Balancing Assessments: A Teacher’s Perspective

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, my colleagues and I have the honor of speaking with thousands of educators, parents, and students across the country about their greatest hopes for education and what’s working well for them or not. Just as I have struggled with the amount of testing in my own classroom, we invariably hear about the amount of instructional time and energy devoted to testing.

Don’t get me wrong. As a teacher, I know that assessing learning is a critical part of our on-going work. However, as the President outlined in October, assessments must be worth taking and of high quality; designed to enhance teaching and learning; and give a well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing.

In a rush to improve and document one measure of student progress, well-meaning people have layered on more and more tests and put too much instructional focus on test scores rather than teaching and learning. The burden of this falls on our students.

The day I knew that I wanted to help bring our testing situation into better balance was when a ten year old student stood in front of me sobbing that despite lots of hard work, she was sure she had failed a high stakes assessment. She could not catch her breath to express her fear at what would happen to her. As I dried her tears, I knew that I did not want to stand by and be a part of a system that made any child feel that all that mattered was a number on what I knew was a low-quality test.

This past Tuesday, Acting Secretary John King released a video announcing new guidance to help states identify and eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing. This guidance shares how federal money may be used to help reduce testing and bring testing back into balance for teachers and students.

The guidance outlines numerous ways funds can be used by States and districts to collaborate with teachers, administrators, family members and students to audit assessments; improve the use of the data; increase the transparency and timeliness of results; and to improve the quality of the tests our students take. As I work with the Department’s Teach to Lead initiative, I’ll note that this seems like a particularly ripe opportunity to call on our schools’ many talented teacher leaders to help improve tests.

We are at a tremendous moment in education to be able to step back in our states to put the balance back in assessment with the help of Federal resources. All of our voices need to be part of the discussion. Our students are counting on us.

JoLisa Hoover is a 4th grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary School in Leander Independent School District near Austin, Texas and a 2015 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Girls and Coding: Seeing What the Future Can Be

From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar, Angela Diep.

At the White House for the White House Champions of Change for Computer Science Education! From left to right, Gilliam Jacobs, Brittany Greve, Andrea Chaves, Noran Omar and Angela Diep.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.”

This is a common expression that, perhaps like me, you’ve heard many times. For the girls at the Young Women’s Leadership school where I teach in New York City, this is – sadly — the case. My students couldn’t see themselves as women in STEM careers, and in fact, knew little about the opportunities offered within the field.

That’s why I made it my mission to bring computer science to our school.

My principal was excited at the idea of incorporating computer science (CS), but took me by surprise when she said I would have to teach it. As a certified Spanish teacher, I had no background in CS other than being digitally competent. But, after starting to learn through an online training program, I decided to blend computer science into my advanced Spanish speakers class because I figured why not have students learning Spanish dive into coding, too.

On the first day of class, I announced to the girls in Spanish that we were going to do tons of reading, writing and editing – but in a language called JavaScript. I made it clear that I wasn’t fluent in this language, but reassured them that we were on this journey together.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the gender gap is not due to women lacking STEM-related skills, but rather because young women are conditioned to believe that careers in technology and science are reserved for men. That’s part of why I also decided to start two after-school programs: a partnership with an existing organization, Girls Who Code, which works to inspire and educate women to pursue careers in technology and my own program, TechCrew – an internship program that exposes girls to coding, graphic design, animation and film.

Watch the girls in Chaves’ class who created the nutrition game, Healthy Bunch, which won the MIT-sponsored competition “Dream It. Code It. Win It.”

Each club started with eight girls, but TechCrew now includes 30 girls working collaboratively to create and produce technology-driven projects. Students have coded video games and apps about recycling, healthy eating habits, carbon footprints, space debris, learning Spanish and more. As one of my students, Brittany Greve, says, “Computer science has allowed me to look at a problem from multiple perspectives and use logic to come up with innovative solutions.”

My students have also become leaders within the CS community. We’ve worked together on all sorts of projects, such as a summer coding camp in Queens where girls learned to build apps that advocate for social justice. Additionally, my TechCrew is currently leading 50 girls in the creation of a Digital Dance, in which dancers, filmmakers, graphic designers and coders are bringing together their expertise to create a beautiful piece of art.

