Addressing the Needs of Workforce Development Does Not Have to Come at the Cost of Student Choice

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-06-30 17:40

After reading a recent New Your Times article about alternative pathways for youth instead of college by Jeffrey J. Selingo, I wonder what sort of future the author envisions for our children. What kinds of jobs does he think they will have? How does he imagine they will engage in civic life?

recoveryIn the Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s paper “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” the authors state: “By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.” While Selingo is correct about the upcoming shortages in areas concerning advanced manufacturing and healthcare, he fails to recognize that unless students have the proper industry credentials, those jobs are out of reach.

Selingo based his editorial on two years spent traveling the country and talking to employers about their needs. I would challenge the author to spend two more years doing interviews that focus on students. Not just students with privilege and access, but students of lower socioeconomic status who feel college isn’t an option for them.

Should it be the norm that we increase the equity gap as our country continues our demographic shift towards browning of our culture? The answer is not specialty colleges that have a high admittance standard and add barriers to access, as the author would like to see. The answer, rather, is increasing the number of all students with access to programs that eliminate the barriers of access and increase equity by better preparing students that are low income and first in family to attend college.

Selingo says, “What we need are job-training institutions on par with academic institutions as prestigious and rigorous as the Ivy League to attract students interested in pursuing skilled jobs critical for the economy that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree.”

His intentions might be in the right place, but when you get skilled in only one job path, you limit your options for upward mobility in an ever-changing economy. When you give students access to an early college high school, you give them options for the job training Selingo advocates, in the form of career certifications, and also access to college, but without any of the debt Selingo bemoans because early college high school comes at no cost to students and their families.

The choice for whether or not a student goes to college should not be decided for them. We should be empowering our students by giving them choices.

We should be empowering our students by giving them choices.
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The days of tracking students into programs based on academic ability or wealth needs to cease.

The success of early college across the United States demonstrates that this type of school removes barriers for students and opens up possibilities. Early college high school makes it possible for students to earn an associate degree while in high school. The data shows that most early college students continue on to earn a four-year degree.

Selingo is correct in thinking that we have huge workforce challenges facing our country in the near future, but there is a way to address these without decreasing equity and access to college for marginalized students. My challenge to you is to visit early college high schools near you and learn more about this proven solution. Encourage the business community to rally around students and help them engage in learning that sets them up for success in college or career. Or, if they choose, both.




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EdTechs to Watch

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-06-29 04:05

EdTech has the power to transform the classroom. But rather than replacing teachers with machines, educators in the very near future will have more tools at their disposal than ever before, enabling them to do more of the work that led them into the classroom in the first place: a love of teaching, of seeing learners inspired, of making real connections with students.

Our latest future forecast explores a range of possible futures where technology will be just one of the many tools available to educators to greater personalize learning and create a student-centered learning environment. Interested? Here are just a few standout technologies to keep an eye on:


There are many learning management systems that will tell you that they support project-based learning, traditional learning, blended learning, competency-based learning, and personalized learning, all in one SaaS app. This feels a lot like saying you can play tennis, go bowling, and run a marathon in your Keds, which I guess you could.  But MasteryConnect absolutely nails the competency-based education space. Tracking mastery for every student, every day, across every academic subject plus agency skills for every grade level and every learning target produces a mountain of data points, liberating teachers from spreadsheets and wall charts. MasteryConnect shows teachers in a simple, visual format where every student ison every learning target, allowing teachers easy grouping for instruction and students easy progress on to the next target.


A Harvard project brought to market, Root is a cute little robot that attaches to and roves about your whiteboards. Root is fully programmable using a simple mobile interface and aims to teach kids as young as kindergarten to learn to code.

The coolest part about Root is that it has three levels of “coding.” The first looks a lot like Scratch, a picture and word-based programming interface that lets you drag and drop a line of commands: go forward, play the musical notes A-D-C, go right, blink pink and then blue, draw a series of circles with its hidden pen feet. Create a repeatable loop that you can insert into your sequence. Level two breaks down the same commands further into more complex if-then-else statements and introduces variables, and level 3 is full-on JavaScript. As a holder of an early Computer Science degree, I bet I would have found out I liked programming at a much earlier age had something like Root been around. It’s extremely well executed and represents a great blend of age-appropriate learning science, engaging technology, and F-U-N.


Districts use Clever to connect different applications together and to share central information (so there aren’t 101 copies of the master student roster out in the wild to be maintained, for example).  In a fragmented EdTech marketplace that’s still showing no signs of consolidation and remains composed of purpose-built, best of breed tools, integration will be king. Clever saw this early and unabashedly established itself in the somewhat unsexy market segment of integration tools as the framework of choice with a smart business model (schools don’t pay – software companies do) and a clear, focused product strategy.  If they can continue to expand into other areas of integration, they could become the Cisco of EdTech.  Remember: the folks that made a fortune in the gold rush weren’t the prospectors – they were the makers of the pickaxes and shovels.


Turnitin applies AI algorithms to literacy. Writing assignments are evaluated for originality and adherence to form, and formative feedback assessments of content are provided by the software. VP Elijah Mayfield states that “students are more willing to accept criticism from a computer than critical judgment from a human teacher.” Turnitin has definitely progressed the farthest in algorithm-based writing assessment, and the technology is sound and impressive. While this tool undoubtedly frees up teacher time, you’ll have to be the judge of whether it frees up the right time. Accepting critical judgment from a human is a life skill that just might come in handy later in life.

The internet abounds with hype about technology taking over the classroom, but real blended learning opportunities enhance the classroom. EdTech is a lot less about glazed-eyed students staring at online videos and a lot more about coding robots that engage students, tools that create a seamless, low-maintenance back office, and apps that free our teachers to spend their time doing what they signed up for:  educating students.

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How Should Blockchain Be Used In Learning? Give Educators a Say.

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-06-28 12:54

“So are we talking about using Bitcoin to pay tuition?”

I asked my colleagues that question on the first day of my graduate internship at KnowledgeWorks. At the time, it represented the extent of my understanding about blockchain and education. I had only left the classroom as a middle school teacher a few weeks before, and as a foresight graduate student, I was much more interested in social shifts than in technology hype. So when I learned that a blockchain project would be a centerpiece of my time with KnowledgeWorks, I was curious but was honestly unsure of what we even were talking about.

Since then, I’ve learned an enormous amount about the technology, its possible uses, and, yes, the social shifts accompanying the interest around it. But more importantly, I’ve become even more convinced that educators must have a prominent voice in conversations about how emerging technologies might shape our education systems. Today, we are releasing our paper, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” which includes four scenarios that explore just a few of the many possible ways blockchain and smart contracts could affect education:

  • Faster Horses – A district increases efficiency and security without truly personalizing learning
  • Terms and Conditions Apply – An ed tech product promises turnkey personalized learning – at a cost
  • Parent Power – Unschoolers coordinate self-directed learning with smart contracts and secure access
  • Systemic Synergy – A regional learning ecosystem enables and credentials customized learning pathways.

