Illustration by Angelina Berardi
What's the Big Idea?
Get rid of summer vacation. Make teachers pass a board exam. Encourage slow learning. Eat smart cookies. Smart cookies? Hey, what's the big idea?
When it comes to "improving" schools, students, and teachers, there's no shortage of opinions out there on what won't work. We wanted to know, what could work? For several months, we asked people to tell us one tangible education idea they had that was worth spreading. Some writers are connected to the Ed School, others aren't. Yes, there's even an idea from a Muppet. As you'll see, a few ideas are slight twists on thoughts we've heard before; others are quirky and curious. All, we hope, will get you thinking.
"Fail early, fail often" is a mantra of many software engineers. This phrase makes explicit the necessity of being iterative and incremental in design work. It is a view of creativity that acknowledges its messiness, complexity, and process-orientation. And although learning, like software design, is messy, complex, and process-oriented, most formal educational experiences do not encourage being iterative and incremental. Failure is often a dirty word in schools when it should be something we embrace, something we aspire to — an essential part of every learning experience. Let's create a culture of learning in which we trust students to explore wildly ambitious ideas and activities, and support them to confront and analyze their failures when the need to refine and repeat does (and should) happen. As Samuel Beckett wrote, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
Karen Brennan is an assistant professor at the Ed School who received her doctorate from the MIT Media Lab.
Abandon the Clock
The current system of education is time-based. Students attend 12 grades of school for 180 days a year, taking classes for lengths of time established by the Carnegie Foundation in 1906. College is comparable. The focus is on how long students are exposed to teaching, and it assumes all students can learn the same amount in the same period of time. So let's abandon the clock and switch the focus from teaching to learning. This would be a time-variable system of education rooted in the outcomes or competencies students are expected to achieve. Students would advance according to mastery and the curriculum would be individualized to meet the learning needs of each student. High-stakes testing would give way to just-in-time assessments built into each instructional unit much like a GPS. The teacher would have four roles: diagnostician of student learning needs, prescriptor of the best instructional approaches for each student to meet those needs, instructor, and assessor of student progress. The principal beneficiaries of the change will be our children.
Arthur Levine is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship foundation and president emeritus of Teachers College at Columbia University.
Bye Bye Homework
I think we shouldn't have homework. I think that we shouldn't have homework because it wastes our free time. My mom thinks we should not have homework, too, because she doesn't believe in it, and she says that because she thinks it wastes our time, too. Besides, kids want free time to watch television and play games like soccer and Chutes and Ladders 'cause that's fun, unlike homework. We also work hard at school all day. If I could change one thing, I would definitely stop homework.
Charlotte Evans is a second-grader in northern Virginia and granddaughter of Paula Evans, M.A.T.'67.
Make Teachers Pass a Board Exam
Lawyers have the bar, doctors have boards, and teachers have … Praxis exams? As we move into an era in which we are aiming for all students to leave school "college and career ready," we need to similarly upgrade the expectations for entering teachers. Teachers need their own version of boards — a rigorous set of requirements that would include exams of content and pedagogical knowledge, observations of teaching, and examinations of students' work — which would certify teachers as having successfully completed their training and earned their membership into a demanding and highly skilled profession.
This is not a new idea, but it is one whose time has come. In the past year, both major teachers' unions as well as the organization that represents state educational leaders have championed it. If such an exam were sufficiently rigorous, it could be a game-changer. Demanding new requirements could shape who is drawn to teaching, guide the work of teacher preparation institutions, develop more consistent skill across the teaching force, improve student outcomes, and greatly increase public regard for teachers and teaching.
Jal Mehta is an associate professor at the Ed School, coauthor of The Futures of School Reform, and author of The Allure of Order.Teach
Filmmaking in Elementary Schools
I think filmmaking should be taught in all elementary schools. When kids know how to use video cameras and editing software, they have another way to present their work and express their ideas.
I have been making movies since the camera was bigger than my head. At school, I was not excited about many of the activities offered, such as sports or performing. At one point, I thought my head would explode if I had to sing another silly song for a school show.
