The Only Constant is Change: Adjusting Our Practices to Meet the World’s Expectations

Change has a habit of starting out small. It’s usually a small piece of a large system that changes first. With time, that change results in a chain reaction that starts to evolve other parts of the system and soon we have a revolution. Our students are currently living through a revolution. Technology is advancing quickly and new discoveries are made almost daily. This revolution is bringing about change to each sector of our society and economy, including education. You’ve most likely felt these changes. Our students have the ability to learn in so many different ways, personal to them because the powerful minds of the world have created technology that facilitates that. It’s an exciting time. The challenge for educators is to prepare our students for this rapid pace of change, which by all accounts, may never slow down. The “Ask about AI: The Future of Work and Learning” report recently released by Getting Smart advised, “Millions of jobs are at short- or medium-term risk of disappearing. Many that don’t disappear will be so radically restructured as to be unrecognizable, with enormous implications for today’s workers.” That leaves educators wondering how they can make their own changes to help their students keep up with new technology and a different economy.

As previously stated, changes that spark a revolution are often small. Those changes often shake the foundation a little and other things we’ve been doing: classroom activities, tech integration and district policies, stop making sense. This leads to more positive changes which better prepares all of us for the future. I’d like to share with you a few small changes your school can make in order to better prepare students for the future of work and the rapid, and sometimes alarming, changes that come with it.


Most professions exceed the capabilities of any individual, and require cross-functional teams to deliver properly.” Let’s translate this to education. Kids need to work in groups. Notice I didn’t say “do group work.” Group work suggests that students occasionally get together, work as a group and then disband. Working in groups implies that anytime work needs to happen and something needs to get done, kids are collaborating together. This mimics the teams that work together in the modern economy to deliver new products, new ideas, or new technologies.  Working in groups only makes sense if the task ahead really does require collaboration, something that one person can’t do on their own. Working in groups also means members should be accountable to each other and honor the collaboration by bringing their “A” game all the time.

To help our students work in groups, our school has implemented a few protocols and structures to help facilitate stellar collaboration. One such structure is the use of contracts.

  • Contracts: Contracts are a chance for our students to decide on a myriad of things. They decide how each member will contribute to the project, skill wise. They decide how work time will go, how they’ll organize the project, what will happen if expectations aren’t met (yes, they can be fired from a group if they fail to meet contract requirements) and how they’ll help each other reach goals. Meeting goals in a group is a vital part of collaboration. Each student should have something they want to learn and improve on when they get together with their groups. In our contracts, each student states a collaboration goal they have and the team then commits to certain actions that will help that student reach their goal. For example, if a student wants to be better at coming prepared to class each day and being ready to work with their group, the team might put that student in charge of deadlines and require that they send out reminders. Then if the student doesn’t, it’s rather easy for someone to say, “Hey, I’m not getting deadline reminders from you.” They have a way to hold that student accountable and by doing so, that students move closer to their collaboration goal.


The abilities to read social situations and develop productive relationships are, for the foreseeable future, uniquely human skills, and will become increasingly important and valuable in an automation economy.” Commonly called “soft skills,” the abilities that make up Social and Emotional Learning are hard to teach when you’re short on time and trying to reach state standards. However, the ability to grow emotionally and socially, coupled with the ability to navigate a complex, adult world, are important for our students to learn and a strong advisory system in your school will get them there.

  • Every child, every day: Each teacher at our school becomes an advisor to a pack of 15 to 20 kids. We follow these kids from the moment they enter our building as a freshman until they walk across the graduation stage as seniors. We act as mentors and guides and work to help them develop SEL skills, prepare for college and career, and tackle the everyday challenges of high school life. From my own experience as an advisor, a teacher can really get to know a student who they are constantly advocating for. One student of mine felt bogged down with negativity. She knew her attitude toward assignments and school, in general, was going to jeopardize things she wanted to work for. She came to that realization after a workshop about positivity and productivity. Since my job as her advisor is to connect her to resources that help her grow not only academically, but also emotionally and personally, I created a positivity challenge. We had to find each other throughout the day and give each other a sticky note with a positive event that happened or how we turned something negative into something positive. Our goal was five stickies a day. After our first week and 25 sticky notes later, I asked how she felt. “This is actually working, Mrs. Durfee! I feel better.” A strong advisory can help us serve our kids in a way that is more precise and meaningful.
  • Workshops: Each week, we hold a workshop day. On that day, students could find workshops on a variety of things from how to do your taxes, or fill out FAFSA forms to bread making and changing a tire. These are workshops that students have requested and as a school, we make those workshops happen. Workshops are run by teachers, students or community members. Tailoring a day each week to delve into our students’ interests and passions helps to build a team atmosphere and it encourages the idea that learning, no matter the content, is important.

Questioning Our Model

Most work is now conducted in projects. More than four in ten high-school graduates work in the freelance economy and probably as many who go to work for others end up working on or leading project teams.” What this might mean is the silo model of education, where you go to English class and then to math class, is not going to serve our students well outside of school. This also might mean that, as educators, we need to look for other ways to simulate how the real world works and make that the norm of our school.

Project-Based Learning: This model of learning, adopted in hundreds of school across the globe, is based on the premise of design-thinking. Design thinking uses a specific process to tackle problems and find innovative solutions. Students are presented with a high-order question and use design thinking in an effort to answer it. “Why don’t people seek help for a mental illness?” In order to answer that question, students would first have to investigate low-level content knowledge like, “What is mental illness?” “What are the symptoms of a mental illness?” “What are the causes of a mental illness?” They’ll work through those low-level questions and start working on applying their knowledge until they can answer that first high-level question and do something about the problem. Project-Based Learning can start in one classroom with one project. The changes it will bring to your instruction will start out small, but soon it will impact everything you do as an educator. These changes will influence your students’ thinking ability and as they practice design-thinking with each project, they will become more and more prepared for the rapidly changing landscape of the future economy.

Changing everything about what we do each day is too overwhelming. Rather, it’s best to make smaller changes that coincide with a larger, long-term goal, such as preparing our kids for the future of work. If we can make some of those smaller changes to match the changes we’re seeing in our communities and our world, we start on the road toward more prepared students who can thrive in an economy where the nature of the work they’ll be doing will heavily rely on collaboration, human-unique skills like empathy and design thinking. Start today by changing the way students collaborate, or the way students learn SEL skills or the way they work with your content. We want our students to be successful and feel prepared to tackle the next step. In kind, we have to want to change up a few practices in order to reach that goal.

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The Student Role in Formative Assessment: How I Know Practitioner Guide

Download the “Formative Assessment: The Student Role” Practitioner Guide

One of the key distinguishers of formative assessment lies in the relationship between a student and teacher in the shared ownership of assessing what students know and are able to do.

