Navigator Episode 4: RAD API

In this episode, guests Yigal Rosen, Kristin Stoeffler, and Laurel Ozersky talk about the cross-cutting capabilities (CCCs) of creative and computational thinking. CCCs are part of ACT’s Holistic Framework for college and career readiness.

Yigal and the Learning Solutions team of ACTNext are leading some of the research and development in support of ACT’s transition to a learning company.

Kristin is a creative thinking specialist. She’s working on the 2021 PISA assessment of creative thinking and she’s also developing ways to foster students’ creative thinking skills for EDU2050. She is also an artist.

Laurel is a former math and science teacher. Her work on EDU2050 is about how to develop computational thinking for students. As she’ll describe, computational thinking is not just for computer programmers, but can be used in historical research for example or solving societal problems like food waste.

In 2021, ACT’s creative thinking assessment, the first of its kind will be a part of the international test called PISA. Students from about 70 countries will take PISA which assesses 15 year old students in mathematics, science, and reading and a fourth, innovative domain that changes with each testing cycle. The ACT-developed creative thinking assessment will be the fourth element in the 2021 testing cycle.

In addition to PISA, Yigal’s Learning Solutions team is developing its own course work, called EDU2050.

You can follow Yigal and Kristin on Twitter.

Podcast transcript:

[Host] Welcome to Episode 4 of the ACTNext Navigator podcast. I’m Adam Burke. My guests today on the show are Kristen Stoeffler, Laurel Ozersky and Yigal Rosen.

In 2021 an ACT creative thinking assessment, the first of its kind, will be a part of the International test called PISA. I want to read a quote from Andreas Schleicher the director of education at OECD which administers and develops PISA

He says, “The dilemma for education is that the kinds of things that are easy to teach and test have also become easy to digitized automate and outsource… The goal of education should be to develop first-class humans rather than second-class robots.”

In 2021, students from about 70 countries will take the test called PISA which assesses fifteen-year-old students in mathematics science and reading and a fourth innovative domain that changes with each testing cycle. The ACT-developed creative thinking assessment will be that fourth element in the 2021 testing cycle.

Here’s Mr. Schleicher again, quote, “A fundamental role of education is to equip students with the skills they need. In the future creative thinking is a necessary competence for today’s young people to develop as societies increasingly depend on innovation to address emerging challenges PISA 2021 will take international assessments into a new phase by gathering data on young people’s creative thinking skills.”

That’s Andreas Schleicher. He works for OECD which administers the PISA test.

In addition to PISA, ACT is developing its own course work called EDU2050 that encompasses some of the cross-cutting capabilities of the ACT holistic framework.

What are cross-cutting capabilities or CCC’s as we call it these are thinking and learning skills like collaborative problem solving that we discussed with Saad Khan Dave Edwards and Pravin Chopade in our last two episodes of ACTNext Navigator.

CCC’s cross-cutting capabilities are foundational skills that support learning in all subjects on today’s show we have Yigal Rosen Kristin Stoeffler and Laurel Ozersky. Yigal and his group are leading much of the research and development in support of ACT’s transition to a learning company

Kristin is a creative-thinking specialist. She’s working on the 2021 PISA assessment of creative thinking and she’s also developing ways to foster students creative thinking skills for EDU2050 Kristin is also an artist.

Laurel Ozersky is a former math and science teacher her work on EDU2050 is about how to develop  computational thinking as she’ll talk about computational thinking is not just for computer programmers it can be used in historical research for example or in solving societal problems like food waste so let’s get to it! Here’s the show:

Laurel and Yigal are joining us online. Kristen and I are in the ACTNext studio which is actually just a conference room.

We’re gonna start with Yigal and find out a little bit about what Learning Solutions is. So welcome Yigal and you can introduce yourself a little bit and then tell us about learning solutions.

[Yigal] Hi everyone. I’m Yigal Rosen, the senior director of Learning Solutions at ACTNext.

