Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
 Three Portals to the Future of Education
August 2017
In This Issue

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CEI Presents at NAESP

Dear Educators,

The way to the future begins with the present. Whether we are mucking our way long, treading water, skimming the surface, or swimming with ease, our next stroke starts from our present position. We travel from the here and now to reach our destiny. The three portals CEI shares this month to help envision possibilities for the future include: 1) a reflection on the could have been, 2) a look at today's innovations, and 3) a consideration for where we are headed.

In Wow! this month, a recent high school grad shares his wishes and dreams for school improvement, we look at innovations at an elementary school, and we consider the future through the eyes of a pre-med student who was inspired by bio-engineering possibilities.

My challenge to you is share these three voices with your staff and consider implications for where we could go, what we might do in schools, as we approach the future.   
By Grace Rubenstein, CEI Intern
What's Out. Gone are the days of rote memorization and dry lectures. Gone are the disengaged students and lack of interest in STEM.

What's In. A national movement to enhance STEM education is pushing schools to design makerspaces. Not only could makerspaces spike a child's interest in a STEM field, but they may also improve school readiness and help students meet standardized benchmarks without sacrificing their joy of learning.

Connectors and Growth Mindsets. The goals of a makerspace focus on connecting conceptual knowledge with concrete applications. With supplies and support, children can use these spaces to implement projects of their own design, gaining freedom and artistic license. In their makerspaces, students problem solve and deal with failure, preparing them to pursue their passions despite setbacks. With early intervention at a makerspace, children will develop a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, people avoid challenges, avoid their weaknesses, and seek easy rewards. In a growth mindset, people persevere and value hard work, never giving up.

Students can Build their Makerspaces.One great use of a makerspace is letting students participate in the building of the initial work space. Instead of using pre-assembled equipment, the students may find it more rewarding to get the chance to put together essential equipment themselves. Some projects may be too advanced for students to take on without guidance, so giving students access to instructional books can help them get involved.

& Math! Not only is mathematics its own component of STEM education, but it is also a crucial element in science, technology, and engineering. Therefore, many activities carried out in a makerspace can also include mathematics in some capacity. However, one issue with the role of mathematics in makerspaces is the growing gap between the dominance of applied mathematics compared to traditional math concepts. To combat this dilemma, educators are advised to clearly elaborate on which abstract ideas are being put into play during real situations.

At Elementary Schools. For an example of a successful makerspace at an elementary school, look towards the Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Liberty, Missouri.
  • This location offers iPads for creating apps, a 3D printer, and a wealth of materials. 
  • At the tinker counter, students can take apart electronics to examine their inner functions.
  • Nearby, robotic inventions take place at the fully equipped charging station. Students can also use the library's production studio, equipped with its green screen and editing software, to bring their ideas to life. 
Many of the expensive resources at Lewis and Clark were possible due to monetary donations from various organizations. They also made sure to repurpose furniture and supplies from other schools in their district.

The librarians behind the maker space's creation lead sessions with the different classes, and also offer open days of play in the room.

During the summer, short camps give children who attend another school the chance to experience the maker space. Similarly, maker spaces can be used to combat learning discrepancies between socioeconomic classes by reaching out to children from less privileged backgrounds.

Meeting the Needs of All Students. The pioneers of the Lewis & Clark program designed the place to meet the needs of all students, even those who are not "makers". Therefore, they incorporate games and stories, leaving the technology for when necessary. They foster a constant atmosphere of wonder which captivates any child's innate curiosity.  
My Ideal Future School
By Drew Altizer, CEI Intern
The schools of today are better than they've ever been. Nevertheless, they still receive criticism for making kids work too hard while sacrificing sleep. All of this effort, and students still graduate from high school not knowing how to buy a car or what a W-2 is. As with any institution as important as education, there's always room for improvement. And after 15+ years of experience in the American education system, I have a few suggestions for how we can improve now and down the road. 

Sleep? As for immediate concerns, one that's near the top of my list is the length of the school day. I'm sure most people would agree that something should be done about this. The main point here is that students are too tired in the morning due to lack of adequate sleep and that they experience cognitive fatigue by the end of the day, making much of the day unproductive. Of course there are other contributing issues such as the use of devices late at night that are keeping kids up too late, but the problem of sleep deprivation requires multiple solutions from parents and school districts.

A 2011 study conducted by Matthew Kirby, Stefania Maggi and Amedeo D'Angiulli at Carleton University found that school start times could feasibly be moved back and that adolescent students would benefit from the change. I would argue that moving the start time 30 minutes to an hour later would have a significant effect on academic performance, attendance and attentiveness. I would also argue that instead of just shifting the day back by some amount of time, we cut the day short to preserve what little time we already dedicated to extracurriculars, homework, and family/leisure. At some point cutting the school day will become destructive, but as long as the change is around an hour, the loss in time might well be paid back in productivity.

