2019 TRETC: The Future of Learning

I love going to conferences to network with colleagues and discover new ideas. The Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC) in Pittsburgh on October 14 offers a variety of opportunities for educational leaders:

  • Engaging keynote speaker – former Pixar Senior Scientist, Tony DeRose;
  • Over 40 sessions lead by local leaders and innovative educators;
  • Classroom proven strategies that teachers and administrators can implement immediately;
  • Opportunities to network with cutting edge practitioners and local start-ups;
  • Centrally located and free parking – no need for flying across the country or driving for hours to connect with districts and leaders with national and international recognition.

TRETC 2018 ShowcaseIn addition, this year’s conference at the Baldwin High School, near Downtown Pittsburgh, brings a Spotlight on Pittsburgh Innovation. This past year Remake Learning of Pittsburgh sponsored an opportunity for projects to showcase the innovations that they have developed. Over 70 projects from the greater Pittsburgh area submitted a proposal. At TRETC nine of these educational programs will give Ignite Talks and share their success stories. In addition, seven university and corporate projects will join the Innovation Zone at TRETC to highlight their stories.

TRETC has become the premier K-12 learning event in the Pittsburgh region. This year the conference also hopes to draw future educators from local universities and colleges in the region. The conference includes presentations, poster sessions, a student showcase, an Innovation Zone, an Exhibitors Space, and time to network and learn more about the amazing things happening in classrooms and learning spaces around Western Pennsylvania.

Here’s one event where everyone comes out a winner.

Alexa, What’s on the High School Menu Today?

When the Montour School District launched America’s first Artificial Intelligence Middle School program in the fall of 2018, many questions arose. Why middle school? Why teach Artificial Intelligence? How? (Just to name a few). But, as a student-centered and future-focused district, the thought process was not if we should teach AI, but what if we don’t teach AI? Also, why isn’t everyone teaching AI?

To better answer these questions Dr. Justin Aglio, Montour’s Director of Academic Achievement, and I met with two eighth grade students who were part of a special project that tapped into AI. The students provided great information about the “why” and “what” for learning about Artificial Intelligence and Justin added some key elements explaining how the program will grow in the upcoming years.

Tema and Aidan, two of the four eighth grade students, really played up the fact that it’s not about teaching AI in school today, but why hasn’t anyone started sooner. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” report from the World Economic Forum points out that we need to understand our changing environment, challenge our assumptions, and continuously innovate. Schools and all institutions will need to begin to think about the impact of AI and Robotics. It’s not only jobs that will be affected. It’s our moral code; it’s our training for all learners to become informed citizens for the 21st century.

For K-12 schools that means we need to rethink how we define and evaluate learning. Montour is one of school districts who are rethinking what graduates in the 21st century need to know, understand and do. Montour believes that all students need to become data fluent. They need to know how to analyze, interpret and create data to solve problems. They need to be able to design frameworks to solve real world problems using data. Learners also need to understand the underlying processes and ethical issues behind modern technology. In Montour that’s exactly what students discover. Through a Media Arts course developed by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) all students investigate moral issues related to Artificial Intelligence. Topics for the Montour course include: algorithmic bias called gender shades, the trolley problem, or ethical matrix design.

However, as Tema and Aidan pointed out that doesn’t explain how AI works. You need to get behind the modern 8 ball and discover how to use AI to solve a problem. We don’t want students to become just better consumers of AI; we want them to become better creative producers using AI. So what’s a problem that middle school students have on their minds? The Montour middle school students wanted to know what to expect when they head to high school.  It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s something different to develop a “skill” for Alexa to explain what to anticipate at the high school level. Amazon provides a developer’s kit that the Montour students used. The Montour team first conducted a survey of their peers and then used the data to develop the questions that would be part of a pilot project with Witlingo. Each of the four students in the development team not only conducted the research, they also recorded their answers. So, today when you ask for Montour “Hey Google, talk to Montour High School,” or “Alexa, Launch Montour High School,” you now can learn about the high school program through the research and voices of Montour students.

While the middle school program has had great success, it’s not enough to just drop AI in the middle of a student’s life. What will prepare students for the world of machine learning? According to Justin Aglio you need to arouse student curiosity at the elementary level. So next year Montour will include in its elementary program Experiments with Google AI to introduce students to AI concepts and traveling AI robots around the school that interact with students.

