AI for Good: Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals

From healthcare, to manufacturing, even to how we get the food we eat, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing our world—and fast. AI has been around since the 1950’s but the explosion of data from connected devices and recent improvements in processing power, led to AI-driven innovations in every sector. More than half of the 340,000 AI related patents have been proposed in the past five years.

AI (and related exponential technology) is the most important change force on earth. As we noted in our report Ask About AI, it will do more to impact lives and livelihoods of school aged children than any other force. Our work, play and commerce is quickly becoming augmented by AI. Many tasks are being automated creating both opportunity and displacement.

AI is also improving educational opportunities and access for learners worldwide. Built into adaptive technology and tools, AI is alive in many classrooms already—it is supporting scheduling, transportation, nutrition and funding decisions. AI is influencing talent and hiring decisions, tutoring programs and mentoring of young learners. As educators, we need to be aware of how AI is already being used and of the questions to ask when it is being deployed.

Most exciting is the potential to use AI to create extraordinary benefit—curing disease, advancing clean energy, promoting sustainable transportation and enabling smart cities. And it’s not just the work of computer scientists—schools and communities worldwide are beginning to engage young people in tackling local challenges using smart tools. The movement is called #AIforGood.

AI for Good Global Summit

At the third annual AI for Good Global Summit, leaders and innovators from around the world met to discuss this rapid rate of change and progress AI is bringing to these different sectors (including education) and to discuss how to harness AI for positive progress.

Secretary-General of ITU Houlin Zhao, shared that the Summit is “… the place where AI innovators connect to identify practical applications of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

ITU, along with XPrize, Microsoft AI and the Association for Computing Machinery (all primary sponsors and organizers of the event), demonstrated their commitment not only to identifying pathways to progress, but also to addressing the ethical issues, government policies and requirements we might consider for companies, developers and users of AI tools.

James Kwasi Thompson, Minister of State for Grand Bahama, continually stressed that good use of AI will always be about how we are keeping the people at the center of our decision and how it will be used for good. He shared, “I always ask myself how will AI solve the problem facing a group of people in my country? With fewer and fewer resources in some communities, it actually means a greater need for creativity and for innovation. AI should not replace workers, but it should enhance those workers and their contributions, especially in developing countries.”

AI could massively exacerbate the inequities we see in the world if we don’t keep the user and people at the center. The conference was divided into breakthrough tracks so attendees could dive deep, co-create potential project ideas to solve AI challenges and address these inequities.

Breakthrough Tracks:

  • AI Education: Reaching and Engaging 21st Century Learners
  • Good Health and Well-Being
  • AI, Human Dignity & Inclusive Societies
  • Scaling AI for good
  • AI for Space

Predominant Themes

Four predominant themes emerged throughout the keynotes and these breakthrough tracks.

Design for Inclusivity and Fighting Bias. There is a continued need for a multi-angled approach to addressing and developing solutions that eliminate increasing biases, promote a celebration of diversity and increased inclusivity. These continue to be non-negotiables in the design of AI, especially if we are working towards doing good while embracing the SDGs.

Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) of Google and Black in AI pushed us to always ask the questions:

  • Should we do this? Should we use AI in this instance?
  • Are the tools Robust enough to do not just a good job—but a just job?

Gebru knows as a computer scientist that baked into algorithms are biases, stereotypes and assumptions about who we are and our behaviors. Her work in facial recognition (amongst other studies) proved that AI can have major biases and perpetuate inequities.

Helene Molinier, Senior Policy Advisor on Innovation at UN Women also brought to light just how underrepresented women are in the field and how that can influence the design and decisions that are made. If we want to create more opportunities and transform our future world, we have to dismantle existing systems and not use these principles to inform AI.

Khalil Amiri, Vice Minister for Scientific Research from the Republic of Tunisia, also talked about the threat of creating bigger income and education gaps if we aren’t careful, but on the counter (if done well) there is a great opportunity for inclusivity. “If we train ourselves well—there will be many many new jobs. AI education must be inclusive and open opportunities for everyone and could reduce inequalities. There will be a transformation of jobs, not elimination. We need good education otherwise you will not be able to access these new jobs.”

Collective Responsibility. Building on the first theme, it is our collective responsibility in governance, design and implementation of AI to consider the possible ramifications of use and bias, diversity and inclusivity—not someone else’s responsibility. The privacy, data and security considerations are countless and it is our collective ethical, moral and societal responsibility to not ignore them. Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG), shared “Change will never happen this slowly. We collectively cannot view this as competition. It is decentralized approaches from stakeholders and dissemination of principles that will help us make positive progress.”

Jim Hagemann Snabe, Chairman of the Board of Siemens, reminded us that we must keep key principles of trust, accountability and enhancement core to our AI work.

Growing Opportunities. There are endless ways in which we could harness the power of AI. Each speaker shared a unique use of AI that may or may not be readily apparent. Shlomy Kattan of XPrize shared uses in website usage to identify potential cases of learners at risk for suicide. Jean-Philippe Courtois of Microsoft (see AI education examples below), Yves Daccord of the Red Cross and many others shared how AI has been pivotal when applied to humanitarian causes, disaster prediction and relief and global health crises.

