Among The STARs: The Rise of Skills-Based Hiring

Many of us have become increasingly aware of the gaps in the workforce. While oftentimes the blame falls on the shoulders of talent and perceived lack of candidates, this gap is oftentimes more related to the fact that recruitment officers aren’t sure how to match skills with workplace needs. This process is time-consuming, subjective, and often requires a great deal of translation with regards to value-adds, talents, and skillsets. Numerous technologies and organizations have tried their hand at reducing the cost and time of hiring, but it remains a huge pain point for organizations of all sizes.

Six years ago, Byron Auguste worked to support and grow TechHire, a White House initiative that focused on building career pathways and matching tech experiences to jobs. This helped to catalyze [email protected], an organization that focuses on supporting workers who do not have bachelor’s degrees but are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs).  By engaging with corporate, philanthropic, and workforce partners, the organization has united efforts to directly address the barriers that STARs face in today’s labor market.

[email protected]’s research aims to show employers the importance of the STARs talent pool. Through their STARs Insights Initiative, for the first time, there was dedicated research for employers to understand STARs values, skills, and opportunities for upward mobility.  

“We define STARs as individuals at least 25 years old who graduated from high school and have skills but don’t hold a bachelor’s degree. Many STARs enrolled in college but didn’t complete their degree due to family or financial circumstances. Others have a two-year community college degree or received technical training through workforce programs, online credentialing services, or certification programs. Still, others are self-taught or developed their skills on the job or through military service,” says the [email protected] website.

Many companies desire diversifying their talent pool, but struggle to get outside their traditional pipelines — this is where we come in.

Mason Pashia

Putting It Into Action

In order to better provide matchmaking capabilities, [email protected] created Stellarworx, the STARs Talent Marketplace. Stellarworx is a faster way to match STARs with inclusive employers that are ready to hire, while uniquely integrating talent developers to validate candidates’ skills. This platform “hires people for their potential, not pedigree,” helping employers to identify diverse and growth-minded candidates more efficiently.

Recently, [email protected] hired Bridgette Gray, a long-time advocate for alternative pathways and employment, as the Chief Customer Officer. Gray will work to grow Stellarworx’s reach and push the STARs brand to new heights. Gray joins [email protected] after seven-and-a-half years at Per Scholas, where she was their first Chief Impact Officer, responsible for managing all training operations, and organizational impact for Per Scholas’ 17 campuses.

“Many companies desire diversifying their talent pool, but struggle to get outside their traditional pipelines,” says Gray. “This is where we come in.”

Gray says that she feels optimistic about the future and the fledgling momentum of skills-based hiring, however, it is not moving fast enough. “We have to also ensure that DEI is central to skills-based hiring and that workers are realizing their own value.”

Down the road, [email protected] would like to see the STARs language widely known and used. Gray says that could be the STARs logo appearing on job applications, badges to indicate STARs hiring on websites,  career listing sites, and more. This hopeful signal has great potential to become adopted and spread throughout the workplace.

[email protected] COO Shad Ahmed shared, “with employers across the country reporting talent shortages, while millions of STARs are sidelined from opportunity, we know the sky’s the limit with Bridgette on board.”


Expert Perspectives: How Virtual Reality Can Aid in Career Technical Education

By: Bharani Rajakumar

What are some of the challenges in Career Technical Education today and how can AR/VR help to address them?

At its core, immersive learning is about giving students the opportunity to experience—in the truest sense of the word—what it’s like to perform certain tasks, whether that’s operating a multi-ton crane hoisting an 800,000-pound piece of equipment or learning on-the-job fundamentals of working at an industrial construction site. This level of immersion can be accomplished through virtual reality headsets, which provide trainees with a 360-degree view in all directions, and advanced simulations that enable learners to feel as though they are in a physical environment.

Immersive technology helps students gain exposure to well-paying, in-demand jobs. Simulations enable students to feel as though they are embedded in a factory, shop floor, or another workplace. With the headsets strapped on, they simulate tasks just as though they are performing real work with their hands, such as operating heavy machinery or using tools. They are seeing with their eyes the same environment they would see in a seven-story manufacturing facility or shop floor, for example, and practicing the same type of visual, physical, and decision-making skills they would be expected to use on the job. In this way, immersive technologies help solve one of the biggest challenges in Career Technical Education: providing learners with real insights into what tasks on the job look like, and understanding whether specific careers could be the right fit for them.  

