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11/10/2016

GUEST BLOG: What is Computational Thinking and Why is It Important? A New Role for Students — Megan Brannon, Garaway Local Schools

By: Guest Blogger

Computational ThinkingIn 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

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

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

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.

Algorithms

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.

Classroom resources

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

Adult Literature

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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11/3/2016

Credentials Count: Identifying Ohio’s Industry Credentials and How You Can Get Involved

By: Emily Passias

IRC.jpgSeveral weeks ago, the Ohio Department of Education released the 2016-2017 list of approved industry-recognized credentials, and I shared a little about why credentials are important for students, schools, businesses and communities. The credentials allow students to qualify for high school graduation through the credential and WorkKeys pathway, as well as give schools and districts credit for their efforts to prepare students for careers on their report cards. Today, I want to dig a little deeper into how we identify credentials for the list and how you can get involved in the process.

Which industry credentials?

All credentials are not created equal. Some credentials are the gatekeeper to employment — if you don’t have it, you’re not getting the job. One example of this is a state cosmetology license. If you want to work in Ohio as a cosmetologist, you must obtain the license first. It’s necessary for employment.

Other credentials fall into the “nice to have” category. These credentials validate that potential employees can perform particular tasks or have particular knowledge and skills. Employers use them in their hiring processes and may give applicants preference over those without the credentials.

And yet other credentials exist that, frankly, don’t have much value in the labor market at all. Employers don’t use or value them, and some aren’t even aware of them.

So, how do we decide which credentials to include in our system? We don’t want to encourage students to spend time, energy and money earning credentials that aren’t valued by employers — that doesn’t serve our students or our Ohio businesses well. The key is to encourage credentials that are in demand by Ohio employers.

When reviewing and updating the approved industry-recognized credential list, we identify those in-demand credentials in two ways. First, we use Ohio’s in-demand job list to identify Ohio’s most pressing labor market needs. Tying the industry credential list to Ohio’s in-demand jobs is key — as I mentioned above, earning credentials that aren’t valuable in the labor market doesn’t serve Ohio’s students or Ohio’s businesses.

We then scour job ads for those in-demand jobs to identify credentials that Ohio employers are asking for. Once we’ve identified the credentials tied to Ohio’s in-demand jobs, we do additional research on those credentials. What are the requirements to get the credential? Is it used as a standalone credential or as part of a stackable series or bundle of credentials needed for employment? We use that information to finalize the industry credential list and the point values associated with those credentials within the graduation pathway.

The second way we identify credentials for addition to the list is via application. Educators, business people and community members at large are invited to submit applications to the Department for credentials to be considered for the list. The main criteria, as set by the State Board of Education, is that credentials added to the list have evidence of significant and ongoing employer demand, at least at the regional level. The application window to submit credentials for consideration for next year’s list is open through Dec. 31. You can find the application by clicking here.

Between our identification of credentials tied to Ohio’s in-demand jobs and credentials added via the application process, Ohio’s approved credential list contains more than 200 approved industry-recognized credentials!

In my next post, I’ll discuss new and innovative opportunities to build programs that help seniors earn industry credentials as part of their pathways to graduation and success in their future careers.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts on industry-recognized credentials and helping students be prepared for success.
  • How are you communicating with families about industry-recognized credentials and the credential pathway to graduation?
  • What are you doing locally to help students earn credentials?

How can we restructure the high school years, or the delivery of career-technical education programming, to ensure that students have the time and opportunities to get the critical, work-based learning experiences needed to qualify for many credentials?

Dr. Emily Passias is director of the Office of Career-Technical Education at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on state policies aimed at preparing students for college and careers. You can learn more about Emily by clicking here.

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10/26/2016

GUEST BLOG: Chagrin Falls’ REALIZE U Competency-Based Education Grant Program – Becky Quinn, Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools

By: Guest Blogger

realize-1.pngIn 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. To learn more about competency-based education, click here.

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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10/12/2016

More Than 52,000 Ohio High School Students Saved More Than $110 Million on College Tuition

By: Steve Gratz

blog.jpg Here’s an infographic that Sinclair Community College produced to share the impact of the College Credit Plus program in its region.
Last Wednesday, I traveled with Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey to engage in a discussion about College Credit Plus at Sinclair Community College with their President Dr. Steven L. Johnson. We were joined by several local school administrators, teachers and students who shared their experiences and perspectives on the program. The students were eloquent and convincing with what they had to say about the advantages of College Credit Plus. One student earned his associate degree at the age of 14, and the other students are on track to earn their associate degrees concurrently with their high school diplomas in May 2017. According to Dr. Johnson, more than 3,000 students enrolled in the College Credit Plus program in 2015-2016, helping local families save $3 million in college tuition costs. 

