Category: Case Studies

Project Example: Mobile App Design at Urban Assembly Maker Academy

April 16, 2019 by

Students Working on Laptops at UAMAThis is the fourth post in a series about the Mastery Collaborative in New York City. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Whether you’re already deeply engaged in competency-based learning and assessment or just starting, it’s helpful to see how other teachers who are doing this work are structuring their units. After our recent visit to Urban Assembly Maker Academy, a Living Lab school in New York City’s Mastery Collaborative, the design teacher shared one of his unit plans and student work. This blog post discusses the unit and aspects of the Definition of Competency-Based Education and the Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education that it illustrates.

The unit plan on mobile app design from Teacher Gerry Irizarry’s prototyping course is here. This course is part of UA Maker’s digital media sequence, one of their two approved Career and Technical Education pathways. The unit plan begins with naming the design outcomes (here called “standards”) that are being assessed, such as:

  • I can demonstrate the application of the design process to define and solve design problems.
  • I can demonstrate purposeful arrangement of text and image for a creative layout: size, shape, location, and resolution.
  • I can demonstrate an understanding of a target audience.
  • I can demonstrate the ability to give constructive criticism & feedback.

Mobile App Design Project Components

The project summary section of the unit plan describes an “entry event” intended to increase student engagement by personalizing it to their experiences and interests. First students write a list of their favorite mobile apps, then the group discusses the lists together. This leads to a discussion of the most popular music apps and the pros and cons of each, and finally a more general discussion of what makes apps successful and popular (or not).

With students’ knowledge about apps activated and deepened, the work becomes more individualized, with each student selecting profiles of at least two target buyers (based on factors such as (more…)

Diversifying the Student Body and Personalizing Student Schedules at NYC iSchool

April 3, 2019 by
NYC iSchool teacher Evelyn Baracaldo, Principal Isora Bailey, and Assistant Principal Michelle Leimsider

NYC iSchool teacher Evelyn Baracaldo, Principal Isora Bailey, and Assistant Principal Michelle Leimsider

This is the second post in a series about the Mastery Collaborative in New York City. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

NYC iSchool in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan is one of the Mastery Collaborative’s eight “Living Lab Schools” that serve as models in New York City and beyond. The iSchool emphasizes that it “is designed to offer students opportunities to engage in meaningful work that has relevance to them and the world, [and] choice and responsibility in determining their high school experience.” Two areas in which the school has developed strong practices related to competency-based education are creating a diverse student body against headwinds of the selective schools process and enabling students to select courses based on their interests.

Deliberate Steps to Recruit a Diverse Student Body

As NYC iSchool developed a strong reputation during its early years, its applicant pool grew and its student body became less representative of the school district, as shown in the figure below. Students eligible for free or reduced price lunch fell from 43% to 27% (compared to 74% district-wide) and the percentage of white students increased from 35% to 48% (compared to 15% in the district). (The two groups overlap, because some white students are from low-income families.)

Graph of NYC iSchool Student Demographics Before Policy ChangeThese disparities were inconsistent with the iSchool’s goals to disrupt systemic inequities and serve a representative student body. They responded by taking advantage of a city policy to help them reach this goal.

The disparities were likely a result of both district and iSchool recruitment processes. With more than 400 high schools in New York City, applying can be bewildering. Students need to submit a ranked list of up to 12 choices, taking into account their odds of admission at the many “Specialized” and “Screened” high schools. Doing this systematically requires considerable research and often involves multiple school visits and supplemental application components. It has much in common with selective college admissions, but for 8th graders. (more…)

The Mastery Collaborative: Dozens of NYC Schools Support Each Other’s Reforms

April 1, 2019 by

Mastery Collaborative LogoThe Mastery Collaborative (MC) is a network of public middle and high schools in New York City that are shifting and working together toward greater implementation of mastery/competency-based and culturally responsive education practices. The network is led by the New York City Department of Education, currently with two full-time staff members and two part-time consultants, who support the work of dozens of member schools. Detailed background information about the Mastery Collaborative is available in past CompetencyWorks posts (see links below).

This is the first in a series of posts based on iNACOL’s recent visit to two MC member schools, participation in a roundtable discussion with faculty and students from several schools, and attendance at a professional development workshop on culturally responsive education.

Shifting to Mastery-Based and Culturally Responsive Education Takes Time

Map of Mastery Collaborative Schools

Mastery Collaborative Schools

The Mastery Collaborative’s structure makes explicit an essential aspect of shifting to mastery-based and culturally responsive education (CRE)—that schools transform at different paces and to varying degrees. The 37 member schools span three tiers with different levels of implementation:

  1. Living Lab Schools have “effective schoolwide mastery systems with exemplary aspects to share with others.”
  2. Active Member Schools are “engaged in strengthening and spreading mastery/CRE practices, with a goal of ever-more-effective schoolwide implementation.”
  3. Incubator Schools are “in early stages of shifting to the MC’s mastery/CRE model.”

A fourth group, called the Friends of Mastery Collaborative (FOMC), contains hundreds of educators from 80 additional New York City schools, plus other states and countries, that are invited to participate in (more…)

In Real Life: How do CBE systems support all students to reach mastery?