In first grade, I found a way to use filmmaking in my schoolwork. I did a report for a book called New York, New York, Big Apple from A–Z. Instead of just writing a regular report, I made a video showing me visiting all the places in the book. This made the book come alive for me. In fourth grade, I learned about journalism by making a documentary about school lunch. This project made me a better thinker and presenter. Learning about film-making helps students discover that they don't just have to be mindless consumers of content made by other people. They can also be creators of their own original work. When I grow up, I hope to be a successful filmmaker. The skills I am learning now, even as an elementary school student, are helping me to reach that goal.
Zachary Maxwell is an 11-year-old, award-winning filmmaker who attends public school in New York City.
Forget the Four-Year College
The way we currently do things is you go to a university and spend four years, starting when you're 18 or 19. Then we give you a degree. Why is four years the right number? Why is 18 the right age to start? Instead, let's think about continuous learning. Starting in high school, you take online courses and spend time working. By the time you go to a university, you've completed maybe a year of freshman-level courses. Then you go to the university and spend maybe two years getting the campus experience, interacting with peers. For the final year or two, we let you go: You go into the world and then spend the rest of your life learning. All it takes is one innovative university to pilot a program like this, to dip a toe in the water without getting hurt, to say to students, "We'll give you five years to take x amount of courses." The beauty of this approach is that students only have to pay tuition for two years and the university can, in turn, take in twice as many students.
Anant Agarwal is president of edX, a worldwide, online learning initiative started by Harvard and MIT, where he is also a professor.
Give Pell Grants to Kids
Congress should enact Pell Grants for kids and provide a $500 scholarship to each of the 25 million low- and middle-income children in America. This idea is neither new nor entirely my own. In the late 1960s, Ed School Dean Ted Sizer proposed a Poor Children's Bill of Rights that would have supplied scholarships of $5,000 per child to the poorest half of American children. President George H.W. Bush put forward a similar idea in 1992, while I was secretary of education.
Under a K–12 program modeled on Pell, which helps low-income students attend the colleges of their choice, children could use their grants at any accredited school, public or private, or for private tutoring or online courses. If you made the grant available to families earning $58,000 or less, you'd reach about half of America's 50 million elementary and secondary school students. Parents armed with $500 grants would go directly into the education marketplace, encouraging the same dynamics of choice and competition that have made American universities the envy of the world.
While the grants could be used in private schools, I believe most parents are likely to direct the money to their public school to meet its general needs or to seek the school's advice on how best to help their child. Affluent parents regularly augment their schools' budgets with contributions for extra programs. It's time to give less-affluent parents the same opportunity.
Lamar Alexander, a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee, is a former U.S. secretary of education and university president.
Eat Cookies and Control Yourself
Hello there, it me, Cookie Monster. Now when me asked what me think next big thing in education was, me first thought of course was cookie. Me thought there should be some sort of cookie that have knowledge baked right in. This way me eat and learn at same time. Me thought this pretty groundbreaking idea. But technology no there yet! So me throw it over to the boys that make cookies and we see what happened.
In meantime, me asked research department here at Sesame what they think is next big thing in education. And they tell me it executive function. At first me think executive function is learning skills like how to go to meeting, how to wear pin-stripe suit, how not to commit corporate malfeasance. But that not it at all. Executive function is all about controlling self. They say controlling self is very important when you go to school. And me tell them me should be poster boy for executive function. Me know all about controlling self. Me control meself round the clock. Wait a minute. Clock is round. Like cookie. Now me cannot think of anything else but cookie. Me need cookie! Where coo-kie? COO-KIEEEEEE!! Ahm-ahm-ahm! Anyway, where was me? Oh yeah, executive function. It next big thing.
Cookie Monster is, well, Cookie Monster.
A note from Rosemarie Truglio, head of research at Sesame Workshop: School readiness has always been at the heart of Sesame Street's mission. While Cookie Monster is focusing on building his executive-function skills to help control his impulses to eat cookies, Sesame Workshop is focusing its attention on developing preschoolers' self-regulation and executive function skills, both core to their school and life success. Children are able to respond in a more purposeful and controlled manner through the ABCs of self-regulation, which are: 1. affective: ability to understand and manage your feelings; 2. behavior: impulse control, frustration tolerance, and delay of gratification; and 3. cognitive (executive function skills): working memory, planning, intentional self-control, flexible thinking skills, and task persistence.