In fact, the definition of formative assessment crafted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) points specifically points to that role:

Formative assessment is a planned ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes, and support students to become more self-directed learners.

~ CCSSO Formative Assessment for Students and Teachers State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (FAST SCASS).

It is critical that students understand their role in a formative assessment classroom environment. Student behaviors include: engaging with learning goals, developing success criteria, providing feedback to peers, receiving feedback from teachers and peers, and more.

Thanks to the How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment Practice project, an initiative of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, resources to help teachers and students are being made publicly available both here – and on the How I Know website.

The How I Know Practitioner Guide “Formative Assessment: The Student Role” outlines:

  • Definitions of Formative Assessment
  • Dimensions of Formative Assessment
  • Student Actions

Download Here

This guide has been designed as a tool to enhance formative assessment in a learner friendly format to be easily posted within a classroom. It is student-centered and places each learner at the “wheel” as they check and connect on what they are learning and doing.

It is organized around the ten dimensions of formative assessment, as outlined by FAST SCASS, and outlined in the publication Using the Formative Assessment Rubrics, Reflection and Observation Tools to Support Professional Reflection on Practice (FARROP).

The infographic content is adapted from Using the Formative Assessment Rubrics, Reflection and Observation Tools to Support Professional Reflection on Practice (Wylie and Lyon, 2016). It draws on information from the FARROP rubrics for each of the ten dimensions of formative assessment. Special thanks to Nancy Gerzon and the WestEd team for their contributions.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation invites all to join in the journey to understand how students know and to visit the project website, which you can check out by clicking here.

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This post is a part of a series focused on the “How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment” initiative sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. See the How I Know website ( and join the conversation on Twitter using #HowIKnow or #FormativeAssessment.

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The Keys to High Quality PBL: Public Products and Presentations of Work

Public products and presentations of student learning are key to truly high quality PBL. One way to engage students in publicly presenting their projects, products and learning is through exhibition nights.

Exhibition nights provide both students and participants (students are often both at their own Exhibition Nights) a chance to engage, connect and reflect:

  • Engage: Learn about the project, see the product (in action if possible) and provide feedback or ask/answer questions.
  • Connect/Collaborate: Draw parallels between the project and another student’s work, understand how an outside expert or community member can further the project, and reconnect with peers.
  • Reflect: Students and visitors ought to reflect on the project and the power of a community coming together to focus on deeper learning and start to wonder about what’s next.

Take it from Michelle Clark of the ShareYourLearning campaign (focused on student exhibitions, student-led conferences and sharing student work) shared in a post on the Teaching Channel blog: “Public presentations of learning offer a feasible, high-leverage approach to access equitable outcomes for all students through the cultivation of deeper learning competencies.”

It is important to note (and look for a blog on this topic coming your way soon) that, before we discuss public presentations of learning in the form of an exhibition, there are a plethora of ways in which students can present their learning, and an endless number of products they could potentially create. Student publications (which also could be shared during an exhibition night) such as blogs, books, magazines and videos (to name a few) are excellent ways to share student work, and also are great products to share with clients, their peers and the community.  Creating publications and sharing them publically (be it digitally or not) is a great way for students to collect feedback and understand how they might improve their work. Now, back to exhibitions…

We recently visited School21 on their tri-annual exhibition night and saw just how well they are engaging, connecting/collaborating and reflecting. Head due east from central London and you’ll find yourself in the township of Stratford. While still very much a part of the city proper, the community has a small neighborhood feel and lively energy.

Tucked away on one of the side streets is School21 – an innovative 4-18 public school focused on “the need for schools to rebalance head (academic success), heart (character and well-being) and hand (generating ideas, problem-solving, making a difference).” You enter the building through gates and it is as if you are suddenly in a different world. Students are joyfully skipping about in and out of the building, weaving from classroom to classroom.


I started my tour of their exhibition night outside watching students lead other students through a go-kart track. My initial thought was that it looked like a fun project-based experience, but I came to realize that yes, it was fun – but that there was so much more to it. This was quite an in-depth, integrated and challenging project.

As I approached, I saw some students fixing the go-karts, others trying them out, and a handful there to discuss and share the project. What I learned from the students was that they not only had to design and build the go-karts and make the mathematical calculations so that they functioned and were safe, but that they integrated art, physics and real world applications into their work. Students just that week had raced the karts at a community track to test speed and functionality. They were all engaged, and very eager to participate. 


I pulled myself away from the presentations outside and entered the jam-packed auditorium, complete with a musical performance, a miniature golf course and a coding and gaming station. Mind you  — everything I was seeing was student-created and student-led. There were certainly lead teachers to be found, but there was not massive oversight or management of students. I sat down next to a 4th-year student who shared more about the project he worked on over the course of nine weeks. He shared details about the game he created, right down to the variables needed to code it on the backend. I started to get up, but he insisted I stay, and peppered me with questions about his work and what I thought. He was actively seeking feedback and an authentic connection that would help him improve his project. This exchange was not a rarity — many students I talked to not only mentioned experts that they had collaborated with, but were insistent on gathering even more advice and ideas.

Students were connecting not only with me and the other visitors and parents, but also with each other. You could tell that some of them very much view these projects as on-going work and efforts that are never quite done. Huddling in the corner were two students comparing presentations and collaborating on improvements to their games.



As I walked around, students knew what to do and where to be. I overheard several students reminding each other that they had about ten minutes before their presentation time. The students who were presenting were also aware of the task at hand – engaging whoever came to see their presentation by seeking genuinely curious about their questions and feedback.

I walked into one room where t-shirts were hanging from the ceiling with messages about civil rights issues and promoting hope. On the projector was a video of students interviewing local community members about their thoughts on particular issues and students sharing reflections of their own.

Two students I listened to were presenting on their Real World Project (provides authentic placements in workplaces where students to solve real problems), which have deliberate connections to a local organization or group, and they stayed through their time and continued to address questions. They literally had a slide up that simply said reflections, where they shared their own reflections and encouraged feedback.

What I came to realize from this visit was that within the excitement and energy was an incredibly well planned, managed and thought out project exhibition night. These students worked hard and produced work as a result of their projects that was meaningful and not contrived. The effect of these public presentations of learning was surely going to last longer than the two hours that evening. While these presentations were just snippets of the grander projects they had worked on, it was clear there students were engaging in HQ PBL. Without this public presentation of the products they had worked on students would’ve missed out on an opportunity to engage, connect and reflect.

