The future of learning spaces is open ended

Collaboration and creation do not lend themselves to rows of desks. What is the future of learning spaces?

Ed. note: This post, the first of a three-part series, was originally published on SmartBlog on Education.

learning-spacesThe spaces we inhabit have a profound effect on how we inhabit them. Space induces a particular way of feeling, of being. What are we saying to our children with we line them up in 5×8 rows facing the same direction toward a voice of authority? What do we say about desks that lock us in place, where the majority of movement within our gaze is eyes forward, eyes down? I remember my surprise when I walked into first grade for the very first time. The change from kindergarten to first grade was extreme. I looked at the arrangement of desks and thought, “what game is this?” It was a game I would play for the rest of my developing years. I was disappointed. I knew it could be better than this.

We look inside current learning spaces and look at the world; there is a big disconnect. It’s not reflective.We as a society have agreed by doctrine that our children will come together in a building and learn, and yet we allow our kids to be behind desks for a majority of their developing years. We evolve behind desks. Think of that! Students don’t need places to sit, listen and write. Instead, they need places to connect, explore, discover and relate. They need places of support. We spend over a decade being conditioned to receive and compete, imagine if space invoked us to support each other, everyday and in every way.

We need environments that help realize that within us there are unbounded treasures. We need environments that shine a light on our potential and provide opportunities to express ourselves. Schools at their heart should be human potentiality incubators. We need to think about what type of environment supports our own individual greatness. They come first, before college, before careers, before testing. The cultivation of the student, the child, the learner is all that matters. So the question becomes: What kinds of spaces naturally lend themselves to drawing out, rather than pushing in? How does one draw out what is within? And how do we enable one to feel confident enough to draw out from oneself all the magic that is inside. These are the questions of an educational space designer.

A few years ago, I found myself designing learning spaces for new school models of learning. The Playmaker school in Los Angeles became a canvas to explore these ideas. The school model was to make every day interactive, playful and creative. The space created needed to be versatile and functional for experiential learning across a broad spectrum of approaches: role-play, making and building, digital simulations, games, mobile apps, ideation and collaborative exploration. I thought about what experiences could happen in those spaces, extracting the qualities and characteristics of technology, space and teaching methods that could be applied to each space. We experimented with three rooms and asked ourselves, “What kind of room would provoke this way of being?”

A space for the birth of ideas

Imagine yourself within a soft, white room. The room feels safe, perhaps even feminine, not unlike a blank canvas or white egg. Bright, sloping whiteboard walls surround you so every inch of wall space can be drawn upon. Creativity is celebrated here. This is a fresh environment where ideas are free to emerge. Curved, stretchy chairs meet flexible tables, with writable surfaces. Both stand atop Astroturf; a sign of nature and an open field of exploration. The windows are Tetris-shaped and multicolored.

lucien 3

The space acts as an open-ended explorative think tank for education, where kids can purposefully dream, explore and create. Whether launching school projects, openly exploring math and science concepts, constructing novel inventions or imagining innovative companies; this kind of a space symbolizes birth.

A room for adventure

What follows birth? Experimentation and adventure. Imagine a large room with a ceiling grid for hanging displays and dividers that can be sectioned off into small group exploratory spaces or opened up for large collaboration and presentation. It’s an exploration space, ideal for mobile learning, embodied learning, floor simulations and game-based learning where students freely explore a variety of content domains by interacting in virtual environments and one another.

Photo courtesy of Gensler

They role-play through different time periods, design their own galaxies, experiment with forces and motion. Here the room takes on a different theme of exploration by simply changing the digital content and room arrangement. In this space, educators are not positioned as lecturers, at the front of a class. Rather, they move throughout an exploratory space as a guide and advisor, listening in and offering advice as needed. Expression and collaborative interaction is championed in this learning environment.

The makerspace

After exploration and experimentation, creation follows — the manifestation of cultural artifacts, inventions and product as well as the building of confidence through real experience. A space that enables easy movement between individual and group work allows machines to be built, inventions to be launched, games to be programmed, or prototypes to be created. The space adapts elegantly with various multimedia stations, such that all students are motivated to physically manifest their intuition — whether individually or by virtue of collaboration.

