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  • Soccer, Math, and Family Time All Rolled Up Together in School

    by LearnEd

    Shot of a soccer team having a team talk

    An online high school helps a competitive soccer player

    excel on the field and in the classroom.

    blue quote box2

    A Soccer Prospect

    Chris Stowell's wingspan is more than six feet wide.

    He's six feet, three inches tall. He's also quick and has great hands.

    Put a bright jersey on him, and he becomes one of the top soccer goalkeepers in the pacific northwest—already competing in some of the country's most competitive tournaments.

    "Eventually, I want to go to the next level," Chris says. Which means making his way up the ranks to a team like Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers.

    "It finally gave me the flexibility to go to my tournaments AND do my school work either beforehand or afterwards," Chris says. "It was so easy to catch up."

    Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 10.56.19 AM

    A New Flexibility

    Chris' first two years in high school were at a local public school in Eugene, Oregon.

    "But I missed so much of school to go to all these soccer tournaments," he says. "I had to make up a lot of work and schedule a lot of tests with all my teachers."

    That changed once he started attending Oregon Connections Academy for his junior and senior year. It's a virtual charter school affiliated with the Santiam Canyon School District in Mill City, Oregon, that is available statewide to students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

    "It finally gave me the flexibility to go to my tournaments AND do my school work either beforehand or afterwards," Chris says. "It was so easy to catch up."

    'A Much Better Path'blue quote box2

    "I wasn't excited about Oregon Connections Academy at first," Chris says.

    "I really liked the social aspects of the public high school," he says. "I figured going to a virtual charter school would make me more socially isolated."

    But it didn't turn out that way.

    "I still stay in touch with my friends," Chris says. "And this kind of high school, for me, was the much better path."

    Slower Pace When Needed, Faster Pace When Wanted

    In addition to the flexibility Chris' new school allowed him and his athletic pursuits, Oregon Connections Academy made it possible for him to go through his studies at his own pace.

    "I really felt dragged down in math class in my old school," Chris says. "The slow pace was frustrating."

    "Other classes, I actually needed a slower pace," he says.

    "The curriculum was already laid out," Chris says. "I could look online and see exactly what I needed to do for each week and each month, charging through some subjects and going slower through others."

    Growing Up On the Field and Off

    Chris has matured as a soccer player over the years.

    "As a goalkeeper, you have to be a leader on the field," he says. "You tell people what to do, give them encouragement, hold them accountable."

    Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 10.54.48 AM

    Oregon Connections Academy brought out similar traits on the academic side of his life.

    "I really had to take charge of my education," Chris says. "No one was pushing me along or telling me what to do. I had to take charge of the completion of my studies."

    "I really had to take charge of my education," Chris says. "No one was pushing me along or telling me what to do. I had to take charge of the completion of my studies."

    Chris' mom, Julie, saw the same thing happening.

    "He matured a great deal," Julie says. "He got used to calling his teachers with questions and started to feel more comfortable contacting them to work out the balance between school and soccer."

    "It was really difficult for him at first," she says. "But I think the experience gives him a leg up in confidence compared to a similar experience in a traditional brick and mortar school."

    Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 4.11.27 PMCollege and the Road Ahead

    In the fall, Chris will go to college—majoring in math at Corban University in Salem, Oregon.

    His new soccer coach is also involved as a coach in the Portland Timbers organization.

    But one step at a time.

    Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 10.53.45 AM

    Chris is "a little bit nervous" about going off to school.

    "I'll be living on my own for the first time," he says. "I'm nervous about doing my own laundry," he jokes.

    "We'll visit often," Julie says. "He'll only be an hour away."

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  • Volunteers Knocking on Doors to Set Up Tucson Students for Success

    by LearnEd

    Photo of volunteers

    This is the latest in a series of stories about how the GradNation State Activation initiative is working to improve graduation rates.


    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    Setting Yourself Up for Success

    Before Ray Smith was a five-star recruit and a forward for the University of Arizona men's basketball team, he dropped out of high school.

    Now, he's committed to helping other young people avoid the same situation.

    "I try to tell these kids that if I can do it and be where I'm at today, they can do it too," he says. "School really isn't that hard; you just have to set yourself up for success."

    Reaching At-Risk Students, One Knock at a Time

    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    Ray recently joined the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, and 130 other community members for the Steps to Success program. It sends volunteers into local neighborhoods knocking on doors of students who had dropped out or were at risk of not returning for the new school year.

