An Introduction To The Basics Of Competency-based Education

You may have seen headlines touting the growth and transformative potential of competency-based education. People working to make higher ed more accessible are very excited about the possibilities of this format to help more students earn degrees and to close the skills gap.

Nevertheless, competency-based education, remains an obscure concept to people outside of the few dozen universities that are pioneering it. So I want to use this article to lay out some of the basics for people hearing the conversation grow louder and who want to know what it’s all about.

No, scratch that. By the end of this article, I want you to be able to participate in the conversation. And that shift in focus, from what I deliver to what you are able to do with it, is the start of our lesson.

The basics of competency-based education

  • Think of CBE as a shift in focus from what a student is taught to what they are able to do. Designing a program begins by asking what students should be competent at when they finish the program. For example, a computer science department, instead of starting with what languages and concepts to teach, might determine that a graduate should be able to write a secure web application (among many other things.)

  • Think of CBE as built around assessment. Exams or projects are designed for students to prove they have mastered the competencies. In the case of writing a secure web application, the classes will teach the concepts and languages leading to that ability, and ultimately a student will have to demonstrate they can do it. There won’t be a test at the end of this article, but if there was, it would test what you are able to do with this information.

  • Think of the competencies as units or modules. Lesson are designed around each competency, and a student progresses from one to the next. The ability to write a secure web application might be a competency needed toward the end of a program with many other milestone competencies leading up to it. Or, in a graduate-level program, it might be the competency needed to progress past the first few lessons.

  • Think of CBE as a form of time shifting like what has happened with television viewing. Instead of millions of people watching a broadcast at the same time every week, we now watch episodes on our own schedules. Sometimes we are one day behind the broadcast, sometimes a show waits on the DVR for months, and sometimes we binge watch an entire season. You move on to the next episode when you are ready. Similarly, in competency-based education, each student progresses not according to when lessons are delivered but according to when a competency is mastered.

  • Think of a competency as something a student may have even before they enter a program. CBE awards credits based on what students can demonstrate they are able to do, so they sometimes don’t have to sit through the related lessons, and they start out that much further toward degree completion.

  • Think of CBE as a change in how progress is measured. Now students make progress toward a degree by earning “credit hours” primarily by applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair for a certain amount of time (usually at times not convenient for working adults). CBE refocuses attention on learning rather than on seat time.

  • Think of CBE in terms of the working adult population and others without access to higher ed. Too many conversations about college presume a student body of middle-class Americans between the ages of 18 and 22 who are enrolled full time. But that “traditional student” is a shrinking share of who actually attends college. And it’s a miniscule share of who wants or needs to earn a degree. CBE is most relevant to the “non-traditional” student body who can’t access college on traditional terms.

Advantages of competency-based education

At this point, the potential advantages of CBE are probably starting to become apparent.

  • Because it is self-paced, it may be more effective and more practical for many students.

  • Working adults with real experience can start with a significant portion of the degree progress already complete.

  • It’s cheaper. College for America’s online competency-based degree, for example, is $2,500/year

  • There is a clearer connection between lessons and real skills, which is attractive both to students and to employers. A CBE degree may more clearly signal career readiness than traditional degrees do.

  • Competencies are potentially more recognizable across institutions. In the current system, credit hours are idiosyncratic, so students have trouble transferring credits, which is particularly hard for working adults. More portability of credits could help with the more than 30 million people in the U.S. who have earned some college credits without graduating. 7 million of those have more than two years worth of credits. Competency-based assessments could put those 7 million people at the threshold of an associate degree and halfway down a clearly defined path toward a bachelor’s degree.

Two factors turbocharging competency-based education

CBE has actually been around for quite awhile, and everything said above is technically true of “traditional” campus-based CBE, but now two new factors are emerging that have the potential to scale the concept quickly.

First, online education is becoming more viable. When that is paired with competency-based education, many commentators think you have a game changer. The Christensen Institute, for example, says online CBE is a disruptive innovationthat will challenge traditional degree programs “because it marks the critical convergence of multiple vectors: the right learning model, the right technologies, the right customers and the right business model.”

And that’s with the business model not even competing on equal ground. So far, students in most competency-based programs haven’t been eligible for financial aid, because that aid is based on credit hours. Therefore, students in CBE programs have had to pay the rack rate, which is still competitive enough with traditional programs subsidized by financial aid that CBE programs are thriving.

What will dramatically turbocharge CBE is if it becomes eligible for federal financial aid. The Department of Education has indicated they are open to this, and they are experimenting along those lines. Last month, they authorized the University of Wisconsin to award federal financial aid for its UW-Flex program, and more are on the way.

Where is competency-based education actually happening?

