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  • How Do We Give Learners Better Access to Opportunity?

    by LearnEd

    Graduation ceremony

     

    Urgent Questions

    This is an opinion piece from the chief executive of Pearson, John Fallon.

    Pearson CEO John Fallon observes students during the Pearson Hour of Code session last spring at Frank Tejeda Middle School in San Antonio. (Darren Abate/AP Images for Pearson)

    The Critical Questions

    As I travel the world talking to students and educators, the most urgent questions I hear are variations on the same themes: How do I create a better life for myself and my children? What is the social compact that gets us all there, and who is responsible for creating it?

    These questions are fundamental to achieving the American dream—a dream that resonates worldwide.

    These critical questions are also at the core of many Americans’ concerns that economic progress is out of reach and that the dream is fleeting now more than ever. These concerns have surfaced more urgently within the context of the Presidential campaign, and have been foundational to candidates’ views on both sides of the aisle.

    Do we have a chance to succeed?

    To understand the dynamics that underlie these concerns, Pearson conducted a poll with the Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series, seeking to examine Americans’ views on these issues. (See some of our findings at the end of this post.)

    The results were revealing: More people than ever believe they don’t have a reasonable shot at creating opportunity in this country. Shockingly, and in contrast to the basic tenets core to the United States, fewer than half of all Americans—just 44%—believe that anyone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed.

    When you start to break this down along demographic lines, faith in the promise of American opportunity becomes even more strained. Fewer than 40% of African Americans believe that someone who works hard has a fair chance to succeed. The research shows that Asian and Hispanic Americans are still hanging on to the American dream, but are only marginally more confident that they have a real shot at success.

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    The Promise of Education

    While this data is discouraging, there is hope.

    The poll results evidenced a shared view in the promise of education and the belief that if people have access to education designed specifically to improve their skills, their views of the opportunity would improve.

    Almost three-quarters of Americans –72%– believe they would be able to get a better job or a higher paying job with more education or training. Two-thirds of Americans believe the economy would improve by increasing the number of well-trained workers and people see investment in education as the best way to improve the economy.

    It’s clear that people of all backgrounds see education as the gateway to a better life.

    Access to Jobs, Better Opportunity

    While educators, policymakers and employers are key in helping people prepare for the workforce, companies who are focused on education, like Pearson, have an important role to play.

    Building the tools to lead people to better jobs and a better life is fundamental to Pearson’s mission. We’re especially focused on closing the skills gap to give people more access to jobs and better opportunity.

    At schools like Texas Southmost College in the Rio Grande Valley, we are providing digital curriculum that prepares graduates for high tech and health care jobs in their local communities.

    Across the nation, we are working with colleges and universities to move degree programs online, often putting up the capital to get these programs off the ground.

    And, we are supporting adult learners with the GED and our professional testing services.

    The Dream Is In Reach

    There are urgent educational and economic needs across this country. That is never more evident than when people feel opportunity is out of reach, and the American Dream is out of sight.

    Together we can meet these challenges and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.

    John Fallon is chief executive of Pearson, the world’s leading learning company. 


    Some findings from the Pearson poll with the Atlantic Media as part of their “Next America” series:

    Next America Poll - San Antonio (16)
    Next America Poll - San Antonio (15)
    Next America Poll - San Antonio (7)
    Next America Poll - San Antonio (22)
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  • What a 'Bag of Stuff' Can Tell Us About the Future of Assessments

    by LearnEd

    Kids in craft class
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    A Different Kind of Question

    "I knew something had clicked when the groups just jumped right in," says Lisa Maurer.

    Lisa helps run Kids CoLab at Pearson with design centers in Chandler, Arizona and Hoboken, New Jersey. Kids and adults collaborate together each week to field test existing learning tools, learning concepts, and learning research—and brainstorm new ones.

    "This time, their ideas started sprouting instantaneously."

    Lisa is referring to a recent series of sessions at the two centers when designers were asked to think and dream about the future of assessments.

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    Today Before Tomorrow

    "At first, kids had trouble thinking about the concept of assessments in ways that went beyond school and tests and homework assignments and quizzes,"says Elizabeth Bercovitz, a Usability and Participatory Design Research Associate at Pearson.

    "So we started writing out ideas on a big piece of paper," Elizabeth says. "We talked about assessments, what they are, and what they look like."

    Kids and adults collaborate together at the Kids CoLab in Hoboken, New Jersey.
    Kids and adults collaborate together at the Kids CoLab in Hoboken, New Jersey.

    "We asked, 'How is a piano recital a kind of assessment?' And, 'How do you demonstrate to someone you know how to play basketball in the same way you demonstrate to a teacher you know how to add numbers?'"