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in English).

Watch Chaves’ students talking about why they love to code and how coding has influenced them (in Spanish).

I am a Spanish teacher by training, but I took a risk to integrate CS into my curriculum and learned that this language does not have to stand on its own. It can be infused into any subject in any classroom. All it takes is a little innovation, trust and risk-taking.

One of my students put it best, “CS has opened a new pathway in my life. It has made me discover a part of who I am that I didn’t know existed. I can now see what I would like my future to be,” she said.

Andrea Chaves is a Spanish and computer science teacher and creative director at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria, New York. She was recently named a White House Champion of Change.

ED Seeks Summer Interns

interns

Have you ever wondered about pursuing a federal career? Are you interested in public service? Would you like to gain valuable work experience and help move the needle on education issues in this country?

The Department of Education may have opportunities that match your interests – and we’re currently accepting applications for interns!

Our Department is a place where you can explore fields like education policy, education law, business and finance, research and analysis, intergovernmental relations and public affairs, or traditional and digital communications, all while learning about the role federal government plays in education.

Our interns also participate in professional development sessions and events outside of the office, such as lunches with ED and other government officials, movie nights, and tours of the Capitol, Supreme Court and other local sights.

One of the many advantages of interning at ED is our proximity to some of the most historic and celebrated sites in our nation’s capital, all accessible by walking or taking the Metro.

ED is accepting applications for Summer 2016 internships through March 15, 2016.

If you are interested in interning during the upcoming term, there are three things you must send in order to be considered for an interview:

  1. A cover letter summarizing why you wish to work at ED and stating your previous experiences in the field of education, if any. Include which particular offices interest you. (But, keep in mind that – due to the volume of applications we receive – if we accept you as an intern we may not be able to place you in your first-choice office.)
  2. An updated resumé.
  3. A completed copy of the Intern Application.

Prospective interns should send these three documents in one email to StudentInterns@ed.gov with the subject line formatted as follows: Last Name, First Name: Summer Intern Application.

(Note: For candidates also interested in applying specifically to the Office of General Counsel, please see application requirements here.)

An internship at ED is one of the best ways students can learn about education policy and working in the civil service. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to develop crucial workplace skills that will help you in whatever career path you choose. And, it’s an opportunity to meet fellow students who share your passion for education, learning, and engagement.

Click here for more information or to get started on your application today.

De’Rell Bonner is a special assistant and youth liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Don’t Be Fooled: You Never Have to Pay for Student Loan Help

Cross-posted from Medium.

loanwarn

I’ve seen online ads claiming that “Obama Wants to Forgive Your Student Loans!” or “Erase Default Statuses in 4–6 Weeks!” The link takes you to companies that want to help you manage your loans — for a fee. You never need to pay for help with your student loans. For the great price of free, the U.S. Department of Education can help you:

Your loan servicer — the company that collects your payments on behalf of the Department of Education can also help you with these goals for free. If you need help with your debt, you should contact your servicer. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information.

And you should — because you never need to pay for these services.

Some debt relief companies charge a lot. Our research shows that some companies charge upfront consolidation fees as high as $999 or 1 percent of the loan balance (whichever is higher); “enrollment” or “subscription” fees up to $600; or monthly account “maintenance” fees as high as $50 per month. That’s money out of your pocket for services that are available to you for free.

Unfortunately, some companies act unethically or illegally to get your business — misrepresenting themselves as having a relationship with the Department of Education by using our logos, violating students’ privacy by inappropriately using their FSA IDs, and claiming that government programs are their own. In fact, yesterday, the Department sent two of these companies cease and desist letters because they have inappropriately used our logo, giving the impression that they are working with or for the government.

We are taking action to crackdown on these companies and continuing our efforts to protect student borrowers.

Throughout the Obama Administration we’ve worked to ensure student borrowers are protected and have worked across agencies in doing so. For example, the Department of Education has convened an interagency Joint Task Force on the Oversight and Accountability of For-Profit Institutions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have been active in looking at possible deceptive practices in the debt-relief business.

