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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Considering #FutureEd: Blockchain and Education Roundup

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-05-31 11:27


Education technology is a multi-billion dollar industry and a significant area of focus for education stakeholders. So whenever a new technology emerges, educators, innovators and investors are likely to wonder: Will this development impact the future of learning? If so, when and how?

The newest focus of these questions is blockchain. KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team had those same questions, so we embarked on a forecasting project about the role blockchain technology might have in personalized learning. Our contribution to this conversation, which will be released early this summer, includes a primer on blockchain technology, four scenarios for possible futures of blockchain and education, and strategic questions for stakeholders to consider. Technology companies, banks, independent software developers, and dozens of other groups are also thinking through the implications of blockchain, and we believe that educators should as well.

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones thinking through the potential applications and implications of blockchain for learning. I’d encourage you to check out the following pieces to explore the topic more.

  1. Would ‘Blockchain’ Tech Work for K-12 Schools? (by Education Week): Sony’s investment into blockchain garnered a great deal of attention. Tthis article looks more deeply into their ideas of how the technology could be used for credentials and raises important questions about student privacy.
  2. The Blockchain for Education: An Introduction and The Ideology of Blockchain (for Education): Audrey Watters of Hack Education offers background on the technology and explores the beliefs and values of those developing it, always an important consideration when thinking about bringing new technologies into learning.
  3. 10 Things to Know about the Future of Blockchain in Education (by EdTech Strategies): Doug Levin has been a thought leader on blockchain and education since before most people even knew those two topics might intersect. This list includes some basics he believes others should know about the topic, links to sources to learn more, and raises some deeper considerations about how blockchain might be applied in education and learning.
  4. Learning Is Earning (by Institute for the Future and ACT Foundation): Based on crowdsourced futures gathered using their Foresight Engine, the Institute for the Future collaborated with the ACT Foundation to produce a map with future forces, profiles of working learners, signals of change, and areas of possible innovation in blockchain and education.

This conversation needs the voices of people who care about equity and personalized learning, so we invite you to read up on this topic. We look forward to sharing our own ideas about it with you soon when we release “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning” in June. Subscribe here to receive a copy of the paper when it is released.

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Learning the Blockchain Basics

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-05-26 09:41

If you’re like me, you’ve heard and seen blockchain mentioned occasionally in news articles and on social media feeds throughout the past year or two. It’s usually mentioned right after bitcoin, which is a concept my brain can’t seem to fully wrap itself around.

So when the KnowledgeWorks strategic foresight team started exploring blockchain’s potential impact on the future of education, I asked a lot of questions and tried to learn the basics. Here are some of the questions I asked:

  1. What is blockchain? How long has it been around?
  2. How does blockchain work?
  3. Why have we been hearing a lot about blockchain in the news lately?
  4. Why did KnowledgeWorks decide to start considering blockchain and the future of learning?
  5. What possible impact could blockchain have on the future of learning?
  6. Blockchain seems really far out for education. Why is important to consider possibilities now?
  7. Who are the people out there looking to apply it to education?
  8. What research process did KnowledgeWorks go through to learn more about blockchain?
  9. What will KnowledgeWorks do with the research?

My coworker, Jason Swanson, kindly answered my questions. Check out my official Q&A to read the answers and learn more about the basics of blockchain and how it could impact the future of learning.

KnowledgeWorks strategic foresight team organized and hosted some focus groups that brought together experts in blockchain, data and education to have a conversation about what the technology could do, what might not be possible, and what other technologies should be considered. After three waves of discussions with different sets of experts, they took the major findings, combined those findings with secondary research, and created four scenarios to imagine how blockchain might be used in learning in 2026.

In June, the full paper, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” will be available for free. Subscribe for updates and to receive your copy.

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A Powerful Collaboration for Cincinnati’s Children

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-05-25 21:05

The Preschool Promise began as a local initiative of the StrivePartnership, a member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network.

Four months ago, I had my first baby.

Before he was born, I thought I knew what to do when it came to finding child care. I thought I was prepared for the sticker shock and the major weekly expense. To some extent I was, but once I actually started looking, I realized I wasn’t at all prepared for the waiting lists we’d encounter – many in excess of 12 months – and how hard it would be to actually get in to the programs we liked.

We got very lucky and our son is in a terrific center, but I’ve never been able to stop thinking, “it shouldn’t be this hard.” My husband and I are fortunate to be able to afford high-quality care, and we have schedules that are flexible enough to take the extra time to go out of our way before and after work for pick up and drop off. Had we not gotten in to a program by the time I went back to work, we probably would have found a way to cobble together a short-term solution.

But we’re in the minority.

As a country, we haven’t been investing adequately in early childhood education, so quality remains expensive and hard to find.

Despite everything we know about brain development in the first five years and the importance of quality preschool in particular for child development, academic, and life success, half of Cincinnati’s 3- and 4-year-olds aren’t enrolled in any type of preschool, and just over a quarter of them are in a high-quality preschool environment.

Frustrated, and compelled by the urgency of our devastating child poverty rate (nearly half of our children live below the poverty line), mediocre kindergarten readiness rates (57 percent), and lack of access to quality preschool, early childhood, faith, school, community, and business leaders have been working together on a plan to ensure that more children, particularly those who need it the most, have access to high-quality preschool.

Volunteers advocate for the Cincinnati Preschool Promise.Volunteers advocate for the Cincinnati Preschool Promise.

The plan involves income-based tuition assistance for families and significant quality improvement supports for preschool programs, so quality preschool becomes abundant, affordable, and convenient for everyone.

It’s been a powerful movement – engaging nearly 10,000 supporters and building real demand for more quality preschools in neighborhoods throughout Cincinnati.

A few days ago, this coalition took a big step forward when the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to include preschool expansion to the tune of $15 million per year in a school levy that will be on the ballot this November. The goal is for every child to have a great start and a great school.

