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Engaging Environments

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Earlier this month, the Learning First Alliance participated in a day-long tour of three traditional public schools in the District of Columbia (DCPS), our nation’s capital and “home town.” The tour was hosted by DCPS and sponsored by Discovery Education, and it included stops at three campuses where teachers are using digital resources to meet the individual needs of the students in their classrooms. The day was worthwhile, instructional and (most importantly) uplifting as we observed excellence in teaching and learning in traditional urban public schools.

Those of us who have worked in public education for years know that there is much good work happening in public schools; however, most of that work doesn’t get attention, and the prevailing messages that “public education is failing” or “public education is not good enough” are, in addition to being inaccurate, also dispiriting. ...

By Joan Richardson, Editor-in-Chief, Kappan magazine (PDK International)

I’m sitting here trying to convince myself to go to class. Class begins in two hours, and I am not ready. I have not studied. I have not finished the homework. Actually, I’m not even certain what homework I was supposed to do. I’m worried that the teacher will call on me and that I won’t be ready. I don’t want to be embarrassed. Again.

Maybe I’ll just skip class. Maybe I’ll drop the course.

Not being the best student in class is new territory for me. I have always excelled in class, and I expected to excel in this one as well. How wrong I was!

When I decided to go to Haiti this winter (see my article on p. 76 of the May 2014 Kappan) and learned I would lead a PDK trip to Amsterdam and Paris next fall, the time seemed right to brush up on my French. With ...

By Anne Foster, Executive Director, Parents for Public Schools (PPS)

I hear a lot these days about how standardized, high-stakes testing has killed creativity and innovation in the classrooms of America. I can understand why so many people think this is true, because when tests are omnipresent, there is a huge amount of time spent in preparation, and this leaves less time for other ways of teaching. The right place for testing and the right amount of testing are relevant topics for parents today, and their voices should be heard in this debate.

But I continue to believe that there are wonderful teachers all over the country who still find ways to help their students learn in creative and innovative ways. I found one such teacher this week at Moss Haven Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, part of the Richardson Independent School District. Her name is Kim Aman, and she’s a special education teacher who created a farm and a chicken coop at the school. Moss Haven Elementary School promotes good nutrition and exercise and has partnered with the United Way and the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Their efforts are really ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

Like most parents, my wife, Beverly, and I asked our son Tyler to call regularly when he went away to college. A few weeks into his first semester, Tyler started talking effusively about his classes and social life, topics he never discussed with us when he was in high school. We soon realized something amazing, almost miraculous, had happened. Tyler was excited about learning again. He told us the college structure was what he had wanted in high school. He was finally able to control his own education. He chose his own classes and his own schedule. He no longer had to sit through classes that held no interest or purpose for him.

We had another realization; Tyler didn’t do adolescence well. Tyler was generally happy in elementary school, but sometime in middle school, he became the dreaded teenager. For the next four years, he longed to fast-forward to the next stage of his life. Tyler was 13 going on 21.

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath suggest that change can only occur when someone behaves differently. But what happens when change happens to a person and not because of that person? As adults we constantly contend with unexpected and sometimes unwanted change. Circumstances require ...

Technology can be a powerful tool for change, but in the excitement of doing something new, important planning aspects may fall by the wayside. In order to support long-term success and systemic change, technological integration benefits from piloting, community buy-in, visionary and consistent leadership, and a diligence to build on successes over time.  Vail School District in Vail, Arizona exemplifies these attributes, and the district staff is proud of the collaborative culture they’ve created. As they put it, they do the hard work of getting along, and they’ve established a strong foundation for their relentless pursuit of innovative practices that support student achievement and learning in the 21st century.  ...

Robin Zorn is the American School Counselor Association's 2014 School Counselor of the Year. Ms. Zorn works at Mason Elementary School in Gwinnett County. She's tireless in her efforts to help some of our youngest students gain a strong foundation to build on for the rest of their academic career. By emphasizing both social-emotional well-being and college-and-career readiness, Ms.Zorn and her team at Mason Elementary empower children to dream and plan for their future while providing them the necessary supports to succeed. We're thrilled to highlight Ms.Zorn on our site as a representative for the great work being done by school counselors across the country.

Question: How long have you been a school counselor?

I started in 1994, so this is my 20th year.

Question: At what levels have you worked (elementary school, middle school, high school)?

I did my internship in the middle school, but I have been in elementary the entire 20 years.

Question: What led you to become a school counselor? ...

By Harriet Sanford, President & CEO, NEA Foundation

They. Love. Science.

Students involved in the Milwaukee Urban Schools Aquaponics Initiative have discovered the power of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). They do their own research. They ask their own questions. Who knew that you could use someone’s trash to create an incubator for growing fish? This authentic, self-driven learning is contagious and it is opening up a world of possibility.

Their teachers love science, too.

And they are bolstered by an infrastructure and support they need to do their jobs better. A professional learning community meets regularly so that educators can exchange ideas, brainstorm solutions, and learn from outside experts and other schools and schools systems.

The result is a cohort of students who are mastering complex subject matter, gaining valuable 21st century skills, by growing safe, local, sustainable, and nutritious food for ...

By Kecia Ray, President, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

The debate among global education leaders about how to transform education has taken a sharp right turn. A new report, “A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning,” released by education visionary Michael Fullan, provides educators with solutions for how to change pedagogies to foster deep learning.

Published by Pearson in partnership with ISTE, MaRS Discovery District and Nesta, this visionary report reflects on the impact technology has had on the way we learn. In the paper, the authors suggest a new education model that prepares learners to succeed in today’s knowledge-based economy.

Fullan and his co-author Maria Langworthy urge educators to aim the metamorphosing system toward deeper learning outcomes — in other words, moving students past mastery of existing content to become the creators and users of new knowledge. Three forces are needed to drive change toward this new level of deep learning:

1. New pedagogies that emphasize the natural learning process

Technology plays a pivotal role in creating deeper learning opportunities for students, but it’s not enough to simply add expensive tools to the traditional curriculum. We need pedagogies that tap into students’ core motivations and ...

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D, Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

Like millions of immigrants, my parents came to America with the hope that their children would have better lives than they themselves had. The very foundation of the American Dream is the belief that people can be upwardly mobile despite their parents’ social and economic standing. Although many immigrant and low-income families struggle, those of us in the margins always believed we had the opportunity to join the middle class. Sadly, this is increasingly less true.

The United States continues to have the world’s largest gross domestic product (GDP) and more millionaires and billionaires than any other country. Unfortunately, the number of people living in poverty in the United States is also among the highest in world. The wealth gap has been steadily growing for more than a decade as the middle class continues to decline.

President Obama has called income inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” Although some conservative politicians contend there is no inequality, people on both sides of the political aisle agree on one factor crucial for improving Americans lives and mobility: education. ...

The National PTA Reflections Program was founded in 1969 by Colorado PTA President Mary Lou Anderson with a simple objective: to encourage students to explore their talents in the arts and deepen their self-expression through those experiences. Eleven years ago, the US Department of Education started a Student Art Exhibit Program, and each year they recognize many of the student Reflection winners as part of the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the art exhibit at the Department headquarters in Washington, DC. This year, the PTA Reflections theme was “Magic in a Moment,” and millions of students from across the United States created works of art in a variety of mediums, including film, music, literature, and photography. These works of art are exquisitely crafted and reflective of the artists’ stage in life and the experiences that inspired their creation. The student voice and perspective speaks to the world through the vibrant range of expression; it’s truly a celebration of the human experience. ...

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