Uneven Vaccination Rates Are Creating Two Americas: Schools Can Help Advance Vaccine Equity.

As the struggle with COVID-19 wanes for some and grows for others, we are seeing the accelerated bifurcation of two Americas.

In one America, vaccinated people are traveling, eating out, and hugging loved ones with much less risk of transmission and serious illness. With mask requirements lifted in many public places, life is beginning to feel almost normal.

But in the other America—the one with low vaccination rates—the COVID-19 virus, including the more transmissible Delta variant, is raging on. A closer look reveals the disparities between these two Americas: According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, vaccination rates vary significantly across racial and ethnic groups and by state. The report’s authors concluded that if vaccination continues at the same pace, substantial disparities will remain, especially in Hispanic, Black, and some rural communities.

While America missed our national goal of 70% of adults vaccinated by July 4, we still have the opportunity to help communities overcome vaccine hesitancy and get their COVID-19 shots—if we get schools involved and fully mobilized. Schools have the depth and reach into communities that have been missing from our national vaccination effort. Moreover, schools have a vested interest in combating vaccine inequality, which is exacerbating education inequality.

Since March 2020, America has taken a patchwork approach to fight this virus. Vaccine rollout has also been uneven: Today, 55% of all people in the US have received at least one shot, with full vaccination rates ranging from more than 65% in Vermont to less than 30% in Mississippi. Meanwhile, rates of new vaccination are dropping.

These data point to a related risk: that vaccine unevenness will exacerbate education inequality, which exists in some of the same areas where vaccine rates are low, including parts of the South; rural regions across the Southwest and Midwest; and among some Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities.

According to analysis of CDC data, while vaccination rates have increased recently among Black and Brown communities, an overwhelming number of people in these demographics are still grappling with the decision to vaccinate. These same communities have experienced greater hardship during the pandemic, including higher rates of COVID-19 sickness and death and loss of income and employment.

Education outcomes among these groups have also declined: A McKinsey study found that the shift to remote schooling in the spring of 2020 set white students back by one to three months in math, while students of color lost three to five months. Research has shown that during the pandemic, people of color were 15% more likely to enroll in remote schools, while white people were more likely to have access to at least some schooling in person.

If vaccine inequality is not addressed, we’re on the path for deeper inequalities: In communities where most people are vaccinated, schools will reopen in the fall for in-person learning, and parents will no longer have to juggle work and homeschool. In communities where most people are not yet getting vaccinated, classroom closures and inconsistent attendance may prevent families from returning to employment, while students experience greater learning loss, social isolation, and mental distress due to localized COVID-19 resurgence. To protect whole communities—and ensure equal access to post-pandemic life—we need to achieve herd immunity, which we’ll reach if roughly 75% to 85% of the general public gets vaccinated. While most people have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, significant “vaccine deserts” remain where residents do not have convenient, practical access, often in communities that need vaccines most. Schools can help: Across the nation, there are roughly two public schools for every ZIP code. Schools are often some of the most trusted institutions in their communities, and they have the broadest and deepest reach into the everyday lives of Americans.

Principals, teachers, and school social workers can talk to students and families in ways that government leaders cannot, which allows them to address nuanced matters like misinformation, complacency, fear, and distrust of science that feed vaccine hesitancy. The reach of schools is also diverse and multigenerational, as students leave school buildings to return to communities of every background, race, faith, and political persuasion.

Schools can increase access to vaccination through onsite clinics for students, families, and staff; case management to complete appointments; and partnerships that lower costs of getting the jab. Teachers and school leaders can combat vaccine hesitancy by teaching the science, providing families with curated resources, and taking the time to ensure all school community members have their concerns addressed.

Together, we can help the country overcome this virus so that our school communities can get back to the important work of educating young people for the future.

For more, see:

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Getting Smart Town Hall Recap: Let’s Talk About C.B.E.: Competency-Based Everything

On the most recent Getting Smart Town Hall, Let’s Talk about C.B.E.: Competency-Based Everything, we brought in a few of our friends to serve as guests and lend their valuable expertise to the audience’s wonderings about competency-based education (CBE). We were joined by Claudette Trujillo of Westminster Public Schools, Laura Hilger of Knowledgeworks, Deion A. Jordan of Crosstown High and Abby Benedetto of Envision Education.

As always, we started with a poem:

blessing the boats by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back
may you open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Some attendees were moved by the word “tide” noting its implications of collaboration and how networks can bring things about. Others were inspired by the undertones of “leaning into uncertainty”. “Turning from the wind” implies having the wind at your back, letting the strength of what is already moving in the right direction help carry us along.”

Together, we unpacked what competency-based education is, what role it plays in the modern learning landscape and the profound power of learner goals. Shawnee beautifully stated that we must “Lean into the uncertainty and thrive with purpose.”

