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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Exploring Blockchain and Learning on GettingSmart.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the paper to explore the possibilities.

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Could Pokémon GO impact #FutureEd?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any limitations with the app?

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, let’s.

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A Roadmap to Better Assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit www.innovativeassessments.org for more information.

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I imagine it:

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

And off you go.

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

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

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

It’s time to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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History is not a term relegated for moments of the past

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-07-21 17:45

When I think of history, I think of studying what’s happened long ago. Of learning about everything that led up to now. In grade school, I spent a lot of time learning Ohio history. In high school, I learned about American history. In college, I made up for some notable gaps in earlier studies by specializing in African American history.

Having knowledge of the past is a necessary step in my approach to learning about the present. But I think I might have limited myself by spending so much of the time looking backwards.

A recent reading of a biography of the Wright brothers had me marveling at the speed at which advances were made in flight. For a stretch, the inventors were literally setting and breaking new world records multiple times a day. They were making history in real-time and everyone knew it. History for them wasn’t the past but the present.

Last night I attended the 101st NAACP Spingarn Award Dinner, part of the 107th Annual Convention of the NAACP. The Spingarn Award is given for “the highest or noblest achievement by an American Negro during the preceding year or years.”

Past winners of this award include W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson, Richard Wright, A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Medgar Evers,  Sammy Davis, Jr., Hank Aaron, Rosa Parks, Lena Horne, Colin Powell, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones and Sidney Poitier.

Those history classes I was so intent on taking? These are people I learned about.

Judge Nathaniel Jones was awarded the Spingarn Award this year. Jones has been a vocal proponent of civil rights in both the U.S. and South Africa. He served as Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland and later as Assistant General Counsel to President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission. For nine years, Jones served as NAACP general counsel, which had him arguing cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Jones, after an appointment from President Jimmy Carter, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for 23 years.

Jones has earned a space in our history books, but he’s more than just a figure of our past. He is still advocating for civil rights through his work on the Board of Directors of KnowledgeWorks. Through the publication of his recent biography, Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America, he’s helping to inform the present and future by sharing lessons of the past.

In his acceptance speech of the Spingarn Award, Judge Jones said, “Let me pledge to you tonight that as long as I have breath in my body and my lungs are functioning and I can speak, my advice will be to all of us to stay focused on the real threat, and to resist all efforts to nullify the gains that have been made, the remedies that have put in place that give meaning to the laws that the constitution permits to be enacted.”

The Spingarn Award might have been in recognition of Jones’ past achievements, but the effect his work is still occurring. He’s still writing history. In real-time.

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Passion and Trust: Milestones for Personalized Learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-07-21 09:48

Corey Golla is the Director of Curriculum and Learning at the Menomonee Falls School District in Wisconsin. Learn more about the district here.

In the Menomonee Falls School District, our vision of personalized learning includes the student voice at every level of the improvement process. Teachers work actively with students to establish a mission statement and classroom norms. With those items in place students are engaged in each phase of the PDSA process, a part of continuous improvement that requires users to “plan, do, study and act.”

With an understanding of their learning targets students participate in classroom and personal goal setting and monitor their progress with the teacher. This partnership continues as they develop a shared plan of action for the teacher and student to meet the next target.

The celebration of success and the action planning are all integral to the collaborative work of students and teachers. It is our contention that the student voice is most important since it is their learning and future that is at stake.

Our aim is to improve every part of our system. We have a lot to be proud of since beginning on the journey over five years ago under Superintendent Dr. Pat Greco’s leadership. All that said, we are not there yet. Our work is challenging, and we want to share with others what works in the relentless pursuit of excellence.

Start with Passion

A clear vision of the end is important, but inspiring staff to embark on the journey in the first place is critical.

We focused on two critical points: we worked to help staff come to the understanding of what is at risk for students who do not have the basic knowledge needed to survive in today’s economy, and we also spoke of the need for every teacher to be committed to the improvement process so all students have equal access to an enriching learning environment. Understanding that students who do not earn a diploma are twice as likely to live in poverty than those who have some college experience is basic knowledge that makes teachers understand exactly what is at stake for their students. Every classroom must work together. Simply put, the success of a student should not be dependent on which teacher fits into a student schedule for a given subject.

Teachers entered this field to make a difference for their students – and that happens when they understand they belong to a team.

Trust Your Professionals

While we came to the table with a clear framework and guide books for teachers, we did not accelerate the change process until we conveyed our trust in teachers to make this model work for their unique set of students in their unique learning environments. The core principles and components of the framework were a non-negotiable but the change agents were those who adapted the model to succeed for their students.

