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  • Once An Educator, Always An Educator

    by LearnEd

    Teacher with his student

    Nearly half of Pearson's employees are educators.

    LearnED spoke with five of them—Erika Webb-Hughes, Walter Peters, Aly Stark, Luis Oros, and Lee Noto—to hear about their passion for learning.

    Erika topper

    "Students Need Every One of These Voices"

    Erika Webb-Hughes was 26 when she stood at the door of Room 611 for her first day as a teacher in a California high school.

    Her English class students were tenth graders in a special education program. Most read on a third- to fourth-grade level.

    Several of those students commuted for hours just to get to school. Some had difficult foster care situations, Erika says. Others barely spoke English at all.

    "I told them how nervous I was," Erika recalls, "then I said: 'You all are starting my class with an A—and, if that A is important to you to keep, here are the little things you'll need to do each day.'"

    "Their academic success was their goal to have and mine to support," Erika says. "And giving them that kind of ownership opened up a whole new world of learning to come."

    erika quote

    Erika says she's still in touch with many of those early students.

    "They're successful, they're working, they're living on their own, they have families," she says. "It's amazing."

    From the Classroom to Helping Make Classroom Policy

    Erika quickly realized she had a knack for the intricacies of education policy in special education.

    In the classroom, she saw first-hand how school systems were hampered by confusing policies and poor communication about those policies.

    So Erika went to work for the California Department of Education, first in assessments then in special education then as a liason with the U.S. Department of Education.

    All the while, she remembered her classroom experience.

    "I knew the impact of policies in the classroom," Erika says. "I was able to make sure that policymakers heard the voice of people actually doing the education work."

    'All of us working together.'

    Today, Erika works with Pearson and its government relationships in 13 western states.

    "I've had a seat at the table from many perspectives," she says. "As a student, as a teacher, as a parent, as a policymaker, and now with a company that does work to support learners."

    "Students need every one of these voices," Erika says. "It takes all of us to work together to craft an education system that works for all learners."

    Walter Peters Topline

    'Your Dreams are My Dreams'

    Walter Peters didn't know where he was headed after graduating the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in public policy.

    A job in healthcare? A job in education?

    Walter ultimately decided to enter the classroom as a teacher—and was placed in a school in Washington, D.C.

    He taught bilingual classes in Kindergarten, first, and second grades.

    involved with education

    "I had no idea how profoundly it would affect the rest of my career trajectory," he says.

    An Introduction to Teaching

    "My first year was difficult," Walter says. "I was struggling with my classroom and how to teach. I was dealing with different cultural and social dynamics."

    "I was always thinking about my problems with students—and how I might use the experience to get the next great job. I couldn't see how the goal of teaching every child could ever be reachable."

    The Call to Teaching

    One year later, Walter participated in a family engagement program through D.C. public schools. He met all his student's families. Many of them were from El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Vietnam.

    "The one thread through all their stories," Walter says, "was their profound desire for their children to succeed."

    And Walter had an epiphany:

    "I thought if teaching every child was not possible as I'd been thinking, then it was the same as saying to these parents 'Your dreams aren't worth having.'"

    "I was wrong—and I realized that I wanted to be involved with education for the rest of my life," Walter says.

    Walter went on to teach for a time in a charter school in New York. Today, he works for Pearson in New York.

    "I want to work for a company that can attract the best and the brightest," Walter says. "We're doing right by students by working for Pearson."


    Aly Stark topline

    'Everyone Believes in the Power of Learning'

    Aly Stark's fifth grade teacher was a "game changer."

    "I was unsure of myself at the time," she says. "I kept my opinions to myself and didn't really ever speak up."

    Aly quote

    "But Ms. Amaya nurtured her students," Aly says. "She built relationships in the classroom, she built a community of learners. In the end, I found a whole new confidence and a love of learning."

    Building Communities to Innovate Learning

    Aly taught for three years in inner city New Orleans.

    "I started teaching middle school history," Aly says. "And my last year was with second and fifth graders."

    Today, Aly's students are her Pearson colleagues. She's helping the company with leadership development, from new hires all the way up to Pearson executives.

    "We're building community here, too," Aly says. "Through various training programs—like Ms. Amaya in fifth grade—I'm trying to help my colleagues with their confidence, to become mini experts in their role with Pearson."

    "Pearson is not perfect and it doesn't always get everything right," Aly says. "But we all want students to be successful, we all want students to have access to high-quality education."

    "We striving for the same goal as parents and teachers," Aly says. "Everyone believes in the power of learning."


    Luis Oros Topline

    'I Watched Them Start to Love Learning'

    Luis Oros studied neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University. He thought he was headed to medical school—or a career in "neuromarketing," an industry that applies brain science to marketing and advertising campaigns.

    Eventually, Luis' expertise in brain science led him to a career in learning with Pearson.

    He's now researching artificial intelligence technology and progressive educational models.

    Students Who Suddenly Started to Love Learning

    Five years ago, Luis was teaching math and science to middle school students.