    The program is based on the idea that caring adults who reach out with kindness, honesty—and a little extra persuasion—can make a difference in a young student's life.

    This year, volunteers have visited nearly 200 homes and connected with 118 young people who had already given up on school.

    Steps to Success is run cooperatively by the Tucson Unified School District and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. These same leaders are also members of the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable, an initiative of WestEd.

    The Roundtable is one of three groups receiving funding from Pearson and America's Promise Alliance through the GradNation State Activation initiative.

    'They Just Need Help'

    As Ray Smith and his teammate Dusan Ristic recently knocked on doors, elated young people fumbled for their cameras and asked them to pose for photos.

    It was exactly the kind of strong connection with young people the program hopes to achieve.

    "It's just a matter of talking with these kids about where they are and how they've struggled," says Dr. H.T. Sánchez, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District. "To see these kids and hear their story—and know that the parents only want what's best for the kids."

    "They just need help," he says.

    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    meeting student 5.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    Beating the Odds of a Tough Personal Story

    H.T.'s father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

    Before becoming TUSD's superintendent, he was an 8th grade English teacher. He went on to serve as principal to elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

    H.T. uses his own story to tell students he meets that his path through education wasn't easy either.

    "I know what it's like to have the odds stacked against you," he says. "I also know what it's like with hard work and people that fight for you to succeed."

    "I was talking with one parent and told her how I worked and I went to school," he says. "It's tough, but on the other side, you can be very successful."

    The Learning Struggles of Immigrants

    About 64 percent of Tucson's student population during the 2015-2016 school year was Hispanic.

    H.T. knows that understanding their needs is imperative to creating support programs that work.

    He recalls struggling to learn English when he first came to this country—and being placed in a special program in school.

    "Just because a student speaks with an accent or has difficulty with the language today, doesn't mean cognitively they're slow or that they're impaired or they can't get it," H.T. says. "They're smart, they're very capable, and it's a matter of how do we close the gap of what we know is in their mind and in their heart and what they want to say, but that they just don't have the language to express," he says.

    meeting student 4.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    It Takes a Village

    Dropout prevention specialist John Kramkowski says building relationships with students in their homes is what sets apart the Steps to Success program.

    It builds connections.

    "Having done home visits, dropout prevention, and student services for years, a lot of people in our department know the power of a home visit," John says.

    "So the idea was to make this program a community-wide effort," he says, "knowing the impact of having an athlete, the mayor, law enforcement, politicians, or powerful members of our community would make this kind of visit even more valuable for families."

    "It truly does take a village," he says.

    A Passion for At-Risk Kids

    Most often, young people leave school because they need to work for their family, they lose interest, or they're failing and feel like recovery is impossible.

    meeting student 6.2
    Rick Scuteri / AP Images for Pearson

    And in most cases—parents are eager for their kids to go back.

    "We are advocates for the students, but the family as well," says TUSD dropout prevention specialist Claudia Valenzuela.

    So the Steps to Success program plans follow-up visits with every student reached to ensure they are true to their intentions and re-enroll in school.

    It's something for which the program participants are passionate.

    Claudia says: "Going to work every morning is something I really enjoy doing."

    The GradNation State Activation initiative is a collaboration between America's Promise Alliance and Pearson, working to increase high school graduation rates to 90 percent. The effort is building the capacity to raise graduation rates through the innovative approaches and initiatives of three grantees: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Minnesota Alliance With Youth, and WestEd, supporting the Arizona Mayors Education Roundtable.


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  • How Pokémon and Augmented Reality Can Change the Future of Learning

    by LearnEd

    Boy looking at his tablet device and smiling

    The Game Heard 'Round The World

    Kristen DiCerbo talks about her relationship with the immensely popular Pokémon Go app this way: "I've played, but I'm not spending hours of my day in the game."

    "I'm low—a level 5," she says.

    Kristen, Vice President of Education Research at Pearson, works to integrate learning science research into digital learning products - and she's been given a lot to think about by Pokémon Go.

    Augmented Reality Benefits (Beyond Catching 'Em All)

    By now, you're probably familiar with virtual reality (VR) where people are immersed in a digital world. Augmented Reality (AR) is a little different.

    "It takes the real world and layers a digital experience on top of it," Kristen explains.

    Pokémon Go is one recent example of this kind of experience, but Kristen says the technology has been around for several years.

    In 2007, an AR program called "Environmental Detectives" was piloted at the University of Wisconsin. Student "detectives" worked together to identify the source of a fictitious toxic spill in the local watershed.

