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Connecting Alumni-Mentors and Students Online


When the sweeping fifth wave of coronavirus forced school activities to move online in Hong Kong early this year, career activities were no exception. While the suspension of face-to-face classes cut a lot of the social ties of students, the Careers and Life Planning (CLP) Team, of which I serve as the head, and the Alumni Association (AA) of our school harnessed technology to build connections between alumni and current students in an online internship program. A plus is that in the program we can transcend geographical barriers and involve overseas alumni, such as those in the United States and the UK.

Structure of the Online Mentorship Program

This experience is essential for students, so we made participation in the program compulsory for all Form 4 students (Grade 10 in the U.S. system). The mentorship program consisted of a kickoff event, which all participants were required to attend; virtual meet-ups between mentors and mentees; online alumni sharing sessions; and job shadowing and internship opportunities.

Recruiting mentors. Invitations went out by email to alumni who had graduated within the last 10 years to serve as mentors. The Alumni Association mobilized its network to recruit mentors from different generations of the alumni community and also extended the invitation to past mentors.

After getting 40 mentors onboard—around one-fourth of the number of student participants—we held a briefing session online to explain the details of the program to mentors, providing them with an opportunity to mingle virtually with each other, and to shed light on the characteristics of Generation Z.

Matching mentors with mentees. The matching exercise was next. To maximize interactions between the alumni and the students, the organizing committee determined that the ideal mentor-mentee ratio was one to four or five. They also decided that career interest would be a factor in group allocation. The CLP Team sent a Google Form to the students and gathered information about their preferences for job sectors and professions, including accounting, banking, engineering, marketing, law, and medicine. The same question was in the Google Form that the Alumni Association sent to mentors to ensure that the information on that form was aligned with the information collected in the mentee survey.

The Kickoff

After months of preparation, it was time for the kickoff event. The key to success with an online mentorship experience is the participants’ high level of involvement. To this end, we started the event with a Kahoot activity. The organizing committee had preassigned mentors and mentees to groups based on career interest. Each group worked as a team in their own breakout rooms and competed with other teams by answering a series of questions from organizing committee members as quickly and accurately as possible.

Questions ranged from history, mathematics, and cryptocurrency to knowledge about the school. The groups had 30 seconds to discuss and answer each question in the breakout rooms. Through this ice-breaking activity, mentors and mentees got to know more about each other.

To further develop group dynamics, in the breakout rooms mentors shared with mentees one successful experience and one unsuccessful experience, while mentees took turns sharing a life goal with the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) strategy they had learned in the school’s career and guidance lessons. This activity ensured that there would be an authentic need for communication between participants.

Mentors shared how they had overcome adversity so that mentees could understand the importance of resilience in the face of challenges in life. Instead of lecturing mentees about the so-called golden rules of success, mentors needed to listen to mentees about their future aspirations and bridge the communication gap between the two worlds.

This was followed by an informative session about the expectations that students needed to meet in the mentorship program and the career exploration opportunities that were available in the program.

The event ended by opening the breakout rooms again, and each mentor had to come up with a date for the next virtual meet-up session with mentees. Each group had to submit a group photo of this session to the organizing committee as proof of their willingness to sustain the communication.

Online alumni sharing sessions. After the kickoff, to promote further exchanges between mentors and mentees, each mentor indicated in a Google Form which of the nine online sharing sessions they could help out with as either a mentor or a facilitator. The brainstorming activity of the briefing session for mentors had generated the topics of the nine sessions, which spanned different career fields and aspects of career planning—for example, banking, law, medicine, coding, humanities, and CV preparation. Each mentee was required to attend at least one sharing session.

Key to success. Like it or not, technology-driven career activities are increasingly becoming the new normal, and in the near future, more of these events will be conducted virtually. The success of online sessions hinges on interactions among the participants. Mentors should avoid lecturing participants and instead strike a delicate balance between information dissemination and interactivities. Organizers should make every effort to create meaningful exchange opportunities. This is particularly important in the online mentorship program, which attempts to knock down communication barriers and help build lasting relationships.

With careful design and planning, online events of this kind provide a viable alternative to in-person events. The school community comes together, and mentors and mentees can participate in the mentorship program from the comfort of their home or office.

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California Wants to Be the Nation’s Abortion Haven


While half the states in the U.S. plan to ban or restrict abortion care if and when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, California is positioning itself to be an abortion sanctuary and preparing to welcome patients from around the country.

The state’s Democratic Legislature is considering 13 bills that would: reduce the costs of abortion, make abortions easier to access, and protect people in the state who have an abortion, or who help provide one, from law enforcement action. The governor is pledging $125 million in state funds to back these efforts.

“The goal is to really enshrine and ensure that California is a reproductive freedom state for all,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland.

On the 46th anniversary of Roe, in 2019, Wicks became the first woman to tell her own abortion story on the floor of the California Assembly.

“I was 26 years old, in between jobs and in between homes,” she said in the 2019 speech. “Staying on a friend’s couch, unemployed and facing an unplanned pregnancy was a vulnerable time in my life.”

Wicks went on to work for Barack Obama for six years, then later won her seat in California’s Legislature. She’s now 44 and has two young daughters.

“For me, having an abortion was an empowering decision, one that I have never regretted,” she said.

