Tag Archives: Digital

Future Vision 2025 Assessments: It’s in the Practice

What future are we aiming at? This series of 6 posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my personal education mission milestones. These are not predictions, they are aspirational. They are framed as significant differences one could see or make by 2025. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers, learning, assessment, media & society? How and when these milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), others by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Assessment 2025

In the 1970’s, I remember taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in math & English, in a few grades, for a few hours.

By 2015 a Council of Great City Schools evaluation showed students undergo standardized testing for 20-25 hours per year, not to mention testing prep time. By the time they graduate, students have been administered about 112 exams. Now, this is great fodder for the program evaluation work I do now, understanding what is working, how much and for whom. It would be impossible at scale without plenty of universal standardized test data. But in the future, given digital content, the 20-25 hours per year of standardized testing can be eliminated while retaining the benefits of the information they used to provide. This reduction of non-learning-added time is in more than just the test hours, it includes eliminating the prep hours for the style of test. And most importantly, this implodes the paradigm that test scores are the purpose, and test day is the culmination, of the school year’s efforts.

By 2025, “sitting tests” in March and April has been replaced by a continual assessment of knowledge and ability throughout the school year, via organic student interaction with the digital learning activities themselves. These activities each week still include practicing solving many problems, aka “doing problem sets.” The information generated from the digital “Practice” IS the new “Assessment.” Indeed summative standardized tests were essentially a review problem set, given in a huge dose at the end of the year. In 2025, each week every student’s use of digital content indicates mastery of that week’s content…or not. Gaps are identified as they occur, and are filled before moving on. You may ask, thinking back to cramming for a final, what about the retention that summative tests checked? In 2025, the digital content and practice adaptively checks retention of key prior knowledge for each individual student, intelligently spiraling problems back and forth to build fluency.

Moreover, beyond the conventional goal of “producing the right answer,” 2025’s digital device interface and pattern recognition assesses student strategy. Tablets collect, and the backend cloud parses and interprets, student handwriting and diagrams. “Show your work” is digitized and thus comprehensively purposeful. The information gleaned evaluates methods and strategies, and yes even productivity and speed. Insightful and actionable feedback on all of these is provided in real-time to the teacher and especially to the student. Why a student “isn’t getting it” becomes detailed and transparent. In 2025 haven’t just replaced “right answer” to “right strategy” though; it’s a different paradigm. Mastery is not tied to one “right” strategy, but it is about learning and applying strategies and methods that are productive – efficiency in thought, effort, and time.

In 2025 comprehensive content breadth and mastery of all techniques, what used to be the summative test’s job, has been measured in this digital, formative way throughout the school year. Indeed because of the continual feedback and intelligent spiraling, it has been not just measured, but refined and improved throughout the year towards fluency. There is still however a “final.” The benefits of a deadline to display one’s complete picture of a complex and broad topic are maintained. But because all that ongoing broad content mastery is already well known, the “final” can focus on a specific “narrow” area of interest. The final can  be a performance – authentic, creative and rigorous and very human which shows off the learner’s ability to communicate, and to creatively transfer to different domains.

Yes, I mean that a middle schooler’s integrated math “final” in 2025 can be a performance, hard to make, challenging to deliver, but fun and maybe even beautiful to watch.

Authentic Performance

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Future Vision 2025 Learning: The Actual Revolution!

What future are we aiming at? This series of 6 posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my personal education mission milestones. These are not predictions, they are aspirational. They are framed as significant differences one could see or make by 2025. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers, learning, assessment, media & society? How and when these milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), others by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Learning 2025

The Learning Revolution, it turns out, was about the Learners themselves. It was about their purpose and what they expect while learning. Yes, 21st Century tech was needed to catalyze and scale the Learning Revolution. But the revolution wasn’t about the delivery mechanisms; not about devices or Web X.0. It was about the process of learning not “feeling” the same. A student from 2015, if dropped into a 2025 learning situation,  would likely be far out of their comfort zone.

What’s different for the Learner during the actual learning moments?