If you work with students or make decisions about education technology, I specifically invite you to read them and consider their implications.

When I taught 7th and 8th grade, my school implemented a 1:1 Chromebook program. To this day, I’m grateful for the opportunities those devices gave my students to explore beyond their immediate environment, to exercise independence, and to create amazing artifacts of learning that would have been impossible without a computer. However, looking back, I wish I had asked more questions about Google’s data policies, had been more discerning about the products I used with my students, and, above all, had had the opportunity to use more tools that were developed for and byeducators whose main motivation was to make learning more relevant and meaningful for students. Education technology is a multi-billion industry with increasing influence over what happens in schools. We need more people who work directly with learners to have a say in what’s created and how it’s used.

The impact of blockchain and smart contracts on learning seems far away when we consider rates of change within education. But Sony is already developing a blockchain-based testing platform; organizations such as The Open University, ACT Foundation, and Teachur are exploring their potential uses in education; and early developers are already experiencing the struggle and complexities of actually implementing these emerging technologies. That means that now is the perfect time for educators and other education stakeholders to begin considering their potential uses. We don’t yet know how they might be developed, packaged, marketed, and used in education. In what ways might blockchain and smart contracts be used to benefit learners? How might we ensure that they are not used simply to make current inequitable systems more efficient? If these technologies do take hold in education, what precautions need to be put in place in the early days? Ultimately, how might we develop and implement these or any technology in ways that support more relevant and meaningful learning?

Educators should have a prominent voice in how blockchain, smart contracts, and the smart transactional models that they enable develop.  I hope you’ll to join us in exploring possibilities and in advocating for the uses that you think best support students and the kind of learning you want to see in ten years’ time.


Download “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?

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A True Statesman

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-06-28 11:35

I’ve had a great many wonderful experiences being part of the staff at KnowledgeWorks. First and foremost, I cherish the people I’ve been able to work with, know, and learn from. This includes working with our board of directors.

Recently, former Secretary of Education and former Governor of South Carolina Dick Riley rotated off our board after over a decade of service. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work closely with Secretary Riley. I could go on for the rest of the blog post about his resume, sense of fairness, or the fact that he is a true statesman. However, I’ll focus on the man and my connection.

I grew up in South Carolina during the late 1970s/early 1980s when Riley was Governor. My family  discussed politics at the dining room table, and among my first political memories were the names Kennedy and Riley. I had a keen understanding at 4 years old that Riley was the Governor of the state and thus like the state’s Daddy.

I grew up and ended up living in 8 states and two countries before one afternoon when I was reading the Pat Conroy novel, Beach Music, one of my favorite books, Governor Riley showed up again. Conroy had woven Riley into his story of forgiveness and redemption set in Beaufort, SC.

Even later, when Riley was the Secretary of Education under President Clinton, he helped to craft a program called GEAR UP, and I helped to write and secure a GEAR UP grant before going on to direct it for 7 years. Even then, for me, Riley was larger than life. He had breathed life into a program that would be the beginning of my career.When I transitioned to KnowledgeWorks, Secretary Riley was on the Board. I worked with him closely to help craft strategies to support innovation along the I-95 Corridor in South Carolina and traveled the state with him. His grace, insight, quick wit, and hand crushing handshakes endear him to all he encounters and inspired me.

In speaking about the Secretary at a recent Board meeting, I offered that one of my favorite musicians, Ryan Adams, wrote the following lyric in the song “Oh My Sweet Carolina,”

“All the sweetest winds they blow across the south.”

Secretary Riley is one of those sweet winds.

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Improving Educational Outcomes for Disadvantaged and Underperforming Students and Schools

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-06-24 08:00

As I approach my 16th anniversary here at KnowledgeWorks, I spent a moment recently reflecting on some of the most important lessons we’ve learned in our efforts to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged and under-performing students and schools.

  1. A great education, and the doors it opens, is likely the single most effective way to alleviate or mitigate opportunity gaps and the effects of [generational] poverty.
  2. Perhaps at no time in history is there less agreement on the primary purpose – “why” – of public education and, therefore, the “what” and the “how.”
  3. Money, both philanthropic and public, can be a helpful catalyst, but alone does not create or sustain improvement.
  4. The fundamentals are still fundamental.
  5. Great leadership from top to bottom is important, but extraordinary building-level leadership in a school is critical to change and improvement efforts, as well as time, space, flexibility, accountability, and resources to get the job done.
  6. Developing the right culture is difficult but of paramount importance. It may be the only way to sustain meaningful improvements over time.
  7. “Eduspeak” is real – and problematic (e.g., college/career readiness, equity, early college, STEM, poverty, data, cultural competency / responsiveness, etc.).

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Bridging the Gap Between High School and College

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-06-23 09:56

Guest post by Tom Forbes, a Technical Assistance Coach partnering with KnowledgeWorks early college high schools.

We lose so many students between the end of their senior year of high school and the beginning of their freshman year of college because there is no one there to help bridge the gap.

Imagine this scenario:

A freshman is attending a 120 person lecture class at a university. They had to know how to behave, how to get help from a TA … and know what a TA is. At the end of one class session, the professor asks students to turn in their papers on their way out. Many students don’t turn anything in. Why? Because on day one of class students were handed a syllabus that described the midterm, final and paper that made up the class grade, and those assignments were never brought up again.

That framework of a class, so standard at the college level, is brand new to high school students. Without any support, they are set up for failure.

Early college high school helps bridge the gap between high school and college by making the transition seamless.

At an early college high school, our students are high school students but they attend college classes and are held up to the same expectations of college students. Part of our job at the early college high schools is to help support students so they succeed in both the high school and college environments. We provide so many supports to make sure students succeed and those supports take all shapes. We teach students what a TA is and how to get help from them. We make sure students understand what a syllabus is, how to read one and how to manage their time and complete assignments on time. We help students recognize college behavioral norms such as how to behave in class, how to move from class to class on time and how to seek support on campus.

Our goal is that when an early college high school student leaves us, they have the skills and tools necessary to succeed. At KnowledgeWorks early college high schools, that is happening.

Learn how to bring an early college high school in your school district.

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Early College: Where Success Meets Opportunity

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-06-21 10:41

At our annual coaching camp, a chance for all of our technical assistance coaches to gather, regroup and renew best practices for early college high school, we tried to answer the question: What are three characteristics / virtues of early college high schools?