As is often true with real collaborations, the road hasn’t always been easy, and actually passing the levy will take all of us working harder – and more effectively – than we ever have before. But no matter how hard it gets, moments like this don’t come along very often. When it passes, it will be a historic, transformational opportunity for children. If we keep children at the center, before long, “it shouldn’t be this hard” will be a thing of the past.

To learn more, visit www.askpreschoolpromise.org.

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Personalizing Learning Today Prepares Students for Tomorrow

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-05-25 09:15

Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the water of personalized learning or your community is well on its way to embracing a completely new model of competency-based education, there are things you can do right now to begin offering your students a way to connect authentically with what they’re learning. Personalized learning empowers students to make their learning experiences more meaningful, and that’s valuable for everyone, no matter your curriculum.

  • Make space for students’ voice and choice. Does every student really have to take a test to prove they’ve mastered a subject, or could some students give a presentation, write a paper, or complete a project? This is one of the simplest and easiest changes to make, and it’s a great way to honor your students’ needs and talents while still giving them the opportunity to prove what they’ve learned. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box or to let your students do the same. While I was at RSU2, there was one student who wanted to show how the training plans he was creating and following for the track team met the learning objectives for his PE class. While it was an unconventional approach, he was right, and the work he did to prove that what he was doing to meet the course’s goals has since opened the door for other student athletes to do the same: using the time they would’ve spent in PE pursuing other subjects or engaging in an external learning opportunity.
  • Be aware of student identity. One of the signals of change in KnowledgeWorks’ latest future forecast is the changing nature of identity. As we move away from fixed labels and predetermined notions of identity – Facebook and Google+, for example, now allow users to enter a “custom” gender identity – it’s important to check our own perceptions. What we perceive about students may not be the whole picture, and as we have access to more and better data about them, it’s important to use that data to personalize learning for the whole person and meet more than just academic needs.
  • Support your early adopters. You know the ones – the teachers who are truly passionate about trying something new, who want to teach differently. These are the teachers who want to capitalize on technology as a tool, not a replacement, to support the work they’re doing in the classroom. Give these educators the space they need to begin personalizing learning, and they’ll give back to you what you need to bring it to everybody else: an understanding of what it really takes to do the work; the resources they need (not just technology but professional development, too); and any barriers they may be encountering, (policy, administrative, or otherwise). What you learn from your early adopters will also help you communicate what you’re doing more effectively with everyone involved.

One of the signals of change in our latest future forecast looks at more families opting out of the traditional school system or otherwise seeking alternative approaches to learning that offer more student choice and a variety of ways to learn. We need to begin innovating and personalizing learning not only to keep up with changes in the broader education landscape, but also to ensure that we’re truly preparing students not for the world they’re living in when they enter the classroom at age 5, but the one they’ll graduate into at 18.

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Smart Contracts Could Power Personalized Education

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-05-24 09:43

Last month, I had a chance to immerse myself in some of the learning experiences happening around Columbus, Ohio, where I live. I didn’t find out about them through a school or any other education institution. Instead, I read about them in the digital event listings of local news websites.

On Saturday, I spent a couple of hours exploring The Ohio State University’s Museum of Biological Diversity during their annual open house. I learned about butterflies, mollusks, and plant-based dyes and got to talk to researchers about separating DNA for analysis and identifying the kinds of algae present in water samples. That evening, I attended a classical guitar concert put on by the Columbus Guitar Society, where I got a taste of the shifts in scales and style that took place during the Baroque period. On Sunday, I went on a ranger-led wildflower walk at Shale Hollow Preserve, identifying 16 species of wildflowers in a small wooded area next to the Olentangy River.

In college, I avoided the more traditional math and science classes and met the general education requirement by taking courses on global biological issues and the history of scientific thought (a philosophy course conveniently cross-listed by the physics department). Despite an early aversion to science education, I found the two biology-related experiences last month engaging and enjoyable. While my high school and college experiences didn’t give me the frame of reference to know that I enjoy learning about the natural world, my recreational experiences since my mid-twenties have consistently circled back to the pleasure of engaging with it through situated experiences.

So I had a nice weekend. What does that have to do with education?

In the future, experiences like I had this weekend could be part of a lifelong learning log. Enough of them could, over time, even contribute to some kind of credential. If I were pursuing a relevant learning pathway, my experiences could be part of it, extending and deepening – and at least to some extent replacing – classroom learning. The resources that I needed to access them could even be unlocked based on my learning plan. If in the future I decided to pursue a relevant credential, perhaps I could retroactively incorporate them.

blockchain-imageOne mechanism that could make these kinds of possibilities happen is a smart contract. Smart contracts are self-executing contracts stored on a distributed, encrypted digital ledger called the blockchain. While the blockchain tracks and verifies basic transactions, smart contracts can be programmed to carry out more complex transactions.

In our recent forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code, we explore the potential for custom learning contracts powered by smart contracts to enable learners and parents to set up agreements around a whole host of functions, from secure payments to learning experience access to autonomous transportation. For example, what if:

  • Each learner had a Smart Learning Fast Pass that unlocked learning opportunities as the student was ready for them and transferred money from learner-controlled funding allotments to the learning experience providers?
  • A universal student record made it possible for comprehensive student data to follow each learner throughout the education lifecycle, creating a rich personal learning history that could inform future learning pathways?

Smart contracts could enable learners and their families to access experiences and resources across more distributed and diverse learning ecosystems, making learning journeys more personalized and more supportive of individuals’ distinct interests, needs, and aspirations. They represent just one way in which blockchain might enable new transactional models in education.

We’re exploring more impacts of blockchain and cultural shifts in our forthcoming publication, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” Register to be notified upon its release.

In the meantime, what do you see smart contracts enabling? What opportunities might they present, and what challenges might we watch for? Which of your experiences might they help connect – even if you don’t yet realize that you’re on a specific learning pathway?

