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Bringing Learning to Life with Design Challenges

Posts from WOL - 13 hours 20 min ago

A common scene at our partner schools: Students are divided into small groups called design teams and presented with a design challenge, which allows them to solve a problem as a team through a focus of inquiry, rich tasks, constraints and criteria for success. Activities like these show students how to be problem-solvers and not just question answerers.

The power of a design challenge is dependent on the quality of the challenge itself. Is it specific enough to provide clear direction but open enough to allow for creativity and real inquiry? Earlier this summer, KnowledgeWorks Teachnical Assistance Coaches Heather MacLaughlin and Karen Wells taught teachers in Birmingham, Alabama, how to teach with design challenges by presenting one for the teachers to solve.

Design Thinking and Inquiry-Based Learning

Heather and Karen presented minimal details to the small teacher groups. “Work in your small groups. Using the supplies in front of you, design a rocket that you can both launch and fly.” Design challenges like these give participants an opportunity to practice design thinking.

Design thinking is a cyclical, four-step approach to inquiry-based problem solving that can be applied in many settings.

The design thinking process for problem solving allows for continuous improvement.Download a larger version of the design thinking cycle.
  1. Prepare: Define your question, challenge or question. Do background research to build knowledge. Develop multiple perspectives.
  2. Incubate: Brainstorm possible answers, solutions, new ideas and approaches. Draft, tinker and create rapid prototypes.
  3. Gain Insights: Test the prototype. Refine and make revisions to finalize the prototype. Communicate and disseminate the innovation.
  4. Verify: Filter and recycle ideas and identify the best possibilities. Build the prototypes using the best possibilities.

The Value of Design Challenges

When teachers in Birmingham, Alabama, worked through their design challenge building a rocket, they also worked through all steps of the design cycle, giving them insight into what their students might experience.As teachers worked through their design challenge building a rocket, they also worked through all steps of the design cycle, giving them insight into what their students might experience.

After everyone launched their rockets – some with more success than others, teachers debriefed on lessons learned. One of the most important takeaways was to start with some kind of question or problem that will get students interested – something relevant and something they can connect to. To personalize the challenge more to your students, have them brainstorm the activities and vote on the final one.

The reasons to do design challenges are simple. They provide students with an opportunity to be creative and innovative and demonstrate that they can be more than one solution to a problem. Working in teams to find solutions to real-world problems helps students develop skills that will be applicable in college and career. It demonstrates that problem solving is about the process we use to get to the end result and that it’s not failure if you can learn from what didn’t work and adjust.

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A Soft Place to Land…

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-23 08:00

Guest post by Valerie Smith, a Technical Assistance Coach with KnowledgeWorks and Team Leader at Schenectady Smart Scholars Early College High School

I once read that “children who need the most love will sometimes ask for it in the most unloving ways.” I agree with that statement, but also believe some students need someone on their side, just because. I find it incumbent on me to give every kid a soft a place to land, and hope others in education feel the same.

For those who have already trudged through adolescence and have vivid recollections of the good, the bad, and ugly times of that phase, think back to who gave you a soft place to land.

During the school year, students spend upwards of 8 hours and day, for around 180 days, in school. We see them a lot. In class, in the halls, in the lunchroom – not to mention around the communities in which we live. We develop relationships, appreciate their humor, their perspectives on life (such as they are at 15), and do our best to support and guide them as they start coming in to their own. We offer them life lessons (even though they sometimes think we sprang fully formed as “old people”) while trying to instill the value of education. But as sometimes happens, life becomes overwhelming, filled with pressures, and at times can overpower even the most grounded individual.

Giving a kid a soft place to land provides room for them to tell us about their day or ask for help without sometimes even knowing they are reaching out to us.

While it’s a sliding scale, there is no student needier than another. There are students asking for help in the “most unloving ways,” but sometimes the students who just pop in to say “hi” are asking for love too.

Acknowledge them, listen to them, joke with them, and be that soft place for them to land.

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From City Centers to Cornfields: Educating all students for success

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-22 09:35

My school experience was based quite literally in the middle of cornfields.

Forty miles west of Chicago, the small suburb where I grew up was the last stop on the city’s Metra line. But with a suburban-raised mom and an Iowa farm-raised dad, it was a happy medium for our family.

Fortunately for students in the Kaneland School District, the location was also the happy medium for learning. Yes, we visited Garfield Farm Museum where we could pet chickens and churn butter, but we also ventured into the city to visit SUE the tyrannosaurus at the Field Museum and Van Gogh at the Art Institute of Chicago.

For a rural school, Kaneland had the resources to provide unique and effective learning opportunities to all students from kindergarten through high school graduation.

But not all rural schools are as lucky.

Students in rural areas often lack access to high-quality, well-resourced public education. Some struggle with transportation to and from school. Districts report shrinking student populations. The teacher workforce is increasingly more difficult to recruit and retain. And many rural schools are left out of the conversation when education debates and discussions are so focused on urban settings.

To better serve its rural students, South Dakota is increasing investment in and expanding the scope of a statewide e-learning center – a signal of change for rural education throughout the country.

South Dakota students, who otherwise might not have access to necessary courses, will now be able to join virtual classrooms led by qualified educators with years of classroom experience. Students and teachers are connected via cameras and monitors, and learners will be able to gain credit for the virtual courses.