Her personal reproductive health needs have continued to influence her work. One day last September, she was preparing lunch at her kitchen counter, chopping lettuce, carrots and avocado, when she felt a sudden wave of severe cramping in her abdomen. Then she started bleeding — a lot. She rushed to her doctor.

“Turns out, I was pregnant and having a miscarriage. And [my doctor] said, ‘We need to do an emergency abortion procedure, a D and C,'” Wicks said, referring to the medical procedure that is used for both abortion and miscarriage.

This was all happening right after Texas banned abortions after 6 weeks and allowed members of the public to sue physicians who performed them. Wicks asked her doctor if she would have been able to get the procedure she’d just received if she lived in Texas.

The doctor told her, legally, it was permitted because the pregnancy wasn’t viable. But in reality, the chilling effect of the law was making doctors too scared to perform these procedures.

Wicks asked herself what she would have done: Stay home and deal with the potential health implications? Get in a car and drive 10 hours to find care?

“I mean, I was doubled over in pain,” Wicks said. “And so that compels me to make sure, as a legislator, that I’m doing everything I can to bring voice to the situation.”

If Roe is overturned, California could see a 3,000% increase in the number of people coming here from out of state for an abortion, from roughly 46,000 to 1.4 million, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute. Wicks is one of several lawmakers working with reproductive health groups on the package of 13 bills aimed at expanding services in anticipation of this spike.

One bill that’s already been signed into law will eliminate co-pays for abortion. Other bills would set aside state money to help people who are traveling from out of state with lodging, travel and child care costs, and to help clinics expand abortion services by adding appointment slots and training more staff.

Several bills are focused on legal protections. The Texas law, SB 8, allows members of the public to sue anyone who helps a person get an abortion, including medical staff or Uber drivers who drive patients to an appointment.

California plans to refuse to help with any such lawsuit by not complying with subpoenas from other states and declining to turn over any health data requested by other states. The bill Wicks authored would ensure no one in California can be prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing a pregnancy loss.

Health clinics also are shoring up their security, said Lisa Matsubara, general counsel and vice president of policy for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, which worked on several of the bills. In addition to more patients coming from out of state, California is expecting more protestors from out of state.

“We’re definitely worried about the change in focus for anti-abortion activists, as they have effectively eliminated access in many states, to then turn their focus to states where abortion is still going to be accessible,” Matsubara said.

Some protestors already have traveled to California. The trucker convoy came to the Bay Area in late April: A stream of semis and pickups sporting American flags parked outside Buffy Wicks’ house to protest her work on legislation supporting abortion care.

“This is a direct assault on humanity,” one protestor shouted through a bullhorn.

Wicks’ neighbors did not welcome the convoy. One woman with long neon-yellow nails gave them the double finger. Other people pelted the trucks with eggs, chanting, “Go home, go home, go home.” Nearly 80% of Californians believe Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.

Buffy Wicks watched the protestors from her window. She says she’s not intimidated and won’t slow down. In fact, she and her colleagues are looking for ways to speed up the work of making California an abortion sanctuary for all.

“It’s out of necessity that we’re preparing for this, not necessarily out of desire,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are a place where people can come in their biggest moments of need and get the care that they need.”

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Is the education system working?


PISA, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. Its league table of results suggests which of the 90 participating countries have been able to improve their education system and student performance.

But when we look back at people throughout history who have made a significant impact on society, it’s not their school reading, math, or science test results that measure their success.

One well known winner of the Nobel Prize for physics was told by his teacher at school that he would ‘never amount to anything.’ For Albert Einstein, it was his fascination with the invisible forces that deflected a compass needle and a book on science that ignited his lifelong fascination with the world around him. But how do we strike a balance between the core curriculum and the invaluable importance of developing a child’s hard and soft skills, their curiosity, and their creativity?

The OECD has started working to refine its assessments to measure competences beyond the core literacies of reading, mathematics, and science. Future PISA tests will include measures of creative thinking (PISA 2022). The OECD’s ‘Survey of Social and Emotional Skills’ report states that education is no longer just about academic success but rather helping students develop the social and emotional skills necessary to navigate the adult world with empathy, confidence, and a strong character. It’s also about respecting other cultures and religions–something that can be lacking in our schools and wider society.

But does this go far enough?

Renowned psychologist and child development theorist Jean Piaget made a very emotive statement when he said, “Our real problem is–what is the goal of education? Are we forming children that are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try developing creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?” Every year, the K-12 curriculum is amended and refined while assessments dig deeper into each child’s absorption of the facts that have been delivered. But what Piaget would encourage is that education moves towards opening children’s enquiring minds to explore, evaluate, and discover the world they live in.

I’m not suggesting that school children shouldn’t learn the core basic skills, but wouldn’t their academic, social, and emotional skills be stronger and better entwined if they could learn outside the restraints and restrictions of the modern classroom? This is something most teachers would agree with, but don’t have the power to change government and societal expectations.

Building skills beyond academic success

I wasn’t a great student at school. The classes didn’t excite or interest me. I couldn’t picture how the things we were learning were going to impact my life. It was these constraints of today’s education system that ignited my interest in THINK Global School’s (TGS) way of learning. I was lucky enough that my parents were the first to hear about the school and saw the potential; it clearly appeared to be a better, holistic, and more interesting way of learning that they hoped would inspire me.

