How Formative Assessment Transforms the Classroom, From Culture to Lesson Plans

By: Brea Lewis and Michelle Berkeley

Using formative assessment requires a willingness to embrace change at all levels–from guiding mindsets, philosophies and classroom culture, to daily schedules and lessons plans. Brea Lewis, third- and fourth-grade math teacher at Ben Milam Elementary, recently confirmed this idea when she reflected that through the incorporation of formative assessment practices, “our lesson cycles have changed significantly.” We explored just what those changes look and feel like in her classroom since transitioning to formative assessment.

Ben Milam Elementary is one of several Dallas ISD schools involved in a three-district collaborative pilot project entitled “How I Know,” an initiative of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Through this initiative, leaders and teachers from Dallas ISD, Austin ISD and Tulsa Public Schools have committed to learning about, developing, and improving formative assessment practice for both teachers and students.

To demonstrate how formative assessment has impacted learning in Brea’s classroom, we started by uncovering the large-scale effects of formative assessment on the teacher and students’ roles in the classroom, and also in the overall classroom culture. We then share Brea’s perspective on how formative assessment has impacted the delivery of one specific lesson and her tips for successfully transforming to a formative assessment classroom.

The Formative Assessment Transition Process

In Brea’s classroom, the transition to formative assessment began at the start of the 2017-2018 school year. In speaking with her, it is evident that the training and exposure to professional learning tutorial videos (such as The Formative Classroom and What is Formative Assessment?) gave her more command and confidence in her practice, especially with creating Learning Goals and Criteria for Success–two key elements in the formative classroom.

Shifting the Focus from Teacher to Student

Reflecting on what’s different in her classroom, she is quick to identify that lesson cycles have become notably more student-centered, and that students have become both more independent, and more interdependent on one another rather than the teacher.

She explains that one old lesson plan was highly teacher-focused and teacher-controlled, and identified exactly where the teacher was and what the teacher was doing at every step in the lesson; this often would mean she was meant to be present at every table of students and facilitating every small group at once. This created an atmosphere where students were highly reliant on the teacher’s help, and teachers then didn’t have the opportunity to take part in learning themselves.

A new lesson plan now focuses more on questions like “what are the students doing,” and “where are the students,” and by changing the focus from teacher to student, students are gaining ownership over their learning and starting to act autonomously and collaboratively among one another.

Incorporating Learning Goals and Criteria for Success

Perhaps most important to the shift, she has found, is that students are involved in the very crux of their learning when they are not simply told lesson objectives and steps, but are expected to fully understand a Learning Goal and its purpose. The process of then rewriting that in their own words or adapting it to fit their needs, co-creating the Criteria for Success, brainstorming “how do we get to the learning goal,” and then determining a plan and trying it out has proven very impactful.

Students have choices and free range within the Criteria for Success, and take part in deciding what they personally need to work on. In Brea’s classroom, at any given time, students are working on different criteria or tasks and displaying more ownership over their personal progress. “[Students] don’t say ‘I don’t get it’ anymore–they say ‘I’m stuck on this and this and this, and I need to work on this specific thing,’” she shares. In her classroom, each student collects the Criteria as they earn them, and this becomes tangible proof of their learning – often something students take great pride in obtaining.

Examples of student-focused and student-created Criteria for Success.

The Lesson Plan: Before and After

At the same time, there is a shift that takes place in the teacher’s role, wherein they are no longer directing students through each step in a given lesson process, but rather observing and guiding the pace of learning. Below, Brea shares a sample lesson cycle before and after formative assessment practices were introduced, and the changes that took place in one fourth grade math class.

Lesson Plan: Before Formative Assessment

In a sample fractions lesson plans from last year, you can see that through the cycle it was more teacher-oriented than student-driven. I provided and modeled the information for students during the lesson, and the cycle was based around a 65%/35% teacher/student-driven classroom (instead being of highly student-driven), as they needed full guidance before being released. Even when students had the opportunity for independent or collaborative practice, they were still being monitored for a certain amount of time before the teacher could work with students who felt they needed more support in understanding of the lesson. The lesson also moved slower before formative assessment, as it took more time for me to reflect on their learning and progress instead of students providing that themselves.

Lesson Plan: After Formative Assessment

With the same lesson adjusted to formative assessment practices, you’ll see that on the first day students are starting a new learning goal in comparing fractions, which starts with discussing our Learning Goal and Criteria for Success. I discuss the learning goal with students, and then they have the opportunity to write what it means to them. After this, students gather to discuss what the steps are to be successful in reaching our goal. After the Criteria for Success discussion, the mini lesson begins–manipulatives and visual representations (drawings) are used along with student experiences such as measuring ingredients for cooking.

After the lesson and once students have gathered more understanding, Independent Practice (IP) begins, where students have options consisting of using Education Galaxy, Khan Academy, using more manipulatives, or coming to the teacher station (based on how they feel with their understanding of comparing fractions).

On the second day, students come in and gather whatever materials they will need based on their own academic reflections on the Learning Goal for comparing fractions. On Wednesday, students start a new Learning Goal in adding and subtracting fractions, which starts with discussing our Learning Goal and Criteria for Success, and the cycle continues.

Four Teacher Tips for Flipping Classroom Roles to Incorporate Formative Assessment Practice

When I reflect on the transition process, what sticks out to me is that it involved asking myself a lot of questions about my students, and my relationship with them. Below are my tips for success to other teachers implementing formative assessment:

  1. Give students more ownership. Have students become more involved in the learning process by providing them with opportunities for collaborative and independent practice. This can also include having student involvement when building the lesson.
  2. Change your own mindset to that of a learner to model the change for students. When you change your own mindset to that of a learner, it allows for a deeper understanding of how learning will evolve during a lesson, instead of the goal being just to get to the end of the lesson.
  3. Make space for student reflections. Allow students to assess their own learning and to communicate feedback.
  4. Create learning goals and success criteria. Determine specifically what students need to know, and what actions need to be taken to reach the goal, such as “I can look at my fractions and identify like denominators.”

In this snapshot of one How I Know classroom transitioning to a more meaningful and impactful formative assessment practice, we see a teacher observing the development of critical skills in problem solving, decision-making, leadership, collaboration, and independence in her students. Through taking steps to empower her students, she has seen tangible changes in students’ ability to communicate, support themselves and their peers, and engage in their own learning.

While the transition of mindsets has taken time and effort, it has had a valuable impact on student learning.

For more, see:

Brea Lewis is a third and fourth grade math teacher at Ben Milam Elementary in Dallas, Texas.

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 (www.formativeassessmentpractice.org) and join the conversation on Twitter using #HowIKnow or #FormativeAssessment.


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How A Global Tech Giant Is Becoming A Learning Leader

After a degree in chemical engineering, Ravi Kumar’s first job was working on power sector reforms as a nuclear scientist in Orissa, India.

After a master’s in finance at Xavier (in eastern India), Kumar worked in consulting and technology. After selling CRM solutions across southeast Asia, Kumar joined Infosys in Hyderabad (in southern India) in 2002 as a senior vice-president.

In the fast-paced tech sector, “Diverse backgrounds like mine absolutely help,” said Kumar from his New York office.

Now president and chief delivery officer, Ravi Kumar is leading a giant talent development agenda that includes hiring and training 10,000 Americans.

Infosys is hiring beyond traditional STEM fields and recruiting at design schools and liberal arts colleges. “We have embraced liberal arts as part of digital workforce,” said Kumar.

Infosys runs one of the world’s largest training programs. Thousands of recent college graduates and new hires each year spend 8-12 weeks updating their skills in preparation to begin delivering value for clients.

Infosys Backstory. Founded in 1981 in Pune, India by seven engineers that scraped together $250, Infosys (INFY) has become a global leader in technology consulting and enterprise solutions.

With more than 225,000 employees globally, Infosys brought in revenues of $11 billion last year. The company went public in India in 1993 (1999 in the US) and is valued today at $43 billion (larger than Target or Ford).

“With an AI-powered core, digital agility at scale, Infosys is always learning,” said Kumar.

On the Future of Work. “AI and automation will take jobs of the past but create jobs of the future,” explained Kumar.

“The challenge is that societies, governments, academia, corporations, and schools have to come together to create more jobs of the future,” said Kumar.

On the mindset for the future, Kumar said, “Problem-solving will no longer be a virtue, problem finding will be a bigger asset.”

In governments and big companies, a few people will be involved in machine learning and artificial intelligence, said Kumar, “but the value is not as much in building the tools as the application of those technologies in people’s lives and how we make that happen.”

Growing Talent in America. InStep, the Infosys internships program, in its 20th year, is regarded by some as the best. Around 140 students come from 35 countries but predominantly the US. The paid internship engages young people in cutting edge projects.

After years of evangelizing a global delivery model, the Infosys leadership team concluded in 2017 that “in the digital age we needed workforce in closer proximity to clients, agile and with the cultural mindset to co-create with clients,” explained Kumar.

With a new commitment to a distributed global workforce, Infosys began developing a network of Technology and Innovation Hubs across the country beginning with Indianapolis, Hartford and Raleigh. A hub in Richardson, Texas will open soon and the Phoenix hub will open in the fall. A Design and Innovation Hub is also being developed in Providence, where Infosys also announced a partnership with the Rhode Island School of Design. And, the company recently broke ground in Indianapolis for a flagship U.S. Education Center—a state of the art training center. The 75 acre education campus will open in 2020.

“Our approach is designed to jumpstart regional ecosystems by localizing innovation bringing new technologies and invaluable Maker skills closer to where Americans live and work,” said Kumar.

Wingspan, the Infosys learning platform, powers internal training and enables client companies to take advantage of the open source, cloud-first and mobile-first learning solution.

Infosys is already three-quarters of the way to reaching the 10,000 American employee goal making it one of biggest on-campus recruiters– in liberal arts and design as well as STEM fields.

The company invests $20,000 in every undergrad they hire. Kumar believes the Infosys “finishing school” is part of the Infosys secret sauce. It’s what prepares recent graduates for production-grade work with 2,000 global clients.

With half of US students going to community colleges, Kumar sees them as key to building an inclusive workforce that few employers pay attention to.

On Talent Development. The pace of change means lifelong learning is a key value proposition. Kumar says Infosys tests for it in hiring, they call it learnability.

About 70% of the company’s digital needs are in-sourced, they develop internal talent. Infosys has 600 educators inside the company

“The person brings motivation, the company brings everything else,” said Kumar.

A set of personalized learning opportunities help internal candidates develop certification for service delivery.

Helping Teachers. “My passion is talent development, the future of work, and preparing teachers for a digital world,” said Kumar.

“The biggest gap today,” said Kumar, “is teachers are under-equipped for the future because there is no one telling them how to equip themselves.”

Infosys invited a group of K-12 teachers to visit the company for a week to experience a next generation working environment. Kumar thinks the change process must be experiential for teachers. He has seen the benefits when teacher learning is supported by professionals who have the aptitude to help. They plan to repeat teacher visits.

Kumar shifted the focus of the Infosys Foundation to Computer Science. To date, almost five million students in 21,000 schools across America have benefited from training and equipment funded by the foundation.

Infosys is hiring people committed to lifelong learning–and to helping teachers instill a love of learning in young people.

For more, see:

The Future Of Work

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability — so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.


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This post was originally published on Forbes.


New Message Manual to Improve and Create Consistent Communications in Education

It can be challenging to know the “right words” to use when discussing education these days. Even if you think you know just what you want to say, how you say it can make all the difference. Think about the last message you sent: a mission statement, an email to teachers or parents, a press release, a social media post… How would your words in that message need to change to reach a different stakeholder audience?

To help with this complex issue, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, with the help of Hattaway Communications, recently released Communicating a Shared Vision for Students and Education, a message manual designed to improve and enhance consistent communications about student success and educational equity. Through an aspirational narrative framework that can be modified and personalized to suit a variety of target audiences, the manual serves as a resource to inspire more impactful and effective communication throughout the field of education.

The Hewlett Foundation gathered the information contained in this manual through an exhaustive, eleven-month process of surveys, online and in-person interviews, and roundtable focus groups with teachers, parents, and civil rights and social justice leaders. A survey of 750 parents and 750 teachers was then conducted toward the end of 2018 to test the updated message language. With all of the data, they created a quick-to-read manual with fewer than 30 pages.

What makes this manual so user-friendly are the several steps provided, beginning with the Aspirational Narrative—essentially a sample mission statement for a general audience, crafted from “Winning Word” terms that were honed and tested throughout the research process. Following the Aspirational Narrative is a clear, simple-yet-detailed breakdown of the Winning Word phrases, what makes them work, and what similar language to avoid.

For example, the Aspirational Narrative refers to helping students “achieve their goals, whatever those may be”; the “Language to Avoid” breakdown explains that describing goals through narrow outcomes like “graduation” or “attending college” doesn’t promote student agency or leave room for students’ own goals. Likewise, the Aspirational Narrative promotes the statement, “Many schools don’t have the resources,” instead of accusatory phrases like, “Schools are failing,” which ignore systemic inequalities beyond individual educators’ control.

After explaining the foundations of the Aspirational Narrative’s language, the manual provides a framework for a “Build-Your-Own” model that uses short prompts and examples to help readers develop their own tailored narratives for specific organizations and target audiences. Then, however, the Hewlett Foundation takes its framework a step further.

Tailored sample messages are provided for a variety of organizations and audiences: Educators and School Leaders; Advocates and Policy Makers; Civil Rights and Social Justice Leaders; Parents, Organizers, and Community Leaders; Researchers; and Organizations Working Across Political Divides. Each tailored message includes thoughtful language for that audience’s needs and focus, and each message is followed by breakdowns of audience-specific language and why it should be used.

For instance, the Message for Advocates and Policy Makers begins with, “Today’s students are tomorrow’s voters, activists, and leaders,” while the Message for Parents, Organizers, and Community Leaders starts with, “Today’s children are tomorrow’s community leaders, voters, and parents.” These subtle changes in language are intended to emphasize the values of civic engagement and family support, respectively.

The benefit to this mindful, use of language is that it aims to create a level space for problem-solving and decision making within education. If the words in policies and press releases are intended to guide how children are educated, supported, and seen in this country, then shouldn’t we treat those words with the utmost consideration? By laying a foundation of research-based, inclusive, effective language to use across the educational field, the Hewlett Foundation aims to do just that.

For more, see:


Creating a More Inclusive School Community Starts With Intentional Support for Teachers

By: Nichelle Bowes, Ed.D

I moved to the United States from Guyana when I was 12 years old. From the time that I disembarked the plane at JFK Airport in New York, I knew my life would be different, and it was in many ways.

One of the ways that stood out most was my school experience. In Guyana, I had been surrounded by teachers who shared my experience, many of them Black women who shared my cultural traditions, values, understood my background and held high expectations for me. At my middle and high schools in Brooklyn, my teachers represented a variety of cultures and races, but none of them shared my life experiences, few of them demonstrated care about my achievement, and even fewer bothered to get to know me beyond the classroom. It was a jarring experience. School for me had always been a safe place where I could be my authentic self, and where my teachers not only believed that I could excel, but it was the expectation. Although the experience was different, I continued to live up to the prior standards that had been set for me and I excelled in spite of teachers and counselors who ignored me or questioned my abilities.

My personal experiences are aligned to research which shows that teachers of color tend to have more positive perceptions and higher expectations of students of color. Simultaneously research also shows that high-quality teachers have a greater impact on student achievement. As such, my driving force as the dean of Relay Graduate School of Education’s Newark campus is to not only diversify the teaching workforce but to produce high-quality teachers who understand the importance of educational equity and who prioritize caring about their students. This drive resulted in the creation of a culturally responsive advisement model, which influences everything we’re doing in Newark.

Creating such diversity, in the midst of a teacher shortage can be challenging, but not impossible. One recommended solution is to invest in residencies as a teacher pathway. In our work preparing teachers through residencies, we find it most successful to partner with districts, like Passaic Public Schools where we have provided programs for veteran teachers to support their continued professional growth. Together, we aim to create a pipeline of diverse, veteran teachers who are prepared to serve as high-quality mentors for future novice teachers and teachers in residence: a relay of high-quality, diverse teachers who are committed to educational equity.

