Gates gives $20M for digital learning, Common Core curriculum

$3M will go to the Pearson Foundation to create 24 online courses supporting the Common Core standards; four of these courses will be free to schools.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced April 27 that it will be investing more than $20 million in game-based learning and other digital tools to help usher the new Common Core standards into the classroom.

The foundation wants to help teachers engage students in learning the challenging new standards being adopted by more than 40 states. It says some of the web-based games, social-networking platforms, and online courses will be available for any teacher to use free of charge.

The new tools will include video games that build proficiency in math, reading, and science, as well as a new game platform that can be used for various subjects. The grants also include money for web-based classes aligned with the new common standards.

Game developers and curriculum writers from around the world are involved in the project, including the Pearson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Pearson PLC, which has announced the development of a complete digital curriculum to support the common standards. The Gates Foundation is providing research and $3 million in funding to help make these digital courses widely available.

Besides the Pearson Foundation, the Gates Foundation also is teaming up with Educurious Partners, Florida Virtual School, Institute of Play, Reasoning Mind, Quest Atlantis, Digital Youth Network, and EDUCAUSE to develop and promote new applications for learning and new assessments aligned with the Common Core standards.

“Teachers are telling us what they want, and we are listening,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of education and college-ready programs for the Gates Foundation. “We believe these exciting world-class tools have the potential to fundamentally change the way students and teachers interact in the classroom, and ultimately, how education works in America.”

The Pearson Foundation is developing 24 online math and English language-arts (ELA) courses to help teachers and principals implement the common standards. These courses will be delivered through a combination of technologies, including video, interactive software, games, social media, and print. Funding from the Gates Foundation will support the development of this robust system of courses, including four—two in math and two in ELA—to be available at no cost on an open platform for schools.

In addition, with a $2 million grant, Florida Virtual School—the nation’s first statewide, internet-based public school—will develop four new digital courses aligned with the Common Core standards. These will include two literacy-based and two math-based courses that are contextualized within disciplines, such as engineering or writing in the natural sciences.

The Gates Foundation’s $742,996 investment in Reasoning Mind, which offers teacher professional development and online elementary math curricula that build algebraic thinking, will pilot a program that makes a single effective math teacher available across multiple classrooms. If successful, one Reasoning Mind-trained teacher can affect the math scores and proficiency of 250 students using the program in different grades at several schools, the foundation said. A Reasoning Mind classroom is a hybrid of online and face-to-face instruction, where the teacher gives each child individual help and attention.

The foundation also is investing in several game-based learning tools, all of which will support the Common Core standards:

• $2.6 million for iRemix, a project being developed by Digital Youth Network. It will be a set of 20 literacy-based trajectories that allow students to earn badges and move from novice to expert in areas like creative writing.

• $2.5 million to Institute of Play, which will build a set of game-based pedagogical tools and game-design curricula that can be used within both formal and informal learning contexts.

• $2.6 million to Quest Atlantis, to create video games that build proficiency in math, literacy, and science.

In addition, a $2 million grant to Educurious Partners will help develop high school courses in biology, freshman literature, and Algebra I through a social-networking internet application. The application will allow students and teachers to collaborate with a variety of experts who are working in professional fields that are relevant to what the students are learning in the courses. These courses also will support the Common Core standards.

Finally, in June, a program called Next Generation Learning Challenges will award up to $10 million in competitive grants to support promising technology-enabled programs built around embedded assessments that can help students master seventh, eighth, and ninth-grade content and competencies aligned with the common standards.

Embedded assessments are a way of testing a student’s knowledge in real time through programs such as online math courses that help students self-pace their learning, game-based learning environments, and literacy instruction delivered through mobile phones. While learning in a digital environment that uses embedded assessments, students demonstrate mastery of a subject to progress to the next level of a game, course, or application.

Next Generation Learning Challenges is a grant competition aimed at identifying and expanding promising technologies that can help improve education in K-12 schools and colleges. It is led by the higher-ed technology association EDUCAUSE with support from the Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

“Technology has advanced how we do so many things today,” said Phillips. “Yet, instead of transforming our schools, technology has generally been placed on top of antiquated models. These new cutting-edge applications have the potential to inspire students and engage them in the way they naturally learn, while giving teachers the flexibility to be creative in their craft and customize tools to their students’ needs.”

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