Learners expect that what they are learning should make sense to them. They have confidence in their ability to learn material, even if it seems incomprehensible at first. They’ve gained this confidence through personal experience of multiple successful learning breakthroughs, gained through 21st Century learning environments. So, they expect to be able to tell the difference between true, evidence-supported knowledge and unsupported conjecture or false conclusions.

Learning is consciously Learner-directed. Learners understand there are different depths of understanding. Learners decide to what depth they choose to learn any given item or area, based on their own, personal individual purposes. Learner purposes range from immediate problem-resolution, to eager curiosity, to a desire for a professional, life-long “ownership” of the content. Learners understand transferability and seek it: the agility to re-apply any bit of newly gained knowledge or skill to a different, non-routine scenario. Learners crave fluent and precise communication of knowledge. Learners can distinguish in themselves how well or deeply they have learned – and make adjustments, consciously trading off depth and speed.

Yet there is still a familiar, strong, formal educational structure and framework. It’s not just you 1:1 with Wikipedia, Khan, Google, Siri, Alexa, or Cortana. The support structure needed and sought varies with the learner’s desired depth, but it ensures appropriate range, breadth, comprehension, and connectedness. And crucially provides a social mode. “School” is of course still required to lead 5 to 18 year olds to an appropriately broad range and depth of domain literacies.

Learning has gone experiential (learning by doing). In every content area, learners are able to leverage their built-in sensory perception-action cycle. They test hypotheses, sometimes organically, sometimes consciously, via real-time, rigorously accurate feedback. The provision of this multitude of specific, experiential learning environments is where 21st Century tech has been crucial: enabling design of and access to animated simulations and informative feedback. Experiential learning environments provide concrete scenarios first, in every field and at every level. Every learning modality includes as much visually-presented information as publishers can figure out how to provide. Abstract symbolic representations follow in the wake of concrete conceptual grasp.

Learners expect deeper learning to be a lifelong, fun & satisfying, activity. The pleasure of achieving deeper, accurate understanding has become evident to “the masses.”

To many of those still hanging onto positions of power through demagoguery, confusion, lies, distractions, and fear-mongering, this gradual enlightenment of the masses is the ultimate subversive disruption.

Relativity Video

“Visualization of Einstein’s special relativity,” udiprod

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Future Vision 2025 Teachers: No more “just” a Teacher

What future are we aiming at? This series of 6 posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my personal education mission milestones. These are not predictions, they are aspirational. They are framed as significant differences one could see or make by 2025. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers, learning, assessment, media & society? How and when these milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), others by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Teachers 2025


In 2025, teaching as a profession is gaining respect.

It is gaining respect because the drumbeat from frustration with test scores failure has been stilled. The drumbeat has been stilled by clearly improved performance, both on domestic measures and in international comparisons. Key have been NAEP scores are improving markedly, as well as rising U.S. rankings in the international comparisons of PISA and TIMSS.

The drumbeat has also been stilled by an overall sense of progress and improvement: the educational playing field has been made more level through a smarter policy of enlightened self-interest. For example, government goals to provide quality early childhood education experiences, regardless of any parent’s economic ability to provide them, are by now as prevalent as health and nutritional programs were in 2015.

The beat has been stilled by data showing that the floor of the “achievement gap” is rising dramatically, at scale, across the U.S. Moreover, for the upper edge of the “gap”, all is not flat. Proficient or advanced students are also gaining through deep learning which plumbs far beyond just good scores. All students are growing their talents more than ever before.

Teachers encourage their student’s thirst for deeper learning via dramatically more engaging digital learning environments. The last ten years have, finally, empirically confirmed teachers’ belief that all students can learn challenging material. The experience of teaching practice  itself, with the latest digital tools, organically fills gaps in teachers’ own understanding in real time. And the goals of school itself are more tangibly clear and relevant. In the area of mathematics, for example, teachers understand that the meta-purpose of math education is to provide children with flexible, powerful raw thinking machinery for future general learning and problem-solving.