    Elizabeth and Lisa and the rest of their colleagues used those conversations to understand what kids were thinking about assessments now—before turning to what kids think assessments should be.

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    'Bags of Stuff'

    Once kids at the design centers were primed about assessments in a broad sense, facilitators broke out the 'bags of stuff.'

    These were bags full of art supplies like pipe cleaners, beads, paper clips, styrofoam balls, fabric string—everything was without a specific label or function.

    collaboration

    The bags also contained recyclable materials like lids from milk containers or old produce containers—any three-dimensional object that could inspire the building process.

    "It’s all about the kids and adults working together and we intentionally remove all the regular power dynamics to smooth the process," Lisa says. "They build on each other’s ideas and, in the end, it’s impossible to know who started with the idea in the first place."

    "This kind of approach helps the groups generate ideas that break the mold," she says.

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    dumped out

    Seeing Patterns

    Out of the 'bags of stuff,' kids and adults in groups of five or six started to assemble what the CoLab calls 'artifacts,' the make-believe future assessment design concepts they would eventually share with the other groups. (See some of their artifacts lower in this story.)

    "As the kids and adults dumped out their bags, that's when the ideas started," Lisa says. "Something in your hand could suddenly be anything. A styrofoam ball isn't a styrofoam ball anymore, it's a mind reader."

    This kind of cooperative inquiry has roots among learning scientists in the 1970s, and Lisa's group grounds much of its CoLab process in decades of research generated at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

    "Right away, we started seeing patterns," says Elizabeth Bercovitz. "One group started coming up with an idea while a different group came up with a similar idea on their own."

    "There were powerful themes that came out of the session," she says.

    Assessments of the Future

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  • Training and Rewards for Great Teachers

    by LearnEd

    Students in class

    Today in Washington, D.C., the National Network for State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), releases a new study called "Teacher Advancement Initiatives: Lessons Learned from Eight Case Studies." It's a review of what's working to train teachers, keep teachers—and improve student outcomes. Kathy McKnight who appears in this LearnED article is a presenter at today's event.


     

    What Teachers 'Care About Most'

    "Teaching is the hardest job in the world to do well," says Ph.D. Kathy McKnight who leads Pearson's Center for Educator Learning and Effectiveness.

    "I find it frustrating that we expect so much out of teachers," she says, "but we don't pay them very well and we just keep piling on what they're supposed to do."

    Kathy has just collaborated with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and others to highlight programs around the country that reward teachers for gaining expertise in the profession—while ensuring they're able to stay in the classroom.

    "That's what teachers tell us they care most about," Kathy says. "They want to continue teaching while learning more and contributing to the field."

    Career Ladder Programs That Work

    "Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative" is the name of the report co-authored by Kathy and others. It explores national and statewide efforts to make room for career ladder programs for classroom teachers that both recognize good talent and reward expertise at the same time.

    The most successful programs include multi-tiered certification systems, leadership training and opportunities, as well as licensing programs that are linked to teacher effectiveness. In these programs, teachers help train each other, building each other up.

    In the end, says Kathy, better teaching means better learning.

    "The number one influence on any student's learning that's within the control of the school is the quality of teaching," Kathy says.

    "Traditionally, teachers who wanted to grow in their profession or move up the career ladder had to leave the classroom and become a principal or school administrator."

    Staying in the Profession

    The focus on building up the quality of the teacher workforce comes with challenges.

    "Any career ladder program has to align with district and state policies, even the culture within a school," Kathy says.

    Kathy says money has to be involved in the process, too. "You have to find a way to reward expertise financially," she says.

    "Some of the teachers we interviewed told us they were thinking about leaving the profession," Kathy says. "But they've stayed in the classroom because of these new opportunities to learn and be recognized and rewarded for what they're already doing so well."

    The "Teacher Career Pathways" report says this about the future of the teaching profession:

    "Largely due to anticipated teacher retirements, Generation Y (defined as those individuals born between 1977 and 1995) teachers are projected to make up nearly half of the educator workforce by 2020. ... Without structural changes to the teaching profession—including better working conditions, competitive compensation, flexibility and career staging—it will be increasingly difficult to attract and retain enough highly motivated and qualified teachers into the profession."

    It follows that good teachers create positive learning environments, and positive learning environments promote better learning and student outcomes.

    "This is really important to me personally," Kathy says. "I care about learners in the education system—and we need to invest carefully in what our teachers do."

    teacher feedback

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  • How Blind Students Are Learning at the Speed of Math

    by LearnEd

    Braille answer sheet

    A graphic that shows "math the old way" and "math the new way," highlighting how students who are blind and visually impaired are now closer than ever before to receiving just-in-time feedback from teachers during math class.

