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.

Working Together to Remove Barriers

One of the Department’s central goals is to foster equitable education opportunities for all students and to eliminate barriers to those opportunities. What follows is an account of an important resolution agreement reached between our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the University of Phoenix to ensure equal access for students with disabilities to online education.

MK Wilkinson has severe presbyopia and dyslexia – vision and visual processing disorders that prevent her from reading in the conventional manner. She describes it this way: “My eyes hit 50 years old when I was 10 years old; now my eyes are like those of someone who is over 120 years of age.” This means that she needs assistive technology to read text and to communicate with other students online.

In 2010, MK enrolled at the University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest online education provider. She uses a screen reader, which reads text out loud as it appears on a screen. At first, the materials in MK’s online classes at the university were accessible to her.

Then, in 2014, MK ran into a virtual wall: the university had switched to “the New Classroom,” parts of which she could not access. “When they switched to the New Classroom format,” MK explained, “my instructors literally put up an image with text in it; no screen reader can read text embedded into a picture, so I couldn’t work with it.”

MK tried multiple times to resolve these barriers within the university system, without success. In 2014, MK filed a civil rights complaint asserting that the university’s polices violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. OCR’s policy, which is grounded in Section 504 regulations, states that students who are blind or have low vision “must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students.”

OCR opened an investigation and surveyed approximately 350 current and former University of Phoenix students who use assistive technology and also interviewed many of them. Many students praised the university DSO counselors but also stated they could not fully access the New Classroom environment without assistance from a nondisabled person. The Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer assisted OCR by using web conferencing technology to demonstrate visually and audibly to university officials just how those who use screen readers experienced barriers in the New Classroom.

In June 2015, the University of Phoenix entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with the Department, under which the university committed, among other things, to create a plan to ensure that its new online technology is accessible, remove barriers to access for existing content, and convert inaccessible documents to accessible documents within 24 hours of receiving a request. The university also agreed to offer MK and other former students with disabilities who experienced technological barriers the opportunity to have their prior grades reevaluated or to repeat or take new courses free of charge in an accessible online environment.

The university views OCR’s investigation in a positive light: “We see our work with OCR and the Department of Education as one of collaboration. We are grateful for the feedback from OCR because it helps us better serve our students with disabilities,” said Dr. Meredith Curley, University Provost.

MK is pleased with the outcome and hopes that the impact of her case is widespread. “My hope – and what I believe it’s going to do – is to place people with limitations on an even playing field with those without them. The independence and self-respect that you get if you can sit down to a computer and do your assignment by yourself is incredible. We all want to have the opportunity to work at the same pace and level as everyone else.”

Robert Kim, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach, Office for Civil Rights.

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.

Opportunity for America Tour Announced

jk_kids

Acting Secretary John King has announced his Opportunity Across America tour!

He’ll meet with students, teachers, principals, parents and community leaders in four states and Washington, D.C.

The tour will start in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday, and continue with visits to Houston, Texas; Washington, D.C.; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Delaware.

King will highlight the good work going on in schools and communities across the country and hear stories, experiences and insights about what’s working and where there is more work to be done.

As we told you earlier this year, King has resolved in 2016 to promote equity and excellence at every level of education to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed; support and lift up the teaching profession; and continue the Department’s focus on returning America to the top of the rankings in college completion by ensuring more students earn an affordable degree with real value.

King will visit the following schools during the tour:

  • Bowie High School, El Paso, Texas
  • Sharpstown High School, Houston, Texas
  • Valencia Community College, Orlando, Florida
  • School of the Future, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Don’t forget to follow @JohnKingatED on Twitter and sign up for email updates!

Join Us for President Obama’s Final State of the Union

sotu

President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union this evening.

When the President took office seven years ago, our country was involved in two wars and facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. With his leadership and the determination of the American people, our country has made extraordinary progress.

In his last State of the Union, the President will lay out the ways that we, as the American people, can once again come together in pursuit of a country worthy of generations to come.

In each year since 2009, the President’s State of the Union addresses have bookmarked pivotal moments in the story of our nation: from expanding universal, affordable health care to securing the most ambitious global agreement ever to combat climate change.

Check out each speech — complete with videos, graphics, and stories from the staffers behind the policies.

Have thoughts on remarks? Share your thoughts and reactions with the White House right in the speech. Some submissions may be highlighted by the White House.

You can also RSVP on Facebook and follow @WhiteHouse, @JohnKingatED and #SOTU on Twitter.

Get more info at whitehouse.gov/sotu.

Meet all the inspiring people who will be joining the First Lady. Read their stories and watch them receive their invitations.

Parents: Tips to Help Your Child Complete the 2016–17 FAFSA

2016-17 FAFSA Tips for Parents
If you’re a parent of a college-bound child, the financial aid process can seem a bit overwhelming. Who’s considered the parent? Who do you include in household size? How do assets and tax filing fit into the process? Does this have to be done every year? Here are some common questions that parents have when helping their children prepare for and pay for college or career school:

Does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

Your child’s dependency status determines whose information must be reported on the FAFSA. Even if your child lives on his own, files his own taxes, and supports himself, he may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes. If your child was born on or after January 1, 1993, then he or she is most likely considered a dependent student and will need to include your information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Why does my child need to provide my information on the FAFSA?

Our dependency guidelines are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. If your child is considered a dependent student, it doesn’t mean you, the parent(s), are required to pay anything toward your child’s education; this is just a way of looking at everyone in a consistent manner.

Which parent’s information should I include when completing the FAFSA?

If your child needs to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help.

Who's My Parent When I Fill Out My FAFSA? Graphic

Click to enlarge

Who’s considered part of the household?

When completing your child’s FAFSA, your household size should include parents, any dependent student(s), and any other child who lives at home and receives more than half of their support from you. Also include any people who are not your children but who live with you and for whom you provide more than half of their support.

Do we need to wait to apply until I file my income taxes?

You do not need to wait until you file your federal tax return. Deadlines in some states are before the tax filing deadline so you’ll want to ensure your child fills out his or her FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize financial aid. If you haven’t filed your taxes by the time your child completes the FAFSA, you can estimate amounts based on the previous year if nothing has drastically changed. After you file your taxes, you’ll need to log back in to the FAFSA and correct any estimated information. If you’ve already filed your taxes, you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically pull in your tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available February 7, 2016.

Do I need to do this every year?

Yes, you and your child need to complete the FAFSA each year in order for your child to be considered for federal student aid. The good news is that each subsequent year you can use the Renewal Application option so you only have to update information that has changed from the previous year!

What else do I need to know before I begin?

You and your child will each need to get an FSA ID, which is made up of a username and password. It is used to confirm your identity when accessing your financial aid information and to electronically sign the FAFSA. You can save time by getting your FSA IDs prior to starting the FAFSA.

Certain information and documents are necessary to complete the FAFSA and it’s good to have them handy before you begin. Here’s a checklist to help you get ready.

Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

Photo by Getty Images.