Anna Kyrk, lead of the PBL work at School21, works hard to orchestrate exhibition nights with the rest of the incredible staff. There was structure and standards built into the projects but it was clear teachers and students had autonomy and choice. If you get the chance, be sure to virtually check out some of the School21 projects and stay tuned for a full case study about their PBL practices coming in March 2018.

This blog is a part of the High Quality Project Based Learning Campaign supported by the Buck Institute for Education and sponsored by the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. For more, visit and follow @hqpbl #hqpbl on Twitter and Instagram.

Many thanks to the team at School21. Images used in this post were provided by School21.

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Fueling a Vision of Student-Centered, Personalized Learning through Student Voice

What if every student were asked these two questions on a regular basis?

What do you want to learn about?

What do you want to do?

High school senior Jemar Lee (who attends Iowa BIG) says that if those two questions were asked of all students, the problem of student disengagement would have been solved long ago. He also stresses the importance of student-teacher relationships for authentic engagement.

Jemar was the morning keynote for EdVisions’ pre-Super Bowl week EdExpo 2018 in Minneapolis. The event attracted leaders, educators and innovators committed to transforming schools by personalizing learning and creating opportunities for deeper, more relevant learning.

A student-centered approach is at the heart of EdVisions’ ongoing work and was evident throughout the Expo, which included school visits, workshops and a message from Curtis Johnson, who co-authored Disrupting Class with HBS professor Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn.


The non-profit EdVisions — initially established as part of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s initiative and also part of Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Network — has long been an influencer in school development, going back to one of the first and most innovative project-based learning high school models in the world, Minnesota’s New Country School.

The EdVisions mission is to help create and transform schools, with a vision of doing so by bringing together public and private partners to create student-centered teaching and learning environments.

Dr. Lisa Snyder, who is highly regarded for her innovative work as superintendent (of one of Minnesota’s largest school districts, Lakeville Schools) recently took the helm of EdVisions and will be an awesome expert and advocate for teacher and student empowerment for quality learning.

Lisa and her team at EdVisions provide support for school transformation and new school development through coaching, workshops, conferences, access to research and a variety of instructional and assessment tools. It’s an awesome team that includes past EdVisions director Doug Thomas, along with Dr. Steven Rippe, Dr. Ron Newell, and Krissy Wright working on PD.

Student Voice

Student voice goes far beyond lip-service for EdVisions. It is integral to their school design, ongoing work and to events such as the EdExpo. In addition to Jemar’s advocacy for student engagement, there was a student panel both at the event and at each of the school visits.

Jemar, who has benefitted from Iowa BIG’s commitment to equipping learners to be makers, designers, storytellers, and social entrepreneurs, is a firm believer that education needs to be restructured for the benefit of all learners, to make sure they enjoy learning and fully succeed. He believes, “changing the structure of education won’t be easy, but we can do it!”

School Visits

I had a chance to visit the High School for Recording Arts, full of student voice (literally and figuratively!) and competency-based, project-based learning in action. The school is student-driven, demonstrates cultural responsiveness, and boasts state-of-the-art music production and recording studios that prepare students for post-secondary and career options with real job skills. I had heard a lot about HSRA from Executive Director Tony Simmons and was thrilled to see it in action.

Others went to the teacher-powered and innovation award winning Avalon School that emphasizes project-based learning, student ownership of their learning, authentic assessments, and creating a democratic school community as areas of particular strength.

Districts were present as well, including Eric Schneider, Associate Superintendent in Minnetonka Public Schools; Dr. Teri Staloch from Prior Lake Savage Area Schools (who supports Minnesota Center for Advanced Professional Studies, a project-based learning opportunity for juniors and seniors who work with corporate partners in a viable career pathway like healthcare and global business); and Jay Haugen, Farmington Superintendent who also serves on the EdVisions’ board.

Disrupting Class

Ten years after the release of the landmark book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Education Will Change the Way the World Learns book, the message holds true today. The expo closed with co-author Curtis Johnson carrying the torch for a personalized, student-centered approach. He reflected, “If we really think that we can get by with lining up little children in rows and telling them what they ‘should know’ and then asking them to regurgitate it, we are kidding ourselves.”

Curt also spoke about the critical role of the teacher-student relationship and how personalization will get more precise with the impact of AI and machine learning. I am grateful to serve on the EdEvolving board with Curt and continue to learn from his clarity of thought that is coupled with breadth of experience as a college president, author, think-tank lead and relentless advocate for all kids.

Learn (and Do) More

If you are interested in creating learner-centered environments, be sure to check out what EdVisions has been working on. Their Ed°Essentials articulate core elements of a small learning community, self-directed project-based learning, authentic assessment and teacher ownership. Their Ed°Research includes a comprehensive evaluation plan that encapsulates a wide variety of data from proven models. The Hope Survey, is a tool that helps measure SEL by assessing the school climate and culture from the students’ viewpoint. For more on EdVisions, check out their video.

My challenge to myself – and to all of us – today is to ask a handful of kids those two important questions: What do you want to learn? What do you want to do?

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Early Childhood: What We Know, and What’s Possible

By Emily Liebtag and Janice Walton

“This is your feeder system,” says Robert Pianta, the Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. “The kinds of experiences that are accruing in these early settings matter. Even if you look to age 16 in those kids, there are still significant effects from those early experiences.”

From local, network and state examples, from practitioners and researchers, we continue to learn about the importance of early learning experiences and find there to be great promise in existing and emerging practices. Early childhood care and education (ECCE), as defined by UNESCO, is the “holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing.” We know these experiences shape young learners minds, attitudes and often behaviors.

For the purposes of this post (to provide a broad scan of the field and predict what may be on the early childhood horizon), we mention early childhood care programs but chose to focus specifically on exploring pre-kindergarten educational experiences.

We talked with ECCE experts and surveyed the field to compile a short list of what we know so far and share where there is still room to grow.

What We Know

Our scan identified five things we know about early learning, but ultimately we know early learning matters… and it matters a lot. We also know that all early learning experiences and are not created equal, nor are they available to all students and families.

Many early childhood education programs help develop social and emotional learning, engage students in place-based education and start to develop core academic and readiness skills, while others fail to meet those marks. High-quality early learning programs are also often out of reach to families due to cost or access (we’ll dive deeper into this subject as well as the changing trends and demographics that shift the need and demand for early learning programs).

1. ECCE promotes brain development and has positive long-term economic benefits. Countless studies have shown that quality early learning leads to increased cognitive development and leads to positive economic impacts — both for the individual and for the nation at large.

When looking at brain development, Linda Bakken and her colleagues found that “the years from birth to age 5 are viewed as a critical period for developing the foundations for thinking, behaving, and emotional well-being. Child development experts indicate it is during these years that children develop linguistic, cognitive, social, emotional, and regulatory skills that predict their later functioning in many domains”.