Accelerate AI Education/Awareness and Learning Enhanced with AI. Maybe most relevant to the Getting Smart audience is how AI matters in and for, the field of education. I find that the need is two fold—both learning and awareness about AI and learning with AI. Tara Chklovski (@TaraChk) of Iridescent Learning (see recent podcast) led the AI in Education breakthrough track. It was evident from not only her work and also those of others in the room that we are still on the cusp of learning about AI in many communities, but that there are growing areas where learning with AI is more mainstream.

Communities around the world are gaining increased exposure to how AI can help them solve their local issues and challenges. Schools are infusing AI tools, both adult and student facing, to enhance learning. Minecraft, one of many examples shared, will let learners test their AI creations and share them with the world.

My biggest takeaway is AI will help us learn, but it won’t replace our need for strong, interpersonal teaching and relationships. AI can enhance and take some of the time consuming tasks, possibly grading, scheduling and skill work, so that educators have more time to work with learners and get to deeper learning. The freed mental space and capacity could lead to more time for creativity, relationship building and deep work with students. However, we also need to be asking important ethical questions about things such as implementation, potentially too much reliance on the technology and student privacy.

We need to accelerate the awareness and education about AI so families and learners have agency over their information and learning. We also need to embrace that AI can enhance learning and accelerate our work in schools if we are informed about the opportunities it can bring.

Ask About AI

The 4th iteration of AI for Good will be held May 4th-9th of 2020 in Geneva. Be sure to check it out and follow our Future of Work campaign for more on AI in education.

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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.

Serving Students With Special Needs: Five Key Values We Instill in Our Leaders

By: Toni Barton

One of the ugliest words in education is “compliance.” Think of the teacher who has to enforce ineffective discipline policies that shame students and hinder their learning. Or the principal who spends all day on school district paperwork rather than observing and coaching her teachers.

In a perfect system, educators would rarely worry about checking boxes or meeting bureaucratic demands. Instead, they’d make decisions based on the unique and immediate needs of their students and schools.

Of course, no system is perfect. But too often, public schools function like factories or corporations, emphasizing compliance over creativity and connection.

Nowhere is this problem more pervasive than in the ways our schools serve students with special needs. The vast majority of special education is oriented around following the law. This compliance-based approach unfortunately discourages educators from developing strategies that yield powerful outcomes for kids. For example, special education leaders report spending a majority of their time running individualized education plan (IEP) meetings or completing paperwork. Principals also report that they lack the special education pedagogical expertise needed to effectively coach teachers to support students with special needs. So, if special education leaders are spending their time on compliance-related tasks and principals lack expertise in special education, who is coaching the teachers?

Teachers should be trained and encouraged to adopt approaches that are designed to best support students with special needs. At Relay Graduate School of Education, which supports school leaders nationwide, we’ve developed a one-year program to help special education (SPED) leaders step beyond compliance in order to deliver intentional, student-centered instruction.

First off, we don’t refer to students with institutional labels like “special education students” or “special needs kids.” We call them “exceptional learners.” This language shifts from a deficit lens to an asset-based mindset.

We work with our leaders to nurture five values that we’ve found make a powerful difference in empowering exceptional learners. We then help our school leaders translate the following values into tangible action in the classroom:

  1. Collective responsibility. Too often, exceptional learners are treated as the responsibilities of “certain teachers.” In fact, they’re everyone’s responsibility. What does that look like? Educators should design structures and systems with exceptional learners at the forefront. Teachers and support staff who work exclusively with exceptional learners should be included in school-wide decision-making. In classrooms with co-teachers, both should be seen as leaders, and all teachers should be held accountable for the academic growth of exceptional leaders. In addition, all leaders should be responsible for the growth of all students.
  2. Rigorous academic opportunities. Being an exceptional learner doesn’t mean being denied opportunities to fulfill their full academic potential. Rather, exceptional learners should be empowered to master grade-level content. Teachers can do this by making sure that students with the highest level of need receive instruction from the most effective teachers. While it’s important to provide remedial instruction to students who are behind, it’s just as crucial to ensure that remedial instruction does not replace standards-based grade level instruction. Teachers should design lessons that are universally designed to meet the range of learners in a classroom and should consistently monitor the impact of their instruction as they tailor it to their students’ individual needs.
  3. Respect difference. Educators must be careful not to overtly or subtly disparage students’ differences. This can be especially tricky when students present behavioral challenges. Teachers and leaders should start by identifying these challenges not as disruption, but as socio-emotional needs. It’s crucial not to treat students in a way that makes them feel dejected or singled out. The right tone is one that conveys compassion and empathy. Restorative practices can make a big difference in addressing students’ socio-emotional needs.
  4. Inclusive professional development. All staff should be trained to support exceptional learners. Professional development should be collaborative, so that teachers develop a shared sense of their roles in educating exceptional learners. And while all teachers should be well-equipped to provide academic and socio-emotional support to exceptional learners, the best teachers should be assigned to those students. Leaders must also have a focus on continuous improvement so that they have the skills needed to coach teachers to support exceptional learners.
  5. Inclusion-first instruction. We all remember the days when exceptional learners were cordoned off in their own classrooms. Sadly, in some schools, those days are still here. Schools should make every attempt to educate every student in an age-appropriate general education classroom no matter what type or degree of disability the student has. Inclusive classrooms are typically the best settings to promote maximal academic and socio-emotional growth. Students should be placed in specialized programs or classrooms only after every attempt was made to modify systems to meet their needs.