Western Governors University, StraigherLine and Excelsior College pioneered online CBE programs about ten years ago. Meanwhile, the programs have been growing steadily in traditional university systems, often in their continuing ed or online ed branches.

Perhaps most exciting is that several projects are underway, supported by major foundation funding, to bring together dozens of existing and aspiring programs. For example:

  • The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning has a multi-year project to provide training and technical assistance to a cohort of institutions just getting started in CBE.

  • Next Generation Learning Challenges from Educause is making grants to “breakthrough” CBE programs.

  • Lumina Foundation has brought together a consortium of institutions experienced in CBE to share challenges and solutions.

  • The Association of American Colleges & Universities is working on General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs), a project to promote competency-based pathways to liberal arts degrees.

Where can I learn more?

I certainly don’t mean to make competency-based education sound easy to design or without objections. In a future article, I’ll look at some of the potential obstacles and the arguments against CBE.

In the meantime, lots of valuable information is emerging for people interested in what the emergence of CBE means for their schools, their students or their business community. Here are two great documents I recommend where you can dig deeper.

Testing Reimagined: How and When Should Competency Be Assessed ?

Ms Julia Freeland
Research Fellow, Education Team, The Clayton Christensen Institute
Oct 06, 2014
We can all remember the cycle of emotions involved in taking tests: trying to cram as much into our heads, sitting the test, and eventually receiving a grade, weeks later, already immersed in new subject matter. Our grades may have clearly communicated what we knew on the day of that test. But opportunities to go back and learn what we’d missed rarely presented themselves.

Competency-based education presents an alternative philosophy of when and on what terms students take tests and move on to new material. In competency-based models, students advance upon mastery. A different spirit of assessment sits at the fulcrum of competency-based approaches: students only move on to new or more challenging material once they can show that they’ve mastered more basic skills and concepts. This means that students will often advance at different paces, and sometimes along different pathways. This also means that a competency-based system requires paradigm shifts in both how and when we assess students’ mastery.

How are students assessed for mastery?

Competency-based high schools in the U.S. use a variety of modalities to assess students. A number of these approaches are being used in the state of New Hampshire, in the United States, which has mandated that all high schools measure credit in terms of competency rather than time. Some schools like Sanborn Regional High School still use many traditional pen-and-paper exams, but with one key difference: they offer “reassessment without penalty” for students scoring below 80 percent. Therefore students do not fail, but rather revisit material until they are able to retake tests to demonstrate mastery.

Other competency-based schools, particularly those using blended learning curricula such as North Country Charter Academy, rely heavily on online assessment. In such schools, students engage primarily in self-paced online curriculum and receive face-to-face support from teachers on an as-needed basis. As such, the school relies heavily on online assessments to gauge gaps in students’ understanding and determine when individual students are ready to move on to the next online lesson or module.

Still other competency-based models, like Next Charter School, assess mastery through student projects rather than on pen-and-paper or online tests at the end of a lesson or unit. For example, the students in a social studies course might be asked to write a letter to President Obama proposing foreign policy strategies. The letter might have to include both a historical account of previous foreign policy strategies, a proposed action, and a rationale and justification for why that proposed action was the best option. To assess these projects in a competency-based rather than a time-based manner, the school adds in additional supports and opportunities to revisit material. Leading up to final projects like this one, teachers use various formative assessments, like short quizzes or less formal inquiry, to gauge students’ progress toward mastering various competencies and readiness for their final project. This helps to ensure that students are not assessed until they appear ready, rather than on a fixed schedule regardless of their mastery or lack thereof. Additionally, if a student fails to demonstrate mastery in his final project, he has the option to revise his final project, or he can move on and design a new project to address the competency or competencies that he failed to master.

As schools design systems and processes to assess mastery and growth on an ongoing basis, they are also increasingly incorporating performance assessments in their curricula. Performance assessments are tests that aim to assess students’ abilities to demonstrate competencies across various disciplines and focus on the “application” of competencies, rather than on the rote memorization of facts. For example, a student may be able to answer multiple-choice math questions, but a performance assessment would test his ability to calculate change in dollars and cents in a sales transaction.

Some schools like Sanborn are designing performance tasks that can be administered through traditional pen-and-paper exams, but test concepts in the context of real-world examples. Other schools have incorporated performance-based assessment into projects, such as the letter to the President described above, through which students are expected to apply their understanding of U.S. history and foreign policy to a real-world persuasive writing task. At still other schools, such as MC2, students are expected to ultimately defend their learning in front of a panel of teachers, much like doctoral students are expected to defend their dissertations in front of a committee of scholars.

When are students being assessed?