ECCE also has an impact on economic growth and development. A 2014 report by Former President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers found that “expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up.” The research points out the increased earnings can be attributed to children developing their educational foundation through access to early learning programs.

2. Developing 21st Century Skills in early learners helps prepare them for success in school and life. David Ross, CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) makes the point that the development of 21st-century skills starts as early as 18 months old. It is for this reason that P21 advocates for the development of 21st-century skills in early learning contexts and has developed an Early Learning Framework and guide which provide guidance on how to integrate these principles into learning experiences.

Lee Scott, Goddard School Advisory Board Member and lead author of the Early Learning Framework, admitted that while incorporation of technologies into early learning is great to see she also hopes they are used as a tool to develop these 21st-century skills and not used only as entertainment. She also shared that she has seen a return to meaningful, experiential learning and an increased focused on working with parents to understand how these experiences can promote the development of 21st-century skills.

3. ECCE can make a positive difference in the lives of young children. RAND reviewed 115 early childhood education programs serving children or families of children from prenatal to age 5 and found that quality education at this age can make a major impact on the lives of students.

The researchers found that “Eighty-nine percent [of the studied programs] had a positive effect on at least one child outcome, indicating that it is relatively rare, among published evaluations, to find programs that have no demonstrable impacts on child outcomes.”

The outcome domains were behavior and emotion, cognitive achievement, developmental delay, health and welfare, crime, educational attainment and adult outcomes.

4. Age-appropriate use of technology can enhance learning. In 2016, the US Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services issued a policy brief on early learning and educational technology which laid out four principles for the use of technology with learners ages 2 to 8.

The Departments’ guiding principles are:

  • “Technology—when used appropriately—can be a tool for learning.
  • Technology should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children.
  • Technology may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators, and young children.
  • Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact or co-view with young children.”

The Departments believe that if technology is used with the principles as a guide, it can help children learn how to use technology to effectively communicate with their peers and adults to foster better relationships, expand their learning, and solve meaningful problems.

We also know that appropriate use of technology and digital media can support whole child development. Research by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media has shown that digital media and technology are especially supportive in helping young children grow when in the context of areas such as:

  • Dealing with frustration and/or mistakes
  • Taking positive risks
  • Encouraging sense of trust
  • Promoting sense of self-worth
  • Engaging curiosities
  • Providing opportunities for play; and
  • Providing opportunities to quietly reflect—alone or near a trusted adult or peer

5. Uneven access. A scan from The Hunt Institute of early childhood education across the country shows inconsistencies in offerings and quality of programs. In some states universal pre-k is expanding access but not ensuring high-quality experiences for all (see a recent Georgetown study on Tulsa’s universal pre-k and a report from Center for American Progress on how universal pre-k can help close opportunity gaps).

What’s Next

We know more progress is needed and that many educators and leaders are working hard to advance and enhance early learning experiences. When we look around the country, we continually see examples of excellence in early childhood education which reinforce the notion that high-quality experiences for young learners are 1) possible and 2) critical.

Take for example Operation Breakthrough based in Kansas City (and the largest early learning center in the Midwest) where we found ten remarkable takeaways from the approaches being used. But we know this is just one example where educators are trying new approaches and innovating in the early learning environment and that there is still a lot more work to be done.

Ashley Beckner is an investment principal at Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment fund that seeks to empower individuals, their families and their communities, where she invests in for-profit companies and non-profit organizations focused on improving early learning outcomes. “Every experience for young learners is critically important in early childhood development. There is huge opportunity to make early learning both more and less place-based through decentralized networks. Unlike K-12 where there is already a large, incumbent system, in early learning, there is an opportunity to create locally distributed offerings that cater to caregivers and families through a connected, global network. We have seen that through tech solutions, smaller and individualized programs have the potential to scale and grow faster.  However, we still have to overcome challenges to ensure that the best of early childhood innovations reach children and families across the socioeconomic spectrum.”

Including these ideas from Omidyar Network, on the early learning horizon we also see the following trends further developing or emerging:

More place-based and out of school experiences. Early childhood education typically has been focused on play, exploration and engaging students in understanding the importance of community. This is more important than ever given our current challenges and increasingly complex world and need to find ways to connect to who where are and where we come from. This means there is a need for more intentional place-based education. A few examples we’ve seen so far include:

  • The Patagonia on-site childcare center where daily child care services are provided with an added emphasis on creating high quality, place-based early learning experiences for students and their families.
  • In Washington state outdoor preschools are emerging with programs through the Woodland Park Zoo where children can spend 45-minutes in a hands-on learning class, and Tiny Trees where the outdoors literally becomes the schoolhouse! Learning at Tiny Trees happens note in a brick and mortar building but at parks around several cities in Washington.
  • In out-of-school, Tinkergarten is an example of a company that offers play-based classes for young children through a decentralized network of leaders– providing access to play to young children, with increasing evidence of the importance of play in learning.

More use of powerful formative assessments. We know more frequent checks to see what students are learning is incredibly advantageous. Not only does it help us better gauge student progress, but it also helps educators better develop relevant and appropriate instruction. While there are not the same level of high-stakes end-of-year tests you see in later grades in the earliest years, there still are many developmental and cognitive markers that educators look for, benchmark assessments and high-expectations and/or standards. Two organizations come to mind given their work in early learning assessments:

  • NWEA realizes the power of rich formative assessment and is developing cutting-edge tools for early learning educators.
  • Reasoning Mind recently launched their early learning program for mathematics, focusing on understanding young learners development of math skills.

More robust assessments that can be done online provide educators with instant feedback, activities and instructional ideas. Further, when students feel supported in a positive culture and become accustomed to formative feedback at an early age, they develop a growth mindset.

More use of advanced technologies to support and understand early learner literacy development. Beckner and the team at Omidyar Network are focused on finding the best technologies that have the potential to impact early learners. Although many are still nascent, she shared a few that are particularly well-suited to support early childhood development. Wearable technology has the potential to advance our understandings of the interactions early learners have with their environments and with other people, one example being the number of words spoken by their parents or caregivers on a daily basis. One study looking at what happened to early learner vocabulary development and usages when they had on wearable technology revealed that parents changed their behavior after seeing the number of incoming and outgoing words the child experienced per day.

Also, current platforms are not particularly suited for young children’s voices or for their often loud environments, but companies like Soapbox labs are harnessing the power of technology to better understand the beginnings of speech development. Fluency measures are highly dependent on a facilitator working with students, but voice recognition has the potential to assist.