Photo courtesy of Gensler

The idea that a school’s function is one of purely academic development should be retired entirely. We have a responsibility to foster each student’s inherent genius and draw out his or her natural brilliance while maximizing emotional growth. Schools have an opportunity to create spaces that represent a more complete trajectory of growth; intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. What if the foundation of schools was to support students holistically? Imagine if every space represented an emotional step in your life. What would these spaces look like? What colors? What ideas? What structures? What tools? What objects of learning would be placed in front of you, every step of the way? Can we imagine a progression of tools and psychological spaces that reflect the whole development of a human being?

Let us imagine it. Let us create that reality.

Lucien Vattel is CEO of nonprofit GameDesk. He also is the founder and co-director of the PlayMaker School. 

Photos courtesy of Gensler.


Int’l Baccalaureate authorizes first ‘Career-related Programme’

Career and technical education in Arkansas takes a leap forward with CP

IB-careerThe students at Hot Springs High School in Hot Springs, Arkansas will soon have another option to choose from when it comes to high-quality preparation for college and career readiness.

Hot Springs High School was recently authorized to offer the International Baccalaureate’s newest educational program, the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme, or CP.

The CP meets the needs of schools seeking a technical or career-related studies option that combines career-related skills with a rigorous academic program to prepare students for success in career or post-secondary education.

Lloyd Jackson, Principal of Hot Springs High School said, “We have been offering the IB’s flagship Diploma Programme since 2004 and are excited to bring on the CP as a way to broaden opportunities for our students who are ready to specialize in a career-related track and want the flexibility of going directly into the work force or onto university studies. The CP fits our student profile perfectly.”

Hot Springs High School students will be able to choose from seven options in the Career-related Programme. These include photography, digital communications, medical professions, criminal justice, introduction to engineering, advertising and design.

Their career-related studies will be complemented by a minimum of two IB Diploma Programme courses, as well a CP core that includes an approaches to learning course, community and service, language development and a reflective project.

The students will be able to choose from the following IB courses: IB Literature and Composition; Biology; History; Physics; Business Management; Information Technology for a Global Society; Math Studies; French and Spanish.

Hot Springs High School is the only high school in the Hot Springs school district. The staff at Hot Springs High School is highly committed to making sure all students have equal opportunities for learning the necessary skills and course materials. Hot Springs High School students are challenged in their learning and are held accountable for becoming successful, productive citizens in the learning environment and in society.

Drew Deutsch, Regional Director for IB Americas said, “We want to congratulate Hot Springs High School on its achievement of becoming the first IB World School in Arkansas to offer the Career-related Programme. We anticipate that the CP will become one of the IB’s most popular offerings because its flexibility allows schools to cater the programme to the needs, backgrounds and contexts of their students and their community.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Game-based platform targets college prep, exams

Naviance Test Prep aims to support students preparing for the redesigned version of the SAT exam

test-prepHobsons has launched Naviance Test Prep, a new online learning platform that is intended to make test prep engaging and personalized for students.

The new solution uses game-based mechanics to deliver content from leading publishers, including McGraw Hill, Allen Prep, Cengage Learning, and MasteryPrep.

“At Hobsons, we recognize the importance of early preparation and academic preparedness when it comes to standardized testing and college readiness exams — not to simply teach to a test but to help students take advantage of opportunity,” said Stephen M. Smith, president of advising and admissions solutions for Hobsons. “Over years of delivering test preparation as part of a comprehensive college and career planning curriculum, we’ve learned that students require an engaging, adaptive approach to instruction in order to maximize their effort. However, even more important is the need to provide actionable insight and reporting to educators so they can identify those students with the most needs. With Naviance Test Prep, institutions — starting with middle schools — can assess the level of academic readiness for each of their students, and deliver the appropriate interventions to improve results.”

