OII announces 2016 Investing in Innovation Scale-up and Validation Competitions

This week, the U.S. Department of Education published the notices inviting applications for the seventh and final Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation and Scale-up competitions. Since 2010, i3 has supported partner organizations with over $1.3 billion in grant awards to expand innovation and evidence-based programs that support more students, schools and communities. We plan to award new grants at the end of the 2016 calendar year to educators who are discovering and scaling innovative approaches to help students succeed.

We are proud that i3 has helped catalyze the work of organizations leading transformational work. “With the i3 Validation grant, the U.S. Department of Education has given us a tremendous opportunity to understand precisely what new teachers need to be successful with students. We are learning which elements of our teacher induction model are the most critical, and learning more through a third-party evaluation study about all of the elements of our model and how they come together to improve teacher retention, instructional practices and ultimately student success,” says New Teacher Center (NTC) Founder and CEO Ellen Moir. The NTC is a 2012 i3 Validation Grantee and 2015 i3 Scale-up grantee. “Early results are in, and show NTC’s induction model yields more intense and instructionally-focused supports to new teachers that lead to student learning.”

For the 2016 competitions, school districts and nonprofit organizations can compete for i3 Validation grants of up to $12 million and i3 Scale-up grants of up to $20 million. This year’s competitions include a focus on projects that implement and support the transition to college- and career-ready academic content standards and associated assessments; promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; and improve low-performing schools. In addition, the Department is committed to funding applications that serve rural communities.

Learn more about this year’s i3 competitions on our website and read about examples of exciting work underway by visiting the i3 community website.

What does a Cartoon Cat have to do with Learning Math? New Reports Highlight the Impact of Ready to Learn Television (2010-2015)

Photo provided courtesy of WISU

Photo provided courtesy of WSIU

What if children’s media could be as educational as it is entertaining? That’s the goal of the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready to Learn Television (RTL) Program that supports the creation of new educational television and digital media that educates students as it engages them. From 2010 to 2015, the RTL Program has supported three large national projects to create educational television and digital media products for young children, ages 2-8 to learn math and literacy skills. Now, the findings from these grants are being featured in a newly released report issued by Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development and in a special section of the latest issue of the Journal of Children and Media (see links below).

Today, new television shows are released in combination with a variety of accompanying digital media such as interactive websites, mobile apps, or e-books. What made the Ready to Learn grants unique when they were funded in 2010 is that they pushed one step further and tried to connect these different media with common storylines or problem-solving, and then explored whether this “transmedia” approach might result in increased educational effectiveness when used with learners from low-income backgrounds.

The supposition was that different learning platforms have different strengths – for example, television excels at linear storytelling, while interactive games create opportunities to practice new skills.   And the connections between these platforms were expected to motivate students to work their way through a greater variety of content, to encounter a richer variety of learning strategies, and to better link experiences in the home, in school or pre-school, and “on the go.” As grantees experimented with different approaches, the Department encouraged each project to conduct rigorous research about their impact on students’ learning.

Across the RTL evaluations, researchers generally found positive results when using RTL-produced transmedia products. For example, in one randomized controlled trial conducted by EDC and SRI studying the use of PBS KIDS’ “Peg+Cat” transmedia among 4- and 5-year olds in home and family environments, children using the “Peg+Cat” intervention showed significant improvements on math skill areas such as ordinal numbers, spatial relationships, and 3D shapes (To learn more about the “Peg+Cat” study, see: http://pbskids.org/lab/research/summative-evaluationsimpact-studies/). This kind of evaluation represents the “gold standard” of research, and very few educational strategies show measurable gains when evaluated in this way—especially in educational technology.   Because so few educational technology interventions show significant gains in impact studies, it is especially encouraging that RTL studies like this one yielded positive results.

Perhaps just as interesting, though, were the findings in this study that parents and caregivers spent more time jointly using media with their children, engaging together in problem-solving, and finding ways to connect their experiences to daily life.   In this instance at least, screen time resulted in positive play and social interaction, not the kind of passive experiences that many parents fear when monitoring their children’s television viewing. That means that the impact wasn’t limited to the child and the screen; this approach encouraged parents, caregivers and children to spend more time learning together.

Photo provided courtesy of WSIU

Photo provided courtesy of WSIU

The new report by the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University entitled “The Ready to Learn Program: 2010-2015 Policy Brief” provides a summary overview and independent analysis of the findings from all of the studies produced under RTL funding during the past five years.

