And the winners are…


Drumroll, please…the winning ideas from Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools!

The teams were lined up, the mic check was done, more than 50 people had arrived to watch, our judges were in place—and our emcee, Caroline Hill, started the slow clap announcing the kickoff to Sunday’s final Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools presentations. It was game time for the ten teams that had wrestled with their ideas for the past two days.

Each team had five minutes to present their school design, followed by Q&A from the judges (including Jennie Niles, Deputy Mayor for Education; Bobbi MacDonald, Executive Director of City Neighbors Foundation; Tracy Foster, Principal of Randle Highlands Elementary School; and Abreham Gebre; graduate of Columbia Heights Educational Campus and current student at Georgetown University). And then, during an agonizing 45 minutes, the judges selected the three winning teams.

And those winners are…


Concept summary: Competency-based, project-based school for over-age, under-credited students, coupled with a flexible schedule.

Strength of concept:

  • The school concept was built on a clear student need, and it articulated why existing schools do not serve those students. The clarity of the concept grew from this excellent problem identification.
  • The combination of competency-based learning, project-based learning, and other program attributes has not been attempted for this student demographic before, making it truly innovative.
  • The school is designed for students who are disenfranchised and offers an alternative model for those that are not served by the current system.

Opportunity to improve concept:

  • It was unclear how all the pieces of the learning program would come together seamlessly for students.

Prize: A one-year membership to 1776; fees waived to 4.0 Schools programs, including Essentials


Concept summary: A school serving students grades 6–12 that would focus not on some hypothetical future course to success, but on tapping into student passion today and supporting students in learning how to pursue life with purpose. The core of the model was “creation courses” and “passion projects.”

Strength of concept:

  • Problem identification: The articulation of why school needs to be fundamentally reframed was compelling.
  • Learning program: The creation courses and passion projects were some of the most exciting ideas presented.

Opportunity to improve concept:

  • Learning program: It was unclear why there was no need for a building—that concept felt core and yet unfinished.
  • Equity: It was unclear how this would push the conversation in the city around equity.

Prize: NBC Universal 21st Century Skills prize of three tickets to SxSWEDU; Fees waived to 4.0 Schools programs, including Essentials


Summary of concept: A partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the school would serve students grades 5–12 through a combination of foundational academics taught through playlists and projects, internships, and experience-based learning throughout the network of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest network of museums in the nation.

Strength of concept:

  • The richness of the program was compelling; the use of technology to do the heavy lifting on basic content and then leverage the various institutions and museums for projects would be a great combination.

Opportunity to improve concept:

  • The concept of tapping into exemplary local institutions for K-12 education has been tried many times. What is different about this attempt? Why now?
  • It was unclear how this concept addressed inequity explicitly.

Prize: Fees waived to 4.0 Schools programs, including Essentials

Low cost prototyping, or, what can educators learn from bulgogi tacos?

passers-by checking out a prototype school model

Thanks to Matt Candler at 4.0 Schools in New Orleans, we have a new mental model for prototyping ideas in education. Drawing from his extensive gastronomical experience, Matt urged the participants of Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools to start thinking about education prototypes like pop up dinners and food trucks:

It makes sense. Instead of the typical new school design process that takes many years, millions of dollars, and an extensive strategic plan gathering dust as soon as kids walk through the doors, why not start today with an idea and take it directly to families and students?

Start small like a pop up restaurant. Run a sample class at a community center or inside an existing school. If you are ready for the next level of investment, think: food truck. What next level of infrastructure or materials can you prototype out on the road? Multiple sites or multiple groups of students?

TaKorean, a local D.C. food purveyor, has food trucks and a stand at Union Market. They have grown by proving their concept each step of the way.

The teams at Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools will be judged on Sunday by their prototyping today. It’s time to get out of the building and road test your ideas.

Could you be the TaKorean of schools?

That’s how SWEDU it! How do you do it?

—Margaret Angell

And go … Pitch Night rocked at Startup Weekend EDU D.C.: Next Gen Schools!

student pitching at startup weekend ed d.c.: next gen schools

Eight Startup Weekends kicked off last night across the world. Here at ours in D.C., 30 intrepid individuals stood up to pitch their ideas to a packed room. But instead of business or tech ideas, we heard pitches for next generation school ideas. Instead of a conference room, we were in the cafeteria at Columbia Heights Educational Campus. Instead of coders, we had educators.

