Honoring Teachers’ Commitment to Continual Improvement through Collaboration

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

Teacher Appreciation Week is one of my favorite times of the school year! Honoring the educators who spend countless hours creating lesson plans, building authentic relationships, and welcoming students into the learning space – whether it be in-person, online, or both – has been such a joy. I think back to my time growing up and fondly remember those who influenced me with their encouraging words, supportive nature, and praise of my efforts. My teachers, Ms. Pendergast, Mrs. Dixon, and Mr. Anderson were just three of many educators that left a lasting impression by showing me how much effort matters. I am grateful to them and to have this incredible opportunity to honor the efforts made by our nation’s teachers.

I am appreciative of the pre-service teachers that are just entering classrooms for the first time.  They bring such joy, hope, and creativity to the field. I have been inspired this past year watching new teachers step into the field while navigating the challenges of virtual job searches and amidst the new challenges facing education during the pandemic. The circumstances in which these educators have trained for has changed dramatically yet new teachers poured their passion into our nation’s classrooms bringing energy in the midst of immense changes to the field. I appreciate the commitment and problem-solving they are bringing to the classroom to help our nation’s students navigate new learning environments and experience academic and social success. These educators study, revise, and apply new learning to continually improve their practice.

Thank goodness for experienced mentor teachers who help usher the next generation through all the trials and tribulations of getting started in the classroom! This year was especially unique as veteran teachers were faced with new challenges of their own. Still, many took on the challenge of supporting new teachers and welcoming them to the field. It’s incredibly important that new teachers have a safe, caring relationship with experienced teachers, but these efforts take time and concerted effort. Experienced teachers work side-by-side helping new educators grow and develop professionally by offering guidance, co-developing lessons, and crafting continual feedback. At the same time, veteran educators seek out new techniques and refine their own practice. In new roles I have taken on, I have valued the people that let me ask questions and were there to support me when I stumbled. It is gratifying to see that these professional relationships often help teachers feel more connected to each other, to their schools, and to the profession.

One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed this year is the efforts that teachers and school staff have made to personally connect with their students. Morning meetings, daily celebrations, check-ins, and even daily conversation starters about students’ lives have taken on new importance.  I’ve seen new and veteran teachers reach out and forge those special connections with their students and tying their interests into lessons.  I love hearing the connections my own children are making in their classrooms when we have been home together this past year. This special connection between teachers and their students is one I hope we continue to nurture as we return to in-person learning.

Along my life’s journey, I have been blessed to have teachers and faculty who were committed to my success, from preschool through law school. As the daughter of a math teacher and a computer scientist who served as adjunct faculty, both of my parents instilled in me a desire to help craft a better system; one where all families and students feel welcomed and supported the same way I did. I am thrilled to know new and veteran teachers are committed to supporting and learning from one another. Though new teachers and veterans both face unique challenges, they commit to improving their craft collaboratively, putting in time, effort, and attention to ongoing learning for themselves and their students. Our teachers are determined to create a path forward where all children can thrive. It is with deepest appreciation that we honor the work of these teachers, this and every week.

Donna Harris-Aikens is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning in the Office of the Secretary.

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A Letter to America’s Teachers

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

I never could predict what might happen in Mr. O’Neil’s art classes; I just knew I couldn’t wait for the next assignment.  Back then I didn’t realize all the ways this dynamic educator, a rare man of color leading our diverse classroom of second graders, was serving as a pioneer and role model for me and my peers in John Barry Elementary School.  But I’ll never forget how his teaching made me feel.  As a second grader, I remember looking up — watching him encourage, challenge and guide us – and thinking: “I want to be like him.”

In the years since embracing that calling and starting my career as a classroom teacher, I’ve kept that sense of purpose and wonder.  And my goal in all the administrative roles I’ve held is to facilitate great teaching and learning: to support and expand the transformative impact that skilled, caring classroom teachers have for students, schools, and communities.

Every day America’s teachers change lives, and every day those lives change the world.

Now, this truth can seem to recede as you rush to keep up with the day’s intense pace, and your students’ needs and opportunities. Yet, from the first bell on the first day of the school year, you build a relationship with each of them. You learn their strengths and struggles, laugh with them, cry with them, worry over them, cheer for them – and at the end of the school year, help them transition to their next grade level adventure. You know all those experiences – both the academic and life lessons – have changed both you and them for the better.  You empower them to grow in skill and character — expand their understanding of the world and how to shape it — explore their interests and decide where to make their mark.

