STEAM Adds The Arts Into STEM

A wall in a technology classroom at Canton Ohio’s Hartford Middle School.

STEM education–that’s science, technology, engineering, and math–has gotten an increasing amount of buzz over the past few years.

And now, there’s a twist on STEM: the addition of the arts, making it STEAM.

Supporters (including Elmo) say a more focused inclusion of the arts helps kids become creative, hands-on learners by sparking innovation.

A recent Michigan State study supports that notion, pointing to a higher number of patents created and businesses launched by adults who participated in arts and crafts in their younger years.

But the STEAM model’s still relatively new – and unproven.

Listen to the Radio Story on NPR.

Read the entire story on NPR State Impact at

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5 Steps to a Digital Professional Development Makeover

Education leaders suggest creating a diverse menu of professional development options for educators to choose from. Basheer Tome Flickr 2.0 CC license

As technology continues to be a critical part of education today, education leaders are looking for ways to make professional development more relevant.

Traditionally, educators don’t want to go through district-mandated professional development. And the type of training they receive doesn’t always work for them. One principal likened the current training options to a restaurant menu that only includes one appetizer and one entree.

“Most often it’s a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s mandated from the top down, it is boring, irrelevant, costs too much money; and is sometimes associated with a flavor-of-the-month type of initiative,” said Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in Bergen County, New Jersey. “There’s no follow-through.”

Sheninger and others are setting out to change how learning happens among educators with a digital makeover that consists of at least five steps.

1. Create a sustainable professional development plan
In the first step of this makeover, it’s important to take a big picture look at where professional learning is now, where it should go and how to get there. Professional development isn’t a box to be checked off after a conference or one-day workshop with a consultant. Instead, it’s an ongoing process of learning every day, throughout the day.

2. Provide informal learning opportunities with the help of technology
Learning may look different depending on the person, the school’s resources and the academic goals that schools set. But that’s the point: Quality training allows educators to pick options from a diverse menu, self-direct their informal learning time to meet their needs and learn through a method that works for them.

3. Design professional development around an academic content area  
While it’s easy to focus an entire formal training session on a cool technology tool, it’s more important to put an academic content area at the center of professional development efforts. Then staff members can demonstrate how technology tools can help educators reach academic content goals, said Craig Blackburn, director of technology programs and instructional support for Santa Clara County Office of Education in California.

4. Combine traditional, blended and virtual learning experiences
A different approach to professional development gives educators flexibility in how and when they learn. Traditional face-to-face, blended and virtual learning all provide unique advantages and can be mashed up to provide learning opportunities that cater to different people’s needs, Sheninger said.

5. Train the academic content trainers how to model technology use
When it comes to academic content, curriculum coordinators who work in different subject areas don’t always know how to use technology to support what they’re teaching educators. They’ll call up Mike Lawrence, executive director of CUE, to go through the technical components, but he’ll politely say “no.” Instead, he’ll guide them as they figure out the digital tools so they can effectively model technology use to other educators during training sessions.

Final thoughts
Ultimately, Sheninger hopes to see a professional development model created that is relevant, meaningful and self-sustaining. What else do you want to see in a makeover of professional development?

Read the entire article by Tonya Roscorla at the Center for Digital Education at

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3 Ways to Prepare Teachers for a Digital Transition

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A back-to-school conversation with teachers and school leaders

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

As teachers gear up for a new school year, I want to offer two thoughts. One is a message of celebration and thanks. The other is a response to a concern that has come up often in many conversations with teachers and families, and which deserves an answer.

First, the thanks. America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements in the last year — the highest high-school graduation rate in the nation’s history, and sharp cuts in dropout rates and increases in college enrollment, especially for groups that in the past have lagged significantly. For these achievements, we should celebrate America’s teachers, principals and students and their families. These achievements are also indications of deeper, more successful relationships with our students. All of us who’ve worked with young people know how much they yearn for adults to care about them and know them as individuals.

These achievements come at a time of nearly unprecedented change in American education — which entails enormously hard work by educators. Nearly every state has adopted new standards, new assessments, new approaches to incorporating data on student learning, and new efforts to support teachers.

This transition represents the biggest, fastest change in schools nationwide in our lifetime. And these efforts are essential to prepare kids to succeed in an age when the ability to think critically and creatively, communicate skillfully, and manipulate ideas fluently is vital. I have heard from many teachers that they have not received all the support they’d want during this transition. Yet America’s teachers are making this change work — and I want to recognize and thank them for that and encourage their leadership in this time of change.

That’s the easy part of this message. The harder part has to do with concerns that many teachers have brought to my door.