As you all know ACT is going through a major transformation to really lead with innovative learning assessment and education solutions our solutions team at ACTNext is supporting this transformation with the design development and actual implementation of the innovative prototypes and solutions at scale so among our major projects are of course the innovative assessments both national and international our team is building the most innovative international assessments the PISA 2021 creative thinking assessments are going to be delivered to students in many countries in 2021 but of course as Learning Solutions team we lead with learning science learning analytics and the actual design of innovative learning experiences really focusing on the what we call at ACT cross-cutting capabilities or 21st century skills creative thinking computational thinking collaboration communication all of those skills are very critical for success in life and career. There is a very much lack of learning solutions in this context and this is really our major focus and the focus of this conversation and the presentation in the conference next week.

[Host] PISA is a huge test and this is a big thing to do the creative thinking and it’s the first time right that creative thinking has been assessed in in PISA or any major test?

This is correct and of course we work with OECD that is leading the effort and we design and develop and test different prototypes as you mentioned this is the first time that creative thinking is going to be administered and developed in such a large scale so our team in post collaboration with the other teams at ACT and with external partners we design developed and tested those prototypes in multiple countries in multiple languages and culture so this is a very major endeavor that we are delighted to lead with the OECD and the other partners and now can you talk about EDU2050 and what that means and what it means for ACT so EDU2050 is coming really from the spirit of education for the future for future life and career success so in EDU2050 we are focusing at the first offering on creative thinking and computational thinking those are going to be launched in September 2020 we are developing those courses those offerings in of course online the setting so students will be able to take those to practice those skills and take the assessments those courses those credentials are going to be course validated tested with a large number of students that also contribute we have also a teams of students that contribute to the development of those challenges of those innovative assessments are going to be part of this offering so if just a glance this is going to be self-paced practice and credentialing solution or high school student that will be used to practice those critical skills but also enhance and create certain differentiators for the college admission purposes.

[Host] Cool, let’s go to Kristin and Laurel. So tell me if I’m wrong here, Kristin is doing creative thinking and Laurel is doing computational thinking is that right it’s kind of divided and we’ll get to each of those things what is creative thinking and what is computational thinking measuring creative thinking should we do that? How do we do that? What does that mean?

[Kristin] Oh that’s a good question we should do that absolutely and we can do that which i think is what we sort of set out to make happen with or to figure out with PISA 2021 creative thinking assessment design and that that really was an adventure and creative thinking in and of itself but I think the key for us in terms of measuring that is really and how you define it and people get pretty squirreled up when they think you’re trying to measure creativity and they should these no one should ever be told that they aren’t creative or creative enough that’s pretty ridiculous but we you know we all have the capacity to tap into our full creative potential but many people have conflated then along the along the way creative thinking with creativity and I just aren’t really the same thing so it really comes down to how you define it and so how do you define it what is creative thinking so we’ve defined creative thinking as the capacity to extend beyond conventional  boundaries to create unconventional and valuable solutions so in the course what we’re really looking at our students abilities to both identify what is conventional and start to understand in the  context of that what them would be unconventional and there’s a lot of evaluation that occurs then within that and that you need to understand that the nuances of that in terms of your own may be biases and your own you know how society is looking at those boundaries and then how you personally might be creating boundaries of your own and in making all of those sort of implicit processes more explicit we’re able to then create activities where you can practice doing that.

Like what would be common answers be to this question or to this challenge and in understanding what makes those answers common and then that allows you to think more about okay what would an answer that not many people would come up with look like then for this question or challenge and so then you’re starting to build on these processes along the way and that’s sort of what the EDU2050 courses are set up that way and that hopefully we can start to help people through the process of cultivating those skills you know we do this so that I think we don’t even have a sense of it when it’s happening that we’re actually doing this creative thinking thing but in order to apply that maybe in new situations or to new contexts it’s helpful to go through those very explicitly and say okay this is the part where I should probably think about what is conventional and based on what I’m understanding there what would unconventional things look like where would those knobs be and those little variables and the degree to which you can do that then you can start to sort of about better understand Oh what boundaries have I created and how can I move beyond those in order to better create something that maybe hasn’t been thought of before or come at this from an entirely new angle so that’s where because you know the EDU2050 work is more than just assessing creative thinking it’s it’s helping people understand that process in a way that they could and practice that process really in a way and apply that process in a way that that you can start to sort of cultivate those skills and move that beyond the course into your real world and a lot of these 21st century skills are about awareness.

