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By: Guest Blogger
Editor’s Note: On Jan. 21, Superintendent Paolo DeMaria hosted a screening and panel discussion of the movie “Hidden Figures.” The event explored what we can do to continue to engage and inspire young people—especially women of color—to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The Department collaborated with Battelle, COSI, The Ohio State University, Columbus State and Wilberforce University on the event. In honor of Black History Month, we invited Donnie Perkins to expand on the insights he provided at the event for this blog post.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and numerous other colleagues, known as the “West Area Computers,” are finally receiving their due from another African-American woman, Margot Shetterly, in her book and Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures.” President Barack Obama also recognized Katherine Johnson, a physicist, scientist and mathematician, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her service to NASA.
As a native of North Carolina during the Jim Crow era, I know firsthand the impact of racism, including the sting of colored and white schools, bathrooms and water fountains. Despite legalized segregation, pernicious racism, sexism and blatant hate throughout society, the West Area Computers—these “Sheros”—made major contributions to NASA and the space program. We stand on their shoulders!
I applaud the faith, dignity, courage, tenacity and academic and engineering excellence of the named and unnamed West Area Computers. They demonstrated the long-held African-American adage: “You have to work three times as hard to get half as far as the white man and still you will have miles to go.” Johnson, Vaughan, Jackson and their co-workers are true role models for ambitious women of all races and backgrounds today.
Shetterly’s book and movie raised several questions for me. Why has this true story remained hidden for so long? Why wasn’t this set of facts included in my history, science, math or engineering curriculum and textbooks throughout my educational experience? Are there more “unsung heroes” that we do not know about? Students should ask these questions every day, and teachers and faculty should be prepared to respond in the affirmative.
This true story offers insights on two levels—opportunity loss and the strength of diversity. Continued segregation and discrimination rob our society of great talent, innovation and leadership in engineering. It also demonstrates that intellect and talent are not vested in one group or another, that diverse teams, despite rampantly inequality, can achieve great things that benefit all citizens of our nation and the world. Just imagine what we could do when the nation decides to value and leverage our differences and similarities in pursuit of equality and justice for all and the American dream.
Our country and the world need more talented engineers. African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, Native Americans and other underrepresented citizens—female and male—are a ready source. I offer a call to action:
Encourage women and diverse students to ask questions, particularly about the history of their ancestors’ contributions to American engineering, science, technology, innovation and culture.
Encourage teachers and faculty to research and include the contributions and innovations of women and diverse citizens in their curriculum and textbooks at each level of our education system.
Set high academic expectations for all students and support their efforts to achieve excellence.
Promote greater awareness of the engineering profession with increased collaboration between K-12 schools and colleges of engineering.
The truth cannot be hidden; excellence always rises to top. Diversity and inclusion drive excellence!
Donnie Perkins is chief diversity officer for the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, where he leads college-wide initiatives that advance outcomes and integrate diversity and inclusion into the fabric and culture of the college. You can contact Donnie by clicking here.
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By: Guest Blogger
In four years with the Straight A Fund innovation project, I have been gifted with the experience of seeing some highly creative and effective changes to the way we do school across the state. Ohio’s Straight A Fund supports ideas from local educators to promote better learning and cost savings within schools and districts. Working with our projects has led me to understand not only what works on the path to improvement, but also some of the pitfalls and distractions that may interfere with solid innovative thinking.
Successful change starts by defining a problem. A problem may be some nagging area that demands a solution, but a problem, in innovation terms, may also be something that is currently working but could be improved. Defining a problem before we look for solutions may seem quite simple, obvious even. However, without thinking about what we want an innovation to accomplish, it is very easy to become sidetracked into adopting some shiny new solution that does wonderful things—but is not a good fit for our situation. In education, just as in our personal lives with things we purchase, new bells and whistles can sometimes be very appealing. But like a Christmas toy that is only played with for a few moments before it is cast aside, some attractive new education toys also fail to live up to expectations. They may be too difficult in comparison to their value, poorly understood by the students who use them or offering a solution to a problem we don’t have.
As an example of innovation working well, the Straight A Fund has created a number of technology solutions. These projects have purchased hardware and software and trained teachers to be able to use them. As we consider how well these projects put their new technology to use, it is clear that the ability to successfully use these innovations and keep using them over time is increased by understanding the distinction between technology “toys” and technology “tools.” Successful projects have put technology tools to use in solving a problem they identified up front. Problems that have been addressed using technological tools include the need to teach students in a classroom who all have different strengths and abilities or the need for small and rural districts to connect their students to a wide variety of courses.