My team and I hold regular conversations with teachers, principals and other educators, often led by Teacher and Principal Ambassador Fellows, who take a year away from their schools to advise my agency. Increasingly, in those conversations, I hear concerns about standardized testing.

Assessment of student progress has a fundamental place in teaching and learning — few question that teachers, schools and parents need to know what progress students are making. And few question the particular importance of knowing how our most vulnerable students are progressing. Indeed, there’s wide recognition that annual assessments — those required by federal law — have done much to shine a light on the places and groups of students most in need of help. Yet in too many places, it’s clear that the yardstick has become the focus.

There are three main issues I’ve heard about repeatedly from educators:

  • It doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable during this transition year for results on the new assessments — a test many of them have not seen before — and as many are coming up to speed with new standards.
  • The standardized tests they have today focus too much on basic skills, not enough on critical thinking and deeper learning.
  • Testing — and test preparation — takes up too much time.

I share these concerns. And I want our department to be part of the solution.

To those who are reading the last sentence with surprise, let me be clear: assessment is a vital part of teaching and learning, but it should be one part (and only one part) of how adults hold themselves responsible for students’ progress. Schools, teachers and families need and deserve clear, useful information about how their students are progressing. As a parent of two children in public school, I know I want that. And in fact, most teachers and principals I talk with want to be held responsible for students’ progress — through a sensible, smart combination of factors that reflect their work with students — not the level students came in at, or factors outside of their control.

But assessment needs to be done wisely. No school or teacher should look bad because they took on kids with greater challenges. Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone — always on a mix of measures — which could range from classroom observations to family engagement indicators. In Nevada, educators include a teacher’s contribution to the school community in their measures; in Hawaii, schools consider student feedback surveys and professional growth, such as leading workshops or taking university coursework). Educators in Delaware look at measures of planning and preparation such as lesson plans and descriptions of instructional strategies to be used for students with diverse needs. Federal policy rightly stays out of picking those individual measures, but ensures that in evaluating teachers, states and districts include student growth, and consider multiple measures.

But the larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools. Educators work all day to inspire, to intrigue, to know their students — not just in a few subjects, and not just in “academic” areas. There’s a whole world of skills that tests can never touch that are vital to students’ success. No test will ever measure what a student is, or can be. It’s simply one measure of one kind of progress. Yet in too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support.

I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools — oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support and more. This is one of the biggest changes education in this country has ever seen, and teachers who’ve worked through it have told me it’s allowed them to become the best teachers they’ve ever been. That change needs educators’ full attention.

That’s why we will be taking action in the coming weeks that give states more flexibility in key areas that teachers have said are causing worry.

States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition. As we always have, we’ll work with them in a spirit of flexibility to develop a plan that works, but typically I’d expect this to mean that states that request this delay will push back by one year (to 2015-16) the time when student growth measures based on new state assessments become part of their evaluation systems — and we will work with states seeking other areas of flexibility as well.

We want to make sure that they are still sharing growth data with their teachers, and still moving forward on the other critical pieces of evaluation systems that provide useful feedback to educators. We will be working in concert with other educators and leaders to get this right. These changes are incredibly important, and educators should not have to make them in an atmosphere of worry. Some states will choose to take advantage of that flexibility; others, especially those that are well along in this transition, will not need a delay.

The bottom line is that educators deserve strong support as our schools make vital, and urgently needed, changes. As many educators have pointed out, getting this right rests also on high-quality assessments. Many educators, and parents, have made clear that they’re supportive of assessment that measures what matters — but that a lot of tests today don’t do that — they focus too much on basic skills rather than problem solving and critical thinking. That’s why we’ve committed a third of a billion dollars to two consortia of states working to create new assessments that get beyond the bubble test, and do a better job of measuring critical thinking and writing.

I’m concerned, too, when I see places where adults are gaming tests, rather than using them to help students.

And we also need to recognize that in many places, the sheer quantity of testing — and test prep — has become an issue. In some schools and districts, over time tests have simply been layered on top of one another, without a clear sense of strategy or direction. Where tests are redundant, or not sufficiently helpful for instruction, they cost precious time that teachers and kids can’t afford. Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress. This issue is a priority for us, and we’ll continue to work throughout the fall on efforts to cut back on over-testing.

There’s plenty of responsibility to share on these challenges, and a fair chunk of that sits with me and my department. We encouraged states to move a whole lot of changes simultaneously, because of the enormous urgency to raise standards and improve systems of teacher support — not for another generation of students, but for today’s students.

But in how this change happens, we need to listen carefully to the teachers, principals and other educators who are living it on a daily basis — and we need to be true to our promise to be tight on outcomes, but loose on how we get there.