What are some of the major trends you’ve seen in Career Technical Education?

The truth is we are still largely using the same paper processes to help students explore careers just as we did before the internet. It’s an archaic and limiting approach. When you ask a student what it’s like to be in manufacturing, they may picture big machines or heavy cranes; they may not make the connection that the operating crane isn’t so different from the video games they love to play. Moving Career Technical Education into this century requires bringing different careers alive for students, so we can help them see new possibilities for themselves.

Make career exploration as interactive as possible. Let your students’ curiosity be their guide. That is where the best learning happens–when it’s driven by students.

Bharani Rajakumar

How early should students begin career exploration processes?

Through our partnership with Coastal Bend College in Texas, we are bringing career exploration to students as young as 7th grade. If you ask any 7th grader what they want to be when they grow up, they will reference careers they have seen: firefighters, engineers, doctors, lawyers. The careers they dream about lead to which advanced classes they take in high school and influence their majors in college—and if they decide to pursue post-secondary education at all. It is crucial that we help students expand their understanding of what careers they can pursue and get their start early in career exploration.

What are some of the barriers students face to finding the right career?

You can’t be what you can’t see. Students don’t know the kinds of jobs that are out there–and that some of those jobs are closer to home than they think. Exposure and awareness is one barrier. Another is fighting the stigma around skilled trades–we need to help students understand that skilled trades are vital to our economy.

A Department of Education study showed that Black and Hispanic students benefit less often from classes connected to higher-paying careers and college degrees than their white peers. How can we help address this racial divide in career technical education?

Students of color across the country struggle to access Career Technical Education that sets them on paths toward higher-paying careers. Immersive learning technologies like TRANSFR help level the playing field. Low-cost but high-value, the tech is particularly helpful to students in under-resourced schools envision rewarding careers.

Why are you passionate about helping students explore careers?

Growing up, my family didn’t have money, social status, or connections, just lots of hopes and dreams—-like a lot of families across the country. I grew up in an era where people would say if you don’t have a plan for college then you will end up on the street. My first job was at Wendy’s-and it was an important stepping stone to entering the workforce and thinking about my future.

When I was 16 years old, I read a book about Warren Buffet and learned that his first job was delivering newspapers. Everyone has to get their start somewhere. What I want for students embarking on career exploration across the country is to get that first job–and also have an opportunity to see what is really possible for them.

What advice would you give to educators that want to help K-12 students with career exploration?

Make career exploration as interactive as possible. Let your students’ curiosity be their guide. That is where the best learning happens–when it’s driven by students.

Bharani Rajakumar is the CEO of TRANSFR Inc.


Treating Data as our Most Valuable Asset

By: Elise Hawthorne

Time. Arguably, it is the most valuable commodity anyone could have. For educators, time can be a sparkling prize held just out of reach. The chasm between is filled with deadlines, test requirements, homework to edit, meetings to attend, lessons to plan, a dog to feed, family to care for, and a positive mindset to maintain. Whew. Many calming breaths are needed when addressing the issues educators continue to face today.

One of the ways my team at Project Unicorn seeks to eliminate the workload in the life of a teacher, and school administrators, is by sharing the importance of data interoperability. Interoperability is a term that, while technical, underlies many commonplace applications and conveniences. Whether it’s the Bluetooth connection between a headset and a phone, or the ability to withdraw cash from a local ATM while traveling, interoperability helps things work when we need them to. When it comes to student data, educators often spend valuable time transferring data from system to system to complete everyday tasks, such as the simple goal of taking attendance. They’re faced with hours of additional work because the edtech systems and platforms available do not communicate with each other or enable the secure and easy transfer of student information.

Whether it’s the Bluetooth connection between a headset and a phone, or the ability to withdraw cash from a local ATM while traveling, interoperability enables things to work when we need them to.

Elise Hawthorne

Schools districts can start tackling this problem by taking action,  such as by signing the Project Unicorn School Network pledge. This pledge was created by the 16 diverse organizations that make up the Project Unicorn Steering Committee, which is invested in furthering the use of data interoperability. Signing the free pledge signals a district’s commitment to securing and leveraging interoperable data to improve student learning. Pledge signatories can access resources, technical assistance, events, and scholarships to support technology selection and procurement.