Defining a problem may require that we take a careful look at the way things are—even things that have always been and seem to be working as expected. Transporting students to and from school is an example. One of our innovative projects has improved transportation at a lower cost by merging across districts and using software to lay out the most efficient routes, compute idle time and even track when students are picked up and dropped off. This first required them to think outside the box of what they were accustomed to (that every district must have their own transportation system). A bonus associated with that project was the launch of a mobile app to communicate with parents on whether their student’s bus is on time, running late or on the way. And, the savings they experience from innovation can help expand on other education programs.
One final understanding that is helpful to the identification of a problem is look at it locally. Research and data can help us spot general trends in education to be on the lookout for. But, they may still need to be considered in terms of how they impact our own district. As an example, the cause and strategies to address chronic absenteeism will vary for each district.
In 2017, we hope to see continuing innovation in schools across the state, building on what we have learned in the Straight A Fund innovation program.
Dr. Susan Tave Zelman is an executive director at the Ohio Department of Education and oversees the Straight A Fund. You can reach her at Susan.Zelman@education.ohio.gov.
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By: Guest Blogger
In today’s technology-driven world, the role of the student is changing. Teaching used to be focused on learning facts, but now we are changing how we teach so that students can do more than just learn information…they use the information! Students today are less fact-memorizers and more innovators, creators and thinkers. They are learning to think outside the box and apply that to real-world problems. Because of this, we have seen a recent influx in the last four to five years in the amount of “computer programming” seen in both elementary and secondary schools.
Computer programming allows students to learn programming languages, which are integral to many jobs of the future. Programming (also known as “coding”) allows students to learn skills like explanatory writing, problem solving and a plethora of other skills applicable to the real world as a 21st century student. It also lets students refine their mathematics abilities. With coding, students are using computers to create worlds where only their imaginations can limit them.
Computational thinking is a cornerstone in all coding programs today. This step-by-step cognitive strategy is important for students to learn in order to become successful. It is a method that teaches students to think as if they are computers. With computational thinking, students are taught how to approach new information and new problems. Trust me…this strategy is not just for computer science classrooms! It is broken down into four steps: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithms.
Decomposition is when you break something down into its basic parts. This is an important skill because it teaches students how to become better learners by breaking large pieces of information into small chunks. It’s like taking small bites of a steak instead of trying to eat the entire steak in one gulp.
Pattern recognition is when students find order to something and then analyze (follow) the pattern to the logical answer. Pattern matching teaches students to look for commonalities between things. Then, once students see what is the same in the problem, they also can look for differences that might lead them toward an answer.
As humans, we tend to search for patterns in things in order to make sense of them. I find that this step is the easiest and most natural to teach to students. We teach children to sense and continue patterns from an early age.
Abstraction is taking the differences that students have found in the last step (pattern recognition) and then discounting them because they didn’t fit the pattern. Abstraction is important because students typically assume that all the information they have been given in a problem is typically going to be used to solve the problem, which isn’t necessarily true.
Removing unfit or unhelpful information is truly a valuable skill for students to have. It’s not only teaching them to double check information; it’s also teaching them to edit themselves and look for true solutions to a problem.
An algorithm is basically a list of procedural steps to complete a task. With this process, after figuring out the problem, students create steps to solve the problem set before them. Students should be able to write algorithms so that anyone can follow their directions to complete the task or solve a problem.
Why the computational thinking method?
As a K-6 computer teacher, I was first introduced to the concept of computational thinking through the Code.org curriculum that teaches computer science skills to students in grades K-5. Since then, many more learning modules have been added to cover more grade levels, but the foundational skills remain the same. All of my computer science students in grades K-5 learn the basics of computational thinking as well as giving step-by-step directions (algorithms) with this program.
I can honestly say that the first introduction to this lesson was difficult for even my higher level of students. As educators (myself as well), we tend to give students problems without teaching the method of problem solving explicitly. This method not only helps students with math and science challenges, but it helps them to become better thinkers across the board. Additionally, teaching students this cognitive strategy gives them something (in my experience) that is lacking in education today: dedication. The steps involved with computational thinking help students to “keep working” or “keep trying” to solve a problem. Our society tends to deliver information and solutions at the speed of light, so our kiddos aren’t used to sitting down and working toward a solution for an extended period of time — or sitting down and working at a problem that takes longer because it could have multiple solutions. Dedication and conviction to one’s work is most definitely a skill of the 21st century.
Why the four steps?
After teaching this method for a few years now, I have found that my students are much more detail oriented because they have learned how to decompose a problem. Breaking a problem into parts allows students to better explain their thoughts and ideas to both myself and each other. In that way, students also turn into better explanatory writers. This also is true for the algorithm step in the process. Breaking down a problem (decomposing) and then turning it into directions (algorithms) are key skills that can be used across subjects.
