Tag Archives: Teaching & Learning

What’s changing in classrooms and schools right now? Micro-innovations for teaching, learning and education (Part 1)

In this two-part series, Dulce Rivera Osorio explores what’s changing in schools by scanning  news articles that report on “micro-innovations” that teachers, schools and educational organizations are making to improve their educational structures and practices. In Part 1, Thomas Hatch introduces micro-innovations and then Rivera shares a number of examples of micro-innovations being made in instruction or school/district operations that have been described in media articles from the US. Part 2 will describe the micro-innovations at the state level; those being made by companies and nonprofits; and some examples from outside the US. To read more on the numerous proposals to change schools and “reimagine education” post-COVID, read IEN’s previous post: Is anything changing in US schools post-pandemic? Possibilities for rethinking time, place and supports for well-being.

Schools are changing, but those changes are often more subtle and more context-specific than many ambitious reform efforts hope. These smaller changes can be considered micro-innovations: adaptations and inventions new to the contexts in which they are developed. Micro-innovations include those aimed to help specific groups of students learn key concepts for particular disciplines (like a card game and app from Singapore that helps high school students learn key terms for introductory chemistry); an “activity-based pedagogy” from Second Chance that helps out-of-school students in Ethiopia and Liberia catch up to their peers in elementary schools; and the development of a system of vans to provide safe transportation to support the all-female staff central to the success of the schools created by the Citizen’s Foundation in Pakistan. Rather than hoping for some “disruptive innovation” or general approach to educational reform that will magically sweep across schools and education systems, a focus on micro-innovations highlights specific, concrete improvements that can be made right now to develop an infrastructure for more equitable and more powerful learning (for more examples, see “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”.

“Rather than hoping for some “disruptive innovation” or general approach to educational reform that will magically sweep across schools and education systems, a focus on micro-innovations highlights specific, concrete improvements that can be made right now to develop an infrastructure for more equitable and more powerful learning”

What counts as a micro-innovation? Micro-innovations include concrete and visible changes in the structures, practices, and resources of schools and other educational organizations that have the potential to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and equity of educational opportunities in particular contexts. As they are designed to respond to the constraints and opportunities in specific situations and settings, they should not be expected to be replicated across all contexts. However, they may be adapted in some related contexts, and they can help educators envision what might work in their own settings to address critical problems they may be facing.

– Thomas Hatch

Educational micro-innovations in the news

Along with the cascade of news about “learning loss” and the challenges of education today, over the past year, news and research in the US have also described a variety of examples of micro-innovations that have been developed at the classroom, school and district levels in the US. At the classroom level, articles have highlighted how teachers set a positive tone for the day by developing innovative ways of greeting students at their classroom doors (Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy) and how teachers craft questions to help students develop their vocabulary, particularly of scientific terms and concepts (How to Support Vocabulary Building in Science Classes). Research has also pointed to specific ways teachers can design and organize their classrooms including ways that even “symbolic features” of classrooms such as wall décor can influence student learning and sense of belonging in the classroom, “with far-reaching consequences for students’ educational choices and achievement” (Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement).

Schools are also showing their inventiveness in tackling the challenges that their students and families are facing. In Massachusetts, staff members in one school created ways to support the transition from hospital to classroom for students struggling with mental health (School mental health program eases transition from hospital to classroom). In California, staff members at a school took on a critical need for housing in their community by creating a homeless shelter to support some of their students and their families (A school created a homeless shelter in the gym and it paid off in the classroom). According to Maribel Chávez, a first grade teacher at the school, quoted in the Hechinger Report, “If the child is not stable, that’s a barrier to their education, so that’s why we felt like as an educational institution, we had a mandate.”

Educators are also implementing a variety of micro-innovations at the district level to tackle challenges encompassing issues like bussing, translation between teachers and non-English speaking parents, and mental health. For example, districts in Boston, Indiana, and Maine are finding ways to use electric buses and scanning technologies to save costs, support the environment and increase safety (Boston to replace school buses with electric ones by 2030; Vans, Transit Passes & Changes to State Law: How Bus Driver Shortages & Soaring Costs Spurred Innovations in Getting Indianapolis Students to Class, Central Maine school districts turning to emerging bus scanning technology to address safety, driver shortages).