We heard about interdisciplinary studies, arts integration, teacher-organized schools, and service learning. We heard about Maslow’s hierarchy, the need for student voice, testing beyond reading and math, and making use of community resources outside of school walls. We had classroom teachers, charter school leaders, folks from the federal Department of Ed, and—for one of the highlights of the weekend—a high school senior.

Everyone voted on the best ideas and ten teams formed. They now have 54 hours to develop their idea. On Sunday afternoon, they will present to a panel of judges.

If you had 60 seconds to summarize how school can be different and serve all students, what would you pitch?

—Margaret Angell

Come (Google) Hang Out With Us and Learn About the 2016 Fellowship Application

We will host an informational webinar about the 2016 Fellowship application this Thursday, October 22, from 5-6 p.m.

The webinar will be a Google Hangout—to participate, just visit the official event page to indicate you’d like to attend, or just head to the page this Thursday at 5 p.m.

If you have any questions about the application, or you just want to learn more about the Fellowship experience, come join us!

How a Breakthrough School Beat Summer Learning Loss

Students on Chromebooks at DC International School.

Students on Chromebooks at DC International School.

Students in America lose an average of one month of learning over the summer. That’s not a lack of progress—that’s a backwards slide in math and reading, as if four weeks of hard work by students and teachers hadn’t happened during the school year itself. This summer learning loss “disproportionately affects low-income students”—like the students who attend our school, DC International School.

We are a charter school in Washington, D.C. starting our second year of middle school, with 52% of our students receiving free or reduced price lunch. We do not have an extended school year and our students did not attend summer school. But with no additional money spent, we beat summer loss.

The key? Personalized, technology-driven learning. We are a 1:1 school, with Chromebooks provided to all of our students through the support of the Next Generation Learning Challenges project and the CityBridge Foundation. The students use the Chromebooks in class and take them home for homework. They keep them during the summer, too. So over the break, we assigned all students to spend an hour a week on TenMarks, a math practice program with individual learning pathways based on diagnostic assessment, and tips for students who struggle. All students also were assigned to read and respond to 40 articles through the Curriculet/USA Today summer challenge. The students could choose the articles and earn badges for their progress. The great part? All of this was free. (We don’t receive any donations or particular benefits from any of the vendors mentioned here.) We also continued to use Achieve3000, a reading intervention using leveled text that we had found success with during the school year for our struggling readers. The software makes the text a just-right level of challenge for readers, with immediate feedback (as on the Curriculet articles and TenMarks) on student responses to questions.

Our students experienced no summer learning loss in either math or English. In fact, using NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress, we found they were beating the rest of the country during the summer break. Compared to national norms, our students grew by five percentile points in math and two percentile points in reading from June to September. This addresses a huge issue in American education—and it wouldn’t be possible without the Chromebooks and the personalized learning platforms.

It also wouldn’t be possible without human beings at the school—but even here, technology made it work. Faculty could track whether students were completing their Curriculet reading and used that metric as a proxy for summer work generally. Starting in the second week of summer, we called parents of students who weren’t completing the work, as well as those who were excelling or improving. (Shout-out to our awesome full-year aides who made these calls!) Think about the difference between this process and waiting until September to see if students turn in summer assignments! We also opened the school several hours a week to provide a supervised space to work for students who needed wi-fi access or just a friendly face.

We have a long way to go—with math, with reading, and with personalized learning. But these results tell me that we’re on the right track. If summer learning loss can be a thing of the past, who knows what other educational fossils we can leave behind?

—Simon Rodberg is the principal of the District of Columbia International School

Mapping Personalized Learning for Fellows

A prototype version of the Education Innovation Fellowship skill map made from Post-Its

A prototype version of the Education Innovation Fellowship skill map.

As we’re recruiting teachers for the 2016 cohort of Education Innovation Fellows, we are also working to apply what we have learned from the first three years of the Fellowship to make next year even better. One important lesson is that personalized learning is not just for K-12 students—it is also a powerful tool for enhancing adult learning. So we’re building out a framework to better personalize the Fellowship experience itself. We’re drawing a new map.