    Many of the students had behavioral problems. They were struggling in school, Luis says.

    luis quote

    "They hated everything about school," Luis says. "And they didn't see themselves as being capable of learning."

    "Plus, the curriculum didn't seem well-matched with what I knew about brain science and learning," Luis says. "So, with a research grant, I put together a new student-centered classroom model for my students. Suddenly, the kids were doing a lot of the teaching, taking ownership of much of their own curriculum."

    "And our classes became some of the top performing classes in the state," Luis says.

    "Most importantly," he says, "I watched my students start to love learning."

    Fresh Ideas

    Luis says we are seeing "the death of education and the birth of learning." He's written about what he means in this blog post:

    It’s crazy when you think about it. We take kids and force them to adapt to this really complex bureaucracy instead of adopting the system to them. This is especially crazy in a world full of surprises. Surprises of the economy, of society, of invention and technology. Everyday is going to be a surprise. Education prepares you to cope with certainty. There is no certainty. Learning, however, prepares you to cope with the surprises of the world.

    I want to see environments where kids are restless until their need for learning is satisfied. Where kids are allowed to pursue their curiosities and taught to solve interesting problems, not to memorize answers.

    "I'm a tinkerer, a scientist trying to build better relationships between teachers and students," says Luis.

    "At Pearson, we have the resources to explore the newest, best, most effective educational models to help students everywhere."


    Lee Noto topline

    'We Are Helping to Close the Gaps in Education"

    When Lee Noto was teaching fourth graders in Hawaii, she saw first-hand "all the gaps in the education system."

    "I'd had a pretty solid learning experience growing up," Lee says. ""It was the first time I came face to face with poverty and inequity in education. I was seeing education from a broader perspective."

    Business Acumen in Learning Innovation

    Prior to her time in the classroom, Lee graduated the University of Central Florida with a degree in business.

    Today, she helps her Pearson colleagues evaluate whether the company's products are helping learners.

    "I'm so excited to be part of a company that empowers people around the world," Lee says. "We are helping to close the gaps in education."


    read more
  • Learning and the Public Good

    by LearnEd

    Student at a desk


    John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, meets senior Ronald Francois at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Ronald hopes to pursue a career in engineering. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)
    John Fallon, center, CEO of Pearson, and Don Kilburn, left, President of Pearson North America, meet senior Ronald Francois at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Ronald hopes to pursue a career in engineering. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)


    The Legacy of an Education That Changed Lives

    Don Kilburn's father came home from World War II a disabled veteran. Through the GI Bill, he was able to earn a degree at the University of Georgia by taking classes at night.

    "Education—and education changing lives," Don says, "was big in my family."


    Don Kilburn, Pearson North America President speaks with Tony King, Headmaster of Boston International High School in a 12th grade English class at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Under a grant provided by Pearson and America's Promise Alliance the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with ten school districts including Boston to improve graduation rates and outcomes for students whose first language is not English. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)
    Don Kilburn, Pearson North America President speaks with Tony King, Headmaster of Boston International High School in a 12th grade English class at Boston International High School on Thursday, April 7, 2016 in Boston, Mass. Under a grant provided by Pearson and America's Promise Alliance the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with ten school districts including Boston to improve graduation rates and outcomes for students whose first language is not English. (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Pearson Publishing)


    The 'Reality Check' of Working Alongside Educators

    Don is President of Pearson North America.

    "I feel like my work with Pearson is more following than it is leading," he says. "So many educators enter our business who once made a difference in the classroom, and now want to make a bigger difference at scale."

    "These colleagues care deeply about education," Don says, "and I draw energy off that every day."

    The Learning Struggles of Don's Own Son

    One of Don's two children has tested on the dyslexia spectrum and, before it was diagnosed, said things like 'I'm dumb and I'm stupid.'

    "He's not," Don says. "It happened to be a Pearson test that helped us assess, then remediate, his struggles in school. Now he's thriving."

    "When Pearson can help with changes like that," Don says, "that's why working for this company is such a great thing to be involved in."

    Doing Well By Doing Good

    After a recent visit to Boston International High School and a tour of its innovative curriculum, Don sat down to talk about Pearson's ongoing mission to help change many more lives.

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  • Making Math Accessible to Blind Students by 'Playing with Numbers'

    by LearnEd

    Math on a chalk board

    Always Learning for the Blind Community

    Edgar Lozano once hosted a podcast episode for the blind community that featured his friend, Jose, who had recently traveled through an airport and recorded his experience from the perspective of a man who is blind.


    In another episode, Edgar reviews a role-playing medieval fantasy game for the blind called "Entombed" that's audio-only. He has also used the show to introduce language learning tools on the iOS platform for blind people and to demonstrate how to use the Texas Instruments 84 Plus Talking Graphic Calculator.

    Mathematics, however, has always been his passion.

    "Ever since elementary, math has always been a subject I enjoyed," Edgar says. "I like doing calculations in my mind. I like playing with numbers."