Naviance Test Prep is integrated with the Naviance platform, which enables students to access all of their college and career planning resources in one place, and helps school counselors and administrators report on the progress of their institutions’ college readiness efforts while delivering individualized guidance and instruction to each student.

The new courses are personalized to help students maximize study time by focusing on content most important to them. The game-based solution rewards students with achievements and badges as they answer questions correctly.

The latest research on gamification and learning indicates that students are more likely to learn critical concepts when materials contain incentives and game mechanics.

In addition to helping students prepare for the ACT and SAT, Naviance Test Prep now offers content for ACT Aspire and 18 Advanced Placement(R) courses, furthering students’ ability to pursue their college and career readiness goals. The new solution also is aligned to Common Core and ACT standards, and content is continually refreshed by subject-matter experts from various publishers.

Naviance Test Prep was built with schools and educators in mind. Intelligent reporting shows how students are progressing, where they need to improve, and which students need additional support. Students using the foundational technology for Naviance Test Prep saw an average 16 percent test score improvement based on a recent survey. Other useful features include:

  • Score Predictions: Based on historical course data, Naviance Test Prep predicts a student’s score on test day.
  • Tablet Compatibility: For ultimate ease of use, the platform is compatible with any iOS, Android, or Windows device.
  • Fresh Content: Content is continually refreshed by subject matter experts.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Cross-curricular news program targets grades K-5

Newly-launched news program connects younger students with age-appropriate news

news-studentsFlocabulary, creator of educational hip-hop videos, activities and assessments, is launching The Week in Rap Junior, a weekly program that engages elementary students in cross-curricular learning through age-appropriate news stories.

With a new video, standards-based exercises and an interactive creative challenge each week, the dynamic series provides a unique platform to teach core subjects through real-world news and promote the development of important skills like reading, writing and critical thinking.

“We have learned that helping students make connections to the broader world around them is a powerful way to bring the core curriculum to life and get kids actively participating in the learning process,” says Flocabulary CEO Alex Rappaport.

The Week in Rap Junior is a spin-off of The Week in Rap, Flocabulary’s program for grades 5-12. All units in the new series start with an educational hip-hop video, offering students a selection of news stories, and emphasizing age-appropriate vocabulary pertinent to each story. With an emphasis on creating connections to elementary science and social studies curricula, the program draws on global and domestic news to build on students’ existing knowledge while introducing new themes and concepts, from countries and cultures, to innovations and discoveries.

Activities included in each edition are inspired by stories highlighted in the week’s video, and provide opportunities to develop core skills like reading, writing and critical thinking. Each weekly unit also includes a contest with an interactive challenge to engage students in the creative process. A winner will be chosen each week and featured in an upcoming video. Educators new to Flocabulary can sample the first editions of the The Week in Rap Junior series free at The series starts weekly production in early September.

“In the process of developing the program, elementary educators we spoke with were enthusiastic about a resource that naturally integrates social studies and science content into their curriculum,” says Emily Helfgot, Curriculum Director at Flocabulary. “We also know that there is a huge push to get students writing and creating, and we built each Week in Rap Junior offering with activities that ask students to form opinions, organize their thinking, and produce work that is thoughtful and original.”

Beyond The Week in Rap Junior, Flocabulary continues to create new content across subject areas, while building out entirely new subjects for 21st-century learners. Last month, the company announced the release of auto-graded assessments and data tools to help educators use Flocabulary for planning, differentiation and intervention.


Material from a press release was used in this report.


Student Data Principles gain 40 official supporters

Principles intend to build commitment to secure students’ personal information, promote data use in service of learning

data-studentThe Data Quality Campaign (DQC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) today announced that 40 national education organizations officially support the Student Data Principles.

Launched in March 2015, the Principles are a dedicated effort by major national education associations to articulate commonly held principles around the use and safeguarding of student data. To see the full list of supporters, please visit:

“Growing support for the Student Data Principles is a clear affirmation of the education community’s commitment to the effective and responsible use of student data,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, President and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign. “Everyone who uses data to help students achieve should adhere to and build upon these 10 principles.”