The Oakland school district invested about $40,000 to use the TalkingPoints translation app to communicate with parents who do not speak English (Translating a quarter of a million text messages for families). As a district English language coordinator described it, “Teachers love it and the families absolutely love it. They tell me it’s made a huge difference. Before, they felt hopeless at times because they couldn’t communicate with teachers or administration.”

Translating a quarter of a million text messages for families, The Hechinger Report

Four districts in Iowa are also testing a new tele health platform, Classroom Clinic, developed by a psychiatric nurse practitioner, with a focus on providing services to rural areas of the state (Iowa nurse creates virtual mental health service with focus on rural schools).

Micro-innovations at the classroom level

Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy, Sage Journals

How to Support Vocabulary Building in Science Classes, Edutopia

Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement, Sage Journals 

SXSW EDU Launch Winner Our Worlds Bringing Native American Culture to Life Through Mobile-Based Immersive Reality, The 74

Micro-innovations at the School Level 

A school created a homeless shelter in the gym and it paid off in the classroom, The Hechinger Report 

School mental health program eases transition from hospital to classroom, New England Public Media

Trying to give students in low-wage majors some extra skills they can cash in on, The Hechinger Report

What COVID-Era Learning Looks Like in 144 Innovative Schools Around the Country, The 74

How One School Is Using House Calls to Keep Kids Learning During the Pandemic, The 74

For these six schools, pandemic-era innovation demanded “know thyself, CRPE

Rural Schools Have Battled Bad Internet, Low Attendance and Academic Decline Through the Pandemic. Now the Push Is On to Return Students to Classrooms — Safely, The 74

Micro-innovations at the District Level 

Translating a quarter of a million text messages for families, The Hechinger Report 

Boston to replace school buses with electric ones by 2030, AP News

Central Maine school districts turning to emerging bus scanning technology to address safety, driver shortages, Portland Press Herald

Vans, Transit Passes & Changes to State Law: How Bus Driver Shortages & Soaring Costs Spurred Innovations in Getting Indianapolis Students to Class, The 74

Study of 6 ‘Grow Your Own’ Teacher Prep Programs Shows How They Can Improve the Diversity of the Workforce, The 74

Using tech and circuit riding to beat the pandemic, New Mexico in Depth

How a Diverse School District Is Using a Strategy Usually Reserved for ‘Gifted’ Students to Help Everyone Overcome COVID Learning Loss, The 74

California schools press ‘play’ on esports leagues during pandemic, EdSource

3 summer program strategies to address learning loss, support emotional health, K-12 Dive

Iowa nurse creates virtual mental health service with focus on rural schools, Iowa City Press-Citizen

‘More than a warm body’: Schools try long-term solutions to substitute teacher shortage, The Hechinger Report

– Dulce Rivera Osorio

Exploring Democratic Student Leadership and Active Citizenship: Virtual Visits to a Kenyan and an Italian school

This week, IEN goes inside schools in Kenya and Italy as part of a series of posts based on the “virtual school visits” offered as part of the 2022 (virtual) Conference of the International Congress on School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). This post was produced by Sara Romiti, a Senior Researcher at INVALSI (National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education and Training System) in Rome and Kristina Westlund a PhD Student at Kristianstad University. During the ICSEI conference session discussing the virtual visits, they hosted Stephen Derwent Partington and Mutheu Kasanga, School Principal and Board member at Lukenya schools in Kenya and Giacomo La Montagna and Flavia Passi, School Principal and primary school teacher at Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica, Italy . This is the second post  in a series that began with Promoting equity through language access: A virtual visit to Liceo San Nicolas (Chile) and Easton Academy (UK).

What does democratic student leadership look like in a Kenyan school? What does support for active citizenship look in an Italian school? And how are they related? These are just some of the questions raised by virtual visits to the Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School in Kenya and the Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica in Italy.

Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School, Kenya

A virtual visit Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School

Situated in Machakos County, Kenya, Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School is an international-system school that offers the IGCSE qualification. In their presentation, Lukenya schools takes pride in its deliberate ‘Uniquenesses’ in relation to other Kenyan schools:

  • They are a mixed-gender boarding school, which is quite rare in the country, and particularly notable in a clearly patriarchal society. 
  • They explicitly seek to admit mixed ability students, unlike many private schools in Kenya, which are highly selective.  Nonetheless, they have won several national prizes including in a  Great places to School Competition, a competition for all private secondary schools. They note they won because of their academic performance and “value added” (the difference in performance between a pupil’s arrival and their graduation from Lukenya) but also point out they are “deliberately mixed ability and concentrate on helping every child, regardless of intake grades.”
  • They take an entirely democratic approach to student governance – pupils vote for their leaders who, through consultation, work to shape all aspects of school life from co-curriculars to academics.