Better prep for ECCE teachers. Early Learning teachers are the first interaction young children have with the education system and high-quality teaching and learning becomes essential. Unfortunately, the training, ongoing support and compensation many teachers receive varies greatly from state to state. The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), has stated that now is the time to ensure the professionalization of the early childhood education (ECE) workforce, by improving training and professional development teachers receive and enhancing the practice overall. One potential place to start is to consider changing the educational requirements ECE teachers need, as many do not have college degrees. While there is specialized knowledge only obtained through a college degree that would enhance teaching and learning, we must also take care in the rollout of changing educational requirements since many teachers currently only have a high school degree.

Continued focus on the transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten and an increased focus on SEL. Students enter Kindergarten with a wide range of educational experiences, each of which can place them on a positive or negative trajectory for future learning. When the transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten is deliberate and well thought out by educators, and parents, we begin to ensure that students have the knowledge and tools for success.  New America recommends four policy shifts: increasing ESSA funds, providing additional tools and guidance, increasing the focus on alignment between early learning programs and feeder schools, and grant programs to incentivize strong transition programs and support, for states to consider to help ease the transition.

Rolf Grafwallner, Program Director of Early Childhood Education at CCSSO, articulated that while the transitional skills are important a well-balanced approach to early learning needs to include focus on social and emotional learning, too. Early learners also need to be learning how to work together, demonstrate perseverance, learn how they resolve conflict and even how to become more self-regulated, such as being organized in the work that they do in the classroom.

Continued integration (and implementation) of early learning into ESSA plans. The ESSA provisions provide an opportunity for states to expand, and improve upon, their early learning strategies. The Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have identified three key topics for early learning in ESSA: “1) setting clear goals and policy priorities for early learning, 2) integrating early learning into school improvement, and 3) supporting early childhood educator development.”

Grafwallner (CCSOO), believes that the inclusion of early learning into ESSA is a huge opportunity for states to improve learning experiences and address some of the achievement gap issues that begin very early on. Several states are leading the way and providing an example for how systems can be improved, look to the CEELO and CCSSO policy brief, “The State of Early Learning in ESSA: Plans and Opportunities for Implementation,” for exemplar states in each of the three topic areas.

Deeper learning. 21st-century skill development and deeper learning outcomes as a result of early learning experiences will become the expected standard. There will continue to be a focus on early literacy skills, but a corresponding focus on deeper learning in early learning programs will become increasingly important.

This is the first blog in our series on early learning. Follow #EarlyLearning and stay tuned for our next post where we explore the four areas where innovation can boost quality and access.

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8 Examples of the Future of EdTech, Fresh from FETC

Heralding the need for a revolution in education, Sir Ken Robinson was the keynote speaker that kicked off the 39th annual Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, FL. Robinson, a renowned educational leader and speaker, blended advocacy for locally-designed, open-ended student learning with criticism of the over-emphasis of standardization in US educational policy and practice. He noted that contemporary US methods rely on outputs such as achievement, attendance, and discipline as measures of success and perceptions of quality. The labels of school grades and rankings are emphasizing the wrong attributes and reinforcing wasteful decision patterns.

He likened this to the mechanized US farming system, where practices are focused on outputs like a standard size and shape for each fruit or grain. Crops with uniform appearance are prioritized over those with a higher nutritional value or greater sustainability for the future. In contrast, organic farmers have realized that, in order to maximize production, nutrition, and consistency across harvest seasons, they must focus on the soil and environment instead of the outcome. Each plant, fruit, or vegetable will look a little different, but the quality far surpasses traditional crops. Foods that are output in a standardized manner, but lack nutritional quality, will not keep a body healthy no matter how well-labeled. The same is true for our schools.

Robinson clearly stated that the emphasis on standardization in education is even more harmful to students than mechanized farming is to crop quality. Education systems need to replace practices of “conformity, compliance, and competition” with “diversity, creativity, and collaboration.” To yield engagement, achievement, and 21st-century skills, educational systems must turn constraints and structures from ends in themselves to ladders for progress and human development.

Robinson threw down the gauntlet to the educators in the room, insisting that they utilize technology in classrooms as a tool to create these kinds of engaging and dynamic learning experiences for all students. Throughout the sessions and expo hall at FETC, educators and vendors, alike, showed that they are already heeding this call, creating opportunities for students across the PK-12 spectrum to create, explore, collaborate, and problem solve.

So, what EdTech tools and resources did I see on the expo floor and in the session rooms that would help create the school culture envisioned by Sir Ken? Here are some that stood out:

Virtual Reality

  • Zspace – Whether the PC, video games, or now virtual reality, so much of the history of new technologies begins with an individual user. The turn from productivity to creativity, and the explosion of usage leading to significant societal impact, comes with interactivity and open-ended usage. Z-space is a mixed reality learning ecosystem. Hardware, software, and content integration provide student-driven inquiry, risk-taking and collaboration. It is very cool to experience what I have always thought of as future-only educational tools.
  • Storyfab – Students love to use figures to do open-ended play and storytelling. Carrying the spirit of storytelling into augmented reality this tool allows students to be producer, director and distributor of their own stories. Not only is “all the world a stage”, but so are all social media platforms, and this app would make Shakespeare smile.
  • Nearpod – Provides students and educators with the opportunity to create, curate and procure interactive, 3-D, group-enabled experiences. Amazing ability to connect materials of many different digital types, this tool is estimated to already be in use in 10% of classrooms in the US. Slideshows will be soon be relegated to the history of 20th Century education.

Making and Creation

  • MakerBot 3-D Printing – Getting those crazy ideas out of students’ heads and into their hands has been a desire of teachers since even before thinkers like Plato. And 3-D printing is making it happen. This manufacturer has gone well beyond ensuring reliability and ease of set-up by having a library of lesson plans and a community of users. Families will free up space on their refrigerator as worksheets marked with grades are replaced by knick-knacks on the counter.
  • Bloxels – Designing video games requires considering narrative, coding, characters, and physics. This toolset structures all of those responsibilities in a manner that is easy for teachers to explain and students to commence creating and sharing games. And since video games can be used to explore history, literature, math, science, and any other explainable topic, it is a natural fit in any classroom.
  • littleBits – If learning is to have students be able to construct new things given their knowledge and concepts, then one way to make that clear to them is to treat them as inventors. This kit-based (with supplementary components) system provides the components to have students be designers, engineers, and documentation providers with and for each other. Snapping things together has never been so purposeful.