The short answer is that you can’t put thirty of the greatest champions of early college high school in the country in a room together and expect them to have only three answers! So instead of three, here are our top ten, in no particular order.

  1. Early college creates access for students as well as the wrap-around supports for those students
  2. Early college high schools are designed to help first-generation college-goers succeed
  3. Early college high schools create a community of learners who take the journey together
  4. An early college high school raises the bar for students, which sets the expectation for success throughout the rest of a student’s life
  5. Early college high school is where preparation meets opportunity so that students can really succeed
  6. Students get choices in their lives as a result of early college high school
  7. Early college high school creates a culture of “I Can” with the help of adults who are committed to the success of the whole person
  8. Attending early college high school develops resilience
  9. Early college high schools create a culture where it’s safe to fail forward
  10. There is no cost to students and their families to attend early college high school – for courses, textbooks or materials

Learn more about KnowledgeWorks early college high schools and how to bring one to your school district.

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4 Ways to Choose a Better Curriculum

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-06-20 09:51

How does a district select its curriculum? We spend a considerable amount of our budget to invest in curriculum, but it’s often acquired piecemeal. Too often, principals or superintendents will be tempted by the next big thing: tech-based, textbook based, something that guarantees it will engage all children and drive to specific standards. But really, curriculum should deliver on what a learning community really needs to help and support its vision for learning. How does it align with a district’s strategic design? How will it help support all learners, and all educators, with the teaching and learning process?

We can approach acquiring curriculum more strategically, and we should make teachers and students  partners in the process.

  • Is the structure of the curriculum easily understood by learners? While it’s often in the hands of teachers, it should drive learning in the hands of students, as well. It should be transparent and accessible to all.
  • Does the curriculum allow learners to pursue personalized learning opportunities? And if so, how? Are learners and educators able to make the curriculum relevant to ideas, learnings, and passions outside the specific content?
  • Can we evaluate data frequently? Does the curriculum allow educators to understand where a student is in his or her understanding so they can target instruction and supports appropriately? Moreover, does the learner understand where he or she is? Do they understand what’s coming next? Real time data is essential – it allows all stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and students, to understand where they are and what’s next.
  • The curriculum should allow not only for personalized learning, but should also accommodate the unique learning styles of all students. A variety of tools and approaches to meet the needs of every child are as valuable to educators as they are to the learners they support.

Even if you haven’t made the full transition to competency-based education, your curriculum should still ensure you’re meeting the unique learning styles of every child. Curriculum should empower and motivate learners to acquire knowledge in ways that are meaningful for them, and it should provide educators a framework for what the outcomes are – and how they can be met by every child, honoring their learning style and the pace at which they learn.

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Is Higher Ed Future Ready? Six Strategies to Gear Up Now

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-06-17 08:00

In May, KnowledgeWorks gathered leaders and innovators in higher education to explore the implications of Forecast 4.0, The Future of Learning: Education in an Era of Partners in Code. The conversation highlighted both opportunities and challenges in adapting – or transforming – higher education in response to a changing climate and student needs.

  1. Clarify Purpose – First and foremost, higher education stakeholders need to be clear about the purpose of postsecondary education. While the answer to that question could vary by type of institution and type of learner and does not have to be singular, a tension between workforce readiness and human development lies at its core.
  2. Redefine Readiness – Recognizing that workforce readiness forms only part of the equation and might not be central to everyone’s definition of the sector’s purpose, artificial intelligence and machine learning will change how humans partner with machines over the coming decade and beyond. Current approaches to career readiness will not suffice. We need to consider new forms of workforce readiness and also take into account the possibility that what it means to work – or to labor productively apart from wages – could change dramatically.
  3. Manage Multiple Paces of Change – As the mix of institutions and organizations in the room highlighted, higher education doesn’t function as a coherent system. It’s more of a regulated market. As students seek higher learning opportunities that match their objectives, meet their needs, and manage cost, consumer demand could move faster than government regulation or institutional evolution. Both incumbent institutions and new entrants will need to juggle multiple layers of influence that move at different paces of change. In particular, currently-existing institutions could struggle to adapt quickly enough.
  4. Fly Below the Radar – While the conversation gravitated toward large-scale transformation – and that may well be needed – stakeholders can start small today. Finding approaches to innovation that fly below the radar of established practices until they are proven can help make space for innovation within existing institutions. Building bridges between new approaches and established frameworks (for example, translating new forms of experiential learning to traditional credit hours) can also help. Even newer entrants and today’s innovative programs need to keep an eye on the horizon and not get bogged down in current operations.
  5. Shift Culture and Mindsets – Higher education tends to self-enforce persistent culture and mindsets that can impede change. At one level, that’s positive, for higher education shouldn’t necessarily change as quickly as some sectors. At another level, that tendency presents a risk. If faculty and administrators advertently or inadvertently penalize or impede colleagues from trying new approaches, incumbent institutions could find themselves increasingly out of pace with the context in which they operate. Finding ways to encourage new forms of practice and provide sanctuary for new approaches could help people feel more comfortable with change.
  6. Reconsider Incentives – Current incentives for individuals and institutions also tend to reinforce the status quo. Sometimes that will be appropriate. Where it’s not, considering new employee incentive structures that correspond with desired future states can help people have the courage to do the deeper work of changing culture and mindsets. In addition, advocating for measures of institutional success that support a broad view of student learning and a wide array of rigorous approaches promises to provide the sector with a stronger platform from which to operate.

In the future, higher learning could mean many things to many different people and could take forms that can be difficult to imagine today. Being open to new ways of creating value for students and society could help current institutions that are struggling financially find effective future-ready value propositions and could help those that are turning away students stay relevant and steward resources responsibly long-term.

This workshop was the last in our series exploring implications of Forecast 4.0. Stay tuned for our forthcoming action guide synthesizing their findings. In the meantime, take a look at the top challenges facing K-12 school-based education and key strategies for shaping the future of informal and community-based learning.

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Don’t wait, states: Start planning and designing for ESSA now

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-06-15 13:03

Within the last couple of weeks, the United States Department of Education released the first set of ESSA regulations. These regulations, now open for public comment, cover accountability, school improvement and state plans.

Their release provides a good moment to underscore that we are at a national turning point in education. Over the next few months, the regulations will be available for comment periods before being released as final regulations. It is imperative that states don’t wait for the final regulations but begin to execute on a design process now. As has been stated, on multiple accounts in multiple ways, it is essential for states to seize the opportunities in ESSA to transform their statewide systems of education.

It is incumbent on states to actively plan now and engage local stakeholders in designing their education systems. States must be thoughtful in how they design education systems, aligning accountability, school improvement, assessment, educator workforce, and extended learning opportunity policies to create a cohesive system that prepares all students for success from cradle to career.