Maxim Sindall is a former student of Think Global School. In April 2021, Sindall set up AlturaNFT, an API and Web3 infrastructure crypto-currency software business that makes it easier for third-party applications and video game developers to utilize the power of blockchain. Sindall knows that blockchain backed digital assets will play a significant role in the future as gamers push to have more ownership of their digital assets, and plans to be at the forefront of this transition.

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5 ways to support students’ access to diverse books


Access to diverse books positively impacts children as readers and as people. Having access to diverse texts helps children expand their vocabularies, deepens their understanding of language, provides opportunities for problem-solving, provides critical affirming experiences to students’ lives, and presents opportunities for students to learn about people with different lived experiences.

Students of all races, genders, religions, languages, abilities, interests, and beliefs should have opportunities to have affirmative literary experiences, where they see themselves reflected in the books they’re reading. These opportunities still do not exist today for many children.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center publishes research on books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds. The research showed that books included very low representation of primary characters for many backgrounds and experiences. According to this data, many students are more likely to encounter a book with a primary character who is an animal or other nonhuman character (29.2 percent of total books) than a book including a primary character who is Black/African (11.9 percent of total books), Asian/Asian American (8.7 percent of total books), Latinx (5.3 percent of total books), a person with a disability (3.4 percent of total books), or LGBTQIAP (3.1 percent of total books).

Students need access to texts that reflect experiences diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, and language. Such access increases motivation, which is likely to have a positive impact on reading comprehension.

Scholar Rudine Bishop Sims astutely notes, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”

When children are able to access books that pique their curiosity through diverse texts, it also leads to volume of reading, builds students to read more complex texts on the same or similar topics, and introduces new vocabulary—all markers of improving reading comprehension.

As an English and reading teacher, I sometimes struggled to provide texts that affirmed my students’ lives and communities. My last district was conservative-leaning, and I was often weighing political tension against my own highly knowledgeable, expert, teacher judgment. However, since I built relationships with parents and earned their trust, I was able to teach a variety of books in my middle school including “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers and “The Afterlife” by Gary Soto.

Miah Daughtery is the literacy director of content advocacy and design at NWEA, where she spends her days figuring out how to get kids more excited about reading and writing. Before joining NWEA, she was a reading and English teacher, a district literacy specialist, the state literacy coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Education, the director of literacy for Achieve, and the executive director of professional learning for Odell Education. She earned her BA in English at the University of Michigan, her MEd in reading at Wayne State University, and her EdD in public policy and educational administration from Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education.

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How to ignite the fire of student engagement


Recently, a co-worker of mine shared a story from when he was in high school. During one chemistry class his teacher happened to light a small fire within a dish and began stirring in different compounds. First the fire turned green, then purple, and then finally blue. The students, who normally struggled to engage with the coursework, were completely enthralled. They began asking questions, forming hypotheses, and started investigating the subject themselves. A fire had been lit in that classroom – both literally and metaphorically.

Stories like these remind educators about the power of student engagement. Teaching, in many ways, is like building a fire. You simply gather the kindling (tools and strategies), create a spark (curiosity), and then add some logs to the fire (content). Still, many of us can have trouble striking that match. All too often, our students’ attitudes can feel dampened by apathy or outside distractions.

Building the blaze

So, how do we create the circumstances for a roaring fire of student interest? I believe we start by tapping into their innate desire to learn. Curiosity is how we discover and ultimately navigate the world around us. By coaxing that curiosity to life, we can also kindle student engagement.

Here are a few strategies to get you started:

The Mystery Box: Start your class with having the students ask yes/no questions to figure out what is in a box or include objects in the box that loosely connect to the content and have students draw the connection.

Zoom Out: Take a photo or screenshot of something that students will be learning about. Zoom in on that image and throughout the lesson, zoom out until you reveal the object. With each Zoom out, have students guess what the object is.

Jamie MacPherson is a Learning Solution Specialist at Van Andel Institute for Education, an educational nonprofit dedicated to building classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive. If you found these strategies helpful, be sure to check out Van Andel Institute for Education’s free webinar on engaging students in the classroom.

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3 Tips for Partnering With Parents for Student Success


For many teachers, having parent contact is like visiting the dentist. We understand the need to maintain communication with parents and guardians. However, these interactions can be uncomfortable for some and entirely unpleasant for others.

When we realize the benefits of building and maintaining relationships with the parents and guardians of our students, we can begin to develop another worthwhile skill set to add to a diverse array of tools. The work begins by embracing a model of partnering with parents in order to strengthen the classroom.

I have found that when students know their parent or guardian and I are on the same page, when we speak the same language, when we support one another, it becomes easier for me to be a warm demander with high expectations of my students. Invoking the name of a parent becomes less of a threat and more of a reminder of our partnership and a shared culture of learning.

Here are three ways to establish and maintain partnerships with parents and guardians:

Determine the Best Method of Contact

Every parent is different. The parents and guardians of our students are small business owners, nine-to-fivers, gig workers who manage multiple jobs, and stay-at-home caregivers. Establishing strong partnerships with parents through effective communication involves a willingness to be flexible with our mode of messaging. For those of us who are introverts, this does mean that we will have to pick up the phone sometimes.

I have found that most parents are just as busy as we are and often prefer emails and text messages. Still, the tone and content of text messages and emails can be misinterpreted. Sometimes, going the extra mile to make a phone call can be the difference between a successful collaboration that mitigates student challenges and a stressful exchange that produces little support on the home front.