From my first day on this job, the objective has been to work in a spirit of flexibility to help states and communities improve outcomes for kids. We need to make changes, but we are also making progress. I’m determined that, working in partnership, we’ll continue to do both – be flexible and make progress for our kids.

Change is hard, and changes of significance rarely work exactly as planned. But in partnership, making course alterations as necessary, we will get there.

Originally posted by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, on SmartBlog on Education at

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How Next Gen Learning Boosts Rigor, Relevance & Relationships

A recent NY Times post made the obvious point that relationships matter to learning but incorrectly suggested that reformers and innovators don’t appreciate “bonds of caring between teachers and their students.” I’ve found the opposite to be true.

The author argued for “tried and true” but when two thirds of American kids don’t get what they need from our schools (and communities), they deserve improvement and innovations that (to borrow from Big Picture) boost rigor, relevance and relationships.

As recently noted, it was talent development and new school development that led to improvement in achievement and completion over the last 20 years. These reforms were grounded in sustained relationships with great teachers. Thousands of new and transformed schools were created based on the fact that, for most of students, learning is relational. Expectations expressed through sustained relationships in a powerful culture are those that matter. For young people, the opportunity to be around adults they can imagine becoming (to paraphrase Deborah Meier) is invaluable. Teachers, and great teaching, matters more than ever.

However, these improvement efforts have relied heavily on heroic efforts to optimizing an obsolete system based on textbooks and birthdays. The opportunity set to boost engagement, personalize pathways, and sustain relationships improves every month with new tools and next gen learning models–schools that work better for students and teachers.

All the top school networks and most school districts have come to realize the limitations of the old model and the potential of blending the best of online learning with teacher-led instruction. National new school design competitions like Next Generation Learning Challenges and local innovation incubators like 4.0 Schools in New Orleans underscore the opportunity at the intersection of organizational design thinking and technology development. For a great example of an innovative school model and platform, read about Summit Denali.

Innovations that boost rigor. The Literacy Design Collaborative is an online open resource for writing across the curriculum. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have plugged into online professional learning communities in support of higher expectations.

Innovations that boost relevance. Blended learning is helping engage students and boosting motivation. A February paper, Deeper Learning For Every Student Every Day, profiled 20 schools that use technology to support project-based learning.

Making stuff can get kids excited about careers. There is a growing range of K-12 coding resources, Maker Faire and and DIY activities. Baltimore’s Digital Harbor Foundation is making hands-on learning available after school and during the summer. Project Lead The Way offers applied hands-on STEM learning in engineering, biomedical science, and computer, along with post-secondary credit for students who qualify.

Innovations that boost relationships. New secondary schools usually include an advisory structure–a distributed counseling system. As discussed in Core & More, the best student guidance systems are blended (leveraging technology and in-person instruction and services), distributed (leveraging staff in addition to school counselors), and scheduled (utilizing an advisory period) to ensure effective implementation and attainment of outcomes. They must connect academic preparation, thought patterns, interests and learning to students’ college and career aspirations. The infographic summarizes 10 benefits students should expect from secondary guidance.

Read the entire article by Tom Vander Ark on Getting Smart at

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News and Updates from the US DOE

E-Rate Modernization FNPRM
On July 11, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the E-rate Modernization Order and on July 23, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) was released. The FNPRM requests comment on a number of issues crucial to states, including meeting future funding needs, ensuring multi-year contracts are efficient, standardizing the collection of National School Lunch Program (NSLP) data, encouraging consortium participation, and ensuring support for libraries is sufficient. Comments are due to the FCC by September 15 and the reply comment date is September 30. For the official summary of the Order, please see: Click through to our Federal Education Policy discussion group for a series of useful links providing information about up-to-date E-Rate Modernization topics: FCC: Moving Forward with a Data-Driven E-rate Modernization Process.

Student Data Guidance 
In guidance issued by the U.S. Department Of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, schools and districts are urged to be proactive in communicating how they use student data. Information should be available to answer common questions before they are asked. “Now, more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” the Secretary stated. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.” To keep the public informed about privacy and the use of student records, the Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) also announced a companion web site that includes a variety of resources and information regarding the federal laws it administers.

New Requirements When Visiting U.S. Department of Education
In July, the REAL ID Act set in motion the requirement that Federal building visitors from certain states and territories will have an additional identification requirement in entering those buildings, including ED. According to the Act, visitors from certain states/territories will be able to enter ONE TIME ONLY with a state driver’s license, but will need an addition form of ID, such as a passport, for all subsequent entries. The included states/territories are: Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oklahoma and Washington. Members, please keep this in mind if you are planning to visit the Department of Education or any other Federal building.