[Host] You’re basically helping people become better at creative thinking is that right?

[Kristin] Well that’s the hope with EDU2050 there are some specific skills and processes that that support our ability to approach a challenge in a way that we come up with the solution other people might not think of and and that’s really what we’re exploring with that course.

[Host] So Laurel what is computational thinking?

[Laurel] Well put simply computational thinking is a method of problem-solving you use computational thinking skills when you’re trying to efficiently develop solutions if you have a given problem and you’re more likely to use computational thinking skills if you want your solutions to be reusable or transferable to other contexts outside of that in which the initial problem was presented to you.

[Host] How is computational thinking different than traditional problem solving?

[Laurel] So this is where the computational piece comes in we know that computers are very good at solving a variety of different types of challenges and problems but they do require a computer programmer to come in and write a piece of software that sets the computer up to be best suited to solve the given problem when we employ computational thinking we’re pulling from both the skills that the programmer uses in designing that that software as well as the methods that the computer is employing when it’s solving said problem so we see them this computational aspect coming from two sides from the perspective of a programmer writing software for computer and from the perspective of a computer doing what it does best when it solves problems.

[Host] So is a computer necessary to do computational thinking?

[Laurel] You might think so but actually no there are plenty of instances when utilizing a computer is necessary and helpful but the skills required to employ computational thinking don’t require a computer if anything they require you to think like a computer think like a computer.

[Host] What does it mean to think like a computer?

[Laurel] To a computer everything is ones and zeros you either it’s something is turned on or it is turned off but a computer programmer can use their various talents and skills to take a problem of any type and abstract it into a more general set of smaller problems if you will or or abstracted into broader problems that can be translated into a very basic level of thinking beyond computer science how does this skill apply computer science is inherently coupled with computational thinking we might say that a computer scientists practices the computational thinking skills but when you break down these individual skills into smaller more manageable some skills if you will we see that those sub skills are relevant across all sorts of domains in fact this is why we include computational thinking in the cross-cutting capabilities so if computer science is a subject area computational thinking as the name suggests is more of a thought process that encompasses the skills and in that regard I would say there are infinitely many scenarios when you can use any one of these computational thinking skills we’ve distilled the computational the idea of computational thinking into three main categories which are working with data algorithmic thinking and computational modeling and while we sound very specific to computers in computer science if we again break these down into some skills that are required we’ll see that we can apply them to different subjects so for instance one subset of working with data requires students to make informed decisions about data collection how do they collect necessary data given a set of constraints or how do they evaluate the validity of a source and while these definitely come u in computer science these are also integral skills when doing historical research or putting together a paper in an English language arts class.

[Host] How do you measure the skills of computational thinking?