The extent of the problem with debt relief companies is demonstrated by numerous legal actions around the country. In January of 2014, the New York Student Protection Unit issued subpoenas to 13 student debt relief companies as part of an investigation into concerns about potentially misleading advertising, improper fees, and other consumer protection problems in that industry. Over the past two years, the Florida, Illinois and Minnesota Attorneys General all took separate actions against firms found to have misled borrowers. A number of states and our enforcement partners are stepping up to help protect borrowers, but the first line of defense is making sure you know your rights.

We’re making it easier to distinguish between Department sites and private companies’ pages to make sure students and families aren’t mistakenly lured into paying for services available for free. For instance, last year we reached a settlement with a company to obtain a web address it was using — FAFSA.com — to market its for-profit service charging students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This settlement reduced confusion among students and parents who may have thought they were using a federal website rather than a commercial one. We also trademarked many of our forms’ names and taglines.

We are strengthening our internal systems to ensure continued protection of students’ information. For instance, under the new FSA ID, there is a delay for borrowers trying to recover their password to ensure that third-party companies are not inappropriately accessing peoples’ accounts.

Always remember: Keep your FSA ID private and think twice before signing on to pay for a service you can get for free. Sharing your FSA ID puts you at risk.

If you think that you’ve been scammed then learn your options. Many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with, the Office of the state’s Attorney General. At the federal level, the FTC and the CFPB have the authority to act against companies that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Click on the links to file your complaint with either of those agencies; or you can call the CFPB at 1–855–411–2372.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

Calling on All to Lift Up the Teaching Profession

Out in the field with students.

Out in the field with students.

After spending 25 years in education as a classroom teacher, adjunct faculty member in teacher education, and English Language Arts coordinator, I am increasingly concerned about the future of teaching in America and the urgency with which we must work together to lift up the profession. The reasons for this alarm are many fold.

Those of us who have chosen education as our career path continually see statistics about the decreasing number of students entering the teaching profession. We witness our credential programs struggle to fill seats and our districts struggle to fill positions.

We hear stories about the varying quality of teacher-credential programs across the nation. But that isn’t the only problem. Students enter the profession with limited skills because they have educated, but not encouraged to use critical thinking skills that could help them creatively plan a lesson.

We read the data about the staggering number of teachers that choose to leave the profession because they feel unsupported. And we observe them struggle in their first years with classroom management, lesson planning, and providing differentiated instruction.

So what can be done to help combat these problems? We must lift up the teaching profession, as Acting Secretary John King has prioritized and is calling on educators to do. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary for the long-term health of the profession. The following steps illustrate how to achieve this goal.

Getting Them

After teaching for more than 20 years, I have had the pleasure of seeing children discover the joy of teaching others, for example, the Kindergartener who lines up the dinosaurs during free choice to read a story to them. We need to foster this spirit and encourage our students to consider teaching as a profession. Students who find enjoyment in specific content areas need to be given opportunities to delve deeply into their area of study and consider becoming a teacher.

Training Them

Teacher credential programs across the nation are distinctly unique; however, we must advocate for all programs to provide pre-service teachers with a balance of pedagogy and practice. In my 10 years as Adjunct Faculty, I have found that this balance is crucial to helping students navigate the shifting role from that of student to that of teacher. Additionally, student-teachers thrive when their program is instructed in such a way that models exemplary classroom teaching. We must advocate that all pre-service programs be taught using strategies we want these future teachers to embed into their practice.

Keeping Them

Teacher retention is currently a “hot topic,” and the Teacher Ambassador Fellows held a Twitter Chat about it last week. We need to become leaders to mentor new teachers as they begin to navigate through their first years of teaching. In my two year role as a Teacher on Special Assignment as the English Language Arts/Literacy Coordinator for my county, I provided support for 14 school districts. The biggest concern that I heard from all teachers was that they felt overwhelmed and unsupported as they sought to provide quality instruction that ensured student learning.

Teachers should take the lead and encourage their school district to develop mentoring programs or expand the role of content coaches so that all teachers who ask for support receive it. With an increasing number of retirees, seasoned veteran teachers cannot mentor all that will need support, and their professional learning is also important. It is therefore essential that we advocate for district-wide systems of support for all teachers.

The bottom line is more must be done to ensure teaching in America remains sustainable. It needs the voices of all 3.5 million of us to lift up this profession. From Acting Secretary John King to the rural teacher in northern California, we know that the future of our nation depends upon our collective effort to make it happen.