February 20, 2019 by

Alison Kearney, Assistant Principal, Noble High School, ME

This article is the seventh in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Since learners are met where they are in CBE systems and are supported to reach mastery at their own pace, what supports are needed to ensure everyone succeeds?

To better understand this question, I sat down with Alison Kearney, Assistant Principal at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine.

A rural school, Noble High School serves roughly 1,100 students across three towns up to an hour bus ride away. Its students often come from rural poor backgrounds, influencing how the school has structured its student support system. Noble High’s proficiency-based system was profiled in a CompetencyWorks blog post in 2015.

(more…)

In Real Life: How do CBE systems manage differences in pace?

February 11, 2019 by

Mallory Haar, English as a New Language Teacher, Casco Bay High School, ME.

This article is the sixth in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Competency-based education (CBE) systems meet students where they are and support them to master a pre-defined set of learning targets at their own pace. Managing a group of learners who are at different places in their learning might seem doable if their paces are similar, but what about students who deviate widely from the class norm or “teacher pace”? Are there limits to how quickly or slowly students are allowed to move through the system?

To better understand how competency-based systems reckon with these questions, I sat down with Mallory Haar, who teaches English as a New Language and English Literature at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine.

(more…)

In Real Life: How feedback loops and student supports help ensure learning is deep, ongoing, and integrated.

February 6, 2019 by

Elizabeth Cardine, Lead Teacher and Advisor, MC2 Schools, NH

This article is the fifth in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Competency-based education (CBE) systems define competencies and learning progressions to make learning expectations more transparent and accessible to students; but such transparency can be prone to the unintended consequence of creating a “check the box” mentality that compromises depth and relevance.

To better understand how competency-based systems balance the desire for transparency with the need for depth, I sat down with Elizabeth Cardine, Lead Teacher and Advisor at Making Community Connections (MC2) Charter Schools in New Hampshire.

(more…)

Wrap-Up on the New Zealand Series

December 31, 2018 by

For those of you thinking about learning about the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ll offer two pieces of advice. First, beside kia ora (hello), spend time learning a bit about the Māori language and familiarizing yourself with the phrases used at the Ministry of Education. Whanau, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, and Kāhui Ako will be frequently dropped into conversation. Second, there are loads of great reports on the NZCER website. Take the time to read up before you go. I highly recommend NCEA in Context to understand the reasons and revisions in shaping their method for certifying learning and Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou/Struggle Without End to prepare you to engage effectively in understanding New Zealand’s biculturalism.

Below are all the articles on New Zealand published at CompetencyWorks. I’ll be continuing the series with more school profiles at LearningEdge in 2019. (more…)

How Competency-Based is New Zealand?

December 19, 2018 by

This is the final article in the CompetencyWork series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand. Links to the full set of articles are at the bottom of this page. You can find more about New Zealand at LearningEdge.

When I returned from Aotearoa New Zealand, I was frequently asked, “How competency-based is New Zealand?” It was never an easy question to answer because we’ve created a working definition and ten distinguishing features of competency-based that may or may not be the right ones. Furthermore, there are at least three core drivers or bar-raising policy goals that are shaping our understanding of competency-based education:

  • Redesigning schools and learning experiences around what we know about how children learn rather than continuing to operate upon a set of out-of-date beliefs and mindsets that form the traditional system.
  • Responding to changes in society and the economy that require a system that develops a broader set of knowledge and skills for student success: academic knowledge and skills, transferable skills (deeper learning and higher order skills), and lifelong learning.
  • Creating a more equitable system that monitors both growth and achievement to ensure that every student has opportunity to discover their potential and have doors opened for them upon graduation.

(more…)

Insights from Aotearoa New Zealand: NCEA

December 18, 2018 by

This is the twelfth article in the series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlights insights from a totally different education system about what is possible in transforming our education system. Read the first article here.If you are going to New Zealand, be sure to read NCEA in Context. There are other resources at NZQA and NZCER that will be valuable as well.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is not a high school diploma. It is a certificate of achievement that indicates the level of achievement that students have learned at their completion of school. NCEA certificates of achievement aren’t received. They are earned. Time in the seat doesn’t matter. What matters is demonstrating learning.

The NCEA is a very sophisticated system with intentional thought given to ensuring that it is meaningful to students, schools, and the tertiary system. I’m going to do my best to translate the NCEA to our American education system by highlighting features of the system in bold. (more…)

The Best Academic Schools in Tennessee Feature the Best Character Program in the Country

December 14, 2018 by

This article originally appeared at Education Week on December 11, 2018. It was posted on Vander Ark on Innovation.

“Teaching has to change. If I never tap into your truth, if I never validate your truth, I’ve failed you as a teacher,” said Valor College Prep HS teacher Matthias McNeal. About the morning meeting, McNeal adds, “Circle is getting to the root of what makes you so special.”

The best academic secondary schools in Tennessee feature the best character development program in the country.

Valor Collegiate Academies has been in the top 5% of Tennessee schools on growth and achievement every year since it started in 2014. But we visited Valor (seven miles south of the Country Music Hall of Fame in suburban southeast Nashville) because of the well regarded Valor Compass, a holistic human development program. (more…)

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