Teaching is not a job anyone just falls into. It is mastery of a craft: in fact, the craft that enables all the others. In my experience, great teachers are also quintessential lifelong learners. You use your command of learning science, your insights into your students’ unique needs and aptitudes, as well as the lessons of the past, the realities of the present and the inspiration, innovation and ingenuity of the future to help each new generation become leaders for today and tomorrow. Throughout the year you support your fellow educators, add to your tools through professional development, provide feedback on assignments, sponsor sports, service learning, clubs and other extracurricular activities, collaborate with parents –in addition to everything you pour into your students during class.

Even in this unprecedented year, you rallied, finding new ways to engage with students. In the face of tragedy, you learned new technologies and built virtual classroom communities, all while caring for yourselves and your own families.  As we heal, recover, and rebuild, this pandemic presents a chance to forge opportunity from crisis and reimagine education on every level. We will use this time to address inequities in our education system, and your contributions will be invaluable.  The work won’t be easy, but the impact of your success will be profound, for students and communities. I urge state, local, and elected officials to make sure classroom teachers have a voice in your plans and efforts to reimagine education; second to parents, they know our students best.

I look forward to learning and listening from you in the days ahead.  And, from all of us at the Department of Education: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s a reason teacher like Mr. O’Neil – and all of you – are memorable.  There’s a reason student in America’s classrooms watch you share your curiosity, energy and passion for ideas and think, “I want to be like them.”

You are embodiments of possibility, champions of your students’ potential and stewards of their success.

Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education.

From Sec. Cardona: A Letter to Parents & Students

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

Click here for a copy of this letter in Spanish

To our Nation’s Parents and Students:  

I write first, as your new Secretary of Education, to acknowledge the extraordinarily challenging year you’ve endured. Between the health crisis, economic hardship, staunch national division, and the struggle to make progress in learning while apart from teachers and peers, the impact of the pandemic is still very real and will be felt for years to come.   

And yet, you’ve kept going. As a parent of two who experienced these same concerns and uncertainties, and an educator who has been moved by the resilience of the students and families I’ve met, let me say: you deserve recognition and you have my deepest thanks.   

Brighter days are ahead. We are making progress. More schools across the country are reopening for in-person learning, and they’re doing so with the help of clear, science-based guidance from experts in the field. The Department has released part one of a COVID-19 Handbook to help schools implement guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we’re working on the second volume. Together, these guides will provide more evidence-based strategies for schools to minimize disruptions caused by school closures, especially for our most vulnerable students and communities and address the impact of COVID-19 on educational opportunity across communities. 

The most pressing challenges we face aren’t new. Since I began teaching more than 20 years ago, opportunity gaps remain. There are still unacceptable disparities in high school graduation rates and higher education is still out of reach for too many students, including learners of color, those from low-income families, and those, as I was, who would be the first in their families to attend.   

These inequities aren’t just holding our children back from achieving their full potential – they’re holding our nation back, too. We all benefit when our children have high-quality opportunities to develop their skills and build their knowledge – and then, share their gifts and talents with the world.  

Our first priority is to return students to the classroom for in-person learning, but we know there’s more work to be done once we’ve achieved that goal. We’re also working toward building better career pathways, making college more affordable, ensuring all students have access to high quality schools with a balance of quality coursework that include the arts and sciences, supporting teacher quality and improving teacher diversity, ensure teachers receive the support and respect they need and deserve, expanding access to high-quality preschool, and supporting high-quality career and technical education.   

President Biden’s plans are bold, but they match the urgency that the challenges before us demand. And as Secretary, I will always keep students and their success at the heart of the Department’s work.  

We know that, given the right support, resources and opportunities, our potential is boundless. Despite our worries as parents, this year we’ve seen new proofs of our children’s ingenuity, optimism, and ability to overcome the toughest of circumstances.   

If we all commit to approaching the remainder of this school year – and the years to come – with this same mindset of possibility, dedication, and innovation, we can and will make good on our promise to America’s students. As an educator and as a parent, I commit to safeguarding and advancing the dreams of your children, as I commit to the dreams of my own son and daughter.  