Preloaded Devices. The next direction I think we should take is to try to get a specifically designed device like a tablet or a laptop in the hands of every student. As an advocate for children getting more physical activity, I'm a little hesitant to give students another screen to look at, but as you'll see, the potential for technology to enhance our education is too great to ignore. The devices would come preloaded with all the necessary course materials, which would save money and paper, and end the need for 10 year-olds to lug around backpacks half as heavy as they are. The technology would open up many options for students with different learning styles and disabilities. 

As someone who's struggled with dyslexia my whole life, I've found that technology has put me on a level playing field with my peers. Since 5th grade I've had software that read text on my computer out loud to me. Before I discovered this, I would sit in silence when we were given in class readings because it was no use to even try to read and understand what was assigned. Having all the assignments in a readable format on the device would allow students who have trouble reading the choice to plug in headphones and listen instead. I also tend to work very slowly, and technology has a solution for that too. Having lessons preloaded on the devices would allow for a flipped classroom setting where kids can listen at their own pace at home, then work at their own pace in the classroom. 

Streaming Lessons. Furthermore, lessons that teachers give in school could be streamed to all the devices, where they can be recorded for students who have trouble taking notes and absorbing information at the same time. This ability to stream lessons to devices would also allow for more active lessons, where teachers could take their presentations outside or on field trips with students. It could also allow absent students to engage in lessons and prevent them from falling behind while they're sick or away. 

Oh, Another Test. My last suggestion would be to reduce the amount of tests we give our students. Of course there needs to be some way of evaluating students, so until we find a better alternative, we shouldn't abandon assessments all together. However, I've found that I can study hard the night or so before a test and receive a good score without truly understanding the material, and I soon forget what I had just crammed into my brain. Conversely, there have been some rare instances where I feel that I have supreme understanding of the material, which I retain for a long time, and yet I get unlucky on the test, execute a few careless errors, and receive a score that is not representative of how well I actually understood the concepts. I've found that in many of these instances, including when I actually did receive a good score, my understanding came from my ability to relate the material to it's real world applications and explain it to a friend. 

Emphasize Understanding Over Testing. This reminds me of a quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, but that likely comes from another unknown source: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." I think future schools will emphasize understanding over test scores, and I think the best way to do this is to encourage and monitor cooperation. Say a math class is given a problem set to work on in school using the devices mentioned earlier. Since all of the devices will be connected on one network, there will be a record of who has finished what problems correctly. Consequently, if students are struggling with a problem, their devices will send out a notification to all of the other students who have completed that problem correctly. Those students can then receive help from one of their peers, which will enhance both of their understandings of the material and help reduce the amount of students the teacher has to attend to.

A New Way of Scoring. Taking this one step further, we could even assess a student's level of understanding by scoring this activity. For example, completing a problem correctly would yield a certain amount of points to a total score at the end of the class. Attempting a problem would result in a lesser amount of points depending on the accuracy of the attempt. Even receiving help will warrant a certain small amount of points to encourage students to get help if they really need it. Finally, helping another student answer a problem correctly would yield the most points to encourage cooperation. 

Obviously, before we use this to evaluate students, this idea would need some refining to make sure cunning kids can't manipulate the system, but if done honestly, it could lead to less stressful education and a higher level of understanding and achievement overall.


Kirby, M., Maggi, S., & D'Angiulli, A. (2011) School start times and the sleep-wake cycle of adolescents: A review and critical evaluation of available evidence. Educational Researcher, 40(2), 56-61 
Preparing for Tomorrow's Jobs Today
By Deonte Hall, CEI Intern and Christine Mason

Consider the next decade. With the explosive use of technology across all careers, what do you anticipate will be the impact on medicine? Even today doctors and other medical staff in hospitals and other medical centers are dependent upon their laptops. And of course, there are MRIs, miniature cameras that can be swallowed for diagnostic and monitoring purposes, and electronic wearables for such things as continuous glucose monitoring.

As I approached my college years, my interest in medicine peaked, and I learned of recent progress in the realm of prosthetics, artificial organs, and even nanotechnology within human bodies. My dreams then wandered from creating high-tech prosthetic limbs that would provide amputees with versatile abilities, to creating a synthetic pancreas that automatically counteracts the effects of diabetes, and even designing an army of nano-scale robots to directly attack harmful cells and viruses, while preserving healthy cells. How could I bring these dreams into reality? I discovered that Biomedical Engineering was my opportunity to find creative ways to advance the medical field. 

Dr. Mason:

As I heard Deonte relate his story, I formed questions about the implications not only for medicine, but for education as well. How do we best prepare youth for tomorrow's jobs? How does someone like Deonte enter college already considering the possibilities for biomedical engineering? What experiences in school serve as the catalysts to innovations and readiness to delve deeper into highly technical applications of technology and engineering? As you read Deonte's story, I invite educators to reflect on the science standards, classroom activities, and knowledge and skill sets to jump start creativity, curiosity, and innovation.