Don't Teach All Students the Same Way
People are really different! Really! Different people have different interests and talents. As teachers we need to shape what we teach to fit the different interests and talents of our students. Then we can help them to learn along the distinctive pathways that fit each of them. Another way of saying this is that we need to individualize instruction. One student loves music and learns about it easily and well. Another engages with acting and enjoys playing roles and acting out stories. Each person is unique, and we should recognize this uniqueness by shaping what we teach to fit each person's distinctive needs and talents.
Kurt Fischer is a professor at the Ed School and director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program.
Teach Social Skills to Middle Schoolers
Middle school students should be explicitly taught social development skills. In many schools, school-wide discipline focuses mainly on reacting to specific student misbehavior by implementing punishment-based strategies. But the implementation of punishment, especially when it is used inconsistently and in the absence of other positive strategies, is ineffective. There is a new wave of small schools that simply teach students to comply with directives. But how does that support the Common Core Standards that focus on students using higher-order thinking skills to be able to think on their own? It is essential for students, in all schools, to be taught tools to help them monitor their own behavior and for this to be reinforced through explicit modeling and reinforcing.
Caitlin Franco, Ed.M.'06, is principal and founder of Equality Charter School in the Bronx, N.Y.
Given what the research tells us about the arts as a keystone for engaging students, as well as a springboard for academic learning, what if each morning, school could begin with a jumpstART? Every student would take part in a 15-minute, arts-infused learning activity, like reading a poem by Maya Angelou, then entering the text through rhythmic and melodic interpretations, using voices and found objects to create a cacophony of sounds; or finding a specimen in nature, then analyzing and drawing it in visual journals.
Grade-level teacher teams would collaborate on a weekly basis to determine the "theme" for each morning's jumpstART mini-curriculum. This theme would then be a focus for the day and carry in some way into each of their academic classrooms. At the end of the day students and teachers would spend a few minutes together debriefing the activity and connecting it to the theme.
The intent of jumpstART is to spark students' imaginations, ignite both critical and innovative thinking pathways, inspire deeper understanding and demonstrate the clear connections in and across the academic subject areas, build a classroom culture that supports informal performances to engage students, and build a schoolwide conversation on teacher practice.
Eileen Mackin, Ed.M.'97, is director and founder of SmART Schools.
Use Kiosks to Teach Street Kids
In 1999, Sugata Mitra, a professor at NIIT University in India, conducted his "hole-in-the-wall" experiment aimed at proving that street children could teach themselves how to use a computer without any formal training. When Mitra ran the experiment, computers were costly in India. These days, however, they are everywhere. Just in the city of Bangalore, India, there are more than a dozen kiosks that are available for citizens to make their electricity bill payments — 24/7. These kiosks are over and above the human-operated walk-in service centers across the city and have a down time, not just during non-office hours, but also during the latter half of the month. Let's repurpose that downtime to teach street children life skills. These kiosks are accessible to the street children and are relatively safe spaces for learning. There have been enough studies on how street children can teach themselves through images. We just have to present them with enough opportunities. Why not let them use these screens when we are not?
Mydhili Bayyapunedi, Ed.M.'11, lives in India and is interested in designing informal learning for the illiterate.
Add Ethically-Based, Coming-of-Age Ritual
With fewer Americans actively religious, fewer youth are participating in meaningful traditions that can build moral commitment and awareness.
Why not instate an ethically-based, coming-of-age ritual in schools? Some schools have developed "youth capstone" experiences, but these experiences commonly lack a substantial ethical component. Students might instead undertake a capstone, guided by a school and/ or community adult, that engages them in building and reflecting on an ethical school community, developing their empathy, respect for differences, commitment to justice and other capacities key to their being effective citizens, workers, and family members. This semester or yearlong project might include, say, writing a biography of someone in the school who is very different in background; creating a video comprising interviews with other students, custodians, school secretaries, and various other school community members about what constitutes a just community; or developing a board or video game that promotes empathy and responsibility. This project could culminate in a community ceremony where students display their projects or perform. Students might undertake this sustained experience at key developmental junctures, e.g., ages 13 and 16.
True, establishing this tradition will be tough for already strapped schools. But this low-cost ritual can help build more caring communities; strengthen students' ties to school adults; engage parents around a vibrant, positive activity; and develop both students' academic and ethical skills. And the stark reality is this: If we want a just society, we need to far more carefully attend in schools to developing students with the skills and commitments to lead just lives.
Richard Weissbourd, Ed.D.'87, a lecturer at the Ed School, is also director of the Human Development and Psychology Program and co-director of the Making Caring Common Project.