These principles are a roadmap for educating exceptional learners. This map leads us out of the dark days of compliance and into a bright future in which students’ differences are celebrated, their unique needs are met, and the entire system is geared toward advancing students’ academic and socio-emotional growth.

For more, see:

Toni Barton is Dean of Special Education Leadership Programs at Relay Graduate School of Education. 

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Purdue Poly: Driven By Equity, Solving Community Challenges

Over the last five years, only 38 students from underrepresented minority groups who attended Indianapolis Public Schools were accepted and went on to attend Purdue University (an hour drive away).

Purdue Polytechnic High School (@PurduePolyHS) is trying to change that. The two-year-old high school, created in partnership with Purdue, serves 260 kids in two grades. At full enrollment, it will engage about 550 learners in real-world design challenges.

Before launching Poly, Scott Bess (@ScottBessIndy) led an innovative adult education center. During many planning year conversations, Bess heard from experts and community members demanding for a school that stressed hands-on team-based learning where students worked on complex problems with no easy answers.

The school is diverse by design including location and enrollment outreach. Poly is a charter school with an innovative school agreement with Indianapolis Public Schools that allows funding and test scores to flow through IPS and allows Poly to reach out to IPS middle school students.

Purdue Poly spent this year and will spend the next in a downtown shopping mall in a space built out for a college. Their principal Shatoya Ward acknowledges some advantages, like a big food court, but a lot of distractions and space that is less than ideal for design-focused work. They are also taking enrollment for a second location north of town that will open in the fall.

Students work on big challenges introduced by industry partners. For example, Eskenazi Health asked, “How might we help deliver products or services to help all members of our community to lead a healthier life?” Big concepts that might be explored in a related project include cellular structure, heritability, healthy lifestyles, data analysis and statistics, market structures and business models. (More examples below.)

Using design thinking (illustrated below), student teams ideate, prototype, test and pitch their solutions to industry partners.

Core academic content is contextualized to challenge. Teachers work together to combine instruction across disciplines. Student schedules are a list of projects and dojos –workshops for content acquisition and application.

Students have a personal learning coach and an advisory group of 15-17 students with whom they start and end their days.

The Poly gradebook is a list of “I can” statements. Students progress as they demonstrate mastery through classwork, project demonstrations, or outside activities.

In 11th grade, students choose a path that leads to college credits and industry credentials. In 12th grade, students will complete an internship within their chosen path.

Bess anticipates that most students will graduate with a year or more of Purdue credit (an unusual benefit coming from a leading research university). Poly students are on the Purdue campus several times each year and wear Boilermaker gear to school every day.

After opening a second campus, Bess plans to open another half a dozen Purdue-connected STEM schools in Indiana.

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Engineering Good in the World

For more than a century, subsistence miners have panned the streams of Colombia and Peru in search of a few flecks of gold. More than 40 million men, women and children in the global south make their living as artisanal and small scale miners (ASM). Some miners work full time, some only mine during the dry season, others resort to mining after conflict or natural disaster destroys their livelihood. Small scale mining practices are often dangerous, ecologically damaging and economically unsustainable.

This army of artisanal miners, important to the global economy but often damaging to the environment, didn’t get any attention from top engineering schools–until recently.

Dr. Juan Lucena leads Humanitarian Engineering (HE) at Colorado School of Mines. The program brings together engineering and social science professors to transform the ways engineers are taught to think, define and solve problems with communities.

This summer, with the support of an NSF grant, Lucena and HE co-director Dr. Jessica Smith, along with other professors from Mines, the US Air Force Academy and Univ of Colorado, will work with Colombian miners to develop more productive and sustainable practices.

Raised in Bogota, Colombia as the son of the mayor, Lucena saw how engineers built systems that benefited the wealthy. After studying engineering in Colombia, he explored the culture of engineering with anthropologist Gary Downey at Virginia Tech and studied how it could be practiced in ways that promote the wellbeing of communities, social justice, and sustainability.

His background allows him to questions assumptions about power dynamics between rich and poor, north and south. “We don’t presume that we know more than countries we want to serve,” said Lucena. That intellectual humility sets apart the Mines program from others that drop “solutions” on communities without an appreciation of context or attention to power differences among stakeholders.

Smith grew up the daughter of a miner in the coal fields of Wyoming’s Powder River basin. She drove a haul truck during the summer and observed the extractive industry’s impact on the local economy, ecology and society first hand. The Michigan trained anthropologist went on to study the mining industry with an emphasis on corporate social responsibility, labor relationships and gender. She wrote a book on Mining Coal and Undermining Gender and is currently finishing her second, which investigates engineers and the rise of corporate social responsibility.

Lucena and Smith built an approach to humanitarian engineering that maps projects’ stakeholders and relationships of power and knowledge, listening to their needs and concerns, collaboratively identifying opportunities to create shared value, proposing and modifying those plans to meet stakeholder groups and assessing those projects collectively.