Nancy Veatch teaches at Bend Elementary School in Cottonwood, California, and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Large School Districts Come Together to Prioritize Sustainability

I once heard a student ask: “To change everything, we need everybody to take action. How will you engage others in developing a brighter, more just global community?” When I think back to that student’s question, I’m pleased to now report that 21 large districts have come together with the support of the Green Schools Alliance (GSA) to collaborate on more sustainable school options.

Represented by their sustainability personnel, these districts have formed the GSA District Collaborative to accelerate hands-on environmental action in school communities across the nation. Over the years, district sustainability officials had shared frustrations over higher prices for more sustainable products and policies that encumbered their work. This sparked a conversation about collaborating to affect major change, particularly in purchasing. Instead of creating their own separate association, they asked the Green Schools Alliance to house the coalition.

The Collaborative is comprised of 21 U.S. school districts – eight of which are among the 12 largest districts in the country. Collectively, these districts affect the lives of 3.6 million children in 5,726 schools with more than 550 million square feet of building area. The school districts have committed to working together and joined the Alliance as individual members, pledging to reduce their climate and ecological impact; connect their students to nature; and educate and engage their communities on climate and conservation. The charter members of the District Collaborative are:

  • New York City Department of Education, NY
  • Chicago Public Schools, IL
  • Clark County School District, NV
  • Broward County Public Schools, FL
  • Houston Independent School District, TX
  • Orange County Public Schools, FL
  • Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
  • The School District of Palm Beach County, FL
  • The School District of Philadelphia, PA
  • San Diego Unified School District, CA
  • Denver Public Schools, CO
  • Austin Independent School District, TX
  • Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA
  • San Francisco Unified School District, CA
  • Boston Public Schools, MA
  • District of Columbia Public Schools, DC
  • Oakland Unified School District, CA
  • Detroit Public Schools, MI
  • Lincoln Public Schools, NE
  • Fayette County Public Schools, KY
  • Kansas City Public Schools, MO

These districts concur that every child has a right to learn, engage, and play in a healthy and sustainable environment where every person is aware of and accountable for their impact. Together, they will work in four key areas:

  • Leveraging collective purchasing power to increase access to sustainable alternatives;
  • Influencing local, regional, and national policy decisions;
  • Building and sharing district-level best practices; and
  • Contributing to the development of district-level sustainability programs.

The Collaborative is excited to be working within the GSA to develop programs that directly impact students, including project-based STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Mathematics) initiatives and leadership training programs for middle and high school students.

Later in 2016, the Green Schools Alliance will be releasing a new version of its online community, still based on its long-term goals of peer-to-peer networking and best practices sharing. The new community will enable students and school professionals to more easily search for resources to make their school more sustainable and learn the leadership skills to affect that change. The second phase of the online platform will include a web-based measurement and reporting platform/dashboard that will improve data collection and reporting of resource efficiencies and other sustainability programs in member schools.

District Collaborative membership is open to districts with more than 40,000 students. For more information, visit www.greenschoolsalliance.org/district-collaborative. If your district has less than 40,000 students or you are part of an individual school, you can still benefit from the work of the Collaborative. See http://www.greenschoolsalliance.org/membership for more information.

Dr. Sharon Jaye, D.Ed., SFP is Executive Director of the Green Schools Alliance and former Director of Sustainability for New York City Department of Education.

“The World Would Be a Better Place If …”: National PTA and ED Honor Student Artists

On the inside of high-schooler Maria Quiles’ right wrist is the neatly crafted tattoo of a treble clef, surrounded by notes. Having epilepsy, she relies on the tattoo, coupled with her musical passion, for courage during seizures.

Maria was at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in January to be honored for her musical composition, which won an award in the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition celebrating arts learning in schools across the country. Each year hundreds of thousands of entrants from preschool through grade 12 reflect on a common theme to create original art in six mediums — dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. Maria’s composition responded to this year’s theme, “The World Would Be a Better Place If … ‘’

ED hosted the National PTA awards ceremony for the ninth year, which this year drew 35 honorees from 21 states and 200 other attendees — families, teachers and school leaders, National PTA staff, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other arts leaders, and ED staff. The ceremony ended with a signature ribbon-cutting to officially open the exhibit of Reflections visual arts and literature winners, on display through the end of February.

