I spent most of today at NBC News’ Education Nation 2012 Summit, which brought together educators, students, parents, elected officials, and industry and thought leaders for a solutions-focused conversation about the state of American education. Heard lots of thought-provoking and inspirational conversation about what is being done and what can be done to help our nation’s children. Here are a few highlights:

  • In a discussion of “True Grit: Can You Teach Character?” panelists discussed the latest research on how teaching children grit and perseverance can help them achieve. Carol Dweck, noted psychologist and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, talked about how constantly praising children’s intelligence and talents can sabotage their intellectual growth. She suggests that parents and teachers praise children’s effort and resilience instead, and teach them to have a “growth mindset”, in which they believe that continued effort is the way they will learn. Angela Lee Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania professor, spoke about the need to teach children that intelligence is a function of effort, and that deliberate and persistent practice– “effortful practice”–can yield better performance.
  • In “Play to Learn: Teaching Tools for the Digital Era”, Zoran Popovic, director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington, talked about his work with creating educational video games. His focus is on capturing the engagement which occurs when children play video games and replicating it in an academic setting. Since 77 percent of high school students and almost 100 percent of college students play video games, he posits, why not try to understand and use what gaming teaches? He is using video game techniques and technology to create inspired learners.
  • A panel discussion of the importance of early literacy revealed sobering statistics: 55% of American third grade children from middle and upper income families don’t meet the national threshold of reading standards, and 83% of third grade children from lower income families don’t meet these standards. Children who don’t read well independently by the third grade are unlikely to do well in high school. The panelists agreed that every effort should be made by teachers and parents to assist children having trouble with reading in the early grades, using every possible means necessary, including tutors.
  • The concept of “blended learning environments”–students being instructed in the classroom and online–is growing in popularity nationwide. Teachers should not fear being replaced by technology, one panelist suggested, because technology is a tool for the teacher to do more strategic instruction. The personalized learning that technology offers is increasingly being considered as an important tool for future achievement. Not enough discussion of how the children on the other side of the digital divide will fare.
  • The critical importance of very early childhood education, the education of children in their first five years, was discussed in another panel. Studies show that critical brain development takes place in those first five years, and much can be done by parents and teachers to encourage and enhance this development. The importance of parental activity during this stage is key.

Lots of food for thought and information for more detailed posts. More to come from tomorrow’s sessions, so stay tuned.