Ultimately, the increased demand for interoperability drives the edtech ecosystem to implement better interoperability practices. Pledge signatories commit to prioritizing the secure access, privacy, and interoperability of their edtech products, which empowers educators and families to engage more deeply in their students’ education. Meanwhile, they will improve access to that most valuable educator asset: time.

Two tips to consider:

Don’t ignore the capacity needs of educators in their efforts to provide the best quality education to students across the country.

Prioritize your time by signing the Project Unicorn School Network pledge and begin your journey towards seamless, secure data management.

Elise Hawthorne is the Technical Support and Implementation Lead for Project Unicorn at InnovateEDU.


Real World Learning About Sustainability

It’s important that we find opportunities for our students to engage in meaningful and authentic learning experiences. There are many options for us to do this through methods such as genius hour, project-based learning or problem-based learning which give students the chance to drive their learning through the power of choice. With these methods, we promote more independence and student choice in learning while also boosting student engagement as students explore and learn about topics of interest or something that sparks curiosity.

A few years ago we started with project-based learning (PBL) in my Spanish classes and part of our focus was on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. (SDGs) which are 17 goals set forth in 2015 with hopes to meet these goals by 2030. Some of the goals focus on helping to reverse damage done by climate change, work toward the elimination of poverty, facilitate the creation of healthy waterways, develop sustainable cities and communities, to name a few. With the SDGs as a focus, students can engage in meaningful real-world projects where they learn to identify a global problem and act locally.

The importance of giving students opportunities like this is to help them understand how they can effect change in the world that will benefit them and others in the future. I spoke with Steve Sostak, educator and founder of Inspire Citizens about the importance of bringing this type of learning into our classrooms. Steve said: “Education for sustainable development and global citizenship enables learners to build the future-focused cognitive skills and dispositions that shape a healthier self, society, and planet. When we take this transformative learning and combine it with imagining our schools as local community centers, students can purposefully apply interdisciplinary learning to co-create a wiser and more compassionate world together.”

Jacob Bennett inside pod at Riverview

When students truly care about an issue, make decisions about their learning path and reflect on that learning, they develop empathy and it also fosters the development of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As students build social awareness by connecting with community members and learning about challenges that impact the people and the world around them, they better understand the world they live in and the importance of working together to help others. As students design and work through their own projects, it helps them to develop SEL skills of self-awareness and self-management. Our students need to have an understanding of the world around them beyond their community and by connecting them with meaningful opportunities to make an impact, it will amplify their learning potential and prepare them for whatever the future holds.

Focusing on the SDGs is a way to help students and educators problem solve, communicate, and collaborate about ways that they can implement a project or take action for the world. Every teacher in any grade level or content area can find a way to bring learning about the SDGs into the classroom for the students. In my experience using project-based learning with my Spanish classes, looking at challenges faced in Spanish-speaking countries and finding those same challenges or similar challenges locally, made a tremendous impact on students. The phrase “Think global, act local” has become quite familiar around the world. When we look at these global issues it helps us to become more aware of the issues being faced by members of our own local community and take action.

We have the means between the technology available to us to do the research to explore ideas and to communicate with one another to bring in these real-world, purposeful learning experiences for our students.. Since we are helping to prepare students for the future, it makes sense that we prepare them to face challenges that exist in the world and come up with solutions for them. To find alternate ways of providing food to avoiding poverty to having sustainable cities for example.

Caden Smith and Jacob Bennett working in the pod

Real-world learning in my school

At the start of this school year, my school, Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA became involved in something that has been a truly meaningful learning experience that will benefit the community and offer authentic learning for students. A few years ago, we had a small hydroponics unit inside a classroom that students worked with. In 2019, the school applied for and received a grant to install a full hydroponic grow pod system outside of the school. One of our teachers, Mr. Michael MacConnell with the help of several students, works in the pod each day and takes care of the plants, cleaning and maintaining the pod.

With experiences such as these, students learn about sustainability through hands-on work. They learn about science and how what they are doing can impact their community and even the world. They are continuing to build on it and they have plans to grow a few thousand plants each month and potentially partner with a local food bank to donate produce. During this process students are learning about real world application of food production, working together on how to solve problems such as lack of food. Students are developing skills of collaboration, problem-solving, time management, critical thinking and engaging in something that is truly unique and more personalized to them. Principal Eric Hewitt is impressed by the work that students are doing. He adds “Work around sustainability is important to our society in general. Getting experience as a high school student puts young people in a great position to move into these careers.