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What does competency-based instruction look like, anyway?

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-05-23 12:13

As a teacher and principal, I always struggled when students came to me at cognitively different places. Whether as a long term kindergarten substitute teacher, a middle school English teacher, or as a high school teacher, it was a challenge. Where they were academically, their life experiences, the depth of their background knowledge, their culture, language, etc., were all widely varied. So, how do we provide a learning environment and the structures necessary to support the needs of every child?

At KnowledgeWorks, our focus on instruction is two-fold: it has to be personalized, and it has to be strongly vetted by clear cut competencies for teachers and students. Both teachers and learners need to understand what it takes to advance and progress on the learning continuum. Note I didn’t say grade levels – learning is a continuum, and our instruction, assessment, and advancement needs to reflect that.

Here are the essentials:

  • Progression on the learning continuum happens only when a student demonstrates mastery. Not at the end of a semester or at the end of the year, but when it happens. Not strictly in middle school or high school, but throughout the entire system. That’s not a classroom or even a school reform; that’s a system reform.
  • Learners have the opportunity, and are encouraged, to engage with content in ways that are meaningful for them. If a student is playing a sport, how can she apply what she needs to demonstrate mastery in math, science, and any applicable content standards? If a student is learning at an afterschool job, how can he bring proof back to the classroom?
  • Instructional supports and resources are provided that address the appropriate depth of knowledge for all learners and with all competencies. We need to look at what students are learning, to what depth of knowledge they have proven their competency, and what they’re ready for next. More importantly, all learners should be able to identify those key learning concepts as well.

Imagine this: you’re a teacher in a classroom where each and every one of your students is ready to tackle the rigor of the content, they’re engaged and ready to apply academic content  in meaningful ways throughout  their lives. That only happens if there’s a systemic practice of advancing students based on mastery in a highly personalized learning environment.

Students should be empowered to drive their own learning, and this classroom doesn’t have to be imaginary. It’s being done now, and the drive for personalized, competency-based education is only growing.

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Exploring the Intersection of Blockchain and Learning

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-05-20 13:29

Recently, my colleague Katie King and I had the honor of sharing material from our upcoming paper exploring the future of blockchain and learning at the University of Houston’s annual Foresight Gathering. “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” is a deep dive into the smart transactional models driver of change first written about in KnowledgeWorks’ The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code. The smart transactional models driver looks at how an emerging open culture movement and encryption technologies such as the blockchain are shaping the future. Our forthcoming forecast, “Learning on the Block,” explores how this driver of change might shape the future of learning by asking two framing questions:

  • In what ways might blockchain and smart contracts provide the technical foundation for a new architecture for education?
  • How might emerging social conditions and cultural mindsets motivate the adoption of these technologies in K-12 education?

We consider possible answers to these questions through four scenarios that imagine how blockchain might be used in learning in the year 2026.

For those who may not be familiar with blockchain, it is most commonly known as the distributed, encrypted ledger used to track transactions often associated with the crypto currency bitcoin, though use of blockchain have extended to things like digital rights management, wills, voting, housing deeds, and more. Being distributed, the blockchain does not rely on a trusted third party or central authority, such as a bank, to verify and record transactions. Instead, it uses a distributed network of computers to verify the transactions that are recorded to its ledger. The distributed verification process means that no single person has any more control of the process than any other. It also makes the transaction records immutable since all of the computers in the network must come to a consensus about every transaction. Being distributed, the ledger lives on all of the computers across the network and is therefore highly secure. Should one computer be hacked, the network would not be compromised.  For more detail on how the blockchain works, I recommend checking out this video.

distrubuted-vs-centralizedUnlike centralized networks (left), which require a central authority, the blockchain allows for distributed authority (right) to verify transactions. (Photo source: https://moonstone.io/)

During the course of our presentation, we had a lively discussion about what the future might hold for blockchain and its application in learning. One of the major takeaways I had from our discussion is that, even though the technology feels rather simple (a ledger that everyone can see and on whose contents everyone must agree), its implications are huge. For example, they could lead to a paradigm shift in how we think of authority (using the consensus of the network to verify transactions rather than having to go through traditional authorities). From the perspective of learning, this might mean changes in who issues credentials and how credentials are assessed. It could also reframe how we think about governance. For example, using blockchain technology to set up an automatic or self-governing learning ecosystem could potentially replace school boards. Given the scope of possible changes that blockchain might enable, many participants found themselves second guessing their understanding of the technology. It is interesting to consider how a concept as seemingly simple as a distributed ledger might create such deep change!

I would like to thank Dr. Andy Hines for letting us share our research from our upcoming forecast.

If you are interested in some of the ways that blockchain might be used in learning, please follow this link and register to be among the first to receive “Learning on the Block” upon its release.

In the meantime, what potential uses do you see for blockchain in learning?

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Microaggressions: Insidious and often personal

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-05-20 08:00

I recently attended a conference where I was one of the breakout speakers and had also agreed to lead a discussion of people at my table after the keynote presentation. When I arrived at the assigned table, there were no empty seats but there was room to add an extra chair,  something that one of the conference organizers did for me. A few minutes later a man who wasn’t seated when this took place returned to the table and told me that I had taken his chair (though his items were in from of the chair to my right). I replied that this was a new, extra chair and he then told me that I had separated him from his co-worker, who was now to my left. I offered to move to let him be next to her, and he demurred. He sat down and I heard him mumbling something about being a paying attendee and not needing to have to deal with this. A bit of relevant data here: I am black and this man was white.

His last remark was the salient one for me. Who or what did he think I was? As it happened, the company I work for was one of the major sponsors of the event. As I mentioned, I was also leading two breakout sessions, which were ironically focused on the topic of microaggressions and white privilege. Regardless of this man’s intent, which I admit I do not know, I felt like he was suggesting that for some reason he had both been wronged by my being  in that particular chair at that time.