Normalize Positive, but Realistic, Communication

Most commonly, we contact families to notify them about student misbehavior and academic failure. However, when a parent or guardian receives positive communication from teachers, they are more likely to be responsive and supportive partners. For our part, as we work closely with our students week after week, we learn to identify the wins at every level. These are the moments that become the building blocks of normalizing positive contact with our parent partners.

We can do so by making a habit of sending a quick message to parents on the heels of acknowledging the student. As a teacher, I would send positive text messages about student effort, improved behavior, and class participation during class. I would even send an occasional picture of an engaged student. When I did so, I noticed an increase in the student’s confidence and an improved attitude (even if only for the day).

Spotlighting positive moments in this way, particularly for students with behavioral issues, became a part of the relationship-building process. One of the first times I messaged a parent about their child being engaged with writing during class, the student did not believe me, going so far as requesting to see the text. She told me that her teachers only called home about behavioral issues. That first positive contact alone did not manage all of our issues, but it was a sizable step toward strengthening the relationship between the student, her parent, and me.

However, positive communication should not be disingenuous. Many teachers use the “compliment sandwich” when communicating with parents, saying something nice about a student in order to slip in the real issue, followed by more praise. While this is well-intentioned, parents do not take it as positive communication. What really matters to parents and guardians is whether or not we can express that we see and understand their children.

Reflect on Mindset: Are You Engaging in Deficit Thinking or Taking an Asset-Based Approach?

Understanding our mindset—the way we frame our understandings of students—requires consistent reflection. As we reflect, sometimes we may find ourselves engaged in thinking about goals and challenges from a deficit mindset, fixed on problems rather than finding solutions. In my experience, deficit thinking is prevalent where diversity is not understood and therefore not valued.

Thinking about the families of our students through a deficit lens means focusing on our perceptions of what parents and guardians do not have, what they do not have access to, and/or what they are not capable of. Deficit thinking reveals itself when we engage in conversations about “saving” our students or providing them with food or supplies they cannot get at home. (Having a well-stocked classroom to meet the needs of students is never a bad thing. However, we provide pencils for students because they need pencils, not because there are no pencils at home.)

The concept of partnering with parents, in and of itself, is an asset-based approach to communicating with families about student progress. Communicating with parents through an asset-based approach means asking the question, “How can we work together to address the needs and challenges of your student in order to ensure their success?”

Adopting an asset-based approach to parent communication allows us to see parents and guardians as partners who are invested in their children’s success. If we begin our interactions with an asset-based assumption that families care about their children’s education, we are less defensive when parents have questions about our classrooms, our instruction, and our roles as teachers. We are able to concentrate our efforts on how we can effectively work together to ensure the success of our students. After all, through an asset-based lens we see clearly that as teachers and parents, we share a common goal.

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ACT Says Grade Inflation Is a Serious Problem. It’s Probably Not.


The ACT has seen the writing on the wall—and it doesn’t look good.

At a time when more colleges and universities are taking tentative steps away from standardized tests, ACT is not only recognizing the threat, but urging caution. Its reasoning? Grade inflation is growing, and grade point averages alone are not enough for colleges to make informed decisions about applicants without an objective measure of competence—like, say, a standardized test.

Last year, the number of ACT test takers declined 22 percent, even as the number of test optional schools grew to include a slew of public state school systems. In March, the largest four-year public college system in the U.S., California State University, also stopped requiring students to submit them.

Thus this latest shot across the bow, which comes courtesy of a new report from ACT, the nonprofit behind the college entrance exam. In it, ACT researchers found evidence of grade inflation over the past decade—namely, that the average high school GPA increased 0.19 grade points, from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021. The implication is that students are not learning as much as their transcripts indicate, hampering their ability to succeed in challenging environments after high school.

“We recommend a holistic admissions evaluation approach that examines the whole student to the use of multiple measures, including both grade point average and a non subjective metric like the ACT,” says Janet Godwin, the organization’s CEO. “It’s also important that higher education, as it increasingly embraces a test optional environment, understands what is being foregone when a test score is omitted from the admissions process.”

The report examined data from more than 4 million high school students from 2010 to 2021 who took the ACT. It found that while ACT scores have remained flat during this period, cumulative GPAs have risen since 2018, jumping significantly since 2020. All demographic groups saw grade inflation, but when broken down further, ACT’s researchers found that female, Black and low income students saw the biggest GPA gains.

Of course, the pandemic is one huge variable that could have influenced the final results—which even ACT acknowledged. “We have to think about the change in grading policies that took place in conjunction with COVID-19,” says Edgar I. Sanchez, an ACT researcher who co-authored the report. “Given the variety of ways in which high school GPAs were assigned or used during the pandemic, a traditional understanding of high school GPA may not fit grades assigned during this time.”

So what does that actually mean for students and colleges?

Grade Inflation Isn’t Always Bad

Even 20 years ago, author and progressive education champion Alfie Kohn—who’s none too keen on standardized testing—was arguing in the Chronicle of Higher Education that, “Complaints about grade inflation have been around for a very long time,” adding they were “not unlike those quotations about the disgraceful values of the younger generation that turn out to be hundreds of years old.” Later in the same piece, Kohn threw cold water on the idea that stagnant standardized test scores can show evidence of grade inflation, since testing—he used the example of the SAT—has “never been much good even at predicting grades during the freshman year in college, to say nothing of more important academic outcomes.”