Humanitarian Engineering at Mines is part of a relatively new division, Engineering Design & Society, that is also home to [email protected], a sequence of courses that develop creativity and problem-solving skills beginning with Cornerstone, an introduction to engineering, and concluding with Capstone, a senior design project. Humanitarian Engineering has two additional design-related courses, one focusing on problem definition (often the most ignored step in engineering education) and one on Projects for People, where some of the solutions to problems faced by ASM miners have been first conceived.

Mines President Paul Johnson said [email protected] is an effort to introduce more open-ended design challenges–often defined by industry or community–and to work in teams to discover a solution after soliciting client input.

Lucena’s goal is to transform engineering education so engineers become politically relevant by designing, building and operating socially just and sustainable technologies. His 2017 co-authored book, Engineering Justice presents an examination of how politics, culture, and other social issues are inherent in the education and practice of engineering and how educators can integrate social justice into the engineering curriculum.

Doing Good in the World

Mines has a well-recognized humanitarian engineering program, but other universities including ASU, Baylor, and Ohio State feature courses in humanitarian engineering. What sets the HE program at Mines apart is its commitment to integrate engineering and social justice, its engagement with the extractive industries and its faculty influence in this emergent field through their scholarship and research.

At Olin College, “doing good for humanity” is a founding precept. A 20-year-old purpose built engineering program, Olin trains engineer-innovators to envision and deliver products, services and systems that transform the way people live on this planet.

Physicist Rebecca Christianson explained that doing good includes human-centered design, understanding context; considering ethics, equity and sustainability; and appreciating social responsibility and citizenship.

Alison Wood is another Olin campus leader in doing good (and was involved with Engineers without Borders in Peru). She taught a course this spring with Rob Martello called Change the World: Personal Values, Global Impacts, and Making an Olin GCSP. It is part of Olin’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program.

“Much of our work over the semester focused on helping students reflect on personal values and how those values inform their choices, particularly in thinking about future choices to contribute to “something larger than themselves,” as we put it in class,” said Wood. Students featured their final projects for faculty and advisors last week when I visited campus.

Olin, ASU, Baylor, OSU and Mines are part of KEEN, a network of 44 leading universities infusing an entrepreneurial mindset in engineering education. The shared framework focuses on design, opportunity and impact.

Because engineers often work on large scale long-term projects that may have a generational impact, it is promising that so many leading schools are incorporating user-centered design.

Lucena and Smith urge an even broader view to engineering education and practice, one that embraces the responsibility of awareness, dialogue and citizenship as the foundation for truly socially responsible engineering.

For more see:

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

Inspiring Serendipity in the Classroom

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”  – Albert Einstein.

The phrase “awaken joy in the creative expression” reminds me of a fascination I developed a few years ago with the concept of serendipity. It all began with an op-ed piece I read in the New York Times: “How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity,” written by Pagan Kennedy. The author described serendipity as “the art of finding what we’re not seeking.” In the course of explaining that many ideas, discoveries, and inventions resulted from serendipitous situations, Ms. Kennedy noted that “As people dredge the unknown, they are engaging in a highly creative act.” Since serendipity is important but not well-understood, she suggested that a new field be established with the intent of better understanding, and even teaching, serendipity.

I had no idea how to teach serendipity, but could I inspire it? In other words, could I create situations in my classroom that would lead students to experience serendipity? It was worth a try. My instincts led me to “making” and art, so I integrated more creative, open-ended, and artistic “making” activities into my classes. In these activities, students used technology to explore concepts at a deeper level. When possible, the activities gave them choice and freedom to control their learning in a way that might lead to a moment of serendipity and greater understanding. In addition, as they learned about the concepts, they created works of art that appealed to them.

Every year, I develop more of these creative expression activities. I recently asked my students to reflect upon how some of these art-inspired activities have impacted their math experience or math understanding. Student response was overwhelmingly positive:

  • “I definitely think seeing math take on a physical form in art has grown my thinking and made me think about math a little differently. Now it’s almost difficult not to see math in almost everything I do.”
  • “The incorporation of art into math this year has led me to understand that math is not just equation solving on paper. Not only can it be used to design cool objects, but it also is prevalent in the world. From textbooks to business corporations to nature, math to me has become a concept that is universal with boundless opportunities to learn more.”
  • “I start thinking about patterns like math problems like if I see a flower I see the rose petals from trigonometry equations.”
  • “I feel like it has helped get a better understanding of math in real life because we used actual examples. It has also made the class a lot more interesting and interactive which I have enjoyed.”
  • “Normally, I find math really uninteresting and bland, but the way we connected it to the real world and art made it a lot cooler and more enjoyable. I really liked the 3D printing projects especially, because we got to make whatever we want using stuff that isn’t that fun by itself.”

Based on experience, the best advice I can give for creating activities that inspire serendipity is to be willing to take risks in your classroom. Some things will work well, some may not. Embrace it all, and use the mistakes to improve the activity for next time. Need some ideas or inspiration?

  • Start local:  Tell your students to stroll the hallways and look at art that has been created by their peers. Ask them to reflect and describe any connections to your class that they notice. Students get excited when they see connections to concepts they have studied in class. I use GrokSpot to collect and share student responses, but any formative assessment tool (Microsoft Forms, Google Forms, Flipgrid, etc.) could be used. Another idea: visit your school’s makerspace and ask students to create an object that represents their understanding of a topic they recently learned.