Save the Date: ConnectED – Back to School Webinar
On September 11 at 2pm ET, SETDA will host a ConnectED – Back to School webinar that will include updates from the leading technology companies that have committed $2 billion to date to advance ConnectED goals and offer an opportunity for dialogue and engagement with company representatives. The webinar is a follow-up event to an in-person public event held on June 28 in conjunction with SETDA’s Emerging Technologies Forum where a representative from the U.S. Department of Education and representatives from 8 of the 10 companies making commitments provided presentations about their commitments and answered questions. The webinar is free and open to the public. Be sure to register and to share information about the event and the registration link with state and district colleagues. You will receive an email confirmation with login information for the webinar closer to the event.

For more information about ConnectED, visit the SETDA webpage that summarizes the offerings by company and view the ConnectEd Showcase video archive. You can also read the SETDA Says Blog posts, What Educators Need to Know About ConnectED School Technology Donations to learn more or visit the USDOE Office of Educational Technology at

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How a Bigger Purpose Can Motivate Students to Learn

A few years ago, psychologist David Yeager and his colleagues noticed something interesting while interviewing high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area about their hopes, dreams and life goals.

It was no surprise that students often said that making money, attaining fame or pursuing a career that they enjoyed were important to them. But many of them also spoke of additionally wanting to make a positive impact on their community or society — such as by becoming a doctor to take care of people, or a pastor who “makes a difference.” What’s more, the teens with these “pro-social” types of goals tended to rate their schoolwork as more personally meaningful.

Given this information, Yeager and his colleagues wanted to know: could such a bigger sense of purpose that looks beyond one’s own self-interests be a real and significant inspiration for learning? They believe the answer is yes. And they’ve devised a new social psychology intervention to foster a “purposeful learning” mindset as another way to motivate pupils to persevere in their studies. Yeager, now based at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, conducted the work in collaboration with UT colleague Marlone Henderson, David Paunesku and Greg Walton of Stanford, “grit” guru Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, and others.

They recently explored purposeful learning in a series of four studies and put their intervention to the test against one of the banes of learning: boredom. Initial promising results suggest the psychology strategy could encourage pupils to plug away at homework or learning tasks that are challenging or tedious, yet necessary to getting an education that’ll help them reach their greater life goals.

Can Drudgery Be Eliminated from Learning?

The idea of drudgery in schoolwork is anathema to many progressive educators these days. Game-based approaches to learning are far favored over “drill-and-kill” exercises. And while an emphasis on fortifying students’ academic “grit” and self-discipline in their study habits has been explored in depth, it’s controversial. Along with criticisms about deeper implications relating to race and poverty, some observers say the buzz over grit neglects the need to make dull classroom lessons more compelling to today’s learners. As education author Alfie Kohn has written, “not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods, and not everyone who works hard is pursuing something worthwhile.”

It’s complicated, though. At Stanford’s Project for Education Research that Scales, Paunesku believes that teachers and educators should make learning more engaging wherever possible. “However, the reality is that schoolwork is often neither interesting nor meaningful,” he said — at least, not in a way that students immediately get. “It’s hard for students to understand why doing algebra, for example, really matters or why it’ll help them or why it will make a difference in their life.” Yet, he noted, such work is often key in building basic skills and knowledge they’ll need for a successful future.

The Potential of a Purposeful Mindset

Next, a pilot experiment tested the sense-of-purpose intervention to see if it would improve grades in math and science (two subjects often seen as uninteresting): The researchers asked 338 ninth graders at a middle-class Bay Area high school to log online for a 20- to 30-minute reading and writing exercise. The teenagers read a brief article and specific quotes from other students, all conveying the message that many adolescents work hard in school not just to gain knowledge for, say, pursuing a career they like — but also because they want to achieve “something that matters for the world.”

Study participants then wrote short testimonials to other, future students describing how high school would help them become the kind of person they want to be or make an impact on society. As one teen explained, “I believe learning in school will give me the rudimentary skills to survive in the world. Science will give me a good base for my career in environmental engineering. I want to be able to solve our energy problems.” Another ninth grader wrote that having an education “allows me to form well-supported, well-thought opinions about the world. I will not be able to help anyone without first going to school.”

How Does It Work?

As with other kinds of academic mindset strategies, the benefit from the sense-of-purpose intervention “almost seems like magic,” Henderson said. But it’s not, (as Yeager and Walton have previously elaborated). The research team ran two other experiments (with college undergrads) that helped unpack how the intervention might work: by motivating students to engage in deeper learning, and by bolstering self-control in resisting tempting distractions from schoolwork (as measured again by Duckworth and D’Mello’s diligence test).