Chris Sturgis shared the following insight: “I think helping districts to understand the difference that standards-referenced is a stepping stone to standards-based and CBE. Our problem in our country is that we call standards-referenced, standards-based and makes it harder for people to understand that using standards helps improve instruction and assessment and makes learning transparent to kids. BUT the next and powerful change is to build the capacity to meet kids where they are, providing more time and instruction as needed for kids to be successful, and to create a culture that assumes that everyone will be successful.”

Themes Surfaced

Then we took the opportunity to disperse into breakout rooms, led by a Getting Smart team member and one of our esteemed guests. Here, our participants worked in Jamboards to identify wonderings, gaps and opportunities. Here are some of the themes that surfaced within these sessions:

Mindset: In order for CBE to be effective, mental models need changing.

Equity: Many attendees noted the importance of meeting learners where they are at as a key foundation for equitably enforcing CBE. One participant shared: “I love the equity theme…and I also could summarize it as: reality.”

Measurement: Many of the attendees were curious and optimistic about the ways you can show proof of learning.

Collaboration: Many educators mentioned the fact that they need time to co-design and collaborate together in order to design an effective CBE experience.

Tech: Many of the participants voiced concerns with the fact that there are still not many offerings for CBE friendly tech systems.

You can check out the links and resources mentioned in the session here.

Frequently Asked Questions

We received some of the following questions from the attendees and will be using them to inform some future blog posts as well as, perhaps, future sessions:

  • What can rigorous workplace/internship/real world learning look like beyond CTE models?
  • Would like to learn more about managing large volumes of students at different levels of proficiency.
  • Would like to learn more about: Assessment, going gradeless with a focus on individual student competency goals.

What’s Next

Next month we’re changing things up a bit. Instead of a town hall, we are excited to host a fireside chat alongside our friends: Turnaround For Children. We will facilitate a discussion about returning  to school — whole-child style. Register now — you won’t want to miss this forward-looking discussion on August 4th at 9 a.m. PT.

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Students as Coauthors of Learning: A Resources Guide

By inviting learners to coauthor experiences we help them build the most important skills and dispositions they’ll need to succeed in a changing world. Incorporating student voice and choice in learning design builds agency and promotes ownership of learning.

“In our ever-changing and unpredictable world, learners need to master the skill of knowing what to do when they do not immediately know what to do. Doing this effectively involves the development of agency and executive function skills, which is made possible through the learner’s active engagement in experiences they typically do not encounter in today’s schools,” explains a recent Superintendent’s Association report. “In order for learners to develop these skills, they must be empowered, proactive agents—or co-authors—of their learning journey.”

Following are coauthoring resources for project-based learning, teacher tools and competencies for coauthoring, and a list of systems that are best in class at coauthoring.

Project-Based Learning

Big integrated projects build agency–the knowledge and confidence that you can contribute. They teach project management, research, problem-solving, writing, collaboration, and presentation skills. Team projects develop collaboration skills.

About 75 high schools in more than 40 systems in metro Kansas City are adding more real-world learning including community-connected projects, entrepreneurial experiences, and internships.

The Global Goals offer a great framing of project topics. They include ending poverty, decent work, reducing inequality, clean water, and clean energy–all timely topics.

Science Fairs and Capstones

Society for Science & the Public sponsors middle and high school science fair competitions and shares Science News for Students with 5,000 high schools.

Building on work by Hanover Research and guidelines for High-Quality Project-Based Learning (developed by PBLWorks and partners with support from PMIEF), the attributes of good capstone projects include:

  • Engaging students as active participants in an authentic learning experience;
  • Intellectual challenge that promotes higher-order thinking and problem-solving;
  • Emphasizes making connections across disciplines and steps in project management;
  • Involves teachers as advisors, community members as mentors; and may involve other students as teammates; and
  • Involves a public product and final presentation before a panel that evaluates the project.

Roaring Fork Schools in Western Colorado (and many in the EL Education network) have a great tradition of capstone projects. They define it as a “culminating academic and intellectual experience that: encourages students to think critically, solve challenging problems, and develop skills such as communication, public speaking, research, media, teamwork, planning, self-sufficiency, or goal setting; helps prepare students for college, modern careers, and adult life; and develops character and life skills.”

To help teachers develop a picture of what good project work looks like, Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer at EL Education, worked with Steve Seidel at Harvard to develop Models of Excellence, a collection of quality project artifacts including hundreds of exemplary works.

A few examples of California schools with great capstone project traditions include:

  • Senior engineering projects at Design Tech High School, Redwood City.
  • Senior Legacy Experience projects at Minarets High School, north of Fresno.
  • All learners in iLEAD Schools, north of Santa Clarita, have a culminating capstone experience that concludes each year in the form of a Showcase Of Learning.

Teacher Tools & Competencies

KnowledgeWorks and CCSSO published Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Environments. The competencies stress student engagement in learning design including:

  • Develop and use assessment tools that are flexible, involve students in their creation and clearly articulate standards and criteria for meeting those standards.
  • Co-construct and offer choice among multiple means of assessment for students to demonstrate mastery.
  • Encourage student “voice and choice” via strategies such as enabling students to choose and co-design curricula.