  • Walk outside:  Find connections to your class in nature or architecture by integrating outdoor education. As an example, our school’s Director of Outdoor Education organized a schoolwide project about pollinators. Students from grades K through 12 explored pollinators from many angles, including math, science, writing, visual art, and performing art. Student work was displayed publicly for everyone to see, enjoy, and connect.
  • Go global:  Think art museums, online galleries, and social media! Don’t forget that many scientists and mathematicians also create art from their research. A recent visit to the Public Galleries at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT left my mind dancing with ideas and inspiration. Search social media for hashtags, such as #mathart and #sciart, that are connected to your discipline.
  • Create art as you explore in class:  Draw. Write. Photograph. Sculpt. Create. In my math classes, we use software to explore graphs of equations that students turn into their own 3D printed art. We learn about the mathematics and physics of sound and use software to program our own songs.  
  • Create art with code:  Asking students to create patterns or artwork with basic coding (such as Scratch) can help them begin to understand how computer scientists solve problems. A great example to discuss:  how an interdisciplinary team recently created the first picture of a black hole.

The more I create activities that awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge and inspire serendipity, the more I change the way I teach math, the way I see math, and the way I ask my students to explore and connect with mathematical concepts. These activities can be as fun and valuable for me as they are for my students. We experience serendipity together, and that’s what learning should be all about!

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The photos used in this post were taken by Jamie Back.

Jamie Back is an Upper School Math Teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School. Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jmeb96

Denver’s CUBE: Reimagining the High School Experience

When we think of an engaging high school experience, we think of one that encourages students to pursue their passions, provides them with opportunities to work on meaningful real-world projects and opens their eyes to new ways of thinking about complex issues through the use of the design thinking process. This is the type of learning environment that the CUBE School envisions and is one that students in Denver will have an opportunity to experience first-hand, beginning in August 2019.

Reimagining High School

CUBE is on a mission to “cultivate the leaders of tomorrow” and their approach in doing so includes the five core elements below.

Image Courtesy of The CUBE School

While every element noted above is of importance to CUBE Founder and storyteller, Bret Poppleton, stresses computational thinking. Specifically, he underscores the fact that computer science is for all students, “the emphasis that computer science is for all is for real. I believe it is as an equity issue for our generation.” Computer Science will be deeply integrated into CUBE’s DNA. The school will prepare all students to be ready for the AP Computer Science Principles by the end of the 10th grade. Students will receive direct instruction around coding, there will be deep integration of computer science in all STEM mash-ups, and there will be a one-week accelerator on Raspberry Pi which all students will take.

After a business career, Poppleton joined DSST, a great urban STEM network in Denver, as the business lead. After five years, he moved into a teaching role and then became Dean of the Senior Academy at the flagship DSST Stapleton High. We’ve taken many groups to visit DSST over the years and appreciate Bret’s energy and insight. He took everything he learned at DSST and added everything he knew was key to the #FutureofWork and incorporated them in the CUBE.

A School Where Students are Known

The ability to know students deeply is at the center of CUBE’s design. It is based on this deep knowledge that CUBE believes and rightly so, that students can be best supported and challenged to do meaningful work. One look at the student section of their website and this becomes abundantly clear.

Image Courtesy of The CUBE School

Bret emphasized that the importance of individuals being known is a part of the human story. He went on to say, “when we know you that’s how we can make decisions that are done in conjunction with you, not to you.” While knowing students individually is of utmost importance, helping students understand that they are part of a community and culture is just as important. At CUBE, students will understand that they are a part of something bigger than just themselves and Bret believes (as do we) that “when you understand that you are a part of something bigger than just yourself, you become the person you’re meant to be.”

Big Integrated Projects

By knowing their students well, CUBE will be able to help them pursue their passions through authentic real-world projects that matter to a student’s current and future life. CUBE is flipping the idea that some passions — like video games, sports and mobile apps — belong solely in out of school activities. Instead, they’re using the interests students have to unpack and explore problems and all the world has to offer.

We really love how CUBE plans to integrate projects by way of “mash-ups” that blend interdisciplinary studies. Mash-ups are seamlessly integrated with industry, wellness, art, computer science and language. Student learning and progress will be measured by “standards proficiency, skill development and improvement based on a competency-based continuum.”

Each mash-up is slated to last six-weeks providing students an opportunity to go really deep in their exploration of the topic and spend ample time developing their project and presentation.

The Smart Rockets mash-up below is an example of introductory 9th-grade physics. In this mash-up students, will “build their foundational scientific research and communication skills which include using units and appropriate precision, interpreting different representations of data, designing and carrying out hands-on procedures and using technical writing to communicate results.”

Image Courtesy of The CUBE School


For a more in-depth example, check out this mash-up on Afrofuturism which is a “convergence of history, literature and media arts.”

Students will be taught how to utilize computational thinking in order to tackle these big projects. Bret shared that students will learn how to think as problem solvers, utilize digital tools and seek out expertise in order to do their work. Rethinking efficiency and effectiveness, algorithmic thinking and selecting technologies will become second nature to CUBE students.