Previously, the center was more geared toward high-achieving students, offering courses such as foreign languages and Advanced Placement courses. The new course offerings will be based on needs of schools throughout the state. They will also help fill a void if districts can’t find teachers, such as Waubay High School, according to eSchool News:

The school has taken advantage of classes like pre-calculus and physics, but this year all of its language arts courses will be taught via the Center for Statewide E-Learning.

The school had trouble filling the language arts position, and is subscribing to E-learning classes that are part of Dakota Digital Network, Jones said. The students in Waubay will be the only students taking those particular sessions of the language arts classes.

There will be a paraprofessional in the classroom to help students and keep things in line, Jones said. Classes are small at Waubay — about 50 students in grades nine through 12.

“It’s not like you have 25 or 30 in a classroom,” Jones said. “The smaller schools and the more rural you are, these are options you’re going to have to utilize to be able to keep up with the core classes.”

Last year, our strategic foresight team released “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” which explores how to build truly equitable learning opportunities for all students, regardless of zip code, background or income bracket. In the paper, the authors explore challenges to learning in rural, suburban, urban and incarcerated settings.

To remedy some of the challenges, the strategic foresight team argues a need to expand learning opportunities for students that fit in a local context. Just like South Dakota’s e-learning efforts.

It will take creativity. It will take a shift in conversation to include all students, no matter where they live. But we can give every learner interesting, engaging educational experiences that provide cultural perspective… whether they live in the middle of South Dakota or 40 miles west of Chicago.

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Listen to the Beat of Our Rhythm: Refreshed, regrouped and re-energized for a new school year

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-08-19 08:00

Summer is a time for students and school staff to refresh, regroup and re-energize for a new school year. When we gathered in Birmingham, Alabama, for our Summer Institute, our goal was to gather all school staff and do just that.

The rhythm . . . that is the most poignant memory of the week that I have been carrying in the marrow of my bones . . . the rhythm we created, not only with John Scalici’s myriad percussion instruments and his expertise in directing us to find our rhythms, but also the connections we made with those rhythms and the stride we found as educators coming together to create meaningful work for our kids – together!

The design and commitment to excellence was evident throughout our sessions at the Institute. The “rhythm” established in the opening activities with Tech Theatre, through the “Keys for Literacy,” and all of the wonderfully creative and hand-on break-out sessions carried through the afternoon Team Time with the individual schools and their principals and coaches.

A highlight of the Summer Institute was a visit from students. I was moved to tears with pride and exhilaration when Benjamin and Ryan, two young men from Woodlawn Early College High School, spoke to the collective Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN) family.

Make the people who tell you, “you can’t do this” liars. – Benjamin, Early College Student #BirminghamWINs pic.twitter.com/0ifcPCvDPW

— Katie Varatta (@katie_varatta) July 28, 2016

Benjamin said, when asked why he chose to participate in Early College, “I could either be sloppy or magnificent. I chose magnificent.” And Ryan explained, “I was not joining a program; I was joining a family.”

“I could either be sloppy or magnificent. I chose magnificent.” #WoodlawnHighSchool student
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“I was not joining a program; I was joining a family.” Ryan, on why he chose #EarlyCollege
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Benjamin wants to give back to the community that has supported him so far in his Early College endeavors by being a mentor with younger children. “I’m all about giving back” he said. Both of these fine young men are prime examples of a bright future as long as we keep the end in mind . . . the success for our kids.

Friday’s closing session with John Scalici will forever stay with me. It’s had me humming “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge and making connections between that song and our work. “When it feels like the world is on your shoulders…” (and don’t we teachers feel like that!) “…and all the madness has got you goin’ crazy, it’s time to get out, step out… Forget about the worries on your mind, we can leave them all behind to the beat of the of the rhythm of…” Here is where I alter the lyrics in my head, because I’m dancing to the rhythm of our might. That’s what I felt in Birmingham surrounded by so many teachers united around a common goal. Might.

The 2016-2017 school year in Birmingham started last week and I know the students there are in good hands. Everything that transpired throughout the WIN Summer Teacher Institute week in Birmingham gives me hope and assurance that the needs of the students will be met with re-charged enthusiasm; the tool-kit of every teacher is restocked with essential gear that will help enhance literacy and close the reading gaps with which too many of our kids are burdened, and the “rhythm of the beat” will carry on.

We had an awesome week of learning at our WIN Summer Institute! Thanks @EdPersonalized! #BirminghamWINS pic.twitter.com/tKlXlISITI

— Oliver Elementary (@OliverLions) July 30, 2016

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Own Your Education

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-08-18 12:36

At a recent retreat, KnowledgeWorks staff were asked to consider how personalized learning, realized through competency-based education, could have changed their own school experiences or how it might change schooling for the children in their lives. We were tasked to write a postcard to our child selves, or to our children, with our hopes and dreams for those learning experiences. These are our words.

Own it. Make it relevant for yourself. Because no one is going to do it for you. Take responsibility for your own success. If you don’t, no one will. Use the voice you were given. Be your own advocate.

Own it. Because no one is going to do it for you.