Teachers as a group are more autonomous than ever, skillfully wielding powerful digital tools to productively engage every learner. Publisher integrated content and tools suites have very obviously matured far beyond what any individual teacher would ever dream of putting together themselves via Google. Teacher job satisfaction is markedly up – because teachers are achieving their own goals for more of their own students: positively influencing lives.

Teacher pre-service training and professional development programs of course assume that teachers will be provided with requisite, powerful digital tools. So this training gives them the expectations and distinctions to recognize which tools are appropriate and effective for which purposes. Freshly-minted teachers are more quickly effective in the classroom. Experienced, creative teachers have more opportunities than ever before to focus on their highest level of value-add, via customization, enrichment, and knowing their individual students, having trading in all their prior low level management of classroom, content, and data.

Teacher-practitioners have earned this newfound level of respect from their students, from parents, from administrators, from the community, and, importantly, feel it deeply within. No more, “I’m just a teacher.”

If you tried to take digital content and tools away from teachers, they would go on strike.

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“There’s no achievement gap in videogames” – Quentin Lawson

I don’t want to learn how to play most videogames. By videogames I am thinking involved console games like Call of Duty, or MLB the Show. As a 50-something, that may not be surprising as I’m past the “shoot-em-up” or “race-car” ages (well maybe not real race cars). But truthfully, I would enjoy being able to give my my teenage sons a decent playing partner. The thing is, I know there would be a long and challenging learning curve. Because the learning is discovery/exploratory. And it’s not trivial or short, there is a lot to pick up. For me, it would be both mentally challenging and take significant amounts of time. And I already feel I have enough mental challenge-per-week to sink a battleship. I’m not looking for more. And I can’t afford to have significantly more time, or energy, sucked out of my days.

My point is: learning a console videogame like these is not easy, it takes focus, it takes effort, it takes mental agility, it takes perseverance, it takes time. Sorta like learning anything complex.

And here’s the point of this blog post: it would be ludicrous for anyone to propose that there’s an achievement gap for children to learn videogames. It would also be ludicrous to say that there is an engagement issue – at least for males with the games I mentioned. And it would be beyond incredible to say that kids have a lack of perseverance at solving the game’s problem scenarios.

I attribute this observation to Quentin Lawson, Executive Director of NABSE, the National Alliance of Black School Educators. I was demo’ing for him how all math concepts could be introduced a visual puzzles on a computer, which could be interacted with and animated to understand how to, for example, add fractions. He saw how this was like a videogame and, with young Black male students in mind, noted in an offhand way that “there’s no achievement gap in videogames,” so this could level the playing field. I have been quoting Quentin ever since.

Because how could anyone imagine that success for any child in learning any videogame could depend on:

  • their parents’ education level
  • their parents’ wealth
  • their neighborhood
  • the quality of their friends
  • how much their parents could “tutor” them on the game
  • their own success in school so far
  • the language they speak at home
  • or any other “subgroup” factor

It would be ludicrous; at the least I can’t imagine any such attributes being used by anyone as excuses why children couldn’t win at the game.

So, if productively engaging with challenging core content, like algebra, in a deep and mathematically rigorous way, that requires learner interaction and experiential learning, that starts easy and is gradually scaffolded, that develops problem-solving, perseverance, and confidence in ability to “win”, can be made into a videogame-like experience, then teachers can build-upon, cement and interconnect that mode of learning into deeper understanding and skills, without concern for any digital content achievement gap.

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Instructional Software: Just a Cleanup Activity after Ineffective Teaching??

How instructional software is positioned in the minds of many educators and others is outdated, and misleading.

The conventional model of instructional software (I am thinking “core” subject like mathematics) began, naturally, as a digital extension of conventional teaching. So: practice problems, read onscreen, with multiple choice answers, instant grading and perhaps with some gamification of scores. But if you didn’t “need” the “extra teaching,” you didn’t “need” the instructional software. So it was optional: for some students, some of the time.

There were two logical models for deciding for whom and when to use instructional software: use it for remedial students, or periodic diagnostic tests (eventually also online) for everyone, to determine which skills the student needed more practice in; then assign instructional software just for those specific skills. The metaphor is “filling the holes in the Swiss cheese.”