 Shifting assessments to create a competency-based model not only requires new modes of testing student mastery, but also more flexible, on-demand opportunities for students to take tests. Without fundamentally shifting its assessment schedule to allow students to take assessments when they are ready, and providing opportunities for students to revisit material that they have not mastered, schools cannot pursue a truly competency-based model.

On-demand assessment is challenging because it contradicts schools’ traditional approaches to verifying student learning on a fixed academic calendar. Schools must reconceive their calendar and schedule in a far more individualized light if they are to imagine assessing students when students are ready to be assessed, rather than on a fixed day, at a fixed time. Some smaller schools may manage to assess students on this as-needed basis. But to scale such a system likely requires the adoption of new technology platforms. These platforms will need to track student progress, help to calculate when students are ready to be assessed, and in some cases provide appropriate assessment items on-demand. Without such capabilities, tracking each student’s progress and appropriate assessment schedule would prove overwhelming to any one educator.

Government accountability systems, such as annual exams, likewise pose obstacles to creating on-demand assessment systems. To ultimately square top-down accountability regimes with ambitions for more personalized learning systems, these national or state tests will likely need to be administered on a more

Michael B. Horn on Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education:

How online competency based learning is changing the higher education landscape

michael b horn

We recently had the pleasure to interview Michael B. Horn, Co-founder and Executive Director of Education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. If you are new to innovation in higher education, Michael is a thought leader you want to be following. From his policy work dedicated to transforming ‘monolithic, factory-modeled education systems’, to his research and award winning authorship—Michael has dedicated his career to pushing for education initiatives that will enable each of us to reach our fullest potential and in turn, change the world.

While there is a solid array of disruptive innovations popping up as technology advances, we have decided to focus in on an area that is being realized not only in education, but in healthcare and corporate learningenvironments as well—competency based learning!

In your view, which 3 disruptive learning innovations are making the most drastic change in higher education today?

So I think that there is a broad movement right now in higher education with online learning being a macro disruptive innovation that’s sweeping through higher education. My sense is that the three biggest changes we’re seeing emerge right now are manifestations of online learning. These changes include:

1. The online competency based programs that are emerging. Institutions like UniversityNow and theSouthern New Hampshire College for America I think are going to be very significant in changing the higher education landscape.

2. The second one is related to online competency based learning and it is those institutions that are working much more closely with employers. Here I really think of the online players like Udacity who have partnered with AT&T, Google and Facebook to provide online courses which teach students marketable skills that meet industry demands.

3. The third one is the place-based coding boot camps that are starting to pop-up like General Assemblyand Dev Boot Camp. I think immersive social learning programs like these are going to be a critical piece to this puzzle. As online learning continues to find better ways to deliver content, it’s going to be about meeting the face-to-face needs of learning by creating networks and having places to create projects so we can learn and socialize with others.

Online competency based learning has been heralded as the next big change in higher education. How is online-competency based learning transforming the traditional higher education market as we know it?

I think online competency based learning really flips the traditional world of higher education on its head—it is fundamentally about learning and showing what you can do and know. It’s not about the amount of time you spent on campus or the amount of time you’ve spent in class—it’s about building skills—often at a lower cost because you can move as you master things. It really says that research is not at the center of this model, it’s actually teaching and learning. It presents the possibility for students to move in very different pathways through the material which is really unique from the traditional higher education learning experience. It says, hey, if you learn something outside of the institution that’s okay, because we can still show through assessment that you have mastered this or you know how to do it.

This brings me to the last thing—assessment has become a big part of online competency based programs. Right now, in traditional programs, courses are designed to weed people out of subjects not to encourage the learning and actually make people stronger.

 

While online competency based learning has proven to be a powerful tool in changing the way we learn, there are still many criticisms. Which criticisms are at the forefront of your mind and how can we address them?

There are two main criticisms that occur to me that I keep thinking about…

1. Many of us see that competency based learning is a powerful tool but there are still many that say, “Is it really rigorous?…Does it actually work?…Wait a minute, you get to take these same assessments five times until you master it—that doesn’t seem rigorous?!”

When you step back from these criticisms and think about how absurd the comparison is, in many ways, it is easy to gain perspective. Look at traditional institutions for example, does it really benefit students when they are forced to move on after not mastering something? How do we possibly think that this is more rigorous than a program that requires you to really master something? I think the important thing for competency based learning programs to keep in mind when facing these criticisms is that you can do competency based learning really badly. You can still move people on and say they have mastered something even when they haven’t. I think it’s really important for online-competency based programs to remember when they are handling these criticisms is to not just sell “competency based learning”, but really focus on making them high quality programs.