Deep exploration will not just be confined within CUBE’s walls. Following each mash-up will be a one-week opportunity, called an Accelerator, to explore the world. According to CUBE, “This might mean that you go backpacking or camping for a week. It might mean that you spend the week at a bakery, learning about the science of cookie-making. Either way, you will spend significant time each year in life-changing experiences outside our school walls.” This structure of a 6-week mash-up, followed by a 1-week accelerator provides flexibility in CUBE’s scheduling and provides them with an entry point in thinking about additional ways to restructure scheduling and systems.

As schools are charged with preparing students for success in the future, we love the emphasis CUBE has put on what success truly means. CUBE seeks to prepare students to  “succeed in the future — not just in college, not just in a job, but to find fulfillment and happiness. School should help you find what interests you, where you can make your contributions and how to do meaningful work.” We are excited about the meaningful work CUBE students will embark on and look forward to adding the CUBE school to our list of schools worth visiting upon its opening this coming school year.

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There is No Syllabus for Life

By: Chris Unger

This Thursday, I look forward to attending the Seattle premiere of Where Students Lead (trailer) at our Northeastern University Seattle campus. The documentary, co-created with Overflow Productions by students at the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (BVCAPS) in Overland Park just outside Kansas City, captures the impact on students when their passions, curiosity, interests and creativity connect with learning about the world of work. With well-designed guidance of mentors, teachers and community – this school and the CAPS network of affiliated programs numbering over 50 across the country (plus a recent partnership with a school in India), students are supported in pursuing their interests in the world of work. Students undertake real-world projects under the guidance of community members and industry mentors while engaging in unique and innovative courses with industry partners. Students have the opportunity to pursue learning under the guidance of career professionals.

The focus of this movie, aligned with the title, centers on creating a learning space and place at the core of a community for students to explore their interests and passions in the world. The night I visited their innovation showcase, I walked around the room while dozens of students were sharing their learning projects, products, videos and websites. While there, I was approached by three students who said they were making a movie about their program and that the director said they should interview me, as I was an ardent advocate for student-centered, real-world learning. I did my best to give voice to the amazing work I had heard about at the school, exemplifying what is possible when we put learning in the hands, hearts and minds of students. Fast forward several months, where upon viewing the footage, it was clear that they would truly empower their students by partnering them with Overload Productions to finish the final touches on the film. The result is, Where Students Lead, having been shown across several theaters throughout the Midwest and now this Thursday, May 30, at 6PM at our Seattle Northeastern University campus.

The most important take away from this movie is hearing students give voice to the power of owned agency and an opportunity to explore their interests and passions. While there is “no syllabus for life,” as one student states in the movie, schools can better help young men and women to begin thinking about the professions they might want to pursue, with a clearer vision for their future. We cannot lose sight of our opportunity, if not responsibility, to help students gain a better sense of themselves, explore their interests and begin to design their future.

For those of you in the Seattle area, I hope to see you at our Northeastern University Seattle campus at 401 Terry Avenue N @ 6PM this Thursday, May 30, 2019.

Additional showings are scheduled for:

For More See:

Chris Unger is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Graduate Programs in Education including the Doctor of Education program. Dr. Unger co-leads Northeastern’s Network of Experiential Learning Educators (NExT) with a number of his colleagues within the Graduate School of Education and throughout the university, and is the lead faculty for the EdD program in Seattle.

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Promoting Pathways to Good Jobs: Strada Education Network

Since 2014, Strada Education Network has invested more than $100 million to help more Americans get a good first job. Strada is a national social impact organization dedicated to strengthening the pathways between education and employment.

Strada is based in Indianapolis. After operating as a federal student loan guarantor (formerly known as USA Funds) since 1960, Strada transformed itself into a national social impact enterprise with a mission of “Completion With a Purpose.”

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Carol D’Amico has been EVP at Strada during the six year transformation. She describes the focus as “advancing the universal right to realized potential.” The mission is, “Completion With a Purpose.”

That means the goal isn’t just pushing Americans toward postsecondary degrees, it is rapid and affordable pathways to good jobs. D’Amico, like author and investor Ryan Craig, is a fan of better, faster, and cheaper postsecondary learning options.

While mergers and acquisitions are common in the private sector, scaled impact in the social sector is seldom achieved by combining forces. Strada addresses critical college-to-career challenges through strategic philanthropy, research and insights, and mission-aligned affiliates. Strada has acquired seven organizations that operate as an extension of the Network:

    • Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) provides adult career advising and advancement services.
    • College Confidential creates discussion forms and resources that inform college and career choices.
    • DXtera is a consortium dedicated to transforming student and institutional outcomes in higher education.
    • Education at Work provides paid work opportunities for college students so they can graduate with little to no debt and the skills they need to secure careers post-graduation.
    • Emsi provides comprehensive labor market analytics to inform people looking for good work, employers looking for good people, and educators looking to build good programs.
    • InsideTrack provides adaptive coaching solutions to postsecondary institutions.
    • Roadtrip Nation interviews people in a wide range of jobs to provide career advice.

Seven recent grants totaling $8 million resulted from a competitive process that yielded hundreds of ideas. Recipients all leverage partnerships between postsecondary institutions, employers, and community organizations to helping students succeed in school and in the workplace.

Strada works with Gallup to gather consumer insights. They have interviewed 300,000 U.S. adults with experiences at over 3,000 postsecondary institutions about their educational experiences. Insights can be gleaned by region, by job cluster, and by educational pathway.

The Strada Institute for the Future of Work supports research to build learning ecosystems for the future. “The learning ecosystem of the future must seamlessly skill, reskill and upskill adults throughout their working lives,” said Michelle R. Weise, Strada SVP.  “We need flexible, direct, cost-effective learning pathways that keep up with the emergent demands of the workforce.”

A new Strada report quantifies the value of industry credentials for non-degreed adults.

Strada research and investments focus on partnerships with multiple employers, community advocates, policymakers and educators to leverage expertise in skills-based curriculum development, mentoring, professional networking and internships. They focus on adult learners, underrepresented populations, low-income and first-generation students and help them prepare for jobs in high-demand career pathways.

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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This post was originally published on Forbes.

A Library Transformed

By: Dustin Hensley

You know that word association game where someone will say a word and then you are supposed to say the first things that come to your mind?

Let’s play, “Library.”

I’m sure I can guess some of the words that you thought of. Books? Dewey Decimal? Card catalog? Shushing?

All of those words are indicative of what libraries have traditionally been. Solitary book depositories kept silent so that students could search the shelves for something to read. Over the past decade libraries and librarians have begun to transform. Technology has invaded the silent sanctums and turned many of them into access rich media centers. With a continued excitement and fresh mindset for literature, organization and technology, librarians are bringing ideas for what libraries of the future can be.

This shift in library employment has naturally coincided with the #RethinkHighSchool movement and an economical shift into the age of agility. Schools are taking notice that the traditional skills like compliance and rigid memorization aren’t preparing students for our current or forthcoming economy. There is a continually growing focus on 21st Century skills and the pursuit of a comprehensive approach to human development. As automation and artificial intelligence continue carving out pieces of the workforce, we need to equip our students differently if we want them to be successful in their desired futures.

With these realities, where do school libraries fit into the conversation? As we change the way we think about libraries, the skills and ideas that make up the foundations of libraries as institutions are actually strengthened. I’m often asked if I believe that my occupation will exist for much longer and I confidently assure people that school libraries are here to stay, but like many aspects connected to the future of learning, they won’t look the same as they have in the past.

What this doesn’t take into account is that books, in their simplest description, are merely a medium for transferring information. One of the main tenets of libraries is to provide easily attainable and credible information to each learner, on a lifelong continuum. The proliferation of the internet has flooded our lives with all kinds of information, with an increasing amount demonstrating difficulty in accuracy and reliability.

Picture a Freshman in high school attempting to do research for the first time and going straight to Google, trusting the first bit of information they see. This is where my vision for the new breed of librarian thrives. While leaning into skills learned along the continuum of supporting learners in the acquisition of knowledge, librarians teach students research skills and the ability to apply relevant information that supports each student’s holistic growth. As students graduate and move into their next phase, there will be a growing need around the ability to evaluate information with emphasis on assessing its credibility. We need to prepare our students to live in a world where making important decisions is based upon how they translate and comprehend information.

This moves us into another library staple, learning how to learn. Students visit school libraries to cultivate their self-interests. It is a matter of engagement and processing the value as they peruse the wide array of topics and styles that are conduits to a new found learning. For my new-age librarian colleagues, It is about helping the student understand how to continue pursuing what they are passionate about and giving them the tools to build upon their own knowledge. Librarians don’t want students to be reliant upon someone to give them the answers, we want to teach them how to teach themselves.

A recent article by Heather McGowan on Forbes describes how learning to learn and learning adaptability are essential for the 4th Industrial Revolution. The best way to prepare students for those jobs isn’t to just give them a specific skill and hope it translates, but to teach them the mental agility to see a new challenge and think about it critically. That sounds like a deep skill to expect the “book people” to teach a child, but that’s what librarians are desiring to do. We are in an ever-evolving field that has to keep up with technology and how it changes our ability to serve as information conduits.

As schools continue moving towards increased digital content, the daily functions of a school librarian will evolve. Regardless of the current phase of your school may be moving towards, the philosophy of the school library should always be the same — to be an outspoken advocate for the learning of every individual in the building, to build a community of learners and leaders, and to teach invaluable skills in research and cognitive abilities that will last a lifetime. Oh, and also to be lifelong readers regardless of the medium their literature is being delivered on.

For more, see:

Dustin Hensley is the Library Media Specialist at Elizabethton High School in Elizabethton, TN. He was one of the co-founders of the Bartleby Program, one of the winners of the XQ Super School competition, and remains active in the XQ Community of Practice. He currently teaches courses on Community Improvement and Academic Research. He can be reached at dustin[email protected] for inquiries or general discussion about libraries, student voice, and transforming education. 

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6 Creative Classroom Project Ideas

By: Adam Welcome

I’ve heard it over and over again for the past ten years: “Our kids will have jobs that haven’t even been created yet.” But how do we get kids ready for jobs that haven’t yet been created? We overhaul the classroom projects we’re doing with kids to help reflect the world we live in and the jobs they’ll someday have.

No more dioramas.
No more mobiles.
No more incessant coloring.
No more trifold cardboard presentations for the science fair.
No more PowerPoint presentations.

It’s 2019. We have better options. And when you have better options, you need to do better! The classroom projects we have our students engaged with is a natural first step and a much easier transition than you may think.