Whether grade inflation, when it does occur, is even a bad thing is also subjective. Of course, it’s not good pedagogy to give students higher grades than the ones they earned—except when it is.

Last year, Zachary Bleemer, a researcher and Harvard postdoctoral fellow, noted in the Washington Post that recent research has found awarding higher grades to female students helped push them toward STEM majors, where they are woefully underrepresented, and cited additional research indicating that it can motivate all students, including those from low income backgrounds, to stay in college and graduate. In other words, despite those higher grades, students may not be learning anything more than usual, but at least they’re sticking with school longer. (Interestingly, these are some of the same groups that saw high grade inflation in ACT’s report.)

Also, rising grades don’t have to be a good thing in order to not be a bad thing—they can simply be a reflection of changing practices and mores in education, contends Timothy Quinn, chief academic officer of Miss Porter’s School, an all girls boarding school in Connecticut, and the author of the book “On Grades and Grading.”

“The reality is that the way we teach has changed a lot in the last decade, for sure, as well as the way that we assess—and those things have allowed more students to experience success,” Quinn says. “There’s this sort of paradox to it. Everyone wants their students to do really well, and schools will say they want to help all students. But then people will say, ‘Oh, but some of them should be getting Ds.’”

Specifically, Quinn’s school uses a concept known as mastery-based learning, where students aren’t beholden to one-size-fits all midterms and finals, but are allowed to prove what they’ve learned in a variety of ways. Often, they end up creating portfolios of work that can be sent to colleges along with their grades and test scores. As colleges move away from somewhat objective measures like standardized tests, they need something to fill the gap, which portfolios and mastery-based transcripts—ones that spell out students’ strengths and weaknesses—might be able to achieve.

“My problem with traditional grades in general is they don’t tell anyone much,” Quinn says. “It doesn’t tell the student much. They know that an A is better, but that doesn’t give them feedback that is useful and growth oriented.”

Going Test Free

Making tests optional may be trendy, but it’s just one approach. Take Pitzer College, a private liberal arts school east of Los Angeles, which doesn’t accept SATs or ACTs at all. One of the first schools to go test optional two decades ago, Pitzer is now piloting an entirely test-free admission policy, in partial recognition of the fact that scores were unlikely to be high during the pandemic anyway.

Pitzer is a selective school, accepting only about 17 percent of applicants, but it has sculpted its admissions process—and perhaps its reputation—in a way that neither test scores nor grade inflation are of any particular concern.

“Generally, I would say that the vast majority of students that apply to us are probably admissible,” says Yvonne Berumen, the school’s dean for admissions and financial aid. “We base that off not just the GPA, but also on the rigor that the student is taking”—meaning whether they’re enrolled in AP or International Baccalaureate courses.

Uniquely, Berumen’s school looks at all four years of a student’s high school transcript, and an essay question hones in on how a particular applicant meets its “core values” in an attempt to separate students excited by Pitzer itself from those looking for a generic liberal arts education. (In Pitzer’s case those values include social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning, student engagement and environmental sustainability.)

Tests like the ACT may still have value, Berumen adds, particularly for schools looking for specialized STEM students. But for those that already have holistic admissions processes, they might not say much about a student, especially given a rigorous course load and unblemished GPA.

“Back when we were a test optional school, when we did look at testing, it really didn’t impact [student] performance all that much,” Berumen says. “Maybe the first year GPA was slightly better for those that scored higher on the test, but everything sort of evened out after the four years.”

Pitzer’s pilot is slated to run until about 2025, when it will review its test-free policy. But if all goes according to plan, there’s a real chance that the college will never accept a standardized test score again.

It’s hard to imagine what research ACT will be presenting by then.

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The Pandemic’s Lasting Lessons for Colleges, From Academic Innovation Leaders


The pandemic has dragged on, prompting colleges to ricochet back and forth on mask mandate policies and rules about holding classes in person versus online. Professors report that students are disengaged, so much so that it’s even hard to get them to take advantage of free support services. Many faculty and staff members say they feel burned out and demoralized. And college enrollments are down overall.

Meanwhile, institutions and instructors have been pushed to try new strategies—some of which seem promising. Shifting practices regarding grades may inspire students to take risks and study for the sake of learning. Recognition that the digital divide prevents academic progress has prompted colleges to do more to connect students with tech tools.

In the midst of these trends, we wanted to hear how academic innovation leaders are thinking and feeling about higher education right now. What are they worried and excited about? What do they believe is working well, and what should change?

We talked to:

  • Michelle Cantu-Wilson, director of teaching and learning initiatives and special projects at San Jacinto College
  • James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation and founding executive director for the center for academic innovation at the University of Michigan
  • Brian Fleming, associate vice chancellor of learning ecosystem development at Northeastern University
  • Sean Hobson, assistant vice president and chief design officer of EdPlus at Arizona State University
  • Matthew Rascoff, vice provost for digital education at Stanford University
  • Tyler Roeger, director of the center for the enhancement of teaching and learning at Elgin Community College
  • Wendy Schatzberg, director for the center of teaching and learning at Utah Tech University
  • Terik Tidwell, executive director of the Smith Tech-Innovation Center at Johnson C. Smith University

Here are the top trends they’re seeing.

Flipping the Classroom

Professors who recorded video lectures for online learning during the pandemic are realizing they have a new resource at their disposal. Some are putting those recordings to use by adopting the “flipped classroom” model of instruction.