Our nation’s students deserve – and they will get – our very best efforts, our most collaborative thinking, and our deepest belief in their abilities. Together, we can build a future of promise and opportunity that makes no exceptions.  


Secretary Miguel Cardona

The ED Games Expo “Goes Virtual” to Support Distance Learning

This was crossposted from the Institute of Education Sciences blog, Inside IES Research
Each year, the U.S. Department of Education hosts the ED Games Expo, an in-person event to showcase educational learning games and technologies developed through programs at the US Department of Education and across the government. See here the recap of the 2020 Expo, which occurred the week of January 6, 2020, and was headlined by more than 150 in-person education technology demonstrations by 115 teams at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. 


With the global outbreak of COVID19 and the closure of tens of thousands of schools across the United States and world, a group of government supported developers and researchers are now offering their learning games and technologies at no cost through the end of the school year for use in distance learning settings with internet access. The resources are appropriate for young children to postsecondary students as well as for teachers in education and special education across a wide range of educational topics, such as for early learning, in STEM, reading and language learning, and social studies. Most of the resources were developed iteratively with feedback from teachers and students, and most were evaluated through pilot studies to measure their promise to support improvements in relevant educational outcomes.

Below is the list of 82 learning games and technologies developed with funding across programs at the Department of Education and government that are now available online at no cost to until the end of the school year.


  • Each of the entries provides a URL link to a website that provides information on how to access the resources. Some can be accessed directly on the website, some require a free app download from Google Play or the AppStore, and some require a registration so that the developer can provide additional login instructions. tablets, or phones. Many of the websites are optimized for the CHROME browser (not Windows Explorer).
  • Each of the entries differs in terms of the device and operating system that is needed to play or use the learning game or technology, including computers, Chromebooks. A few of the entries make apps freely available yet still require additional hardware, such as a virtual reality headset or a 3D printer.
  • DISCLAIMER: The US Department of Education does not endorse the developers, the learning games, or the technologies listed within.
  • Please email Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions.

Government programs that supported the learning games and technologies include:

  • Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research (USDA SBIR)
  • Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Department of Education (ED)
    • Institute of Education Research Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR)
    • IES National Center for Education Research (NCER)
    • IES National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)
    • Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)
    • Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
    • Ready to Learn (RTL)
  • Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health (OAH)
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
  • Library of Congress (LOC)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • National Institutes for Health Small Business Innovation Research (NIH SBIR)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (NSF SBIR)
  • The Smithsonian Institution
  • The Wilson Center

Early Childhood

  1. The Cat in the Hat Builds That app is based on the PBS KIDS series, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, and introduces children three to five and parents to science inquiry and engineering (STEM) concepts through hands-on games and activities tailored to their learning progress. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Random House with a 2015  ED/Ready to Learn award.
  2. The Play & Learn Science app is designed for children ages three to five and parents to see the science in their world by modeling real-world locations and experiences. The related hands-on activities and parent notes prompt families to “try it” at home and provide tips for engaging in conversations. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Primal Screen with a 2015  ED/Ready to Learn award.
  3. The Cat in the Hat Invents app introduces children ages three to five and parents to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts, such as simple machines and the engineering design process, as they outfit robots with tools to overcome obstacles in fantastic Seussian worlds. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Random House with a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.
  4. The Photo Stuff with Ruff app is based on PBS KIDS’ short-form animated digital series, “The Ruff Ruffman Show,” and inspires children ages four to eight to discover what the “stuff” in their world is made of. In this camera-based experience, children learn about science by exploring surroundings and taking pictures of different materials to complete silly scenes. Play it together and record and share your observations in fun, creative ways! Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and WGBH with a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.
  5. In the Molly of Denali (Video Demo) app, children aged five to eight use everyday informational texts (i.e., field guides, recipes, diagrams, etc.) to solve problems and fulfill their curiosity in an immersive version of Molly’s Alaska Native village. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and WGBH, through a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.
  6. In Space Scouts children ages five to eight learn badges and mindset rewards as they play five space-themed engineering design and science inquiry games. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Wind Dancer Films through a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn grant.
  7. The Jet’s Bot Builder app is based on the PBS KIDS series, Ready Jet Go!, and allows children ages five to eight to create new parts, explore, learn and have fun building a robot with Jet and friends. Jet’s Bot Builder adapts to your young learner’s progress. Developed by PBS KIDS, CPB, and Wind Dancer Films with a 2015 ED/Ready to Learn award.