For me, this was a microaggression.

Microaggression is a term that’s become somewhat prominent of late, especially on college campuses. Psychologist Derald Wind Sue, PhD, has written extensively about them and describes them as subtle statements and behaviors, both conscious and unconscious, that are intended to send negative messages to others because of their (perceived) membership in a particular group.

Microaggressions are expressed against people for reasons that include race or ethnicity, but also because of gender, sexual orientation, gender identify, physical ability and any other characteristic that’s deemed by a predominant group to be an outsider or non-conforming. At their core is a assumption that the prevailing culture is the standard and anything that is encountered as different from that standard is by definition less than. The basis of microaggressions includes community and environmental exposure beginning in childhood that serves to teach the individual what is right and acceptable and what is wrong and not acceptable.

Dr. Sue suggests that there are three categories of microaggression:

  1. Microassaults, which are the most obvious and include name-calling, avoidant behaviors and purposefully discriminatory actions.
  2. Microinvalidations, which tend to be unconscious , and include comments or behaviors that exclude, negate or nullify the feelings, thoughts or experiences of other people.
  3. Microinsults, again usually unconscious, and behaviors or verbal remarks that are rude, insentitive or demeaning of another person’s background, heritage or identity.

Microaggressions have taken the place of overt forms of “isms” and discrimination as people have become more conscious. Their subtlety combined with the unconscious element of their expression make them more insidious both because the recipient can’t always discern if what they heard was intended and the initiator can hide behind “not meaning” what was heard. Yet their impact can be significant.

Psychologists describe a condition referred to as minority stress that is described as high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized groups. Minority stress includes poor social support and socioeconomic difficulties as well as prejudice and discrimination. Minority stress is believed to contribute to a variety of medical problems (cardiac problems and high blood pressure) as well as increased incidents of mental health disorders (including anxiety, mood disorders, depression and substance abuse.)

The man was in one of my sessions and though I was tempted to, I didn’t use this story to illustrate my point. One of the benefits of having white privilege is that you are often not held accountable for problematic behaviors by people of color because of our tendency to dismiss it as ignorance or worse. It also puts the burden on me to educate him about the impact of his behavior, something that takes time and energy and is often not worth it. So I chalked it up to another instance of what it takes to be black in America and I hope that I let it go and moved on.

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Deborah Delisle on the Importance of Keeping Students at the Center

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-05-19 08:00

This past spring, Deborah Delisle joined the nearly 200 educators from across the U.S. at the EDWorks Experience Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to share her insights on what it takes for all of us in education to keep the students that the center of our work.

Ms. Delisle knows education. She knows it from her roles as a teacher, gifted education specialist, curriculum director, elementary school principal, district associate superintendent, superintendent, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, and, currently, as President if ASCD. And we at KnowledgeWorks are lucky to have her as a member of our Board of Directors.

Keeping students at the center is at the core of the work we do at KnowledgeWorks with personalized learning and collective impact. We know the outcome is not good when students are not at the center of decision making for instructional leaders, administrators, practitioners, and funders. At KnowledgeWorks, we have also seen the power of what can happen in schools and for students when they are at the center – powerful engagement, inspiring agency, and, as one of our colleagues is famous for saying, minds on fire.

I’m grateful that we have people like Ms. Delisle helping to inform the work and strategy of KnowledgeWorks. As you’ll hear in her talk, she is always asking, “Whose voice is missing from the discussion?” It is from that missing voice that we will often find the answers to our most vexing questions in education. Give students their voice and, in most cases, they are going to tell us exactly what they need to be successful today so that they can be successful in the future.

Give students their voice and they are going to tell us exactly what they need to be successful.
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The central principle of student success, according to Ms. Delisle, are:

  • Personal validation
  • Self-efficacy
  • Sense of purpose
  • Active involvement
  • Reflecting thinking
  • Social integration

Learn more about the importance of keeping students at the center in this powerful presentation by Ms. Delisle:

Learn more about the work happening at KnowledgeWorks to personalize learning for all students.

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Take Action for Equity in Education

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-05-18 10:23

If we want an equitable future for education, we need to take action. William Gibson wrote, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” This is no more evident than in education today. More often than not, students who need the most support to propel their learning receive the least. The New York Times recently illustrated that sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.

KnowledgeWorks’ latest future forecast presents a range of future possibilities, and it encourages us to take action to shape the kind of future that we want for all students. There are things we can do right now to ensure equity in the future of education, and it starts with how we think about how we teach and learn.

  • Focus on relationships. This work ultimately comes down to the interactions between a student and a teacher. As my colleague Sarah Jenkins wrote, “it’s not just about changing the system, but changing people’s hearts, changing the way we think about people who are different from us.” For our relationships to evolve and be authentic, we need to challenge our assumptions about race, class, and access.
  • Elevate student voice through personalized learning. It can be as simple as offering students a variety of ways to prove they’ve mastered something (for example, a test, a project, or a paper), honoring their voices and respecting where they’re coming from. By giving students greater autonomy, you’re not just closing the achievement gap, you’re closing the opportunity gap.
  • Be optimistic – and realistic – about access to technology. While access to technology is a real barrier to equitable education right now, it becomes cheaper and easier to access all the time. According to my colleague Jason Swanson, today “you can pick up a $99 smart phone and have access to the world.” Ten years ago, this would’ve been unheard of. What seems cutting edge now is very likely to be mass market in 2025. Still, equity isn’t a given – just as we do now, in the future we will need to be intentional, to be aware of our most vulnerable students in everything that we do.
  • Include parents and students in the decision-making process. Often times in the traditional model of schooling, decisions are made behind closed doors and are handed from the top down to the classroom. This approach is outdated, out-moded and, frankly, counter-productive. The student and parent perspectives are vital not only to making sure we’re representing the needs of all students at the table, but also in ensuring student and community buy-in. The more everyone knows about what students are learning, why they’re learning it, and how they’ll be assessed, the more supported and empowered each student will be.
  • Learn how to use data and make it available to students, teachers, and parents. We have more data on our students’ academic performance than ever before, and that data goes beyond test scores. But it doesn’t matter how much data or how focused a picture it gives us if we don’t know how to use it. Teachers should always have the most accurate picture of each student, and we must give teachers the best training possible to support their development in using data thoughtfully. Without it, how can they support them in the right ways? The same goes for parents. Simply put, data and effective data usage are the foundation for personalized learning.