And it begins with asking the right questions of the right district level stakeholders. When it comes to accountability and assessment, for example, what should you ask yourself and your partners when designing under ESSA?

We believe that an aligned system, established in partnership with districts, communities, and leaders across sectors, should ensure that every student benefits from a personalized education where instruction and supports are aligned to individual interests and needs. Fortunately, ESSA provides a number of high-leverage opportunities to advance a vision for personalized learning throughout each major element of the education system.

We also believe that effective state level implementation must begin with the design process and with engaging district level stakeholders. Questions drive the design process allowing for the development of a vision as well as account for issues such as college and career readiness, equity, and continuous improvement. For example, in the areas of accountability and assessment, states should wrestle with the following questions as they design their systems of education in response to ESSA:


  • What long-term goals and measurements of interim progress will the state establish to ensure ambitious gains in school and student achievement? And how will the state transition to these new requirements?
  • Are there additional indicators the state wants to include in its accountability system to advance equity? There’s more to measure than just state assessments, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. How might the state incentivize closure of achievement gaps, resource equity, and access to high-quality teachers and learning experiences?
  • What measures and practices can the state incorporate into its accountability system to ensure the system has the capacity to meet the needs of all learners? Should the state include any of these measures in its accountability system?


  • Does the state provide flexibility for students to assess when they are ready and take an assessment multiple times, if needed, to demonstrate mastery? How will the state incorporate that information into its accountability and school improvement systems in real-time?
  • What changes does the state need to make to ensure the system of assessments aligns to the state’s system of support for all schools? How can the assessment system help stakeholders design timely and customized supports for each student?
  • What steps can the state take to ensure all districts have the technological infrastructure to ensure problem-free assessment delivery and reporting of results?

For recommendations and more design questions, please see our Recommendations for Advancing Personalized Learning Under the Every Student Succeeds Act. There is much work to be done. Our hope is that states take advantage of the foundational element in ESSA to build new, personalized learning systems to support all students towards college, career, and civic readiness.

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Fun With Flags: How Student Voice Gave Us the Current Design of the American Flag

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-06-14 10:02

Did you know a high school student was responsible for the current design of the American flag?

In 1958, Bob Heft, while living with his grandparents in Lancaster, OH, completed a design of the American flag as a project for his American History class. Hawaii and Alaska were being considered for statehood, and more than 1,500 designs for a new flag had been submitted to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Intrigued by Betsy Ross, Heft had cut up a 48-star flag and sewn it into a new design, featuring 50 stars.

Upon presenting his final project, the teacher asked Heft, “Why you got too many stars? You don’t even know how many states we have.” Heft received a B- for his project. When he contested the grade, his teacher presented him with a proposition:

“Get the flag accepted in Washington, then come back and see me and I might consider changing the grade.”

After Heft had written 21 letters to the White House and made 18 phone calls, he received a phone call from 34th President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower. The 50 star flag design that was the same as Heft’s flag design had been chosen and adopted by presidential proclamation after Alaska and before Hawaii were admitted into the union in 1959. Eisenhower “wanted to know the possibility of you [Heft] coming to Washington, D.C., on July 4th for the official adoption of the new flag.”

And what did Heft’s teacher have to say?

“I guess if it’s good enough for Washington, it’s good enough for me. I hereby change the grade to an A.”

You can listen to Heft tell the story of designing the American Flag at StoryCorps, who interviewed Heft before his passing in 2009.

Fun With Flags







Curious about what else you might not know about the American flag? In honor of Flag Day, allow me to channel Dr. Sheldon Cooper.

Fun With (American) Flags

  • The American Flag consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton (referred to specifically as the “union”) bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars alternating with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America, and the 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and became the first states in the US.[1]
  • Nicknames for the flag include“The Stars and Stripes,”[2] “Old Glory,”[3] and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” My personal favorite is the “Graaaaand Ooooold Flaaaaaaag,” as shouted from the top of a 4-year-old’s lungs.
  • The current design of the U.S. flag is its 27th; the design of the flag has been modified officially 26 times since 1777. The current design is the longest-used version and has been in use for over 55 years.[4]
  • Flag Day is celebrated on June 14, and “commemorates the adoption of theflag of the United States, which happened on June 14 in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress.[1]
  • In 1916,President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.



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Feel the Future: A Citywide School

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-06-10 10:26

Step ahead with me to the year 2026. Imagine that you and your eighth-grade daughter are attending a school choice fair where public, charter, and private options were featured and representatives of each school had three minutes to pitch their approach in hopes of enticing you to explore further.

One of the schools stands out because it doesn’t have just one big building; it has four smaller hubs. And it doesn’t confine learning within their walls. Instead, it takes learning – and each student – across the city through customized learning pathways that make full use of citywide resources. Those resources include area museums, libraries, science centers, maker spaces, businesses, and sports venues, plus local residents who have expertise to share. The school focuses on relationships and personalized support while using a network-based structure to organize learning.

One of the students, Kesara, shares her experience of overcoming shyness and frustration with school to get comfortable contributing to project teams and learning in a new kind of environment. Another student, Nadya, shares her excitement over having found a school where she gets to be who she is and decide what success looks like to her.

Your daughter gets excited. Finally, an approach to school that really is personalized. A way of learning that makes real and relevant connections with the place where she lives. After the presentations conclude, the two of you make a beeline to Ubique Academy’s table to find out more.

Want learn more?

Today, Ubique Academy is a concept, not an actual school. KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team thinks that its design is possible given how learning is shifting. In fact, we created the concept for The Mind Trust’s 2016 Charter School Design Competition, where it placed in the final four.

We don’t want the idea to end there. So we’ve published an artifact from the future illustrating the idea as if Ubique Academy were up and running in ten years’ time. That artifact includes:

Why explore the future in this way?

An artifact from the future is a tangible expression of something that might exist in the future. Artifacts from the future respond to emerging trends to show how they might come together to impact people’s lives. Exploring them can help us examine whether we want the kind of future that they represent and what we might want instead. They help us consider in a more visceral way than simply analyzing implications and action steps how we might begin to move toward our preferred futures.

In short, artifacts from the future provide concrete a way of experiencing a bit of the future so that we can learn more about what we want and how to get there.

Could Ubique Academy happen?

We think it could, if enough people got behind the concept and made it real. But that’s only part of the point. Do you want it to? If so, where could you begin to move in its direction? Does it freak you out? If so, what lies the root of your discomfort? What would you rather see school or learning look like in 2026?

Regardless of your response, what light does stepping into the future with Ubique Academy shed on how you’re shaping learning today?