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The Future of Learning: A seventh grader’s perspective

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-08-17 08:00

I sat down with my niece, Hannah, to discuss the what she thinks the future of learning might be like. Hannah is a 7th grader attending a rural school in Maryland.

How is school different than when your parents went to school?

School is different now from when my parents went to school because we learn different things or we learn the same things, but in different ways. Also, the things we use to learn are different, like we have computers and they used text books.

When you think about the future of education, what makes you excited?

When I think about the future for education I get excited about the different ways kids are going to learn things, like how they’re going to learn them and the different methods they use to solve the problems.

What trends do you think are changing education?

I feel like the technology trend is changing education because now some schools have kids using Chromebooks or other schools have them using desktop computers. Also, some after-school activities use iPads or tablets for the kids who stayed for that activity.

What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

Personalized learning means to me that some students move at a faster or slower pace than others so they get personal learning so that they can learn better and be smarter than when they have to move either faster or slower for everyone.

What will personalized learning be like in the future?

I think personalized learning will be more “popular” than what it’s like in the present. I feel like teachers are going to offer extra help for the kids that need personalized learning and that it will help kids way more than it does today.

What is do you think for the future of education will look like?

The future of education is going to have a lot of technology like tablets, phones are going to be allowed in school, and computers are going to be more frequently used in schools.

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Collaborating to Open Doors In and Out of the Classroom

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-16 08:00

Guest post by Julianna Vrooman, the Global History Teacher at Schenectady Smart Scholars Early College High School

Collaboration can be very intimidating in modern American education —collaborative learning, collaborative groups, collaboration as a 21st century skill, collaboration as part of our annual professional performance review. But how we can use collaboration to open doors, both for students and for educators?

I am a firm believer of collaboration in my classroom. Once I realized that collaboration doesn’t have to be the formal jigsaw lesson plan with assigned roles for each group member, my ability to help students grow by working with others flourished. Sometimes collaboration might be a structured group for a project, or it might just be a direction to work with someone else.

“I am a firm believer of #collaboration in my #classroom.” #EdChat
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I tend to allow the kids to choose their own partners or groups because it works best with my personality and teaching style, but I know plenty of teachers who do assigned partners and groups successfully. In either case it creates the skills that students need to get through school and life in a positive manner, so do what feels right for you and your students.

Collaboration opens doors for students in three significant areas

  • Social skills
  • Professional opportunities
  • Intellectual growth

Teenagers are social by nature, but also often insecure. Collaboration acknowledges the desire to be social but provides a structure for those students who are insecure because it takes the form of an assignment. Don’t be afraid if kids’ conversations regularly go off topic, because they will also regularly go back on topic with a little refocusing now and then.

Of primary importance to successful classroom collaboration is the creation of a safe classroom culture so kids feel secure. This doesn’t mean as teachers we have to create a perfect environment. We miss things sometimes, and kids are mean sometimes, but they also understand when we value them and want them to value each other. As long as students feel valued and safe, they will start taking risks by talking to kids they might not have otherwise. This broadens their social horizons and creates a pattern of social interaction which will benefit them throughout their school careers and into adulthood.

The Power of Collaboration Between Educators

Collaborating helps us understand how our class or group of students fits in with others, it can lead to opportunities for professional growth.

Collaboration can open doors for teachers, too. It helps us understand how our class or group of students fits in with others, it can lead to opportunities for professional growth, and it can give you the courage to do things you might not otherwise try. If you’re lucky enough to work with a grade or content team like I am, you have the opportunity to collaborate regularly. But even if you don’t have this structure, you can seek out other teachers who interest you or seem to be like-minded.

Use conversations in teacher work rooms to find out what other teachers do, what their content covers, how they manage their kids, or ideas for activities. This provides different perspectives for our teaching, but also helps us understand our students better. When you stretch across class or content borders, you create interest for your students and growth for yourself.

“When you stretch across class or content borders, you create growth for yourself.” #teaching
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The biggest impact that collaboration has had for me personally is in the growth of my courage as a teacher. I have been doing this for a while now, and I’m pretty good because I reflect regularly and make little adjustments based on my reflections.. It wasn’t until I collaborated closely with others that I learned to trust myself enough to take a chance and do something entirely different than I had ever done before, not just walk up a hill but take a leap off a cliff and try new things. My colleagues — my collaborators—gave me courage. We opened those doors together.

“My colleagues — my collaborators—gave me courage.” – Julianna Vrooman #collaboration
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I Am Sorry That the System Didn’t Work

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-15 10:17

At a recent retreat, KnowledgeWorks staff were asked to consider how personalized learning, realized through competency-based education, could have changed their own school experiences or how it might change schooling for the children in their lives. We were tasked to write a postcard to our child selves, or to our children, with our hopes and dreams for those learning experiences. These are our words.

Dear Crissy,

I wish that KnowledgeWorks was around when you were in elementary school.

I am sorry that the system didn’t work consistently through a thoughtful vision, culture, and transparency to help to identify your personal needs, desire to learn, and help to encourage your unique thoughts and ways that you learn to help guide you and go deeper than, “fake it ’til you make it.”

But, I am so proud of your perseverance, your courage, and your growth mindset to find your own different ways to succeed, stand out, and get the experiences you needed to be more. Your perspective and the challenges you have endured have helped to shape experiences and further opportunities for others.