Offer Comedy Classes
How about comedy classes for kids? At last the kids who pass messages and make funny comments and sit in the back of the class would have a chance to shine! Homework? Write two or three minutes of jokes. (This is longer than one would think.) Topic? Family, friends, pets, vacation, weather, sports, current events. Presentation? Great practice in public speaking, in knowing your audience. Throw in some improv and acting. Great skills (thinking on your feet, listening to others) for any future businessperson, educator, or politician. Learn not to tell jokes about your teachers if you want a good grade. Learn the value of humor in any presentation. And have fun!
Jane Condon, Ed.M.'74, is a comedian who has appeared on the Tonight Show, Last Comic Standing, and The View.
In today's increasingly interconnected world, we have to change the way we think about education and approach it as a cooperative, global effort instead of a local, competitive one. For too long, education has been defined as a domestic or local issue. When political leaders do talk about education globally, it's often in a zero-sum way — if China is up, then the United States is down. But at a time when economies are linked and gross inequality anywhere is a threat to security and prosperity everywhere, we all have a stake in ensuring that marginalized children across the world receive a high-quality education. Consider the far-reaching consequences when India is projected to comprise a quarter of the world's workforce by 2030 yet is failing to equip 90 percent of today's students with a secondary school education. The good news is, momentum for change is growing. We can fuel it by building a global community among advocates and organizations fighting to expand educational opportunity in their countries. We should also lobby our leaders to embrace global benchmarks and work collaboratively with their foreign counterparts to move forward faster. There are more tools and resources than ever before to help us learn from top-performing teachers, schools, and school systems around the world. We should use them. We are all better off in a world of rising education levels and decreasing disparities.
Wendy Kopp is the founder and CEO of Teach For America.
Make Coding Mandatory
Coding is the new literacy. All individuals must be literate in computer systems to engage in building a better society. Everything we do is tied to using computer systems — from reading the news and purchasing groceries, to communicating with family, to teaching and learning and activating community. How are America's schools preparing youth for digital citizenship? Unfortunately, it remains mostly focused on the 3Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) while the ability to read, write, and manipulate code is quickly becoming more relevant.
Why? Coding breaks barriers of geography, enabling collaboration, creative storytelling, and innovation, as well as leveraging the diverse expertise of people in multiple places to solve the world's most pressing problems independent of linguistic or cultural differences. This is why every student in every school should be required to learn to read and write code.
Some schools teach coding through supplemental programs or advanced computing classes, but this skill should not be a perk for some students in affluent zip codes; it must be available to everyone, starting young, despite geography or socioeconomic status. The only way to do this is through a national shift in K–12 curriculum. As with reading and mathematics, exposure to coding from an early age will yield deeper fluency — whether we become programmers or not. We all learn how to write as a pathway to prosperity, but we do not all become novelists. These days it is the same with coding. If we do not commit nationally to creating a pipeline of creative coders who can read, write, and think with this language, we compromise the future of our youth and our nation.
Idit Harel Caperton, Ed.M.'84, C.A.S.'85, is president and CEO of World Wide Workshop and Globaloria. She has advocated for teaching every child computer programming since the 1980s.
Encourage Slow Learning
Schools should be in the business of teaching complex knowledge, and complex knowledge develops slowly. Slow learning involves radically expanding the typical timeframe devoted to learning about complex things. It might mean spending a few hours looking at a painting rather than a few minutes, or spending an entire afternoon examining the pattern of weeds growing at the edge of the playground. It might mean creating long lists of questions about a topic and then slowly sifting through them to discern multiple paths of inquiry. It might mean taking weeks or even months to explore a historical event from a wide variety of perspectives. It might mean spending an entire year exploring a problem in the community and designing and testing a solution.
Young people — indeed most of us — spend huge amounts of time speeding along the super highways of information and communication. Schools shouldn't be part of the traffic, they should be a respite, a rest stop, a place where learning can unfold slowly and where there is always ample time to poke and probe and tinker with complex things and ideas. The path to complex knowledge doesn't run straight, and it shouldn't be traveled quickly.
Shari Tishman, Ed.D.'91, is director of Project Zero and a lecturer at the Ed School.
To Understand LGBT Students, Walk in Their Shoes
All students should feel safe to learn and thrive in schools. By encouraging all students to engage in perspective-taking about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, I think there is a real opportunity to increase tolerance and acceptance for sexual minorities.