Within the domain of Teaching and Learning, a learning indicator describes student agency as more than “providing paths, but also knowing when to step back to let learners lead.”

Supporting Self-Directed Learning

The BEST Self-Direction Toolkit from four New Hampshire school districts provides resources around four learner competencies: Initiative and Ownership, Goal Setting and Planning, and Engaging and Managing. Self-Awareness and Monitoring and Adapting. Grade span rubrics illustrate growth progressions (the high school rubric is shown below).

The Center for Assessment published a series on Assessing 21st Century Skills including a post on Self-Directed Learning which outlines the benefits of giving learners the freedom and autonomy to choose the what, why, how, and where of their learning. It notes four dimensions of self-directed learning:

  • Self-Regulation is the ability to plan, direct, and control one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during a learning task.
  • Motivation is the desire to engage in an activity that emerges from the inherent enjoyment of an activity or a sense of obligation to engage in a task. Growth mindset is a major factor influencing motivation: believing that intelligence, personality, and abilities are flexible and dynamic, shaped by experience, and changing over the lifespan.
  • Personal Responsibility (also called initiative and ownership) is a willingness to take full responsibility for one’s actions.
  • Autonomy is the ability to recognize available choices and take charge of one’s learning, and to control choices through ongoing reflection and evaluation.

“Schools that adopt constructivist and socio-cultural learning approaches, such as personalized and problem-based learning, are better equipped to facilitate self-directed learning,” recommends the Center. “By adopting these approaches, furthermore, teachers have the flexibility to personalize the level of self-regulation, choice, and independence to which students are exposed as they work toward self-direction.”

“The best way to assess self-directed learning is through authentic, performance-based tasks that allow students to demonstrate their ability to apply self-directed learning skills,” adds the Center (see a literature review on self-directed learning for more).

Assessing with Respect, a book by Starr Sackstein, outlines the benefits of co-constructing success criteria with students. Sackstein discusses the topic with Jennifer Gonzales on the Cult of Pedagogy podcast.

Systems That Support Coauthored Experiences

  • New Tech Network: 200 K-12 schools (90% in districts) with wall-to-wall team-taught integrated projects. A great set of rubrics guide the incorporation of agency, collaboration, and communication into co-constructed projects.
  • ConnectED defines its unique learning model as collaborative with a commitment to co-design, co-plan, and co-facilitation learning with students.
  • EL Education is a national network of project-based schools (as well as a leading provider of literacy curriculum). A recent book, We Are Crew, and associated resources are a great guide to building student voice and agency. The Elements of Crew toolkit include resources to build student-owned learning targets.
  • High Tech High: a San Diego network of 16 schools that share a commitment to learner-centered project-based learning. Their design principles highlight equity, personalization, authentic work and collaborative learning design. A Student Work section of the website highlights projects and publications that illustrate student coauthoring (see covers of the book published by elementary students below).

Schools in the XQ network including Crosstown High, Purdue Polytechnic, Latitude High, and Grand Rapids Public Museum School engage learners in developing community-connected projects.

Acton Academy is a global microschool network where students set daily, weekly, and session learning goals. Near-peers (middle with elementary, high school with middle) support goal setting and monitoring (see Courage to Grow by co-founder Laura Sandefer).

Lindsay USD is best in class at daily goal setting. Learning facilitators (teachers) ensure learners internalize short- and long-term goals that build toward a meaningful purpose for learning and serve as guides for daily work (see goal orientation look-fors).

Remake Learning hosts an annual event, Remake Learning Days, where student-led learning has energized Southwest Pennsylvania and now 17 regions of the country (see their podcast Remake Tomorrow).

More Resources on Coauthored Experiences

Getting Smart Books on Coauthored Learning

  • Better Together makes the case for personalized and project-based learning and describes leading project-based networks.
  • Difference Making argues that student agency is developed through meaningful work.
  • Power of Place illustrates how every place can contribute to student-centered inquiry-based learning.

Getting Smart Podcasts on Coauthored Learning

  • Ron Berger, EL Education, discusses We Are Crew, his book on advisory systems that empowers student learning. Berger also describes Models of Excellence, a gallery of quality student work that sets a standard of quality for student-directed learning.
  • Rebecca Wolfe, KnowledgeWorks, and Ryan MacDonald, CCSSO, discuss their new report Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Environments.
  • Briony Chown, High Tech Explorer Elementary on helping students do meaningful work.
  • Dr. Fernande Raine on civic and community engagement to incubate changemakers.
  • Learners from The Knowledge Society on self-directed projects after school. TKS Founder Navid Nathoo real-world learning.
  • Trace Pickering, Iowa Big, on community-connected projects.
  • Maya Ajmera on science fairs.
  • Dr. Pamela Moran, Byron Sanders and Dr. Ed Hess on the future of learning.
  • Joanne McEachen on contributive learning.
  • Michael Fullan on Leading in a Culture of Change.
  • Nichole Berg & Kimberly Howard on educating on climate change in Portland.
  • Patricia Deklotz, Kettle Moraine, on high school transformation.