Demonstrating this trust empowered teachers to work hard to adapt the framework to their needs and in the end led to improvements in our system practices. Our staff also came to understand the importance of failing forward: our greatest learning likely came as a result of our biggest challenges.

Despite the wicked problems of intense cultural shift, the changing political landscape in public education, and constant budget constraints we were able to see measured improvements for students and adults.  Our staff engagement scores have steadily increased over the past four years placing us above the 95 percentile of all Studer Education partners.  We have seen steady growth in Math on our ACT scores, nearly 10% growth in the number of students demonstrating college and career readiness in reading, and doubled our participation in Advanced Placement courses. Suspension rates have been reduced to a fraction of what they were five years ago. This is because our students and staff are engaged in the improvement process.

Leaders cannot come to seasoned staff members with a prescriptive model and require change. Leaders must be clear with their vision and expectations, then trust their professionals to implement the change successfully for the school and the students that they know best.

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Always Know Where You’re Going

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-07-18 09:20

Competency education allows fourth grader Breton Lucas to dream of becoming a photographer in a big – and pretty unbearably adorable – way.

I hope it’s not in any way belittling his hard work and accomplishments to call it cute, but hearing him speak to KnowledgeWorks’ Vice President of Communications and Marketing, Cris Charbonneau, about conducting research, taking photographs, and synthesizing his ideas and work into a complete story melts my heart. Breton says he writes “every night before bed,” and benefits from having a teacher who is “a really amazing writer, too.”

When he speaks about a story he researched and wrote about goats – including taking his own photographs and printing and packaging it to share with teachers, friends, and family – it’s pretty cool to watch him make the connections between various disciplines. He also explains how having the opportunity to master and blend them prepares him for his dream of becoming a photographer.

Competency-based education has given Breton the opportunity to take ownership of his learning. He checks his learning plan at the beginning of every day of the week, and can meet challenges and see his own progress.

“You can always know where you’re going,” he says.

Seems to me like he’s headed for a bright future.

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Congratulations to Judge Nathaniel Jones!

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-07-15 08:00

KnowledgeWorks heartily congratulates Judge Jones on receiving the NAACP’s prestigious Springarn Award. His long, distinguished career as a judge, attorney, civil rights champion, and community leader is legendary, and his impact on every aspect of civil rights law is undeniable. This highly-coveted award is perhaps the culminating recognition of Judge Jones’ incredible life of service and commitment to equality.

As a member of KnowledgeWorks’ Board of Directors for the past 14 years, Judge Jones has humbly and unselfishly shared with us his incredible insights, wisdom and experience. His is a consistent voice for young people who struggle in their education journey, and he always reminds us that we exist to insure equal access to high quality education for all. He serves KnowledgeWorks and many other organizations with the highest levels of integrity and purpose. Our community and our organization owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Judge Jones for his incalculable contributions toward our mutual well-being.

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Meeting Students Where They Are

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-07-13 10:30

Natalie Matthews is a kindergarten teacher at Newell Elementary School in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. She provided her expertise for our latest policy resource, “The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.” To learn more about the district’s work in personalized learning, visit here.

Two years ago, I began a very typical day with a staff meeting. Everything about that day felt normal until my principal announced that our school was applying to be a part of the first cohort of personalized learning schools in our district, and he was looking for volunteers to be a part of a team to lead some work over the summer. Our initial reaction was, “Oh no, something else to do,” and the intense looks of fear spread the notion that “something is changing.” Very little details were shared beyond needing to assemble this team to attend a week long personalized learning institute in July. My day had shifted to slightly atypical and slightly uncomfortable, but my interest had also been peaked, so I volunteered.

Prior to that week, I’d always wanted to be “in the know.” I was the teacher. I run the classroom. I say what goes, who, how and when. And as I entered the institute, I brought that attitude with me. I also, however, brought as much of an open mind as I could.

Throughout the week we learned more about what personalized learning could be, what best practices might fit under this umbrella, and had a lot of conversations about what this could and should look like at our school and throughout our district. We worked as a team of 15 schools, ranging from kindergarten teachers to calculus teachers, principals to facilitators, each with a wide range of student populations, to develop a definition and foundation for personalized learning that we could all grow and build from.

This was not an easy process, especially not for someone like me who wanted to “be in the know.” I found it difficult to create a vision based on a philosophy rather than a program. As teachers, we were used to being mandated to use different programs to teach, and this was truly a unique and foreign opportunity. We explored, discussed, and analyzed our collective philosophies of best practices. We were given the freedom to create what was best for our students. After this collaborative week, my mindset was forever shifted. Although it was quite scary to begin implementing personalized learning, my mind was eased by the culture my principal had fostered throughout the school. He had established a culture in which it was safe to try to new things and fail as long as we were moving forward and doing what was best for kids.