“Educators will only gain the trust of parents and families if student information is used responsibly, ethically and when necessary to benefit students,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “This is a very critical effort by the education community to work together to articulate core beliefs and commit to building transparency and trust. In my 30 years of following national education policy, I have never seen such widespread consensus on a contentious issue like privacy.”

In addition to the Principles, DQC and CoSN continue to expand their student data leadership. Both organizations will sponsor the all-day “National Student Privacy Symposium” on September 21 in Washington, DC. The Symposium presents a thoughtful consideration by leading education and privacy experts of how student data should be collected and used to improve student outcomes.

To learn more about the Principles, visit:

Material from a press release was used in this report.


The one-stop shop approach to an IT overhaul

The largest county in the U.S. faces a lot of challenges. Managing a huge IT network is only one

it-integratedSchools everywhere are in the midst of some major changes. There’s the usual implementation of Common Core standards and Smarter Balance assessments, and, for my district at least– San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools in California– a new funding model, the rollout of local control accountability plans, an aging network, and our staggering geography.

By sheer size alone, my district has always faced some challenges. Part of that is to be expected when your schools stretch across a county larger than 20,000 square miles that serves more than 410,000 students and 34,000 teachers, administrators and staff across 540 school sites.

To best address the needs of our learners moving into the 21st century, we set out to implement an upgraded, state-of-the-art technology infrastructure that could deliver the robust, reliable and secure performance. Our approach was to address our infrastructure end-to-end, from the classrooms to the data center and network, which would enable us to prepare our schools and staff for a technology-driven approach that would support both 21st century learning as well as California’s new teaching and assessment requirements.

All of this makes delivering high quality IT services, a major part of my job, crucial to our mission of transforming lives through education. As the head of technical services, my team is responsible for keeping SBCSS’s networks, servers and storage—anything that runs on a wire—operating at peak performance. That’s why we took special notice when we started experiencing slow performance on our network.

This posed a serious problem, especially as ramping up for Common Core meant we would need more than one gigabit of network throughput to ensure sufficient bandwidth for online testing demands. We also realized that the implementation of new educational standards would cause a greater need for security and endpoint systems management along with scalable storage that could keep up with our growing data requirements.

As we started to evaluate the IT landscape, it was immediately obvious there were myriad vendors that could supply various pieces of the IT puzzle. We knew because we had tried many of them, piecing products together to run our system. This time, we felt the best route was to find a one-stop shop that could address all our needs at once.

Adopting this approach would enable SBCSS to embrace hardware and software for our data center, network, and classroom environments. We had learned our lesson because previously, we needed extensive knowledge to manage our current IT infrastructure, which included too many point products. Much of our days were spent managing the specific ins and outs of each disparate product; because if something impacted one, there remained uncertainty about how it may impact the rest.

Future-ready infrastructure

Dell came to the table with a holistic mix of hardware and software solutions that would let us leverage leading-edge technology for servers, storage, networking, security and endpoint systems management. Dell PoweEdge blade servers support our massive VMware infrastructure while Dell networking solutions replaced outdated and expensive Cisco switches to increase our capacity and connectivity at both the network core and edges.

To better address security, SBCSS installed a pair of Dell SonicWALL SuperMassive E10800 firewalls at our data center in San Bernardino with another two at our disaster recovery site in Victorville and a network node for the districts in the High Desert area. Dell KACE systems management appliances addressed our needs for managing hardware inventory, software upgrades and equipment rollouts. Dell EqualLogic storage arrays replaced complicated and expensive EMC storage to help us keep pace with accelerated data growth.

New ways to collaborate

While most people think school districts are off over the summer, my team is busy replenishing or refurbishing our assets so we’re set for school to start again. With our integrated IT infrastructure, we can spend less time troubleshooting problems and more time helping the district embrace new ways to teach, learn, and collaborate.

Through a single pane of glass, we can manage our IT assets easier and better. We can proactively prevent security threats and protect our network from unwanted intrusions. Additionally, SBCSS can stay ahead of the technology curve by ensuring we have ample storage, sufficient network bandwidth and security both inside the data center as well as across all schools and classrooms.

Previously, SBCSS had no control over inventory. With KACE, we displaced a dozen different products and now use one comprehensive solution for endpoint systems management. This enables us to image 10-to-12 systems in a day, whereas previously we could do only two.

As a manager, that is something I truly appreciate. So is having information at my fingertips; we have what we need to do our jobs, even remotely. With our county being roughly the size of West Virginia, the fact we can do things quicker and easier without having to drive four hours to a site is almost heaven.

David Evans is systems security research officer for the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.




This school is using ‘Shark Tank’ to teach research and presentation skills

TV game show format comes to the classroom

shark-tankTeachers at Holly Pond Middle School are turning to a popular reality TV show as inspiration to get students interested in flexing their research and presentation skills.

The school used public funding to add an eLearning library environment for students this year. Principal Chuck Gambrill and teacher April Dean worked throughout the summer to convert an old classroom into a collaborative learning environment, and they have added a suite of Samsung Galaxy tablets and iPads allowing students to download books from a virtual library.

Aside from the obvious benefits of offering a wide array of reading materials, school officials say the devices have also created a fresh opportunity to teach students how to research, create and apply their knowledge via the internet and Google applications.

To that end, the school is applying a format based on the popular TV series “Shark Tank,” which tasks aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their business proposals to a panel of “shark” investors. Successful pitches require rock solid research and the ability to communicate an idea clearly and successfully — and those are the exact skills Gambrill and Dean hope to instill in these students.

The project sees students research and develop a mock business plan in hopes of winning over an “investor.” Gambrill said he believes the reality TV idea is a relatable, tangible way to both engage students and teach them the tangible benefits of the skills they’ll be using.

“By using the Shark Tank idea we will be teaching our students business skills, presentation skills, and organizational skills,” he said in a prepared statement.

Students are broken down into small groups and assigned a popular current product. From there, they’re asked to research the product, create a presentation and then deliver the presentation to the class.

The groups will present to their individual classes with the winners, and the winners will advance to a final round in February.

“Myself and April are excited to see the positive reaction by the students about this learning experience.” Gambrill said in a prepared statement. “Cullman County Schools is proud to be leveraging technology and teacher creativity to deliver well-educated, informed and motivated students to the next level.”

©2015 The Cullman Times (Cullman, Ala.). Visit The Cullman Times (Cullman, Ala.) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


First annual Global Collaboration Day hopes to connect every school

Daylong event focuses on classroom collaboration in a globalized world

global-collaborationMark your calendars — this September 17 schools around the world are going international for Global Collaboration Day, a first-of-its-kind event designed to raise awareness about the merits of participating in projects that cross borders.

In addition to a handful of PD sessions for educators, there will be opportunities for mystery Skype calls, special Twitter chats, an international discussion conducted via WhatsApp, and a Q&A with a judge centered around the U.S. Constitution. (An updating calendar of events, arranged by time zone, is available online).

The daylong event series is the brainchild of Steve Hargadon and Lucy Gray, who run the annual Global Education Conference, a traditional online conference which takes place in November.

Global Collaboration Day, by contrast, has no central online hub where all events are hosted, as a conference might. Instead, individual educators and partner organizations will organize their own sessions using any online medium they choose, leading to a diverse roster of collaborative opportunities.

Right now, Gray is busying herself with outreach to the global network she’s built up around her conference — a network that reaches more than 20,000 educators in 150 countries. And while she’s hoping educators reserve a slot on their calendars and participate in an event, she’s also looking for hosts who will help organize their own events with a partner school, preferably abroad. “It could be a survey, a Hangout on Air — whatever they’re comfortable with,” she said.

This spring Hargadon and Gray will also add a leadership summit, a two-day online event aimed at school administrators and other education thought leaders around the question: How do we globalize schools?

“The difference is that the November event is very inclusive. Anyone can present,” Gray says about the flagship Global Education Conference. “We accept those presentations to give everyone a chance to show their work. In the spring, it’s going to be handpicked speakers that are going to benefit a leadership audience.”