    The program used GPS to detect where students took each of their water samples, and allowed them to track and analyze the data within the program.

    "That was the first time I heard about this type of education technology," Kristen says.

    Apply Later on

    Today's "Transfer" Leads to Tomorrow's Job Success

    The general context of augmented reality—taking a skill you learned in one context and applying it to another—has a name. Psychologists call it "transfer of learning."

    "This kind of transfer doesn't happen automatically," Kristen explains.

    "Just because you can write an essay about something or pass a test on the subject doesn't mean you really know it," she says. "Processing skills in new situations is how you actually learn."

    And that's where augmented reality can truly augment what kids learn in the classroom.

    Games for Change

    JetPackKristen isn't the only educator interested in how augmented reality can change the future of learning.

    In June, she spoke at the 13th annual Games for Change festival in New York City.

    For two days, attendees listened to speeches and panels, attended workshops and networking events—all related to the creation and distribution of social impact games that are part of wide-ranging humanitarian and educational efforts.

    No Longer Part of the 5-Year Plan

    "For a while, VR and AR were stuck on the five-year outlook. They were always on the horizon, but they never got any closer," Kristen says.

    She's referring to the New Media Consortium's Horizon Report, an annual report designed to identify emerging technologies likely to impact learning, teaching, and education in general.

    Pokémon Go is focused on fun, but future iterations of AR could certainly be more learning-focused like "Environmental Detectives."

    While the digital divide presents a distinct challenge (there is still a significant percentage of the globe without reliable internet access), Kristen is hopeful for the future of AR.

    "Finally, it's not just out there in the far future with the jetpacks," she says.

    "Pokémon Go has finally gotten people to say, 'okay, let's think about how this fits in with what we're doing in the classroom.'"

    Training the Next Generation Workforce

    "We want students to learn things that they can apply later on, to their jobs and careers," Kristen says.

    "We always talk about getting learning out of the classroom and into the real world," Kristen says. "AR allows teachers do that with their students."

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  • Connecting Learners and Employers With Digital Badges, Sometimes in Unexpected Ways

    by LearnEd

    Photo of a brewing room

    Becoming a More Competitive Job Applicant

    The fall term at Madison Area Technical College begins later this month in Madison, Wisconsin.


    The school's curriculum—aimed at both high school graduates and working adults going back to school—touts "hands-on opportunities" to "put the lessons you learn in class to work right away."

    Just a year-and-a-half ago, Madison College debuted an unusual new course offering:

    A Craft Brewing Certificate Program.

    It covers the basics of brewing, teaches key scientific information and provides hands-on brewing experience and beer flavor evaluation under the supervision of an experienced brewer. ...

    You do not need to pursue a certificate to take any of these courses and you do not need to formally enter any program to earn this certificate. You will automatically earn the certificate if you complete these required courses with satisfactory grades within three years. Students must be over 21.

    Local brewery Ale Asylum helped develop the course.

    When the program began, Kevin Appleton, continuing education craft brewing program director at Madison College, told The Capital Times:

    “If you’re a homebrewer and looking to bring up your game, this is perfect,” Appleton said. “We’re also looking for people who want to make a jump into the industry, to give them the skills and knowledge they need.”

    'What Are Your Skills Gaps?'

    "Madison Area Technical College approached local businesses and asked them 'What are your skill gaps and how can we help fill those gaps?'"says Pete Janzow who works on online badging program delivery with Pearson.

    "Local beer brewers said they needed more employees who understood their craft," he says.

    That conversation helped launch the Craft Brewing Certification class—a form of digital badge—that's offered to students as a possible "ticket to a future in brewing."

    "More and more companies are getting together by industry and talking about skills their employees need," Pete says. "And we're helping learners take advantage of the emerging badging programs to get better jobs."

    "In some industries, skill areas are moving faster than the businesses can handle," Pete says. "Old certification models can't keep up."

    Learning That Matters to Economies

    "In some industries, skill areas are moving faster than the businesses can handle," Pete says. "Old certification models can't keep up."

    "So digital badging programs that have now been around for a while are helping students learn these new skills," he says. "And these classes are producing educational opportunities and graduates that matter to local economies."


    Creating Badges That Mean Something

    Pete says digital badges in internet advertising, digital marketing, and cloud computing are also examples of "non-traditional" badges, created to keep up with fast-moving industries.

    "Things are evolving so quickly," Pete says. "And not only are we seeing learners take advantage of these badging programs, we're seeing more and more industries setting up consortiums to define standard skill sets."