Note: The PBS Kids website includes more apps and videos, all available at no cost.

  1. MathBRIX (Video Demo) is a game for pre-K to grade two children to think mathematically and problem-solve by moving virtual replicas of toy-building bricks into place to arrive at solutions. PlayPACT, the home companion, encourages parents to help children build early cognitive skills using a “connected play” approach. Developed with 2016 and 2019 NSF SBIR awards.
  2. Chef Koochooloo (Video Demo) is a game platform that teaches kindergarten through fifth grade students cultural sensitivity, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) concepts (assessed as per national standards), and sustainability through healthy cooking in schools. Developed in part with a 2019 NSF SBIR award.
  3. My Home Literacy Coach  is a resource for parents and caregivers to maintain the reading growth of children in Kindergarten to grade 3. Using evidence-based approaches, 15-minute language art lessons are calibrated daily to match individual children’s progress. Developed by Learning Ovations and researchers at the University of California Irvine with a 2015 ED/IES SBIR award and several IES Research Grants.
  4. Cognitive ToyBox for Schools (Video Demo) is a hybrid observation and game-based assessment platform for teachers, practitioners, and children from birth to five years old. Children play developmentally appropriate touchscreen games for five minutes per week, and teachers have access to timely information on each individual child’s learning trajectory. Developed with awards in 2016 from NSF SBIR and 2019 from ED/IES SBIR.

Special Education

  1. In Go Phonics and Early Reading Skills Builder, (available here)  (Video Demo), students in special education learn to read through phonics instruction aligned to third grade. Developed by the  Attainment Company through a 2011 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. In Access Language Arts (available here)  (Video Demo), special education students access adapted literature and language arts instruction, grade-aligned to middle school. Developed by the  Attainment Company through a 2014 ED/IES SBIR award.
  3.  SOAR  (Strategies for Online Academic Reading) (Video Demo) is a web-based curriculum for middle school students with learning disabilities to promote competency when reading and researching online. The tool supports student efforts to search for, find, evaluate, read, and use appropriate and relevant online information. Developed at the University of Oregon with a 2012 ED/OSEP award.
  4. Project ESCOLAR (Etext Supports for Collaborative and Academic Reading) (Video Demo) supports middle-school students, including those with learning disabilities, in learning science in an engaging environment. Developed at the University of Oregon with a 2013 ED/OSEP award.
  5. The Communication Matrix is tool for teachers, speech-language pathologists, and parents to support students with complex communication needs. The online forum provides a space for information sharing, learning from the field, and offering and receiving support. Developed at the Oregon Health and Sciences University with an ED/OSEP award.
  6. The WRITE Progress Monitoring tool automatically grades writing assessments for middle school students specific to narrative, persuasive, and expository genres of writing.  Developed at the University of Kansas with an ED/OSEP award.
  7. The Project Core implementation model is designed for special education practitioners, parents, and caregivers to provide students with significant cognitive disabilities and complex communication needs access a personal augmentative and alternative communication system and instruction to learn to use it. Developed at the University of North Carolina with support from ED/OSEP.
  8. The Tar Heel Shared Reader implementation model supports teachers, therapists, and parents to provide shared reading instruction to students with significant cognitive disabilities. Developed at the University of North Carolina with an award from ED/OSEP.
  9. AvePM.com is a website for teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, that tracks sign language and oral communication development for students ranging from pre or early reading through sixth grade. Developed at the University of Pennsylvania with an award from ED/OSEP.


  1. In Killer Snails’ Scuba Adventures (Video Demo), grade school students race against the clock as scientists, tagging creatures before their oxygen tanks runs out of air. Earn extra points for tagging venomous creatures whose deadly toxins may unlock the secrets to saving human lives. Developed with a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  2. In Killer Snails’  Rainforest Rumble is a printable card game for children age 5 and up where only the best equipped survive! In this game of survival defend your animals with smart arguments and scientific facts. Developed with a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  3. The Animator App with lessons at (the pink “Flash Points” posts) is an open-ended tool for students of any age to create animations quickly to explore grade school-level concepts of colors and patterns to gas laws and reactions in high school chemistry. Developed by Alchemie with a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  4. Inq-ITS (Video Demo) personalized online labs score themselves and support students in grades five to 10 to learn and apply science practices across physical, life, and earth science. Developed by Apprendis, Rutgers Graduate School of Education, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute with 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016 NSF research grants, 2009 and 2012 ED/IES research grants, and 2015, 2016, and 2018 ED/IES SBIR awards.
  5. The Mechanisms app (Video demo) brings game-based interactivity to the learning of college-level organic chemistry. All 275 Mechanisms puzzles have hints, goals and a corresponding video to guide student learning. Developed by Alchemie through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  6. The ModelAR app (Video demo) is a digital molecular model set used by students in middle school to college to build and explore chemistry concepts, from isomers and functional groups to large molecules such as Buckyball and proteins. The molecules can also be built on an Augmented Reality tag to manipulate the compound in real space. Developed by Alchemie through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  7. The iNeuron (Video Demo) game introduces neuroscience basics to middle and high school students and challenges learners to complete neural circuits, and can be played individually or in groups. Developed by Andamio Games through a 2011 NIH SBIR award.
  8. CellEnergy Photosynthesis Labs (Video Demo) uses interactive challenges and virtual labs with an experimental playground to engage high school students and deepen understanding of photosynthesis and cell respiration. Developed by Andamio Games through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  9. In Martha Madison (Video Demo) middle school students join meerkat scientist Martha Madison on quests to help her community, while learning physical science and 21st century skills. Jump, fly, slide, and bang through game levels built on a side-scrolling platform that plays like a video game. Developed by Second Avenue Learning with a 2012 NSF SBIR award.
  10. The Tyto Online (Video Demo) game engages middle school students in storylines to explore science phenomena and solve authentic problems. For example, students work with a botanist to solve a food shortage while learning about genetics. Developed by Immersed Games with a 2017 NSF SBIR award and a 2018 IES SBIR award.
  11. In MissionKT players age eight to 13 learn about the story of Stardust: “we are made of Stardust that was once in the body of Albert Einstein and the Last T-Rex.”  The story is about atoms: their creation, size, number, and how they are shared. Up to 4 internet-connected players visit a world of dinosaurs and have fun as they discover how they inherited Stardust from the Last T-Rex. Developed by TheBeamer through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  12. In Building the Universe middle students and up go back in time to the Big Bang to create the first atoms and in the process learn about quarks, protons, neutrons, electrons. This physics game eventually finishes 13.8 billion years later with the Solar System and a habitable planet Earth.  Developed by TheBeamer through a 2017 NSF SBIR award.
  13. Immune Defense (Video Demo) is a real-time strategy game for biology students in grades five to 12 where players use proteins and phagocyte cells to eat bacteria, while learning cellular behavior and the role of protein receptors in an engaging, problem-based format. Developed by Molecular Jig Games with a 2009 grant from NIH SBIR.
  14. Immune Attack (Video Demo) is a third-person shooter game for biology students in grades five to 12. Students fly a Microbot and a nanobot inside a 3D body to activate proteins and phagocyte cells to eat bacteria in an engaging, exciting mission-based format. Developed by Molecular Jig Games with a 2004 research grant from NSF SBIR.
  15. In LightUp Studio (Video Demo) middle and high school students explore the world’s scientific wonders in true-to-life 3-D, and create augmented reality videos to share what they learn with each other. Topics include physics, biology, chemistry, earth science, space science, and AP-specific content. Developed with a 2015 NSF SBIR award.
  16. In Journey through an Exploded Star middle and high school students adventure through the full spectrum of radiant energy of a dying star as it blossoms out in 360° in this never-before-seen 3-D view of a supernova remnant. Built with real scientific data, this interactive allows the user to visualize the electromagnetic spectrum. Developed by the Smithsonian Institution.
  17. In Sama’s Learning Platform (Video Demo), chemistry students engage in advanced visualization of abstract concepts and immersive interaction in Virtual Reality (VR) and also through engaging videos. Developed with a 2019 NSF SBIR award.
  18. In HoloLab Champions (Video Demo), middle students and above perform experiments to learn chemistry in an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) game environment. NOTE: While the app is free to teachers to provide to students in a class, it must be used with a VR headset or system. Developed by Schell Games through a 2016 ED/IES SBIR award.


