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  • A Former Elementary Teacher in Rural Spain Helping to Innovate the Way Children Learn and Parents Stay Involved

    by LearnEd

    A sunflower
    Extremadura Map2

    A New Way to Improve Learning

    "When I was in school, we weren't using computers or learning how to find useful information online," says Cristobal Garcia who's working with local students and teachers—even parents—who now have that opportunity.

    Cristobal is a trainer for Pearson's eScholarium collaborative education platform in a rural region of Spain called Extremadura.

    He used to be an elementary teacher.

    Extremadura is one of the poorest regions in Spain. Its economy is largely based on agriculture.

    "But most everyone has access to the internet," Cristobal says. "At home, in libraries, at school—and we're taking advantage of this resource to improve our learning and teaching."

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    A Government Initiative, Embraced by the Community

    working together

    Three years ago, Extremadura's regional government wanted to take its educational system one step closer to a digital future—to be a pioneer in the use of digital content in the classroom in Spain and throughout Europe.

    Pearson was selected to lead two other companies—BlinkLearning and Common MS—to create and roll out what became eScholarium.

    "Through this platform, everyone is now part of teaching," Cristobal says. "Teachers, students, families, textbook publishers—everyone is now working together in a collaborative way."

    Cristobal says teachers embrace the platform because they're now able to review textbooks and keep better tabs on students work so they can apply new teaching approaches.

    "They're also creating their own classroom content," he says, "and sharing it with colleagues in the region through the platform."

    "For the students in an era of technology, they're now learning how to use that technology properly," Cristobal says. "And use this technology learning to help their education."

    "And parents can track homework lessons and scheduled tests," he says.

    More Than 100 Schools and Growing

    Over the last three years, Cristobal says, the platform has been integrated in to 106 centers—from primary schools to secondary schools to music schools to language schools to schools for adult learners.

    This includes nearly 4,000 teachers, nearly 53,000 families, almost 28,000 students, 32 publishers, and 25 bookshops.

    It's offered in both Spanish and English, with hopes to add other languages h in the future.

    "It was difficult for everybody to learn this platform at first," Cristobal says. "But now it's working better for all of us."

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    Digital Collaboration

    "Regional officials have been so pleased with the response to eScholarium that they want to roll it out to even more schools," Cristobal says.

    "We also want to push this platform to a phone app, because that's where these kids are going," he says.

    "We're innovating a whole new way of teaching in these communities," Cristobal says. "And we're helping everyone involved—teachers, students, families, and textbook publishers—keep in touch along the way."

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  • Tests on Computers Versus Tests on Tablets: Do Students Perform Differently?

    by LearnEd

    Shots of computer booths

     Schools are moving from paper to online tests. Researchers are considering the effects of using tablets or computers on large-scale assessment performance.

    Laurie Davis, Ph.D., has been studying how students take tests on different devices for Pearson since 2012. Her research shows that students perform best when they use technology with which they are familiar.

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    “When kids are comfortable and confident with the device, they do better," Laurie says. “Using an unfamiliar device gets in the way of kids answering questions and could result in less accurate results.”

    A Better Study: Devices Assigned Randomly

    Laurie recently conducted a statewide study where students were randomly assigned to use a tablet or computer to see if there was a difference in test scores.

    964 high school students from five school districts in Virginia were given online tests in reading, science, and math.

    About half of them took the 80-minute test on a desktop or a laptop, and about half of the students took the test on a tablet.

    Laurie and her fellow researchers found that there was no significant difference in scores across subjects, gender, and ethnicity.


    "Results indicated no significant differences between tablets and computers for math and science at any point in the score point range or for any student subgroup."


    Boys did slightly better on reading questions when they used a tablet.

    There isn't enough data to explain why this happened. Laurie says it might be because boys perhaps find reading on a tablet more engaging than on a computer.

    Finding the Right Device for Each Student

    Laurie suggests this 3-step process to determine whether a student is comfortable with a particular device for testing:


    1. Ask the teacher if the student is able to use the device comfortably.
    2. Ask the student if they are comfortable with the device.
    3. Practice on the device and verify the student is comfortable using it when responding to test tutorials or practice questions.

    Developing a 'Halo Functionality'

    There are obvious differences between a student's use of a computer versus a student's use of a tablet.

    For example, on a tablet, students use their finger to interact directly with the screen to select or move objects and position the cursor. They use a mouse to accomplish these same tasks on a computer.

    Usability studies show using a finger is far less precise than a mouse—and it can be frustrating to students.

    So, Pearson developed a “halo” functionality for graphing questions on tablets. It helps students see the points or lines they are graphing without it being blocked by their finger.

    Halo Image

    The research shows that with the added halo, there is no difference in usability on a tablet versus a computer.

    Standardization or Personalization?

    Test makers are always looking for the fairest tests. In recent years, this has meant more standardization.

    New technology—with tweaks like the halo functionality on tablets, not computers—means more personalization may be in the offing.

    Laurie Davis says: “It can be fair to personalize the technology used to take the test so students can perform the best they can."

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  • Summer Break: Expert Advice for Parents on Managing Behavior at Home

    by LearnEd

    Kids outdoors

     

    Earlier this spring, we wrote about how Adam Bauserman helps teachers tackle three common classroom behavior problems. In this follow-up piece, we’ll address behavior issues that arise at home during summer break, and provide Adam's tips for parents striving for smooth sailing over the summer.

     

    School's Out for Summer

    Summer vacation. For kids, it’s the best time of the year. For parents, it’s often the most stressful. Without the schedule and structure of the classroom, behavior problems in children can flare up during the summer months.

    Adam Bauserman, known as “Dr. Behave,” has a background in education. He’s taught kids of all ages, from elementary school through college. Today, he is an implementation specialist at Pearson, where he helps teachers tackle common classroom behaviors.

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    Different Places, Same Struggles

    Not surprisingly, behavior challenges teachers tackle during the school year are the same ones parents see during the summer. As a father to a son with Autism, Dr. Behave has tips for parents hoping to prevent summer break from turning into summer breakdown. He’s hosting a webinar on the subject this Wednesday, July 20. Click here to register.

    In advance, he’s sharing his best advice for parents on dealing with three major behavior problems: disrespect and reactive behavior, blurting out and interrupting, and lack of motivation. The tips are listed below.

    Dr Behave Final

      The Three "C"s

    “These behaviors are human – they happen,” Adam says. “The key is not to belabor a conflict or its resolution.”

    “Be clear, be concise, and be complete. Use only words kids understand, make your point quickly, and then move on.”

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  • How to Make the Most of National Moon Day

    by LearnEd

    Man on the moon

    An Annual Celebration

    This Wednesday, July 20, is National Moon Day. It commemorates the day when man first walked on the moon in 1969. Millions watched live as astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in Apollo 11, planted the American flag, and proudly called the occasion “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    National Holiday Potential

    As James J. Mullaney, former curator of Exhibits and Astronomy at Pittsburgh’s Buhl Planetarium says, “If there’s a Columbus Day on the calendar, there certainly should be a Moon Day!” Until it becomes a national holiday, here’s how you and your loved ones can plan the perfect Moon Day outing:

     

    Moon Day

    Picture-Taking Tips from A NASA Photographer

    Joel Kowsky is a photographer and photo editor for NASA. While many of us don't have access to high-tech dSLR cameras like Joel, his tips can be applied to your cell phone photos too:

    The moon is much brighter than it seems.

    • -To capture it properly, use a telephoto lens (200mm or longer) and set your camera to manual mode. Though not necessary, a tripod can be helpful here. Start with an aperture of f/8 and adjust your shutter speed to ISO as needed. Your camera's autofocus should be enough, but you may need to fine-tune it with your finger. There's no hard and fast rule for exposure, so experiment until you're happy with the results.

    Take pictures just as it begins to rise (especially just before or after sunset).

    • -This way, you can often catch a bit of a colored glow. However, it can be a little more difficult to capture a sharp picture as you’re shooting through more atmosphere, and there will be some distortion. To capture the clearest and sharpest images, wait until the moon's a bit higher in the sky.

    Don't be deterred if it's cloudy.

    • -Clouds, backlit by the moon, can make for a dramatic photo.

    Make use of online resources.

    • -There are several online tools that can be used to help plan for observing and photographing the moon and other celestial objects. The U.S. Naval Observatory website is a great resource for the moonrise and moonset times in your area.

    Share your photos on social media.

    • -Don't forget to show off your masterpieces on social media using #MoonDay.

     Indoor Astronomy Fun

    If you can’t get outside on Moon Day, here are ten places you can still celebrate astronomy (with a little A/C!):

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  • My name’s Diane, and I’m a single parent

    by Diane Budd

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    I am a single parent. It’s funny how often that fact crops up early in conversations when I meet people. Perhaps it’s because I’m proud of my daughter, perhaps it’s a preemptive strike against the stigmas that still linger in the more conservative walks of society. Though single parent families are a strangely common and unremarkable concept, I still come across the odd menacing rumble of quiet disapproval; a glance, a tut, a carefully placed piece of humiliation. It’s rare, but it registers. One way or another, being a single parent seems to define me in a way that two parent families never need to explain themselves.

    I had many fears when my daughter, Xairis, was born six years ago. I had the sort of childhood where I didn’t mix much with other kids. I never really played out, or went to parties, or babysat. I wasn’t unhappy… I never really stopped to consider that I ever needed anyone more than my brothers, sisters and cousins. Perhaps it was because of this lack of having been around children that, when I fell pregnant, I was overcome with a worrying sense that I was hugely unqualified.

    Despite being 28 when Xairis was born, I was very much blazing the trail for parenthood in my social circle. None of my siblings had children, nor any of my close cousins. The only mother I really knew well enough to ask for advice - my own - had died a few years before.

    After she died I had left the family nest of New England, and headed for the sunshine and warmth of Florida, to be with my partner - the man who became my daughter’s father. Pregnancy is tough enough, without also being in a new place, with no disposable income to talk of, surrounded by nobody I knew, and far away from the only people I did know.

    But it’d be OK, I’d tell myself, because my partner has a child already and he’d know how to do things. Wouldn’t he! It turns out, he wouldn’t. It wasn't so much a question of interest as responsibility. He came from a home where mom took care of everything, allowing him to be the man of the house without having to carry the duties that come with that title. So it didn't really seem out of balance to him that it was the mother’s role to do all the heavy lifting. I guess in his mind, that's the way it was supposed to be.

    In a way, I had been a single parent a long time before my little girl arrived. You expect your baby to utterly rely on you for their every need; not your partner. It had been good training for motherhood.

    I was afraid I would make mistakes, but I was more afraid of not giving my little girl the right start; of hanging around in an environment where she might learn from the behaviours she was seeing. That’s why, when Xairis was about three, we left. Just the two of us, me and my new little girl, heading out in the big, big world. I didn’t know what I was doing. I made mistakes. Lots of them. I still do. But I’m learning how to be a better mom every day.

    I do not get child support and I don’t have my family network close by. I don’t get any help from Xairis’ father - something I have chosen to accept. The relationship had taken its physical and mental toll on me. In the end I decided that the struggles of being alone would be financially and emotionally easier than the struggles of asking him to be reliable. So having a job is a financial necessity. But even if it wasn’t, I would still work. Knowing that you have to work hard to earn what you want is one of the best examples you can give a child

    Xairis is now in school, which makes life a little easier. But I still pay for wrap around school care, as well as someone to look after her in the evenings I’m working. She enjoys reading, and loves learning; animals and dinosaurs are the flavor of the month at the moment. But recently she’s been having difficulty focusing in class, so I’ve also employed a private tutor to give her the the 1-2-1 attention she needs right now. Her teachers tell me that her hyperactivity requires some kind of extracurricular outlet, but I’ve long since run out of time and money.

