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WW Board of Trustees Visits WW Academy and MIT

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During its annual retreat, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Board of Trustees visited Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a first-hand look at the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning. The new graduate school of education, launched by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and MIT in 2015, has just welcomed its first class of candidates and its new president.

During the visit, the WW Board got an update and introduction to the WW Academy from President Jim Tracy, participated in a student panel of current WW Academy master’s candidates, and visited Somerville High School, where they heard from current candidate and part-time teacher Jason Heitler-Klevans. While at Somerville, they also stopped in at the school’s fab lab, a community maker space, and heard from Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper. Superintendent Skipper spoke about the importance of the district’s partnership with the WW Academy to make sure their need of STEM teachers is met with the kind of innovative and effective teachers coming out of the graduate school.

“When you train teachers to think about inquiry, problem solving, and design, you are breeding teachers who are going to bring that energy to a school system in a way that a teacher coming out of a traditional grad school is not,” said Superintendent Skipper. “They’ve had a very different experience [at the Woodrow Wilson Academy].”

The Board also stopped in at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT Teaching Systems Lab to see some of the specific ways the WW Academy is collaborating with the MIT. At the Media Lab, Pattie Maes and her colleague Scott Greenwald showed Trustees some cutting-edge uses of virtual reality and artificial intelligence for educational settings. At the Teaching Systems Lab, the Board playtested games designed by MIT researchers and undergraduates to fit within the curriculum of the WW Academy. The games simulated classroom experiences to open discussions about classroom management and student differentiation.

To celebrate the WW Academy’s progress, the day’s events culminated in a special dinner with WW Academy faculty, staff, and master’s candidates, as well as partners from MIT, school districts, and local organizations. Chris Gabrieli, the chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, gave an inspiring keynote about the intersection of K–12 and higher education.

“The idea that we would define competencies and free them from the context of where they’re taught, by whom they’re taught, how many credit hours they are, and assess whether you have them or not, is incredibly scary to the education system we have,” said Mr. Gabrieli in his remarks. “It represents something so different…. And I commend all of you involved in [the Woodrow Wilson Academy] for trying to make it real in this particular program. I urge all of us to lean hard into it if we want to see real change in the educational systems we have.”


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