The first of the four pillars in our vision of personalization is competency-based learning. This means that a learner gets the right content at the right time, based on her current skills and knowledge. She gets credit for what she knows, and gets the precise support she needs to learn what she has not yet mastered. For Fellows, this means meeting them where they are. Some might already have deep experience with blended learning, while some might be new to the field. Others might have read widely on education innovation, while others might be looking for the best sources. One fellow might have been building project-based learning experiences for years; another might be ready to begin redesigning a curriculum with a project-based focus.

The point is that everyone has gaps in their knowledge, and everyone has a different starting point. In order to chart a course through all of the learning we pack into the Fellowship, a skill map is a powerful tool. A skill map plots the relationships between discrete units of knowledge. For example, middle-school math students must learn how to multiply decimals before they can use pi to calculate the circumference of a circle; the former skill is a prerequisite for the first. Similarly, Fellows must be able to explain the steps of the design thinking process before applying that process to pilot projects in their own classrooms.

An upshot of mapping skills like this is that Fellows can then move at their own pace: if you’ve already mastered a foundational skill, you can move ahead to a higher-level skill. That ability reinforces two other personalized learning pillars: student autonomy (Fellows can better define the pace, path, and substance of what they learn), and purposeful and relevant study.

We’ll have more to share in the coming weeks about how this framework will work. In the meantime, the origin point on this map is the Fellowship application.

—Andrew Plemmons Pratt, Program Manager, Education Innovation Fellowship

Empowering English Language Learners: Come Prepared for Conferences

At Center City PCS in Shaw, we teach native speakers of 9 languages. I use a three-part framework to support English Language Learners in being strong, independent learners in a blended learning classroom. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 here!

Part 3: Come prepared for conferences.

Each individual’s path of language learning is slightly different. No student learns 100% of the same words and concepts in 100% the same order. Our classroom’s blended learning model includes time for conferences in order to make room for personalized instruction that is designed to fit individual student needs.

Some of the personalization comes from me, the teacher, in the way I respond to student data and come to conferences with teaching points in mind. But an extremely motivating form of personalization comes from students themselves when they come prepared for conferences with questions. In order to make sure students know what I mean by “come prepared,” this year, I’ll be sharing this list of potential conference topics with ELL students:

  • A word you are not sure how to use in a sentence
  • A sentence or paragraph of text that was confusing
  • A person or place name that you would like explained (many allusions to American history and geography are challenging to newcomers)
  • An open response question worded in a way that you found confusing
  • A place where you lost points on an assignment, and you want to be sure you know how to correct it
  • A real life situation in which you wanted to express something and were not sure how to say it in English

In language learning, as in most kinds of learning, success breeds success. Controlling their pace, collecting new words, and coming prepared for conferences are three strategies ELLs can use to accelerate their success with English in a blended learning classroom. I’m hopeful that by explicitly teaching these three strategies for maximizing language learning, my co-teacher and I can put kids in a position to be the drivers of their own English acquisition and to improve their English on purpose in every class period of their days.

Alison Gillmeister, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Center City Public Charter Schools—Shaw Campus


Empowering English Language Learners: Collect New Words

At Center City PCS in Shaw, we teach native speakers of 9 languages. I use a three-part framework to support English Language Learners in being strong, independent learners in a blended learning classroom. Check out Part 1 here, and stay tuned for Part 3 later this week!

Part 2: Collect new words.

Building vocabulary is the key to an English language learner’s (ELL’s) success. I tell my students that when they read, they are like Mario traveling through his video game world. Each new word they encounter and pick up for themselves is like one of those gold rings that Mario collects on his journey. Recording a word that is new to them so that they can study it later should set off a rewarding “Ding!” in their brains, just like the “Ding!” that Mario hears when he picks up a gold ring.

Many of my students already have the habit of collecting words that are new to them and recording them in their individual vocabulary notebooks. The challenge is making sure that students go back and study those words later so that the words move to long term memory.

A teacher at the EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit in July shared a tech strategy he uses to address this challenge, which I will be trying his strategy year. When this teacher’s students read online, he has them read with Quizlet, an online flashcard program, open in another tab. Students can create digital flashcards as they read. A teacher can then see what words students are recording and how often students go back to study these words.

