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…)

Mastery-Based Making: The Urban Assembly Maker Academy

April 8, 2019 by

Maker Classroom Door SignThis is the third 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.

Urban Assembly Maker Academy is a New York City public high school with a well-developed mastery system, one of the model “Living Lab” schools for the Mastery Collaborative, an organization described in the first post in this series. The school has many well-developed elements of competency-based education that could serve as models for other schools.

Projects in the maker classroom this school year include students creating original designs in everything from skateboards to sneakers to mobile apps. The maker classroom teacher, Gerry Irizarry, whose former work was in the design field, says that the most important take-away is the design thinking students are learning, which can be applied to any industry—not the specifics of mobile apps or skateboards.

The school is based on the belief that “the world needs problem solvers who can find out and solve challenges to create positive change in a world where change is the only constant. We empower students to be successful, adaptive citizens of the future, who will create the future through design thinking and innovation. Our students are curious about the world around them and empathize with others to develop personalized solutions. Our students know that to innovate, they must take risks. They measure the impact of their actions. They overcome challenges with resilience.”

Photo of Urban Assembly Maker Academy StudentCTE Pathways in a Competency-Based System

The school has two approved career and technical education pathways: computer science and digital media. Students in the computer science pathway take courses including video game programming, physical computing, and Python programming. These courses connect with projects 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…)

What’s New: What’s Happening in State Policy

April 18, 2018 by

This article reviews some of the new state policy resources and highlights the types of discussion and initiatives taking place in the individual states. Nevada is joining the group of states that are supporting innovative districts, and Mississippi is supporting an innovation network. The most important thing to pay attention to is the discussion and debate in Maine as they decide whether they are going to continue to believe that their students and educators can learn to high standards and will keep learning how to support students in doing so…or if they modify expectations. Fingers crossed that the discussion moves from what’s wrong to what we need to make sure all of our students learn!

State Policy Resources

Across the country, state policymakers have been engaged in thinking through how they can strengthen their policies and infrastructures to better (more…)

Catalyzing Equity Through Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

October 17, 2017 by

Right now race has enormous cultural, social, and economic power. It can shape our families and communities, career trajectories, life experiences and opportunities, and even whether we live past thirty or not. So our job in the field of education is to identify each and every place where race is making a difference in children’s lives because of either systemic policies and patterns or because of implicit and explicit bias. It starts with ensuring that our schools have a culture of belonging. As Joy Nolan from the Mastery Collaborative emphasizes, Every student should walk into school feeling like their school is for them, designed for them, serving them, and for people “like them.”

The team at Mastery Collaborative in NYC have identified that the practices of culturally responsive education go hand-in-hand with the mastery-based learning practices. They have created a very simple resource (see below or click here) to allow educators or, better yet, teams of educators (it is very hard to identify implicit bias if it is just a conversation between you and yourself – you need trusted colleagues to help you see where you might have blinders or filters that are creating trouble) to think about their facilitation, curriculum, and grading practices.

Mastery Collaborative Resources on Culturally Responsive Education

Infusing CRE into Mastery Practices

How Can Mastery Learning be More Culturally Responsive (video)

The more I learn about culturally responsive education, the more I think it is important that the leaders in the world of personalized learning do the crosswalk as well. There are so many practices that are valuable in culturally responsive education that are either the same or similar enough to make personalized learning become a catalyst for racial equity. But that won’t happen unless there is the intention of doing so. Without intention to change, we end up perpetuating inequality.

Do you have tools, resources, or strategies that are helping you and your school to strengthen your culture and practices so that you are truly an equitable school where every student is going to succeed regardless of race? Or a story about how competency-based education and its focus on continuous improvement is helping your school or district improve educational services and outcomes for historically underserved students? Please share.  As a community, I am confident that we can not only commit to equity. We can make a difference in children’s lives for the better.

– – –

Infusing CRE/Mastery practices into our work with young learners

Exploration

  • Please check indicators you feel are your strengths. ✔
  • Use a question mark where you want more information. ?
  • Draw a star to show a possible focus/growth area for you. *

I can point to evidence that shows that . . .

  • All students in my/our classroom feel they are welcomed, they belong here, and
    that their learning has value. facilitation

(more…)

Iteration in Action: The Urban Assembly Maker Academy

August 28, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on February 6, 2017. This is the fourth in a series on iteration in school design. 

On a recent afternoon at The Urban Assembly Maker Academy, a group of students constructs a miniature car out of a shoebox and detached racecar wheels. The car holds an egg as it rolls down a ramp and two students watch their egg fly out of its cotton-ball harness; another group’s egg is crushed when it hits the bottom. The activity measures students’ mastery of key concepts in physics, like speed and velocity. Using a teacher-designed data tracking form, each group records how effectively their car ferried the egg. Some immediately begin redrafting their designs, taking their cars apart and tweaking the configuration of the components.

This is just one example of the kind of student collaboration that permeates Maker’s section of the Murry Bergtraum campus in Manhattan’s financial district. In nearly every class, you’ll find students huddled over clusters of desks solving problems in small groups. Teachers serve as facilitators, setting the boundaries of projects and guiding students along individualized paths to completion.

By spring of their first year at Maker, some students had already completed several projects to demonstrate mastery of core competencies. They had written their own series of blog posts to narrate their experience in a science project; designed and constructed Braille signage for the hallways; and participated in a “design jam” to brainstorm solutions to community problems. When asked why they chose Maker, students agreed that the opportunity to learn about STEM-based content through projects was what sold them.