Implicit in those models was that some students did not need any instructional software: those who learned sufficiently from the standard, no-software-involved, teaching. The instructional software served a role of “cleaning-up” whatever gaps were left unfilled or incomplete after the normal teaching. By observation then,  the regular teaching on its own was ineffective in achieving the learning goal for some students some of the time. (The reason it was ineffective could include many things outside of the teacher’s control, of course.)

Despite the recent emergence of “blended learning” as a desirable future model of combining digital content with teacher & chalkboard learning, at present the preponderance of students still use zero instructional software in their studies. And frequently, even in 2013’s “state-of-the-art” blended learning examples, the role of the digital content is still essentially more practice, like a digitization of homework reps, albeit with intelligent sourcing of problems and with instant scoring.

Similarly, in many 2013 RFP’s the instructional software is specified for RTI tier 2 interventions for struggling students only. This means that not only do the RTI tier 1 “OK” students not need any digital component in the normal course of their learning, it’s not even seen as a way to prevent “OK” students from slipping into tier 2.

All of the above makes sense if you see the role of instructional software as just enabling “more.” More of what teachers ideally, technically “could,” but in the real world can’t, deliver because of the constraints of scarce time, and thus the impossibility of differentiating teaching to productively engage each learner and suit the pace of each learner. So the instructional software provides more time for those students and situations who just didn’t get enough time from conventional teaching.

But consider: more time for students has been tried, and tried, and doesn’t get game-changing results. By game-changing I mean ensuring that every student understands and gains content mastery and confidence in a subject – like math. If more of the same did work for challenging situations, then the mere, but very expensive, application of additional teacher time (double-block, repeated courses, pull-outs) would be shown to “fix” the problem. Which in math, certainly, it doesn’t — not at a scale and cost which can be universal and sustained (i.e. beyond a one-on-one tutorial). So instructional software’s role to give “more of the same” is not a fix.

This pigeon-holing of instructional software as for “clean up” is too limiting. If that’s your model, you wouldn’t even think of buying — or making — instructional software that has fundamental and vital value for every student. Fundamental and vital is how we view… textbooks. Lawsuits are filed and won to ensure that every student has a textbook. When the day comes that a lawsuit is filed, fought and won to ensure that every student has effective instructional software we will know that the pigeon-holing is over.

Here’s an analogy of this positioning problem to the world of exercise and health. It’s as if instructional software is seen as physical therapy, rather than as physical conditioning. It’s as if it’s just for those who are in some way injured, or chronically weak, rather than for everyone who wants to get in shape. You get diagnosed for your injury, perhaps a shoulder tweak, you do your therapy reps with rubber bands, and one happy day you’re healthy enough to quit doing the P.T., forever.

The future, additional role of instructional software is as a vital component of the learning environment, for every student and teacher. It’s like joining and then diligently using a gym’s facilities and moreover its trainers, motivation and social aspects. Properly designed and trained and supported, it’s a gym program that gets everyone more fit. No one gets to “test out”. No one gets to work “just on their weaknesses.”

And it’s not implicit that “ineffective teaching” is the raison d’etre for instructional software. This is turned completely inside-out: instructional software, in the hands of a teacher, makes teaching and learning more powerful and effective generally, throughout the school year: differentiating to reach every student (including the strongest), engaging and motivating each student at an appropriate level and pace, and providing multiple opportunities for the teacher to assess, diagnose, and consolidate student learning.

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Successful tool? 3 Signs of Impending Rapid Adoption

This post appeared originally on GettingSmart as a guest blog.

The future will bring amazingly better instructional content for teacher and student use. If the market notices key signs of this, then more effective, comprehensive content will be broadly and rapidly adopted, to the benefit of teaching and learning.  I believe there’s three signs the market should be looking for.

My optimism is based on a decade inside a digital content developer and publisher, focused on K-5 math, deployed in a blended in-school “rotation” model, and representing how math works with visual, dynamic interactive puzzles. You might think that developing early math content, like say place value, would be easy — but I can confirm that making high-quality, effective digital content for this “easy” subject is very, very hard. Most of what’s historically been out there just doesn’t cut it. But high-quality content is doable and more is coming.

