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National Conference On Summer Learning


Last week, all 50 states hit the freezing mark! It feels like summer is a distant memory, but we’ve been heating things up with our friends at the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). We’re committed to quality educational opportunities for students year round, which is why we joined the New Vision for Summer School Network. The network brings together 30 districts that are developing broad visions of summer learning.

A few of us were lucky enough to warm up at the NSLA annual conference in San Antonio earlier this month. We participated on a panel, Connected Learning: Opening New Pathways to Opportunity for All Youth, alongside the Hive Chicago Learning Network/Mozilla Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Dallas City of Learning, and the Chicago City of Learning. The panel honed in on how digital media has exploded the boundaries of where, when, and how learning can happen.

Creating a student-centered, connected learning environment across a community requires an understanding of how to both engage young people in their own learning and provide access to a network of learning providers. “Connected Learning leverages the advances of the digital age to make that dream a reality—connecting academics to interests, learners to inspiring peers and mentors, and educational goals to the higher order skills the new economy rewards.” And access to the Internet is a significant factor in creating learning opportunities, especially outside of school (check out the Aspen Institute’s Task Force on Learning and the Internet for more on this topic).

The MacArthur Foundation continues to fund research on how best to connect to student interests and make learning relevant with explicit payoffs. Through the Cities of Learning initiatives, the aim is to create partnerships that provide varied learning experiences outside of school and help youth acquire new skills in the process (and showcase those skills!). And that’s where digital badges can be particularly powerful.

For the last two summers, we’ve worked with the Chicago City of Learning in transition to high school programs alongside Chicago Public Schools. In our first year, we issued the most badges among groups participating in the program. Our goals at Classroom, Inc. have always included providing students authentic experiences that connect school, college, and career. We believe digital badges are a way to extend those experiences, connect students to opportunities in their community, and showcase knowledge in a way that follows students throughout their schooling. This is a nascent movement; the Cities of Learning have a lot to share on “connected learning” with other communities. The hope is that these lessons can expand to rural areas where access can be equally as challenging as it is in major urban areas. A few things are for sure: this is an exciting time to be thinking about year-round learning, the potential it has to close opportunity gaps, and to be working with NSLA.