  1. Teachley’s suite of math game apps include Addimals (Video demo), Subtractimals (Video Demo), and Mt. Multiplis (Video Demo) to support fact fluency and promote math strategy development for students in kindergarten to grade five. Developed with a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. NumberShire (Video Demo) is a math game focusing on whole number concepts and skills that uses a narrative arc to motivate and provide individualized support to students in kindergarten through grade two, especially those at risk for mathematical difficulties. Developed with 2011, 2012, and 2013 ED/IES SBIR awards; 2012 and 2016 IES awards; and a 2016 OSEP award to the University of Oregon. NOTE: Teachers must contact (ns1its@uoregon.edu) to request a free account for their students.
  3. Fractions Boost (Video Demo) and Boost 2 (Video Demo) are 3-D games for students in grades three to five to develop a conceptual understanding of fractions, while emphasizing social relationships with a track builder that allows students to build levels for their classmates. Developed by Teachley with a 2015 NSF SBIR award.
  4. ProblemScape (Video Link) is an online course for middle school students in introductory algebra packaged in a 3D role-playing adventure game. Developed by RoundEd Learning with a 2018 NSF SBIR Award.
  5. Math Snacks (Video Demo) is a suite of games for middle school students including Agrinautica on expression building, Curse Reverse on variables, Game Over Gopher on coordinate points, Ratio Rumble on ratios, Gate on place value, Monster School Bus on ten-frames and fractions, and Pearl Diver on number sense. Developed by New Mexico State University with 2009 and a 2015 NSF awards.
  6. Woot Math (Video Demo) provides students in grades three to 12 with engaging activities and teaches with actionable data, a formative assessment platform, and interactive content to address gaps in student understanding. Developed by Simbulus with 2015 NSF SBIR and a 2018 ED/IES SBIR awards.
  7. Collaborative FluidMath (access here in CHROME) is designed for distance teaching and learning for middle school, high school and higher education teachers and students to share the same virtual Mathematics workspace. Note: Enter code EDCOVID19. Developed in part with a 2018 award from ED/IES SBIR, and awards from NSF SBIR, and NIH SBIR.
  8. webFluidMath (access here in CHROME) is designed for distance learning and remote teaching of K-12 and Higher Education Mathematics and enables teachers to easily make interactive presentations and create and distribute Mathematics activities, assignments, and self-grading assessments via the web. Enter code EDCOVID19. Developed in part with a 2018 award from ED/IES SBIR, and awards from NSF SBIR, and NIH SBIR.
  9. FluidMath Practice (access here in CHROME) is a fun application for kindergarten to grade five students to practice automaticity, fluency, and numeracy in a gaming environment while also providing teachers with data about student performance. Enter code EDCOVID19. Developed in part with a 2018 award from ED/IES SBIR, and awards from NSF SBIR, and NIH SBIR.
  10. ASSISTments (video demo) is a free tool for middle school math teachers to assign homework or classwork. Students receive immediate feedback as they complete their assignments, and teachers receive a report with student- and class-level insights to inform instruction. The tool is compatible with Google Classroom and has a vast library of content. Developed by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute with the support of IES and NIH.
  11. Muzology (Video Demo) is a gamified learning platform that uses music videos (created by hit songwriters!) to get middle and high school students algebra-ready. The platform includes student and teacher dashboards and assignment features for distance learning. Developed by Muzology with a 2018 NSF SBIR award.
  12. Graspable Math (Video Demo) is an algebra notation tool for middle and high school students that turns math symbols into tactile virtual objects that can be explored and manipulated. Developed by researchers at Indiana University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute through a 2011 IES award and a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  13. MidSchoolMath’s EMPIRES (Video Demo) is a multiplayer game aligned for seventh grade math standards, set in Ancient Mesopotamia and built around an epic story-based narrative that allows math to be coherently used within context. Developed with 2013 ED/IES SBIR award.