Traditional teaching uses class time to introduce students to concepts, which they then engage with on their own through homework. In contrast, flipped learning involves students learning material on their own first, reserving class time for group activities and active learning.

The pandemic prompted more faculty to ask the question, “What do we actually want to use class time for?” says Tyler Roeger, director of the center for the enhancement of teaching and learning at Elgin Community College. And the answer many of them are landing on, he adds, is: “Actual face-to-face time can be dedicated to problem-working, and working in groups together.”

That model requires that students adjust how they spend their time and how they perceive course materials. For example, some students mistakenly assume that recorded lectures are “optional resources” rather than asynchronous assignments, Roeger says.

Flipped learning can be a big adjustment for professors too. So faculty who try it out should be open to evolving as they go, recommends Wendy Schatzberg, director for the center of teaching and learning at Utah Tech University.

“This is an interesting time to be innovative. It’s an interesting time to try out something new. If you’ve been interested in doing a flipped classroom, why not try it, see if it works. Be very open-minded into what will work, what isn’t—be adaptable,” she says. “Maybe I’m only gonna do a flipped classroom three days out of five, or two days out of five, and adjust to the circumstances of students.”

Building Virtual Reality In-House

As education, social media and entertainment technology companies promote virtual reality tools and services, some faculty members are putting in the effort to create their own VR experiences.

That’s the case at Utah Tech University, thanks in part to mini-grants that the center of teaching and learning makes available to faculty who want to test innovative ideas to improve instruction. Professors in the dentistry department are creating VR programs that replicate what it’s like to work with a body or mannequin. A physics professor is creating labs that can be done online or in virtual reality. And a third professor is learning how to code her own VR escape room.

One reason to build in-house VR systems is that there aren’t many great educational options on the market yet, says Schatzberg of Utah Tech. Plus, when professors create their own materials, she adds, it helps the university and students avoid having to pay licensing fees.

Certain disciplines and classes lend themselves to simulations that take advantage of the strengths of VR. Medicine and nursing programs have been natural fits, but some in the humanities are experimenting too, such as in architecture and film. Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a VR experience that lets students step into the virtual set of a final scene in the classic Orson Welles film “Citizen Kane.”

“You can operate an old-timey camera (virtually) and reshoot the scene and make an argument for why it would be better that way,” says James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation at Michigan and founding executive director for the university’s center for academic innovation. The university had already started a push to VR experimentation before the pandemic, but the health emergency accelerated interest and development, he adds.

Accessibility concerns remain with VR technology, and Utah Tech University is working on accommodating students who don’t want to or can’t use it. For example, if a student tries to participate in a VR physics lab but finds it uncomfortable, he or she can switch into an in-person section of the course instead.

Embedding Student Supports in Courses

Students show up to college needing all kinds of support. But they don’t always know where to find it or feel empowered to seek it out—even when it’s free.

So Elgin Community College has been moving to embed information and access to support services within academic departments, courses and the learning management system used across the institution. For example, librarians are now tied directly into courses and work closely with faculty throughout the semester, so that students can more easily tap into their expertise.

Similar systems could work for embedded tutoring, health and wellness and advising, says Roeger of Elgin Community College.

“All those things being sort of put in the course itself is something I think that’s happened a lot more in response to the pandemic,” he says. There is “so much more being at student’s hands, readily available, rather than having to go out and seek things on our campus.”

It’s not just students who might benefit from this kind of shift. Rather than waiting for professors to find him at the center for the enhancement of teaching and learning, Roeger tries to put himself where faculty are.

Adopting a Student-Centered Outlook

As college campuses (like the country writ large) return to in-person activities, these shifts are accompanied by some flavor of “back to normal” messaging tinged with relief.

That doesn’t mean universities will do away with the innovations they deployed at lightning speed during the pandemic, though. The crisis did something in a few years that might have otherwise taken decades, says Sean Hobson, assistant vice president and chief design officer of EdPlus at Arizona State University, which supports the institution’s extensive online-education efforts. For better or worse, the pandemic gave every college student—along with teachers, parents, employers and just about everyone else—experience with online education. He calls it an “evolution in digital literacy.”

“I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for institutions, for faculty, for students, for technology companies to get back to the designer’s table to think about how to create some of these experiences that ultimately work better for the learner,” Hobson says.

Part of that innovation, to Hobson’s mind, will be adapting systems to students rather than the other way around. Ones that take into consideration how students learn best and are personalized to their needs. Tutoring, for example, during quarantine went from a process that required students to take care of scheduling and be physically on campus to one they could access remotely from their homes.

But the question remains, he says, whether there will be enough instructional designers in the job market to help those changes materialize.

“You couldn’t talk to a [university] president in this country who wouldn’t say they want to evolve and change and innovate and do these things,” Hobson says, “but the people that can actually get in the trenches and do that work, understanding the academic culture and the rules and the technologies and the people with the emotional intelligence necessary to get to an objective, there’s going to be talent issue.”

Building Community With Empathy

As college communities are rounding out their third spring living with and adjusting to the consequences of COVID-19, students and professors alike have been depleted by the pandemic, says Michelle Cantu-Wilson. She’s director of teaching and learning initiatives and special projects for the San Jacinto College District.