For more, see:

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California Revamping Math Frameworks: The Need For Data Science, Equity and Deeper Learning

By: Michael Niehoff

Education has been experiencing sweeping changes over the last several years. It’s been 1:1 technology integration, the Common Core Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, and a push for deeper learning to name a few. But possibly due for an overhaul more than anything might be math instruction. California is taking this head-on by preparing to announce new math frameworks.

Although these new frameworks will not be finalized until this fall, major shifts are already underway. The new framework promotes data sciences as alternatives to the traditional calculus pathway for meeting college entrance requirements in math. According to Dr. Kyndall Brown, UCLA Professor and Executive Director California Mathematics Project Statewide Office, these changes are just the beginning.

“There is also a greater emphasis on equitable teaching practices that include more students who have been historically marginalized,” said Brown. “The framework also encourages the elimination of ability grouping and tracking.”

In leading the California Mathematics Project, Brown’s role includes oversight of 19 regional sites that are housed at California universities. Each regional site, according to Brown, partners with teachers, schools, and districts in their regions to provide professional learning programs aimed at improving the mathematical pedagogical content knowledge of K-12 teachers. Through this work, Brown has been providing regular feedback to the writing team of the new frameworks and he is excited about what he’s seeing.

“I am in favor of the changes. I think the emphasis on equity is much needed due to the disparate performances of students that fall along socio-economic lines,” said Brown. “I think alternative pathways will expand opportunities for students who are interested in pursuing non-STEM majors in college.”

California K-12 math practitioners also seem equally excited about the changes. The shift to include data and information sciences as a key math pathway is vital, according to Amber Soto, Director of Mathematics at iLEAD Schools. Soto sees data science going hand in hand with media literacy.

‘Knowing how to read, process and analyze data are the keys to success in all future academic and professional work,” said Soto. “All of our biggest issues and challenges – climate change, social justice, poverty, food insecurity, economic sustainability – are informed by data.”

Soto said that the Next Generation Science Standards made a big shift from students will know and understand to students will inquiry, apply, and do. According to Soto, Math is going through the same transformation, the skills have shifted, and it’s demanding ever more higher-level thinking.

“We used to have to do the calculations, but computers do that now. We need to learn to code the computer,” said Soto. “Instead of teaching an algorithm, we need to have students create the algorithm. We need to do this to stay relevant.”

Soto said this shift coincides well with where education and the world are going. As we pursue more deeper and relevant learning, the data sciences are integral, according to Soto.

“Regardless of the topic or issue, we now have to ask what math is involved,” shared Soto. “It’s going to be about percentages, rate, and systems of equations to name a few.”

She then illustrates this shift by saying that it’s going to be a lot more about infographics and data talks vs. spending too much time learning long division. For those that want to see examples, Soto recommends looking at resources such as Dr. Jo Boaler’s youcubed and her examples of data talks, as well as Turner’s Graph Of The Week.

Although these changes are being welcomed by many, according to Brown, the frameworks may not go as far as he would like.

“Due to political pressure, the writing team was forced to remove references to the Pathway to Equitable Mathematics Instruction,” said Brown. “I think that was unfortunate.”

According to Soto and Brown, the need for professional learning in math may never be higher than now. They encourage all math educators to use the aforementioned resources and ones such as UCLA’s Center X – a community of more than 100 educators working across multiple programs: two graduate credential programs, Teacher Education Program (TEP) and Principal Leadership Institute (PLI), and many professional development initiatives. Together, they aim to transform public schooling to create a more just, equitable, and humane society.

Meanwhile, as the new frameworks get finalized for a fall reveal, expect more iterations and resources to come.

For more, see:

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Minerva University: Personalized, Global, Affordable and Now Independent

Minerva Institute, a nonprofit that operates a startup college incubated by Keck Graduate Institute at Claremont, recently gained accreditation and became Minerva University.

The Intentional University, as a 2017 book summarizing its early history calls it, is better and more selective than the Ivy League but with a $16,000 sticker price. It attracts the brightest young people on the planet and 80% of students receive need-based financial aid.

Minerva students combine active learning seminars on the Forum platform with fully immersive experiences in seven global cities–Berlin, Buenos Aires, Hyderabad, London, San Francisco, Seoul, and Taipei–taking on projects important to them and the host communities.

Minerva learning experiences focus on four competencies:

  • Thinking critically: evaluating claims, analyzing inference, weighing decisions, and analyzing problems;
  • Thinking creatively: facilitating discovery, solving problems, creating products, processes, and services;
  • Communicating effectively: using language effectively, using nonverbal communication effectively; and
  • Interacting effectively: negotiating, mediating and persuading, working effectively with others, resolving ethical dilemmas, and having social consciousness.

These four competencies are made up of about 100 concepts and habits that are systematically introduced through a structured progression and reinforced throughout each course with intentional overlaps. Concepts and applications become more complex and challenging as learners progress. Minerva students benefit from detailed feedback after each learning experience.