Impact on learning

Educators may wonder why it is important to get kids involved in SDG projects and what the benefits are. MacConnell says that he “finds it very important that students learn about the food supply system. What they think is local and fresh can be from a different state or even country and has created so many greenhouse gasses to get to where it was located.” Looking at learning about the SDGS, MacConnell believes that the “sustainability goals set forth by the UN are a great guide for teachers to teach globalism.” He asks himself “What can I show my students that can make an impact on the world? It’s the small practices they can do in their everyday lives that will drive consumer spending and ultimately company practices.”

Principal Hewitt adds “When you work on a project in the classroom, you rarely get to see how that work is connected to anything else. The Grow-pod project allows students to see a bigger picture. They are not just growing plants but making connections to ensure that the food is being used—connecting with food service and seeing the fruits of their labor being served in our own cafeteria.  That experience expands their vision and helps them see how their work fits in the larger scale of a system.”

Rylee Singhose working with the plants

So what do students think?

Jacob Bennett, a ninth-grader – “I like working in the pod because I like planting.  I like to get my hands dirty”

Caden Smith, an eighth-grader– “I love being in the unit as much as I can.  I like working with my hands and am learning so much.”

Wendy Derry (Aide) – “The impact I see is when the students watch the seeds sprout, grow larger, care for the plant’s needs, and then harvest it for the school to use in the cafeteria.  The whole process is engaging, exciting, and educational for our students.”

Resources to learn more

MacConnell has some suggestions for schools looking to get started with a similar program. He says “We were excited to get a big project like this funded and implemented. Money is out there to help with sustainable spaces/practices. I think it’s important to start small…this year the ecology club and I will be starting a recycling program for the school that will eventually lead to composting and less waste.”

Sostak shared that for educators beginning to take first steps into understanding and using the SDGs, he highly recommends these resources: Flourish Project: SDGs for the Early Years, the Good Life Goals Pack of Actions and the Inspire Citizens Design Sprint which is an excellent tool to explore in designing learning experiences that embed concepts related to sustainability.

We can help students to look at some of the challenges that are faced in the world today and think about how they can be part of the solution. When we empower students to explore solutions, to think critically, to collaborate, and to engage in learning in which they can apply skills they’re learning from different classes, it promotes authentic, real-world experiences that will best prepare them for the future. It shows that we are all in this together.

Related Articles

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Could Be Our Standards 

Think Global Act Local: How to Embed SDGs in Your School and Community

Green School Infuses Nature-based Learning for Sustainable Education


The Future of Work: Assessing Skills Essential for Success

By Doris Zahner, Ph.D

Our ever-growing technological world is rapidly changing the nature of work and the skills required to be successful. Workforce success is becoming less dependent on having content knowledge and more dependent on essential career readiness skills including critical thinking, problem solving and effective written communication.  

Almost a third of the world’s workforce — more than a billion jobs — is likely to be transformed by technology in the coming decade, according to estimates by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an internationally focused nonprofit that works “to build better policies for better lives.” 

“While it will be imperative for people to increasingly work with technology going forward, it’s a misconception that everyone will need to develop high-tech or scientific skills,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the World Economic Forum, wrote in reaction to OECD’s data.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news release published in August 2021 reported that people born in the years 1957 to 1964 held an average of 12.4 jobs from age 18 to age 54. In order to successfully traverse their careers, today’s students will need transferrable, essential skills to optimize success as they will likely have as many, if not more jobs as previous generations.  

Employers agree that these essential career readiness skills are crucial for success. According to employer research by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, while the top-ranked outcomes vary from year-to-year, critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, teamwork, and communication through writing and speaking have consistently been ranked by employers as the most important skills over time.

As assessment leaders for almost 20 years, the Council for Aid to Education (CAE)’s mission is to ensure students are as well prepared as they can be for higher education and the workforce. Unfortunately our research shows many students are not proficient in the skills employers demand most.

From a 2021 CAE Report

To empower and equip this generation of students, we should use this moment to rethink what skills we’re assessing as well as how and when we measure them.

What should we assess?

Students need a strong combination of content knowledge and essential skills to do well academically and to be prepared for success in the jobs of tomorrow.