2. The second thing people are criticizing is that competency based learning is “too career focused” and “too focused on narrow jobs and not developing citizens”.  I guess the way I think about it is that online competency based programs don’t just have to be centered on careers. We’re already seeing this with Northern Arizona University and their liberal arts competency based program. I think we are beginning to have a much broader sense of how competency based programs are applied. Additionally, as they get better and better, we will begin to see them extend into more and more fields.

The last part to this is that I think a lot of employers are seeking skills that are actually not that narrow at all. If competency based learning programs are focused on skills that employers want employees to know and do—I really don’t think that’s a terrible thing because these skills are not incongruous from being a really great citizen in the 21st century.

We couldn’t agree more Michael! Being a great citizen is not at all disparate from being a great employee—especially with the increasing focus that many organizations have on the triple bottom line.

A Game That Deals in Personal Data

via The New York Times

All kinds of companies and services – social networks, data brokers, loyalty card programs to name just a few – amass and analyze details about millions of consumers’ activities and preferences. But the inner workings of this surveillance economy remain largely opaque to the public despite the recent revelations of widespread government data-mining of people’s phone and e-mail records.

Now a group of Web developers in Austria has introduced an online game called Data Dealer that aims to make the business of consumer profiling more transparent. The animated game encourages players to amass and sell fictional profiles containing details like the names, birth dates, weight, height, shopping and dietary habits of imaginary consumers.

The idea behind this cartoon data collection ecosystem is to give players a visceral sense of the widespread trade in personal data, says Wolfie Christl, a co-creator of the game.

“If you tell people they should be a bit careful, nobody listens. It’s boring,” said Mr. Christl, 36, who lives in Vienna. The game, he said, is intended to help people “understand a few things – what kind of personal data exists, which attributes are collected, who is collecting this data, why and what they are using it for.”

A screen shot from Data Dealer, an online game that explores the personal data ecosystem on the Internet.

A screen shot from Data Dealer, an online game that
explores the personal data ecosystem on the Internet.

In Data Dealer, each player starts out with an avatar of a database, a gray anthropomorphic vault containing more than a million profiles and a budget of $5,000.

Players can buy additional profiles from a variety of sources like a dating Web site, a sweepstakes company – or even a disgruntled nurse named Mildred who is selling access to her hospital’s patient database.

Players can also earn money by selling their profiles to a fictional large employer called “Star Mart,” a health insurance company or an imaginary government entity referred to as “Central Security Agency.”

Each vendor lists the consumer details it has to sell.

The fictional dating site, for example, is selling the relationship status, sexual orientation and political attitudes of its members, along with their birth dates, genders, phone numbers and e-mail address. The cost to the player: $150 for 8,000 profiles.

Although hypothetical members of the dating site may think they are anonymous, the game suggests that data dealers could use such disparate details to connect people’s dating profiles to their real names.

“For the chance to find their soul mate, lonely souls will pour out their hearts to you and let you in on their deepest secrets,” the game says. “Once you line up e-mail addresses and pseudonyms with the real names, things start to get interesting.”

Data dealer also explains to players the value of different types of information.

Of e-mail addresses, for instance, the game says: “once you know someone’s e-mail address, you can pinpoint them anywhere, no matter which nickname or pseudonym they use. In addition, e-mail addresses can be sold quite profitably for marketing purposes.”

Although the first version of Data Dealer is meant only for individual players, the game’s developers are raising money on Kickstarter this week to finance an upgraded version that will let people play against one another – and hack each others’ databases.

Mr. Christl says he hoped the game inspired people to demand more control over the information collected and disseminated about them.

“I think at the moment all this data is being controlled by big companies and by government institutions and not by people themselves,” Mr. Christl says. “We need a self-determined usage of personal data in the future. Some changes are needed to achieve that.”

Although Data Dealer is only a game, the timing of its Kickstarter campaign seems fortuitous. Offline, federal regulators have been urging real data dealers to make their practices more transparent.

A few weeks ago, for instance, Julie Brill, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, proposed that data brokers — companies that gather and analyze information from multiple sources about millions of consumers — give the public more access to and control over details collected about them.

“Data brokers should develop online tools so consumers could see the information multiple companies have about them,” says, Ms. Brill. The name of her initiative: “Reclaim Your Name.”

What Google Earth Captured Seems Like A Horrible Nightmare. Wait Until You See What They Found

Ever wondered how Google Earth creates its images? It uses a process called texture mapping, pioneered in animation and video game technology, to overlay a flat satellite image over a 3-D terrain map. If you think of how a flat label is wrapped around a soda bottle, you’ve got the right idea.