[Laurel] Well as Kristin alluded to earlier when talking about creative thinking it’s about how you define them. So we’ve designed a competency model that is driving the development of our computational thinking courses in EDU2050 and this model is aligned to standards set forth by the International Society for Technology and Education ISTE or Digital Promise which is a non-profit organization focusing on the practice use of technology in the classroom as well as the next generation science and engineering practice standards and Common Core practice standards so this model we’ve designed doesn’t put forth any new standards but rather it builds on the foundation set by these existing standards and describes more specifically how an individual can demonstrate mastery for any of these particular skills a good example I like to showcase of computational thinking applied to a non computer science domain is a very common problem in our world and that is food waste in the United States and many other countries as well food waste is a problem we have people with not enough food and then we have lots of food that gets thrown out on a daily basis and so can the skills involved in computational thinking apply perfectly to this scenario because we can start by breaking down the problem in or decomposing the problem into a subset of smaller problems and then we can abstract these problems and see how can we tackle any one of them more broadly or more generally and of course in tackling this problem you  need to do research you need to design data collection you need to face a variety of different constrai ts and work within them you need to evaluate the validity and the reliability of the data you’ve collected and that’s only in the very initial phases as you go on studying this problem you need to of course analyze this data and then you need to move into this algorithmic thinking piece where you propose a solution that can automate different parts of the problem itself so let me illustrate this example this is a opportunity to incorporate computers and computational thinking by designing a program that can quickly and easily keep track of how much food is coming into a food store or supermarket how much of that is being sold how much of that is being wasted and in doing that you can design the program to look for various patterns and make various comparisons or relationships. We notice all of the bananas that are coming in past Friday afternoon tend to get wasted rather than bananas that are sold on Mondays. We can look for these sorts of patterns and use that to influence our decision making going on after we break them down into their component parts and after we try to design a more automated process we need to iterate on this  and we need to continue this cyclical process of collecting more data and finding new and innovative ways to organize that data and to analyze that data in order to better address the problem this is where computational thinking has a lot of overlaps with creative thinking because as you can see there in it one right solution to any of these big big problems and so because there are so many solutions we implement or apply our computational thinking skills to help us work through and tackle these challenges in a very systematic way.

[Host] Before you joined ACTNext you taught high school and did you use computational thinking in your classroom and how?

[Laurel] Absolutely this was something I highlighted a lot with my students was that because computational thinking is a set of skills and not one particular skill it can be applied in so many different aspects of daily instruction and so I taught science and math but this is again true in many other subjects for my students I taught lower-level physics and so one of the things they really focused on with them was the data collection as well as the pattern recognition we would do various labs using different digital resources you may have been familiar with PhET simulations this is a digital tool from the University of Colorado Boulder which enables students to partake in physics labs digitally when they may not have the resources to do so in the physical classroom and so my students could use this this tool to design their different studies depending on what goal was and they would collect data they would analyze it and based on that they would try to predict future outcomes using the existing patterns and they recognize they would then try if their pattern holds or if their prediction hold they should be able to redesign their experiment in a certain way and use that to justify their that their prediction or that their model or their data collection was correct and so all of these subsets are skills required for computational thinking.

[Host] Yigal, do you have anything you want to add or kind of wrap up about learning solutions and  where the team’s going or comment or anything about Kristin or Laurel’s talks … or performance?

[Yigal] Really great to hear you know the way Kristin and Laura introduced the you know the courses the complexity model the de ign principles maybe the one observation is that in our work in their institutions we of course design those learning assessment experiences and create the underlying you know technological capabilities that enable the design development and deployment of those solution sets so we are leveraging the open source open-ed X, LMS and the studio with certain enhancements that we are making in order to enable some of those solutions for 2015 specifically but also more in more general for the innovative learning and assessment solutions at ACT was working with our partners both in the K to 12 a higher ed and the workforce setting to will need with those solutions in different contexts and of course different techniques and different tools that are being developed are always tested in different settings and optimized as I think both Kristin and Laurel mentioned as part of the competency model in skills that you are measuring but also part of our old work in a process of design development testing and optimization over time to really lead with those you know effective learning and assessments.

[Host] How do you assess your assessments or your program? How do you, how do you decide this is a good way to do this? Other than kind of at a gut level I think this is a good way to go how do you figure out that you’re doing the right question no we’ve been successful how do you know if you’ve been successful?

[Laurel] A lot of you know research and development goes into the design process at multiple times throughout the design process. Kristen and I will post focus groups with students of different ages and background to get their feedback on the direction we’re taking with the course going forward we once we open a beta version of the course we can of course collect tons of data which will very carefully analyze and oh look there I go using my computational thinking skills to analyze data it will analyze the data that we get back from our initial alpha and beta testers for the course and we’ll see and any feedback they can provide us as well and we’ll use that to iterate on the courses and continue improving them till we feel like the course really does represent the goal and that the students are getting the intended outcomes from participation in the course.

[Host] Thank you Yigal, Kristin and Laurel and thank you for listening to ACTNext Navigator podcast. This has been episode four.