Educators interested in participating or hosting events should visit Global Collaboration Day’s website or get in touch with Lucy Gray directly.


New diagnostic tool measures reading skills, targets success

Lexia Learning’s RAPID Assessment offers predictions for reading success; provides guidance for instruction

reading-tool“Data-driven instruction” has become a watchword in education, but interpreting and using data for instructional planning remains a formidable hurdle for teachers, many of whom lack the necessary tools, time, or training.

To help educators successfully address this problem, Lexia Learning, a Rosetta Stone® company, has launched RAPID (Reading Assessment for Prescriptive Instructional Data) Assessment, a computer-adaptive screener and diagnostic tool for students in grades 3–12.

Designed for administration in the fall, winter, and spring, RAPID uses a computer-adaptive process to identify and monitor reading and language skills so that teachers can quickly acquire actionable data for instruction and measure the long-term growth of each student’s skills.

In addition to measuring the skills that are highly predictive of reading success–word recognition, vocabulary knowledge, syntactic knowledge, and reading comprehension–RAPID helps educators make decisions within a Response to Intervention or Multi-Tier System of Support model by helping to determine which students are at-risk for difficulty and then providing guidance on the level of instructional intensity needed for student success.

RAPID also provides a diagnostic profile for each student, pinpointing specific academic areas that should be targeted. Additionally, the diagnostic profile links directly to Lexia-provided instructional strategies for the teacher and identifies students with similar profiles for small-group instruction.

This new assessment is the result of Lexia’s ongoing partnership with researchers from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR), a multidisciplinary research center at Florida State University. FCRR’s continuing research and innovation in the area of language and literacy assessment was instrumental in determining the most predictive skills, testing methodologies, and strategies to convey meaningful data in a manner that best informs instruction.

“This partnership has led to the creation of an assessment that breaks new ground in terms of efficiency and effectiveness,” said Lexia President Nick Gaehde. “RAPID’s computer-adaptive approach draws-upon both an extensive research base and large resource bank to create a fast, reliable assessment of growth as well as domain-specific skill development.”

“With RAPID, teachers can now obtain an in-depth measurement of reading ability within the timeframe of a typical class period,” said FCRR Director Barbara Foorman, Ph.D. “This allows for more time to be spent teaching rather than administering lengthy assessments, many of which require additional time to decipher the data and determine how best to address individual student needs.”

Rather than administer several lengthy assessments, teachers and administrators using RAPID obtain the information they need regarding student progress via a Reading Success Probability (RSP) score, a set of Ability Scores, and a set of Percentile Scores based on the student’s grade level. All three scores are provided at the student level and then aggregated to the class, grade, school, and district levels.

Each student receives an individual RSP score indicating the overall level of instructional intensity needed to reach grade level proficiency by the end of the school year. The RSP score then becomes a roadmap for educators with a prediction of students’ future reading success on a standardized outcome measure.

The Ability Score represents an estimate of each student’s abilities and development in a particular skill area within and across grade levels (for example, their current level of vocabulary knowledge). This score, when compared to a student’s prior Ability Scores, indicates relative growth in the skill. The Percentile Score shows a student’s relative performance compared to grade-level norms and guides instructional strategies based on the student’s personal profile of strengths and weaknesses.

These three types of information provide educators with an enormous amount of insight when determining what steps need to be taken to drive student gains. Teachers and administrators can see how many students have a high probability of success (an RSP of 70 percent or greater) and the distribution of RSP scores across a grade, school, or district.

Educators can also longitudinally track students’ personal skill development growth over a school year and across multiple years. Additionally, the data enables educators to track the impact of instructional interventions and programs across a school or district and administrators can use the school- and district-wide profiles to assess the need for curriculum review.

“The Gates Foundation recently published a report that showed teachers not only need data, but they need classroom instructional strategies as well,” said Gaehde. “With the availability of RAPID, Lexia can help educators quickly and effectively clarify the instructional needs of students and help them meet those needs efficiently.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.