Personally, I hope that something like Ubique Academy is available when my daughter and I attend our neighborhood school choice fair in 2026. That’s the year she’ll likely be selecting a high school. I would want her choice to center on her needs, interests, and goals and to help her access and learn to contribute to the wealth of resources around our city. Maybe Ubique Academy isn’t the answer. But I hope she’ll have access to truly personalized learning by then.

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5 Things I Learned Visiting Cunningham Elementary School

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-06-08 08:00

Ever heard of organized chaos? To an outsider, the situation appears hectic, discombobulated. But in reality, the people on the inside of the situation know exactly what they’re doing, and they thrive.

Good morning. Your princes of thought. You queens of imagination.When I got to the Hive Society—the nickname for my friend Emily Smith’s 5th grade classroom at Cunningham Elementary School in Austin, Texas—she stood, bent over, on a table, cradling a tablet between two hanging pieces of multi-colored yarn. Students were in pairs, on computers, on tablets, talking, making art, writing with pencils… organized chaos.

Cunningham Elementary School is located in the South Austin. It’s wonderfully diverse, and full of learners with a wealth of knowledge and skillsets that don’t often align with the type of knowledge found on a statewide assessment. The principal, Amy Lloyd, has taken special care to integrate opportunities that capitalize on their natural strengths and still teach the rigorous standards required by the state. The result? Cunningham Elementary School is an Ashoka Changemaker School (a classification featured in our latest forecast), acts as a micro-society, and skillfully integrates forward-thinking initiatives to ensure learning is relevant for everyone.

The energy there is palpable.

I spent the morning learning from Hive Society students about what they were working on, what was important to them, and why they chose to learn what they were learning. (You read that right, why they chose to learn what they were learning.) Emily has taken the Hive Society from a traditional 5th grade ELA/Social Studies classroom to a cohort of colleagues and leaders, where each student has learned, in their own way, to thrive.

Although I could write extensively on what the students in the Hive taught me in those brief few hours, I thought I’d attempt to whittle it down to 5 insights I had from visiting this classroom.

  1. If you allow students to think deeply, they will. The trick? Make learning relevant to their lives. Hive Society students learn in ways I’ve never quite seen before. When Emily first began teaching, she noticed that students weren’t engaging with content like she thought they should She could tell she wasn’t connecting with them using “traditional” texts and projects.
  2. Fast forward to the day I visited: the classroom abuzz with conversation and learning. They were creating stop motion animation videos based on a topic they learned about during the year. Complicated subjects…. Black Lives Matter Movement, Genocide, Immigration, Animal Rights. I naively asked Emily how she picked the topics they discussed. She said, “They tell me what they want to learn about.”Ten-and eleven-year-old learners are affected by complicated, relevant issues, but often we don’t let them engage with those issues in the classroom. The Hive Society proves that if students are given the opportunity to interact with relevant concepts they are curious about, they will engage in deep learning.
  3. Learning empathy is important for maturity and growth… and resiliency. Hive Society students have spent the year producing an in-house version of StoryCorps. Learners interview each other about something important in their life. Kim, the mayor of the school’s micro-society, recorded a story that highlighted what it’s like having a mother in jail. This is a young woman who was elected by her peers to lead the school… a leader in the school. And she shared an intimate part of her life with them.I listened to her interview with a couple of her fellow Hive Society members. When we finished listening, I asked the students what it meant to them to hear their friend share her story. Their response surprised me, though in hindsight it probably shouldn’t have. They both said, “It helped me understand her better. I could know that if she wasn’t happy one day, maybe I can watch out for her more. It helped me develop empathy for her.” It struck me that they appreciated and respected her for her vulnerability. They did not use it against her in any way.
  4. empathyEmpathy creates change. I asked a couple other students what the most important thing was they learned in the 5th grade. “Empathy,” they both said.“What does empathy mean to you?” I asked…

    I wandered the halls a bit on the way back to the front office, and I found out exactly what empathy means to them. A poetry project prominently displayed in the hallways illustrated how each student defines, experiences, and feels empathy. (Actually, this wasn’t limited to the 5th Every student in the school had some version of this project displayed.) I found examples of times built resiliency for students, when it helped them feel more connected and allowed for growth.

    One of my favorite poems actually came from Mayor Kim. She eloquently wrote how she was changed by empathy from her fellow classmates.

  5. The students in the Hive Society participate in hands-on learning opportunities that integrate technology into their work.Paper-and-pen folks need not be afraid of new types of learning. One of the arguments I hear against integrating technology in the classroom is that students will be found, heads down in a computer, wasting away. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but there’s a similar underlying sentiment.) The students in the Hive Society participate in hands-on learning opportunities that integrate technology into their work. In the process of making their stop motion films, they were handwriting and hand-drawing storyboards and scripts after researching their topics online. They integrated hand-crafted figures with the technology of stop-motion, so they were engaged in using both sides of their brains.
  6. Inspiring leaders make all the difference in the world. Emily Smith* and Amy Lloyd are inspirational, forward thinkers. Emily has encouraged teachers worldwide with her honesty and vulnerability around race. She has truly personalized learning for her students, and the outcomes have been fantastic.Leadership isn’t always about taking control, but is often about putting systems in place that allow students, teachers, and staff to thrive. Amy’s vision for Cunningham has helped students develop as whole learners. Her emphasis on professional development has allowed teachers to build and brainstorm in innovative ways. Empathy and understanding of each other’s backgrounds, strengths, and areas for growth have helped students change the ways in which they interact with Cunningham, and it’s Amy’s leadership that has set the change in motion.

If it hasn’t been made clear to you yet, let me say in no uncertain terms, Cunningham Elementary School is an incredible example of the future of learning in action. Of course they have come up against barriers—policies and funding structures that inhibit particular types of innovation, an over-emphasis on testing as accountability— but they thrive through it, and they look for solutions to learning that suit their community of learners. In the policy arena, I hear leaders talk conceptually about the importance of the things Cunningham Elementary School is actually implementing, and I cannot say enough about how important it is to continue to encourage the type of education that nurtures the entire learner.


*Update: Emily has now moved into a role at the district-level as a technology integration coach. She will be training teachers in Austin ISD to better utilize technology in learning. What a wonderful step toward sustainable innovation!

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Could Blockchain Help Power Personalized Learning?

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-06-07 10:50

In early 2015, I started getting really curious about the potential for blockchain to impact education. Not for the technology in and of itself, but because it felt as if the new transactional models that it could enable had the potential to shift the forms of coordination used in education. Even if blockchain came and went, it seemed as if blockchain’s use of distributed security could have a lasting impact the underlying metaphors that we use when considering options for learning and for institutions generally.

KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team began to explore blockchain more closely when writing The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code. Combined with cultural shifts toward openness, transparency, and distributed authority, we saw blockchain and smart contracts as having the potential to enable smart transactional models that could reconfigure institutions, enabling the development of flexible value webs comprised of many organizations and individuals and even going so far as to enable the creation of distributed autonomous organizations that operate with little, if any, management.

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Now we’re taking a closer look at possibilities. Due out in June, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” will present four scenarios exploring how blockchain and smart contracts could be used in settings ranging from a large public school district to an unschooling network to a regional learning ecosystem. It even takes on EdTech evangelism!

A futures project often starts with querying something that niggles at the edge of current reality and asking, “If that took greater hold, then what?” For me, choosing a project often involves feeling around the edges of my understanding and looking not as the latest shiny new development but at signals of change that could indicate a more fundamental shift, either on their own or in combination with other factors. When I ask, “If so, then what?” and can see layer upon layer of implications, I start getting really intrigued. My interest piques further when I see more and more people asking similar questions.

There’s neveknowledgeworks-blockchain-kidsr just one answer to the question of “If so then what?” – especially not in this time of exponential change. We can’t know what the future will bring until it arrives. As futurist Paul Saffo observes, “The future constantly arrives late and in unexpected ways.” Our vision is skewed by the difficulty of anticipating unexpected turns. It’s clouded by the difficulty of combining multiple trends all at the same time. It’s colored by our hopes and fears, by both our optimism and our dread.

When forecasting, it’s especially easy to over-hype the impact of new technologies. It’s imperative to look at them not just in isolation but also in combination with other types of changes: cultural shifts, evolving mindsets, economic and political trends, and so forth. It’s also important to take a systems perspective, which includes looking not just at forces of change but also at the inertia and reinforcing loops of the status quo.

With blockchain, I hoped. I sensed a fundamental shift emerging. Having taken a closer look through the Learning on the Block project, now I’m not so sure. That shift might well happen, but its impact on education – and particularly on public education – seems likely to depend on whether people use it to optimize the current system or to enable new approaches to coordination in service of putting learners at the center or other goals.

Blockchain is gaining increasing traction, and smart contracts are on the verge of moving from concept to implementation.  Now is the time to look at possibilities and decide not just how we could use these technologies in education, but also how we want to employ them.  As we consider possibilities, we need to be open to ceding centralized control to more distributed coordination. That cultural shift is happening, with or without blockchain. But we shouldn’t shift our approaches to educational authority without asking thorough questions and projecting out layers of potential consequences.

Will smart transactional models enable a new architecture for education and help power personalized learning? They could, but the answer to that question will depend on how all of us answer it.

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All Kids Can Learn: Three Key Tenets for Educators

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-06-06 20:31

Our parents are our first teachers, and my mom is no exception. She’s an educator, too, and we were both reflecting recently about how we came to be teachers and how we came to be so passionate about the profession.

As a parent and a teacher, my mom really guided me in developing the key tenets that have guided me not only as a teacher, but as a father, and in my role at KnowledgeWorks. These are the things we really believe, even when we’re most challenged as educators. Perhaps especially when we’re most challenged.

We believe that:

  • All kids can learn.
  • All kids can learn and achieve at high levels.
  • All kids and people can learn in different ways and different time frames.

But how did we come to this? How did these three tenets come to be our guiding principles?

In elementary school, when I was struggling, I remember my mom advocating for me to be in honor’s classes, to participate in the gifted and talented program. I remember telling her at 6- or 7-years-old, “I just can’t do this.”

But she insisted that I could.

“You can do this,” she said. “I know you can do it. Because it’s not just you – everyone one can do this.”

My mother knew she had to find a way to support me, to do whatever it took to get me there.

And now in my role at KnowledgeWorks, I think about how I can continue to take those lessons learned from my mom, her unwavering commitment to supporting me and my achievement, and make it possible for educators to do the same for every student in their classroom. I want to support those educators that also believe that all kids can learn. Not just when we’re first fresh out of school going into education believing it, but 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years later in the profession, still adamantly committed to that guiding principle that all kids can learn. That it’s our responsibility to support them in their growth, their understanding, to find the excitement and the passion that drives them, that empowers them to go deeper and further with what they’re learning.

Not only that all kids can learn, but all students can achieve at high levels. Over the last year, I’ve met thousands of educators that want to know how they can make that possible. They don’t want to refine the system, but want to reconstruct the system to support what we believe to be true: all kids can learn and achieve at high levels. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with educators, learning communities, organizations, and state policy leaders that want to make that vision possible; those ensuring, much like my mom did for me, that all students achieve at high levels and are given every opportunity to do so both in and out of school.

But the key tenet that my family was committed to, that the KnowledgeWorks family is committed to, that the people and organizations we’re working with are committed to, is that if we truly believe that all kids can learn, and we definitely believe they can learn at high levels, but we also understand that they learn in different ways and different time frames, then what needs to change? How does school as we know it need to change? Is movement of kids in age-based batches the right way, or can we think differently about how we support students in their movement, their achievement, their application of learning?

All kids can learn. All kids can achieve at high levels. All kids learn in different ways. How do we work with key policy makers, community leaders, and educators to ensure that we create a system that validates, honors, and supports these key tenets? The beauty of KnowledgeWorks is that we get to learn from people who are doing this work every day, and we get to support states, communities, educators, and most importantly, kids, in making that vision of all learners achieving at high levels, in their own way, possible.

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Outhouse Design Competition Offers Real Learning, Real Bathroom Humor

Posts from WOL - Sun, 2016-06-05 11:11

When Kent Ackley, executive director of the small nonprofit, One Big Sustainable Island, needed help creating bathroom facilities on an island with no running water and no electricity, he knew just who to turn to.

High school students.

“There was a lot of bathroom humor,” Ackley admits. Ackley organized a competition for four teams of local high school students to design an outhouse for the home and namesake of One Big Sustainable Island, a 14-acre island on Annabessacook Lake in Maine. The island offers locals a chance to reconnect with nature, whether it’s through a unique camping adventure, volunteering in island operations, or something more. Until 2013, there were no bathroom facilities, but there were many visitors.

“People just went wherever. It was a mess,” says Ackley.

A mess that required creative thinking and collaboration to clean up, and at just the right time for RSU2 students to take advantage of the district’s newly implemented competency-based education model. These were students who had been in the traditional model of schooling, who knew the rules and how to work that system. They weren’t quite sure how competency-based education would serve them yet.

“With the competition, we turned the educational model on its head,” Ackley says. “We asked ourselves how we could present a bunch of material that inspired kids to be curious, to have fun, to be goofy, to be kids, but also to learn some science and teamwork?”