CAE’s performance-based Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) for higher education and College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for secondary education, which have been used by over 800,000 students worldwide, provide accurate, reliable insights into students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication abilities so that educators can plan instruction, programs, and supports to help their students’ develop these essential skills. Employers have long sought these competences and recognized their importance.

Current measures of academic success, such as a transcript, focus on content knowledge. There is often little or no information provided on critical thinking and communication. However, these skills are so fundamental to students’ success during their education and after graduation, it is important to explicitly teach them. Just like with domain knowledge, these essential skills should be regularly assessed in order to provide educators with data to guide whole class instruction, provide targeted  resources to small groups and individual students, and develop institution and district-wide programming.

How should we assess?

The best assessment is one that is most authentic to what a student might encounter in the real world.

Unlike multiple-choice tests, our assessments present students with real-world situations to which they must come up with a solution. Through these performance tasks, students demonstrate their ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize data and information and, ultimately, develop and effectively communicate their solution to a problem.

According to our research, students are more engaged and put forth more effort on a performance task than on conventional multiple-choice tests. With that increased student engagement and effort, educators can gain insights into their knowledge, skills and abilities, and more accurately assess their readiness.

When should we assess?

Essential skills are typically not explicitly measured nor included in students’ K-12 or post-secondary curriculum. We believe it is vital to assess student’s critical thinking skills as early as possible – starting with the sixth grade – and certainly when they begin high school and college.

By identifying strengths, as well as understanding opportunities for improvement, educators can better target development. Along with appropriate developmental support, students can further improve their skills through coursework and resources outside the classroom (e.g., internships), maximizing career readiness upon graduation.

As an example, we are currently working with a higher education institution that is incorporating essential skills instruction into its fall curriculum for business majors. Entering students are assessed during their first few weeks of classes to set a baseline. These students are then given instruction on how to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills through a performance task model.  

Exiting students at this institution are given instruction early in the semester so they can apply these skills throughout their coursework. They are then assessed before they graduate. Students that demonstrate proficiency are awarded a micro-credential – since these skills are not typically included on a transcript. Credentialing provides an objective standard of these real-world skills that students can share with future educational institutions and prospective employers.

Conclusion

The nature of the work is changing, both in the short and long-term, and educators play a critical role in students’ future success. Content knowledge mastery paired with strong essential career readiness skills is the winning formula for success in secondary school and higher education. It provides students with a solid foundation to pursue, and be successful with, their next steps after graduation.

Assessment is the first step in improvement. Let’s ensure students are as well prepared as they can be for whatever future path they take.

Doris Zahner, Ph.D. is the chief academic officer at Council for Aid to Education, Inc. (CAE), a nonprofit developer of performance-based and custom assessments that authentically measure students’ essential college and career readiness skills. She oversees all research studies pertaining to CAE’s performance-based assessments and provides scientific oversight of scoring, equating, and reporting. Dr. Zahner holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and an MS in applied statistics from Teachers College, Columbia University. For more information, visit www.cae.org.


Why Collaborate for Online Learning? Because it Just (Net)Works

When COVID forced the world into online learning, we saw educators working tirelessly to learn, implement, iterate and design new digital solutions on the fly.

It’s almost impossible to believe we are now in the third school year affected by the pandemic. While we are all hopeful it is the last, there are many lessons learned and new opportunities created by educators and leaders who used the challenges of school closures to reimagine how and where learning is delivered to students.

While online learning is not a novel idea, in the last two years it has become more widely utilized than ever before. According to a RAND study and supported anecdotally by many local media stories, more than a thousand districts are starting or significantly expanding online or hybrid programs this school year. It’s likely that most of them are doing so in response to a demand from parents and students who value the flexibility of remote learning and want to continue learning in a new, innovative approach.

At Getting Smart we are advocates for choice and believe a strong, effective online learning option should be available to all learners through their neighborhood school. But we know that this work cannot be done alone.

Edleaders are in need of support and other leaders to share best practices and garner expert advice. Enter the Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC), an initiative that seeks to support districts and schools as they increase options for students and improve outcomes.

While online learning is not a novel idea, in the last two years it has become more widely utilized than ever before.

Jessica Slusser

Who is the Digital Learning Collaborative?