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Why We Want to Bring Blockchain to SXSWedu

Posts from WOL - Sat, 2016-08-13 08:00

Education conversations can easily get stuck in a logjam, constrained by current structures and policy frameworks to relatively limited reforms that don’t go far enough to meet students’ needs for a rapidly changing and increasingly complex future. So when we see something come along that promises to open new options for coordinating and credentialing learning, we start asking questions about what that could mean in ten years’ time.

We’re at one of those junctures today. Blockchain and smart contracts have intriguing potential to bring more distributed coordination to education, especially when combined with shifts toward more open and transparent cultures. We want to explore their potential at SXSWedu next March. Here’s why.

  1. It’s pretty exciting to think that these distributed technologies could provide a new architecture for education, giving educators, learners, and families more options for personalizing learning.
  2. That kind of impact is not a given. Blockchain and smart contracts could also be used to optimize the performance of current approaches, perhaps so much so that the guise of innovation distracts from true impact on student learning.
  3. We need to balance speculation and hype with educator experience and wisdom.
  4. We need their use to be guided by compelling visions for learning.
  5. We also need to anticipate and begin navigating potential pitfalls around equity, data security, credentialing, and student privacy.
  6. We need to situate exploration of these emerging technologies in a range of cultural contexts.

By voting for KnowledgeWorks’ “Learning on the Block” session at SXSWedu, you can help expand the debate while these potentially game-changing technologies are young enough for education stakeholders to shape their use in learning. Please help me, KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight Jason Swanson, research guru Mike Courtney of Aperio Insights, and blockchain pioneer Ben Blair of Teachur secure a panel session on blockchain and the future of education.

Voting is open through September 2. All it takes is a few clicks to help bring this future-focused conversation to SXSWedu! How’s that for distributed authority?

And thank you!

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Summer Camp for Educators

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-08-11 10:35

I just got back from summer camp and it was awesome! Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly summer camp, but it was close:  MasteryCon, “the ultimate K-12 event for mastery learning and formative assessment,” boasted mountains, coonskin caps, s’mores, and mastery learning sessions. I couldn’t have asked for more.

With 4 keynote presentations and over 40 information-filled sessions, I learned how teachers are using MasteryConnect to facilitate mastery learning in the classroom. I also learned how ESSA is reshaping how school districts support students and just how easy assessment building, sharing and reporting can be in MasteryConnect.

Some insights from MasteryCon that can help you develop tools and strategies for the implementation of a learner-centered classroom:

  1. Growth mindset is the understanding that the process of learning, comprehension and mastery is more important than a letter grade. Educators should focus on the processes of learning and the effort utilized by the student to achieve content understanding. Treating effort as a positive skill breeds perseverance, which ultimately creates optimism and opportunity.
  2. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) help define and create structured behavior that help resolve classroom issues and free the educator to do his or her duties. By involving students in the creation of the SOPs, the educator is generating transparency and buy-in while also giving the students a voice. The gradual release of control creates classroom accountability and accountability leads to high commitment.
  3. Learner voice and choice is at the heart of competency-based education. Learners access, engage and express learning in a myriad of different ways, so why not give students options for learning? Student agency refers to the level of control (pace, subject, approach, environment) a student has in the classroom and competency-based education is the answer to achieving higher student agency while building accountability and supporting mastery for all students.

If you would like a better understanding of what MasteryConnect is and what it can do for you, please check out the video here.

Photograph courtesy of Tearra Bobula of Carson City School District.

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Five Steps to Reimagine Your Learning System

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-08-10 08:00

The politics of a school district can be hard. The politics of merging five school districts into one? And transforming the education system to a competency-based model at the same time? Challenging for sure. But when Virgil Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer for KnowledgeWorks, shares his experience doing just that in an article for Seen Magazine, he doesn’t focus on the challenges. He sees replicable lessons. “By focusing on the local context, we can make it a reality for students throughout the country. Here are five steps to reimagine your learning system.

Hammonds shares five step to reimagine your education system:

1. Establish a vision with the community.

“The merger was the perfect opportunity to start fresh. Each community learned more about the neighboring towns and had honest conversations about their new identity as a whole.”

2. Secure commitment, not buy-in, from the larger community.

“The community needed to make that decision; in order for CBE to be successful [in the school district], it couldn’t rest only on the shoulders of our teachers and schools. Instead, the entire community needed to lift up learning, support teachers, and encourage students to learn both in and out of school.”

3. Determine expectations and outcomes.

“Clearly defined competencies gave students, parents and teachers a road map, allowing learning to be based on mastery rather than seat time.”

4. Reimagine classroom practices.

“With personalized learning, educators and students had room to innovate, collaborate and lead, which is something many of them wanted before we switched to a student-centered environment.”

5. Empower students to own their learning.

“Through CBE, learners became advocates for their work. Now, students make each competency relevant to their own interests, talk about taxonomy levels and prove their mastery.”

Get a lot more detail from Hammonds’ full article in Seen Magazine: Moving to Competency: How We did It.