Building AND Programming

  • Piper – While Dungeon & Dragons, Pokemon, and other games that have consumed young learners outside of school time, they have not been able to penetrate schools beyond after-school clubs. Minecraft is proving to be different. And that success has inspired a product that combines electronics and programming learning by utilizing Minecraft’s version of Raspberry Pi. Creativity and mental discipline being developed at the hardware, software, and entertainment architecture level in an age agnostic manner – this is rigorous learning at its best.
  • Pi-top – Going beyond the spirit of having students have to be responsible for their own laptop now means having students build, program, and create their own devices. Cost effective, rewarding of creativity in real-time and able to scale for group projects, this platform now supports students building either a desktop or a laptop. And like Piper above, Pi-top utilizes the Raspberry Pi as its core component.

The ubiquitous presence of the Google suite of products as a platform for utilizing many tools was notable throughout the conference. Significant adoption of chromebooks by districts (both large and small) was also evident, as sessions on Google-integrated classrooms overflowed with participants. There was a great deal of interest by conference attendees in finding ways to utilize the Google tools to promote collaboration and creation in their classrooms, and to manage learning.

The Future of Education Technology

The enthusiasm and passion of the presenters, vendors, and most importantly, the educators at FETC 2018 made the future of education technology look very bright. Teachers are excited by the seemingly limitless possibilities different EdTech tools provide to extend the walls of their classrooms, to allow their students to use agency and voice to show and extend learning, and to build their own new EdTech tools to fill current voids. The market is truly robust, with new devices, apps, and even completely new technologies entering the fold on a daily basis. And students are eager to bring the creativity, collaboration, and flexibility of their social and home lives to their learning. As we look to the future of education technology, will districts, administrators, and communities have the bravery to buck the current norm of standardization and unleash the potential of our teachers and students? Sir Ken Robinson certainly believes that this is the key to success in the future.

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Learning Engineering: Merging Science and Data to Design Powerful Learning Experiences

By Shelly Blake-Plock

Recent years have been marked by an acceleration in the development of technologies that support the way people learn at school, on the job, and as a part of lifelong pursuits.

The rise of these technologies in the learning space is part of the broader digital transformation that is making an impact on all areas of work and play. Behind all of this digital transformation lies a significant engineering aspect. While these learning technologies are supported by a portfolio of existing and planned technology standards, the discipline and profession of the Learning Engineer itself has yet to coalesce into a well-defined domain within the field of engineering.

In December of 2017, motivated by the need to support the development of Learning Engineering as a profession, the IEEE-SA Standards Board ICCom recommended the creation of a new 24-month Industry Connections activity to provide definition to and support for the burgeoning field of Learning Engineering. The work was sponsored by the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee under the leadership of Avron Barr and was supported by Robby Robson, member of the IEEE-SA Standards Board. The recommendation was approved by the IEEE-SA Standards Board, and ICICLE — the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering — was born.

“A Learning Engineer is someone who draws from evidence-based information about human development — including learning — and seeks to apply these results at scale, within contexts, to create affordable, reliable, data-rich learning environments,” says Bror Saxberg, vice president of learning science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and member of ICICLE’s advisory board.

Less than six weeks after its formation, ICICLE has fifty participating organizations including Boeing, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, UL, and Allegiant; academic institutions including the Simon Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University and the Lynch School of Education at Boston College; government organizations including the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative at the U.S. Department of Defense, and a whole host of learning ecosystem participants including ACT, EDUCAUSE, and the IEEE Education Society.

“By stimulating a vocation that combines learning and engineering we can expect more thoughtful design, implementation, and investment in learning technologies that serve learners and the greater community,” says Michael Jay, president of Educational Systemics, Inc. and chair of ICICLE’s special interest group (SIG) for Competency Frameworks and Certification.

The new industry consortium plans to hold an inaugural International Conference on Learning Engineering and publish the Proceedings of the conference along with a white paper on the burgeoning profession and academic discipline.

“We will make major inroads into how we use interactions data gathered in rich learning experiences to create a clearer picture of the learner that can be used to inform their learning and improve how we support their learning,” says Jay.

The technologies with which Learning Engineers engage vary widely and include learning management and learning content management systems, mobile e-learning applications, course authoring tools, MOOCs, digital simulations and game environments, virtual and augmented reality, micro-credentials, learning record stores and analytics dashboards, video and other streaming content, and new applications in wearable and Internet of Things technologies.

“The industry is maturing in a number of ways, including in the development of articulated standards for interoperability of learning and assessment content, results, and para-data; better understanding and measurement of efficacy; and established communities of engineers, academics, and practitioners diligently working toward solutions,” says Michelle Barrett, vice president of research technology, data science, and analytics at ACT.

Megan Bowe, chair of ICICLE’s Technical Committee, agrees: “There has been remarkable progress in the learning technology standards space over the last five years. This progress has spurred the market to use learning technology in different ways than they traditionally have,” she says. “This Learning Engineering project targets the special skills which are required to address those market changes. Having a definition and a skill set for a Learning Engineer opens the space for rapid growth.”

Paul Jesukiewicz, a member of ICICLE’s advisory board, says that Learning Engineering has played a role in most of his professional career. “With an undergraduate and graduate degree in Engineering, I started my career in the government developing computer based training for the Navy,” says Jesukiewicz. “I later ran the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative for the U.S. Department of Defense and then became director of the USALearning Knowledge Portal for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) where I have enjoyed managing teams of Learning Scientists, Instructional Designers, Software Engineers, and Data Scientists.”

In fact, the term “Learning Engineer” dates back to at least 1966 when it was used by Herbert Simon, professor of computer science and psychology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology to describe a class of professionals who would be “experts in designing learning experiences.” As a consortium seeking to define and to develop the profession of Learning Engineering, ICICLE continues to support those pushing the envelope in the design of learning experiences through the application of technology and learning science.

“Today Learning Engineering is exciting as ever with the advancements in learning analytics, big data, cloud technologies, and personalized learning,” says Jesukiewicz.

According to Ken Koedinger, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University and chair of ICICLE’s SIG on the Learning Engineering Academic Curriculum: “In ten years, learning engineering will be a core job in educational technology companies, K-12 schools, colleges and universities.”

Interested in getting involved?

ICICLE has established special interest groups (SIGs) to pursue projects in AI and adaptive learning technologies, xAPI and learning analytics, competency frameworks, learning data standards, learning data governance, and learning experience (LX) design, as well as teams to explore how Learning Engineering will grow both in industry and in academia. Information about ICICLE’s projects can be found at along with information about participation — which is free and open to the public. Additionally, the consortium will be supporting the development of open source repositories, libraries, and test beds critical to an open approach towards the ongoing development of the field.