We all need to do our part to shape the future for our children. It’s not fair to expect educators to do this work alone. From parents to teachers to business and community leaders, we all have reason to want a more equitable future. We also have the means to make it happen.

I recently visited Boston Day and Evening Academy, a student-centered alternative school in Boston that serves students who’ve dropped out of a traditional school setting, whether due to attendance or behavior challenges or something else. Many are overage for high school and want a chance to earn their diploma. While there, I had the chance to talk with a student who claimed that the school “gave [them] their voice back.”

Now, shouldn’t we give them a chance to use it?

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Advice for Superintendents Getting Started with Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-05-16 08:00

Looking back at a large scale school transformation initiative can provide key insights to help other leaders achieve success. To find out what has worked so well for the RSU2 school district, located outside of Portland, Maine, I sat down with their Superintendent, Bill Zima.

RSU2 serves the communities of Hallowell, Farmingdale, Richmond, Dresden, and Monmouth, Maine, and is a pioneer in personalized learning. Over the last decade, the district has completely transformed its schools to a competency-based education system focused on ensuring each child meets learning targets, has the individual support they need, and can make choices on how they demonstrate their learning along the way.

When I asked Zima if he had any advice for other superintendents just getting started on a transformation to a personalized learning approach like competency education, he recommended three key areas of focus:

1. Partner with stakeholders to craft a clear vision and set a realistic pathway for change

Superintendent Zima says that while each stakeholder in the school or district’s community – students, parents, teachers, local businesses, civic leaders – may not know all of the details of what it means to run a learning system, it’s important to understand their expectations. Find out what a good school looks like to them, and use that feedback to craft a vision that everyone believes in.

“If the stakeholders are not with you, then you are going to keep running up against dry land and you’re not going to be able to get anywhere,” says Zima. “And it’s very hard to move when you’re stuck.”

Zima also says that school leaders should realize that achieving this vision takes time and recommends writing out a clear plan to get there. “It’s going to take steps to get there. Don’t rush it.”

2. Build a culture of continuous improvement and don’t be afraid to fail

Zima stresses how important it is for a district to have a culture and understanding of continuous improvement, and “that teachers have the opportunity to practice and explore and try things and not worry about failing, so to speak.”

“As I say to teachers here, I would be willing to bet that they’ve all had had lessons in a traditional system that have just flopped. I mean I certainly did. Lessons that I spent days, weeks preparing, and was so excited about, but they were absolutely disastrous…”

But a lesson that doesn’t turn out as a teacher hoped isn’t really failing, Zima says. It’s an opportunity to get feedback from students and improve the outcome next time.

3. Continuously promote the vision and how work fits

Keeping the vision alive and making sure everyone understands how the work you’re doing fits in the vision is the primary role of the superintendent, according to Zima. Because the vision was created in partnership with your stakeholders, it’s important to keep that central.

“Continuously promote the vision everywhere you go…,” he says. “Whenever I meet with parents. Whenever I meet with stakeholders. When I meet with teachers. When I sent out messages. Everything I do I tie back to our vision.”

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Seven Strategies for Taking Learning beyond the Walls of School

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-05-13 08:00

In our second workshop on making sense of the future of learning, KnowledgeWorks recently convened informal and community-based learning leaders and innovators to explore the implications of our latest forecast, The Future of Learning: Education in an Era of Partners in Code. Their insights highlighted seven key strategies for making full use of learning beyond what we currently call “school” over the next ten years.

  1. Reframing Education – It’s all too easy to focus only on the kinds of education that happen in K-12 schools or higher education institutions. But much learning happens in informal and community-based settings such as museums, libraries, maker spaces, science and history centers, parks, and after-school programs – not to mention online. Reframing education strategy and conversations to focus on lifelong and life-wide learning promises to open up new lenses on personal development and new opportunities to make individual and systemic use of this important learning layer.
  2. Breaking Down Learning Silos – In addition to focusing too often on school-based education, education conversations often focus on one age group at a time – or even one narrow grade band. Traditional grade bands are beginning to fade in importance as competency-based education shifts emphasis to mastery over seat time. Pushing further, there is huge opportunity to cultivate not just multi-age but also inter-generational learning experiences that draw upon many kinds of expertise and enrich engagement with learning.
  3. Cultivating SocialEmotional Awareness – Helping learners develop as whole people involves more than academics. It also means supporting them in developing social and emotional awareness and skills. These skills can not only help learners persist in meeting near-term educational goals but can also help people navigate an increasingly turbulent climate in which definitions of readiness are shifting. With much to offer in helping people develop curiosity, inquiry, and awareness of themselves in society, the informal and community-based learning layer could make strong contributions in this area – either in complement to and partnership with school-based education or independently.
  4. Expanding Learning Experiences and Infrastructure – Approaching learning more broadly could open up new avenues for creating generative learning paths and making unprecedented use of community resources. It could also enable greater grassroots decision making than is typical of education today. Conversely, it could create greater complexity for learners and present challenges in fostering well-balanced and intentional learning ecosystems. For all the interest in getting beyond field-trip thinking, community-based institutions may also struggle to see themselves as home bases for learning.
  5. Making Wise Use of Learner Data – Changing how we use learner data could help facilitate movement across many kinds of learning experiences and could help learning options respond to learner needs and demand. For example, every learner might have a digital backpack that kept track of diverse learning experiences – and which he or she potentially owned. Blockchain technology could help make digital backpacks or other approaches to learner data secure and portable. However, companies might exploit learner data for marketing purposes or other uses, and recommendation engines could lead learners into echo chambers that narrowed thinking and limited exposure to diverse perspectives. Public distrust of data collection would also need to be overcome.
  6. Promoting Equity – It can be hard to conceive of learners who are struggling to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and safety availing themselves of learning beyond the walls of traditional schools. But drawing more heavily upon community-based learning could help address disparities and expand credited learning while also providing greater flexibility to address individual and community needs. To avoid reinforcing current biases in more broadly defined learning ecosystems, the right people need to be at the table from the start, and we need to be aware of bias and power. We also need to plan for addressing anticipated inequities in accessing new opportunities.
  7. Rethinking Funding – Current funding streams and revenue models reflect current organizational silos and age-based coordination of education. There could be opportunities to shift some funding to support learning across a lifetime, with even modest amount of individually controlled dollars serving to seed innovation and foster interconnections across the learning landscape. But, while it’s hard to imagine transforming education without revisiting our current approaches to funding, that’s a sure way to trigger resistance and attempts to protect the status quo. Fostering dialogue and considering other viewpoints could help people focus on potential over pitfalls. Innovative policies can also create space for new approaches.