1. Video Creation

There’s really no classroom project where you can’t incorporate some type of video creation. Before you think video creation isn’t right for your classroom, hold on just a minute. All you need is an iPad and some imagination. Then, let the kids go create! One of the coolest part of kids creating videos as a classroom project is that teachers don’t even need to know how to create the videos, the kids can handle that. Beyond that, creating videos solves a problem educators have experienced for many years—so many of the projects we’ve had our students engage in aren’t shareable outside the classroom! But the ability to share video projects across different platforms is supported across so many different sectors in 2019.

You can incorporate video creation into your classroom in just 4 steps.

  1. Take your classroom project idea.
  2. Brainstorm and mind map with your class all the different components that need to be included.
  3. Put them in groups to collaborate
  4. Give them an iPad with iMovie to create, edit, and produce what they’ve learned.

2. Experts

Bringing experts into your classroom across pretty much all disciplines allows your students to connect in fun ways that will take classroom projects to new levels. Just last year, I was speaking at a conference in Missouri and talking about how drones could be incorporated into the classroom. Two partner teachers in the crowd took the idea, went back to their school, and convinced their principal to purchase a few. They have no formal training in drones or how to operate them. But they do have passion, excitement, and the willingness to try something new (even if they fail). After just a few months of coding the drones in class, a local company that designs and builds drones actually heard about what they were doing. The company contacted the school to see if they could send their in-house experts to the class for support. WHAT!!! To say that the teachers and students were beyond excited is an understatement. Ask local experts for help. Or simply put out into the universe what you’re doing, and they may just contact you.

3. Robots

Robots are everywhere. They’re in hotels. They build the cars we drive. And some of them even drive the cars we drive. Incorporating robots into your classroom projects is a must in 2019. My favorite go-to robot is the Sphero. For $129, you can kickstart your classroom projects in pretty much any area of the content the day it arrives. Open the box, download the iPad app, and have kids create, design, problem-solve, and even work out math problems. A middle school class we worked with decided to incorporate their Sphero while learning about the Silk Road in Social Studies.

Instead of just reading about the Silk Road in a textbook and taking a quiz, they used the Sphero to code a map of it and learn that way! Check out the Sphero Academy for some awesome online professional development to get your classroom projects ramped up in no time!

4. Podcasts

Podcasting is the new blogging, and EVERY class needs a podcast. Five years ago, it was pretty labor intensive to record, upload, and distribute a podcast — not anymore! Podcasting is also a profession, so preparing kids for an actual job they may have someday is an excellent classroom project. There are tons of great resources and ways to get started with podcasting, and Anchor is my favorite one-stop-shop for it all. You can record and distribute it all in one place — for free!

Here are some ideas to get started with podcasting as a classroom project:

1. Book Reviews

Don’t just have kids talk about the book and what they enjoyed about each one. Have a book review podcast host who actually interviews students and creates dialogue about the books.

2. Sports Podcasts

If your students are excited about sports, try a Sports Talk Radio podcast. They can talk about their favorite teams, standout players, any stadiums they’ve been to, and maybe even some local Little League action can be thrown in for fun.

3. “Life As A …”

Kids can talk about their life at school, such as giving tips to younger grades, their favorite subjects, study habits, what to eat, and what to avoid in the lunchroom. It can be a reality show of sorts without all the cameras. Now that sounds fun!

Whatever your podcasting idea may be, it’s way too easy to start, and there’s absolutely no reason to not start today! Check out Anchor, and just start talking.

5. Create A Business

Creating a business as a classroom project is now more relevant than ever. I’ve seen this done in middle and high school over the years, and there’s no reason why it can’t be implemented in elementary as well. I say it’s relevant because pretty much anyone can start a business in 2019. You can build your own website for free, create an Instagram account and a Facebook page, and you’re ready to roll. You can have your students create an actual business, or a fictitious one, but still go through the website design and social media creation as an exercise.

Here’s a quick example: If I was in middle or high school right now, I’d take all the money from my savings and buy a nice camera and drone. Then, I’d go to the local real estate page and create an aerial video montage of every listing for sale in my hometown. You could try to sell the videos to all the realtors in town as part of their marketing package. Or — you could distribute them through your website and social media channels while tagging those realtors in your posts. Talk about guerrilla marketing and a great classroom project.  It might even make your students some money while they’re in school.

6. Genius Hour

When in doubt, do Genius Hour. During my time as an elementary principal, we implemented a lot of innovative and new ideas. But the one that had the greatest impact across all grade levels and almost every subject matter was Genius Hour. It’s free. It’s super simple to get started. And if you’ve never heard of it before, just visit Edutopia and type Genius Hour in the search bar. You’ll have access to more videos, resources, and ideas than you can handle.

Final Advice

I have one piece of advice that will drop some serious educational mojo on your classroom projects. Here it is: Don’t overthink it. Way too often, adults complicate things by getting in their own way, second-guessing their own skills and maybe even lack of knowledge with something. The beauty of living in 2019 is that information and learning in general has been completely democratized. We have Google, Siri, and Alexa. And if you need some tech help — just ask a 9-year-old. Supercharge your classroom projects, and see what happens!

For more, see:

Adam Welcome has been an elementary school teacher, Principal, Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area and is also an author and speaker.

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