“Fairness, transparency, and proven efficacy for individuals will be demanded by learners and teachers as we use these advancements and technologies to create novel, personalized, and adaptive learning experiences,” says Michelle Barrett who chairs ICICLE’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Adaptive Technologies SIG. “Sustained growth will require a cadre of engineers well-versed in the theories, contexts, and technologies most meaningful to effective teaching and learning.”

Jodi Lis, learning and technology advisor at Jhpiego — an international non-profit health organization affiliated with The Johns Hopkins University — and chair of ICICLE’s Outreach Committee, puts it this way: “A Learning Engineer has knowledge of how people learn, and recognizes that there are many factors in learning. A Learning Engineer analyzes data from learning, looks for patterns, notices areas that may affect learning, and informs the design to improve the learning. A Learning Engineer is familiar with technologies to design, implement, disseminate, and analyze learning. A Learning Engineer is not just one thing.”

Bror Saxberg sums it up: “As with any engineering discipline, at their best such professionals are doing great design work to sort through the priorities for the best solution possible within the practical constraints of the situation at hand. But Learning Engineering is grounded in evidence about how the world of human development and learning actually works.”

For more, see:

Shelly Blake-Plock is CEO at Yet Analytics and Chair of the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering. Connect with him on Twitter: @blakeplock 

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Design Thinking and Other Learning Priorities to Educate Today’s Students for the Coming Automation Economy

This post was originally published by The 74.

From a drafting board to Autocad, from a legal pad to a tablet, from eight-track tapes to downloads, my 40-year career spanned the information age from beginning to end. As monumental as those changes have been, my granddaughter may see an order of magnitude more change in her life.

The election of 2016 signaled the end of the information age and the beginning of the automation age. Barack Obama was elected by social media; Donald Trump was elected by algorithms that exploited social media. By 2016, we all lived in information gullies co-constructed by bias and bots. Ironically, major-party candidates fought a 1990s battle while the rise of artificial intelligence became apparent in every aspect of life and work.

With terrible force, 2017 ended with a series of once-in-a-century storms heralding a new era of urbanization, globalization, and automation, human systems colliding with natural systems in unpredictable ways.

We’re one year into this new age, an era of novelty and complexity. We live and work with smart machines and are influenced by algorithms we don’t understand. Most jobs have been or will be augmented, and then many will be automated. Displacement will vary by sector and geography, but it will be significant and it will begin before today’s middle school students graduate and join the workforce.

This automation age is being driven by artificial intelligence, big data (and internet of things), and enabling technologies (like robotics and CRISPR).

The age of automation offers unparalleled opportunity for contributions to health, longevity, safety, and prosperity. But without forward-looking civic leaders and quick action, the benefits will be concentrated, leading to conflict and more reactionary politics.

How to prepare?

How do we help young people prepare for lives full of novelty and complexity? After a two-year study of the influence of artificial intelligence(and exponential change more broadly) and a dozen community conversations, my team concluded there are four new learning priorities:

  • Innovation mindset: a combination of growth mindset, maker mindset, and team mindset — in short, young people should learn to recognize the value of effort, initiative, and collaboration.
  • Social-emotional learning: managing yourself and social interactions, making good decisions.
  • Design thinking: attacking complex problems with empathy and iteration — using a repetitive process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target, or result.
  • Self-directed learning: staying curious, building deep subject expertise — repeatedly — and creating lifelong learning habits.

Design thinking may be the least familiar priority on the list — and it might be the most important, because many of the problems and opportunities we face are new. They often sit at the boundary of traditional disciplines, at the intersection of man-made and natural systems. These challenges require a new approach to problem identification and solution.

A five-stage model called design thinking has been advanced by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( The steps to this model are empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Design thinking is central to the approach at a number of innovative schools, including Design Tech High in the Bay Area and High Tech High in San Diego. Boise, Idaho, nonprofit One Stone makes design thinking central to the best after-school work experiences and community service programs I’ve seen. It’s also integrated across the curriculum at the new One Stone high school. Their process, adapted from the, suggests that it may take more than 50 iterations to develop the right solution. One Stone students learn to “51 it.”

In higher education, the best example of design thinking is found at Olin College, near Boston. From week one, students learn, research, design, make, and manage.

When design thinking is incorporated into the curriculum, it teaches all the other core skills: innovation mindset, empathy, and self-direction.

Project-Based World

Most work is now conducted in projects. More than 4 in 10 high school graduates work in the freelance economy (with that number likely to increase to a majority within 10 years), and probably as many who go to work for others end up working on or leading project teams.

When I was an engineer, most projects I managed were well defined. The design phase was a matter of applying best practices to a known problem. What’s new today is the number of problems for which there is no known solution, what Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz called adaptive challenges. Design thinking is particularly well suited to addressing these new problems and opportunities.

Whatever the mix of known and unknown challenges a young person faces, the best preparation for a project-based world is learning to manage extended challenges — some well defined and others open-ended design tasks.

Most professions in the 21st century exceed the capabilities of any individual and require cross-functional teams to deliver properly. According to Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal, medicine has moved past the individual craftsman to delivery by teams. “It’s no longer an individual craft of being the smartest, most experienced, and most capable individual,” he said. “It’s a profession that has exceeded the capabilities of any individual to manage the volume of knowledge and skill required. So we are now delivering as groups of people.” Gawande said that what is most needed in professional preparation now is the study of the science of teams.

Smart teams use shared protocols like design thinking, exercise empathy for each other and their customers, and manage themselves and reflect on their progress.

MIT’s Eric Lander has said that “in a few years, every biologist will be computational.” The same will be true for doctors, mechanics, economists, water managers, and soldiers — nearly every field is being transformed by the combination of artificial intelligence, big data, and enabling technologies. As a result, advances almost always involve assembling a big data set, a task that requires creativity, partnership, analysis, a lot of cleanup, and a good truth detector. Value creation is being led by people passionate about a cause, who are adding data science to their quest.

For young people facing novelty and complexity, critical attack skills include design thinking, project management, data science, and delivering in teams.

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The Social Studies’ Dilemma: Integrating Writing Without Losing Focus

By Wayne D’Orio

Here’s an experiment to try with anyone you know who teaches social studies. Mention writing across the curriculum and the extinction of the five-paragraph essay and chances are they’ll be nodding up and down before you even complete your thought.

Yes, schools are demanding more writing from students and lots of that writing is expected to take place in social studies classes. What hasn’t changed is the amount of time social studies teachers have to correct papers, especially the longer assignments that call for a more detailed review. While this is a familiar conundrum, there really isn’t an easy answer, experts say.

“The nature of what writing looks like in social studies has changed in the past decade,” says Lawrence M. Paska, the executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies. Most schools now want students to analyze multiple sources of information, draw a conclusion about a question and use documents to support their position, he adds.