As the industry moves to skills-based hiring, postsecondary education has much to learn from Minerva’s intentional skill-building system that includes well-defined learning goals, active learning, quality feedback, and repeated application.

Minerva has graduated three undergraduate classes totaling over 400 alumni. Learning gains, particularly in critical thinking, have been impressive.

Philanthropic gifts and pledges, totaling more than $100 million, support Minerva’s commitment to needs-based financial aid and need-blind admissions.

Powered by Venture-Backed Tech

Minerva University uses an academic framework and platform developed by Minerva Project,

a venture-backed San Francisco edtech startup founded by Ben Nelson in 2011. The company has raised $128 million with the last two rounds of funding coming primarily from Chinese tech giants TAL Education Group and ByteDance.

Minerva Project offers instructional design services, high school and college curriculum, and the Forum Learning Environment (it’s what Zoom wants to be when it grows up). The Fully Active Learning pedagogy promotes engagement and deep understanding.

When I met Nelson in a Mission District dive in 2011, he outlined an audacious vision for a next-generation university–one that would give the smartest young people on the planet the gift of the best education ever offered. A decade later, he has accomplished what he set out to do–Minerva University is a respected independent institution offering best-in-class education at an affordable price.

And to extend impact, Minerva Project continues to share the tools that allow other schools and colleges to improve their value proposition through active learning.

For more, see:

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

Making Kindness Common: How to Raise Kind Kids

By: Angela Duckworth

Unlike Rich Maiore, my girls Amanda and Lucy had the good fortune of learning about Alex Scott when they were very young.

Like many schools in the neighborhood—just a few miles from the Scott family home—our local preschool held an Alex’s Lemonade Stand each summer.

In preparation, Amanda and Lucy and all their classmates made signs, checked their supplies, and urged parents, grandparents, and anyone who’d listen to stop by.

On the big day, my husband Jason and I took time off from work and stood in line and bought glasses of lemonade. We bought yellow bracelets that said “One Cup at a Time.” And we listened as these children, including our own, retold the story of a little girl just about their age who had a terrible disease and a big heart.

We watched, and they watched, a whole neighborhood of families stopped what they were doing and, for a moment, let themselves be inspired by a single act of kindness that grew larger than anyone could have ever dreamed.

What happens when we see other people act generously?

For a long time, social scientists have known that after witnessing another person help others, we tend to act more kindly ourselves. Kindness is contagious.

But what’s been discovered recently is that in the person who does the witnessing, kindness spreads.

For instance, in one lab experiment, seeing someone make a donation led observers to make more donations themselves and, in addition, to write longer and more empathic notes to strangers in need.

It’s also been shown that children tend to imitate role models with whom they have more in common. So if we want our kids to be kind, not only should we model kindness ourselves, we should go out of our way to expose them to exemplars their own age.

Try helping your kids set up a lemonade stand of their own. They’ll be a model of, and a witness to, acts of kindness that will both inspire others and, like the little candy heart that melted in Raggedy Ann, spread within themselves.

With grit and gratitude,

For more, see:

Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab. She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics

Building a Capstone Program: Rooting Education in the Growing Capacities of Youth

By: Aaron Schorn

I believe that interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power. I believe that they represent dawning capacities. Accordingly, the constant and careful observation of interests is of the utmost importance for the educator. – John Dewey, January 1897

The energy in the Zoom room changed. Human connection and goosebumps filled the space. During her virtual 2020 Senior Capstone Showcase presentation, Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy (HPA) Senior Ivanni spoke about the power of partnering with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist based on ʻOahu. Her Capstone project was focused on climate change’s impact on the forced feminization of sea turtles due to warming water temperatures. The NOAA scientist unmuted, turned her video on, and spoke about the joy and privilege it was to work with Ivanni. She viewed Ivanni as a colleague, not a student. Ivanni’s Capstone product was taking her field research and turning it into a video series and website that would act as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for future students to carry on her field and lab work. Then the magic occurred, the NOAA scientist proclaimed that she and her team would be using those SOP’s in the future.  The Capstone Senior had now become a coworker and educator to the NOAA scientist.

Tears were flowing (many of us ugly crying), from parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches, and friends who were on the Zoom call. Many of the people (in those weird virtual boxes we all found ourselves in for so long) had not spoken to Lucia in over a year. During her virtual 2021 Senior Capstone Showcase presentation, Lucia waxed poetic on her Capstone product, which centered around translating her Spanish grandfather’s poetry and creating videos inspired by them. This was a personal story, it was authentic, and it had purpose. That false wall between education and the real world was torn down. Lucia had broadened our learning community and demonstrated the power of Capstones and student agency driven learning. She displayed her dawning and resplendent capacities to a room full of people who mattered to her.

What is a Capstone Program?

At HPA, Capstones are year-long sustained inquiry, interdisciplinary projects that serve as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students. We built a Capstone program to act as a performance space, a showcase of our students’ learned skills and capacities. We built something that would allow us to transparently see if skills were being learned. We built a Final for what it means to be an HPA student. Our goal was to create a shared culture of authenticity, entrepreneurship, confidence, and storytelling.