The report is authored by the Center’s Director Ellen Wartella and two of her colleagues, Alexis Lauricella and Courtney Blackwell. It is based on a review of RTL-produced research studies and interviews with key participants.   In addition to synthesizing some of the key research findings across the three projects, the report discusses the importance of these findings within the context of educational media research, and offers some recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers going forward. It can be found at http://cmhd.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/RTL-Policy-Brief-2010-2015-Wartella-et-al-FINAL-March-2016.pdf.

The special section of The Journal of Children and Media is entitled “Transmedia in the Service of Education” and it collects six papers by grantees and evaluators of the RTL grants. In these papers, guest edited by Shalom Fisch, the President of MediaKidz Research and Consulting, the authors describe their experiences creating educational transmedia, implementing community-based outreach programs in underserved communities, the role of evaluation research in the RTL projects, and pilot efforts exploring the role of analytics to track learning progress. The papers can be found in the “commentaries” section of Volume 10, Issue 2 and are available for free download during the month of April 2016 at http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rchm20/current.

It’s easy to forget that when the recently concluded Ready to Learn grants started in 2010, the iPad had not yet been introduced, and now we have a variety of convergent devices that can play video content, run interactive learning games, and be used “on the go.” It is no longer quite as necessary to use different devices for different purposes; increasingly, we are now using a variety of different devices to access the same content at our convenience. In the middle of this round, RTL producers noted this shift and began to create longer, more integrated learning experiences that are able to incorporate a variety of learning strategies without requiring children and their parents to move from one device to another.

This will make it easier in the new round of RTL grants (2015-2020) that are just underway to build upon what has been learned about how to produce engaging, educationally meaningful content that works across multiple platforms. These new projects will be able to leverage these important lessons learned, while focusing their attention on newer matters such as the use of analytics to collect learning data and to enable more personalized delivery of content. We look forward to sharing results from these efforts in the future.

Update on OII’s FY 2016 Grant Competitions & Awards

We are pleased to share that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) is planning to award new grants for the current fiscal year (ending on September 30, 2016), through the following grant competitions: American History and Civics Academies, Charter Schools Program (CSP), Investing in Innovation (i3), Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), Promise Neighborhoods, Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), and Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP).

We anticipate announcing these competitions beginning in April and continuing through the year. Grants will be awarded for most programs by September 30; grants under i3 and Promise Neighborhoods will be awarded in the months following. We are excited to provide opportunities for a range of organizations and educators to apply for support in implementing innovative practices to support students. This funding is especially important as schools begin making the transition to a new federal K–12 education framework.

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Education Foo Camp: Fostering Innovations in Lifelong Learning

Fostering innovation requires setting up conditions for innovation to flourish. Last month, we held the first Education Foo Camp (or Ed Foo) at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA to do just that. Ed Foo was an “unconference” organized by Google, the U.S. Department of Education, Macmillan Publishing, O’Reilly Media (Foo stands for Friends of O’Reilly), Sesame Street and Scientific American that brought together bright thinkers to brainstorm solutions to tough challenges in public education.

At Foo Camps, which have been organized around a variety of different topics, no agenda is set before participants arrive. The campers set the agenda, which remains fluid throughout the weekend, so that participants can invest more time and energy in emerging and promising areas. The format of the events is flipped, so that they minimize presentations and maximize engagement, discussion, spontaneity, and innovation. The goal is to create a weekend-long incubator for creativity.

The journey to creating an education themed Foo camp began when I was invited to attend a Science Foo Camp (Sci Foo) at Google in 2015. It was a profound experience that brought together diverse groups of scientists, technologists, authors, media, and other experts across multiple disciplines to discuss key issues and form new collaborations that apply fresh eyes to possible solutions. When stakeholders come to the table motivated by the issues that matter to them most, innovation, rejuvenation, and new collaborations are the result.

Improving STEM education was one of the major areas of discussion at Sci Foo. I moderated a pop-up session on STEM education, which led to deeper discussions about increasing active learning experiences for students, and highlighted a new program by Google on providing expanded access to maker spaces. That session led to a collaboration on a pilot program that will help place Maker Spaces in underserved communities while identifying best practices for implementing similar programs in the future. This was just one of many discussions that led to further activity after the event. Attendees came away energized, refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges.

As I was leaving, I commented to the organizers that it had been a useful activity, but I wondered what the impact would be if we had an entire Foo camp devoted specifically to education. Why not have a concentrated weekend for thinking about innovation and how to create a nation of lifelong learners? A few months later we discussed the notion again at the Scientific American/Macmillan STEM Summit in NYC. Google graciously stepped forward and offered to host the first Ed Foo Camp along with O’Reilly Media, Macmillan, Scientific American, Sesame Workshop and the STEM Office at the U.S. Department of Education.