    I am blissfully aware that with someone good by my side, I might be less strapped for cash, have more time, provide more, be a better parent. That dinner, bath and stories wouldn’t need to get squeezed into the last drops of the day before one of us falls asleep. That I wouldn’t need to rush in the mornings, just so we can steal a few more minutes together by strolling to her daycare center. (We’ve been trying to get up even a little earlier, so we can do some yoga and meditation together - alas it’s turning out to be a class of one!)

    But amongst the waves of guilt and frustration, I am optimistic, because I know she’s got education on her side. Unlike tens of millions of children around the world, she gets to go to school. She gets to be taught and to learn. To a degree, she’ll get to decide the way she wants her life to turn out. In the list of things I want for my daughter, an education comes way, way above a father.

    I know that my daughter feels very loved, and knows I am doing my best. She embodies many of the things I still strive to be. She is resilient. She lets problems slide off her back. She entertains herself. She’s popular, but isn’t attached to any one person. She regularly goes without the things her friends expect to get - new toys, clothes, vacations, time with mom. But she’s rarely without a smile. One day, out of nowhere, she turned to me and said: “Mommy, dya know what? Before I was born, I asked for you to be my mom”. My heartbreaker and my everyday-maker.

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  • Teaching twice: The hidden cost of America’s education system

    by Don Kilburn

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    President Obama offered up an ambitious plan to make the first two years of community college free of charge. It’s a highlight of his budget proposal and will be a tent-pole issue of the administration’s education policy for 2015. And it would expand access to more people across the country.

    But students throughout the educational ladder, from pre-school to college, are falling further and further behind in basic skills. Mathematics and literacy top the list. The widening gap between expectation and reality threatens the value of college as fewer students are prepared to succeed in degree programs, such as those offered at community colleges, and thrive in the careers higher education makes possible. The costs of teaching twice – both financial and the overall strain on the system – is the largest undiscussed threat to our higher education system.

    Let’s take a look at the landscape. Fifty percent of community college students and twenty percent of four-year students need to complete remedial core competencies before advancing to a degree program. The cost: $4 billion every year. This is an unsustainable system. The burden on state and federal education resources must be addressed before more students are sent to college unprepared.

    From my perspective in a career working across the educational system, there are three core areas where modest improvements would lead to lower remediation costs and more students obtaining the skills they need.

    Assess outcomes at every stage. For decades, educational investment policies have been driven by “old metrics” such as the quality of facilities and class size. These are important, but with the technologies and methods we have now, we can focus on the ability of a lesson plan to deliver results. These can be achieved in real time, without waiting for test results. High stakes tests have a role in education, but they are a lagging indicator and do not allow for immediate intervention if a student, or a class, is struggling.

    Efficacy of products and services is a critical concept for the entire education industry. School districts, teachers and taxpayers alike all need to be able to see the utility of every tool that’s used and every dollar that’s spent.

    Ed tech is a catalyst. Students today are digital natives and expect a seamless integration between technology and the classroom experience. The largest 1:1 digital learning initiative, in Huntsville, Alabama, is already paying off. The district saw reading scores improve by 18% and math scores improve by 27% in just two years from 2011 to 2013. The graduation rate improved 14% over the same period. Students’ digital habits are helping to raise standards, and we need to be prepared to meet their expectations with learning that’s available anytime, anywhere.

    But it’s not the only answer. We know that pouring money into new devices doesn’t solve the educational puzzle. New tools are only effective when teachers are trained on how those tools can help them identify their students’ challenges, and help them overcome them. Better equipping our teachers to make a difference with good professional development is a smart investment.

    As instruction methods evolve, so too should evaluation and accreditation. Competency-based learning means using mastery as the metric of student success instead of the amount of time spent in class. With more flexibility and focus on the student, remedial needs could be cut from whole semesters of coursework down to modules for the specific skills a student needs to progress.

    Remediation is a huge impediment to students even finishing a degree, as the time and money required to master essential skills often put the dream out of reach. Enabling more students to go to college for little or no cost is the right thing to do, so we need to ensure that we’re preparing all our students for success in college and in the workplace that follows. The value of a college education is only as good as the ability to gain new skills, instead of relearning old ones.