Per HPA’s website:

Capstone courses are distinguished by the extent to which they are driven by student interest, engagement and design. The capstone program is one form of personalized learning that our students experience at HPA.  

Capstones are driven by constructivist pedagogy including:

  • Personalized learning
  • Student-centered learning
  • Project-based/inquiry-based learning
  • Co-constructed curriculum

Some Capstone Tips and Learning Lessons 

When building our Senior Capstone program I was obsessed with backward designing the learning targets needed for a student. For us those were:

1. Ideation (Ideate)

2. Research (Research)

3. Project Management (Manage project)

4. Product Development (Develop product)

5. Presentation (Present)

6. Impact (Personal and External)

These form our rubrics, the structure of the year, the software we choose (UNRULR), and how we tell the stories of our product development, process, and project management. They also allow us to strengthen a curricular identity. I can now partner with department heads to build these learning targets into their courses in Grades 9-12.

Embrace Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke (By doing one learns). Embrace a liquid scientific method. Constantly have them build, measure, and learn. From the beginning of their Capstone journey to when they head off to the next stage of their life journey, have students (and faculty for good measure) constantly get their ideas out into the world, challenging their assumptions, partnering with external industry mentors and subject matter experts, each time iterating to the next version, the next idea. Essentially, make it real, get them out of the school building David Dunbar style, whether that be physically or through the interwebs. To do this, I took the work of Steve Blank and Bob Dorf in Lean Startup methodology and combined them with brilliant Hawaiian cultural practitioners/PBL educators (shoutout to Pualani Lincoln and NĀ KĀLAI WAʻA) to ensure our schema and curriculum were representative of Hawaiʻi and its people.

To learn more about Capstones and to join a community of Capstone educators I highly recommend the National Capstone Consortium.

My call to action to schools and other places of learning is to provide the vital opportunity of Capstones to your students K-12 and well beyond. My biggest goal as an educator is to co-design environments that create a sense of belonging, confidence, and relevance in its learners.

For more, see:

Aaron Schorn is the K-12 Capstone Coordinator at Hawai’i Preparatory Academy and Program Director at the Nalukai Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @aaronschorn.

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Book Review: Digital for Good

I first met Richard Culatta years ago at SXSWEDU, listening to his impassioned plan to bring high-speed internet to not only schools but to homes for our students so all learners would have a chance at an equitable education. He was working then for President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, also a former educator bringing forward their frontline experience with the widening opportunity gap. He also led the development of a National Education Technology Plan. Now, as CEO of ISTE, Culatta continues to make headway as a leader advocating for instructional technology best practices and the requisite policy work needed to implement at scale.

In Digital for Good: Raising Kids to Thrive in an Online World, Culatta takes a career’s worth of insight into how technology is impacting and impacted by educational interests and packages these ideas in a convincing and very personal narrative for anyone trying to serve our children’s best interests across a spectrum of outcomes: from the basic implications of digital influences on healthy parenting and teaching oversight all the way across the board to impacting our global culture. It’s this span that makes this volume immediately pragmatic. However, it’s his personal stories that show his work as not only endearing but credible. This gives Digital for Good shelflife. The examples of certain apps will likely change, but he’s careful to explain an underlying framework that is evergreen.

Culatta sets the stage in the opening chapter on a stark note: “With no expectation for acceptable behavior and near-complete anonymity, we have created an environment that is optimized for self-destruction.” He points out examples for how much the urgency for better digital citizenship may be unsavory to revisit since most readers will identify with the current state of our culture as a dire one. Culatta reflects on the most current trends that represent two sides of the coin: we need technology/technology is hurting our relationships with each other. The author says, “We have spent the last two decades excitedly finding ways to migrate all kinds of experiences to the digital world, but we haven’t stopped to ask how we will preserve our civil society as it also migrates there.”

The global implications may feel overwhelming, yet the book is organized in a manner that makes incremental progress possible with our own children or those that we teach and support in our schools. Whether we’re changing acceptable use policies for our districts and schools or coming up with a set of agreements for our households, Culatta does something necessary by speaking to both of these places where we can have the most influence on our own behavior as we guide those young minds who haven’t developed to the point of recognizing the inherent traits about what draws us to one technology or another. Both parties need support because as Culatta says:

“The migration from the physical to the digital world represents a fundamental shift in the lives of our children. The events that take place in the virtual world are not ancillary to their lives but are some of the most important elements of them. The limitations of the physical world will not shape or constrain the design of our children’s life events the way they did mine or yours.”

Culatta stays focused on the long-term and far-reaching gains of changing our priorities and harnessing the potential with new agreements and expectations of all parties, end-users and developers alike. He encourages us towards the same goals when he casts a vision for a shared philosophy, admonishing us all that, “We need to commit to establishing expectations for meaningful and civil online behaviors that will allow our children to not only be their best selves online, but bring out the best in others as well.”