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Increasing Rigor by Increasing Relevance: A Case for Making Babies

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-09 08:00

Guest post by Leigh Feguer, NBCT, a member of the Living Environment Smart Scholar Team at Schenectady High School

Let’s just say, for fun, that I stood in front of my class of ninth grade biology students and told them that in addition to notes, I am assigning three chapters in a textbook and 25 new tier 3 vocabulary words for a unit test in two weeks.  I would not be met with cheering and high fives. There are no teachable moments or memorable events in this lesson plan. I would imagine students would binge on information followed shortly after the unit test with a complete purge before the next unit.

In my fifteen years teaching in an urban public school, I have come to realize that what motivates my students each day is different. They have never walked through my classroom door proclaiming their excitement for learning the correct definition of “gametogenesis” and how to use it in a sentence. Those textbook chapters and 25 new vocabulary words would hold very little relevance for them. But because I want my class to be one the reasons they come to school each day, I am constantly challenged to increase the relevance of my lessons with the aim of having my students look forward to the experiences in my class instead of dreading the workload and demand of their time on something that they perceive as unimportant or insignificant.

“I have come to realize that what motivates my students each day is different.” #studentmotivation
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Instead of the textbook chapters and vocabulary words, I choose to stand in front of my class and tell them that over the next two weeks they will be paired up with another student “making babies.” This announcement is met with cheering, nervous energy and excitement. They are engaged, but it’s not what they – or you! – are thinking.

Over the course of a week students are assigned tasks to complete before the “baby making“ process can begin. Each student is required to develop a family pedigree using their actual family, assign genotypes for a list of characteristics and determine if the student themselves are “male” or “female” based on a simulated karyotype activity. Only after all of the tasks are complete can students produce a sex cell with their own genetic information to pass on to their child. In the final stage of this activity students combine pedigrees with their partner to simulate mating. They represent conception by combining the genes from their sperm or egg cells and through the magic of biology, they have made a baby complete with their own inheritable characteristics.

At the end of the project, students make a child complete with inheritable traits from the mother and father similar to what we would see in nature, a karyotype of the child showing the genes from each parent, a pedigree of the child with information from both sides of the family and a description from each of the parents outlining the child’s characteristics and any gene or chromosome mutations that they developed and how their life might be affected by it.

In these two weeks students meet most of the state standards for genetics, intimately learn about the negative and positive impacts of mutations in a person’s genes and confidently apply over 25 tier 3 vocabulary words. Is this a textbook approach? Not even. But because students are working with their own genetics, because the approach feels personal and allows them to make a few jokes, they don’t want to miss a single class. They also go above and beyond what’s required in class, doing research outside of the classroom and involving parents and friends in the tasks and fun.

While I believe that we should always strive to increase rigor in the classroom and appropriately challenge our students, without paying attention to relevance, lessons will not be nearly as effective. When we can engage students with activities that feel relevant and get them invested in learning, that is when we can make the greatest progress toward their understanding.

“Without paying attention to relevance, lessons will not be nearly as effective.” #EdChat
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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust a Trustless System

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-08 08:00

Recently, my colleague Katherine Prince and I had the pleasure of speaking at the World Future Society’s annual conference World Future 2016, a gathering of futurists, thought leaders, and innovators all sharing their research on the future. Our session at World Future 2016 was dubbed “The Learning Revolution,” and we had the honor of co-presenting with Dr. Parminder Jassal of ACT Foundation. Katherine and I shared our research from our most recent publication, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?,” while Dr. Jassal shared ACT Foundation’s research from the Learning Is Earning project.

Though our presentation and Dr. Jassal’s had slightly different points of focus, the common underlying theme was blockchain and education. Katherine and I explored potential impacts of the driver of change that we call smart transactional models, which considers the social trend away from hierarchal authority alongside the emergence of encryption technologies such as the blockchain. Dr. Jassal explored the potential for blockchain to help working learners record progress and earn income while engaged in learning. She also previewed Seek, a platform that promises to help learners map skills and explore careers based on their interests, education, and experiences, including hobbies and other activities.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with blockchain, it a distributed, encrypted ledger technology that tracks and verifies basic transactions. Its distributed approach to verifying transactions means that the blockchain is not reliant on a trusted third party or centralized authority to verify a transaction or grant access to resources. This makes the blockchain a trustless system. It assumes that actors will try to cheat or game it. Blockchain’s verification process means that the nodes in the network must come to a majority consensus as to the historical accuracy of the records it holds. For example, to authorize a purchase, all nodes must verify that the person wishing to buy something does in fact have the necessary funds in their account. Once there is a majority agreement, the transaction is allowed to occur, and the network records the transaction.

 Distributed authority on the blockchainFigure 1: Distributed authority on the blockchain

As our session came to a close, Katherine, Parminder, and I were asked how one would come to trust a trustless system. The answer might be deceptively simple: you don’t need to trust it.

Blockchain was designed as a sort of truth machine. Its approach to distributed authority ensures that participants cannot be cheated during the transaction process. It also makes the blockchain immutable. Because the computers involved in a blockchain network must continuously agree about the current state of the ledger, if anyone attempted to alter a transaction, the network would no longer arrive at a consensus and would reject the altered record.

This distributed approach to transactions is very different than most of the systems on which we currently we rely. The vast majority of today’s trusted systems, such as banking, e-mail, and IT systems, use highly centralized approaches to security. We see them as trusted third parties that help process transactions and keep our data secure. However, a quick scan of recent news headlines reveals that even secure, centralized systems are vulnerable, as evidenced by a New York school district’s recent hack of school records; the Panama Papers, a leak of 11.5 million files from Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm; and the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail.