The video created by Lukenya schools illustrates several of the school’s characteristics, including highlighting student voices and the roles of students in leadership and organization.

It’s been challenging to run and coordinate a school of mixed students, both boys and girls, which is pretty rare in Kenya. However, leadership has been very fun.
We believe in democracy; we believe in listening to people’s opinions. We don’t believe in making rules that other ones follow” – Shawn Omondi, student council leader

The engagement of students in arranging activities at Lukenya provides another striking example of student leadership. These activities include a wide range of sports and other co-curricular (e.g. extracurricular) activities like football for both boys and girls, basketball, swimming, cooking club, drama club, and environmental club.

After watching the video, the Italian professionals asked their Kenyan colleagues an interesting question: how do you reconcile the British curriculum with your traditional culture? Board member Mutheu Kasanga replied:

“The law does require that all the schools, from any curriculum, teach Civics and Local History. In addition, the British curriculum allows us to use what is available locally. For instance, when we are teaching a subject like business studies, all the key studies are local. So, in Lukenya we are using the local business around the school, to teach the students who come from these communities how to apply these international concepts into the local business.

Kenya is an English-speaking country, so we don’t have particular problems with English language, even though as an international school we do receive students from other countries, especially in the East African region, so we get French speakers as well and other languages.

In our school we are able to even go an extra mile and bring in aspects of our culture. Culture in Kenya is difficult, we have many small cultures within the country. Everybody speaks at least three languages in Kenya, along with English and Swahili there is another language. So, bringing “Kenyanness” into that, is made easier by the fact that the curriculum allows us to bring these elements within the curriculum: local history and using the local areas to bring all the projects that we require to bolster the curriculum.”

Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica, Italy

Boville Ernica is a small town in the centre of Italy, about 90 km from Rome. The Istituto Comprensivo there includes three school levels: preschool, primary and secondary school. Some of the keywords selected by the school to introduce itself are taking care of each other and promoting active citizenship. As principal Giacomo La Montagna and teacher Flavia Passi described it: “Taking Care means for us investing in time and space to achieve quality in social relationships in order to increase wellbeing and social exchanges and to improve learning. Teaching how to take care of each other and of our home planet is our challenge to build a better future. The strategical identity criterion of the Institute is the promotion of Active Citizenship.”

“Teaching how to take care of each other and of our home planet is our challenge to build a better future.” – Flavia Passi

A virtual visit at Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica

The video presentation emphasizes these values, illustrating  many “special events” organized during the school year such as the International day for the elimination of violence against women, the Global day for climate action, and the International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Some of the issues that the school is fighting for are deeply felt problems in Italian society, such as mafia culture or gender-based violence.

International day for the elimination of violence against women, student works, IC Boville Ernica
Chess lessons to improve logical thinking, concentration, and memory at IC Boville Ernica
Secondary school orchestra, IC Boville Ernica

After watching the video, many of the participants in the ICSEI session wondered how the school manages to combine so many extracurricular activities with the curricular programs of the different subjects. Flavia Passi explained that a new curricular reform In Italy has introduced Civic Education as a subject that is taught by every teacher in their lessons:

“Each subject contributes to these important issues. For instance, environmental education and sustainability, some of the goals of the 2030 Agenda, are strictly connected to Science or Geography. Education to legality, the knowledge of political, social and economic organization, individual rights, are not only the principles on which our constitutional law is based, but they are related to historical and literary debates. Civic education is based on three main themes: the knowledge of the Italian Republican Constitution, Sustainable Development, and Digital Citizenship. These themes are transversely developed from different points of view, in order to create connections between disciplinary knowledge and real-life experiences.”

Passi concluded with a description of the key challenges at Istituto Comprensivo today that serve as a call to action to schools all around the world:

“Our challenge in relation to this matter is finding always new education methods to educate our children in having positive relationships with others, in respecting the rules of a democratic society, being aware of their rights, duties and responsibilities, knowing how to confront peacefully, and taking care of themselves, of their community, and their home planet.”

ICSEI 2023 will be in Chile in January 2023 and schools’ visits will again be held virtually. For more information: https://2023.icsei.net and https://2023.icsei.net/school-visits/