At our computer station this year, I will require students to use Quizlet to collect new words as they read. I am excited to see what difference the digital flashcards make in students’ independent acquisition of new vocabulary.

Check back later this week for more on the framework I use to support ELLs in being strong, independent learners in a blended learning classroom!

Alison Gillmeister, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Center City Public Charter Schools—Shaw Campus


Empowering English Language Learners: A Three-Part Framework

At my school in Shaw, we teach native speakers of 9 languages. Across the city, about 10% of D.C. students are English language learners (ELLs). That’s more than 7,000 students who qualify for official services to support them learning English. And that figure does not include the large number of kiddos who are proficient in English and who continue to hear or speak another language at home.

Blended and personalized learning models are exciting for ELL students and their teachers because these models potentially create the conditions for students to make rapid progress with their English. To capitalize on being a student in this type of model, ELLs need to be aware of two things:

  1. They are always learning English, whether or not language acquisition is a stated objective for the class as a whole. Learning English is a personal objective that ELLs need to pursue through every single activity.
  2. Certain habits allow ELLs to ensure that they are growing in their English as well as in their content knowledge. If ELLs carry out these learning habits independently, without teacher prompting, they are sure to make progress in English.

Here’s the framework I’ll be using to teach ELLs what they can do to be strong, independent learners when they’re in a blended learning classroom:

  • Control the pace.
  • Collect new words.
  • Come prepared for conferences.

In this post, I’ll share what I teach students about the habit we call “Control the Pace.” Later this week, I will share more details about the other two habits in the framework.

Part 1: Control the pace.

Whether students are at a tech-based station or not, they should adjust the speed at which they’re working to optimize comprehension. Many students already have habits of re-reading when they are trying to understand text on paper. During my summer pilot, I found that students did not automatically apply this strategy to audio or video content—some kiddos did not re-watch or re-listen until I told them outright that they could (and should!).

Going back to listen for the answer to a particular comprehension question or to find details to support a claim is beneficial for all students, but repeated listening is doubly important for students who are learning English. Language acquisition research has shown that repeated listening (in ESL lingo, sometimes called “narrow listening”) enhances comprehension and even motivation.

I’ve certainly found this to be true in my own study of French. One class I’ve taken at the Alliance Française is designed entirely around repeated viewings of the same one to two short news clips per 90-minute class session! I’ll be sharing with my ELLs how much those repeated listening experiences have improved my vocabulary and my comfort with certain grammatical constructions, and I’ll be encouraging all of my students to rewind and re-listen as much as they like.

Check back later this week for more on the framework I use to support ELLs in being strong, independent learners in a blended learning classroom!

Alison Gillmeister, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Center City Public Charter Schools—Shaw Campus


Apply to the 2016 Education Innovation Fellowship

teacher helping a student working on a laptop computer

The Education Innovation Fellowship is about reimagining what classroom instruction can look like and creating more personalized learning experiences for students. Applications for the 2016 cohort are now open.

CityBridge Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund launched the Education Innovation Fellowship, a yearlong program that introduces teacher leaders to the most promising practices in personalized learning, in 2013. With the support of a $1 million grant from the Microsoft Corporation, the Fellowship has served 54 Fellows in the first three cohorts, offering them opportunities to pilot personalized learning models in their schools and fostering classroom innovation in dozens of Washington, D.C. schools. The Fellowship will continue in 2016 as a strategic investment in great teachers—the classroom leaders who can become natural change agents for their schools. The program will empower them with a toolkit of student-centered design skills that will enable them to to drive instructional innovation.

In 2016, 20–24 new Fellows will be selected from a pool of qualified applicants currently teaching in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and D.C. public charter schools. The Fellowship program will run from January through December 2016 and will include local and national school visits, workshops, seminars, guest speakers, and technology demonstrations. Fellows will design and lead personalized learning pilot programs during the spring or summer of 2016 and will expand them in their classrooms and schools in the 2016-17 school year.

Get all of the information about the Fellowship, along with specific instructions for applicants, nominating principals, and recommending colleagues. The application deadline is November 11 at midnight.