Implications in Medicine

Engineering introduced me to a niche in which I could apply my technical background in mathematics and science to medicine. Biomedical Engineering consists of integrating principles from applied and physical sciences and applying them to satisfy biological and medical needs.
By working together with physicians, surgeons, medical specialists, and patients, biomedical engineers improve the efficiency and effectiveness of physical rehabilitation and healthcare administration. Some examples of recent innovative advancements provided by biomedical engineers include:
  • Neural Engineering:
    • By integrating computational modeling with neuroscience and physiology, neural engineers create machines that interface directly with the human brain, such as bionic limbs.
  • Tissue Engineering:
    • Through the combination of stem cell research, biochemistry, and scaffolding, biomedical engineers are able to repair skin, organs, and even body parts such as the spine. (Biomedical advances in Engineering, n.d.)
  • Drug Delivery: 
    • With the use of nanotechnology, surgeons can administer treatment directly to the targeted cells, thus protecting healthy cells and providing the medical staff with data on the nature of the infection.

Future of the Medical Field

Self-Sustaining Monitoring Devices. One major aspect of medicine in the future is the frequent use of artificial organs and monitoring devices that track and counteract the effects of illnesses and chemical deficiencies within the body.
  • Parkinson's Disease: Future treatment of the second most common neurodegenerative illness consists of devices that detect the specific stage of Parkinson's occurring within the patient to administer the exact treatment dosage necessary to support normal daily functions of each individual. (Universitat Politècnica)
  • Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: The future of diabetes treatment includes an artificial, closed-loop pancreas that automatically monitors and adjusts the glucose and insulin levels with compensation for sleep, exercise, and meals, significantly reducing the risk of the user becoming hypoglycemic. (B. Wayne Bequette)
Individualized Medicine. Advances in Biomedical Engineering allow physicians to tailor treatments to specific patients based on their unique physiology.
  • Medical Robots: To prevent unforeseen complications as a result of surgery, medical robots are being used to test various potential treatments for the patient and forecast the effects that a treatment would have on the patients' body. (Universitat Politècnica).

Educational Preparation

Through my experience in collegiate engineering education, I learned that although a technical and conceptual background in mathematics and science is important, engineering is multidisciplinary in nature, and is most effective when expertise from various fields is used, as illustrated in current medical advances. In addition, most technological skills are applicable in engineering and STEM solutions.

To prepare students to make a significant contribution to the workforce, regardless of field, the incorporation of technology is vital. Skills like accessing information from digital resources and presenting information on a technological platform are vital to improving the aptitude of students to make an impact in an ever-changing world. Some of my high school experiences that prepared me to pursue my current engineering goals include:
  • An engineering project to build a soccer goal-line technology system to determine when a soccer-ball crosses the goal line, thus eliminating erroneous referee decisions in awarding goals. The project included engineering activities such as researching technology options, designing and building a miniature soccer goal, and re-purposing garage door motion sensors to detect goal/no-goal situations, and conducting system tests.
    • This experience taught me to identify new ways to apply existing technology, which is an engineering concept that is applicable to all problem solving.
  • A biology design project in which I imagined and designed my own ideal artificial organ. This project introduced me to the opportunities for technology to supplement and even replace some important bodily functions, sparking my interest in bioengineering. 
  • A robotics competition in which my team programmed a robot to complete various complex tasks. In addition, we brainstormed possible uses of robotics in transportation and medicine. 

Bequette, W. (2012). Challenges and recent progress in the development of a closed-loop artificial pancreas. 
Annu Rev Control, 36, 2, 255-266

Bordogna, J. (1997). Making connections: The role of engineers and engineering educations.  Engineering Culture, 27, 1.

Wu,K.,  Tseng, C. , Wu,C.,  Kao, F., Tu, Y., So,E., & Wang, Y. (2011). Nanotechnology in the regulation of stem cell behavior. Science and technology of advanced materials, 14, 5.
 Meyrick, K. (2011). How STEM education improves student learning. 
Meridian K-12 school computer technologies journal, 14, l.
 Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. (2009, June 16). Advances in medical technology: What does the future hold?  ScienceDaily.

Wormley, D. (2003). Engineering education and the science and engineering workforce. 
Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Paddling Upstream

We have all had those moments when we would love a "do-over." Whether it is remodeling a house, rewriting a chapter, or simply rearranging furniture in our classrooms, we have been involved in planning and implementation to enhance our lives.

Technology is a major contributor to our evolving lifestyles. It has many exciting implications not only for this year, but for 10 years out. Where could schools go? As leaders, what would you like to see? Sometimes it feels like we are paddling upstream. There are so many day-to- day realities that anchor us to fixing the present. It is sometimes hard to see beyond the next boulder, the next whirpool. What are you imagining with your staff?


Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement