T³ Alliance: Developing “Solutionary” Mindsets

Remember being asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  It was an oft used question that adults would politely ask children. Recently these responses may have grown to include media influenced answers, such as a professional athlete, musician, or maybe a gamer or a YouTube Channel Creator. Instead, as Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google, has offered, we should probably be asking learners, “What problems do you want to solve?”

Never underestimate what types of problems children can solve. Examples abound. Modern Blanket Toss is one. Modern Blanket Toss, a concluded National Science Foundation grant brought Upward Bound students from Hawaii and Alaska to use design thinking to collect scientific data about climate change and the impacts to the environment. To gather the scientific data to submit to NASA, students learned to use probes and build needed technology, such as quadcopters. These were hand built and therefore able to be maintained in remote locations. This summer learning experience brought students from across the Pacific Ocean together to grow their understanding of each other, themselves and their budding agency. This led to several students becoming informed advocates for their communities.

The Teaching Through Technology Alliance (T3) was formed to increase STEM interest in high school students. Imagine the empowerment of this approach: inexpensive, handmade computers and devices, often supported with pieces and attachments or casings printed by a 3D printer in the hands of not just students but whole communities after a natural disaster or a devastating event such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Recently I visited Puerto Rico in a trip sponsored by the T3 Alliance. T3 organized a purposeful structure around community learning and community problem solving for adults that work with underserved youth from EPSCoR States. This group typically sponsors training for Upward Bound students, however, this trip was designed for the adults who work with similar young learners.

Think of it as mindset meets design thinking. It doesn’t stop there. Add in some project-based learning with community problem-solving. Soon you have long-term collaborations tapping into the broad knowledge base of young people, families and community partners. These diverse participants come together to solve real issues identified in a week’s training, and then can follow up throughout a designated period of time. T3 involves a group of educators who have been working together for almost a decade on similar learning projects. The members span from young learners, parents, educators, business leaders, university and district administrators and reside in states across America, from Hawaii to Puerto Rico. Each member of the T3 Alliance brings their talent and passion to the overall project.  

Through growth mindset practices and design thinking, T3 Alliance invited Upward Bound directors, trainers and teachers, professors and community organizers to experience what they typically bring to student learners. This group could be renamed, How to Hack Project Based Learning in One Week. After reviewing applicable mindset practices of self-talk and changing approaches to learning, participants build a computer, using a $35 Raspberry Pi.

Once the computer is assembled, participants begin to program their new computer using Raspberry Pi and sensors. Participants then learn how to add inexpensive and replaceable sensors to gather environmental data. They learn to do basic visual programming and how to hook up to other affordable hardware, such as 3D printers and autonomous vehicles (land, sea, air). This learning sets the scene for problem-solving to come. With a hand-built data cruncher at their fingertips, they begin to partner up and dig into an issue. The problem can be personal or community focused and after completing a design thinking session, they come up with action plans.

T3 Alliance and Upward Bound educators build a computer.

In a few short days, participants walk away with an enhanced toolkit and access to the T3 Alliance online forum for the “we can and we will” mentality of problem-solving to use with their high school and college students. They leave as Solutionaries. These small solutions will lead to members coming together to solve bigger problems. In Puerto Rico, there were no shortages of things to address after Hurricane Maria. This need is also evident in remote areas of Hawaii and Alaska, and could also be the case in urban areas, farming communities, or seasonal locations.  When these approaches are incorporated and community members are brought together, a powerfully transforming experience can occur.

What is starting to emerge from Puerto Rico is a larger story of system thinking and artificial intelligence in the hands of communities rebuilding. The ability to help yourself and one another can provide some level of emotional support in times of crisis. A common purpose can change the trajectory of a learner as well as a community.

Through organized collaboration between Upward Bound programs across the nation, directors are able to utilize resources and help one another solve problems. T3 is providing support through design thinking protocols and the creation of hardware and software that is affordable to everyone. This emphasizes the use of technology as a tool in the design process and not as a driverA tool to check air quality outside your home or by a playground, a tool to check wind velocity and projected impact, a tool to detect motion for detecting oncoming disasters for early warning and quick responses.

Solutionary is not a word, yet. T3 is working to build a Solutionary Mindset. I would not be surprised if it grows into a movement.

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What if the Future of Work Starts with High School

By: Heather E. McGowan

Nearly 100% of the jobs created during the economic recovery went to workers with postsecondary education training. That training really begins in high school. The work of the future will require a robust system of lifelong learning and high school may just be the fulcrum in that system, best positioned to make the necessary profound changes across the system.

Today

Right now, the university degree is the new high school diploma. It is the best proxy we have, but it remains insufficient. Four out of five CEOs say that skills gaps in creativity and problem solving make hiring difficult and nearly half of job tasks may be lost to automation within the next two decades. While we have substantial technical skills gaps we also have a profound shortage of non-technical, uniquely human skills such as empathy, social intelligence, creativity, communication and judgment among others. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce predicted that without changes to our postsecondary education system immediately, our economy will be short 5 million workers  by 2020. This is not new information but our responses to these challenges are insufficient. Merely pushing more people on the existing factory pipeline through higher education is not working. Nor are efforts to retrain those displaced in short-term skill acquisition boot camps. We need to start thinking differently.

Enter The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The first industrial revolution was steam, the second was electrification and mass production, and the third was the advent of computerized technologies and with it the automation of physical labor such as manufacturing. The fourth industrial revolution will be marked by many advances in many forms of technology but most notably the automation of cognitive labor. Anything mentally routine or predictable, no matter how cognitively intense, can and will be achieved by some form of technology. As a result, we need to think differently about what work humans best address and how we prepare them for that work.

The End of The Occupation Identity

We ask young children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and we ask university students to select their major prior to any higher education exploration or experiences. This line of questioning asks the individual to pick an aspirational future self-based upon existing careers and to work towards realizing that static vision. Becoming that future self is a process of acquiring codified existing skills and knowledge. This worked in the past when occupations had so much durability that they spanned multiple generations and served as the basis of our surnames. According to research by the Foundation For Young Australians,in the developed world, today’s young people may have upwards of 17 jobs across five different industries in a single generation. Many of those jobs do not yet exist and those that do will be rapidly and radically reshaped by technology. We need to think differently about how we define ourselves beyond a one-time application of skills and knowledge in a single set career.

New Work Mindset: Learning Agility and Agency

If the future of work includes 15 or more jobs per person—we must rethink how we define ourselves. This will require a shift from a set identity bestowed by external validation (degree, job title, company affiliation) and focused around the application of skills and knowledge at a moment in time to an identity formed from internal validation rooted in purpose, passion, uniquely human skills, and fundamental literacies. This new work mindset will require a heightened level of self -awareness about one’s ability and methods for learning, adaptation, and value creation. This is a shift from learning to do to learning in order to continuously learn and adapt. This is a shift from storing stocks of knowledge to working inflows of emerging knowledge with a trans-disciplinary mindset of human and technology collaboration. This is analogous to learning to master a single instrument versus learning to conduct an orchestra.

In order to learn and adapt for life, one must have agency. Marina Gorbis from the Institute for the Future declared, “Once we close the digital divide, we will need to bridge the motivational divide.” Motivation starts with understanding one’s purpose and passion. As work will change at a frenetic pace, we need to think less about an existing role we will fill and more about directing our unique abilities towards emerging challenges to create new value.

High School As The Fulcrum To Impactful Change

Previously considered too late for intervention, new evidence from neurological science, as noted in Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, now suggests critical brain development occurs during the adolescent years. Further, while identity development occurs throughout one’s lifetime, Age of Opportunity author Laurence Steinberg notes that adolescence is the first time that individuals contemplate how our identity may affect our lives. As the future of work requires an internally validated identity born of self-awareness and coupled with learning agility and adaptability, this all points to re-imaging high school.

Some Promising Examples on Re-imaging High School.

Many have approached the challenge of rethinking high school and the imperative to do so continues to grow. There are a number of efforts now underway that look promising because they are not simply about what is taught but how. These efforts put the student at the center with the responsibility for his or her own learning.

In 2014, Salman Khan of the Khan Academy launched the experimental Khan Lab School(K-12) where students are organized by their executive function rather than their age. They move through competencies rather than seat time or tests, each student is responsible to teach as well as learn to reinforce their capabilities, and each student has a passion project in addition to their core competencies and teaching responsibilities. I visited this one-room schoolhouse for the 21st century a year ago and I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm in the engaged students who were clearly in control of their own learning.

In 2015, XQ Institute launched XQ: The Super School Challenge. In the words of cofounder Russlynn Ali, “In the last 100 years we have gone from the typewriter to the touch screen and from the silent movie to virtual and augmented reality yet our high schools remain frozen in time. When we reviewed the considerable research that supports the potential impact of reimagining high school we put forth the challenge.” The challenge inspired students, teachers and other interested people from 4,000 communities to get involved, and XQ eventually received more than 700 proposals for new or redesigned high schools—leading XQ to make a funded series of seed investments in 10 (now 19) different types of innovative public high schools. (A full list of the schools can be found here.) Despite their differences, all 19 schools are grounded in common, research-based design principles for effective high schools—including a broader vision for student success that’s expressed by a holistic set of learner goals. The XQ Learner Goals include Foundational Knowledge, to place information in proper context; Fundamental Literacies, including digital and computational proficiencies, to navigate this complex new world; Generous Collaborators, to work in cross-cultural and trans-disciplinary teams; and Original Thinkers to create new value while serving our world’s most pressing challenges, cognizant that all students must become Learners For Life.

XQ’s mission is to fuel America’s collective creativity to transform high school so every student succeeds—no matter their race, gender or zip code. This past year XQ released High School and the Future of Work: A Guide for State Policymakers, a new guide to offer perspectives to state-level policy leaders both how to transform high schools and why it is essential for a changing workforce. In full disclosure, I provide a paid keynote at the XQ Annual Symposium last summer.

In Ohio, another interesting experiment is underway at the PAST Foundation. The PAST Foundation takes a different approach by being a place for experimentation outside the structure of the school system. Founder Annalies Corbin describes the PAST Innovation Lab, which opened in 2016, “We opened the lab, an education R&D prototyping facility so that we could specifically test the boundaries of the work/school interface. By fully embedding teaching and learning in industry R&D, startup and launch we saw exponential growth in students grasp of what is possible. Thus far, we have found when no longer constrained by the limits of traditional high school, students in the PAST lab excelled — they found the connections between industries and application, and they are able to contribute to solving real-world challenges in real time as fully active members of design teams — our kids are only constrained by the limits of their own knowledge, which grows daily.” Annalies recently launched a podcast called Learning Unboxed to facilitate discussions on the future of work and rethinking education.

In the early 1900s, in order to create a workforce for the second industrial revolution, a “high school movement” was launched that transformed high school education from merely a preparation for the rare few who attended college or university to a necessary foundational education for all. This was recognized as our first wave of education. With the third industrial revolution, a second wave from 1960-1990 when we doubled the number of higher education institutions in the United States in response to the rising demand for skilled talent. Many consider what we need now is the third wave of education. Whatever we decide to call it,  to thrive in this fourth industrial revolution, where technology can assume many of our routine cognitive tasks, we need a robust system of life-long learning that begins with a reimagined high school to establish a strong foundation of learning agility and adaptability. If you know of other experiments taking place to rethink high school, please tweet and share links to those efforts.

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Heather E. McGowan is a Future of Work Strategist and Keynote Speaker. More information about her work can be found at www.heathermcgowan.com, www.futureislearning.com and on Twitter at @heathermcgowan.

This blog was originally published on Forbes. 


Bio-Politics and The Implications of Ideology on Learning

Like much of America, I’m riveted and often revolted by the partisan divide in our country.

For the last two years, I’ve been engaged in a quest for understanding, reading dozens of books and hundreds of articles in an attempt to understand the processes that create diehard liberals and conservatives. Recent forays into the literature have focused on a field called bio-politics, which illuminates the psychological differences between our two political tribes.

There is a connection between this passion project and my usual work in education. I firmly believe the understandings emerging from bio-politics have tremendous implications for how we teach our children.

In brief, biopolitics is a concept based on a range of studies that have found there is a biological basis to political orientation. These studies indicate that the dominant ideology a person identifies with effects their ability to perform certain tasks. In addition, research indicates that a person’s risk tolerance is in part shaped by biology. That too feeds into ideology.

It takes only a short leap to cross disciplines and realize these findings should impact teachers who are seeking to personalize learning or implement Project-Based Learning (PBL) and other inquiry models. Open-ended discussions, student agency, public presentations, iteration, discovery learning, the questioning of authority, etc., can create tremendous anxiety for a significant population of learners. Those of us in the field often hear of student resistance to PBL but we never identify the source, only the symptoms. Bio-politics may provide insight.

Recent research points at significant differences in the cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives. In a piece called Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition, John Jost and his co-authors state that conservatives respond to threatening situations with more aggression than their liberal counterparts. The authors suggest as well that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty.

According to researcher David Amodio and his team, an array of behavioral studies demonstrate that “conservatives have been found to be more structured and persistent in their judgments and approaches to decision-making, as indicated by higher average scores on psychological measures of personal needs for order, structure, and closure. Liberals, by contrast, report higher tolerance of ambiguity and complexity, and greater openness to new experiences on psychological measures.”

Another line of research has examined personality differences in liberals (empathetic, compassionate, open to new experiences) and conservatives (concerned with order and preserving the existing social structure.)

To be clear, research is not suggesting that opinions on specific political issues are written in a person’s genes. Rather, our genes nudge us to respond cautiously or openly to social experiences. Learning would have primacy among those social experiences.

In a fascinating discussion called Nature, Nurture, and Your Politics, political scientist John Hibbing shared his thoughts with reporter Shankar Vedantam on how our political views are influenced by biology. I am astonished by the instructional implications of this exchange:

Vedantam: The patterns that John and others have identified are more than just curious. These patterns suggest that our model of political differences is wrong in an important way. Liberals and conservatives don’t just have different political preferences. They have different temperaments. Conservatives don’t just care about lower taxes. They also care about whether poetry rhymes.

Hibbing: That’s right. Should poetry rhyme? We also ask you know, are you more comfortable with novels that end with a clear resolution, those kinds of things. And, you know, you can start to see a pattern already, I think, in our discussion, that it is the case that liberals are more likely to say, sure, I’m OK with free verse, whereas conservatives say, no, you know, we really think there should be a pattern. Music should come back to a recognizable melody. Poetry should rhyme. And novels should – should wrap up in a way that we are comfortable with.

Lately, much has been made of the needs of introverts (see the book Quiet by Susan Cain) in the social learning space that envelops inquiry focused classrooms. There are other challenges for this style of pedagogy. If this new research around bio-bio-politics is accurate, teachers must be cognizant of the conservative brains in their classroom and not simply cater to learners with low levels of risk aversion and a lusty attraction to innovation.

This workaround bio-politics and its implications share some features of the coalition that has created the Learner Variability Project. In a report called “Learner Variability Is the “Rule, Not the Exception” author Barbara Pape states:  “Edging into the conversation now is the term “learner variability.” It is a recognition that all students differ, and learning sciences research shows that these differences matter for learning. In some cases, the term is tightly defined to mean any student struggling with a learning difference that rubs up against the expectations of the sameness of school.”

That “sameness of school” can describe a pervasive classroom culture or a focus on a dominant pedagogy such as PBL. According to PBLWorks, “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.”

That definition appeals to the liberal brain, as defined by biopolitics. Bio-political research should motivate instructional designers and teachers to create and implement scaffolds that allow conservative thinkers to be effective learners in a constructivist environment.  Otherwise, the political divide that separates our country will bisect our classrooms and impede effective learning.

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College Unbound Helps Working Adults Earn Fast Affordable Degrees

Jose Rodriguez (left above) grew up without many options. As a young man, he went to prison for attempted murder. After getting out he enrolled in a community college but was frustrated with his slow progress. After finding College Unbound, Jose earned an associate’s degree in six months. But Jose reoffended and went back to prison. Fortunately, there was a cohort of College Unbound in prison and he was able to continue making progress. Once released he graduated. Now 35, Jose is house manager at a shelter and provides students support for College Unbound. And, he’s working on a graduate degree.

Zulimar Vidal (right above) was a teen mom. She finished high school at night while taking community college classes. She worked in banking but her lack of a degree held her back. A move into the nonprofit sector was more rewarding for Zuli but her progress remained limited. At an open house for College Unbound, she learned she could earn college credit for projects she had done. With prior credits and credit for learning, Zuli was able to make rapid progress and will graduate in June.

Born in Lebanon, Joyce Aboutaan’s parents moved to the United States for a better life. Joyce initially did well in high school but left as an undocumented teen mother. After earning her GED, she enrolled at UMass (one of the few institutions that that would admit undocumented students) but she had to pay out of state tuition. With no access to aid, tuition bills mounted. She worked several jobs but she couldn’t keep up with the bills and lost her house to foreclosure. Joyce tried a technical college and a community college but wasn’t able to finish a degree. In 2014 she enrolled in College Unbound. She appreciated the one evening a week schedule and the supportive cohort. With all her prior credits and work experience, she was able to graduate in January 2016. Now she’s a project manager at CVS. Her son is a student at The Met and will graduate with an associate’s degree.

Unbound Backstory

With the radical proposition of teaching one student at a time, Dennis Littky and Elliott Washor formed Big Picture Learning. Their first school, The Metropolitan Regional Career And Technical Center (The Met) opened 25 years ago in Providence. Its success spurred the development of a global network of schools, but starting with student interest and constructing a pathway to success remains a radical proposition–in high school and especially in college.

Ten years ago, Littky posted an invitation on Facebook inviting college dropouts to a meeting. He had 78 people show up including a lot of single moms and folks working two jobs. With obvious need, Littky and Adam Bush launched College Unbound to extend the Met’s student-centered approach to help first-generation low-income working adults complete a college degree.

In his trademark kofia and colorful shoes, Littky looks more like an artist than a college president. His authentic style and genuine care quickly earn the trust of adults that faced numerous barriers and achieved limited educational success.

Dennis Littky, College Unbound.

With initial support from Lumina Foundation, the Nellie Mae Foundation, and Big Picture Learning, Littky initially enrolled learners in a local college. The original cohort graduated in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees. In 2014, College Unbound began granting credit through Charter Oak State College, an online college that has been serving adult learners for over 40 years.

Rhode Island approved College Unbound as a degree-granting postsecondary institution in 2015. The following year, College Unbound enrolled its initial cohort independent of a partner university. In 2019, College Unbound was granted candidacy status by the regional accrediting agency NECHE.

Last month the federal government made College Unbound students Pell eligible. This will allow College Unbound to scale and many students to graduate debt free.

Most of the adults College Unbound serves, like Jose, Zuli and Joyce, have attempted college but were unable to finish due to competing family and work demands. Some learners have started and stopped eight times.

Students learn in a small supportive cohort. Some of them work together at the same employer like United Way of Rhode Island. About 80 incarcerated adults are working through a 15-credit curriculum. After leaving prison, a gateway course helps them adjust and immediately enter College Unbound.

College Unbound offers courses, field studies, and project work to help students develop career-ready skills. Learning experiences build 10 competencies: intercultural engagement, critical thinking, communication (written, oral, and visual), problem-solving, accountability, collaboration, creativity, reflection, resilience, and advocacy.

Why College Unbound Works for Working Adults

1. Not alone. College Unbound learners belong to a 15-person cohort with an evening faculty meeting once a week. The cohort communicates all week through WhatsApp and becomes very supportive of each other.

2. Flexibility and support. Small cohorts and personal relationships give college staff a good sense of the kind of support needed from housing to tutoring to mental health services. When a student wants to quit (as many do at some point), peers and staff find ways to meet needs and build persistence.

3. Little amenities matter. College Unbound takes away the excuses for skipping class through supports like serving dinner or babysitting children.

4. Credit for prior learning. College Unbound respects the students past and present experience outside of school. There is a process working with Council for Adults Experiential Learning (a Strada Education affiliate ) where students develop a portfolio of their work to match a course. Students can take a CLEP test from College Board to earn credit in 32 different subjects.

5. Full-time school for full-time workers. Carrying the equivalent of a full college load allows students to finish in a reasonable amount of time. By enabling rapid progress, assembling prior credits, and granting credit for prior learning, students graduate with a bachelor’s degree more quickly than through traditional degree programs.

6. It’s personal. Classes are built around projects of interest to each learner. The project of a student who has a child with Down syndrome creates information to help the public understand disabilities. A woman whose young child died is researching the disease that was responsible. A learner in the United Way cohort built a performance dashboard–and when she presented it, each department wanted their own.

A debt-free personalized college option with supportive cohorts is adding up to high completion rates for adults previously not likely to graduate. For the 37 million working adults in the U.S. with some college and no degree, College Unbound is a great option likely to become more widely available.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.


The Benefits of Creative Learning Spaces in K-12 schools

By: Brian Bulmer

As technology and innovation become the first priority for school districts, it’s important that students are offered creative learning spaces to expand and challenge their knowledge and ability to create. Technology can help students boost their concentration, retain information and encourage individualized learning programs. Students can also begin to advance their collaboration skills through online projects.

In the 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update, former U.S. Secretary of Education John King stated “one of the most important aspects of technology in education is its ability to level the field of opportunity for students.” With technology in tow, creative learning spaces help to expand students’ minds to imagination and freedom of expression. These unique, educational spaces breed continued motivation for students that allow children to fully engage in their schooling and become excited about learning. However, providing a creative learning space is more than just updating classroom technology, Learning Experience Designer Lynn Marentette explains a successful, creative learning space should include the following characteristics:

  • Flexible space that can be easily adjusted to meet support the learning activities
  • Allow for movement
  • Allow for various groupings
  • Allow for hands-on exploring, making, and building
  • Allow for curriculum integration, including the arts
  • Support social interaction and development
  • Support cognitive skills and development
  • Support the integration of technology
  • Provide opportunities for students to learn through examples

So, with the right aesthetics, a creative learning space cannot only impact brain function but positively influence how students feel at school and cultivate an environment that will support students’ success.

Top technology Tools for Students to Think Critically

Creative learning spaces house advanced technology such as interactive Promethean boards, 3D printers, audio/visual production, a computer programming lab and more technologies that help students develop better computer, problem-solving and design thinking skills.

With new technology, students can grow in a multitude of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) classes. In fact, the STEAM framework itself has proved to be a critical component to elementary education that better prepares students’ for future careers, especially since the United States is expecting to see more than 3 million job openings in the STEM-related fields in 2018.

These spaces also give young learners the opportunity to research and participate in classes related to computer science, robotics, physics and more with easier access to the latest technology – all in one location.

Technology used in the field of education allows more hands-on learning that presents the opportunity to explain topics that are too difficult to detail verbally to a student. From elementary to high school, all grades are able to leverage and benefit from these spaces whether for class-driven instruction, group-based assignments or individual learning.

Collaboration Centers

Collaboration is crucial in all aspects of the education system. Teacher, parent, administration and student collaboration are the key to success. Group projects in an open space such as a collaboration center allow students to improve their social and interpersonal skills with their peers. Working well with a team and communicating effectively are all abilities collaborating students will acquire.

Collaboration centers maximize the educational experience. K-12 students can convene in the collaboration center and improve upon their communication skills. Each grade will be given the tools to think critically in this ever-changing educational environment. Attaining these skills early in life will lead to a greater amount of success when they begin to enter the workforce. In fact, the ability to collaborate with others has become one of the most sought-after skills in both education and the workplace. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that more than 80 percent of midsize or larger employers look for collaboration skills in new hires.

Involving Industry Partners

In alignment with the school district’s curriculum, creative learning spaces can also offer students unique opportunities to work with local industry partners one-on-one to gain knowledge and experience that correlates with the student’s desired career pathway. The innovative space opens the door to industry-based learning opportunities that will serve as a liaison space between school and industry, giving students direct access to industry experts who can help evolve their critical thinking with real-world experiences While students may learn some employability and technical skills in the classroom, many can benefit from an employer’s first-hand insight before they enter the workforce.

Involving the community and partners in the community can provide invaluable experience to students, and encourages young learners to continue their studies outside of the classroom. Additionally, these experiences can also introduce students to alternative post-graduation paths, including coding academies, direct hire programs and more that better align with the student’s desired future journey.

Curriculum standards have been raised and now reflect what young learners must know as they become adults in an increasingly complex and technological society. Today, in the 21st century, the aesthetics of learning spaces greatly impact brain function and influence how students feel when they’re in school – as well as how they perform. By offering innovative, engaging and collaborative learning spaces, school districts and educators are improving and expanding critical hard and soft skill sets amongst students while better positioning students for future success in any endeavor they choose to pursue.

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Brian Bulmer is the director of the Innovation Hub and work-based learning at MSD of Decatur Township. You can find Brian on Twitter at @Mr_BrianBulmer.


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5 Classroom Strategies to Support Multimodal Learning

On the first day of school, I’m sure students were expecting the usual “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves” spill. Instead, they entered the classroom only to see red cups face down on each of their desks. I asked, “Has anyone ever heard of the cup song from the movie, Pitch Perfect?” Some giggled, some shyly raised their hands, and others stared at me in utter confusion. Nevertheless, I proceeded in showing them the clip from the movie. Following, I showed them a cup song practice video, and when the practice video ended, I said, “Okay, now you do it!”  Needless to say, the students reacted in the same way as the initial question with giggles and stares, except for a few who actually attempted. The purpose of the cup song activity was to introduce a conversation about student learning styles and how individualized they can be. Some students enjoyed the hands-on activity, while others would have preferred an oral or written introduction activity.

Knowing your students’ learning styles is important to understand how they process and retain information, as well as to provide them with personalized learning and instruction. Teach.com discusses how all students are created equally, but differently, and how “It is important for educators to understand the differences in their students’ learning styles so that they can implement best practice strategies into their daily activities, curriculum and assessments.” To gain a better understanding of my students’ learning styles, I later had them complete the VARK questionnaire, which is a short survey about visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic learning. The results of the questionnaire showed that many students had a combination of the learning styles above. Because of their multiple learning styles, I needed to find creative strategies to incorporate in instruction that would support this multimodal learning environment.

Supporting multimodal learning is also beneficial for teachers to understand how students learn best by implementing strategies in instruction that cater to multiple learning styles. The Gordon Kelley Academic Success Center suggests that “If the student does have multiple learning styles (multimodal), the advantages gained through multiple learning strategies include the ability to learn more quickly and at a deeper level so that recall at a later date will be more successful.” The Center also discusses how “Combining learning modes can also result in a more balanced approach to studying and learning which leads to greater understanding, comprehension, and retention.” Although there is no limit to the learning strategies you can implement in the classroom, I explored five that have shown themselves to be successful in supporting a multimodal learning environment. Each of the strategies below present a different way to personalize instruction and address students’ multiple learning styles within the classroom.

The Perspective Hub– This activity is good for whole-group discussion and active listening. Using tape, you will need to create a circle on the floor and section the circle off in wedges. Label the wedges according to your lesson and/or lesson objective(s). For example, during our Novel Study Unit, I created labels for the wedges based on the following themes from our reading, The Pearl by John Steinbeck: Family, Wealth, Gender, and Good vs. Evil. Students stood in the wedges based on the following questions: 1) Which theme is most apparent to you from the story? Describe its impact on the plot; 2) Which theme can you make a connection to?; and 3) Which theme would you like to explore more within the story? Students moved to the wedges that resonated with them the most and discussed their reasoning whole-group style. Additionally, the perspective hub can also be used to assess student learning in real-time. Display questions on the board that align with the lesson objective(s) and label the wedges according to levels of mastery (ex: Beginning, Progressing, Mastered). You have the ability to tailor the perspective hub according to your content area and student needs. No matter how you shape it, the goal of the perspective hub is to get students out of their desks and moving and allow them to hear and share fresh ideas with their peers, which is ideal for the kinesthetic and auditory learner.

Gallery Walks– Gallery walks are also good for movement and discussion. They serve as visuals that can be used for any subject. Artifacts within the galleries can be teacher or student crafted, depending on the lesson. For example, they can be used as anticipation guides for language arts, and as displays for algebraic problems for math, historical images to draw inferences from for social studies, or parts of an animal or plant cell to identify for science. To best support visual learners, provide them with a graphic organizer to take notes as they tour from image to image.

Technology– Many students enjoy the use of technology. There are countless online tools that support multimodal learning that students can access using either laptops/Chromebooks or their cellphones. To name a few, there are sites such as, Kahoot, Quizizz, Nearpod, CommonLit, and Quizlet that are beneficial for review games and other assessment purposes. Many of these tools allow you to include audio and video features, which supports those who learn best by hearing things. For different assignments and/or presentations, have students utilize online tools like Google Slides/Docs, instead of completing them on a sheet of paper.

Illustration- Sometimes drawing it out is the best way to paint the full picture of one’s learning. For those who teach language arts, allow students to create comic strips using a graphic organizer, in which they can retell key components of a story in art form. Storyboard That is a digital storytelling platform that students can use to create comic strips, as well. This activity is beneficial to visual and kinesthetic learners, especially as they can include color and design their comic strips according to their memory of the lesson. Illustration allows students to really show their creative side simultaneously as they display their learning.

Act-it-out– Role playing is a great activity for movement for the kinesthetic learner. Cindy Phillips of Kinesthetic Classroom Strategies gives an example of how to implement role-playing, stating, “Lesson plans that are made up of several different parts can be staged throughout the classroom. Students can move from stage to stage, digesting each portion individually.” Cindy also encourages the use of props during this role-playing activity, as well. Acting it out gives students the opportunity to move and share learned knowledge based on the instruction.

We set the climate for our classrooms. How our students learn best contributes to how we plan and deliver instruction, which contributes to student engagement and success. The strategies that we implement should not only cater to our students’ learning styles, but they should also help our students get to a place where they can take ownership of their learning and possibly create learning strategies and activities of their own.

If you want to discover how your students learn best, find out according to your learning style. Create a Padlet and have students share their creative ideas about different ways to help them learn. Design a gallery walk with images of different activities for them to choose from. Or, you could simply ask and engage in whole group discussion. No matter what method you choose, learn from them as they learn from you and continue creating a positive culture of learning.

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6 Hallmarks to Building Data Culture

What does data culture look like in schools? Like the phrase suggests, data-driven processes and decisions are based on the analysis and interpretation of data, rather than intuition or anecdotal evidence. A rich data culture, as one Education Partners article describes it, is one that values “the influence data has on improving teacher instruction, student learning and the overall environment,” therefore, positively impacting the overall growth and success of a school or district.

To be data-driven takes intention and commitment. Curriculum Associates (CA), the fastest growing edtech company in the country, has partnered with Sarasota County Schools and is a key asset to the strong data culture and success of the district overall. CA programs, such as i-Ready®, provide educators and administrators with data-rich assessments and instructional resources. Sarasota is a successful demonstration of a data-informed district that measures progress in real-time and responds by tailoring instruction to the needs of its students.

Data Culture in Sarasota County Schools

AP1, AP2, AP3 stands for assessment period and corresponds to each administration of i-Ready Diagnostic.

Sarasota County School District is located in an urban metropolitan area in Western Florida. Comprised of 53 schools, Sarasota is a high-performing district, earning an A rating from the state for the past fifteen years and relies on data as a driver to sustaining its high-performance culture. Through the use of data-driven tools like real-time dashboards reflecting student performance indicators (see below) and CA’s i-Ready Diagnostic, Sarasota also uses data to keep their focus on closing achievement gaps.

The Six Hallmarks of Strong Data Culture

Recently, leaders from Sarasota Schools and representatives from Curriculum Associates shared the following hallmarks:

1. Be transparent. A key to acting transparently is to develop a cultural belief that data belongs to everyone in the community. One major way that Sarasota Schools practice transparency is by using four dashboards to track academic progress, acceleration, attendance, and district grades on the school website. The district believes that making real-time data visible allows for conversations about how to increase performance and close achievement gaps.

2. Involve all stakeholders in striving for growth. To track growth, Sue Meckler, Director of Middle School Education, shares that Laurel Nokomis, the only K-8 school in the county, uses CA’s i-Ready diagnostic tests three times per year and gets teachers, students, families, and the community invested in the process through encouragement, communication, and celebration of school-wide and grade-level goals that focus on growth. Heather Wasserman, Assistant Principal at Laurel Nokomis, says that teachers use the diagnostic data to inform instruction in math and reading and are able to monitor students’ progress towards i-Ready’s “Typical” and “Stretch” growth measures, noting that when students reach their goals, “The motivation to succeed is contagious.”

3. Schedule time for regular data use. When teachers are intentional in making time for regular data use, they make better use of their instructional minutes with students. Regular data use includes assessment administration, data analysis, progress and growth monitoring, and instructional practices adjustments.

In Sarasota, teachers meet weekly in a “PLC” (Professional Learning Community) to review student data and standards and use that information to develop lessons and work towards differentiated instruction. The schools work together to understand data, drive instruction, and maximize progress. Meckler touches on the importance of administrators across the district working as a team and meeting regularly when she states, “Every meeting that we have has a portion set aside for conversations about data. If we don’t talk about data, we are doing a disservice to our students.”

4. Take an intentional, structured approach to differentiation and remediation. Differentiation and remediation are structured by determining which students need additional support or practice, and which students are ready for enrichment. In Sarasota, teachers access i-Ready’s Instructional Groupings report to identify which students have similar skill deficits across four content domains in math and six content domains in reading. The report includes a comprehensive collection of tactical ideas, lesson plans, and print-and-use resources for addressing each deficit.

5. Infuse a data-driven mindset into school practices. Regarding the development of data-driven mindsets, Meckler and Wasserman note the importance of making sure teachers understand why they are collecting data and use it for purposeful and intentional lesson planning. Meckler states, “It is part of our [Sarasota] district culture. Everyone is accountable for knowing their data, knowing how to monitor that data, and having those systems in place to support teachers, which ultimately supports students’ improvement and achievement.”

Another big piece to strong data culture is getting student buy-in when it comes to knowing and tracking their data. To celebrate standout results, the district’s Success Squad regularly interrupts classes with lively, themed awards ceremonies, complete with pizza, pom poms, and photo booths.

6. Provide support and professional development. With the use of data, support, and PD, resources can be targeted to address areas of real need. Sarasota values professional development that is just as differentiated as their classroom instructional practices. The culture is such that everyone is responsible for participating in professional development, knows how to navigate various systems and dashboards, and understands how to use the data.

Wasserman concludes, “You need to know your data as an administrator. You need to know how to support your teachers and find the time to do that. We are moving in the right direction, and the professional development is key.”

Finally, Meckler has this to say on the relationship with CA: “Curriculum Associates has been a wonderful PD partner. They provide tools for us to use with our teachers that are very teacher friendly and make using data a doable task.”

In the three years since they began use of i-Ready, Laurel Nokomis and the other Sarasota schools have grown adept at using these six data culture hallmarks to increase the efficacy of their teaching and leading.

How visible is your commitment to data?

Visit i-Ready.com/Empower to see how i-Ready helps to get everyone tuned into and working with data to target instruction and track growth.

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Creativity: The Secret to Success in the Trades

By: Dave Curry

Jazzy, one of our high school seniors, already has experience building homes for others. After taking specialized construction and carpentry classes through Milton Hershey School’s Career and Technical Education program, she learned how to install flooring and doors, sand and paint drywall, and adjust electrical and plumbing systems.

For students like Jazzy, gaining experience in the trades can lead to future success. According to The Bureau of Labor and Statistics, construction careers, along with healthcare and personal care, will account for more than 5.3 million new jobs by 2022.

While the trade industry’s growing demand is encouraging for students who don’t plan to attend college, many students choose to pursue careers in the trades based on their interest in designing, producing, problem-solving and creating.

While some people may not think the trades promote creativity, that would be suggesting there is only one way to do things. Promoting creativity throughout career and technical education allows students to learn a broad array of skills apart from individual projects.

When students have the freedom to apply their creative instincts throughout technical tasks and projects, they develop highly coveted 21st-century employability skills—including efficiency and resourcefulness, collaboration, and the ability to consider the consumer.

Take a look at how students benefit from creativity in the trades.

Students Learn There are Multiple Ways to Accomplish Tasks

Creating open-ended assignments is important for all subject areas, including the trades.

There are a lot of ways to complete jobs and tasks across all trade industries, especially in 2019. The more of those techniques a student knows, the more innovative and efficient they will be in the future workforce.

In MHS construction and carpentry classes, high school freshmen are required to create a catapult or trebuchet. Instead of giving them an exact process to follow, students must research, design, sketch, construct, and then test their own designs. After seeing the wide range of differences across each design, students realize how much creativity and critical thinking goes into the construction process.

In automotive technology classes, students also learn to think beyond industry standards. This school year, they have been learning how to use solar energy to charge batteries—a creative idea that could transform how they think about vehicle maintenance.

When students realize there’s more than one way to complete a project, it can lead to innovation and ingenuity.

Students Learn to Think About Their Consumer

Creativity, combined with knowledge, can help students find inventive ways to meet consumers’ needs. For example, in our automotive shop, students learn how to take ordinary car engines and customize them in a way that benefits consumers—making their skillset more marketable, and ultimately, more lucrative.

The design thinking process requires students to work with an end user in mind and often involves the input of both the customer and the peers who are working with them. This collaboration and gathering of information are qualities that are necessary and highly coveted in the workplace, regardless of the industry they pursue.

For culinary arts students, they must consider their end user and apply their creativity when designing, prototyping, and producing menus for specific catering events across campus.

In carpentry classes, students must use empathy to understand consumers’ needs before designing and building storage containers. With creative designs such as a storage container for garden tools or a shoe storage chest with LED lights, students will put their products to the test and determine whether they successfully considered their consumers’ needs. The storage containers are then sold at Milton Hershey School’s Project Market (featured below), a student-run business that’s open to the public.

These types of creative lessons allow students to consider the human impact of their trade.

Students View Mistakes as Part of the Creative Process

Learning how to follow industry guidelines, while understanding when it’s appropriate to break away from the status quo, is key to success in any industry.

There are some directions that need to be followed precisely, which is an important part of hands-on learning. However, there should be no less of an emphasis on creativity. Encourage students to make mistakes so they can learn how to work through adversity as well.

Each fall, culinary students apply their creativity and problem-solving abilities when they explore fields of fruits and vegetables on campus and examine the harvest. If a certain crop has been affected by harsh weather, students must overcome this challenge by designing creative recipes and menus based around the produce available.

When trying a new tactic or idea in any field, creativity helps students troubleshoot a problem more effectively and recognize there are multiple solutions to the same problem.

Students Use Creativity to Lay the Groundwork for Long-Term Business Goals

Whether students are performing electrical work, masonry, plumbing or carpentry, adding their own unique style to the craft can help distinguish their abilities and prepare them for entrepreneurial success.

Creativity lends itself to more individuality on the design end if students in the trades want to start their own business or market their unique style of work in the future.

For example, in our construction and carpentry classes, students came up with the idea to salvage old barn wood and use their carpentry skills to construct an American flag from the wood.

When we encourage students to pursue their individual hobbies and interests within each trade, we’re fostering passionate, creative and inventive thinkers.

These are the thinkers, and future employees, who will know how to use their trade to positively impact consumers and humanity as a whole.

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Dave Curry is the Director of Career and Technical Education at the Milton Hershey School.


Learning Environments for the Future: 4 Tips from Randy Fielding

Wandering the north shore of Long Island as a boy, Randy loved being outside and building things. He wondered why teachers made him sit in rows and told him where to look and when to talk. That made the five-year-old think there might be a better way to learn.

It was the horror of watching aging but vital communities destroyed and suburban malls being erected that peaked Randy Fielding’s interest in architecture—that and an art class that sparked what became a public exhibition. Randy went on to found Fielding Nair International a global leader in designing learning communities. Having designed an innovative portfolio of schools, Fielding developed a set of big ideas about learning spaces. I recently sat down with Randy and recorded a podcast where you can also listen to his experiences and thoughts on learning environments.

Inclusive Listening. Design principle number one for Fielding is listening to the people who will use the spaces and connecting to place and community. An effective discovery and visioning process include walking and talking with students and teachers.

As an example, Randy points to an engagement that exhibited that user-driven commitment, the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul. He shared his own creative work with students and then asked what was important to them. The answer was hip-hop and they handed him a series of CDs that they had recorded. While designing their space, Randy listened to their music and dubbed the school Hip-hop Hi. It’s a project-based high school that operates within and around a professional recording studio.

Vistas. Eyes and brains need a periodic change of scenery, a change in focal length of at least 50 feet away. For the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Alberta, Fielding framed a view of the foothills from most of the learning spaces (see video).

Learning Communities. Many teams describe the desire to learn in community. Fielding Nair designs flexible spaces that often include 3-5 teachers and about 100 students. Collaborative learning environments include large and small spaces, small “nest-like” spaces, and active, wet and messy lab-like spaces with a variety of seating options.

Pilots. To help communities experience these new spaces, Fielding Nair often helps clients develop pilot learning communities, achieved through low-cost renovations, modeling the new learning environment.

One example is the Pathfinder Spaces at the Singapore American School—the best facilities action research project we’ve seen because it both illustrates and investigates the future state. It’s not just about facilities and furniture, it allows teachers to test new learning models and collaboration strategies.

Fielding said for projects that make take a few years to gain approval and a few more to be built, Pathfinder Spaces help bridge leadership transitions and build the case for change.

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The Pursuit of Happiness is a Noble Goal for 21st Century Education

In 1988 Bobby McFerrin released the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to worldwide success. In 2013 Pharrell Williams worked similar territory with his song “Happy,” which also climbed to the top of the charts.

Our cynical world reacted in dismay, lambasting the songs for being fluff and ignoring the dire problems that dominate the news cycle. Why be happy when you could wear your despair like a red badge of discouragement?

Well, it looks like the fellas were on to something. Happiness is climbing to the top of the charts again.

One of the most energetic promoters of the happiness movement in education is Microsoft, which has partnered with the Economist Intelligence Unit to produce a new report, Emotion and Cognition in the Age of AI. The team at the Economist used the results of expert interviews, a review of the literature, and survey results from more than 800 educators across 15 countries to form its findings.

The report makes one claim that I and the other laborers in the field of 21st century skills should be happy with: “Skills centered in the interpersonal, empathic and creative realms could become the key human differential in the labor market of tomorrow, and those with strengths in these domains — innate or acquired — will be best placed to prosper.”

Because Getting Smart’s readership is deeply engaged in transforming teaching and learning we will focus in this blog post on the acquisition of these skills. The idea that happiness is an important student outcome will be our guiding principle.

In 2011, the United Nations adopted a resolution encouraging countries to create policies “to better capture the importance of pursuing happiness and well-being in development.” In 2012 the UN declared March 20th to be the International Day of Happiness, encouraging countries to take concrete steps toward cultivating happiness among their citizenry. Education is integral to that effort and derives support from Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Andreas Schleicher, director for the Directorate of Education and Skills at the OECD, has been quoted by his organization as saying “Child well-being is not something you can easily delegate to families and social environments; schools need to take a more explicit role.” OECD has made an attempt to define what it means by well-being: “While there is no single definition of well-being, the broad concept covers two realms: emotional (the presence of positive emotional states and absence of negative affective states) and cognitive (life satisfaction as a whole).”

OECD as you would expect, attempts to measure well-being as part of its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

There is a growing body of research that points to the importance of happiness/well-being as a positive factor in student achievement. A study by Christina Hinton of Harvard includes these findings: Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation; there is no clear relationship between happiness and standardized test scores; happiness is positively associated with GPA.

Another academic, Emma Seppala of Stanford, is the author of The Happiness Track. She told the New York Times that “Happy kids show up at school more able to learn because they tend to sleep better and may have healthier immune systems. Happy kids learn faster and think more creatively. Happy kids tend to be more resilient in the face of failures. Happy kids have stronger relationships and make new friends more easily.”

The crucial question relates to the ability of teachers to “teach” happiness. Vicki Zakrzewski and Peter Brunn answer in the affirmative in a piece called “Should Student Success Include Happiness” that appeared in the Greater Good Magazine. The authors offer tips for teachers:

  1. Make SEL and/or mindfulness a part of every lesson.
  2. Let students work things out.
  3. Build in time for reflection.

The team at the Economist Intelligence Unit and its supporters at Microsoft offer recommendations for school leaders and policy setters who pursue a happiness agenda:

  1. Data gathering is important to identify students’ mental and emotional health and track whether supportive measures are working.
  2. Teachers must be involved in any well-being plan
  3. Interventions should not be limited to pilots and one-off forays.

They also offer as well an admonition in regards to the role of technology in the development of happiness. Tech is a double-edged sword that provides tremendous opportunities to personalize learning but also “may worsen youth problems like bullying and social anxiety, and are linked — in some use cases, devices and applications — to sleep disruption, and to distractions and difficulty in concentrating. “

Nel Noddings, one of the grand dames of educational philosophy, explored the topic of well-being in the aptly named book, Happiness and Education (2003). She correctly observes that when parents are asked what they want for their children, they invariably respond, “to be happy.” Noddings then asks the pertinent question, “Why then, is happiness rarely mentioned as a goal of education?”

I have no good answer, which usually drives me to explore how great thinkers and artists have responded. If nothing else, we can turn to the lyrics of Pharrell Williams’ hit song for inspiration:

“Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

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