These strategies reflect the tremendous opportunity to recognize out-of-school or beyond-school learning environments as powerful complements to the established K-20 education system and as central contributors to future learning ecosystems. Community-based organizations could even lead the way in shaping the future of education since they have more flexibility and operate under fewer constraints. Regardless, communicating and collaborating across the education spectrum seems key to creating a bright future of learning.

For another perspective on shaping the future of learning, take a look at the top challenges shaping the future of K-12 school-based education.

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Local Voice in Education Reform More Important Than Ever

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-05-12 08:00

Last week, one of my favorite eduwonks, Rick Hess, invited guest blogger Mike McShane to write for his Education Week blog. To be honest, when Rick takes his periodic breaks from blogging, I usually stop reading. But last week, Mike wrote about the necessity and effectiveness of education reform happening at the local level. A few weeks ago I wrote something on this blog about the virtue of personalized learning being local so, naturally, I was interested. I agreed with much of what Mike wrote last week, specifically about reform fatigue at the local level.

One way to avoid reform fatigue while keeping education change efforts local is to actually listen to local voice. As we often say at KnowledgeWorks, if education policy isn’t grounded in good practice, at best policy reform efforts will be disconnected from what is successful in the classroom. At worst, policies will actually inhibit good practice.

KnowledgeWorks’ theory of change involves gathering voices from the field, creating resources and policy recommendations based on what those voices are telling us, then vetting those resources and recommendations with those working in schools and classrooms. That’s why when we created the District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling Personalized Learning and the State Policy Framework for Scaling Personalized Learning, we interviewed more than 40 school, district, and state leaders to gather information, then convened those leaders to further examine and refine our offerings.

This idea of local influence has never been more important than it is now given the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA returns much of the decision making back to the states, a big change from the era of No Child Left Behind.

As states begin to think about how they will implement ESSA, I would encourage policy leaders to engage school and district leaders in discussions about how the new law is going to look, feel, and impact those in the trenches doing the tough work. A great way to begin these conversations is with the design questions contained in KnowledgeWorks’ recommendations for advancing personalized learning under ESSA. Specifically, these questions will help states think through accountability, school improvement, assessment, educator workforce, and extended learning opportunities through the lenses of college and career readiness, continuous improvement, and equity.

As ESSA recommendations are released from the U.S. Department of Education, KnowledgeWorks will continue to think about the best ways to include local voices in implementation. In the meantime, keep up with what KnowledgeWorks is doing by signing up for our newsletter.

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2016: The Year of Virtual Reality

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-05-11 08:00

I looked around the cab I was riding in. I was sitting up front, and there were men whom I didn’t know sitting in the back. We were speeding through the crowded streets of Tehran. I tensed up as we narrowly missed a roadside vendor. Arriving at our destination, we hopped out of the cab, and I found myself sitting in a crowded tea house. Sitting down, I started to relax from the harrowing cab ride, only to have a police officer point at me and begin yelling. It was at this point that I decided I had had enough and pulled of my virtual reality (VR) goggles. I instantly returned to the streets of Pittsburgh where I was waiting for my food to be prepared at the Conflict Kitchen.

2016 will come to be known as the year of VR. This year, three virtual reality headsets will be released commercially, with the Oculus Rift, the Vive HTC, and Sony’s Playstation VR bringing virtual reality and immersive experiences such as my trip to Tehran to the mass market.

The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory (now known as multimodal) technology.

Excitement and speculation over virtual reality is nothing new. Virtual reality can be traced back to 1962 when Sensorama, considered the first VR system, was released. VR rode a steady wave of interest, which seemed to crest in 1995 when it became clear that the technology was not ready for gaming, the most likely market and use for the technology. Interest in VR was also undermined by growing interest in the Internet, which was caused many developers and investors to focus their time and shift their resources from VR development to the investment in the web. Its connectivity and online access to 3D tools looked more promising than VR hardware development, which still had a long way to go to fulfill many of the early promises of virtual reality.

Now that VR is finally maturing, its ability to put users directly into immersive experiences and virtual worlds might finally live up to the expectations that many have long held for it, potentially changing the ways we access entertainment and also the ways in which we work and learn.

I am personally interested in how virtual reality will influence learning. Reflecting on my own experience with the technology, I found that I felt as if I were transported to another city. While I did not have much control over what I did other than where I looked, the experience was powerful and believable, and it made me forget that I was standing on the streets of my hometown. Such immersion can be a powerful tool for learners, but what makes me even more excited is to think about what might happen when the technology matures to a point that learners and learning agents gain the ability to not just navigate virtual worlds, but to create them.