Paska says teachers should give students feedback that is formative, immediate, and purposeful. But those are three hard goals to meet, says Thomas Birbeck, the instructional coach for California’s Fremont Unified School District.

“It’s incredibly time-consuming” to correct papers, says Birbeck, who taught social studies before becoming a coach in his district. “I used to assign one full-blown written paper a year, in addition to weekly writing assignments,” he remembers. With 150 students, he would face a mound of papers that took him an entire month to go through.

About 250 miles south of Fremont, Caren Ray is facing the same problem. “I wish I could do more writing in my class, but I just don’t have the time to give the type of feedback I need to give,” says Ray, a social studies teacher and department chair at Santa Maria High School in California. “Giving meaningful feedback quickly is a hindrance. It causes teachers to do less writing even though we’re being asked to do more.”

The hardest part of correcting papers is delivering feedback that is timely and can help students with their next assignment, Paska says. “You want students to be able to do something with your comments in their future work.”

“Immediate feedback is a key to teaching writing,” says Ray. For students to wait a week in between revisions “makes the writing process disjointed.”

Technology to the Rescue

While there’s no one answer to this problem, Paska says technology can help in a variety of ways by offering direct help to students and to teachers. “There’s a big possibility through technology to offer formative feedback right away,” he says. With many tools open source, such as Google Docs, students can work individually or collectively and teachers can see the work in real time, he says.

By using open-source tools such as Google, for instance, teachers can offer formative feedback before the student is finished with the project, Paska adds, something that can help students shift gears immediately if needed. This real-time monitoring can also help teachers adjust their teaching. “They can stop a lesson” and reteach something if everyone’s missing the point, he adds.

Birbeck, who has used Turnitin Revision Assistant, says the program’s immediacy “is much more in tune with video games,” so students respond well. “It gives them guidance and the help comes right back at them,” he says. The two-year-old program gives students feedback on a number of criteria, including claim, evidence, and organization, as well as supplying teachers and administrators with data on student writing progress.

Ray, who also uses Revision Assistant, says the program’s critique of writing can help her spend less time on the nuts and bolts of grammar and composition, which she isn’t trained for, and more time seeing if students are writing with purpose. Students understand the software’s intuitive design, she adds. “They understand how to improve themselves and their writing based on how the feedback actually works.”

Paska says other open source tools, such as online rubrics, can help teachers assess work quickly and thoroughly. Such rubrics can be attached to a piece of writing that teachers can use in real-time online.

Seeking Grading Consistency

But not all online tools are designed for students. Some, such as the Literacy Design Collaborative, were created to help schools and teachers both meet the need for more student writing and learn how to accurately assess this writing. The collaborative is teacher-created online system that ties together collaboration, content development, and professional learning together.

Like many districts, Daviess County Public Schools in Owensboro, Kentucky, has for years required students to write across the curriculum while also making sure its learners meet next-generation learning standards. Also, like many districts, its teachers—especially those in subjects outside of English—struggle to accurately grade student work, says Therese Payne, a teacher leader and the English department head for Daviess County High School.

By using the collection, Daviess teachers can grab writing prompts in a number of subjects (while adding their own prompts to the national library), but they also can see examples of student writing at three different levels, low, medium, and high. These levels offer guidance to teachers that can be applied to their own students’ work.

Grading consistency was also a problem for teachers in California’s Newport-Mesa Unified School District. “Grading writing can be challenging even for seasoned teachers,” says Dana Kahawai, a teacher in the district. “Doing it right takes a long time.”

Not only did the district find that teachers and schools would grade the same paper differently, it also discovered that teacher fatigue led to inconsistent scoring, she says. Without being able to ensure consistency from classroom to classroom and school site to school site, the student achievement data was compromised.

The district turned to Revision Assistant and soon found that the program’s algorithms produced normed scores that could be used district-wide. “We’re using this information to inform our practice and the decisions we make about our programs,” says Ann-Marie Krenik, a Newport-Mesa teacher.

“Writing is an essential act that demonstrates literacy,” says Paska. “We write in social studies to demonstrate our understanding of major topics, of aspects of human life that cut across subject areas. We need students to write more. We need to teach them how to write better. We want writing to be fun, to be inspiring and engaging.”

For more, see:

Wayne D’Orio is an award-winning journalist who’s been writing about education for more than 15 years. He was the former Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Administrator.

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A Turning Point. South Carolina Rural Schools Find Success.

The 2005 documentary, “Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools” highlighted high poverty, low performing schools in the geographic region of South Carolina’s I-95 corridor. The region had spent decades being unable to provide effective education to their students. In 2010, Scott’s Branch High School was at an “At-Risk” rating on the SC Report card and had not met AYP for 3 years.

However, six years ago things started to shift when a partnership with New Tech Network (NTN) brought an opportunity to lift up education in the schools and communities. The effects of that partnership can be measured in a number of ways, one of which is student’s end-of-course test scores which were higher than the rest of the state and much higher than “schools with students like ours.”

Colleton County High and Scott’s Branch have been working to change the I-95 corridor region into a “Corridor of Innovation” instead of a “Corridor of Shame.” These two schools, with the help of a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, are improving education in their economically depressed communities by implementing new school models that bolster teacher and student capacity and create real-world learning experiences for students.

A Tale of Two Schools

Colleton County High School, located in Walterboro, S.C., through its partnership with NTN was able to launch Cougar New Tech, a career academy where 100% of the first senior class (2017) graduated.

Scott’s Branch High School found in Summerton, S.C., implemented NTN’s school model and shifted teaching practices to allow students to experience classroom learning that is relevant to students’ lives while preparing them for college and career opportunities.

As part of the NTN model, both schools are engaging in high-quality PBL. Students practice critical thinking, communication and creativity in order to solve problems. The relevant, real-world projects move students towards mastery and attainment of New Tech Network’s five learning outcomes which include: Knowledge & Thinking, Agency, Collaboration, Oral Communication and Written Communication.

“It is not a switch off of roles, it is a simultaneous continuum of producing learning for the students.”

NTN’s model and the flexibility of a PBL classroom allows teachers to teach across the curriculum and work together to help create deeper learning experiences for their students. Solving problems isn’t just cut and dry, it takes multiple skill sets for both students and teachers.

These two schools are the subject of a new mini-documentary and website called A Turning Point in South Carolina.

A Turning Point

The success of schools like Cougar New Tech and Scott’s Branch High school are a great example of how high quality, innovative learning can indeed happen anywhere. With the right supports, leadership and teaching teams, all students can have access to an engaging, meaningful education.

For more, see:

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