Going forward, we may have to become increasing comfortable with the idea of trusting a trustless system, especially for education. Beyond simply needing more secure storage of student data, the act of learning is becoming increasingly decentralized. Schools are no longer the sole purveyors of knowledge.

As education systems attempt to keep pace with changes in learning, the blockchain could provide a new architecture for tracking and organizing learning. The distributed authority that the blockchain provides could redefine how educational organizations are governed. Being immutable, blockchain-based coordination systems could provide increased levels of transparency about how schools and other learning organizations are run and could also log and verify self-directed experiences.

To be sure, the notion of trusting something labeled as trustless feels like a leap; however, the odds that you will have to interact with a trustless system such as blockchain in the future seem high. The benefits that blockchain-based systems could provide education systems are many, and the research that KnowledgeWorks and ACT Foundation have both done merely scratches the surface of possibilities.

What possibilities do you see for applying blockchain to learning, and are they enticing enough for you to starting trusting a trustless system?

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Classroom Management: Turning a negative into a positive

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-08-02 08:00

Guest post by Eric Loudis, a Math Teacher at Schenectady High School

In our schools, there are always those students who stand out to us because of attention-seeking behavior. As teachers, the way we approach these students can “make or break” a class, so to speak. There is a reason (or perhaps several) why students act out in classroom and it is up to us as educators to figure out a way to bridge the gap between behavior and educational lessons.

I teach math at Schenectady High School in Schenectady, New York. Throughout the first few weeks of class each year, I aim to identify which of my students need extra help or are proving to be a challenge in the classroom so that I can make it a point to work with them on a daily basis.

As a teacher, it is important to take some time out of your day to talk with your students. Often, our students just want to feel heard. Having these discussions can give you insight as to why students are acting out or struggling in class. Talking with my students, I’ve learned that many have to babysit their siblings all night long. Some have no bed to sleep on. Some are in living situations where drug and alcohol abuse is more than common occurrence. The list goes on and on. It’s important for teachers to make connection with their students – and keep it going throughout the school year.

Following behavioral incidents in my classroom, I work with students on behavioral contracts. This has been a hugely successful method for connecting with students. Students write the contract on their own and then it is shared with all of their teachers. The contract might include terms such as being to class on time every day, not cursing in the classroom, and keeping their cell phone put away. Students complete routing slips for each class period with sign-offs from their teachers stating that they did well for the period and didn’t violate the contract. At the end of a perfect week, students are rewarded with a something like food or even a call home letting parents know about the accomplishment.

Forming personal relationships with your students can guide your classroom management and enhance your instruction. In the world of mathematics, having a negative is not always a bad thing. But in the world of teaching, finding a way to convert your negative to a positive could make all the difference.

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I received my invitation to college as an infant. Too many people never receive one at all.

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-08-01 10:37

I don’t remember when I was first invited to college because it happened when I was still an infant. My godmother and my grandparents gave me college bonds as gifts at my baptism. My parents started purchasing government savings bonds through a program with my father’s employer to start saving up for college tuition. There was an assumption early on that college was in my future.

My dad was a first-generation college goer and my mom didn’t attend college. They envisioned a future where attending college wasn’t a question for their child … their children. It was an assumption. And that assumption worked. All four of their children have graduate degrees. We received the invitation to college young, knew we were welcome and RSVP’d with a resounding yes.

An assumption of college going is an invitation. But sometimes the invitation is just that. An invitation.  No matter how you look at it, too many children receive neither the assumption nor the invitation, and the result is often that college is never considered a viable option.

In England, more and more children are getting an invitation to college and the results is that more low-income students there are in higher education than in the US, according to a recent article in The Atlantic.

Les Ebdon, a former university vice-chancellor now working as the National Director of Fair Access to Higher Education in England, said in the article that he sees the possibility for the same thing to happen there as happens in the US, which is that too often the least academically successful wealthy students have better college-going rates than the most academically successful low-income students. He cites the same problems affecting low-income students in both countries: “poor advising, little knowledge of the system among parents who didn’t go to college themselves, high cost, and aversion to debt.”

So what are they doing differently than us? Well, for one, they’re inviting students to college at a very young age, helping them establish early on that college can be part of their future.

Starting as early as age 9, students in England are receiving information about universities, college swag and an invitation to visit a college campus.

Peter Doyle, who is trying to get more children under the age of 16 exposed to the University of Liverpool, is quoted as saying of the visits, “It takes down barriers.”

Over and over throughout the article people reiterate this point. Being exposed to a college campus, seeing what college is all about, meeting students who are successful at college and seeing what they’re like … being invited to college – it breaks down barriers and makes college a legitimate option.

Stuart Moss shared how important is was for someone to make college a real option for him. A foster child, he thought his future was predestined to be working a trade. Then he met students at the University of Liverpool and his destiny was altered.

“‘I didn’t decide to go to university till the university invited me,” said Moss, who now is on his way to a master’s degree in mathematics. He, too, now goes out to local schools to encourage other students to consider college.”