The middle of the book is built upon his five areas where we all need to concurrently bolster our skills. This specificity is excellent as each chapter ends with Next Steps and Conversation Starters parents and educators alike can apply in their homes and schools. Here are the five attributes that Culatta has identified as essential for a healthy digital well-being for all:

Balanced. Balanced digital citizens participate in a variety of online activities and make informed decisions about how to prioritize their time in virtual and physical spaces.

Informed. Informed digital citizens evaluate the accuracy, perspective, and validity of digital media and have developed critical skills of curating information from the digital world.

Inclusive. Inclusive digital citizens are open to hearing and recognizing multiple viewpoints and engaging with others online with respect and empathy.

Engaged. Engaged digital citizens use technology and digital channels to solve problems and be a force for good in their physical and virtual communities.

Alert. Alert digital citizens are aware of their digital actions and know how to be safe and create safe spaces for others online.

As he discusses each attribute, he does an expert job considering his audience and making connections to applicable field research. With a call for more deliberate work on all fronts to improve our acceptance and usage of the tools we have grown so curious about or dependent upon but keeping users, vendors, and policymakers continually focusing on becoming more human, teacher, and firstly, student-centered:

When thinking about adapting and changing a school’s or family’s digital culture, it is important to do it with your kids and not to them; involve older kids, who will have suggestions based on habits developed from their own digital experiences.

In essence what Culatta does with Digital for Good is to reprioritize some of our known needs and show how to address them starting now, while reframing relatively recent concerns around the viral nature of digital fads and trends (recent in so much as we know tech is more like mushrooms than oak trees in their overnight development). But much like the Chinese proverb that, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Culatta doesn’t use fear and uncertainty to persuade, but to inspire: “To become lifelong learners, provide for their families, and become leaders of our civil society, our children must learn how to responsibly use digital tools from a young age.” We should all be able to agree with that idea.

Whether found on the parenting shelf or your classroom desk Digital for Good is a timely message of hope, which is always the most inspiring leadership approach as Culatta coaches us all to work together to this common goal:

Being digital for good is a team sport. Families remain at the center of preparing their kids to be effective digital citizens, but they should not be expected to shoulder the burden alone. We should be continually identifying potentially missing members of the team and work in partnership with social platform providers, governments, and educational institutions to create an effective environment for our kids. This means helping these institutions understand what we’re expecting.

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The Growing Need for Skills in Artificial Intelligence

We are seeing Artificial Intelligence (AI) used in all areas of life and work. Because of the continued growth in and demand for skills in AI, we need to provide opportunities for all students to learn about and understand how AI works. Dave Touretzky, the founder of AI4K12 had stated: “It’s important that children be given accurate information about AI so they can understand the technology that is reshaping our lives.” Artificial intelligence is increasing in all areas of our world and a recent Forbes article shared five industries that are seeing increased benefits from artificial intelligence.

Automotive industry. There is a prediction that there will be 33 million self-driving cars on the road by 2040. To learn more about self-driving cars, I recommend checking out the virtual driverless course from AI World School, which I had been using with my STEAM class.

Ecommerce. Algorithms track our use of certain websites such as Amazon, which then leads to more personalized experiences. Although it can be a bit unsettling at times to see ads pop up on other sites. Have you looked at a shopping site or searched something on Google, to then find similar products popping up on the other websites that you interact with?  Algorithms make this possible.

Finance. AI processes large amounts of data and can instantly complete tasks and transactions that in the past took hours or days and multiple people to complete. There are “Robo advisors” which are capable of building personalized portfolios and profiles for investors and can do so without any human interaction.

Healthcare. For example, diagnosing pathology by analyzing tissue samples using machine learning and algorithms which can help doctors identify problems more quickly and provide care for patients.

Transportation and travel. More than 80% of people regularly use their phones to search local restaurants and landmarks. Algorithms scan the roads and adapt and provide information in real-time. Think about how often you rely on Google to search for a location or information about local landmarks.

These are just five of the industries seeing an increase but AI is used in many sectors of life and work.

What this means for our students

As we consider how to best prepare students for the future, there is one thing that I believe is clear. Regardless of what our students decide to do in the future, it will involve technology. Students will also need a variety of skill sets to be prepared for whatever changes the future brings. An article from the World Economic Forum referred to a “reckoning for skills” and how certain skills will be essential as 1 billion jobs will be transformed by technology in the next 10 years. The Jobs of Tomorrow report stated that there will be an influx of jobs in the areas of artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cloud computing.

Beyond the statistics showing growth in these areas and with the emerging technologies and smart machines that are being developed, we have to recognize the likelihood that many jobs which are currently done by humans will be done with machines.

So what does that mean for us as educators and for our students? What types of opportunities do we need to provide for them and how can we prepare ourselves enough to get them started? First, help students to understand what artificial intelligence is, where we see it being used in our daily lives, what are some areas of the work or in the world that it is making an impact, and what the concerns are that we should have when it comes to AI.

