Connecting the dots between smarter schools and smarter cities

Fri, 2014-04-11 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Citing research that indicates children who grow up in low-income households hear approximately 30 million fewer words than children from middle-income and affluent families by the time they reach their fourth birthday has Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Angel Taveras on a mission. Earlier this year he launched "Providence Talks," a new intervention program designed to boost early childhood literacy development and raise the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready for academic success.

Mayor TaverasThe Providence program, in a pilot phase with 75 families now but expected to grow to 2,000 in the next couple of years, provides specialized "word pedometer" to participating families. The pedometers that count the number of words and conversational interactions the participating child engages in over the course of an entire day. These are compiled into auditory feedback reports and shared during in-home visits with trained educators who provide coaching on specific vocabulary building exercises.

The pilot will be evaluated in real time by Providence-based Brown University so lessons learned about how to make the intervention most effective can be incorporated as the program expands to more families. The program won implementation money as a grand prize winner in the 2012-13 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge.

Providence Talks is just one example of how technology helps improve opportunities for children in the classroom and beyond. As Mayor Taveras says, "My administration has been focused on improving educational outcomes from my first day in office."

Here are a few more examples.

NYC's School of One: A program that started several years ago to improve math instruction in New York City middle schools several years ago is reporting encouraging results, according to Charles Chieppo, writing for Governing. The School of One (So1) program uses software to personalize math instruction to meet a student's particular learning needs. Each day the software produces a lesson based on successes and failures from a student's previous work. Improving test scores are just one positive outcome; the Governing article says teachers report by being involved in the So1 learning environment they are more adept at identifying individual student's needs.

DigLit Leicester: Here's a program from the UK that targets helping improve the digital literacy of teaching staff to promote better outcomes in classrooms. It is part of the Leicester City Council's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) program in conjunction with DeMontfort University and 23 of the city's secondary schools. As the city explains it, DigiLit Leicester aims to ensure school staff and learners are getting the most from the significant investment in technology being made across the city. The goal is to help schools make sure every learner attending a BSF school benefits not only from the world-class technology provided, but also from an education "that is supported and enhanced by the use of technology to raise achievement and aspiration, connect communities and open opportunities."

eCLASS: The Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS), Georgia's largest school district serving the Atlanta area, is working with Council Global Partner IBM on a similar endeavor. Its digital Content, Learning, Assessment, and Support System (eCLASS) initiative aims to change the way teachers teach and students learn. “Our intent is to better engage with and educate students in ‘the world they live in’ by incorporating digital content, games, videos, the internet, and other digital tools,” said Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. “With the vision of eCLASS now ahead of schedule to be realized, GCPS can serve as a model of how effectively integrating technology into learning can transform education and provide better opportunities for our students as they move onto college and into the workforce, thereby improving our regional and national competitiveness.” 

Kodu: Located in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Dallas Primary School and Kindergarten provides education from kindergarten to Year 6. A couple years back school officials decided to explore how Web 2.0 teaching and learning tools might help improve literacy skills. In one project, teachers devised an alternative learning program using Microsoft Research’s Kodu –a video game production tool – to engage Year 3 students facing particular reading and writing challenges. The teachers selected a focus group of students who needed special help with constructing narratives. Students were told to create games with Kodu that had a beginning, a middle and an end, giving them an introduction to the basics of narrative structure. The children were then encouraged to transfer the ideas into a piece of writing that demonstrated their understanding. According to a case study on the initiative from Council Global Partner Microsoft, students became more engaged and their creative literacy skills improved.

And don't miss this:

Education Week: Why Data is Education's Killer App by Michael King, vice president of IBM Global Education Industry, which works with schools and universities around the world to modernize educational technologies through the use of analytics, cloud computing, and mobile-device integration.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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