I, like Moss, didn’t decide to go to college until I was invited. I, due to life and family circumstances, just received my invitation earlier. I love what’s happening in England because they’re negating potential barriers created by life and family circumstances. They’re leveling the playing field. They’re mailing out invitations to college to everyone.

Read the full article from The Atlantic: “Why Are More Poor Kids Going to College in the U.K.?”

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Exploring Blockchain and Learning on GettingSmart.com

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-07-29 09:15

What if blockchain could expand beyond the financial sector to help personalize learning in the classroom?

Katie King, our former graduate intern with the strategic foresight team, explored the topic in her recent guest blog on Getting Smart: “What Powers Project-Based Learning? New Technology Provides the Answer.”

“Most people think of blockchain and smart contracts as financial technologies: innovations that allow for more secure and seamless transactions around money and other assets,” she writes. “Yet some organizations are beginning to consider their potential application in education.”

Check out the blog to explore three ways blockchain and smart contracts could help power personalized learning and project-based learning.

Last month, KnowledgeWorks released a new future of learning resource that explores blockchain’s potential to impact the education sector.

The paper, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?”, considers both cultural and technological trends to explore four possible scenarios reflecting how blockchain may or may not enable new avenues for personalized learning.

It also emphasizes the need for educators and other stakeholders to think through all possible impacts – both positive and negative – blockchain and smart contracts could have on the future of learning. Bringing in the educator voice is crucial to steer the conversation about how these technologies may be developed and employed in the future.

Download the paper to explore the possibilities.

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Could Pokémon GO impact #FutureEd?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-07-28 13:40

 

We’re just one Pokéstop away from the future of learning.

With more than 75 million downloads, Pokémon GO has changed the way we think about and use gaming apps – and it’s potentially altered the trajectory toward the future of learning. We turned to Jason Swanson for some further insight on the gaming platform and his thoughts on how it could impact the education sector.

What is Pokémon GO? And why is it so popular for students?

Pokémon GO works on a platform most students have (smartphones), providing an activity that is gamified and project-based. This has attracted many users, as demonstrated by the number of downloads since its launch. Because it’s interactive and utilized by exploring your actual community, it has the potential to induce flow states in users, as evidenced by users crashing cars into a police car and a tree.

Ok, but how could a game like this be used in the future of learning?

Looking ahead, apps like Pokémon GO give us a glimpse into how education might leverage new digital technologies to deepen student learning and understanding. Our future forecast, “Education in the Era of Partners of Code,” examined the use of AR in what we call Learning Biomes. You might think of these as physical learning environments, such as a class room, that actually respond to the needs of the leaners who are in the room. Such environments would make use of augmented and virtual reality tools, as well as ubiquitous sensor networks that would provide feedback based on what the learner was doing, their emotional state, level engagement, etc., in order to create new forms of immersive experiences for learners.

The amazing thing about Pokémon GO is that it already has learning components embedded throughout the game. Users must navigate the world around them to participate. No longer can they sit at a gaming console in the privacy of their homes. While exploring the neighborhood and community, the app has embedded historical sites and facts, all of which are gamified in some way. This shows how the app uses augmented reality and learning overlays for that more immersive learning experience.

Are there any limitations with the app?

Pokémon GO is currently limited by issues of data caps and battery life in phones. These limitations will be corrected in time as smartphone technology improves.

Another issue with the game is data tracking, which is a big concern for the education sector. As we consider how things like Pokémon GO will be applied in learning, this will be a huge hurdle to get around. It will be necessary to create better, more clear policies about student data protection to truly utilize something like Pokémon GO in the future.

What excites you the most about this game’s potential?

Already, Pokémon GO players are gathering for meet-ups, bar crawls, picnics and more. Just last week, more than 9,000 gamers met up in San Francisco to catch and train Pokémon throughout the city.

The technology in Pokémon GO might also be used to create learning swarms, another concept we explore in the forecast. In these swarms, learners might gather together to complete a project, solve a problem, or finish a task. They could gather through GPS or user data in their phones and then disperse when finished. The technology could help leverage the human aspect of education, allowing learners to meet up and work in the same way that Pokémon GO seems to encourage strangers to socialize. For learners, this could mean more human interaction thanks to technology – rather than less. The app could curate a cognitively diverse swarm of learners, helping to expose learners to different perspectives, world views, learning styles, and backgrounds.

 

 

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Let’s Make It Count: Competency Education According to Students

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-07-27 10:02

When four groups of high school students were challenged to create an application built on the tenets of competency-based education to greater personalize learning in mathematics, they brought their A game.

Or maybe their x game? I’m sure there’s a math metaphor here I’m not taking advantage of. But math, not surprisingly, was not my best subject.

Students participating in the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati summer camp had the morning at KnowledgeWorks to build out their proposals. They had to consider not only how the software would function and how it might be widely adapted in schools, but also how it might change the experience for teachers, and whether they, as students, would use it for themselves.

During their presentations before a panel of KnowledgeWorks’ judges, students got personal about their struggles in the classroom. One group began their presentation describing what it was like to fail to grasp a concept when the rest of your class is moving on: you’re “freaked out,” and the notion of raising your hand and admitting you need a little extra help is mortifying. Conversely, they described feeling stuck when you’re ready to move on, growing bored and tuning out when you’ve already mastered the content your teacher is covering. And, according to one group, the worst part about all of this is that teachers might not know who’s who until after they’ve graded the test.