If we are to draw a parallel with how the Internet has matured, we might make a comparison to how websites were developed over time. Initially, website development was in the hands of skilled web developers. Over time, the tools for coding websites became more accessible as products such as Dreamweaver came to market. Today, web developers might still be needed in some cases, but platforms such as  WordPress and Squarespace allow just about anyone to create a professional-looking website at low to no cost and to do so quite quickly.

Virtual reality looks to be on a similar path. Already, the Unreal Engine 4 allows developers to drag and drop items to build virtual worlds. Tilt allows users to create 3D art in a VR space. There are even cameras coming to market that take stereoscopic 3D pictures that could used to create virtual environments.  As such tools proliferate and get easier to use, can you imagine if learners had the ability to create virtual worlds on the fly in order to work collaboratively on a project? Might we see teachers creating virtual worlds on the fly to help immerse learners in lessons, such as a trip back in time to experience history or a Jules Verne Fantastic Voyage type trip into the body for biology? Might we even see a new form of school choice whereby learners and their families create mirror school systems inside virtual environments?

Similarly, KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 4.0: Education in the Era of Partners in Code plays with the idea of using virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) to create personalized learning biomes. These learning biomes, or responsive learning environments, would use VR and AR to meld physical and digital learning environments in response to individual learners’ needs or to support a group of learners.

As virtual reality begins its long-heralded march into our lives, we need to be thinking critically about how we might harness this technology for learning. If VR lives up to its promise, it has the ability to become an outstanding tool to help personalize and enrich learning. Thinking about how we might utilize such emerging technologies is an important part of shaping the future of learning. What possibilities do you see for virtual reality in learning?

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Trusting a flawed system

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-05-10 08:00

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where people place their trust. As a more or less aware and engaged citizen, I think about trust when I hear the latest sound bite from the outstanding personalities we call our presidential candidates (or their supporters). As someone with a deep interest in education, I think about trust when I hear the fierce defense and protection of schools and systems that, according to data, are failing their students.

One of my favorite websites during election season is the Politifact Truth-O-Meter. I’ve somehow convinced myself that if enough people would just check the Truth-O-Meter, politicians would have to be honest because citizens wouldn’t give their support to the ones whose pants are on fire. Surely the fact that dishonest politicians and schools that don’t actually teach kids manage to hold onto supporters is due to just not knowing the facts, right?

Well not so much, according to this article from Fast Company: Why We Trust People Who Are Clearly Untrustworthy. It turns out that trusting corrupt politicians, or anything untrustworthy, has more to do with hard-wired instincts than with lacking the right data. Essentially, if takes a lot more effort to look at evidence of untrustworthiness and act on that effort than it takes to just go with the flow. Also, if the thing we trust is more or less likeable, then why stop trusting it?

When it comes to the connection between trust, data, and action, the education system looks eerily similar to the presidential campaign. While most people disagree that there are likeable things about the candidate they love to hate, most people can find the likeable things in schools, even the so-called dropout factories and those with appalling academic outcomes. In fact, start making a case against a struggling school, and many people will flip out. An Edufact Truth-O-Meter will not create any kind of collective will to rally for better schools.

It’s discouraging to see systems that perpetuate, even increase, inequity continue to receive trust because nostalgia tells us a story that tradition is better than empowering children. However, considering the top-down nature of education policy in recent history, it is not a surprise that many are more comfortable defending the familiar in face of frequently-shifting priorities.

As the movement to break free from the status quo in order to provide high quality, personalized learning for students advances, building trust has to be a priority in a way that it hasn’t previously been in education policy. As campaign seasons show us year after year, the one who shouts the loudest isn’t necessarily increasing trust, so it’s fair to say that approach probably won’t work in education either. It remains to be seen whether supporters of personalized learning will be able to create change through trust rather than an iron fist, but my hope is for a transformed system based on the collective needs and goals of the communities whose children are a part of the education system.

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Teachers Help Kids Envision a Path to Their Future. Five Qualities that Influence and Inspire.

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-05-09 08:00

I saw this on Facebook. Incredible.

The graduating seniors at Van High School walked through the elementary, intermediate and middle school campuses, adorned in their cap and gown for their first ever Senior Walk.

The graduating seniors at Van High School walked through the elementary, intermediate and middle school campuses, adorned in their cap and gown for their first ever Senior Walk.Source: Courtesy of the Van ISD Journalism Department

“I never knew how much of an influence we had on the younger kids, but seeing their faces light up as we walked through their halls and high-fived them, it really put it in perspective for me. It’s something I’ll never forget,” senior Ashley Mosley told the school.

I loved this comment.

Role models can come into kid’s lives in many ways. They are educators, civic leaders, mothers, fathers, and in the Van ISD community, these graduating seniors.

Last night, I shared these pictures with my kids. A junior and freshman in high school, and a first grader and soon to be graduate of pre-school. I asked, who are your role models and why?

Here are the top 5 qualities they shared:

  1. Passion and ability to inspire | “My teacher. She doesn’t get paid very much. She buys cool stuff for our classroom. She helps me all the time. And makes it fun. She loves being my teacher.”
  2. Clear set of values | “Our YMCA leaders. They give back to our community, volunteering, helping kids be better leaders, making sure families and kids that don’t have very much still have opportunities. Like leading our ‘Stop Hunger Now’ and the ‘We Build People’ campaigns.”
  3. Commitment to community | “You Mama! You teach kids in the classroom sometimes. And you used to coach our sister’s cheerleading team. And in your job you make sure all kids have an education. And daddy makes sure everybody is safe during a snowstorm and that our roads and bridges are built too so people can go to work and to Disneyworld.”
  4. Selflessness and acceptance of others | And they shared with me the characteristics they didn’t like: “Role models don’t bully.” “Role models help people that don’t have money. They give them money or food when they are homeless.”
  5. Ability to overcome obstacles | “Grandma. She had cancer, and still worked to help all her patients who didn’t have families nearby to take care of them.”