Teams of freshmen and sophomores from RSU2 assembled to research long-term, sustainable options for waste management on the island. They had to work within the parameters of the project: no running water, no electricity, a limited budget, and they had to be compliant with local building codes and zoning issues. The outhouse needed to be sanitary, it needed to be cleanable, and of high import for island visitors: it couldn’t smell.

“This wasn’t just an exercise where the answers were already known,” Ackley says, citing the “authentic” nature of the outhouse competition, the uncertainty, as a big driver behind students’ enthusiasm. “They had to build on their designs when the initial ones didn’t come in under budget. They had to minimize the materials they utilized for the project using geometry. They had to research the process of composting and the EPA standards for safe composting. It was real – a real need, a real project. And they knew we were going to build it when they were done.”

Students ultimately presented their final projects, backed by their research, in front of a panel of judges comprised of local building code enforcement officials, a plumbing inspector, and an architect. Of the four teams, first and second place were given bedpans as trophies because, as Ackley says, “when you’re talking about an outhouse, you’re only dealing with #1 and #2.”

All of the students got together to build the panels for the winning design and barged them over to the island to complete the outhouse by summer’s end. Ackley notes that among student learnings is what he feels the island represents to his community: it’s a metaphor for the world we live in. With a fixed set of resources, students had to work with what they were given. They had to think not only about how they could “do no harm,” but also how they could improve the environment and add value to the island and their community.

“They gained a real understanding of what our footprint is,” says Ackley. Students continue to visit the island each year during the district’s Day of Caring, where all high school students are required to give back to their community in some way as part of their graduation requirements. The story of the winning outhouse design competition team hangs on the wall inside the outhouse, a memory enshrined to the “real project” that served a group of students, the community, and some very creative potty humor.

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How to Celebrate Gay Pride When You’re Not Gay

Posts from WOL - Sat, 2016-06-04 08:39

Gay pride celebrations take place across the world in June.  They celebrate the night in 1968 when a group of patrons in the Stonewall Bar in New York City stood up and fought back against what was routine police harassment of homosexuals at that time, beginning what has become known as the LGBTQ movement.  In the ensuing 48 years, laws and attitudes within the United States – and across the world – have changed with respect to acceptance of non-heterosexual lifestyles.

The US Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of gay marriages across the country last year is one of the most recent signs of changes in American law and attitudes towards LGBTQ people – and the North Carolina law regulating the bathroom accessibility of transgendered people is a sign of the resistance and fear that still exists for many.

If you’re not LGBTQ, you probably know someone who is. Routine estimates place the number of LGBTQ people from five to 10 percent of the population.  And the saying of “we are everywhere” is true as LGBTQ people live in all parts of this country, occupy positions in all sectors of the economy,  teach our children, attend to our sick, fight our wars and even save our souls.  So, when it comes to celebrating Pride Month, what can you do if you’re not gay, but some of your best friends are?

The first step in supporting someone who may see the world differently than you do is to try to understand them better. You also need to understand your own feelings and thoughts about the difference. Educators are in an especially important position to help others understand and accept lifestyles that do not conform to mainstream expectations.

You can begin by acknowledging that LGBTQ lifestyle is not a choice. Nor is it a disease, mental disorder or a sign of weak character.  Every major mental health, medical and mental health association in the United States (AMA, APA, ACA, NEA) acknowledge and accept that non-heterosexual lifestyles are a natural expression of life for people and should not subject someone to discrimination or harassment.

At younger and younger ages people are recognizing non-heterosexual sexual orientation or gender identification that is different from their birth or biological gender.  Children who face discrimination or harassment because of this are statistically more likely to attempt suicide, have higher incidents of depression and anxiety disorders, have a higher likelihood of abusing substances or some activity, are more likely to be bullied or physically harassed, and as a result of internalized homophobia are less likely to be successful academically and socially. Providing a supportive and accepting environment to children who may be exploring these issues allows them to do so without the burden on environmental penalties or pressures.

  • If you are a teacher or administrator, visit the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network(GLSEN). GLSEN is an organization that works with schools and teachers across the country to help develop and support efforts to create and maintain safe places for young people who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  Visit their website for ideas and suggestions on specific actions you can take in your classroom or school to support these children.
  • If you’re a parent, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides support and advice to parents of LGBTQ children to better understand their children and support them through their journey.  There are meetings across the United States and you don’t have to have an LGBTQ child to attend a meeting and talk.
  • If you’re a professional, please see a series of resources I developed as part of a project in graduate school, aimed to help professionals who are working with LGBTQ clients or students. There’s a variety of information there that can help address concerns or questions that arise for you or your clients.

And finally, if you’re wondering what gay pride is all about, go to a celebration!  Whatever you might imagine it to be, you’ll probably be surprised. You’ll see people and organizations within your own community who are doing many of the same things everyone else does – they just happen to be LGBTQ people.  Don’t let fear shield you from learning and experiencing people whose only major difference is the object of their love.

Happy Pride Month!

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Five Strategies for Rebundling Education for a New Era

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-06-03 10:00

How might we rebundle education for a new era?

KnowledgeWorks recently partnered with ReSchool Colorado to explore this question at a convening of their network in Denver. The event buzzed with a sense that the need to rebundle education is getting more urgent and that we have more and more ways of making that happen. Indeed, the program featured several people and organizations that are already finding new ways forward.

As we continue to consider how best to position education for the emerging era of partners in code and the changing economic realities that it is likely to bring, the conversation highlighted several guideposts for our collective exploration. We need to:

1. Develop new guides for the new landscape.
Learning across more diverse landscapes and in more ways and places will require new navigators to help all learners and families rebundle education successfully. ReSchool Colorado is experimenting with learner advocate networks that play this role. A learning Sherpa, another way of thinking about this new guidance and connection function, resonated across the conversation.

2. Expand educator roles.
We can’t get very far with rebundling education without re-examining current teacher and administrative roles. So what might new roles look like? The conversation highlighted the need to provide people working with learners day to day with webs of support that can help them grow their practice, make connections beyond their areas of expertise, and activate non-academic supports as needs arise. Career connectors could help working adults develop new skills as workplace demands shifted.

3. Foster new skills for a project-based world.
Tom Vanderark of Getting Smart emphasized the need for an innovation mindset to help people succeed in an increasingly project-based world of learning, work, and life. As he defines it, an innovation mindset combines effort, initiative, and collaboration. Orienting learning around future-ready skills promises to ensure that the substance of rebundled learning ecosystems prepares learners for navigating life beyond school.