One possible way to do this is to allow students to participate in discussions about LG BT people, including providing them with the opportunity to ask questions and to reflect on how their own behavior impacts their LG BT peers. The simple act of reflecting on the lived experiences of people who are different — in this case based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but potentially based on other minority identities — is an important step toward improving school climate for all students.
Adrienne Mundy-Shephard, Ed.M.'12, is a current Ed.D. student at the Ed School and a member of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth.
Get Rid of Compulsory Schooling
In the April 1924 issue of The American Mercury, journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken ginned up a well-constructed piece on the true purpose of public education: "The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality." With lineage in 19th-century Prussia, Horace Mann and various education reformers were successful in molding a compulsory school system — forcing children to kowtow to an irrational authority for years on end and learn via obedience and coercion, antithetical to human development. It is a well-known fact among historians like David McCullough that the literacy rates prior to compulsory schooling were much higher in states like Massachusetts.
We must get rid of compulsory schooling in this country. It will force schools to reinvent their practices and become humane and healthy places to send children, instead of being another rite of passage around age five. Meanwhile, let's reimagine our cities and communities as engines for schooling and problem-solving, where learning shifts from institutions and into the "town square" — coffee shops, makerspaces, museums, libraries, and community centers. There are too many problems to solve, too many people to meet, and too many lives to touch to mandate that young people be holed up in prison-like buildings and conditions for some of the most creative years of their lives.
What if we gave young people the tools and resources, opened the floodgates, and let them have the freedom to live and learn?
Nikhil Goyal, a recent high school graduate, is the author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School.
Support Girls' Right to Learn
Take education for girls even more seriously. This fact from the World Bank may surprise you: Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world. Research has shown that educating a girl has substantial positive effects on child mortality and nutrition, overall family health, fertility rates, women's domestic empowerment, women's wages, and, most interestingly, overall countrywide economic development. While this fact has been known in development circles for more than two decades, the power of educating girls has recently caught on in popular discussion. With books and films like Half the Sky and Girl Rising capturing people's attention, and the tragic shooting of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai for advocating for girls' education in Pakistan dominating international headlines, it's heartening to witness a big idea get bigger. Let's make sure we don't take education for girls for granted but, instead, continue to push for more investment around the world.
Nell O'Donnell, Ed.M.'10, is a current doctoral student in the Cultures, Communities, and Education concentration.
Good Riddance to the Summer Vacay
Let's make summer vacation two weeks instead of two months. That alone would radically improve the outcomes of our students, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods. While most of us have fond memories of our summer vacations, it has been documented that students lose two or more months of what they learn during the school year. For poor kids, the loss is typically worse than for their middle class peers since they usually don't have enriching summer activities. So our "lazy days of summer" worsen America's achievement gap; one study found it accounted for more than half of the gap. In the unstructured days of summer, kids also eat more and are more sedentary so they gain weight faster, contributing to the country's obesity epidemic. Shortening the summer break would also be a help to working parents. About half of America's moms are working fulltime, which means they have to scramble for childcare coverage. Like many of today's education problems, the remedy has been off the table and never given serious consideration. But if schools are going to serve the kids in them, not the adults, shortening our "traditional" summer vacation makes perfect sense.
Geoffrey Canada, Ed.M.'75, is the president and CEO of the nonprofit Harlem Children's Zone.
Don't Let the Boss Do All the Thinking
As educational leaders feel the ever-present burden of doing more with less, many leaders draw on their own knowledge and insights or simply work harder. But does being smarter or working harder actually create better schools? Our research shows that when leaders rely too heavily on their own intelligence, they underutilize the capability of their teams. People learn it's easier and safer to let the boss do the thinking. These leaders become "diminishers" of intelligence. Contrast this to a different model for leadership that we call "multipliers." Multipliers focus their attention on amplifying the intelligence of those around them. Instead of being the genius-at-the-top with all the good ideas, they are genius makers. At a time when educational organizations are expected to do more with less, leaders can't afford to overlook the intelligence and capability that sits right in front of them. Educational leaders must draw on the intelligence of everyone on their staff and student body, effectively doubling their brain force for free.
Elise Foster, Ed.M.'06, is coauthor of a book for educational leaders called The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.