Maria, from Oviedo, Fla., was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13; she has endured bullying, depression, and thoughts of suicide. The world would be a better place, she believes, if compassion trumped hurtful nicknames. Through the years, Maria has turned her despair into songs of hope. When a seizure is imminent, she and her mother together grasp Maria’s tattooed wrist and sing or hum her winning composition, which concludes, “Everything will be ok. . . . No matter what’s in my way, I’ll just stay, I’ll Just Stay.” Soon the seizure subsides.

Maria Quiles and her mother at the opening ceremony to honor Maria and 205 other winners of the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition.

Maria Quiles and her mother at the opening ceremony to honor Maria and 205 other winners of the 2014–15 National PTA Reflections competition.

Ted Mitchell, ED’s under secretary of education, spoke of “the transformational power of art,” as reflected in Maria’s story:

“Art has a particular ability to raise the volume on the possible, to give us images
and sounds, pictures, words that help describe a world that might not exist yet, but
can, and more importantly, ought to. … Art enables us to create an experience
before we can explain it, and it’s that movement from the experience to the explanation, to the development of work that … is our life’s journey.”

Beyond discovery, educators lauded many other merits of art in education. Jane Chu, NEA chairwoman, cited research indicating that arts-infused schools correlate with improved social skills, higher grades and test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and increased college enrollment. These outcomes are particularly pronounced for low-income students.

Laura Bay, the National PTA president, named additional benefits. Artists learn to create, problem-solve, persevere, and communicate. Art can be woven throughout all academic areas, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), to clarify, illuminate, stimulate the imagination, and develop innovations.
Honorees interpreted this year’s competition theme in myriad ways. For example, “The World Would Be a Better Place If … ”

“… [P]eople came together and focused on their similarities, not their differences. The joy of music creates a common bond that brings people together, even people who do not know one another. …If more people focused on the joyous parts of life, like music, the world would have less hatred and would be a better place.” — Kyle Gatesman, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology [Virginia] student, who composed and performed “The Joy of Music” on his keyboard.

Kyle Gatesman performs his original composition for keyboard, “The Joy of Music.”

Kyle Gatesman performs his original composition for keyboard, “The Joy of Music.”

“… [W]e all set down our cell phones and got to know each other face-to-face.” —Hanna La Londe, Shawnee Mission West [Kansas] High School student, who choreographed and performed the dance “Losing Touch” to the music of Prince Ea.

Hanna La Londe performs the award-winning dance she choreographed, “Losing Touch.”

Hanna La Londe performs the award-winning dance she choreographed, “Losing Touch.”

“… I could march through life with my brother.” —10-year-old Jarom Garner [Briarwood, Wash.], who, accompanied by his 12-year-old sibling, Adam, performed a cello duet of Jarom’s prize-winning composition, “The Brothers’ March.”

Jarom Garner, left, and his sibling Adam perform Jarom’s winning musical composition for cello, “The Brothers’ March.”

Jarom Garner, left, and his sibling Adam perform Jarom’s winning musical composition for cello, “The Brothers’ March.”

Honorees cut the ribbon at the opening of the Reflections art exhibit featuring some 60 pieces of visual art and a collection of literature.

Honorees cut the ribbon at the opening of the Reflections art exhibit featuring some 60 pieces of visual art and a collection of literature.

Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Joshua Hoover. More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/albums/72157663336481071

The Department’s
 Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov or visit http://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit

Engaging Families via Student-Led Conferences: Perspective from One of Our Teaching Ambassador Fellows

In eleven years of teaching, I have seen numerous out of school factors impact student achievement, from changes in global and digital interconnectedness to families’ relative access to quality healthcare. Throughout, there has been one constant that shines as the most important out of school factor — family engagement.

I have seen this to be true in my teaching, and while perhaps more challenging than ever before, family engagement is so critical that schools must find new tools to facilitate authentic and meaningful ways for family members to engage in their children’s education. One promising way to do this is through student-led conferences.

Kelly's daughter presents her work to her future 2nd grade teacher at a 1st grade "share fair" where family members and the school community were invited to review student work.

Kelly’s daughter presents her work to her future 2nd grade teacher at a 1st grade “share fair” where family members and the school community were invited to review student work.

My initial exposure to student-led conferences was not as a teacher, but rather, as the parent of a second-grader. My oldest daughter is enrolled in a school that utilizes innovative techniques for student assessment. As one component, each student conducts annual conferences with their family members and teachers to assess annual growth and learning. During these conferences, the student discusses what they find notable in their cross-curricular portfolio of work. This practice begins in kindergarten, and as a high school teacher, I admit I was skeptical of my six-year-old daughter’s ability to effectively reflect on her achievement and growth. After all, wasn’t it the job of the student to learn and the job of the teacher to assess that learning? However, within the first minute of my daughter’s conference, I became a believer.

It was eye-opening to see my daughter critically reflect on her growth as a learner with an unexpected authenticity and attention to detail. She also set goals for future learning, and I have seen how this task focuses her work.

As my daughter’s teacher stated, “There’s no substitute for watching your own child present to you.” As my child begins to prepare for her third conference, I couldn’t agree more.

Beyond the educational value of my daughter’s student-led conferences, I have been struck by the engagement potential of the conferences.

As a teacher, I often find myself in endless games of phone or e-mail tag with parents, and finding meeting times can be a challenge. My daughter’s school has an exceptional success rate in scheduling conferences- her teacher shared that he has had 100 percent family involvement over a six-year period with only one instance where coordinating the date was problematic. This remarkable success is due in part to a school-wide commitment to find creative ways to give teachers the needed time and flexibility to schedule conferences.

But I believe the core reason for high engagement rates is because the format puts the ownership and focus exactly where it should always be –on the student. Empowering my daughter to assess and reflect on her own learning is a wonderful way to connect me to her learning process, and I am confident it will also equip her to succeed in the future. I’ve heard similar sentiments about student-led conferences from colleagues around the country, which, combined with my personal experience, has led me to reflect on how this approach to family engagement could be replicated in my own classroom context and elsewhere.

It may not be an easy or perfect fit for all circumstances, but this approach is exactly the type of innovative thinking we need to bring together everyone invested in a child’s education.

Patrick Kelly teaches at Blythewood High School in Columbia, South Carolina, and is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

SBIR Women Developers Got Game

Cross-posted from the SBIR blog.

On December 9, 2015, 30 technology developers from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (link is external) and five other Federal agencies came together for ED Games Day (link is external) in Washington DC. The highlights of the day included a morning meeting at the White House and an evening Expo featuring learning games for education, health, and the military.

While the emerging field of learning games was the day’s focus, the visibility of women game developers – excelling as scientists and in business – deserves attention.

At the White House, US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith talked about Grace Hopper, who broke the mold in the 1940s as a pioneer for inventing programming languages and through an illustrious career as a computer scientist. Smith noted the national need to repair the representation gap among girls, women, and minorities following in the path of Hopper. Educational games and access to low-cost maker technology such as Raspberry Pi (link is external) offer partial solutions to this complex problem. At the Expo, SBA Administrator Maria Contreras Sweet toured the hall and spent time chatting and learning the stories of SBIR women game developers, including Kara Carpenter of Teachley and Maria Burns-Ortiz of 7 Generation Games.

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet meets with Maria Ortiz Burns of 7 Generation Games.

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet meets with Maria Ortiz Burns of 7 Generation Games.

SBIR has been identified (link is external) as one national initiative that holds promise for catalyzing the women developer movement. With women in leading development and research roles for half of the 30 games, the ED Games Expo demonstrated that SBIR is already starting to deliver on this promise.

From left: Melissa DeRosier of the 3C Institute, Tory VanVhooris and Anne Snyder of Second Avenue Learning, Leah Potter of Electric Funstuff, Kara Carpenter of Teachley, & Maria Burns-Ortiz of 7 Generation Games.

From left: Melissa DeRosier of the 3C Institute, Tory VanVhooris and Anne Snyder of Second Avenue Learning, Leah Potter of Electric Funstuff, Kara Carpenter of Teachley, & Maria Burns-Ortiz of 7 Generation Games.

Many of the women at the Expo founded their small business with a mission to create opportunities for girls to learn STEM, and others act as key project team members. The women at the Expo were:

Several other women were represented at the Expo, including Monica Trevathan of Tietronix (link is external), Carol Stanger of Attainment Company (link is external), Brooke Morrill of Schell Games (link is external), Leah Potter of Electric Funstuff (link is external), Martha Riecks of Mid School Math (link is external), and Heather Weyers of Kinection (link is external).

In the next few months, SBIR Pulse will release a series of Q&A interviews with many of these developers. We look forward to learning the stories of why and how these trailblazers got started, what role SBIR played, and what they see as keys to girls in STEM and women in business. Stay tuned!

Edward Metz is the Program Manager of the SBIR Program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Betty Royster is the Communications Specialist for the National Institute of Health’s SBIR and STTR Programs.

Shannon Rhoten is a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Our Teachers Edition Newsletter Will Now Feature ‘Voices from the Classroom’

For teachers. By teachers.

Imagine if all of the policies that affect our classrooms were written by teachers. All the assessments, too. Anyone who spends their days in America’s classrooms knows we’re a long way away from achieving that vision. Despite that, as an elementary school reading teacher in New Haven, Conn., I know that the best success I’ve had has been with lesson plans I’ve written with my colleagues, assessments we’ve created together.

I’d bet you feel the same way.

That’s why one of the most important features of the weekly Teachers Edition newsletter has always been that it is written by teachers and for teachers. Moving forward, you’ll see that even more clearly. For months, a committee of classroom teachers has been talking with colleagues and reviewing back issues with an eye toward making the newsletter more valuable for busy teachers. Expect to hear our voices some more — the voices of classroom teachers just like you, sharing the joys and struggles of our classrooms. Expect to see fewer headlines and more opportunities to engage with us, to share your thoughts and your stories. With Acting Secretary John King focused on how to lift up the voices of teachers, this is just one strand of a ramped-up strategy to digitally engage teachers: keep an eye out for Twitter chats and other opportunities for ED and your colleagues around the country to hear your voice.

You’ll also notice Teachers Edition’s new slimmed-down look this week. Most of our editions will feature a Voice from the Classroom article written by a teacher sharing his or her experience. Often, it’ll be written by a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, a teacher who spends a year sharing his or her experiences with ED; other times, it’ll be written by another teacher from across the country — maybe even you.

We’re working to strike a balance between features that inform (this week, a look at the 2016 Teacher of the Year finalists and a study of what’s inside the textbooks used by teacher prep programs) and those that entertain (this week’s wisdom from America’s oldest teacher and a video of the hoverboarding principal). You might also hear our voices a little bit more when we reflect on what’s in the news.

We know teachers don’t have a lot of free time. That’s why every feature that makes its way into Teachers Edition will face an initial test: would a teacher want to read this? As you scroll through this week’s edition, we’re hopeful you’ll find a lot that passes that test.

Matt Presser is an Instructional Literacy Coach at King/Robinson School in New Haven, Connecticut, and a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Hearing from First-Generation Immigrant Youth and Parents About Education

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to convene an intimate meeting at the Department of Education (ED) with a group of first-generation immigrant students and parents for a conversation with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Acting Secretary John King to discuss their experiences as they try to assimilate to their new country and education system. As a first-generation American whose own family emigrated from Brazil sixteen years ago, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shine a light on stories of other immigrant families. While their personal experiences and perspectives differed, they all shared a common thread: the desire to achieve the American Dream through obtaining a good education.

Immigrant students and their families face numerous hurdles in our nation’s schools including integration, English language acquisition and access, and cultivating quality parent/teacher relationships. Although ED has worked to ensure that all students have equal access to school resources and that all parents, regardless of the language they speak, are equipped with the information necessary for their children to fully participate in and benefit from their educational programs, some families still face hurdles in their quest to thrive within the education system.

Zoila Fajardo shared a story that was not much different than what my mother experienced when trying to matriculate my siblings and me into school. When she first arrived in the United States, Zoila attempted to enroll her kids in school. Her limited fluency in English, however, caused communication issues with school administrators. They told her that they could not understand her and therefore could not enroll her kids. Zoila was able to turn to her community for support and they directed her to a new school, where her kids were welcomed with opened arms. They not only provided Zoila and her family with all the information she needed to ensure her kids were successful in school, but they also continued to keep her engaged in her children’s learning.

During the meeting, former Secretary Duncan and Acting Secretary King also heard from local high school students, who, in addition to navigating the system with limited to no English proficiency, had to adapt to different social norms. Despite the challenges they faced while trying to assimilate to a whole new culture, the students said they understood that their education was the foundation of their bright future.

Supporting immigrant families is crucial to ensuring our country’s long-term prosperity and is a key part of ED’s mission to ensure equity and opportunity for all of our nation’s children. We will continue to encourage students and their families to share their ideas on how to increase dialogue and the visibility of their experiences through future meetings, like Student Voices sessions, webinars and conversations with advocacy groups. These ongoing conversations have been the foundation of many resources, including the EL Toolkit, which we released with the Department of Justice in September, 2015.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.

Melina Kiper is a confidential assistant in the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Education.

ED Games Day Comes to Washington, D.C.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has increased its commitment to exploring the potential of learning games and researching their effectiveness, highlighted by initiatives such as ED Games Week, the White House Education Game Jam, the Games for Learning Summit at Games for Change, and a mini-conference focused on games for learning at E3.

Keeping the momentum going, on December 9, 2015, representatives from the Department of Education and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) collaboratively organized a day of events to build capacity for and showcase learning games. In all, 45 game developers participated, 30 of whom were recipients of awards from the Small Business Innovation Research programs at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and five other federal agencies.

Games for Assessment meeting participants.

Games for Assessment meeting participants.

Games For Assessment Working Meeting

In the morning, more than 20 members of the game-based learning community gathered at the White House to focus on the potential of games for assessment. Participants discussed the state of the field and opportunities for researching and developing new game-based assessment models and engines that can support teachers by providing real-time progress reports and insights on student mastery of content.

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OTSP, discussed the potential of games to transform traditional methods of testing. Roberto Rodriguez, the Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, said the Every Student Succeeds Act calls for new types of assessment, many of which could be accomplished with well designed game-based assessments, and highlighted the need for more rigorous research in the area of games for learning and assessment. And Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, talked about the need to create more opportunities for girls and students of all backgrounds to code and develop games for learning.

Games for Learning Stakeholder Meeting

In the afternoon, the group gathered for a series of short briefings from stakeholders in the educational technology games space. A few of the presenting organizations included BrainPOP, EdSurge, Games for Change, PBS Learning Media, 1776, and the Consortium of School Networking. The goal was to increase collaboration and strengthen approaches for the broader creation, dissemination, and use of quality games in classrooms and beyond.

ED Games Expo attendees play games while interacting with the developers. (Photo credit: Emily Stack)

ED Games Expo attendees play games while interacting with the developers. (Photo credit: Emily Stack)

ED Games Expo 2015

In the evening, the ED Games Expo provided a forum for all 45 developers to demo their games. More than 200 individuals attended, met face-to-face with the developers, and played games that covered a range of topics in areas such as STEM, history, and coding. The free event was co-sponsored by 1776 and the Entertainment Software Association. The event was highlighted by a visit from the Small Business Administration’s Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, who spent time chatting with several developers about their learning games.

A few examples of SBIR games demoed at the Expo included:

  • Happy Atoms, where students learn about chemistry by using modernized ball and stick models with an augmented reality interface.
  • Eco, where students collaboratively build a virtual world to learn about ecosystems.
  • Kiko’s Thinking Time, where young children solve challenging tasks to strengthen cognitive skills related to executive functioning and reasoning.

For videos of all of the SBIR games for learning that demoed at the Expo (and more), see this playlist.

ED is committed to growing the ecosystem for high-quality learning games, researching their effectiveness, and assisting developers in building games that reflect effective pedagogy and engaging game mechanics to expand and improve in-and-out of classroom learning opportunities for students.

Follow us on Twitter at @IESResearch and @OfficeofEdTech for the latest.

Edward Metz is the Program Manager for the Small Business Innovation Research program at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Joseph South is the Acting Director of Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

James Collins is the Internal Liaison of Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Erik Martin is an intern at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.