4. Co-create new approaches with learners.
They need to be part of the design process. An integral part. We can’t design solutions for learners in particular places and circumstances without truly understanding their realities. Learners can co-create new schools and learning ecosystems as well as their own learning pathways. Organizations such as Boulder Housing Partners, the XQ Team for Fort Collins’ Compass High School, and Carbondale’s Valley Settlement Project are already helping people drive their own learning.

5. Accede some financial control to families.
If we keep giving money to schools, we’ll keep getting school-centric approaches to education. To rebundle education effectively instead of creating only supplemental pathways or innovation at the (often wealthy) fringes, learners and families need to control at least part of the per-pupil funding. That financial power would begin to shift the locus of education from the system to the student. It could also incent innovation among learning providers seeking to attract clients.

As we plan for rebundling education for a new era, we’ll need to hone these and many other strategies for creating and navigating increasing choice and learner-centered ecosystems. At the same time, we’ll need to keep in mind the exponential rate of change that surrounds our efforts, planning for adaptability even as we create new learning relationships and environments and shift systemic structures to support them.

For more insights from the conversation, see ReSchool Colorado’s takeaways, and stay tuned as they explore ways of ensuring quality and value across a larger landscape of learning this summer.


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To the Moon and Back: Preparing the next generation of scientific pioneers

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-06-03 08:00

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first American spacewalk and on the anniversary of this great event, it’s hard not to think about the great accomplishments of the past and to wonder if we’re doing as well now. Are we ready as a country to continue this momentum? Are we preparing our kids to conceive of and achieve such success?

There’s a lot of focus these days on STEM education and the career pathways we need to foster to make sure we are creating enough future engineers and scientists. Those are jobs core to the economy and key to our identity as a nation. We really need to challenge ourselves just a little further, though, to make sure we’re creating engineers and scientists that not only understand engineering and science, but have the grit and determination to push us forward.

Drawing by Alexei Leonov, gift to Arthur C. Clarke, 1968Alexsey Leonov holds the historic distinction of being the first human to “walk” in space, having beaten American Ed Smith to the record by three months. Leonov was a shining star in the Soviet cosmonaut universe and a man of great accomplishment. As a child growing up in Siberia, he had two dreams, and he was singularly focused to achieve them both. He wanted to study aircraft at the Air Force Engineering Academy and train as a pilot; and he wanted to become a painter. His determination carried him on to accomplish both, through many trials. Leonov’s 1966 Voshkod-2 mission was fraught with emergency after emergency, from problems re-entering the spacecraft to an emergency landing deep in the forests of Siberia. Leonov handled it all with great presence of mind. After his spacewalk, he conducted many more missions as a cosmonaut, and began taking colored pencils with him on his flights to share the beauty and majesty of what he had seen. Leonov is one of Russia’s most highly decorated generals, and he has produced many works of art and co-authored several books.

During the Gemini 4 mission soon after Leonov’s walk, Ed Smith had his turn. Smith’s 23 minute spacewalk took him from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Smith was a runner in high school, known for his determination and hard training. He missed trials for the Olympic 400m hurdling team, in fact, by a mere tenth of a second. He also loved photography. Smith continued on to study aeronautical engineering as he advanced in to the exciting new American space program. After his successful spacewalk, Smith was tapped to crew the upcoming Apollo I mission alongside Gus Grissom. In one of our country’s greatest aerospace tragedies, the Apollo module caught on fire on the test platform, killing all three astronauts inside. Smith’s job during an emergency was to open the escape hatch, and his body was found positioned in an attempt to do exactly that, despite the hopelessness of the situation.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll question whether today’s education system really provides the support and encouragement to produce such well-rounded, groundbreaking individuals. Are we creating drivers of change that advance the STEM fields and take us all forward as a country, or are we just counting ourselves lucky when a Smith or a Leonov appears?

If we’re serious about STEM and about educating our kids, we’ll make sure all of them get the chance to receive an education that’s personally meaningful and that brings out their best. We’ll gently escort today’s helicopter parents aside and foster those all-important agency skills in our kids (perseverance, determination, and grit) even as we’re encouraging their learning in physics, algebra, and programming. Leadership and resolve combined with engineering and math have given us some of the world’s most impressive scientific pioneers. But how many more Smiths are out there waiting to fulfill their potential?

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Education Buzzwords: Say What You Mean

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-06-01 09:25

Are students learners or teachers in “learner-centered teaching” classrooms? What’s the difference between a “powerful conversation and a “rich conversation”? What does it mean to “have a conversation around” something?

In a recent op/ed for EdWeek, Dr. Levi Folly of Fairfax County Public Schools writes about the increasing use of jargon and buzzwords in education, and the dangers of such language in isolating or confusing listeners.

“I am sure those using these phrases have the best intentions and want to communicate important information. I am equally sure they would be more effective if they used different language.”

I attend meetings with superintendents, teachers, students, parents, instructional coaches, and a variety of policy ‘wonks.’ I am always amazed by the latest and greatest buzzword that enters the conversation. Levy goes on to cite a conversation with a friend who claimed,

“he’d spent all morning helping teachers ‘unpack standards’ so they understood what students should know and be able to do. I wanted to ask whether or not the suitcase had wheels. To quote another colleague, ‘Why don’t we just say what we mean?

“Teaching and learning are complex processes and I see no reason to overwhelm parents, students, or each other with an array of terms because we want to sound impressive or because someone has written a book and we want to sound current. In fact, we are deluding ourselves if we believe practitioners internalize this language. Why would they? Experience has or will teach them that unless we change, these terms and phrases will be replaced with equally vague and fleeting ones.”

And given the education world’s penchant for acronyms – PBL, UDL, IBL, PL, CBE, MBL, CQI, NCLB, ESEA, ESSA – you haven’t impressed me. You’ve lost me.

In his article, Folly shares the six characteristics of effective language according to the faculty of the University of Washington. Effective language is:

  1. Concrete and specific, not vague and abstract;
  2. Concise, not verbose;
  3. Familiar, not obscure;
  4. Precise and clear, not inaccurate and ambiguous;
  5. Constructive, not destructive;
  6. Appropriately formal.

I would like to add a seventh characteristic: context and culture. Endeavor to know your audience, understand their journey, ask about their challenges, barriers, opportunities, and successes. Speak their language.

As ASCD Executive Director Deb Delisle stated at this year’s EDWorks conference, “transformation in education is tough and messy.” Matt Williams, a respected KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, takes it one step further, writing that “to truly transform a system and confront the status quo, you have to overturn some apple carts.”

I am all for overturning apple carts. But in this messy journey to transform education, can we not get lost in translation? Let’s ensure that everyone at the table, from the White House in Washington, DC to the kitchen table in Washington, IA, understands what we are talking about when we talk about education.

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