What a purposeful mindset does for students is that “when they encounter challenges, difficulty or things that could potentially be roadblocks to learning, it motivates them to persist and barrel through,” Henderson said. The psychology researchers don’t know how long the positive effects last, but they speculate that just a small shift in students’ attitudes could spark a chain reaction of stronger academic performance and confidence that builds upon itself and endures over time.

Finding Meaning in Schoolwork

The experiments with the new strategy beg the question of whether the researchers are implicitly endorsing drill-and-kill-style learning. They aren’t, Paunesku is quick to say. He’s all for project-based learning and other efforts to make school more relevant and alluring for students. Yet, he added, it isn’t practical or possible to render every lesson or assignment in K-12 “super fun and game-y” for kids — and even if it were, doing so could be a disservice to them later. What would they do when they get to law school and are faced with having to memorize long lists of laws? Or when they land a job that calls for mastering information that no one has “gamefied” to make it exciting to learn?

Students go to school not just to learn specific facts, he pointed out. They’re learning how to learn, how to practice self-discipline and motivate themselves through frustrating roadblocks, and thus are preparing for adulthood. That’s important even if it isn’t always fascinating, he said. But having that bigger sense of purpose, that personal mission of making a positive difference in the broader world, might help students to find meaning in difficult or mundane schoolwork. “If you think about it the right way, you can actually be motivated and you can find it interesting, even if on the surface it’s not fun,” Paunesku said.

Read the entire article from Ingfei Chen on MindShift at

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17 New Laws In 12 States Help Govern Educational Technology

Technology is becoming an invaluable tool in today’s classrooms. Yet, there is a lot more to education technology then just ensuring every student has access to a computer. Teachers need to be adequately trained in incorporating technology into the daily curriculum and instruction. Students will be better served if they are using technology as an on-going part of the learning process, rather than a separate activity. And while states are improving the infrastructure for education technology, some communities are still lacking the necessary capacity. 

Advancements in technology and productivity over the last decade also demand new ways of integrating current and future technological innovations into public education. Policymakers are working to provide all students with high quality learning options, regardless of where they live or what school they attend. The expansion of digital and online learning can begin to alleviate inequalities that currently exist between students who have access to high quality teachers and a diverse array of courses and those who lack such access because their schools struggle to attract talent or lack the resources to provide a variety of options.

Law makers are recognizing the need to create legislation to help navigate through the technological landscape. Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures reveals the new education technology policies that were passed into law in 2014.

It is clear that virtual education programs are on the rise. In 2014, 12 states passed 17 laws relating to education technology. The foremost goal of this legislation in many states was to strengthen existing online education programs in both K-12 and higher education. States enacted reforms related to distance learning or virtual schools, from tweaking attendance requirements for brick-and-mortar schools to removing caps for attendance of virtual charter schools.

This year, North Carolina passed two reforms relating to education technology. H23 directs the state board of education to develop and implement digital teaching and learning standards for teachers and school administrators, as well as ensuring all students in school administrator preparation programs demonstrate competencies in using digital and other instructional technologies. This law becomes effective on July 1, 2017, and it requires the North Carolina State Board of Education to “develop and implement digital textbooks and learning standards for teachers and school administrators.” 

A recent national survey found that 46 percent of teachers reported “lacking adequate training on the technology they use.” North Carolina also passed H44, which announces the transition from traditional textbooks to digital learning platforms. A statewide shift to digital education would represent a huge effort that could fundamentally change how students learn in North Carolina.

Oklahoma passed OK S 267, which relates to sponsorship of a statewide virtual charter school, a limitation on enrollment, State Aid funding for virtual charter schools, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the geographic boundaries of virtual charter schools, activities participation requirements, a prohibition against school districts from providing full-time virtual education to certain students, and certain charter school contracts.

Virginia’s new H115 is a particularly innovative new virtual education law that allows the department of education to contract with schools that create their own online courses, allowing the state to make these courses available to other schools through the Virtual Virginia Program.  The legislation also created a system for school boards to charge a fee to other schools to defer the costs of creating online courses. Ultimately, this program should encourage schools to have their best teachers work on developing virtual content and then spread it throughout the state.

Seven states in all, including Colorado, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, each enacted legislation governing or redefining virtual charter schools or virtual education, while six states — Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee — have each passed bills regarding distance and higher education, demonstrating a trend towards cyber learning and educational technology, creating a need for VARs and other IT solutions providers to fill. 

Article by Chris Kern originally posted on Business Solutions at

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