impacts will be wonderful….others potentially dangerous.
The rise of AI also has significant implications for what grads should know and be able to do and the kinds of learning experiences most likely to produce those outcomes. Big changes to the employment landscape and learning–two good reasons why it’s time to ask about AI.
Last week we considered safety and security (particularly the ethics and economics of recognition). This week we consider how AI is promoting health and changing healthcare.

Good News: AI Will Extend Healthy Lives

Let’s start with the good news. Stanford’s AI100 study found that “Recent successes, such as mining social media to infer possible health risks, machine learning to predict patients at risk, and robotics to support surgery, have expanded a sense of possibility for AI in healthcare.”
Here’s the rub, “AI-based applications could improve health outcomes and quality of life for millions of people in the coming years—but only if they gain the trust of doctors, nurses and patients, and if policy, regulatory and commercial obstacles are removed.”
It’s not just a bunch of computer scientists that have taken notice. According to a recent survey of 122 founders, executives and investors in health-tech companies by Silicon Valley Bank, big data and artificial intelligence will have the greatest impact on the industry in the year ahead.
Another sign of a hopeful future–Mark Zuckerberg pledged $3 billion last week, posing this provocative question: Could we cure, prevent or manage all disease in our children’s lifetime?
Let’s get specific: over the last few weeks, we spotted 20 specific applications of AI that are improving diagnosis and delivery of healthcare or development of new treatments.
Diagnosis and healthcare delivery

  • Reduction of medical errors (H&HN)
  • Use social media to diagnosis depression and mental illness (Tech Times)
  • Read x-rays better than a radiologist (nanalyze)
  • Use social media to diagnosis depression and mental illness (Tech Times)
  • Study the genetics of Autism (SAC)
  • Detecting cancer (Tech2, Biotech in Asia, bioRxiv)
  • Improve diagnostic power of lung function tests (SciMex)
  • Support the diagnosis mental disorders (Atlantic)
  • Power precision medicine by recommending the most effective treatments for each patient (NIH, IBM)
  • Speed time from diagnosis to treatment (The Verge)

Drug/treatment development

  • Digitized health records and all medical knowledge to improve diagnosis (IBM)
  • Bioinformatic map of common diseases (Stanford)
  • Develop more effective cancer treatments (ZDnet)
  • Support development of an artificial pancreas  (Citizen-Times)
  • Develop next-gen treatment options for Huntington’s Disease (ZDnet)
  • Use wearables to improve epilepsy care (ZDnet)
  • Analyze genomic sequences to develop therapies (Forbes)
  • Reduce the cost of drug discovery by 70% (Huffington Post) (Business Wire)
  • Genomic editing — which may be the most important (and scariest) item on the list (Time)

CB Insights identified over 90 companies (below) that are applying machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics to reduce drug discovery times, provide virtual assistance to patients, and diagnose ailments by processing medical images, among other things.

Looking Around the Corner

Whole-genome sequencing, high-resolution imaging technologies, automation and miniaturization have triggered an explosion in data production that will soon reach exabyte proportions.
All this new data–including physiological, behavioral, molecular, clinical, environmental exposure, medical imaging, disease management, medication prescription history, nutrition and exercise parameters–will be used to track the health of individuals and populations in considerably more detail than ever before.
Over the next fifteen years, the number of elderly in the United States will grow by over 50%. Improving the quality of life will be automated transportation, smart nudges (e.g., “take your meds”), smart devices, mobile monitoring, hearing and vision aids and assistive devices.
Stanford’s inaugural AI100 report noted five current challenges:

  • Research and deployment have been slowed by outdated regulations and incentive structures;
  • Poor human-computer interaction methods;
  • Difficulties and risks of implementing technologies in big complex systems;
  • Integrating the human dimensions of care with automated reasoning processes; and
  • Lack of widely accepted methods and standards for privacy protection.

It’s clear that, like other industries, many tasks in healthcare will be augmentation, some will be fully automated. This should reduce errors, improve care, but lead to some dislocation.
Automation also raises tough new legal issues: who is responsible when a self-driven car crashes, or an intelligent medical device fails?

Big Data Has Big Implications

A June paper authored by 57 global scholars said, “One of the biggest bottlenecks and challenges is the availability of healthcare professionals and clinical researchers that are able to use the latest information technologies developed in the big data analytics era.”
They call for:

  • Integration of data analysis into clinical training (and, we argued, into all professional preparation).
  • More interdisciplinary studies combining biology and medicine, engineering, the social sciences. Projects fail more often because of the underappreciation of the complexities of ethical, legal, and social factors than for technological reasons.
  • Launching big data pilots to inform healthcare including open and citizen science

Our deep dive into big data suggests that all schools, not just med schools, should adopt integrated project-based learning and encourage students to struggle with the issues of our time; armed with design thinking and facility with data analytics, they should develop quality public products and informed opinions. It won’t be what they memorize that will matter, it will be their confidence in addressing novel and complex situations that will be the equivalent of swimming lessons for the choppy seas of the automation economy.
Just a few of the big questions we should be discussing include:
1. Research: how to ensure that minority populations are included in AI-aided research?
2. Diagnostics and healthcare delivery: services and outcomes are already unequally distributed, how will we avoid amplifying inequities with AI?
3. Patient relationships: smart systems will shift some care and monitoring directly to patients; will patients now well equipped to manage their own data fall through the cracks?
4. Economics: what happens when your insurer wants access to your FitBit and health agent AI about your status before setting the price of your premium?
5. Ethics: How will AI challenge core values such as confidentiality, dignity, continuity of care, avoiding conflicts of interest, and informed consent? How will we contest AI-based clinical decisions or AI health services outcomes?
These questions can’t be limited to health policy classes in medical schools. We should grapple with them in chambers of commerce, mayoral task forces, high school social studies classrooms and in statewide elections.  These are not future considerations, they are issues of life and death for us and our children. It’s a good time to #AskAboutAI.
For AI impacts on lives and livelihoods see:

For AI implication on education see:

For more in the #AskAboutAI series, see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update.