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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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8 EduWins of 2013

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

We're always hearing about how education is so messed up -- so often, the conversation focuses on all the negatives. But there are also plenty of "EduWins," too -- awesome ideas, videos, people, programs, practices, products, Tweeters, teachers, and technologies that are making a difference and changing the lives of real students on a global scale.

Indeed, as technology continues to quietly revolutionize learning, and models like project-based learning become more broadly accepted, and neuroscience deepens our understanding of how our miraculous brains actually work, it is no surprise that so much is changing in education. And -- as with any change -- there is the good and the bad.

So we asked our intrepid team of bloggers to reflect on this year's biggest eduwins, and here are their thoughts. Surely there are others! Please add your own in the comments area below.

  • Andrew Miller
    Game-Based Learning Goes Mainstream

    Games are increasingly becoming accepted as legitimate ways to learn content. Even President Obama says, "Games can make education relevant for young people!" -- Andrew Miller

  • Terry Heick
    Technology Integrated with Purpose

    In 2013, one thing that was great for education was the slight re-balancing of technology trends. Though the growth is still exciting and explosive, there has been a shift away from technology-for-technology's-sake, to technology-for-learning. Even some Luddites making their voices heard. It was also nice to see the growth of non-Apple ecologies, specifically Google and Microsoft." -- Terry Heick

  • Rebecca Alber
    Students Speaking Up and Taking Ownership of Their Learning

    THIS brilliant TEDx video by a 13-year-old. Happiness and learning -- yay! -- Rebecca Alber


  • Maurice Elias
    Large-Scale Commitment to Social-Emotional Learning

    The awesome idea, to me, is the NoVo Foundation's commitment to bring social-emotional and character development programs to scale. They have provided many evidence-based programs from all over the United States with technical assistance and funding to greatly extend their reach. They have also provided support, through CASEL, to a number of large school districts to bring in SEL systematically into their schools. It's awesome to match commitment with resources -- including funding -- and capacity building in a multiyear, large-scale commitment that also creates a community of learners so that everyone will get better at this. We may look back at 2013 as the year in which we moved past the tipping point, toward our schools become more emotionally intelligent and turning around our academic achievement and opportunity gaps. -- Maurice Elias

  • Suzie Boss
    President Obama Groks PBL

    In May, President Obama visited Manor New Tech, a project-based high school near Austin, Texas (featured in Edutopia). After the President spent nearly an hour hearing from students about their projects, he said, "Every day this school is proving that every child has the potential to learn the real-world skills they need to succeed in college and beyond. You're doing things a little differently around here than a lot of high schools, and it's working." (White House video) Huzzah for the awesome Manor team! -- Suzie Boss

  • Anne O'Brien
    New Funding Formula Benefits Disadvantaged Schools

    Governor Jerry Brown overhauls California's school funding formula, providing schools that serve low-income and English language learners with more money. Why is it awesome? In the U.S., school funding is often based largely on property taxes. Schools in wealthier districts with higher property values have more money for schools. So while we know that disadvantaged students need more resources to help them overcome the challenges they face in succeeding in school, we actually tend to provide them with fewer resources. Governor Brown's plan recognizes that discrepancy, helping develop a more equitable funding system. -- Anne O'Brien

  • Elena Aguilar
    Powerful Spoken Word Video on Student Agency

    My favorite video, "I will not let an exam result decide my fate." Powerful spoken word. Moved me to tears, many times. -- Elena Aguilar


  • Judy Willis MD
    New Research: The Bilingual Brain and Increased Executive Function

    Neuroimaging and cognitive neuroscience have found that there is an increased executive function activation that’s associated with growing up bilingual. Researchers suggest that an explanation for their findings could be the intense workout of the brain’s executive function networks required for communication a duel-language environment -- the brain's machinery for interpreting each language appears to run simultaneously. For a bilingual brain to understand (and later produce) speech, it would require constant choices and intentional effort. This has strong implications for immigrating families in terms of retaining home use of their native languages. Implications also extend to the potential benefits of other very early interventions to influence the development of the neural networks of executive functions in all children. -– Judy Willis MD

A great list, but surely there were others. What were some of your favorite EduWins this year?


Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia
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Comments (6)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

David Potter's picture
David Potter
Chief Development Officer

The interest in and practice of globally connected education was simply breathtaking in 2013. The global classroom explosion was fueled by Twitter chats, Skype in the Classroom, and Edmodo; highlighted during Connected Educator's Month, the Global Education Conference, and International Education Week; and supported by VIF, Asia Society's Mapping the Nation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Depts of Education and State, and hundreds of organizations & ministries worldwide.

A total EduWin for teachers and students everywhere.

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

Games are inefficient for learning but so are traditional classrooms. There should be a third way. Looking forward to watching these ideas develop.

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

Big win in California. Gov. Brown mandated (and gave money for) using technology to make UC, CSU, and CCC more efficient. Big emphasis on the science courses with their limited lab space and high costs.

Will Lenssen's picture
Will Lenssen
Principal, COHS

Many of these are ideas that we are promoting within Canadian Online High School, authorized by the Ontario Ministry of Education BSID #668613 to grant full credits and the OSS Diploma. Although we are only a year+ old, we have used such ideas to promote and expand our online high school both in Ontario and Internationally. And growth is definitely an "EduWin". Our teachers are new and creative and their efforts are definitely resulting in win-win-win-win situations. We are now international so we are evidence that online education "is working" for more that just the school; it is "working" globally for our students, teachers, referral agencies, secondary providers and tertiary industries of education.

Gerald Aungst's picture
Gerald Aungst
Supervisor of Gifted and Elementary Math / Cheltenham School District

@Harry: a few questions about your comment re: games:

1. What is your evidence that games are inefficient for learning?
2. You have a false dichotomy in your statement--you imply that games and classrooms are the only two options for learning, and that no "third way" yet exists. Why do games and classrooms need to be mutually exclusive, and why can't other existing possibilities also be part of the mix?
3. Why would efficiency of learning be the primary desirable attribute? Wouldn't effectiveness be more important? And can't effective but inefficient learning still be valuable?

Harry Keller's picture
Harry Keller
President at Smart Science Education Inc.

1. No evidence is required because games, by definition, require game interaction. This adds overhead to the learning process. Now, I admit that typical classroom learning is also inefficient. Is this inefficiency (games and classroom) necessary? Is one greater than the other? We don't have much evidence to answer these questions.

I have looked a quite a few educational games. They all had excessive gaming compared to learning. I did not count pseudo-drill games.

2. The brevity of my comment may have created this impression. There are perhaps thousands or more options for learning. I was responding in the context of the article. The issue I see is one of trimming the game part of educational games down so that the process becomes more efficient. One award-winning game I investigated had maybe 30 minutes of messing around before it came to the learning part.

3. The question of efficiency and effectiveness is valid. However, before diving in here, we should all define our terms. Can learning be inefficient and effective at the same time? I suppose so. Is that desirable? Not sure. More importantly, can learning be efficient and ineffective at the same time? Depends on your definitions. I would say not because I would include measurements of effectiveness in efficiency. If you aren't of the same mind, then you certainly can come to an alternate conclusion.

I hold that learning 100 bits of information in a day and then completely forgetting them a few days later is neither efficient nor effective. After all, you've wasted a day acquiring information that you immediately forgot. To me, that's the height of inefficiency and is very ineffective.

Final question: can effective, inefficient learning be valuable? This question sets up a poor standard. Why should learning be inefficient if that's unnecessary? What is efficiency, after all. It's not measured by most bits learned per hour. It's the most learning in the time available. If you have an hour for learning, then spending half of that time on gaming niceties makes little sense, unless somehow (by magic?) the gaming sets up the learner's brain to acquire the to-be-learned information or skills at least twice as rapidly.

What is a game, after all? It's a pastime, a relaxation, sometimes a social activity. The primary purpose of games would appear to be the opposite of learning, to disengage the learning centers of the brain so you can relax and enjoy -- rather like being on holiday. I understand the impetus to use games in learning because people really enjoy playing games. I just think that most are approaching this topic backward. You don't take a game and add on learning. You should, rather, take good strong learning software and make it more accessible by adding on ideas from the world of games cautiously.

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