Students growing up in low-income communities have less access to academic and extracurricular resources than their more affluent peers, especially opportunities that exist outside of the school day. Chicago was one of the first urban centers to make an intentional commitment to close this gap in opportunity. It created the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL), which is a partnership between the Mayor’s office, community-based organizations, and other citywide institutions. And, the initiative plays a very big role during the summer.
By 6th grade, children from middle-income families have benefited from 6,000 more hours of enrichment compared to students born into poverty.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is a partner in this work because it recognizes that students need yearlong supports—ones that persist through the summer. This is particularly important for those young adults who are struggling to progress through middle school. And CPS also recognizes that because of the 6,000-hour learning gap, young people need evidence of their learning and the new skills they acquire outside of the traditional school day. Digital badging—a hallmark of the CCOL initiative—is a powerful way to provide students with that evidence. These badges create individual digital resumes, or digital backpacks, that follow students throughout their schooling.
As part of Chicago’s Summer Acceleration program in summer 2014, 44 Chicago teachers and approximately 1,000 students in 15 high schools used Classroom, Inc.’s learning games simulations. The program was designed to foster the development of literacy, math, and workplace skills to help all students successfully transition to high school in the fall. Most of the students that participated in the program were overaged 8th graders, meaning they stayed back in 8th grade at least once before.
During a 60-minute literacy period each day, for five weeks, students used What’s Up Magazine. In this simulation, students act as editor-in-chief of a magazine and research story topics, edit stories, choose photographs and graphics, review budgets and advertising goals, and hire personnel. They were awarded badges for the skills that they achieved within the simulation.
CPS teachers used our lessons to connect school to career and engage students in interesting decision-making roles. In addition to the computer simulation, teachers had access to the related What’s Up Magazine workbook activities and a memoir, The Other Wes Moore, which students read as part of their literacy activities.
While they spent only 16 hours on literacy instructional activities (excluding testing time) in the summer program, CPS students using our program made statistically significant improvements in reading during the 2014 summer. And all students successfully transitioned to high school.
In addition, a total of 270 digital badges were awarded for skills learned while running What’s Up Magazine, such as editing, collaboration, and problem solving. Students were able to earn a total of eight different kinds of badges—two in English Language Arts, two in math, and four in 21st century skills upon completion of specific episodes in the simulation.
The 2014 partnership with CPS and CCOL builds upon Classroom, Inc.’s immense success in the summer of 2013. Students in the 2013 program also made statistically significant gains in reading performance and earned more badges through Classroom, Inc. than any other summer provider.