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• ## The Ah-Ha Moment: Mapping Out the Steps of Learning

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Somewhere between third and fourth grade, most students learn that area is calculated by multiplying length and width. It's a formula that's easy enough to memorize ... but it's also a formula that many students don't fully understand.

"Many students know the area formula length times width, but don't know that a square unit is the unit of measure for area," says Jennifer Kobrin, a senior research scientist at Pearson. "A full conceptual understanding of area involves knowledge that the area formula yields a count of the square units that cover a shape."

"Students gain this understanding by first learning to count individual units, then progressing to more sophisticated strategies that involve multiplication of rows and columns. Putting it all together requires moving through these stages one step at a time."

## Learning Progressions

Jennifer and her colleagues are mapping out these steps of learning.

They're working to understand HOW children learn the concepts associated with complex topics like area, from basic concepts to more abstract concepts:

"These 'learning progressions' are based on research on student learning," Jennifer says. "They can be used to develop map that gives teachers new insight about how students think about problems."

## Classroom Pilot Programs

More than a dozen classrooms around the U.S. and Australia participated in research about learning progressions. Teachers participated in professional development on the learning progressions and used progression-related classroom activities, performance tasks, and even a digital game called Alice in Arealand to gain a better understanding about the stages their students had mastered on the concept of area measurement—and the stages that still needed work.

"It's an integrated learning system," Jennifer says. "And the main takeaway is that we can assess students without explicitly testing them."

"Our thinking goes like this: if you have a learning system built around learning progressions," Jennifer says, "students will learn better."

"Traditional assessments show whether students know a standard," Jennifer says. "Teaching with learning progressions helps us understand and enrich what students are thinking."

## Alice in Arealand

For nearly two years, Jennifer and her colleagues have been using a game to help understand students' thinking with regard to the learning progression on area measurement. It's part of an integrated learning system that involves classroom activities, performance tasks, and professional development.

The game is called 'Alice in Arealand'—and you can play it online here. Early levels challenge learners with basic concepts about area. Later levels get more difficult.

Kids love it. And teachers can know, in real time, what students are learning and where students need help.

"Teachers may not always know why a student is having a difficult time with a concept in class," Jennifer says. "This kind of approach gives teachers new clarity about what kids are thinking and how to help them get to the next stage in their learning."

• ## VIDEO: How Pearson Does Its Assessments

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We posted a video earlier this month about the people *behind* Pearson's assessments. These are the folks who scored over 130 million student responses this year.

We've produced another video for this series about assessments—about HOW Pearson people conduct assessments.

Some folks had questions about the process. They were posted on our Parents, Kids, and Learning Facebook page.

• ## News Update from a Minnesota School Raising Graduation Rates

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There is news today from the Department of Education with comment from America's Promise Alliance that high school graduation rates are at the highest they've ever been. Still, large numbers of students are falling through the cracks: students of color, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Here's a quick update on a partnership between Pearson and America's Promise to help communities raise graduation rates for students who often fall through the cracks.

## Pushing the Boundaries of Personalized Learning

"We pride ourselves on strong relationships with students," says Alexia Poppy-Finley, Assistant Supervisor of Academics at West Education Center Alternative school in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

"And these relationships help us push the boundaries in personalized learning."

Consider a recent chemistry unit on essential oils. One of Alexia's colleagues heard students ask again and again about these oils. Something about the topic seemed to have piqued their curiosity.

"Many of our young people are our care and treatment students, leaving their residential programs in the morning to spend the educational portion of the day with us," Alexia says. "They might have heard about oils like lavender used as a pathway to support treatment for depression or anxiety."

So Alexia's chemistry colleague crafted an entire project-based learning unit on essential oils. They studied where they come from, what they do to our senses, and how they can help with therapy—all while connecting back to chemistry standards.

Another colleague, a biology forensics teacher, recently helped his students study cancer and why it seems to affect so many people.

## "They're Starting to Get Anxious"

It's an approach that helps the teachers and staff at West Education Center Alternative address the whole student, Alexia says, and respond to emotional and social as well as academic needs.

When students and teachers gathered this week to celebrate some recent accomplishments, Alexia says "things were different, the energy was different."

"Over the holidays, some of our students will be leaving the safety and security we're building here at school—and entering situations outside of school that are more challenging," Alexia says. "They're starting to get anxious."

"We're working hard to keep our normal routines between now and break," Alexia says. "That way we can minimize anxiety and stress."

## Clarity About What's Working, What's Not Working

The pictures of students on this page were taken at the West Education Center, just south of Minneapolis. We wrote about how the Center and other schools are reaching out to students in their community who might be on the verge of dropping out.

Pearson has partnered with the America's Promise organization to fund and assist these programs in Minnesota and elsewhere. The collaboration was launched this fall.

"The first thing I noticed, was that the class had only three students," says Hillary Stroud. She was in Minnesota recently as a Media and Communities Manager for Pearson, paying a visit to classrooms working hard to graduate the kinds of students who've been tough to graduate.

"Smaller classes mean teachers can tailor their lessons to student needs, even individualize classroom rules," Hillary says. "It also means teachers can spend more time with their students one on one."

"The partnership puts equal focus on addressing the needs of the whole child as well as research," says Stacy Skelly, who is a Director of Media Relations at Pearson.

"This allows us to have pretty good clarity about what's working, what's not working—and about how we might scale these kinds of programs to every state."