So how can you tell what’s quality? Rather than trying to drill into intrinsic content and instructional design attributes, I’m going to pull way back and suggest an operational definition: What events in the market indicate high quality instructional content?

Here then are three signs to watch for:

1. Results show up on state standardized assessments. That is to say, teachers and students using the content in question outperform “business as usual.” Quality, effective content, with a feasible implementation process, that facilitates teachers to radically improve student learning will produce positive results, no matter what assessment is used. And the deeper the assessment, the better this signal is. I certainly hope the Common Core assessment consortia manage to go deeper as envisioned.

In other words, for high quality content there will be no need to shy away from state assessment yardsticks — to the contrary, success on those high stakes measures is a pre-requisite to broad, rapid scale-up in schools. Nothing that fails to move the needle on state assessments is going to cross the chasm into the main market. Note that to “take credit” for affecting end-of-course assessments, the content syllabus will have to cover a whole course or grade. Small stand-alone learning objects, like individual apps, can’t expect to move the needle on summative assessments.

2. Results show up repeatedly at scale starting in year one of implementation. Large-scale and district-wide deployments at 10 or more sites will in aggregate show significant and positive test results. This means that on average, results are being realized across varied groups of all teachers, and all their students. In other words, success stories will not be limited to single sites. Quality instructional tools will demonstrate relatively consistent results despite the wide real-world variability among teachers, students, and implementation. Results will be repeatable over multiple years, across student cohorts, and at a large number of sites.

3. Rapid scalability: The program design will enable straightforward implementation and earn an element of passionate teacher embrace. Both are vital to broad scale-up. In order to scale rapidly, use of the content will not require significant shake-up of existing school setups: it will work with the existing people, facilities, time and resources. The startup/sustaining cost all-in, including training time, will fit within instructional materials and professional development budgets and time. Put another way, to achieve broad reach and rapid scale-up, the program will show it can reach millions of students in just a few years, limited only by district decision-making.

So, please, let’s discount signs of “success” which are marketing hype, or this quarter’s popularity contest winners, until proven out. Let’s also not get confused crediting learning success mostly to platforms, or back-end features, or school structures. What is relevant to learning are of course the impactful moments of instructional interactions between student, content, and teacher – interactions that will become eminently more successful as better instructional content becomes available.

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Ixnay the Disruption: A Least Disruption Strategy to Scale Fast in Schools

Q: Which education startup (company with less than $10MM in funding / revenue) will be the most disruptive in the coming decade and why? (Quora.com post)
A: My vote for Least disruptive provider, and why least disruption is a strategy to Scale Fast in schools (disclosure: the shop I work at): MIND Research Institute. Least disruption: any district/site/teachers/students can weave a revolutionary program easily into the same pedestrian way they do business now (including videogaming by students). In other words, a program that can technically scale nationwide in a few years – governed only by district uptake.
Leverage point: the instructional materials teachers and students use. Instructional materials (old-school: textbooks) are teachers’ tools to help students achieve their objectives. Provide a vastly more powerful, highly engineered, modern tool (picture: swap out hand-saws for electric chain-saws at the urban tree farm) along with a systems-process for integrating and using that tool (picture: don’t forget recharging stations, safety training & goggles, saw maintenance). A revolutionary tool can:
  • be simple for teachers to learn to use, and, can deepen teacher’s content knowledge as they use it,
  • be universally accessible by and productive for any student;
  • enable immersively interactive experience-based learning (consider: what is happening at the moment the student is learning and how interactive is that moment),
  • ensure that students can not just cram and memorize meaningless, disconnected fact-trivia or monkey-typing-procedures.

So, given minimized system disruption, but the addition of an easy-to-use, powerful tool and simple process changes, the bulk of a slow-to-change market can change quickly. MIND Research makes supplemental K-pre-algebra digital math content for 1:1 and teacher direct instruction in schools, delivered thru workstation/tablet/whiteboard. The digital content is visual (no language at first) interactive animated math puzzles, videogames as courseware

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