The mobile apps – and cross-platform accommodating websites – that all of the student groups created tried to get at the heart of the competency-based education model: offering personalized learning supports to accommodate many different learning styles and challenges, and creating the transparency necessary for students to take ownership of their learning, see the progress they’re making, and know what’s next. Nearly all of their creations began with an assessment that isolated how individual users best learned. They also offered students and teachers the opportunity to collaborate. There were video lessons, dynamic questions that were generated based on your performance and learning style, and opportunities to take the learning outside of the classroom. Educators would have access to their students’ progress and performance throughout the semester, rather than just on test day.

Open assessments allowed students to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways, prompted creative thinking, and created a forum for real-world applications of the concepts students were learning. When I asked what this might look like, one of the participants suggested that students studying perfect squares would have the opportunity to use the mobile app to capture examples of perfect squares in nature. This sounds about a thousand times more fun than any math assignment I can remember.

Student presenters affirmed that their products would “put the learning into the hands of students,” insisting that “your education is the one thing that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Let’s make it count.”

Yes, let’s.

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A Roadmap to Better Assessments

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-26 10:04

After years of opt-outs and complaints about standardized testing, states now have an opportunity to pilot and scale better assessment systems that capture meaningful information about student learning so stakeholders can improve teaching and learning in real-time.

This opportunity, the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority authorized in the newly-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will give states an opportunity to pilot and scale next generation assessment systems so we can all learn more about what is possible if we push the envelope on traditional approaches to assessment.

While the long-term benefits of this opportunity are significant, it will require states to put in a lot of time, hard work, and resources to build a system that is better than what they have today. Many states have expressed an interest in this opportunity, but they often feel overwhelmed when they consider the long list of application requirements. Fortunately, no state has to do this alone.

KnowledgeWorks and the Center for Assessment launched a new web resource at www.innovativeassessments.org to support states as they begin to prepare for this incredible opportunity. The digital resource identifies seven State Readiness Conditions that are essential to a successful application and implementation process. States can already access detailed briefs on three of those issues with the remaining four to be released over the course of the Summer and early Fall. These briefs include key design considerations, important questions for state and local leaders, and rich state examples that will help policymakers engage in a thoughtful planning and design process.

Here’s the list of the seven State Readiness Conditions for the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority. Sign up here  (in the right column) to receive updates from KnowledgeWorks and the Center for Assessment on this project including release of the remaining briefs and key updates on the federal opportunity.

Visit www.innovativeassessments.org for more information.

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The Trend We Need in K12 Ed Tech? Student-Focused Courseware

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-26 08:00

Too much of the technology being proffered up to K12 is missing the mark. By a lot. Big Ed Tech companies? I’m talking to you.

So many of you folks in the higher education space (the most lucrative sales base for EdTech software) are extending into K12. The why I think I understand. It’s the how I’m not thrilled with.

Here’s how I imagine it:

Maybe you’ve taken a look at your existing product line and called your execs around the table to plan the next move. You’re thinking the same way you did when you ran software companies in the commercial sector. “How can we expand, Bob?” you say. Bob says you need to find a new vertical – a new sector of customers – and tap into a new revenue stream. One that requires a minimum of changes to the product to keep costs down. “There are two choices – corporate training and K-12,” says Bob. Bob, you’re promoted.

And off you go.

Corporate training goes okay. It’s a crowded space, but you only have to remove or hide functionality for your LMS-type software to work as a corporate training tool. You don’t really have to add much. Bob and his recommendations are looking pretty brilliant.

K12 looks easy too. Students are students and teachers are teachers, right? They’ll just ignore annoyances like credit hours and enrollment tuition and grade approval workflows. Hmm. That beta group of pilot high schools was a vocal bunch. This is looking like a significant rewrite and a different product altogether. Bob!

This story typically ends the same way. It’s too expensive to customize for K12 once the full extent of user needs are discovered, so the product continues on with only a few tweaks here and there. Your sales force sells to a district or an ESC and teachers are told to get on board. Adoption’s terrible.

It’s time to stop.

It’s time for Ed Tech to realize that K12 is a fully distinct, separate market. Its requirements are fundamentally different. Software that truly supports a personalized learning model, which is where many districts are headed, is not just a quick adaptation of a college course management application.

Courses are not the center of a learning environment and they shouldn’t be the center of supporting technology.   In reality, students are at the center.

Learners may not learn in a linear fashion. They may be working on concepts and objectives from a higher level section in math than they are in language arts. They may work on a learning target that shows up across several different academic subjects, such as developing a writing theme or exhibiting critical thinking. They may be working on subject matter at one level this week and advance to a very different level next week. Student supports are also different. They may need ELL intervention, or a tutor, or be on an IEP. And they certainly need a different level of parent and teacher engagement than they will when they get to college.

I have a 20 year background as a Silicon Valley executive and IT leader. I understand the business model and strategy driving some of the products we see on the market. But I also understand education, and those of us in education are desperate for Ed tech to catch up with other education trends. So please, stop giving us courseware and start giving us studentware.

Keep students at the center. It works with the learning and it works with the technology supporting the learning. Companies that don’t realize that will be quickly left behind.

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