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The news never stops, and neither do we. Read our latest press releases about our work, projects, publications, partnerships, and success stories, and browse our news archives for announcements you might have missed.

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McREL to help expand online educational programs for NASA’s CosmoQuest

March 9, 2016

DENVER – McREL International is among ten collaborating institutions that will work over the next five years to expand and enhance public education and outreach efforts for NASA’s CosmoQuest Virtual Research Facility.

Launched in 2012, CosmoQuest.org is designed to provide students, teachers, and the public with an experience online that is similar to experiences available at traditional brick-and-mortar research centers. The “citizen science” site includes science projects like MoonMappers, which invites the public to help map craters and other features of the moon, plus online classes, seminars, and teacher materials.

Funded by an $11.5 million award from NASA, the new collaboration will bring together scientists, educators, and software developers to create new educational and outreach programs, online professional learning communities for teachers, and additional citizen science project opportunities.

“With this funding, CosmoQuest will be able to grow from a seedling full of potential into a mighty tree that supports science and learning opportunities,” said the project’s principal investigator, Dr. Pamela Gay of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). “We are bringing in new partners with added expertise, and we couldn’t be prouder of this team.”

In addition to SIUE, partners include teams from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, InsightSTEM, Interface Guru, Lawrence Hall of Science, Johnson Space Center, McREL International, the Planetary Science Institute, McDonald Observatory, and Youngstown State University.

SIUE will develop educational activities and CosmoQuest’s software, including that which enables the public to help NASA make new discoveries. To date, CosmoQuest programs have helped NASA’s New Horizons team find Kuiper Belt objects and have helped researchers map features of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and Vesta. Future programs, which will expand beyond planetary science, include a partnership with the University of Texas to explore dark energy, and with Johnson Space Center to help earth scientists more effectively use astronaut images to study our changing planet.

McREL’s consultants will work with educators to integrate CosmoQuest activities into the classroom and help deepen their practice through a CosmoQuest professional learning community highlighting space and earth sciences. In addition, McREL’s research and evaluation team will conduct rigorous internal evaluation of CosmoQuest initiatives to ensure the project is reaching its goal of making impactful innovations.

“We’re working with a network of amazing educational professionals who can support teachers bringing authentic science into their classrooms,” said SIUE researcher Georgia Bracey. “We’re working to build a lasting community for teachers, including an online home where they can get help and share their own lessons learned.”

To learn more, please visit CosmoQuest.org.

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New white paper from McREL challenges educators to approach reform from the “inside out”

January 4, 2016

DENVER — A new white paper from McREL International urges education leaders and policy makers to rethink the current, top-down approach to reform and consider what might happen if we improved our schools from the inside out.

In The Road Less Traveled: Changing Schools from the Inside Out, McREL President and CEO Bryan Goodwin shows how the past three decades of education reform—in which teachers and school leaders nationwide have shouldered the burden of large-scale initiatives such as the standards-based movement, No Child Left Behind, and the Common Core State Standards—have done little to change student outcomes. Despite the good intentions of these efforts to improve learning for all students, today’s achievement levels remain stagnant, gaps persist, and the U.S. continues to lag behind on international assessments.

The reason for this, Goodwin writes, is not the initiatives themselves but the way we carry them out—with a heavy-handed, top-down approach to reform that has not only not improved achievement but has led to increased stress among educators and has many fleeing the profession altogether.

An inside-out approach, he explains, instead “puts student engagement, motivation, and true problem-solving abilities at the heart of everything we do”—creating a different, more powerful outcome for all students that sets them up for lifelong success: curiosity.

Curiosity, Goodwin says, is linked with many other desirable student characteristics—motivation, passion, engagement, growth-mindedness, inquiry—but what may be most powerful about it is that it’s not difficult to develop in students, and most teachers and school leaders are already familiar with the practices that allow it to flourish.

The paper outlines a few key, consistent actions schools systems can take to approach reform from the inside out:

  • Develop shared understanding about the moral purpose of schooling
  • Put student curiosity, engagement, and motivation at the center of learning rather than focusing on teacher performance
  • Build on bright spots in current practice and teacher strengths
  • Develop leaders as change agents and questioners
  • Fail forward with rapid-cycle improvement
  • Re-discover peer coaching
  • Reframe the goal, balancing standardized achievement tests with performance assessments

Goodwin acknowledges possible barriers to this approach but also highlights examples of schools and districts that have already successfully used it. In the end, he says, “We loathe the constraints of our current reform paradigm, yet underestimate our power to walk away from it”—and experience what could be the freedom of a new, more engaging system of schooling.

The free paper can be downloaded from the McREL website.

McREL International is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving education for all students through applied research, product development, and professional service to teachers and education leaders. For more information, contact Roger Fiedler, director of communications, at 800.858.6830 or rfiedler@mcrel.org.

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McREL, USC, and partners awarded i3 grant to create digital game that boosts student motivation

December 7, 2015

DENVER—McREL International, the University of Southern California (USC), and a coalition of partner agencies have won a five-year, $2,669,593 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a digital game that will improve the “identity-based motivation” (IBM) of middle and high school students to be successful, engaged learners.

McREL and USC’s partners on the project, titled “Identity-Based Motivation Journey to Academic Success,” include Filament Games, South Central Colorado BOCES (SCBOCES), and the University of Illinois.

Co-directed by McREL researcher Katie Andersen and USC Dean’s Professor Daphna Oyserman, the project will focus on the key elements of IBM theory: making the future feel relevant and connected to the present, making difficulty feel like evidence that schoolwork is important, and creating a sense that effective learning strategies “fit” with one’s identity.

“We are excited about figuring out how to harness student motivation to improve success not through good intentions alone but by taking the time to carefully test the conditions in which an innovation works,” said Oyserman. “Our short-term goal is to improve academic outcomes; in the long run, the project should create a larger cohort of students ready for the next step—college and beyond.”

The i3 grant competition supports the development and expansion of research-based programs that can transform the academic trajectory of students, educators, and their schools. Grants are awarded based on the rigor of research shown to support projects across three categories: Development, Validation, and Scale-up. In addition, the i3 grant requires awardees to secure matching funds or in-kind contributions of 15 percent from the private sector within 90 days of receiving the award.

The game will be developed with Filament Games, a production studio based in Madison, Wisconsin, that exclusively creates learning games, combining best practices in commercial game development with key concepts from the learning sciences. CEO Dan White said, “We couldn’t be more excited to explore the intersection of games and identity for this project, particularly because research shows that identity immersion is one of the greatest strengths of game-based learning.”

The game will be piloted and tested with Colorado students and educators, through a partnership with SCBOCES, with the goal of helping students develop “those non-cognitive skills that are often overlooked in the K‒12 classroom,” said Executive Director Henry Roman, such as the development of academic perseverance, positive mindsets, and self-directed learning strategies.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign associate professor Kristen Bub will conduct the external evaluation of the project, ensuring fidelity of implementation and rigorously testing the impact of the project on student outcomes. Bub looks forward to working on a project that “innovatively combines what we know from multiple disciplines, including education, psychology, and computer science, about learning and development to improve school engagement and achievement among a diverse sample of middle and high school students.”

About McREL

McREL International is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving education for all students through applied research, product development, and professional service to teachers and education leaders.

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