Our first Ed Foo was attended by approximately 250 educators, administrators, technologists, funders, researchers, media, and toy manufacturers. We also included innovators from outside the education community. Campers convened early in the morning and were still actively discussing education ideas and possible collaborations long after midnight. Few were ready to leave on Sunday. Sessions covered numerous topics as people gathered in small conference rooms, around tables, and even around a fake campfire. The discussions covered topics ranging from what preschools might look like in the future and the role of making and makers in education to programs for autism, the future of virtual reality, education videogames, and promoting computer science from preschool to college. There were also some overriding themes that emerged. Many discussions explored how to maximize active learning experiences inside and outside the classroom, the need to engage parents, and the need to think about the role and challenges of using technology for improving diversity and equity in education, particularly in the STEM fields.

We’re still hearing from participants about the many follow-ups that have already been scheduled to explore collaborations and to continue learning from each other. We’ve received feedback from many campers that this was one of the most useful education events they’ve ever attended. Most importantly, we are already discussing how we might improve the experience in the future. Here in the STEM office, Ed Foo is already bearing fruit, as we support the Administration’s initiatives to bring quality computer science and STEM to all students, provide more active learning experiences through making, and promote quality STEM education starting in preschool. Meanwhile, the organizing committee is assessing what worked and what needs to be improved for future gatherings. Hopefully, this will be the first of many Ed Foo events and will also be a model for other events aimed at promoting innovation.

STEM Opportunities in FY 16

The President’s State of the Union address and the recent announcement of the “Computer Science for all,” initiative underscored the National importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and the critical role that Computer Science (CS) plays in the Nation’s schools and economy. To support this effort, the President’s budget for FY 2017 proposes over $7 billion for STEM and CS education activities. The FY 2017 budget builds upon the Administration’s commitment to increasing the Nation’s STEM competency. For example, the Department of Education (the Department) provides several opportunities for the STEM community to compete for funding through the Department’s discretionary grant programs. For more information on the FY17 Federal STEM budget, please see the White House Fact Sheet on STEM.
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A Commitment to Transparency: Learning More About the Charter Schools Program

Today as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s (the Department) commitment to transparency, the Department’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) released a dataset showing all grants awarded since 2006 for the planning, initial implementation, and replication of public charter schools across the nation, as well as for dissemination and expansion. The dataset provides new and more detailed information on the over $1.5 billion1 that CSP has provided, since 2006, to fund the start-up, replication, and expansion of high-quality public charter schools in almost every State with public charter schools. CSP funding has served as a critical resource to expand access to high-quality public education opportunities across the country—particularly for students living in poverty—and the Department believes that sharing CSP data is an important step in better understanding CSP’s investments.
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A New Chapter for Computer Science Education

This week, educators, students, and others all across the country are celebrating Computer Science (CS) Education Week.

All children can benefit from CS coursework, regardless of their intended career paths, because mastering computer science principles can help students develop foundational problem-solving skills and other key aptitudes. But, despite the value in learning CS, less than one-quarter of students nationwide have access to rigorous CS courses. We need to do more to increase educators’ awareness of and students’ equitable access to these courses.

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STEM Education: A Case for Early Learning

Russell Shilling is the Executive Director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

G.K. Chesterton captured the essence of early-childhood when he said, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green.” Every child is imbued with a sense of curiosity and wonder. They are born scientists, engineers, and creators ready to discover the world at every turn. The goal of education should be to sustain this engagement throughout a lifetime.
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Communities Come Together to Support STEM Education

STEM Ecosystem Graphic
Diagram created by the Department of Education for the purposes of
illustrating the potential anchor organizations of a STEM learning ecosystem.

Cultivating a creative workforce that is ready to step into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related fields is vital. Students need technical knowledge in these subjects, as well as critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills; these tools will prepare them for tomorrow’s jobs. But it’s not just schools that are thinking about how best to engage students.

Last week, the White House hosted the first gathering of the STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative, a new initiative designed to bring STEM to life for young people in real-world, high-quality and engaging ways. A STEM learning “ecosystem” creates connected learning opportunities for students throughout their community, both within and outside of school.

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The Journey to 100,000 Excellent STEM Teachers

Posted by Melissa Moritz, Deputy Director of STEM, US Department of Education

This past week, Secretary Duncan highlighted the critical role of educators in “leading efforts to transform students’ lives.” As the Deputy Director of STEM here at the Department of Education, part of my job is to ensure we’re doing all we can to support educators, particularly those teaching in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and math. In classrooms throughout the country, outstanding teachers are preparing students in these subject areas, giving them the support and tools they need to meaningfully contribute to their schools, communities and workplaces. We want all kids to have classrooms like that every year and to make that happen, we need more of these teachers.

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