Get Rid of 12th Grade
A business-as-usual senior year is a waste of time. States with exit exams generally peg them to a 10th-grade level, which ought to tell you something about official expectations. Thousands of motivated kids refuse to accept that state of affairs and so enroll in college. That's commendable, but why not raise the bar in high school and shorten the time? If some students need a 12th year, fine. But why bore hundreds of thousands of our youth? Instead, spend the money on free, universal, high-quality preschool. States are cutting preschool spending now, but they don't have to — if they are willing to think outside the box. They could take a great leap forward; provide free, highquality, universal preschool for all of our four-year-olds; and rescue our 12thgraders from boredom at the same time. What's not to like about that?
John Merrow, Ed.D.'73, is the education correspondent for PBS NewsHour and president of Learning Matters, an independent production company.
Let Students Use One Another to Learn
The digital revolution is taking place so quickly and on so many fronts that it's hard to catch hold of generalizable principles. But consider these three parallel and seemingly independent phenomena: More than 98 percent of all children and young people play video games; the time devoted to social networking, whether on Facebook or newer platforms, has grown explosively; and the favored means of both information-seeking and communications, especially among young people, is no longer via computers or laptops but smartphones.
What underlies these and other trends of the digital era is the emphasis on connecting with peers — competing with, socializing with, and sharing information with people in your own age group. Whether it's relationships, health, entertainment, or tips about anything else, studies show that young people's number one "go to" source for informal learning is other youth online.
So let's tap into this preference to make formal learning more natural and more attractive. Invite children to choose a few learning partners for each subject in school. Stop making teachers manage classrooms of 25 or more students. Instead, teachers can give short lessons that introduce new material, and then young people can tutor one another in small groups, using whatever technology they are comfortable with. Teachers can spend more time with kids who are struggling while offering challenging prompts to more advanced groups. We always say that teaching something is the best way to learn it. Let's share this secret with children, and turn their preference for learning from peers into a strength rather than a threat.
Joe Blatt, Ed.M.'77, is director of the Technology, Innovation, and Education Program and a senior lecturer at the Ed School.
Give Them Salad Bars
Years ago, when asked what the one thing schools could do to improve childhood nutrition, I said, "Get a salad bar." It's a great way to give kids access to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. There were a lot of naysayers who said it wouldn't work, that little kids wouldn't know how to use them and that big kids would spit in them. But kids from kindergarten through high school all over the country have proved the naysayers wrong. Broccoli and cherry tomatoes and carrots and spinach disappear faster and faster as kids grow to love their salad bars. They should be a mandatory part of every school nutrition program.
Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady chef, is founder of FoodFamily Farming Foundation and won't stop until healthy, whole, and delicious school food is no longer considered renegade.
Let Students Solve Problems
Students should be provided, as part of their regular educational experiences in middle school and high school, with frequent opportunities to identify a problem they have an interest in, study it, think through options to address it, and design solutions. This activity should extend over a substantial period of time, even an academic year, serving as a fulcrum for integration of the knowledge and skills students are gaining in their academic studies. Students themselves should be leading these activities, with teachers and other adults serving as resources and mentors. Teachers and school leaders could facilitate this opportunity by: a) setting aside specific time for students to engage in this form of design-based education, for instance, by establishing design and innovation labs; b) infusing in the curriculum opportunities for students to establish links to this activity; c) structuring opportunities to inspire students to study and solve a problem, for instance showcasing current and past students' exemplary projects; d) providing opportunities for students to present their projects to an authentic audience of peers and members of the community; and e) not telling students what projects to work on by staying hands-off.
Fernando Reimers, Ed.M.'84, Ed.D.'88, is a professor at the Ed School and director of the International Education Program.
Use Teacher "Talk" To Reduce Student Stress
Students experience stress at school. That's a fact. But teachers can help, just by what they say, what I call "teacher talk." A study published in Science describes an intervention by which students were prompted by teachers to talk about and reaffirm their most important values in writing before taking a high-stakes test. The impact of this simple intervention was huge, with a precipitous drop in student stress and an associated 40 percent drop in the achievement gap between African American and European American students on the test. Because emotions are biological processes based in social interaction, teachers can help their students manage school-related stress through the language they use in the classroom. When prompted, the mind can be a powerful tool to destress the body. A teacher might say, "Everyone feels a little stress when they have to take an important test, but it's important to remember that no matter how we do on the test, we are each a valuable part of this community. Let's take a few minutes before we start the test to reflect on our values and how those values are important to our community." Actively relieving stress is a skill students can develop with the support of knowledgeable adults. Teacher talk is one very important mechanism by which stress management can be modeled.
Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Ed.M.'00, Ed.D.'07, is the director of research at CAST, Inc., and an adjunct lecturer at the Ed School, where she teaches a course on emotion in development and learning.
Expand Augmented Reality
We should expand how we currently use augmented reality for learning — beyond the classroom. In augmented reality, participants gaze through the camera of a mobile device, such as a cellphone or a tablet, to see digital material overlaid on top of a real-world setting. For example, someone gazing at a stream could see an image of that watercourse a century ago, or an animation showing air mixing into the water via its churning motion, or an explanation of how to collect turbidity data for the stream using probeware attached to the mobile device. This immersive experience merges data, simulations, visualizations, and virtual experiences into physical contexts. Interweaving explanatory representations with real-world phenomena promotes engagement, learning, and transfer of abstract ideas into everyday actions.
In both developed and developing countries, augmented reality could be a powerful means of lifewide learning. Farmers could use augmented reality to understand how best to plant their fields; students could learn economics by watching augmented reality illustrations of the flow of materials, people, and money through a shopping mall; and people could annotate their local communities with rich augmented reality histories of the inhabitants and structures. We now have the opportunity for shared learning and interpretation at the tips of our fingers.
Chris Dede is a professor at the Ed School. His latest book, Digital Teaching Platforms, is a collection of essays on disruptive technologies and learning.
Find a Platform For Student Ideas
Stapled to a wall in your favorite teacher's classroom. Smushed into a box labeled "special" in your parent's attic. Etched into a decaying hard drive of a computer that no longer holds power. Those are the common destinies of far too many of the "best" ideas put forth by students each year.
No, not all great student ideas meet such obscure ends. High school student Jack Andraka is celebrated for parlaying an insight gained in biology class into a faster, cheaper early-detection test for pancreatic cancer. A peer-reviewed Royal Society journal published the original findings of 25 elementary school students who spent a semester rigorously determining how a Bombus Terretris (aka, a bumble bee) decides which flowers to forage. True, there are a number of student ideas that find life beyond the walls of a classroom. But, proportionally speaking, the billions of ideas diligently pursued and presented by students each year have the academic half-life of say … a mayfly. Why is that? If it is worth doing, shouldn't it be worth sharing? Isn't the promise of being "shared" inherently motivating? Isn't exposure to peer-provided ideas as beneficial to young people as it is adults? And what does placing such a transient value on a student's work do to a student's ambition over time?
I propose that the first iterations of the next "big ideas" in education are not on this list, but rather hidden in attics, pinned down by thumbtacks, and trapped by refrigerator magnets around the world. Student ideas are (and always have been) the future of our world. They simply need a visible platform to which they can go, and grow.
Logan Smalley, Ed.M.'08, is director of TED-Ed.
Attach a Questionnaire to Standardized Tests
While seemingly sarcastic in tone, the questions below bring to light only a few of the extenuating circumstances that are not accounted for in test scores. I do believe K–12 testing is an appropriate measure. However, many factors that negatively affect test scores and ultimately teacher evaluation scores. My student motivation questionnaire, which should be included with standardized tests, includes:
1. On a scale of 1–10, how motivated were you to do well on this test?
2. Did you "Christmas tree" any portion of this test? Fall asleep during a section? If so, which section?
3. Did you utilize a study guide or receive outside tutoring prior to the test?
4. Did you eat breakfast this morning?
5. Did you work, go to a game or event, or go out last night? How many hours of sleep did receive?
6. Are you experiencing relationship issues with a friend/boyfriend/ girlfriend that would have distracted you at any point during the test?
7. Do you believe that your parents care about how well you did on the test?
8. Are you currently on any form of medication, prescribed or non-prescribed (allergy, sinus, pain), that may have impacted your concentration or cognitive abilities during the test?
9. Are there any other contributing factors that may or may not have positively or negatively impacted your performance on the test today?
10. Is your name the same as the name printed on the answer sheet of this test?
Michelle Perrigin is a senior English teacher at Arlington High School in Arlington, Tenn., and a Common Core coach for the state.