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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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July 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Computer scientist hopes to customize teaching and learning

Educators have been struggling for decades to resolve a fundamental problem: Students who are in the same grade because of age often vary greatly in skills, abilities and experiences, even on the first day of kindergarten.

Teachers are told to differentiate their instruction so that each student gets what she needs ­ a good idea in theory, but hard to pull off in a real classroom because teachers also vary in skills and abilities.

That’s the big puzzle that University of Washington computer science professor Zoran Popović hopes to solve with insights gained over the last five years of developing computer learning games that adapt to the skills of individual players so they progress more efficiently toward mastery.

Popović directs the university’s Center for Game Science.

He also is the founder and chief scientist at Enlearn, a not-for-profit organization started with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partnered with the center in May. Enlearn is developing a commercial application for the interactive technology aimed at the global K-12 market.

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Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: math instruction, Seattle Public Schools, technology

June 19, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Leave no book behind: How to fight summer learning loss

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

Summer vacation begins this week for many Seattle-area children and with it, a drain on knowledge and skills that researchers have dubbed the “summer slide.”

“By the end of summer, students perform, on average, one month behind where they left off in the spring,” according to research summarized in a 2011 report by the Rand Corporation.

The summer learning loss accumulates over time and, while all kids lose some math skills over the long break, low-income kids lose more ground in reading than wealthier peers, who sometimes even make gains over the summer. The upshot is a widening of the achievement gap.

Research has shown that high quality summer reading programs can halt the slide and even boost achievement with effects that last for at least two years after the student participated, according to Rand.

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| More in News | Topics: achievement gap, reading, summer learning loss

December 4, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Ice cream doesn’t cause drowning and other warnings about interpreting data

Amid the national debate over how best to improve our nation’s public schools, data  from scientific studies often are used (and misused) to bolster one argument or discredit another – about the effectiveness of charter schools, say, or the value of standardized testing.

But how is an educator, policymaker or parent supposed to sort out credible evidence from the hype?

The science journal Nature recently published a list of 20 concepts that non-scientists should understand about scientific research.

Many of the concepts make good sense for evaluating education research, including this biggie that bears repeating often.

Correlation does not imply causation:  “It is tempting to assume that one pattern causes another,” according to the Nature article.  “However, the correlation might be coincidental, or it might be a result of both patterns being caused by a third factor — a ‘confounding’ or ‘lurking’ variable.”

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Comments | Topics: Research, U. S. Department of Education, Washington Post