I spent the rest of my summer researching and trying to figure out where exactly I wanted to start my personalized learning journey with my kindergarteners. To others faced with the same prospect, start by building your classroom culture and really focus on the whole child cornerstone. Once you have this as a foundation in the classroom, everything else is easier to implement and establish.

Luckily for me, the year prior to our personalized learning journey, we had implemented a 30 minute morning meeting, and I could now use this time to build the culture and help shift my students’ thinking from a fixed mindset to a stronger growth mindset. We discussed goals, norms, learning styles, how we all learn differently, what makes us unique, and everything in between. I believe because of the culture and learning environment my students and I built together, they were more willing to take risks with me and take more ownership of their own learning.

Throughout the school year I tried many things. Some things worked extremely well, while others were a complete failure. During these successes and failures, I had those honest conversations with my students on why I thought this worked and why this might not have worked. Even at 5 and 6 years of age, children can handle these things and engage in this level of conversation, especially when they are trying new things.

Many visitors spent time in our classroom that first year. The novelty of what we were doing was a big draw. My biggest “aha” moment came to me when a newspaper reporter visited, and after interviewing me proceeded to speak with one of my students, Sammy. He asked Sammy what he was working on, and Sammy, ever so nonchalantly, shared his choice board and said, “I’m working on these letters.” The reporter then asked him why he was working on these particular letters and not others. Sammy’s response?

“I already know those letters so I don’t need to practice them, duh!”

It was at this moment that I realized I had been teaching all wrong for years. Personalized learning is just what my students needed for me to embrace and understand so that I could meet them where they are and provide them with the best educational experiences that I could.

Up until this point, I had still been a little nervous and skeptical about personalized learning, but when my 5-year-old student told an adult he already knew something and didn’t need to waste his time learning it again, it all clicked in my head. As adults don’t want to sit through material we have already learned, so why should our students have to spend time with material they have already mastered? Doesn’t it make more sense to meet the student exactly where they are?

Ultimately, for me, personalized learning is a collection of best practices and just makes sense. Our adult world is more personalized all the time, so if our goal is to truly prepare students for the future, their real world, then we should begin to personalize their learning, too.

For more insights into personalized learning, download our latest resource, “The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.”

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6 Resources to Engage Students and Energize Educators

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-12 08:00

Our technical assistance coaches recently gathered for their annual Coaches’ Camp – a time when we can all come together in our own Professional Learning Community to reflect on the school year and advance our own learning.

We instituted a new protocol this year, something we’re calling, “Lightning Round Learning.” We asked each participant to bring one new article, video, book, tool, etc. that the coach thinks is a game changer for our work. Each person presented the game changer during “lightning rounds.” Participants shared their resource in pairs or trios, with each person having 5 minutes to share.

We previously shared their 8 game-changing book recommendations. This list is the second half of the list of resources our coaches tapped as “game changers” for the learning environment, for both young people and adults.

“5 Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning”

This 6-minute video from Edutopia provides a great overview of project-based learning (PBL) and focused on 5 key aspects for designers. It compares what learning looked like in the past to what it can look like with PBL.

“Digital Reading Poses Learning Challenges for Students”

In this article for Education Week, Benjamin Herold explores if reading comprehension suffers when students read on digital devices. He quotes Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, saying, “We have to move into the 21st century, but we should do so with great care to build a ‘bi-literate’ brain that has the circuitry for ‘deep reading’ skills, and at the same time is adept with technology.” This article offers good insight to teachers and administrators as they looks at literacy plans in their districts.

“Never Say Anything A Kid Can Say!”

An article by Steven Reinhart in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, suggests that leading math teacher to do less telling and more facilitating. The article shares 16 specific strategies for teachers to implement in classrooms, beginning with “never say anything a kid can say.”


As teachers look for new ways to incorporate formative assessment into their lesson plans to gather data and help move achievement, one app worth exploring is Plickers. It uses technology without requiring that each student have access to technology. With Plickers, students hold up cards in response to questions and teachers can quickly scan the room for quick results.

“The Iceberg Illusion.”

When we see an image of an iceberg, we’re usually only seeing what is above the waterline. What lies beneath might be much larger than what’s on the surface. That’s the idea behind this post about success. “People only see the end goal, the glory, the monumental win. They don’t see the dedication, hard work, persistence, discipline, disappointment, sacrifices, and many failures it takes to reach ‘success.'”