We need to create a space for students to explore, to develop their own understanding and to interact with it, and then create their own AI. Regardless of what grade level or content area we teach, there are resources available for students even as young as pre-K to learn about AI. When it comes to artificial intelligence, giving students the chance to learn and a more hands-on or self-directed manner will make a difference. We need to give students the chance to try something, to fail at it, to adapt, and then to set new goals.

Here are seven resources to explore to find courses, curriculum outlines, and helpful materials for getting started with AI.

Getting Smart Town Hall was a recent discussion presented by Getting Smart on AI and its impact on our lives. Panelists discussed the implications of AI and how to prepare our students, with many resources shared.

AI World School offers three flagship AI courses for different age groups and also, several micro-courses. AIWS also has a virtual driverless car course and is offering summer camp courses. Also available this summer is the AI Covid Warrior contest.

DAILy from MIT offers a curriculum for students to explore AI as well as other activities and a mini-course.

ISTE’s AI and STEM Explorations Network has created four free hands-on AI projects for the classroom guides which are available for download from ISTE and GM. I helped to create a lesson on the use of AI in language classrooms. The guides are available in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

Microsoft AI for Good offers many resources for educators or anybody to look at how artificial intelligence is being used and to also better prepare teachers

Microsoft Educator Center presents educators with courses on learning about machine learning and other AI technologies.

Rex Academy offers many different courses to explore and has an AI and machine learning pathway. You can sign up for a 30-day trial.

It is important for our students to understand these emerging technologies, especially ones that will continue to grow and impact us in the future. We must make sure that we best prepare our students by providing access to resources that provide them with the right information and opportunities to work at their own pace and explore based on their specific interests and needs. It is important that we bring these topics into our classes so that our students can have exposure to learning about them on a consistent basis so that they are better prepared for the future.

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Honoring Education Innovation during COVID 19 through the Resilient District Prize

Although we are still months away from normalcy, the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine has signaled the end of this crisis. While schools will reopen and social separation policies will be abolished, the effects of the epidemic will linger, and we must not let COVID-19-era advances go by the wayside. While many of these solutions were created in reaction to the pandemic, the lessons learned are crucial for developing more equal education systems. As quality education and equitable access are being positioned at the forefront of this problem, we feel our experimental path provides significant lessons that may help governments, legislators, and educational designers. It is time to construct a “new normal”, together.

While remote learning will never completely replace high-quality in-person education, our experience during the epidemic has shown that adolescents do not need a conventional classroom to build skills. While we are all happy to return to the classroom, the return to normalcy does not imply that we should revert to old behaviors when our eyes have been opened up to so many new strategies and possibilities. We must think critically about how the pandemic-tested techniques, ideas, and initiatives may be integrated back into traditional educational settings. We have an amazing opportunity to use the knowledge gained during this period to broaden access to more underprivileged adolescents. Learning should not be considered a luxury, and we have long needed extra and inclusive paths to educate the millions of youngsters who are unable to attend regular high school because they needed to get a job to support themselves and their families.

There are a few lessons learned through the pandemic that give the education system an option to shine:

  • Greater possibilities for “learning” and enhanced flexibility
  • Valuing job skills and preparing teenagers for adulthood
  • Creating more equity and access so all students reach their unbounded potential

As part of our mission to broadcast, document, and forecast the evolution of K-12 education in America, Future of School is honoring the resilient spirit of educators who have been embracing innovation in difficult times through the 2021 Future of School Resilient Districts Prize.

Over the last decade, technology has become an increasingly more important component of modern education. With the pandemic, we’ve seen just how critical the role of technology plays in ensuring flexible learning models and instructional delivery that can withstand major disruptions.

Now, we want to recognize those educators and schools who have risen to the challenge to provide students with high-quality educational experiences despite—or perhaps because of—the unique constraints of our times.


Educators, individual schools, or networks/consortium of schools are all welcome to apply for the 2021 Future of School Resilient District Prize by sharing their stories about how they have innovated their instructional delivery and/or educational environments to support their students.

As many as 12 awards of up to $25,000 will be rewarded to schools and educators who’ve risen to the challenge to provide students with high-quality educational experiences despite—or perhaps because of—the unique constraints of our times.

  • RDP funds can be used for technology, curriculum, professional development, training, or other approved online and blended learning ed-tech-related expenses.
  • In addition, we’ll be compiling best practices from the winners into a shareable format others will greatly benefit from in the journey towards building the future of learning for their students.
  • More than a grant program, the RDP focuses on systemic change through individual inspiration, idea sharing and the intentional celebration of the efforts of educators across America during the pandemic.

We are so grateful for all your hard work this year, and we hope we’ll have the chance to support you in a much bigger way soon!

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Antonio Boyd serves as Executive Vice President at Future of School. A national education intermediary focused on ensuring all students reach their unbounded potential. His work and research focus on experiential learning, equity and access, afterschool programming, diversity and inclusion, social justice education, and college and career pathways. 

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