    ***

    This article was originally published on thehill.com.

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  • Are you ready for a renaissance in assessment?

    by Amar Kumar

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    I was recently having coffee with my friend, Jodie, a teacher in England. She was telling me a story about an English test she had once given her class. The scores from the test showed that several of her students had clearly not grasped some important concepts. Alas the test had been designed simply to produce a score, rather than to uncover insights. It gave the grades, without the whys. And without those whys, how could she know what to revisit, with whom, and how?

    In particular, one of her ‘star’ students, who she had expected to fly through the test, had not.  It turned out that on the morning of the test, he had had a big fight with his brother, and this had clearly affected his performance. Yet the test simply told her that he hadn't understood the topic.

    There is a rapidly accelerating debate amongst educators around the world – from developed and developing economies, and from schools, universities and professionals – about the purpose and use of assessments. A new consensus is emerging advocating for the use of new technologies to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of assessments.

    Today’s publication of Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment contributes to this debate and advocates for a new set of principles and guidelines in the way assessments are designed, conducted, and applied.

    We probably all know what we mean by “assessment”. In the broadest sense possible, it’s any appraisal, judgement, or evaluation of a student’s work or performance. These evaluations can be formal (e.g., standardised testing) or informal (e.g., classroom observations), and determine what students know, how much they understand, what they can do, and what they struggle with.

    But for me, and for an increasing majority of the education community, assessment is so much more than a certification of a student’s ability or a mark of their likelihood to succeed in further study or employment. Assessment is - or at least it should be - a way to help teachers teach better; a way to inform them of their students’ needs and make the appropriate interventions.

    Yet assessments have historically been used predominantly to hold teachers, schools, and systems to account for the performance (and largely academic performance only) of their students. As such they have tended to ignore the full compliment of a student’s ability: Does he display emotional intelligence? Can she solve a problem? Can they work well as a team?; and subsequently focus on a too narrow definition of ‘value’ for outcomes.

    A cappuccino and more conversation later, Jodie recalled a particular student who failed her math and science tests, but always shone when it came to creative writing. Unfortunately, back then, creative writing wasn’t a skill anyone tracked. So the writer in her - the thing that gave her most potential - was ignored, and so unnourished.

    However, the scent of a renaissance is now in the air.

    New technologies are rapidly making assessments more reliable, less subjective, and less time consuming. For example, adaptive testing technologies (i.e., tests that evolve in real time based on student performance) increase the accuracy of the assessment and can reduce the number of questions a student needs to answer. Automated exam marking can reduce the subjectivity of grading for more qualitative subjects such as history, English, and creative writing. And personalised learning tools can integrate assessments into the day-to-day activities of a classroom, so teachers get real-time feedback on student performance, rather than having to wait until the end of a unit or semester.

    In this new environment, assessments are no longer this conveyor belt of one-moment-in-time temperature checks. No longer do they rely solely on the assessed only having one chance to prove what they know. No longer do they simply produce the letters and numbers for someone to carry about for life.

    Rather, the assessment renaissance is cultivating a new approach; a virtuous circle of insights, interventions, and improvements, where teaching and technology come together in perfect harmony.

    The authors of the new paper detail the steps that policymakers, schools, teachers, and parents need to take in order to prepare for this renaissance. Among their recommendations is an investment in training teachers, so they can better use technologies to make assessment less subjective, less time consuming, more reliable, and ultimately more purposeful.

    When Jodie was just beginning her teaching career, she said one statistic in particular left its imprint. Only 10% of students who were assessed as below average at the start of secondary school went on to achieve good grades by the end. She told me she wanted to know why, in all the intervening years, they weren’t able to uncover the reasons why 90% of students weren’t getting better? When, Jodie asks, will assessments become less about pleasing the school management team and more about understanding how she can become a better teacher and help her students achieve their ambitions?

    Well Jodie, the renaissance is upon us.

     ***

    Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment is authored by Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, and Dr Peter Hill. It is available at research.pearson.com.

     

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