    Fooling His Teachers

    "I took math like anybody else would," Edgar says. "I had the skills to master things like algebra, but, over time, there were lots of concepts—especially when they were written on the board—that I found very confusing."

    passed me on

    "But my teachers just passed me on to the next grade level," he says.

    "When 8th grade came along," Edgar says, "that's when I really started to struggle." For the first time, he encountered Algebra II with linear equations and the quadratic formula.

    "That really slowed me down."

    Catching Up

    For high school, Edgar attended the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. His teachers there quickly realized his math skills were way behind.

    With the help of specialist educators, Edgar went back through Algebra, then tackled Geometry and Algebra II—then moved on to Calculus.
    high level

    "Now I'm in college taking really high-level math classes," Edgar says by phone where he's a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

    There are no other blind or visually impaired students in his classes.

    "My professors are amazed at how I keep up with class," Edgar says. "I just seem to have a good memory for all that kind of stuff."

    Math on the Next Level

    Edgar was brought in by Pearson last summer to collaborate as an intern on a special hardware and software project that was trying to make math learning easier for blind and visually impaired students. It's called the Accessible Equation Editor, and we described the project in an earlier LearnED post.

    Early on, the team asked Edgar to code in early math problems and wrangle with various bugs in the system.

    "To be honest, I had my suspicions when we started about whether the project would work at all," Edgar says.

    Over time, the project got better—and Edgar's view of it changed: "It was really showing some promise."

    A Mentor and Coach

    Edgar's closest collaborator was Sam Dooley, a senior developer at Pearson.


    "Sam taught me so much," Edgar says. "He showed me how to organize my code like a professional. He introduced me to a lot of the computer science and math subjects that I wasn't able to understand."

    "He willingly answered all of my questions."

    "The most important thing Sam taught me," Edgar says, "is, if you have a problem or an issue in front of you, break things down in to steps and manageable tasks."

    Graduation and Beyond

    Edgar is majoring in computer science at Texas State University.

    "People always ask me how I manage it," he says. "I've just always enjoyed coding and math."


    As for his future, Edgar says it's "unpredictable."

    "I want to go anywhere to help people with my computer science knowledge," he says. "Or develop applications on my own that continue to push the limits of technology."


    read more
  • A Blind High School Senior Helps Make Learning History

    by LearnEd

    hero img

    (L to R) Su Park, Edgar Lozano (another intern associated with the project), Pearson's Sam Dooley, Susan Osterhaus of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Pearson's Dan Brown during a work session last summer.

    'I Stuck With It'

    "Math was very painful for me as a student," says Su Park, a high school student who is blind.

    Until her sophomore year, general education teachers would convert math lessons in to Braille. Su would use those converted lessons to learn concepts and complete classwork. Then her work would be converted by hand back into forms that sighted teachers could understand.

    stick with math"I struggled to learn Braille, my teachers didn't always know Braille," she says. "And feedback was always delayed."

    "I figured if I stuck with it long enough," Su says, "something would come along that would make the whole process a lot easier."

    Understanding the Barriers

    In February of last year, a team from Pearson showed up at Su's school in Texas. They wanted to talk with blind and visually impaired students about the barriers they faced in math class.

    "It was more than anybody else in education was doing to smooth out struggles with math class," Su says. "But I remember thinking, 'What are they going to do about it?'"

    "I honestly didn't expect anything out of it," she says.

    Her First Challenge: 948 Math Problems

    Su's contributions during those brainstorming sessions at school led the Pearson team to hire her as an intern last summer.

    The team was developing the Accessible Equation Editor, new software and hardware that allows students using Braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer. (We describe the innovative hardware and software in this LearnED story.)

    seamless"We needed someone to read the Braille from the perspective of the student and tell us whether we were getting it right," says Sam Dooley, a senior developer at Pearson who helped lead the project.

    "It was very surreal," Su says. "I went through 948 math problems and, because it seemed so seamless, I was too caught up in the moment to realize what was actually happening."

    A Long Summer

    Eventually, the Pearson team asked Su to write an instruction manual for the Accessible Equation Editor from the perspective of a blind user.

    "I thought it would be easy," Su says. "But I'd never written an instruction manual before and I'd never thought about guiding a blind person through a visually-oriented task with words."

    "Sam and Dan Brown were the people who kept me on track and taught me how to do everything," Su says. Dan Brown is Pearson's senior engineer for blindness technologies who is also blind. "When things got tough, they helped me take a break."

    'I Think Math Will Be My New Passion'

    "For years, I told myself I'd never work in a math-related field," says Su. "Now, with a couple more years of learning and exposure to concepts, I think math will be my new passion."

    "This makes history for everyone involved," Su says. "For blind students and general education teachers who are working with these students in advanced math."eye to eye

    "What's important to understand is that 'accessibility' is not about technology," Su says. "'Accessibility' is made by people like Sam who tackle challenges and endeavor to fix them in ways no one has ever tried before."

    Su, now a junior in high school, still can't really believe the Accessible Equation Editor works so well.

    "It's our first chance to see eye to eye with sighted students in the classroom."

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