Once we build the pathways into teaching, we have to think about how to best support our aspiring and veteran educators to successfully support each of their students. Here are a few of the lessons that we have learned along the way:

  • Understanding and being responsible with your power is important. Every single action a teacher takes has the potential to imprint on students. However, teachers aren’t always aware of that power. Teacher educators and school leaders have a responsibility to help teachers, regardless of racial or ethnic backgrounds, to take stock of their bias and privilege. This is important because when bias and privilege are coupled with the power that a teacher wields, it can irreparably damage or completely empower children. We must constantly search our intents and actions and their origins to ensure that we are intentionally creating equitable and inclusive learning environments.
  • Be intentional about your support for aspiring and new teachers. When we evaluated the structures that were in place to support our new teachers, we realized that we needed some improvements. We needed to build relationships, demonstrate empathy, advocate for our aspiring teachers. We are now more intentional about maintaining high expectations while empowering our residents. And, we now offer support with both academic and non-academic issues. For instance, Black and Latinx men are sometimes tasked with teaching more of the students who require additional behavioral supports, even when they are novice teachers. This does not benefit the students or the new teacher. As advisors, we can and have engaged with school leadership, to discuss either changing the assignment or ensuring the teacher and students have the support needed to be successful. This helps the students and increases our chances of retaining an effective, diverse new teacher in the profession.
  • Understand the individual needs of your aspiring teachers. Aspiring teachers, like any student, have unique needs. We need to support our graduate students as individuals; get to know them and work with them to be successful. One of our amazing aspiring teachers was experiencing several life challenges. While she was able to submit high-quality work, she was not able to meet many of the stated deadlines. We worked with her to create deadlines that allowed her to meet her family’s needs and allowed for a wonderful teacher to complete her training. That teacher is now a model teacher in her building and is advocating on behalf of the English Language Learners that she teaches.
  • Help teachers get to know their community. Prioritize helping–new, aspiring and even veteran–teachers get to know and understand the community in which they are teaching. As a part of our effort to prioritize community, we recently took our new aspiring teachers on a historical tour as part of their orientation, brought parents in to talk to teachers about best practices for engaging parents, and require students enrolled in our master’s program to go out into the community, to get know existing community agencies. We want, and should, encourage our teachers to truly get to know what is happening in our school community as well as the neighborhoods they are serving. This is an exercise that’s helpful for teachers at any stage in their career.

Creating meaningful diversity is intentional and ongoing work. We must be active, self-reflective and thoughtful in the pursuit given the potential impacts for our students. At Relay Newark, we recognize that it is noble to think about what our children need, but crucial to their survival to empower our teachers to actively serve them. To that end, we keep service to “our children” top of mind in every interaction with our students, every policy decision, and every practice.

For more, see:

Nichelle Bowes, Ed.D., is the Dean of Relay Newark. Connect with her on Twitter at @nbowes37.


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Ensuring Readiness for All Through Math Literacy

By: Kristen Thorson and Erin Gohl

Bob Moses has spent his life advocating, organizing, and teaching in pursuit of equality and access for all. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that all people receive sufficient preparation and opportunity to fully participate as active citizens. At the root of his work is the assertion that a healthy society requires both the equal right to vote in a representative democracy and access to a quality education to allow participants to exercise that vote with knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

Over the last forty years, he has fought to establish that education is a foundational right for all children in the United States. To this end, he worked as a Civil Rights leader who helped guide the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to successfully organize people in local communities, and their allies across geographic, ethnic and income differences, to change policy and practice. He was an architect of the Freedom Summer project in Mississippi, a campaign to register African American voters during the summer of 1964. He was beaten and jailed in the fight for equality.

Over the last several decades, he has continued that fight for equal opportunity and access, with a similar urgency and fervor. This time, however, the goal is to ensure sufficient access and support for math preparation for minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. For Moses, math literacy is a fundamental civil right. It is a necessary component to the equal educational opportunity he fought for earlier in his life. And he has brought his past experience motivating communities and sustaining engagement to the challenge of empowering students through the successful progression from arithmetic to algebra and beyond calculus.

Why Math?

It is well known by those within school walls, in the halls of higher education, and the human resources offices of companies in the growing knowledge economy that mathematical fluency is a gateway competency that many students in the United States are not able get through. And there has emerged a particular sequence and timeframe of mathematical sophistication that is requisite for admission to post-secondary options and later career success. Without a sufficient fluency in the language and concepts of mathematical representation and methods, post-secondary options are closed off or capped. And the decisions that determine this preparedness, or lack thereof, are often made while a student is in middle school, years before he or she is likely even considering post-secondary life.  

Beyond just being a gatekeeper to post-secondary options, mathematical concepts and logical reasoning underpin many components of day-to-day life, economic access, and civic engagement. Understanding a base level of mathematical concepts is necessary for life readiness–for following a public policy debate; detecting errors in an argument; or fully grasping the terms of a loan or a work contract. A lack of mathematical fluency compromises economic self-determination.  Fluency in a native language is more than being able to speak it; fluency is the ability to read it, to write it, and to create with it. Fluency is more than basic literacy. Educators and policy makers have raised community expectations for what all students should be expected to do with the English language in the United States; but there is not the same expectation or investment in ensuring achievement in mathematics for all students.

Certain demographic subgroups of students–those from underserved districts and students of color–disproportionately suffer from persistent lower achievement on math assessments, as evidenced by the most recent NAEP results. And the performance of the United States, both at an absolute level compared to other countries, and the gaps within our country, are average to below average, compared to the 85 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Math performance was the lowest domain for the US. For a country that has made significant rhetorical and financial investments in STEM fields, this realization is deeply troubling. Manifesting equity and excellence in mathematical fluency, within and across communities, will require a significant change in how mathematics is understood, defined, and taught in communities.  Mathematics needs to be done with, and to to, students.

This realization fuels Bob Moses’s effort. Moses recognized that this lack of preparation limits a person’s overall college-, career-, and life-readiness. And it is the gravity of this issue that inspired him to found The Algebra Project in 1982 with seed funding coming from a MacArthur Foundation Grant.