     

    A quote from Dr. Abraham Nemeth, Developer of The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation: "I wanted to take math courses. My counselors said it was not a viable option for a blind person. There is not way to write mathematics, there is no way to read mathematics, and you'd better pick a different field."

    The Dawn of Teaching Math to Blind Students

    In 1952, Abraham Nemeth was instrumental in publishing The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation. It eventually caught on across the country as a standard—and straightforward—method of teaching mathematics to blind and visually impaired students using braille.

    For the first time, every mathematical notation—numbers, symbols, operators, functions, modifiers, fractions, and other signs—had a corresponding code, using braille's six fundamental dots.

    "The process of translating instructional materials into braille, then translating a student's classwork from braille back to print is an inefficient process that often takes a few days."

    "The Nemeth code was a huge breakthrough," says Jan McSorley, who is the Head of Accessibility for the Pearson Assessment Center. "But there was still a challenge: students who are blind or visually impaired were never able to get just-in-time feedback during classroom math lessons."

    Sam Dooley, Senior Development Manager for Pearson, explains it this way:

    "In a normal math class setting, your teacher writes on the chalkboard or the white board and explains concepts with visual cues and instructions. Students who are blind can't see the content on the board unless it's translated into Nemeth code. Not all teachers are fully fluent in braille. So the process of translating instructional materials into braille, then translating a student's classwork from braille back to print is an inefficient process that often takes a few days."

    'Not the Norm'

    "To be successful in math as a totally blind student," says Dan Brown, a Senior Quality Assurance Engineer for Blindness Technologies at Pearson, "you must have a phenomenal working memory."

    "You'd have to be able to hold large parts of equations in your mind without writing it down," Dan says. "But that's not the norm, not everybody can do complex math without reading and writing it. This reality means that whole groups of students are often excluded from science, technology, engineering, and math courses."

    "It's technology that allows students using braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer."For the First Time: Learning at the Speed of Math

    Sam Dooley, Dan Brown, and a group of Pearson colleagues are now developing software and hardware that jumps over all these challenges.

    It's called the Accessible Equation Editor, and, for now, it's helping make assessment tests more accessible to students who are blind and visually impaired.

    Math problems that are presented to students on a computer screen through a web browser are quickly translated into corresponding braille codes on the keys of a "refreshable braille device." This device is a specialized keyboard built with braille pins that are raised and lowered as directed by the system's software. This allows teachers and the other learners in class to work on math problems with students who are blind without the barrier of translating Nemeth code to print math and vice versa—virtually in real time.

    Sam Dooley says: "It's technology that allows students using braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer."

     

    Solutions for the Blind, from the Blind

    User testing of the Accessible Equation Editor was conducted at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Kentucky School for the Blind.

    Pearson hired two students who are blind to help with the product's development. High school student Su Park ran the system through hundreds and hundreds of math problems to check the accuracy of the Nemeth code translations. Edgar Lozano, who is studying computer science at Texas State University, served as a JavaScript programmer and was instrumental in working out how computers communicated with the refreshable braille device.

    A quote: "We hope to open up STEM fields to whole groups of learners who never had access to these kinds of classes before."

    "The devil is in the details for any project like this," says Dan Brown. "We needed a group of people to get this done, all with a variety of expertise and personalities."

    "Our hope," Dan says, "is our collective effort can now open up STEM fields to whole groups of learners who never had access to these kinds of classes before."

     

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  • An Imaginative Journey for Read Across America Day

    by LearnEd

    Kids reading in line

    The Royal Mint's Peter Rabbit coin. Photograph: Royal Mint/PA

    A New Honor for an Old Friend

    We're celebrating Read Across America Day.

    A beloved American author—born this month in 1904—helps us mark this special day in a moment.

    First—a one-of-a-kind symbol of the work of another author loved by readers and learners across the globe: Beatrix Potter.

    The United Kingdom's Royal Mint has decided to put the unforgettable face of Peter Rabbit on the front of a special 50 pence coin.

    Beatrix Potter first published "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" in the early 1900s. She'd written it originally as a story for the five-year-old boy of a close friend and former governess.

    The Royal Mint is offering a whole variety of collectibles in tandem with the printed Peter Rabbit coin.

    Read Across America Day

    50 pence in the U.K. is about 70 cents here in the U.S.

    And on behalf of Read Across America Day, we offer these priceless bits of imagination to read for pleasure from Dr. Seuss!

     

    Dr. Seuss 1 Editorial-Insta
    Dr. Seuss 2 Editorial-Insta
    Dr. Seuss 3 Editorial-Insta
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