Once you have the students asking questions and conducting research, you want to have them go further. At Montour high school students will soon have mentorships with companies, like Google or Argo. Students will have opportunities during their Personalized Learning Time (PLT) to take additional courses, such as AI4ALL’s Open Learning program.

Driving Innovation: Tech Enablers

In 2018 the Consortium for Schools Networked (CoSN) transformed the K-12 Horizon Report into The CoSN K-12 Driving Innovation Series with three reports. The reports are based on the work of over 100 educators around the globe who look at emerging technologies through three lenses: Hurdles, Accelerators, and Tech Enablers. As the co-chair of the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee, I was selected to be part of the process. The Advisory Group engaged in several months of discourse about the major themes driving, hindering, and enabling teaching and learning innovation at schools. After each phase, final thoughts from advisory board members were distilled in surveys discerning the top five topics to feature in each publication.

Currently I’m working with the CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee to expand the work of the Advisory Group around Tech Enhancers, focusing on Analytics and Adaptive Technologies.

According to the Driving Innovation report:

Tech Enablers are tools that support smooth leaps over the hurdles and expansive changes in K-12 education. The top five enablers , which were ranked in order of closest proximity to mainstream adoption are:

To understand how Analytics and Adaptive Technologies have evolved I interviewed two key experts: Steve Ritter, the Chief Scientist and one of the founders of Carnegie Learning, and John Pane, a Senior Scientist and one of the leading educational researchers with the RAND Corporation. Both Steve and John have years of experience and have witnessed the changes in how Analytics and Adaptive Technologies have created new opportunities for a better understanding about learning and how to personalize that learning.

According to Steve Ritter, the role of analytics is changing in K-12 education with availability of Big Data. For Carnegie Learning data plays several key roles:

  • Evidence of student learning based on existing assessments;
  • Improve existing products to better identify learning issues;
  • Provide teachers with real-time information about student learning.

Carnegie Learning has partnered with the Miami-Dade School District in Florida and other schools to develop “LiveLab,” a real-time analytics dashboard that provides data to educators based on student progress within MATHia™ software. The dashboard identifies which students most need help so that teacher can make best use of their time.  It also helps teachers better understand why students need help. According to Carnegie Learning’s website, “LiveLab highlights each student’s progress through math concepts in real-time so teachers can guide, intervene and coach effectively. Indicators and alerts help teachers assist struggling students and celebrate students for hitting key milestones in Carnegie Learning’s MATHia software.” Teachers from Hopewell School District, outside of Pittsburgh, PA, have been testing out LiveLab. Ray Smith, one of the teachers, describes the experience as game-changing. According to Ray, “Using the analytic tool provides all the student information at your finger tips.”

John Pane has examined a variety of adaptive software tools. The results are not always positive. For instance one study of the Cognitive Tutor Algebra from Carnegie Learning in 150 schools in over 50 school districts showed a significant improvement, but mainly in the second year. In a separate study of Cognitive Tutor Geometry in a single school district there was negative effect on learning. According to John you need to look deeper. The Carnegie Learning programs are not intended as 100% computer based. The software is intended to supplement small and whole group instruction. These studies measured the entire package of software, classroom implementation, training and the ability for the teacher to change their practice to work in concert with the adaptive software. According to John there is a conflict between policy and practice. The software pinpoints the need for many learners to work on prerequisite skills, but the teachers are often under pressure to “cover” the content and are uncomfortable letting the students move at their own pace. As a result they may have students use the software less, or override the software to push them into more advanced content before they have mastered the basics.

John also discerned a potential risk with the use of Adaptive Technology. If educators are not careful, they can end up tracking students and have lower expectations for student performance. He also highlighted some other challenges around privacy and security. However, even with these concerns, John remained optimistic and believed that adaptive technologies and analytical tools when used appropriately and with teacher training and buy in can provide greater opportunities for student mastery of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

As we increase the use of enhanced technologies that provide analytics and adaptions, educators need to be cognizant of both the opportunities and the possible negative consequences. We need to be mindful of privacy and security issues, for instance. In addition, it’s very difficult to gauge the success of some technologies when we’re using measures that only look at content growth. In order to truly “Drive Innovation” we need to not only understand the Hurdles, discern the Accelerators for growth, and identify the enabling tools, we must also think what are we really trying to achieve. Is it enough for students to demonstrate proficiency on standards-based assessments? Or do we want to provide our learners with the tools for life-long success so they can continuously learn, relearn, and even unlearn in order to become creative problem-solvers, communicators, and collaborators in a global society?