The Algebra Project

The Algebra Project’s stated mission is to use “mathematics literacy as an organizing tool to guarantee quality public school education for all children in the United States of America.” Algebra Project local and regional initiatives have sprouted up in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Florida, New York and other locations. In Moses’s vision, math is a prerequisite to be a literate citizen and the access and support for that preparation must be provided through public schools. However, as evidenced by a range of metrics, that preparation is not happening adequately for our lowest performing students.

At The Algebra Project’s core is an inclusive approach to math: Math is for everyone, even those who have struggled or who have gaps in their math skills. To that end, The Algebra Project has focused its work on the lowest performing quartile of students, with the effort being to provide support to have participating students complete Algebra I by eighth grade. The common efforts in diverse communities have formed a national alliance We the People: Math Literacy for All.  Supported by National Science Foundation funding to scale up the implementations, local and national leaders convened in St. Louis in February of 2017.  This gathering focused on addressing the challenge of supporting mathematical mastery for students in the lowest performing quartile.

Making Math Collaborative & Accessible

A foundational component of this support is organizing students in learning cohorts to provide collaboration, reinforcement, and peer-to-peer encouragement. These teams of students support each other and are also supported by the teacher. This concept grew out of the community organizing principles Moses used in his fight for civil rights. The Algebra Project empowers parents, students, and teachers to claim their right to mathematical fluency. Relationships are paramount. Time to reach standards mastery is flexible. Remediation is “Just In Time”–mastering what is needed to successfully accomplish the engaging group activity. Individual assessment occurs to gauge readiness for post-secondary opportunities. And students develop confidence for those assessments through the collaborative dynamics with peers.  

Making Math Approachable & Engaging

The Algebra Project seeks to make math engaging and accessible. One method has been to “gamify” math by adding game-based elements to learning. Through a collaboration with the Young People’s Project, the Algebra Project has developed Flagway™, a game that requires cooperation within a team and competition between teams based on solving mathematically inspired problems and physical movement. This game, accessible to students at all levels, encourages participants to develop mathematical intuition. Seeded by Algebra Project math classes in schools, the game has grown in communities to create Flagway leagues where teams compete against each other. Since its inception in 1995 the game, and the leagues, have grown to compete in local, regional, and national competitions. Held alongside the National Math Festival in Washington, DC the 3rd annual National Flagway Tournament will be held on May 4, 2019.

Changing the Culture to Ensure Readiness

When the current high school seniors of the Class of 2019 were in Kindergarten, the nation rallied around the National Academies report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm”. In short, the storm has arrived and we have not risen. Efforts to fuel the rise through national standards have not sufficiently elevated our performance, new curriculum has not closed the gaps, new instructional materials have not helped us gain altitude, and the data gained from standardized tests has reinforced the need for action without enlightening the appropriate path toward equal achievement.  

These efforts fell short because they focused on materials rather than the relational dynamics that exist within the classroom walls. By shifting our attention to the classroom culture that surrounds learning, by empowering students and teachers to take ownership in learning, progress can be made. Culture change precedes achievement change. This has been made manifest in the empowering learner cohort design of the Algebra Project.

Education is a civil right, nay a human right. So this fight for math literacy for all makes sense on Bob Moses’s path–an obvious extension of his past work. It is not just about having the right to vote or the right to enter the school door. The Algebra Project, the Young People’s Project, and The National Alliance are working to ensure that once students enter the school doors, they are engaged with the content and skills necessary to fully exercise the rights and privileges that await them upon graduation. It is the life course of many individual students–and our national aspirations–that Bob Moses believes can be improved by supporting and joining this work.

For more, see:


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How Educators Can Help Close a Looming Crisis

By: Christine McDonnell

The widening tech skills gap is a crisis that looms large for our nation and our economy. The fix may lie in the hand of educators in the elementary and middle school grade levels.

Educators and those in the education field can help close the skills gap that is growing even larger as we move beyond the 21st century.

According to a 2017 report from TechRepublic, the tech industry is having trouble finding skilled talent. The skills gap is attributed, in part, to the need to build foundational skills as part of the education journey. There are more than a half-million open technology positions in the United States, and research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that by 2020, there will be a million more jobs available in computing than qualified applicants who can fill those roles.

How can educators help stem this looming crisis? By tackling this issue starting at the foundation, i.e, teaching elementary and middle school students the valuable skills of computer science, educators can help create the next generation of skilled workers ready to tackle the new technological breakthroughs.

Beyond Coding

Teachers and administrators have a unique advantage in preparing the next wave of digitally native citizens, our youth, by incorporating foundational principles into their STEM (Science, Technology,  Engineering, Math) education. Often, when a curriculum around STEM is referenced, we immediately think about implementing coding classes. However, if we are to transform our students into a new generation of problem solvers and thinkers, we need to address the skills gap with a multi-faceted approach that develops students who can analyze, problem-solve and use the foundational principles learned in STEM education to solve the complex problems the future will deliver them.

Comprehensive Approach to Computer Science

So, what does “comprehensive approach” to computer science mean? It means using four core principles to help students succeed. Each child’s learning methods are unique and we must have a curriculum designed to engage not just one, but all, students. While some students can dive right in and code, other children may prefer to experience technology from a hardware-focused, engineering level. Others may be better engaged by understanding how digital citizenship affects the world around them, and how those principles can develop a passion for STEM. Below are the four key pillars that provide a comprehensive approach to learning and teaching STEM.

  • Coding: The most common way to introduce students to computer science is through coding. Coding is a great way to engage visual, hands-on students with project-based learning and computational thinking behind a computer. Students build problem-solving and analytical skills through interactive learning experience with coding projects.
  • Hardware: Educators can engage tactile, hands-on learners through interactive, project-based hardware lessons. Allowing students to combine hardware exploration with computational thinking strategies reinforces computer science principles, reaching students who might not have the same interest or curiosity solely working in front of a computer screen.
  • Unplugged: Computer science is everywhere. Unplugged activities allow educators to engage students whether they have access to computers or not. Encouraging students to look for and practice foundational computer science elements through creative activities creates additional methods to reinforce computer science principles.
  • Digital Citizenship: As students learn to navigate the digital world, it’s imperative they learn how to be safe and responsible participants. By teaching digital citizenship, educators instill students with the foundational skills needed to safely navigate technology in their daily lives. With a focus on cyber ethics, cyber safety and other STEM initiatives, educated and engaged students will bring an informed and ethical background into the future of computer science and technology.

Incorporating these pillars into a curriculum model encourages the development of foundational STEM skills in all students. By engaging all learning types, all students are encouraged to critically think about complex problems and find unique solutions.

Practical Implementation

As educators think about implementing these principles into their STEM education, they should look at best practices and programs that are openly available to them. While there are many options in the market, finding a solution that supports a comprehensive learning method is key. There are practical online tools that help students learn aspects of these principles, but it is important to remember that apps and online-only solutions don’t always benefit the greatest amount of students. It’s essential to find a curriculum that works with educators, even those who don’t necessarily have a STEM background. Educators that have access to the right tools and have the right guardrails in place are more empowered to implement a comprehensive program. Finding solutions that utilize these four key pillars is becoming more common and while incorporating these pillars akes a little more work than having students download the latest coding app, in the long run, they deliver the benefit of a well-rounded program.

Teachers and education professionals should consider embracing these key pillars and begin to think about how they can involve more than just coding into their curriculums. While the task may seem daunting amongst the myriad of other skills being presented, if we are to evolve our students and equip them with tech skills to stave the looming workforce crisis, we must engage students early in their education. We have long left this learning to high school and higher education, but the changing demands on our economy and the success of our future workforce depend on us tackling this problem at an earlier age.

If we focus on these early age groups and take a comprehensive approach to building STEM skills the future workforce and the employers of our ever-changing digital economy will forever be grateful.

For more, see:

Christine McDonnell is the CEO of Codelicious.



Commentary: In Our Changing Economy, We Need New Flexible Education Systems to Usher in an Age of Agility for Tomorrow’s Workforce

By: Tom Vander Ark, Cheryl A. Oldham and Tim Taylor

Recently, Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future (P2T) announced the winners of its $100,000 Innovation Award for bold, transformative education solutions. One theme that emerged from among the 240 stakeholders who submitted proposals involves disrupting the traditional education pathway — redesigning the intersection between education and workforce preparation cohesively, across all segments of education, to be agile and responsive to communities and prepare students to succeed in a time of changing economic demands.

This theme directly aligns with what we at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, America Succeeds, and Getting Smart have termed the Age of Agility, a commitment to forging a system that is agile and adaptable, to capitalize on progress for all students, and to developing new ways to prepare them to be successful in an ever-changing world.

In the fall of 2017, America Succeeds released a report, Age of Agility: Education Pathways for the Future of Work, to call attention to the seismic shifts underway in education-to-employment pathways. As a society, we are in the early stages of a rapidly accelerating revolution that is bringing automation, artificial intelligence, and technology into parts of the workforce that have, until now, escaped this latest wave of disruptive change. Professional services such as bookkeeping, radiology, and legal aid are quickly joining the list of impacted industries we are more familiar with, like manufacturing, retail, hospitality, and logistics.

As the report says, “The bottom line is straightforward: if students and workers must be agile and adaptable to succeed in this new world, then the same holds true for the education system that prepares them.” In many cases, that means calling for a radical transformation of education-to-employment pathways.

Nine months ago, America Succeeds and the Chamber Foundation partnered with P2T on its effort while undertaking one of our own: the Age of Agility Tour. We undertook a multi-city listening tour to hear from business, education, and policy leaders on the ground and learn how crowdsourced innovative solutions are aimed at closing the growing skills gap within their states. The tour launched in 2018 with an event in Arizona, then continued to Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Illinois, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Idaho, Arkansas, and New Jersey. The tour is wrapping up with a final Washington, D.C., event, in partnership with Getting Smart, on Jan. 24.

The goal of each summit has been to inspire attendees with new models and promising practices to prepare students for the future locally, while encouraging participation in the broader discussion about scaling these educational opportunities to all students. So far, more than 1,000 attendees and five governors’ offices have participated in the tour, eager to confront the challenges and champion the solutions presented.

We are seeing similar pushes and pulls on the current education system, and suggestions for places to focus on moving forward, from both our summits and the proposals submitted by P2T stakeholders. Ideas surfaced through P2T present a variety of innovative action plans around disrupting traditional education pathways, and the alignment and partnership with other organizations offers the most intriguing opportunities for significant impact in the future.

The most significant momentum is building around the idea of redesigning the intersection between education and workforce preparation across the education system. Flexibility is critical for learners, educators, and the system’s structures to adapt and respond to the changing needs of communities and the modern, global economy. The education system has to be framed with the agility to prepare students for the world of the future.

Across the national tour, we often share this quote from Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist at Google: “We need to be preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist and to use technologies, sciences, and methods that we haven’t even discovered yet, to solve problems we haven’t identified.”

While there is still much work to do on building consensus for the strategies and tactics to create an agile education system, the urgency of addressing this issue is hard to ignore. States, communities, companies, and millions of workers are already starting to feel the impacts of this latest workforce revolution. Policymakers from both sides of the aisle are confronting economic uncertainty and a desire to protect jobs — and our community has a rare opportunity to ensure that these conversations and concerns are linked to efforts to modernize education.

As our Age of Agility Tour wraps up in Washington, let’s focus on how we can work together to make it better in the future. Let’s find ways to collaborate across organizations and across the country to take on these new challenges. Let’s start building a system designed for the Age of Agility.

For more, see:

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability—so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.

This was originally posted on The 74.

Cheryl Oldham is senior vice president, Center for Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Tim Taylor is president and co-founder of America Succeeds. 


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Reading List: Nine Smart Books on Artificial Intelligence

Some great new books on artificial intelligence were published recently. We compiled a list of nine.

Dave Touretzky, CMU professor and chair of AI4K12, recommended four written for non-specialist adults, but they are also accessible to high school students.

How Smart Machines Think by Sean Gerrish. If you want to discuss recent AI achievements with your students, such as how self-driving cars work, how Watson beat two of the best human Jeopardy! players, how NetFlix uses AI to recommend movies to people, and how AlphaGo beat one of the best human Go players, this book is for you.

Architects of Intelligence: The Truth About AI From the People Building it. Martin Ford interviewed 23 of the leading names in artificial intelligence research, asking them about the state of the art and what the future holds.  This book is an edited transcript of those interviews and is accessible to non-experts.

AI Super Powers: China, Silicon Valley, and The New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee. This book discusses the evolution of the Internet and AI technologies in China and the US, pointing out both similarities and differences. China’s stated goal of becoming the leader in AI research by 2030 has attracted a lot of attention.  How might differences between Chinese and American cultures contribute to such an outcome?  Read Lee to find out. (See this essay-length summary.)

The Deep Learning Revolution by Terry Sejnowski who directs the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Sejnowski played an important role in the development of deep learning. His new book prepares us for a deep learning future.

Social Science. Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age by Princeton professor Matthew Salganik. Recommended by Neil Lawrence, Amazon Research Cambridge, Bit by Bit is a guide to doing social science research in the automation age. In a nontechnical but comprehensive way, he lays out a principles-based approach to handling ethical challenges.

Revealing the Invisible: How Our Hidden Behaviors Are Becoming the Most Valuable Commodity of the 21st Century by Tom Koulopoulos (@tkspeaks), the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 30-year-old Boston-based think tank. His new book reveals this disruptive new era where our behavior is tracked and used to predict our individual and collective futures.

Public Policy. Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab and Nicholas Davis (with forward by Satya Nadella). Published by the World Economic Forum, this book is a general audience summary of the automation economy. It explores 12 different areas (each influenced by AI) central to the future of humanity.  The book is complemented by a variety of online resources.

HigherEd Textbook. Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd edition, 2016) by Russell and Norvig remains the standard text for undergraduate AI courses. Dave Touretzky said he taught with it last semester and finds it great for upper-level computer science majors but too technical for non-specialists.

K-12 Guide. Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning by Michelle Zimmermann, head of school at Renton Prep. The new book was published by ISTE with a grant from General Motors to support the development of new resources on AI in K-12 education.

Each chapter opens with a scene featuring diverse settings and characters. Zimmerman connects the dots between seemingly unrelated topics and concludes each chapter with questions for further study. Zimmerman concludes that the automation economy demands design thinking and project-based learning. (See our review.)

Other Resources. For more, see:

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability — so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.


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Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs

The new year has begun with a flurry of activity from the World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that provides a blueprint for education and business leaders concerned with the future of work.

In September, the WEF published the Future of Jobs Report 2018 and it’s now a hot topic at the annual gathering of business leaders at Davos. The report noted the following:

“By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today … Overall, social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others — will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.”

The report cited four drivers of this change:

  1. Ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet
  2. Artificial intelligence
  3. Widespread adoption of big data analytics
  4. Cloud technology

In order to prevent what the WEF calls a lose-lose scenario — technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality — the authors argue that business and education leaders must take an active role in assisting existing workers via re-skilling and up-skilling. Leadership must be supported by individual agency – the WEF calls on individuals to take a proactive approach to the same process and focus on lifelong learning.

At Davos, the OECD published Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings. This report is the result of a collaboration between the OECD and Education and Employers, a non-profit in the United Kingdom that focuses on connecting primary and secondary schools with employers and volunteers. The underlying call to action in this report asks education and business leaders to work in concert “to help broaden young people’s horizons, raise their aspirations, and provide them with the vital work-related knowledge and skills that will help them as they make the transition from school to work.”

The OECD report is structured around six themes, each of which is launched by compelling statistics, and concludes with essential questions:

  • GLOBALIZATION: How can education systems better prepare for the inflow of students from various backgrounds, socio-economic classes and cultures? Are our education and labor systems able to adequately recognize prior learning and qualifications?
  • ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY: How can education systems help young people develop a greater awareness of the connections between their daily decisions and possible long-term consequences, not just for themselves but for society as a whole? What kinds of jobs will a more environmentally sensitive economy need, and what is the best way to prepare students for them?
  • DIGITALIZATION: What are the media and digital literacy skills that citizens need to navigate through “digital” democracies? Is digital citizenship different from its traditional form?
  • THE 4TH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION:  Does education foster and value the creativity necessary to be innovative?
  • LIFELONG LEARNING: Should some form of lifelong learning be compulsory? Should lifelong learning be a right?
  • COLLABORATION AND CO-OPERATION: In a world in which most people will have to collaborate with people from different cultures, do education systems have an obligation to help young people learn how to appreciate a range of ideas and perspectives – some of which may be far from their own?

The data, projections and recommendations in Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings are coupled with insights from the Drawing the Future survey, which asked 20,000 students (ages 7-11) from around the world to draw a picture of the job they want to do when they grow up. The illustrations are supported by a series of questions (mostly drawn from UK respondents) that sought to determine youngsters’ understanding of the future of work.

It should come as no surprise that the survey results revealed a yawning gap between the world of work students can imagine today and what economic projections suggest will be the reality in the near future. Their misapprehensions are no different than those held by adolescents (Nothing in Common report) or adults. The authors tartly noted that there was “nothing in common” between career aspirations and projected labor market demands. That finding serves as an additional impetus for increased focus on work-embedded education, career technical education, internships, apprenticeships, and community service that is driven by economic data.

The OECD report concludes with an aspiration that is sure to generate a thousand discussions because it is so tightly bound to one of our greatest fears: “The future will be about pairing the artificial intelligence of computers with the cognitive, social and emotional capabilities of humans, so that we educate first-class humans, not second-class robots.”

For more, see:

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability — so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.


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Reggio Emilia: The Future of Learning Has Roots in the Past

Oftentimes, in an effort to embrace new ideas that seem to describe the future of learning, we forget to examine the countless examples and lessons learned from the past. As explained by authors David Tyack and Larry Cuban in their 1995 book Tinkering Toward Utopia, throughout history, education has experienced change that can be described as both incremental and cyclical. Movements and initiatives often cycle over time, and yet with each repetition, the underlying context has incrementally changed. For example, though recent international reports such as those from scholars at the World Economic Forum, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) have issued calls to action for education systems to develop students as lifelong learners, this trend can be traced back to the progressive thinkers of the early 20th century.

Similarly, numerous current initiatives focus on creating personalized learner experiences through modern trends such as high-quality project-based learning (HQPBL) and design thinking. However, this pursuit to deliver learning that fuels each whole child has its roots in the Reggio Emilia Approach that Loris Malaguzzi first envisioned in the 1940s.

The Beginning

After World War II, parents in the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia sold a war tank, three trucks, and six horses left by the Germans to finance the development of a new type of school. The community viewed education as a critical component of their economy as well as society. Therefore, with the support of the children’s parents as well as the city’s residents, Malaguzzi designed what has become known as the Reggio Emilia Approach to education. Today, not only does the city continue to finance and manage dozens of schools founded on these ideals, but the Reggio Emilia Approach has expanded globally and been hailed by education scholars as one of the most innovative learning systems in the world.

This approach revolved around three key tenets:

  • A student-centered environment
  • A Constructivist philosophy
  • Experiential, project-based learning

Students at the Center

At the heart of the Reggio Emilia Approach lies the belief that all children can be creative, curious, competent learners who, as Valerie Hewett explains, possess “an innate desire to discover, learn, and make sense of the world.”  In traditional schools, students take a more passive stance to learning and wait to be directed or taught by the teacher. On the contrary, in Reggio schools, learning is viewed as a process of self-discovery that children can and must control.

Two years ago, the early learning program and space at Singapore American School received a Reggio-inspired transformation and it has proven successful and popular.

Instead of following prescribed curriculum or using standard texts, teachers in Reggio schools observe the musings, interests, passions, and curiosities of their students and then provide experiences, materials, and questions to support their acquisition of new knowledge. In this context, learning does not consist of isolated facts or skills pre-determined by the teacher. Rather, it is a deeply personal exploration that values higher-level thinking.

Active Construction of Understanding

The pedagogical philosophy underlying the Reggio Emilia approach has its roots in the thinking of constructivist scholars such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky. From this perspective, rather than disseminate content or plan standard lessons, teachers mentor and encourage students as well as co-learn alongside them. Ultimately, constructivist teachers focus on creating the environmental conditions that allow students to best learn for themselves.

Driven by Dewey’s theory that students are natural researchers, Reggio teachers take great pains to curate objects, artifacts, and experiences that inspire inquiry. This idea connects to Piaget’s notion that a child’s interactions and investigations within their physical surroundings ultimately allows them to make sense of the world and construct meaningful understandings. However, the Reggio Emilia Approach combines Dewey’s emphasis on the student as researcher and Piaget’s definition of learning as active construction of meaning with Vygotsky’s theory of learning as an inherently social process. As described by Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, collaboration with adults and more knowledgeable peers allows students to develop and learn in ways that may not be possible if left to work independently. This philosophy mirrors the mission of the original Reggio Emilia school that viewed itself as a critical component of the broader community. As such, the social interactions between students and their peers, teachers, and parents play a critical role in their education.

The Reggio Emilia Approach in Practice

These core beliefs of student-centered, constructivist learning manifest in the completion of long-term, real-world projects. As teachers observe and cultivate student passion and curiosity, they encourage children to complete projects that allow them to discover new knowledge, interests, topics, and ideas. Fueled by student interest and passion, these projects serve as a catalyst for academic and social exploration. Further, given Reggio’s strong emphasis on community involvement, projects often transcend traditional learning “walls” allowing students to consider the entire world as their classroom.

Finally, the Reggio Emilia Approach values what Malaguzzi referred to as the 100 languages. He recognized that students should have agency, not only in what they learn but also in how they demonstrate their understanding. Rather than limit students to single forms of expression, Malaguzzi believed that they should be encouraged to share their learning through art, dance, dialog or any other means make their thinking visible. These ideas may sound familiar in today’s education world, so it came as no surprise that the future of learning clearly has its roots in the past.

For more, see:

Dr. Beth Holland is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Rhode Island and the Digital Equity Project Director for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). Connect with her on Twitter at .


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