Most of the time, this works well, but there’s a glitch every now and then. The result is a crazy distortion of the landscape as 2-D and 3-D worlds collide. Brooklyn artist Clement Valla documents these surreal screw-ups on his website. Fortunately, Google Earth corrects them promptly, but these fleeting landscapes sure are fun.

switzerland_3
rome_4
redmon
powell
pittsburgh_10
pat tilman
niagra
los angeles_2
la-long_1
la_3
gg1
deception pass
cincinnati_3
catskills_1
bronx1
apalachia_2
switzerland_4
colorado_6
la_2
whirlpool
rome_2
toronto
toronto_1
thomas creek
tatara2
tacoma
switzerland
switzerland_12
switzerland_10
switzerland_9
switzerland_8
switzerland_7
switzerland_6
switzerland_2
switzerland_1
sf2
sf1
royal gorge
rome_7
rio grande
pittsburgh_14
pittsburgh_11
pittsburg
pittsburg_2
pittsburg_1
peter guice
perrine
oregon
navajo
millau
los angeles
los angeles_7
los angeles_5
lima
lewsiton-queenstown
lausanne
lausanne_2
la
la_1
kansas-long
kansas city
kansas city_2
kansas city_1
inwood
high steel
gw2
gw1
gg3
denver
denver_5
denver_3
denver_1
cornell
colorado
colorado_10
colorado_8
colorado_7
colorado_5
colorado_1
cold spring canyon
cincinnatti
cincinnati_4
ch2
ch
catskills_5
catskills_4
catskills_3
catskills_2
cali4
bronx3
bronx2
bronx
bc
barber veterans
Baden-Wurttemberg_1
auburn
rome_3
tatara1
Preferences
switzerland_3
rome_4
redmon
powell
pittsburgh_10
pat tilman
niagra
los angeles_2
la-long_1
la_3
gg1
deception pass
cincinnati_3
catskills_1
bronx1
apalachia_2
switzerland_4
colorado_6
la_2
whirlpool
rome_2
toronto
toronto_1
thomas creek
tatara2
tacoma
switzerland
switzerland_12
switzerland_10
switzerland_9
switzerland_8
switzerland_7
switzerland_6
switzerland_2
switzerland_1
sf2
sf1
royal gorge
rome_7
rio grande
pittsburgh_14
pittsburgh_11
pittsburg
pittsburg_2
pittsburg_1
peter guice
perrine
oregon
navajo
millau
los angeles
los angeles_7
los angeles_5
lima
lewsiton-queenstown
lausanne
lausanne_2
la
la_1
kansas-long
kansas city
kansas city_2
kansas city_1
inwood
high steel
gw2
gw1
gg3
denver
denver_5
denver_3
denver_1
cornell
colorado
colorado_10
colorado_8
colorado_7
colorado_5
colorado_1
cold spring canyon
cincinnatti
cincinnati_4
ch2
ch
catskills_5
catskills_4
catskills_3
catskills_2
cali4
bronx3
bronx2
bronx
bc
barber veterans
Baden-Wurttemberg_1
auburn
rome_3
tatara1
Preferences
English

English

Big Data Makes Its Mark on Schools—For Better or Worse

via EdTech Magazine

Nationwide student database provides new possibilities for learning providers, raises concern among parents.

Education advocates for years have marveled at the potential of Big Data. Schools collect so much information on students and their educations. The challenge has always been how to pool that data in a meaningful way to improve learning.

Now a new nonprofit organization with ties to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and News Corp.–backed education services provider Amplify says it has created a massive online database of student information that educational content developers can access when building new products for use in K–12 schools.

The database, which went live a few months ago, gives for-profit educational content providers access to the kind of personalized student data — names, addresses, grades, learning habits, test scores, etc. — that should, in theory, enable them to better customize their products to the needs of students. However, critics, including some parents, say the prospect of such a large, essentially shareable, online cache of sensitive personal information has serious privacy implications for schools.  More on the dust up follows.

The Database

The Gates Foundation provided much of the funding for the $100 million project, which was developed by Amplify and later spun off into a separate nonprofit organization called inBloom Inc., which we first read about in a story by Stephanie Simon for Reuters news service.

Simon reports that the database already contains information on millions of students. She also points out that federal law enables participating schools, which maintain ownership of the data, to share that information with educational content providers through which they have contracted, without first obtaining parental consent.

Several states have already reportedly agreed to enter data from select school districts, with New York and Louisiana leading the way, writes Simon.

Creators of educational content for schools say they are excited about the possibilities.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” Jeffrey Olen, product manager at education software provider CompassLearning, told Simon during the education portion of the massive SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this month.

The Controversy

Not everybody shares Olen’s enthusiasm. While designers of educational products could profit from access to more specific student data, some say obvious security risks and the potential for misuse among companies far outweigh the potential benefits for students and schools.

In a blog post about the debate, educator Mark Garrison calls the database “irrational” and encourages parents to write letters in protest.

He’s not alone. Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit that advocates for class-size reductions in New York City schools, told CBS News New York that “thousands of parents have emailed the State Education Department and DOE in recent weeks, protesting this plan, and hundreds have sent letters to the state and city demanding that their children’s private data not be shared with inBloom Inc., or any other corporation or third-party vendor.”

Jason France, a father of two in Louisiana, is among the doubters. “Once this information gets out there, it’s going to be abused,” he told Simon. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

What’s your take? Will students benefit from a database that allows educational service providers to access private student information to potentially develop more customized content for use in schools, or do the risks of sharing that information far outweigh the potential benefits? Tell us in the Comments.

Keep up with the latest tech trends in K–12: Sign up for our e-newsletter
image source: iStockPhoto/ThinkStockPhotos
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10 places where anyone can learn to code

blog_learn_to_code_art_revTeens, tweens and kids are often referred to as “digital natives.” Having grown up with the Internet, smartphones and tablets, they’re often extraordinarily adept at interacting with digital technology. But Mitch Resnick, who spoke at TEDxBeaconStreet in November, is skeptical of this descriptor. Sure, young people can text and chat and play games, he says, “but that doesn’t really make you fluent.” Mitch Resnick: Let's teach kids to code Mitch Resnick: Let’s teach kids to code Fluency, Resnick proposes in today’s talk, comes not through interacting with new technologies, but through creating them. The former is like reading, while the latter is like writing. He means this figuratively — that creating new technologies, like writing a book, requires creative expression — but also literally: to make new computer programs, you actually must write the code.The point isn’t to create a generation of programmers, Resnick argues. Rather, it’s that coding is a gateway to broader learning. “When you learn to read, you can then read to learn. And it’s the same thing with coding: If you learn to code, you can code to learn,” he says. Learning to code means learning how to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively. And these skills are applicable to any profession — as well as to expressing yourself in your personal life, too.In his talk, Resnick describes Scratch, the programming software that he and a research group at MIT Media Lab developed to allow people to easily create and share their own interactive games and animations. Below, find 10 more places you can learn to code, incorporating Resnick’s suggestions and our own.

  1. At Codecademy, you can take lessons on writing simple commands in JavaScript, HTML and CSS, Python and Ruby. (See this New York Times piece from last March, on Codecademy and other code-teaching sites, for a sense of the landscape.)
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  2. One of many programs geared toward females who want to code, Girl Develop It is an international nonprofit that provides mentorship and instruction. “We are committed to making sure women of all ages, races, education levels, income, and upbringing can build confidence in their skill set to develop web and mobile applications,” their website reads. “By teaching women around the world from diverse backgrounds to learn software development, we can help women improve their careers and confidence in their everyday lives.”
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  3. Stanford University’s Udacity is one of many sites that make college courses—including Introduction to Computer Science—available online for free. (See our post on free online courses for more ideas.)
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  4. If college courses seem a little slow, consider Code Racer, a “multi-player live coding game.” Newbies can learn to build a website using HTML and CSS, while the more experienced can test their adeptness at coding.
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  5. The Computer Clubhouse, which Resnick co-founded, works to “help young people from low-income communities learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies,” as he describes. According to Clubhouse estimates, more than 25,000 kids work with mentors through the program every year.
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  6. Through CoderDojo’s volunteer-led sessions, young people can learn to code, go on tours of tech companies and hear guest speakers. (Know how to code? You can set up your own CoderDojo!)
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  7. Code School offers online courses in a wide range of programming languages, design and web tools.
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  8. Similarly, Treehouse (the parent site of Code Racer) provides online video courses and exercises to help you learn technology skills.
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  9. Girls Who Code, geared specifically toward 13- to 17-year-old girls, pairs instruction and mentorship to “educate, inspire and equip” students to pursue their engineering and tech dreams. “Today, just 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and less than 10% of venture capital-backed companies have female founders. Yet females use the internet 17% more than their male counterparts,” the website notes.
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  10. Through workshops for young girls of color, Black Girls Code aims to help address the “dearth of African-American women in science, technology, engineering and math professions,” founder Kimberly Bryant writes, and build “a new generation of coders, coders who will become builders of technological innovation and of their own futures.”

While we’re at it: bonus! General Assembly offers a variety of coding courses at their campuses across the globe. Additionally, their free online platform, Dash, teaches HTML, CSS and Javascript through fun projects on a simple interface that is accessible from your web browser.

