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Learning from MIT on STEAM Education

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About the Entity

The Teaching Systems Lab (TSL) at MIT designs, implements and research on the future of teaching and learning. Situated within MIT’s Office of Digital Learning, TSL works to prepare teachers for the challenges of today’s classrooms by providing them with opportunities and experiences to change those classrooms into the learning environments of tomorrow.


There are four major projects that TSL currently focus on:


(1) Playful Assessment: TSL designs playful assessments for existing learning experiences, works on standalone K-12 assessment projects and provides resources to support educators, students, and designers.


(2) Online and Blended Learning: TSL offers three free MOOCs “Launching Innovation in Schools”, “Envisioning the Graduate of the Future” and “Design Thinking for Leading and Learning” to share strategies for changemakers to improve education in their communities.

Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
Consider registering for these free workshops offered TSL on edX!

(3) Practice Spaces: TSL draws on models from games and simulations to create spaces for teachers to practice teaching strategies.


(4) Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning (WW Academy): WW Academy is a graduate school that offers competency-based master’s degree programs in middle and secondary math and science teacher education. By working with partners throughout MIT, TSL provides consultation on the design of the Academy.

We interviewed Peter Kirschmann, Learning Designer at TSL, and Meredith Moore, Design Researcher at TSL, to distill more insights about the work at TSL and its implications for the K-12 space:

4 About the Entity
4 Enablng Cross-disciplinary Learning

Enabling Cross-disciplinary Learning





TSL believes that assessments should be playful and authentic. A well-designed assessment should be seen as a tool to help students learn and progress, and be woven throughout learning experiences rather than interrupting the flow of an activity. To assist educators in transforming their thinking around assessment design and realize how playful and fun assessment can be, TSL has designed a learning experience for educators called MetaRubric.


Additionally, TSL also believes that that much work can be done in assessing the cognitive and non-cognitive skills that are being learned and practices in maker education. Currently, TSL is collaborating with MakerEd on the Beyond Rubrics Project to design an assessment toolkit for maker projects. Here are the Maker Elements that they hope to capture with evidence:


  • Agency: I have the power to make choices and contributions in my community

  • Design Process: I can plan, create, test, and iterate my designs.

  • Social Scaffolding: I am an active participant in a community that supports everyone’s learning.

  • Productive Risk-taking: I can try out ideas outside of my comfort zone and learn from failures.

  • Troubleshooting: I have the skills, tools and persistence to solve problems through trial and error.

  • Bridging Knowledge: I can connect my experiences, culture and knowledge to the current project.

  • Content Knowledge: I can deepen my understanding of the concepts and phenomena through making.


Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
Try playing the MetaRubric with other teachers to transform your thinking about assessment design!
TSL Maker Elements.JPG

To learn more about how schools are implementing TSL's work on playful assessments, read this EdSurge article by Emily Tate titled Is Assessment Ready to Move Beyond StandardizedTests? These MIT Researchers Think So. .


4A Assessmets
4 Building Capacity

Building Capacity

Professional Development


Incubated at MIT and supported by TSL, the mission of Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning (WW Academy) is to prepare teachers for today and tomorrow. Actively moving away from a traditional teaching model, the program offers a competency-based master’s degree in education towards initial teacher license at the secondary level in biology, chemistry or mathematics. (Formally started in Sep 2018, the design of WW Academy is still actively evolving.)

TSL Woodraw Wilson Academy.jpg

To give a WWA education a “distinctive intentionality” and a “unit of purpose and design”, the curriculum is informed by a set of competencies that focus the teacher candidate’s learning experience on the same set of goals. These competencies fall into 5 major categories, with clear learning objectives defined:

(i) Outcomes: Define and articulate learning outcomes, track student progress over time, adapt to student performance data etc.


(ii) Environment: Build strong relationships with students, partner with students’ caregivers, build a supportive learning community, create environments that maximize opportunities for learning etc.


(iii) Design: Apply design thinking in teaching challenges, design effective learning experiences, individualize learning to adapt to students’ needs, integrate technology to improve the learning experience, ground instruction in learning sciences etc.


(iv) Facilitation: Make students’ thinking process visible, give and take feedback effectively, enable collaborative learning


(v) Leadership: Promote justice, build habits of ongoing improvement, collaborate with colleagues to promote improvement etc.


In order to build these competencies, teacher candidates in WW Academy learn by engaging with “Challenges”, i.e. problems of practice that requires learners are required to develop and refine solutions for. The Academy believes that design thinking is the way that educators can effectively approach challenges of teaching.

For example, in order to acquire the competency of “Individualizing Learning” in the “Design” category, teacher candidates are given a challenge scenario that they have to design solutions for, e.g. that students are providing a variety of feedback regarding a math class (one saying it’s too easy, one saying it’s too boring, one saying it’s too hard). A teacher candidate would have to design potential solutions for the problem, test them out with real students during their clinical experience in local public schools, reflect on the results through engaging with their colleagues and coaches, and submit a refined solution.  


In order to become eligible for graduation and initial licensure, teacher candidates have to demonstrate proficiency in all of the competencies through completing the challenges, fulfilling requisite clinical experiences and satisfying initial licensure requirements.

Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
Do the educators in your school have an agreed-upon set of competencies outlined, so that professional development can be more intentional and effective?
Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
How can your school design opportunities for educators to work together to design solutions for actual/hypothetical teaching challenges?
4B Professionl Development
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