 

Sinclair is just one of many Ohio colleges that participate in College Credit Plus. The Ohio Department of Higher Education also produced an infographic that illustrates the net effect of College Credit Plus during the 2015-2016 school year. In its first year, the program had more than 52,000 participating students, and combined, they saved more than $110 million on college tuition. The 2015-2016 school year data shows that nearly 15 percent of Ohio’s high school juniors and seniors took advantage of the program, and more than 90 percent of those students received the passing grades required to earn college credit. Two-thirds of the College Credit Plus students (66 percent) took classes offered through Ohio community colleges. The balance was split almost equally among public university main campuses (11 percent), public university branch campuses (12 percent) and independent or private colleges (11 percent). The majority of students enrolled in five main core content areas: English (24 percent), social sciences (18 percent), math (13 percent), science (13 percent) and arts and humanities (11 percent). More than 90 percent received passing grades, resulting in earned college credits.
 
College Credit Plus gives students in grades 7-12 the opportunity to take college courses for free and earn high school and college credit before graduating high school.
 
Students have the following options for taking courses:

  • At a high school taught by an approved high school teacher;
  • At a high school taught by a college faculty instructor;
  • At a college location or online taught by a college faculty instructor.
Benefits for students and their families:
  • Earn high school and college credit for classes taken;
  • Provide rigorous college courses for college-ready students;
  • Get a head start by earning college credits that you can use to finish a degree or transfer to another college/university;
  • Reduce the time and cost to earning college credit;
  • Opportunity to complete college coursework within a strong and familiar support system;
  • College Credit Plus course grades are weighted the same as Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate and other advance standing classes on high school transcripts.

Click here for more information on College Credit Plus.

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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10/5/2016

Reflecting on Our Practice: The Importance of Effective Feedback

By: Virginia Ressa

blog1.png In 2007, Hattie and Timperly discovered from their meta-analysis of almost 8,000 studies that feedback is nearly seven times as effective in improving student learning as reducing class size. They found that feedback is, “The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement.”2

In my work in researching, planning and leading professional learning around Formative Instructional Practices (FIP), I have become a strong believer in the power of effective feedback. For the past few years, educators have been talking about the highly effective practices that John Hattie identified. He found that feedback is one of the most effective practices for accelerating student learning; but not just any feedback can have the profound impact that Hattie found — it needs to be effective feedback.1

So, what makes feedback effective? The general answer is that feedback is effective when it results in increased student learning. The more specific answer is that feedback is most effective when it is specific, timely, accurate and actionable. Missing any one of these attributes, feedback can be confusing and may not result in moving learning forward.  

In my experience as a teacher, I can recall using phrases like “Good job!” or “Great work!” to praise students and encourage them to continue their success. I used to tell students to “Check your work again” or “Try harder next time” to help them focus more on their work and correct their errors. In hindsight, I’m not sure my feedback was all that helpful to students. I spent a great deal of time providing written feedback on my students’ work with very good intentions, but unfortunately, I’m now seeing that my feedback didn’t likely lead to increased student learning.

Success Feedback

When providing learners with feedback on their successes, we need to be more specific than “Good job!” Students don’t always know what it is that they did well or how to do it again. It also doesn’t challenge students to move forward in their learning or to keep improving. Instead, success feedback should identify what a student has done correctly in relation to the learning target and point the student toward the next steps in his or her learning.

Intervention Feedback

“Try harder” tells a student very little about what procedural mistake may have been made or what requirement a student may have missed. It is vague, doesn’t connect the learner back to the learning target and provides little direction for what action needs to be taken next. Think about how this example of effective feedback helps move learning forward:

“Read the prompt and rubric again. Your response partially addresses the prompt, but you are missing some important facts to back up your argument.”

The teacher has pointed the student back to the learning target via the rubric, identified the problem with the response and provided a suggestion that the student can act upon. You’re probably thinking that it is going to take more time to provide such specific feedback, and you’re right, it will. However, it is time well spent because the impact on student learning can be so high.1

Is Your Feedback Effective?

blog2.png Pearson & Battelle for Kids. (2012). Foundations of Formative Instructional Practices Module 3: Analyzing evidence and providing feedback. Columbus, OH: Battelle for Kids.

Ultimately, feedback is only effective if it moves student learning forward. Take some time to reflect on your feedback practices and how students are using the feedback you provide. How could your feedback be more effective? Do you provide both success and intervention feedback that helps your students move forward in their learning? 

Effective feedback is one of the core practices of FIP because of its high impact on student learning. To learn more about effective feedback, you can complete module 4 of the Foundations of FIP learning path. This is a great module for teacher-based teams to work through together.

The FIP Video Library has examples of Ohio teachers and students using feedback to improve learning. Watching how other teachers make feedback part of their daily practice and involve students in providing feedback to each other may give you some ideas to try in your classroom. Here is an example of effective feedback provided by the teacher and students, as well as some self-assessment feedback that work together to move the learning forward for everyone.

1Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, England: Routledge.
2Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback.
Review of Educational Research.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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