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Remembering Robin Williams this holiday season

Robin Williams hijacks the TED2008 stage before the BBC World Debate. Photo: Andrew Heavens
It’s 2008, moments before a BBC broadcast live from the stage at TED. But something’s gone wrong. The house lights are still up, the camera ops are looking at one another, official-looking folks are wandering at the stage apron muttering into headsets, and the panelists are sitting patiently onstage but looking, increasingly, baffled. Minutes go by.And then a voice rises from the audience, wondering “why at a technology conference everything is running so shittily”! As Kim Zetter wrote: “at least that’s the word I think he used; it was hard to hear the last word through the audience’s laughter.” It was Robin Williams, who’d spent the day watching TED, and who now jumped out of the audience to grab the mic and reel off 10 or 15 minutes — reports vary — of improvised comedy about the day of ideas, TED in general and his own wide-ranging future shock.The BBC shot the whole thing while waiting for their own production to come back online, and they eventually posted the monologue, cut into 3 minutes of breathtaking tightrope work.And when I read the news today, I watched it again, and it reminded me of what we just lost — but it also gave me 3 minutes of pure, wild joy. Just watch him go.

 

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Future Engineers Use Their Noodles to Build Bridges From Spaghetti

 

via HUB.jhu

Contest Caps Engineering Innovation summer program

Bridges are typically made of steel and stone, but next week hundreds of high school students will attempt to make them from nothing but pasta and epoxy as part of Johns Hopkins University’s annual edge-of-your-seat spaghetti bridge contest.

It’s suspenseful and nervewracking as students who have spent days designing and building bridges put their brittle creations to the test, gradually adding weight, kilo by kilo. Prizes and bragging rights go to the students who build the bridges that support the most weight—the record stands at 132 pounds.

As family and friends cheer them on, 115 students from 21 states and eight countries will compete at 10 a.m. pm July 26 on the university’s Homewood campus. On that morning, several hundred additional students will compete in smaller contests at other sites in Maryland and across the country.

“It’s tense and exciting and it’s fun because the kids are proud of themselves—as they should be,” said Christine Newman, assistant dean for engineering education outreach in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering.

The event caps the university’s Engineering Innovation summer program for young people eager to apply their knowledge of math and science. Over four weeks the students get a taste of everything from robotics to civil engineering and learn to puzzle through real-world problems just like an engineer. More than 80 percent of those that complete the program go on to pursue careers in science and engineering.

“Our course has proven effective in getting young people interested in and excited about STEM fields,” Newman said.

Engineering Innovation began as an off-shoot of Michael Karweit’s freshman course at Johns Hopkins for undecided engineering majors called “What is Engineering?” He designed it to give students an honest look at a field where devising creative solutions to dilemmas is the name of the game.

“I wanted to introduce students to how engineers think,” said Karweit, a professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering in the School of Engineering. “The joy of engineering is there is never just one correct answer.”

Corporate sponsors cover tuition for low-income students, including some from Baltimore. Through a pilot program this year called “Engineering Fundamentals,” a dozen of those local students started two weeks early, using the extra time to bone up on math and science basics and study skills.

“We’re trying to get these kids to build their confidence and potential for success,” said Engineering Innovation Director Karen Borgsmiller.

Recently, students from the program spread out along a JHU quad trying to measure the distance from one lofty campus spire to another using nothing but a yardstick and a length of string. One of them was Oliver Mahoro, 18, a senior at Baltimore’s Academy for College and Career Exploration who dreams of attending Stanford University to become a petroleum engineer.

Mahoro is thrilled to spend the summer challenging himself alongside other smart, motivated young people.

“It gives me an opportunity to fully challenge myself in ways high school doesn’t,” he said. “Some people think summer is about sitting around outside or going to the beach. This has been the coolest summer I’ve ever known.”

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A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching my own classes; I am the High School Learning Coach, a new position for the school this year. My job is to work with teachers and admins. to improve student learning outcomes.

As part of getting my feet wet, my principal suggested I “be” a student for two days: I was to shadow and complete all the work of a 10th grade student on one day and to do the same for a 12th grade student on another day. My task was to do everything the student was supposed to do: if there was lecture or notes on the board, I copied them as fast I could into my notebook. If there was a Chemistry lab, I did it with my host student. If there was a test, I took it (I passed the Spanish one, but I am certain I failed the business one).

My class schedules for the day
(Note: we have a block schedule; not all classes meet each day):

The schedule that day for the 10th grade student:

7:45 – 9:15: Geometry

9:30 – 10:55: Spanish II

10:55 – 11:40: Lunch

11:45 – 1:10: World History

1:25 – 2:45: Integrated Science

The schedule that day for the 12th grade student:

7:45 – 9:15: Math

9:30 – 10:55: Chemistry

10:55 – 11:40: Lunch

11:45 – 1:10: English

1:25 – 2:45: Business

 

Key Takeaway #1

Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.