“What the Heck is Design Thinking Anyway?”

The creators of the Results May Vary podcast, on which design thinking is the common theme, wrote this simple explanation of design thinking for Medium. The describe design challenges and design thinking in a different way, outlining the four phases of the process as:

  1. Getting focused
  2. Getting inspired
  3. Getting scrappy
  4. Getting smarter




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The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-07-11 10:49

In late summer 2015, I sat at my desk with a list of names, email addresses, and a task that I was certain would be impossible. Just days before schools across the country would open their doors to a new school year, I needed to set up interviews with teachers to learn more about the innovative work they were doing. Thinking back to my own years teaching in the classroom, I doubted that any of these teachers would have time for a two-minute bathroom break, much less a one hour phone call with someone they had never heard of.

To my delight, two months later, I had 100 pages of notes from interviews with 77 teachers and administrators from all over the country. Not only had these teachers squeezed spare time out of planning and after-school meetings, they had inspired me with a joy and enthusiasm that is often expected to be lacking in conversations about the teacher profession.

At KnowledgeWorks, we’ve spent the past few years researching how to support an education system that puts individual student needs at its foundation. We’ve been actively shaping federal policies that enable personalized learning. We’ve learned from districts that have been leading the movement towards student-centered instruction. We’ve also worked with school districts to identify which state policies are barriers or enablers for scaling personalized learning.

This work opened the door for us to partner with the National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) and to consider the implications of personalized learning on another level of the education system: the teachers who spend every day with our students. We wanted to understand how the personalized learning actually plays out in a classroom, and we wanted to know what it takes for teachers to shift practices that have been the norm for generations. After several months of interviews, poring over the interview notes, and identifying big picture implications for the teaching profession, we are eager to release a paper summarizing our findings today. You can download the paper here.

The teachers who contributed to the research included veteran teachers who were re-energized by their new approach to teaching, cautious teachers who weren’t sure about new approaches their colleagues were taking, and grab-the-bull-by-the-horns teachers who took professional risks and devoted a significant amount of personal time to finding new ways to reach all of their students.  In conjunction with the paper’s launch, we are reconnecting with several of the professionals interviewed and making space on our blog for them to share their story in their own words. We look forward to the conversations that will emerge as education professionals across the country consider the cost and benefits of a transformed system that strives to meet the needs of every single student.

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Answering the Call

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-07-06 09:20

At our most recent board meeting, we celebrated the 90th birthday of KnowledgeWorks board member, Judge Nathanial Jones. Jones is a retired federal judge and served as the general counsel for the NAACP during the 1970s. He is a giant in the fight for civil rights in this country and in South Africa. He a recipient of the Springarn Medal along with such luminaries as George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the first African-American appointed assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in 1962 and served as Assistant General Counsel for President Johnson.

In honor of his birthday, former President Clinton wished him well over video and President Obama sent him a letter, both expressing their gratitude for his life of service. Judge Jones is an icon. He is a gentle, contemplative warrior for justice. He has a quiet, unwavering force to him. He personalized a note on the inside cover of his autobiography, Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America, to each senior staff member at KnowledgeWorks. Judge Jones wrote the following in my book:

Note from Judge Jones

I’m fortunate to know this man, but for this man to write me a personal note about my work is incredibly movingand unexpected. For him to call me a “strong advocate for improving education for all children” is beyond humbling and something I will cherish.

Like Secretary Riley about whom I wrote recently,  I feel truly honored to know Judge Jones and to have gotten to observe  and  learn from him. Both Secretary Riley and Judge Jones have made KnowledgeWorks a better place, but more importantly for all of us, they have spent their lives making America a better place.

One of my favorite quotes from Robert Kennedy comes at the end of his message on the evening of April 4, 1968, the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated,

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

Each of these men dedicated themselves to this exact charge and I’m exceedingly grateful for their dedication.

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8 Game-Changing Books to Accelerate Learning

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-07-05 08:00

Our technical assistance coaches recently gathered for their annual Coaches’ Camp – a time when we can all come together in our own Professional Learning Community to reflect on the school year and advance our own learning.

We instituted a new protocol this year, something we’re calling, “Lightning Round Learning.” We asked each participant to bring one new article, video, book, tool, etc. that the coach thinks is a game changer for our work. Each person presented the game changer during “lightning rounds.” Participants shared their resource in pairs or trios, with each person having 5 minutes to share.