Systems to Support Mastery-based Learning

Underpinning each project is a rigorous mastery-based crediting system, designed by Principal Luke Bauer and Assistant Principal Madeline Hackett. The system requires students to demonstrate mastery at least three times before they move on to the next standard or group of standards. Each demonstration of mastery is an “at bat,” and only the three most recent “at bats” count toward a student’s credit attainment. Students must perform at 80% or above on a given “at bat” to earn mastery. Since mastery only depends on a student’s last three “at bats,” a student can “lose mastery” of a given set of standards if they perform poorly on recent assessments. The system pushes students to hone their skills from the beginning to the end of each semester while sending the message that skills and knowledge are never permanently attained. UA Maker explains their approach in this series of videos.

The system took a few iterations to become what it is today. Originally, students had to complete five “at bats” to achieve mastery. When that proved too cumbersome, Bauer and his team trimmed it to three. Additionally, when ready-made tech products UA Maker launched with did not seamlessly accommodate the mastery system, Bauer’s team had to awkwardly adapt those systems to make them function properly. A few months into their first year, school leadership opted to ditch the ready-made tech solutions for a DIY combination of Google docs and hard copy records. Eventually, UA Maker hired a developer to build their own tech system, which allows students and staff to quickly access a snapshot of where any student stands on their mastery journey at a given time.

Much of Maker’s early professional development, as Bauer describes it, focused on developing open communication between students and teachers around what students know and what their “at bat” scores mean. One teacher, with Bauer’s support, has been coaching students to take ownership of their collective mastery of standards. Students are encouraged to say to themselves and each other, “Hey, as a class, we don’t know this. We’re not clear on “X” content piece, so let’s figure this out by the end of class.” This kind of self-awareness and collective accountability can only happen in an environment of transparency and rapid feedback. As Bauer describes it, “the narrative of a course” must be clear to everyone, from teachers to families. (more…)

Mastery Collaborative Resources

February 18, 2017 by

Mastery CollaborativeThe NYC Department of Education’s Mastery Collaborative is making their online sessions available for all of us to learn from. The links to recording and slides are below and I’ve added links to the schools CompetencyWorks has visited.

Thanks to the Mastery Collaborative for their leadership and their generosity

 

Carroll Gardens School for Innovation—Aligning outcomes across grades/departments

CGSI Session Recording // CGSI Slides

Article on Carroll Gardens School for Innovation

 

Flushing International HS—Designing outcomes that drive learning

Flushing International Session Recording // Flushing International Slides

Article on Flushing International HS

 

Frank McCourt HS—Developing, norming, and using mastery-based rubrics

FMHS Session Recording TBD // FMHS Slides

 

Harvest Collegiate HS—Building a school-wide philosophy of mastery

Harvest Collegiate HS Recording // Harvest Slides

(more…)

Put Us In the Room Where It Happens: Teacher-Driven Shifts To Mastery

February 13, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education blog on January 4, 2017. 

I wanna be in the room where it happens.

This line from the Broadway hit Hamilton is one I refer to often when thinking about how we can effectively bring students and teachers in to create honest and equitable systems of assessment.

Our little school in Queens, New York, has worked tirelessly to create and maintain a teacher-created system of mastery-based grading. I’m thirteen years into my middle and high school English teaching career, but the school I have had the privilege of being a part of for the past six years is The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria. Our school is grades 6-12, public, all-girls, and Title I.  On average, 98% of our graduates are accepted to and attend college, and we have been a mastery-based school for the past seven years.

CK1

Christy conducting a coaching session.

Our mastery work began when our founding principal shared a paper with her then-staff, “Removing Structural Barriers to Academic Achievement in High Schools: An Innovative Model” by Camille A. Farrington and Margaret H. Small.  The gist of the paper addressed the dropout rate as a “structural problem” connected to traditional systems of determining final grades and course credit. It was a call to action honoring “differential learning rates”. For our founding teachers, this was an issue of social justice-being able to provide multiple opportunities for students to achieve mastery of skills over time was simply more equitable. Our through line was, and remains, educational equity.

(more…)

Mastery Motivates Students: “No Way” vs. “Not Yet”

December 15, 2016 by
mastery-motivates-1

FIHS Science Teacher Jordan Wolf with Students

This post originally appeared at Mastery Collaborative on October 21, 2016.

Can a mastery-based school culture give students a useful way to track their own progress and achievements? A visit to Flushing International High School (FIHS), one of eight Mastery Collaborative Living Lab schools, provided some insight into this issue.

During the visit, school leadership, faculty, and students discussed with guests how a focus on mastery has changed the outlook of school departments, individual teachers, and especially students. Rather than looking at grades only as a final score, students now track their progress toward mastery throughout the year, on a group of subject-specific goals. Goals are assessed multiple times over the year, allowing students to see which specific goals they need to focus on to improve their mastery of key skills and knowledge.

Switching to a Mastery-Based Model

This method of grading is of recent vintage at FIHS. Five years ago, the leadership and staff began to discuss concerns about the role of assessments. “We were not communicating our grading and assessment policies clearly enough,” explained Principal Lara Evangelista.

To address the problem, teachers began creating homemade report cards with many personalized comments to indicate how well students were meeting specific standards. At the end of marking periods, students were able to see how they could improve in specific terms. Then, the staff came up with an even better idea, said Evangelista: “Why don’t we tell [students] at the beginning what we are looking for?”

Over the course of the next four years, school leadership, faculty and students integrated clearly stated learning goals into everything from lesson plans, to the online grading system, to teacher-student advisories. (more…)

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