Started by the Evergreen Education Group, DLC is a membership group made up of educators, providers, supporters and thought leaders who are all committed to improving education for schools and students. All stakeholders in education are invited to join, whether you’re an educator, school board member, reporter, researcher or policymaker.

Given the dramatic shift for many districts, DLC is heavily focused on  meeting the needs of those starting an online or hybrid program. The collaborative ecompasses many different schools and instructional practices, including but not limited to state virtual schools, online schools, hybrid and mainstream schools.

Getting Smart strongly believes in the power of Networks, so we’re excited to have partnered with DLC to help share this opportunity with teachers and leaders in our own community!

The DLC is offering new membership options for districts this year. Membership benefits include ongoing members-only webinars that dig deeper into these topics, with opportunities for discussion among participants, as well as online discussions, “office hours” with experienced practitioners, and extensive practical guides and resources.

DLC webinars, office hours, happy hours, and other events are organized and presented by practitioners, researchers, and others who have many years of experience in the online, blended, and hybrid learning field.

Their new membership option provides for up to five people from your school or district to take advantage of the resources and learning opportunities. A portion of the annual fee to join is also given as credit to attend DLC’s main event, the Digital Learning Annual Conference (read about the most recent conference in our blog recap).

Start Learning Now.

To help support districts, DLC is offering a free webinar series every Monday through November 1st, 2021 that is open to anyone interested in learning from leaders in the field. These webinars will spend 20-30 minutes exploring keys to success in running an online or hybrid school. This includes setting clear and measurable goals, hiring and training teachers, selecting content and technology and engaging families. Following the discussion there will be time for attendees to bring your questions, share your stories and start moving forward in the right direction.

So if you’re thinking about starting an online or hybrid option, or maybe you already have but are running into obstacles, it’s time to join a webinar and learn more about implementing a successful online program. Click here to start learning and networking.

If membership isn’t right at this time, DLC is offering our readers a 10% discount on registration for the Digital Learning Annual Conference! To register, click here and use code DLACSmart22 to save!


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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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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The Rise of Skills-Based Hiring And What it Means for Education

The pandemic broke some old conventions and accelerated other trends. One convention that, for many tech employers, fell by the wayside was requiring degrees for every position. A trend that accelerated during the pandemic was skills-based hiring.

For decades, degree requirements have been added to more and more jobs. The degree ratchet increasingly screened out skilled applicants, expanded the opportunity gap, and made upward mobility more elusive.

For six years, former McKinsey partner Byron Auguste has been arguing that degrees are a bad proxy for critical skills. He founded [email protected] to connect employers to “a huge, largely invisible talent pool of capable people” they call STARs – workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes, rather than through four-year degrees. STARs have skills picked up through community college, workforce training, boot camps, certificate programs, military service, or on-the-job learning, but are often overlooked by employers and are blocked by arbitrary degree requirements.

“Companies are missing out on skilled, diverse talent when they arbitrarily ‘require’ a four-year degree. It’s bad for workers and it’s bad for business. It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Auguste. “Instead of ‘screening out’ by pedigree, smart employers are increasing ‘screening in talent for performance and potential.”

While the pandemic accelerated inequity, it may have broken the ratchet of degree inflation and caused major employers to get serious about identifying job critical skills and “screen in” talent by verifying skills.

Job Boards Accelerate Skills-Based Hiring

In March, LinkedIn launched Skills Path, a skills-based hiring initiative aiming to connect employers and job seekers by identifying the core skills for open roles and then matching qualified candidates to those roles. Skills Path combines learning courses and skills assessments to match nontraditional candidates with job interviews. More than a dozen companies are already participating in the pilot program

“We believe that by taking a skills-based approach to opportunity we can remove barriers for candidates that might not have the degree or network, while also increasing the size of employer talent pools, often letting them pinpoint quality applicants for hard-to-fill roles,” said LinkedIn VP of Product Hari Srinivasan.

Other leading job sites including Indeed and Ziprecruiter have also grown more sophisticated about skills matching.

Building and Credentialing Skills

Putting America Back to Work, a new fund announced today, seeks to put 100,000 Americans into good tech and healthcare jobs. “Our goal is to catalyze more pathways to good jobs that provide learners a real-world experience and relevant job skills aligned to the evolving labor market,” said fund investor Ben Walton. “The apprenticeship model encourages companies to prioritize hiring based on skills and competencies which, in turn, increases the opportunity for economic mobility.”