Cantu-Wilson posits a solution that is—given the copious Zoom hours logged by students over the past few years—decidedly analog: more empathetic classrooms. It’s important for commuter colleges like hers where students come from diverse backgrounds, don’t live on campus and don’t have time to stick around after class.

That means the community-building that’s going to connect students to support has to happen during class, Cantu-Wilson says. It can be as simple as a professor asking students how they’re doing or talking about available scholarships before jumping into a lecture.

“I still believe that we don’t know the depth to which they felt isolated,” Cantu-Wilson says of students during remote learning. “I don’t think we understand how severe the impact was to their psyches, to their hearts. But I do know that a faculty member who educates the whole student and appreciates the whole student and sees the whole student and validates the whole student is going to help to remediate some of that.”

San Jacinto College faculty and staff are taking eight weeks of training to do just that, Cantu-Wilson says, through asynchronous courses that cover topics including implicit bias, microaggressions and imposter syndrome. While Gen Z students—currently those ages 18 to 25—are adept at recognizing burnout and asking for help, it’s older age groups that she worries about. The ones who are caring for families and working full time alongside school.

“They’re not going to say that they’re struggling; they’re too proud,” Cantu-Wilson says. “That’s the same for first-generation students. We are gonna figure it out ourselves, come hell or high water.”

Rethinking How Universities Work

Some academic innovation leaders say they’re focused on stepping back to rethink how universities work—and developing practices to continually improve campus operations.

“Universities are in the business of knowledge, but universities do a very poor job of managing their own knowledge and strategy,” says Brian Fleming, associate vice chancellor of learning ecosystem development at Northeastern University. “You may have faculty members who study organizational development, but none of that gets applied to the university.”

He’s looking for ways to harness that internal expertise and build relationships with colleagues and peers across campus.

“When you really think about the volume of ideas that are out there,” he says, “how do we manage that knowledge and how do we build connections across those ideas?”

University leaders should learn to think more like futurists, he argues, working to imagine scenarios that might need planning for but are beyond the usual one-year or five-year planning cycles. He points to modeling tools like Earth 2050, a tool to think through predictions of how various technologies might evolve about 30 years from now, and resources from the nonprofit Institute for the Future.

“We need to start thinking more meaningfully about the future,” Fleming adds.

Gathering Pandemic Lessons

It’s been more than two years since the pandemic first shuttered campuses and forced a period of emergency remote learning online. With events evolving so fast and with so much uncertainty, it can be hard to take time to gather lessons from what’s worked and what hasn’t.

That’s a task that Stanford University researchers have been doing through an effort to draft a white paper that gathers observations about teaching and learning during the pandemic and notes key lessons that could be built on going forward.

“Every institution should be doing something like this, and have a process for collecting, documenting and synthesizing lessons learned from the pandemic,” says Matthew Rascoff, vice provost for digital education at Stanford University. “We need some shared narrative.”

Other universities are doing the same. At Harvard University, researchers gathered a “Harvard Future of Teaching & Learning Task Force” that issued a report in recent weeks. “We have an opportunity to not merely bounce back but to stride forward,” the report concludes.

Some academic innovation leaders say that the exposure to new teaching technologies by so many faculty members has upped their interest in trying new teaching techniques.

“There’s this newfound love for innovation growing throughout the corridors of many institutions,” says Terik Tidwell, executive director of the Smith Tech-Innovation Center at Johnson C. Smith University. “They’re asking: What can we scale next?”

[Read More…]

More People Became Unhoused Across the Bay Area Over Last 3 Years – Except in SF


Despite a flood of federal and state dollars spent to keep people off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic, homelessness in the Bay Area continued to increase in the last three years — although not by as much as many had feared.

The population of housed and unhoused people increased by a total of almost 9% — to more than 35,000 people — across the seven Bay Area counties that reported preliminary data on Monday.

Among them, only San Francisco reported a slight decrease, of about 3.5%, even as the city still counted more than 7,700 unhoused people. The city’s unsheltered population — people sleeping outside and in vehicles — dropped by 15%, while those living in shelters and transitional housing grew by 18%.

“We have a lot of work to do, but this shows that we are moving in the right direction,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “The investments we have made and will continue to make, as well as our improvements in strategy around outreach and connecting people to resources are all working together to help get more people off the street.”

Contra Costa County saw the region’s steepest spike since the 2019 count, with the number of unhoused people up nearly 35% (to almost 3,100). In neighboring Alameda County, homelessness jumped nearly 22% (to more than 9,700), including a 24% increase in Oakland.

Meanwhile, Santa Clara County, the largest county in the region, reported a more than 3% uptick, with an 11% jump in the city of San José. And in the North Bay, Sonoma and Napa counties reported 5% and 6.5% increases, respectively, over their last counts, which they both conducted in early 2020.

San Mateo and Solano counties have yet to report their preliminary numbers.

The numbers – which are generally considered a pretty significant undercount of the actual unhoused population – come from tallies of people sleeping on streets, in vehicles and in shelters on a single night in February. Counties must complete the count every two years to determine funding for homelessness programs (the 2021 count was postponed due to the pandemic).

More detailed information about each county’s unhoused populations, including age and racial demographics, is expected to come out this summer.

“I’m saddened that more people are homeless and a lot of that can be attributed to the pandemic,” said Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, emphasizing the need for substantially more affordable housing. “I’m not surprised because I see them … I see people camping out there. I see people in the underpasses. I hear from constituents. So we know it’s a big problem. But, you know, it’s not just Contra Costa County. It’s everywhere.”