But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. In every class for four long blocks, the expectation was for us to come in, take our seats, and sit down for the duration of the time. By the end of the day, I could not stop yawning and I was desperate to move or stretch. I couldn’t believe how alert my host student was, because it took a lot of conscious effort for me not to get up and start doing jumping jacks in the middle of Science just to keep my mind and body from slipping into oblivion after so many hours of sitting passively.

I was drained, and not in a good, long, productive-day kind of way. No, it was that icky, lethargic tired feeling. I had planned to go back to my office and jot down some initial notes on the day, but I was so drained I couldn’t do anything that involved mental effort (so instead I watched TV) and I was in bed by 8:30.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately change the following three things:

  • mandatory stretch halfway through the class
  • put a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door and encourage kids to play in the first and final minutes of class
  • build in a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day. Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine. I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective.

Key Takeaway #2

High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.

Obviously I was only shadowing for two days, but in follow-up interviews with both of my host students, they assured me that the classes I experienced were fairly typical.

In eight periods of high school classes, my host students rarely spoke. Sometimes it was because the teacher was lecturing; sometimes it was because another student was presenting; sometimes it was because another student was called to the board to solve a difficult equation; and sometimes it was because the period was spent taking a test. So, I don’t mean to imply critically that only the teachers droned on while students just sat and took notes. But still, hand in hand with takeaway #1 is this idea that most of the students’ day was spent passively absorbing information.

It was not just the sitting that was draining but that so much of the day was spent absorbing information but not often grappling with it.

I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said no.

I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realize how little autonomy students have, how little of their learning they are directing or choosing. I felt especially bad about opportunities I had missed in the past in this regard.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:

  • Offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels (e.g. a ten-minute lecture on Whitman’s life and poetry, followed by small-group work in which teams scour new poems of his for the very themes and notions expressed in the lecture, and then share out or perform some of them to the whole group while everyone takes notes on the findings.)
  • set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done. End of story. I can go on and on. I love to hear myself talk. I often cannot shut up. This is not really conducive to my students’ learning, however much I might enjoy it.
  • Ask every class to start with students’ Essential Questions or just general questions born of confusion from the previous night’s reading or the previous class’s discussion. I would ask them to come in to class and write them all on the board, and then, as a group, ask them to choose which one we start with and which ones need to be addressed. This is my biggest regret right now – not starting every class this way. I am imagining all the misunderstandings, the engagement, the enthusiasm, the collaborative skills, and the autonomy we missed out on because I didn’t begin every class with fifteen or twenty minutes of this.

Key takeaway #3

You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention. It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day. It’s really hard to do, and not something we ask adults to do day in and out. Think back to a multi-day conference or long PD day you had and remember that feeling by the end of the day – that need to just disconnect, break free, go for a run, chat with a friend, or surf the web and catch up on emails. That is how students often feel in our classes, not because we are boring per se but because they have been sitting and listening most of the day already. They have had enough.

In addition, there was a good deal of sarcasm and snark directed at students and I recognized, uncomfortably, how much I myself have engaged in this kind of communication. I would become near apoplectic last year whenever a very challenging class of mine would take a test, and without fail, several students in a row would ask the same question about the test. Each time I would stop the class and address it so everyone could hear it. Nevertheless, a few minutes later a student who had clearly been working his way through the test and not attentive to my announcement would ask the same question again. A few students would laugh along as I made a big show of rolling my eyes and drily stating, “OK, once again, let me explain…”

Of course it feels ridiculous to have to explain the same thing five times, but suddenly, when I was the one taking the tests, I was stressed. I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again. I feel a great deal more empathy for students after shadowing, and I realize that sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier between me and them. They do not help learning.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:

  • Dig deep into my personal experience as a parent where I found wells of patience and love I never knew I have, and call upon them more often when dealing with students who have questions. Questions are an invitation to know a student better and create a bond with that student. We can open the door wider or shut if forever, and we may not even realize we have shut it.
  • I would make my personal goal of “no sarcasm” public and ask the students to hold me accountable for it. I could drop money into a jar for each slip and use it to treat the kids to pizza at the end of the year. In this way, I have both helped create a closer bond with them and shared a very real and personal example of goal-setting for them to use a model in their own thinking about goals.
  • I would structure every test or formal activity like the IB exams do – a five-minute reading period in which students can ask all their questions but no one can write until the reading period is finished. This is a simple solution I probably should have tried years ago that would head off a lot (thought, admittedly, not all) of the frustration I felt with constant, repetitive questions.

 

I have a lot more respect and empathy for students after just one day of being one again. Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations. This could lead to better “backwards design” from the student experience so that we have more engaged, alert, and balanced students sitting (or standing) in our classes.