Two years ago, IBM, a leader in digital credentials launched the SkillsBuild initiative to connect learners to job pathways. In June, IBM announced a new collaboration with 30 global organizations focused on helping underserved populations improve their skills and employability. They hope to upskill a half a million people by the end of the year.

In September, Western Governors University, Walmart, and 40 partners launched the Open Skills Network to accelerate a shift to skills-based education and hiring by establishing a network of open skills libraries and skills data.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) launched its own skills-focused initiative called Skillrise which features courses, conversations, and useful frameworks about upskilling the workforce.

Marketing giant Hubspot runs an academy that has certified over 200,000 professionals advancing their careers with skill credentials.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Verizon, JPMorgan, and Accenture created new programs to upskill their workforces and extend onramps to others. All of these initiatives offer modular learning experiences back mapped from job competencies with credentials that capture and communicate learning. These corporate giants have created a parallel postsecondary universe that complements or could even replace traditional higher education for many learners.

Signaling Skills

Skills-based hiring focuses not only on priority technical skills but foundational and transferable skills. Conducted with Kansas City partners, the DeBruce Foundation sponsored the Essential Skills Report which outlined six competencies most important to enter and succeed in the world of work:

  • Communication: interact with clients, coworkers, and collaborators;
  • Collaboration: teamwork that leverages skills of colleagues;
  • Critical thinking: problems solving that synthesizes information;
  • Interpersonal skills: treating others with empathy, building trusting relationships;
  • Proactivity: taking initiative, acting on opportunities to add value; and
  • Executive Function: manage work independently, deal with ambiguity.

The report concluded, “Because these skills are valuable across sectors and durable over time, it is important that education institutions, out-of-school experience providers, and employers invest in the development of Essential Skills.”

A number of Kansas City area high school staff has been studying the report looking for ways to more intentionally develop Essential Skills in conjunction with real-world learning experiences including internships and client projects.

What Skills-Based Hiring Means for Education

Discipline-based courses have been the standardized measure for units of secondary and postsecondary learning for 130 years. But it’s becoming widely appreciated that course credits and degrees are weak proxies for developed human capability. For 20 years, around the edges, there has been steady progress moving away from seat time to competency-based learning–a combination of individual path and pace, the time and support to master competencies, and credentials that signal new capabilities.

The surge in skills-based hiring means high schools and postsecondary education institutions should design experiences around priority skills, assess those skills and help learners community those skills. Where courses remain the organizing construct, they should be a series of experiences aiming at a bundle of competencies.

Skills should be demonstrated in authentic ways and can be captured and communicated in digital credentials that, over time, will replace course lists and grades as the priority reporting mechanism.

High school and postsecondary learners should have the opportunity to build profiles (a wallet of digital credentials) and portfolios (artifacts representing personal bests) that communicate capabilities.

Schools have an expanding opportunity to incorporate some of the corporate skill-building and credentialing programs into their courses of study.

The work starts with community conversations about new learning priorities–particularly skills key to entering and succeeding in the new economy. It continues with learners having multiple opportunities to develop and demonstrate new skills. And it ends with learners hired based on what they know and can do.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.


The 5 Steps of Design Thinking Help Drive School Improvements

By: Ben Owens

Can you be an educator and not be committed to continuous improvement? Probably not. Whether it’s improving a lesson, a school policy, or a 5-year strategic plan, educators constantly work to better meet the needs of their students. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, too many of these improvements fall short of intended results. While reasons vary, a big one is a failure to use a systemic process to drive such improvement efforts.

To be clear, this is not a problem unique to education. Having spent a career in engineering before becoming a teacher, I saw too many cases of “solutionitus,” where colleagues would rush to make changes without following a methodical problem solving process.

The good news is that there are numerous improvement tools that are equally applicable in and out of education. These include Plan, Do, Study, Act; Engineering Design, and 5-Why. One of the most powerful, however, is Design Thinking.

Design Thinking forces us to understand and define a problem from the perspective of the user. From there, it allows you to conceptualize human-centered solutions, develop workable prototypes, and then test for effectiveness. Rinse, repeat.

One of the most accepted Design Thinking models is that of the Stanford d.school, and its five steps of empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and test. I will briefly highlight each step, including  examples of how they can be applied in an education context.