Yet, many local officials and advocates for the unhoused said the numbers could have been much worse if not for the emergency programs implemented during the pandemic. And while the number of unhoused people in the region did grow, the rate of increase was considerably lower than the nearly 26% jump between 2017 and 2019.

The Bay Area “staved off a catastrophic increase in homelessness” over the last three years, said Tomiquia Moss, CEO of All Home, a regional housing and anti-poverty group that helped coordinate the counts. “Bay Area governments and nonprofits played deep defense on homelessness during the pandemic and we have more or less held the line — but now we need to go on offense and end the suffering on our streets.”

Moss credited an array of local and state efforts, including eviction moratoriums, emergency rental assistance and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Roomkey and Homekey programs, which have allowed thousands of unhoused people to temporarily live in hotel and motel rooms, with some units being converted into permanent housing.

“Those types of solutions are happening all across our region and we believe help to minimize how many more folks were experiencing this challenge during this period of time,” she said.

But advocates and local officials fear that funding for many pandemic aid programs that have helped get people off the streets will soon dry up, and are imploring state leaders to continue supporting them.

Moss also stressed the need to focus on the deep roots of the region’s homelessness crisis, and address the structural racism and severe lack of affordable housing that have fueled it.

“Although the numbers in the point-in-time count are better than we anticipated, homelessness still continues to be our region’s and our state’s biggest challenge,” she said. “We have much work to do.”

[Read More…]

Trane Technologies and Discovery Education Launch a New National STEM Education Initiative to Inspire Students to be Climate Innovators


Davidson, NC and Silver Spring, MD (Monday, May 16, 2022) — Today, Trane Technologies (NYSE: TT), a global climate innovator, and Discovery Education, a worldwide edtech leader, announce they have teamed up to launch a multimedia Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education experience for students in grades 5 to 10. The multifaceted learning program includes interactive tools, resources, and volunteers to engage and inspire students to learn, think, and solve the world’s biggest sustainability challenges, like climate change and food waste, through sustainable innovation.

“We’re excited to launch this unique learning experience in collaboration with Discovery Education to reach students across demographics, including those in underserved communities,” said Deidra Parrish Williams, Trane Technologies’ leader of Global Corporate Social Responsibility. “The goal is to expose them to STEM concepts and experts at work in the real world, and encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, and sustainability. Our company’s purpose is to boldly challenge what’s possible for a sustainable world. This initiative does just that by inspiring students to explore themes and topics, problem solve and develop creative solutions. It is accessible to all, and easy for educators to incorporate into their curriculums.”

The program is part of Trane Technologies’ Sustainable Futures corporate citizenship strategy, which uplifts underrepresented students and communities through access to STEM education, enhanced learning environments, and pathways to green careers. The company has committed $100 million and 500,000 employee volunteer hours by 2030 to deploy Sustainable Futures in communities where it operates and serves.

A core feature of the learning experience is a virtual field trip, “Reimagining Today for a More Sustainable Tomorrow.” The engaging virtual experience gives students an up-close look at climate innovators at work across Trane Technologies. During the field trip, students will encounter professionals from diverse backgrounds as they demonstrate real cases of how bold thinking can spark leading edge innovation. Students can also connect directly with STEM professionals for classroom talks, mentoring, and career exploration. Program resources will be available to schools and educators throughout the United States, starting May 24. Learn more here.

“Innovation sprouts from courage and creativity in STEM. Sustainable Futures with Trane Technologies helps inspire students to create real-world sustainable solutions that make the world a better place, both in their own neighborhood and around the world,” said Beth Meyer, Vice President of Social Impact at Discovery Education. “By connecting the dots between STEM and sustainability, educators can access critical resources to empower students with forward-thinking content that sets them up for future success.”

Learn more about Sustainable Futures at sustainablefutures.discoveryeducation.com or within the Discovery Education K-12 learning platform. Connecting educators to a vast collection of high-quality, standards-aligned content, ready-to-use digital lessons, intuitive quiz and activity creation tools, and professional learning resources, Discovery Education provides educators an enhanced learning platform that facilitates engaging, daily instruction.

For more information about Discovery Education’s digital resources and professional learning services, visit  www.discoveryeducation.com and stay connected with Discovery Education on social media through  Twitter and  LinkedIn.

About Trane Technologies Trane Technologies is a global climate innovator. Through our strategic brands Trane® and Thermo King®, and our portfolio of environmentally responsible products and services, we bring efficient and sustainable climate solutions to buildings, homes, and transportation. For more on Trane Technologies, visit tranetechnologies.com.

About Discovery Education Discovery Education is the global leader in standards-aligned digital curriculum resources, engaging content, and professional learning for K-12 classrooms. Through its award-winning digital textbooks, multimedia resources, and the largest professional learning network of its kind, Discovery Education is transforming teaching and learning, creating immersive STEM experiences, and improving academic achievement around the globe. Discovery Education currently serves approximately 4.5 million educators and 45 million students worldwide, and its resources are accessed in over 100 countries and territories. Inspired by the global media company Discovery, Inc., Discovery Education partners with districts, states, and like-minded organizations to empower teachers with customized solutions that support the success of all learners. Explore the future of education at DiscoveryEducation.com.

[Read More…]

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