Our kids develop as the result of many experiences and relationships. Like the graduating seniors, and the characteristics of those described by my kids, role models play an important role in inspiring kids to learn, overcome obstacles, and understand that positive values can be lived each day.

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Empowered, Trusted, Encouraged: The benefits of personalized learning

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-05-06 08:00

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day. In honor of this holiday, one which can be celebrated today and also year-round, we’re sharing stories about some of our favorite teachers.

I benefited from a personalized learning approach before I even knew what it was.

In my senior year of high school, I had the option to take a social studies class whose curriculum was so fluid I could find a way to connect our learning objectives to anything I had a real interest in. Each term we were responsible for researching and writing a paper that explored some social or cultural aspect of whatever time period our instructor had chosen – she would assign some initial readings and provided whatever degree of support we needed in selecting a topic, but beyond that, it was our responsibility to read books, conduct research, watch historical films or documentaries, and take full advantage of the entire school day we spent each term at the largest branch of our county’s library system in downtown Cincinnati.

The teacher, Mrs. Hennessey, was also the school’s librarian, and her approach was as unique as the many pairs of embellished flats she wore with matching cardigans or seasonal denim dresses. What made her methods, and her class, so special?

  • She empowered us to do the work. It was a small class, and we all knew what was expected of us and what resources were available. We worked collaboratively when it made sense to, and frequently independently, which I’d had almost zero experience with. I was used to lecture-style classes where I’d sneak my own writing in when the teacher wasn’t looking. In this class, I worked and read at my own pace, and when I needed help, I asked for it.
  • She trusted us to do the work. Every paper we wrote for the class had not only to be supported through meticulous research, but also completed on our own time, without her hounding us for progress. She collected drafts, but we were more responsible for setting our own personal deadlines than I had ever been before. I learned how to manage my time and self-regulate well before being cut loose at college, which I consider to be one of the principal things that led to my success as a college student.
  • She encouraged us to make the work meaningful. During the last term, she allowed me to use my research to write a piece of historical fiction rather than a fourth and final research paper, as many of my classmates were doing. I’d already demonstrated that I knew how to conduct academic research and appropriately cite my sources, two of the course’s objectives, and giving me the chance to take my research in a very personal direction felt like a real gift. I dropped 40 pages of a timeline crossing mess in need of much editing on her desk at the end of the school year, so I’m not sure if it felt like a gift to her.

Mrs. Hennessey found a way to give our small class the opportunity to practice skills we would need desperately in college – time management, managing expectations, critical thinking, working independently – while also honoring where we were as learners, and what we wanted out of the experience. I was proud of the work that I did, and entered college ready to do more.

So, my sincerest thanks, Mrs. Hennessey.

And my apologies for a piece of fiction crafted well before I’d learned that one adjective is really enough, and that semi-colons are not to be thrown around like confetti.

Learn more about KnowledgeWorks’ portfolio of innovative education approaches designed to help schools create environments that allow each student to thrive.

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How One Teacher Helped Students Reap the Rewards of Mastering Content #ThankATeacher

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-05-05 08:00

I ate lunch most days my freshman year of high school across from Mrs. Robinson’s chemistry classroom, with my best friend Sydney. We ate microwaved Hotpockets and chatted over apples and peanut butter in Mrs. Speegle’s math room because she was witty and entertaining, and the cafeteria smelled gross.

I’d often take my apple over to wash it in Mrs. Robinson’s science lab sink, inevitably wondering on my way back if I’d die a dramatic death from some toxic chemical in the air that may have attached itself to my now-clean piece of fruit. I almost always snapped out of these thoughts of my impending doom, though, as I walked back by Mrs. Robinson’s desk. On any given day there were a dozen or so students in her classroom during lunch, all coming in with questions and comments about their “Quizzypoos.”

I couldn’t quite figure out what they were talking about. But sophomore year was chemistry year, so I knew that I’d have a chance to get to know Quizzypoos very well. Lo and behold, I did.

Quizzypoos were like quizzes, only you could take them up to three times to get the grade you wanted… which (sneaky, Mrs. Robinson!) meant we retook them and actually mastered the content. Chemistry was hard, and Mrs. Robinson knew that. But she expected us to learn the material. She also knew how rewarding it could be to master, and she didn’t want us to get discouraged. And so she created opportunities for us to demonstrate our knowledge in ways that would allow the time we needed to truly understand what we were learning.

Mrs. Robinson was in her classroom 30 minutes before school, during lunch, and for at least an hour after school every day except Thursdays. Students could come in to tutor with her, study with each other, retake Quizzypoos, or study for upcoming tests by looking back at previous Quizzypoo materials. I learned more from Mrs. Robinson’s class than I ever imagined possible—my brain leans more towards the social sciences than the hard sciences—and I credit that to her personalized approach to teaching.

Mrs. Robinson believed we should be empowered in our learning. If I didn’t want to retake a Quizzypoo, I had the agency to make that choice– although I will say Mrs. Robinson was insistent that we not settle for something less than she knew we deserved. I grew as a collaborator and a curious learner thanks to the ways in which Mrs. Robinson made chemistry relevant and engaging.

More and more, I think teachers and administrators recognize the importance of teaching like Mrs. Robinson did, with the student in the center. That priority is reflected in the new reauthorization of the federal ESEA, and it’s reflected in so many conversations I have across the country with education professionals.

That is why, during this Teacher Appreciation Week, I salute Mrs. Robinson and all the great work she did to help me remember why it’s important to know that Mole Day is October 23. Oxygen is O. Helium is He. Lead is Pb. Iron is Fe……..

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