“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible.” This quote, by Jared Spool, a design expert and educator, makes sense if you have ever experienced a bad design – something that is almost always caused by a failure to empathize with the ultimate user. Parents who struggle to find the information they need on a district’s new LMS is an unfortunate example where the system’s designers did not adequately consider the user perspective.

An empathy map is a great tool to help a design team use observations, surveys, focus groups, etc. to understand what the user is saying, thinking, feeling, and doing relative to the problem at hand. Ryan Schultz, a Blended Learning Coordinator at the Poudre School District’s Futures Lab (CO), used this process as part of his efforts to set up his hybrid classroom. By actually sitting with a student at his desk, Schultz could quickly see how the room’s plexiglass dividers were not allowing students to see the information they needed. This empathy focus led to physical improvements that enhanced the student learning experience.

A student view before applying a redesign, by Ryan Schultz, Poudre School District (CO) Teacher.

The design team’s next step is to analyze and synthesize the empathy data to define the problem from the point of view of the user. This definition should not be so broad that it’s impossible to solve, but also not so narrow that it limits innovation. One useful template that can help is a “How Might We” statement: How might we (action-oriented experience) for (our primary user) so that (desired outcome).

Diana Siliezar-Shields, a Science Curriculum Leader at Barrington Public Schools (RI) worked with her colleagues Laura Donegan and Kara West to co-design an Environmental Impact Project that emphasized the importance of problem definition. The project gave the students significant voice and choice in terms of the topic and the presentation method, but as this example shows, they also had to define the problem per the intended audience and defend that definition with evidence.

The time invested in the Empathy and Define steps allows the team to “go slow so we can go fast.” These steps provide the foundation for the ideation stage (aka brainstorming) and prevent the team from jumping straight to solutions for problems that don’t exist.

We have all been part of brainstorming sessions, but doing them well requires establishing some basic norms, such as these from IDEO U. One often overlooked norm is “quantity over quality,” where you want to encourage prolific, “out of the box” thinking and not filter ideas before they see the light of day. One Stone, a student-led school in Boise ID, takes this seriously, stressing that the best ideas come after the 50th idea!

After the divergent thinking of ideation comes prototyping where the team uses convergent thinking with analysis, synthesis, and the prioritization of big ideas based on potential benefit and feasibility. This leads to one or more prototypes, or what is sometimes called the “minimum viable product (MVP)” for your potential solution. Simply put, it’s a scaled-back version of the ultimate solution that is relatively easy to try out with users.

Peter McFarland, another Science Curriculum Leader at Barrington, uses prototyping as an integral part of his Earthquake Proof Building Project. Students assume roles of architects, engineers, and managers to develop prototypes that are tested and refined opposite design constraints. With the testing, they are also moving into the fifth and final stage of the process.

Testing is where the design team validates that their solution(s) indeed address user needs and solve the defined problem. Authentic improvement, therefore, is  validated via user feedback. But even if not successful, the feedback allows the team to better empathize with users, refine the problem definition, and generate better solutions. It’s this iterative nature of Design Thinking that helps move it from being just a tool to a mindset that can drive a culture of continuous improvement.

Andrew Harris, the CEO of the Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies in Elizabeth City, NC points to Design Thinking in this manner by highlighting how in the early days of the pandemic, the school was able to quickly pivot to continue its environment of high quality Project Based Learning, even in a remote setting. “It was our culture of continuous improvement and design thinking that created the agility for us to respond in that manner,” Harris said.

And while each of the above examples highlight how Design Thinking can be effectively applied in a classroom or school context, it’s worth noting that its power also extends well into the realm of systemic and policy issues as well. For example, Liberatory Design and Equity Centered Community Design are two excellent resources that explicitly leverage the Design Thinking framework toward the critical issue of equity. In fact, these were resources that helped inform a design sprint that Adam Haigler (co-founder of Open Way Learning) and I recently had the privilege of conducting with members of the North Carolina Board of Education regarding their Equity & While Child Strategic Plan.

Adam Haigler facilitating the prototype phase of a Design Sprint with the NC Board of Ed, by Ben Owens.

Given the amount of time and energy educators and education stakeholders spend on continuous improvement, it only makes sense that we find ways to improve how we improve. Design Thinking is such a way. How can you use a Design Thinking mindset to drive more meaningful innovation and continuous improvement for your students?

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