Additionally, the concepts of pattern matching and abstraction are ideal for an educational setting, especially when you understand how the brain works. When we learn a new topic, we put it into a category in our brain (activate a schema/prior knowledge). This is like pattern matching — we are looking for other things with the same pattern somewhere in our memory bank. Research says that activating schema helps students understand and remember information better because it fits into a pattern or category we already comprehend. In this way, I believe that teaching students to pattern match and abstract teaches them to put things in categories in their brains so that they cannot only comprehend and remember the problem at hand, but they can process it easier as well.
Below I have listed some links for resources on this concept. Check out the Code.org Lesson on Computational Thinking as an introduction. There is an accompanying video that helps to explain the concept very well!
Teachers Pay Teachers Products
Children’s Literature (K-5)
Megan Brannon is a K-6 computer teacher at Garaway Local Schools. You can contact Megan by clicking here.
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By: Guest Blogger
In December 2015, Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District was one of five Ohio public school districts and consortia awarded a grant to allow students to take advantage of opportunities to learn on individualized paths at their own place, time and pace. Our district received $400,000 for the REALIZE U project, which will refine many tools to reflect student competency, grow the capacity of staff to meet the varied and changing needs of our students and develop additional opportunities for students to engage in personalized learning via the provision of enrichment programming.
The Competency-Based Education Pilot is designed to:
- Promote innovative learning that has meaning to students, cuts across multiple curriculum areas and extends outside of the classroom;
- Advance students to higher-level work once they demonstrate mastery of competencies, rather than advancing based on seat time in the classroom;
- Give supports to struggling students before they advance and prevent further failure down the road;
- Keep all students on pace to graduate and ensure those below level make rapid progress;
- Graduate students with deeper college and career ready skills; and
- Inform future development of statewide competency-based policies and programs.
Grantees are required to partner with a postsecondary institution and local businesses or community partners. Our district’s proposal reflected existing partnerships with Ashland University, Hiram College, InventorCloud (curriculum for Innovation Lab use), and the College Board (offering 26 advanced placement courses the PSAT to all students in grades 8-10). The proposal also acknowledged our support from the Chagrin Falls Education Association, as well as our participation in the Innovation Lab Network.
Highlights of our district’s grant project work underway in 2016-2017 include:
- Funded opportunities for our secondary teachers to grow their capacity to reflect student competencies beyond the high school curriculum via:
- College Credit Plus credentialing through online graduate coursework in the area of English;
- Training via College Board relative to additional AP courses, including AP Research, AP World History and AP Computer Science Principles.
- Funded opportunities for identified K-12 teachers to grow their capacity to reflect student competencies relative to students’ varied needs via graduate coursework, including:
- Twenty-four district staff members currently enrolled in funded graduate coursework to earn gifted endorsements (they will be able to earn reading endorsements by summer 2017);
- Two teachers enrolled in graduate coursework to earn reading endorsements (they will be able to earn gifted intervention specialist endorsements by summer 2017).
- Development of summer programming to help students move into more rigorous levels of content in the upcoming school year, including the REALIZE U Summer Enrichment Program, Summer Math Bridging and AP Boot Camps.
- Development of summer and school-year enrichment programming to personalize learning for students, including enrichment programming for students in high school, middle school and gifted students in grades 4-6.
- Teacher training, identification and implementation of curriculum and instructional resources to reflect STEM competencies via Project Lead the Way, which is provided to all students in grades K-8.
- Development of plans to implement personalized capstone research projects to showcase student mastery of content and research competencies in grades K-3, 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12 is underway, and at least one project per grade band will be implemented.
Our district identified “REALIZE U” as a systemic motto last school year. “U” not only reflects our commitment to each student (you), but it also represents potential energy in AP Physics. Potential energy is calculated by multiplying mass x gravitational pull x height (U = mgh). We have locally applied this formula as follows:
- m = our students
- g = ongoing challenges/conflicts/pushes and pulls on students
- h = courses, goals and interests causing students to reach new heights
Thus, “REALIZE U” reflects our commitment to personalize learning to maximize the potential of all students. Our work within the Competency-Based Education Grant project directly supports this mission and vision.
Editor’s note: Ohio’s Competency-Based Education Pilot, established in House Bill 64, allows for five pilot sites to plan and implement competency-based programs. Competency-based education is a system of academic instruction, assessment, grading and reporting where students receive credit, not as a function of how much time they spend studying a subject, but based on demonstrations and assessments of their learning. Instruction is tailored to students’ current levels of knowledge and skills, and students are not constrained to progress at the same rates as their peers. Competency-based education allows for accelerated learning among students who master academic materials quickly and provides additional instructional support time for students who need it. The pilots used the 2015-2016 school year to apply and plan for their programs and will implement from the 2016-2017 through the 2018-2019 school years.
Becky Quinn is the director of Curriculum within Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools. In this role, she also serves as the district’s gifted coordinator. You can learn more about Becky by clicking here.
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Last Modified: 5/17/2019 3:20:37 PM