Eight books topped the coaches’ list. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Better Conversations Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected by Jim KnightBetter Conversations Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected by Jim Knight

This book offers powerful and intentionally reflective professional development for how to improve conversation skills with others so that relationships continuously improve. Conversation is the lifeblood of any school. Key themes throughout this book are are trust, empathy, questions and beliefs and author Jim Knight offers resources for going deeper.

Daring Greatly by Brene BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do us just show up! This book explores themes of vulnerability and opportunity, authenticity, shame, truth, courage, transparency, and whole-hearted living. Rather than focus on winning, this book teachers the value of courage.

 Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher EmdinFor White Folks Who Teach in the Hood … And the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin

Christopher Emdin challenges the perception that urban youth of color can’t succeed in the school. The book addresses teaching approaches that often hurt youth of color and offers food for thought on how to counteract them. He reimagines a classroom where students own their learning.

 Strategies for Teaching the Students who Challenge Us the Most by Jeffrey BensonHanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students who Challenge Us the Most by Jeffrey Benson

Author Jeffrey Benson shares detailed student stories; strategies for analyzing students’ challenges and creating personalized plans; recommendations for teachers and support team; and advice for administrators on how to stick with students until they “get it.”

 Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking by Todd Nesloney and Adam WelcomeKids Deserve It: Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome

The authors of this book hope to encourage and challenge you to get unstuck and break out of that rut. They ask, “What if learning was exciting and students felt important and empowered every time they walked into the building?” Lots of ideas!

 16 Essential Characteristics for Success by Arthur Costa and Bena KallickLearning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick

In this book, Aurther Costa and Bena Kallick share “a repertoire of behaviors that help students and teachers … navigate problems in the classroom of real life.”  Nearly ten years old, the insights from Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick still hold up. This book contains rubrics for competency-based education.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua HammerThe Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Joshua Hammer shares the story of a race to save literature that will have readers asking, “Would you risk your life to save a book?” That’s what faces the people at the center of this story about saving precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda. Hammer provides a poignant reminder of the importance of literacy and literary works.

 Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill GeorgeTrue North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George

This book is a collection of stories from leaders (CEOs, political leaders, etc.) about finding your true leadership style. The common thread throughout is that all the stories are about failure and overcoming that failure – ultimately resulting in triumph.


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A Change in Name Only

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-07-01 09:49

As KnowledgeWorks looks to strengthen its role in building the capacity of school districts and communities to personalize learning and ensure students are college and career ready, I am happy to announce a next step in taking the work we’re already doing to an even greater level of impact: as of July 15, our subsidiary, EDWorks, will be known as KnowledgeWorks.

Over the past nine years, EDWorks, as a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, has impacted countless students, teachers, and school administrators, providing incredible opportunities to students through its early college high schools. Their work to provide access to to low-income and first-generation college goers, who haven’t traditionally found themselves on a campus, has been exemplary.

This change is in name only. KnowledgeWorks will continue to design and implement early college high schools and early college feeder patterns, just as they have always done, but now with the added option to blend the work with competency-based education. By combining efforts in early college high school and competency-based education, KnowledgeWorks will have enhanced capabilities to partner with districts who are motivated to dramatically improve student outcomes and will be able to provide greater support to districts and schools in personalizing learning to help all students succeed.

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A Homecoming for EDWorks

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-07-01 06:54

In the words of Otis Redding, I’m coming home.

Or rather, we are. On July 15, EDWorks will become KnowledgeWorks. I’m proud of what we accomplished as EDWorks, but I’m also excited to be going back to KnowledgeWorks, which is where our work started in 2002.

KnowledgeWorks will continue to build upon the success of EDWorks innovative school designs and deepen our work with schools to provide even more meaningful personalized learning experiences. Partnering with states, districts and schools, we have helped improve education opportunities for students in grades K-16. EDWorks has raised performance expectations for 180,000 students, while more than 12,000 teachers have sharpened their skills through their professional development models, and will continue to do so.

Since its inception, KnowledgeWorks has been dedicated to helping students have access to meaningful personalized education that prepares him or her for college, career and civic life. Over the last year, they have expanded the teaching and learning team to include competency-based education. By combining efforts in Early College High School and competency-based education, KnowledgeWorks will have enhanced capabilities to partner with districts who are motivated to dramatically improve student outcomes.

We might be changing our name, but the great work on the ground with students and teachers races on. We will continue to design and implement early college high schools and early college feeder patterns, just as EDWorks has always done, but now with the added option to blend the work with competency-based education.

This change will bring even more resources, experiences, and networking opportunities to our students and educators – and to the communities we’ll serve in the future.

It’s great to be home, KnowledgeWorks!

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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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