    "Because anybody can create a digital badge credential and award it to whomever they choose," he says.

    "We're involved to make sure that these badges are resume-worthy," Pete says, "so they solve workplace problems."

    “We’re involved to make sure that these badges are resume-worthy,” Pete says, “so they solve workplace problems.”

    Capella University is now offering digital badges for students completing its National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security designated master's program.

    Students completing these degrees use them in roles that include information assurance and security, network defense, and digital forensic specializations.

    "Digital badges complement our master's in information assurance and security program," says Bill Dafnis who is Capella's dean of technology, "because they are secure, verifiable, and provide full context of the capabilities our students bring to an employer."

    Pete Janzow says it's the latest example of how an online badging program can "connect higher education and employability."

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  • A Teenager Graduates High School and Community College at the Same Time, and the Online Learning That Made It Possible

    by LearnEd

    Kate Croteau

    A Door Opens for a Non-Traditional Student

    Kate Croteau spent the month of May walking in two graduations, earning a high school diploma AND an associates degree from a community college.

    She has always been a non-traditional student.

    Kate was home-schooled in elementary school and switched to online charter schools for middle and high school.

    But it wasn't until a teacher from Ohio Connections Academy, an online charter school serving students in grades K-12 across Ohio, suggested she start taking college-level courses when her studies really took off.

    Finally Challenged

    "I was bored in freshman English," Kate says. "I wasn't being challenged and my high school teacher suggested a program called College Credit Plus."

    The program allows high school students to take college courses for credit that still count towards high school graduation.

    "Instead of English 10 in high school, I started taking English Composition 1 then 2 at North Central State College," she says.

    And Kate says the experience finally gave her the challenge that she wanted academically.

    Mixing High School with Community College

    It was a gradual process.

    She took all high school classes during her freshman year. Then a few college-level classes were mixed in her sophomore year.

    Pretty soon, she was taking all college-level courses—that also counted towards her high school diploma—in math, science, psychology, sociology, English, and other disciplines.

    "There was a huge difference between high school and college," Kate says. "And I loved the new, accelerated pace at North Central State."

    Her high school courses had all been online. Now she was taking some of her college courses IN physical classrooms on campus.

    Lauds and Honors

    "I've always done well in my classes," Kate says. "I took an economics course at North Central State, however, that went just whooooosh."

    "I was definitely under water that semester," she says.

    Kate still excelled academically.

    Through Ohio Connections Academy, she was inducted into the National Honor Society.

    Kate was one of three salutatorians in her high school class.

    ("I loved those live induction ceremonies over the years," she says. "I realized I wasn't the world's only high school overachiever.")

    At North Central State, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. It's the nation's oldest academic honor society.

    She graduated with an associates degree in liberal arts of psychology.

    Still, Kate's flexible schedule also allowed for time to be active with the Girl Scouts, the 4H Club, guitar lessons—she writes lyrics when she can, and has been teaching herself piano for "the last couple of years."

    One of Kate's unfinished lyrics:

    I will not follow you around

    Not without a call

    I will not expose my wandering soul

    I will not pretend to be helpless

    Which one's the lie? I'd like you to take the best guess

    A prize if you're right

    A blank stare if you're either

    'Friends for Life'

    "When I started working as an English tutor at North Central State, I started making friends for life," Kate says.

    "We were a bunch of stressed-out college students who were sleep-deprived and broke," she says. "All this brought us together."

    Kate started to get involved with the deaf community in her community.

    She's partially deaf in one ear and has lost most of her hearing in the other.


    "I became really attached to the deaf community," Kate says. "And I love using American Sign Language."

    Kate was familiar with the challenges for hearing-impaired students in traditional classrooms:

    * she was given preferential seating in the front row of classrooms,

    * she needed transcripts for all audio and video files played in class,

    * and she often needed outlines before professors delivered traditional lectures so she could follow along and stay on top of words that were unfamiliar.

    Her experience has motivated her to help others.

    This fall, she'll begin classes at Kent State University to focus on speech pathology and audiology.

    The Next Academic Adventure

    Kate says she feels a bit of pressure to be such an academic super gal.

    "I couldn't have gotten this far without the support of my family," she says. "Because of the various accommodations I needed in class, we had to fight for things every so often."

    "I'm looking forward to being normal at Kent State," Kate says. "I'm looking forward to doing well academically, being active on campus, being a leader in the community—with normal expectations like normal people."

    And her next academic adventure begins in late August when she moves in to her Kent State dorm.

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