Engineering & Making

  1. Future Engineers uses an online platform to offer free STEM/STEAM challenges for students in kindergarten to grade 12, such as NASA’s “Name the Mars Rover” competition. Teachers can assign challenges to students, and students can upload their creations to a kid-safe gallery. New challenges in response to the COVID-19 crisis are available now. Developed with a 2018 ED/IES SBIR award.
  2. Fab@School Maker Studio (Video Demo) is a web-based design and fabrication tool for students in pre-Kindergarten to grade eight to design, invent, and build their own geometric constructions, pop-ups, and working machines using low-cost materials like paper and cardstock and a wide range of tools from scissors to inexpensive 2-D cutters, 3-D printers, and laser cutters. Developed by FableVision Studios, Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning and Creativity, with initial funding in 2010 by ED/IES SBIR.
  3. In CodeSpark Academy’s Story Mode (Video Demo) Kindergarten to grade five students learn the ABCs of computer science with a highly accessible word- free approach. Students program lovable characters called The Foos to create their own interactive stories, learning core computer science concepts in the process. Developed through a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  4. Vidcode (Video Demo) is an online coding platform that teaches students from grade three and up computer science, computational thinking, and JavaScript through multimedia art projects. Developed in part with a 2019 ED/IES SBIR award.
  5. In DESCARTES (Video Demo) students in grades three to five use engineering design, apply math and science concepts, simulate in a sandbox game, and 3-D print their own prototypes (submersibles, boats, gliders, and other machines) using a standards-aligned design platform and curricula. Developed by Parametric Studio with a 2017 IES/SBIR award.
  6. In EDISON (Video Demo) students in grades six to nine solve real engineering problems with gamified engineering design software; make and test designs involving structures, electronics, and RC cars; and simulate and visualize designs in virtual reality and augmented reality. Developed by Parametric Studio with a 2018 NSF/SBIR award.

Reading, Writing, Speaking, Languages

  1. Speak Agent (Video Demo) is a digital teaching and learning platform for students in kindergarten to grade eight for math, reading, and science that delivers tailored activities that integrate content with the language needed to understand it. Developed with 2015 ED/IES SBIR and NSF SBIR awards.
  2. Readorium’s (Video Demo ) reading in science program for students in grades three to eight provides strategies to understand standards-aligned non-fiction science text. Interactive science books are written different levels with video mentor guides and supports to individualize learning. Educators can view progress reports in real-time and download resources. Developed with awards from ED/IES SBIR.
  3. STORYWORLD (Video Demo) teaches students of any age (and English Learners) language and literacy through stories in English, Spanish and Mandarin. The program works on any device—computer, tablet, or smartphone. Stories include quiz-games that reinforce vocabulary, reading and listening skills, as well as capture written and oral responses for teacher review and assessment online. Developed with a  2018  ED/IES SBIR award.
  4. Moby.Read (Video Demo) is an engaging oral reading fluency assessment for students in Kindergarten through grade five. Students use their own voice to read passages aloud, retell key details, and answer short-answer questions for real-time practice and assessment. Developed by AMI through a 2017 ED/IES SBIR award, with initial support from IES.
  5. Walden, a Game (Video Demo) is a first person exploratory about the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond in 1845. The game allows players of all ages to walk in Thoreau’s virtual footsteps, discover his ideas and writings, engage with historical characters such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, and experience the changing seasons of Walden Woods. Developed by Tracy Fullerton and the Game Innovation Lab with awards from NEH and NEA.
  6. AlphaBear2 on GooglePlay and itunes (Video Demo) is an award winning English word-spelling game app for players of all ages, similar to Scrabble or Boggle, in which spellers of any age can learn new words and collect cute bears. Developed by Spry Fox with a 2017 ED/IES SBIR award.

Social Studies

  1. Mission US is a multimedia game that immerse students in grades four and up in U.S. history, in topics such as the Revolutionary War (Video Demo) , the Great Depression (video Demo), and immigration ( Video Demo). Developed by Electric Funstuff with awards in 2013 from ED/IES SBIR award and from NEH.
  2. AzTech Games (Video Demo) is a 3D game series for middle school students to learn basic statistics and measurement, as well as Central American and U.S. Latino history. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2016 USDA SBIR award.
  3. In the Making Camp (Video Demo) game series, students in grades three to five review multiplication and division along with language arts while learning elements of Native American history. The game includes bilingual versions in English/Spanish and English/Lakota. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2016 USDA SBIR award.
  4. Spirit Lake (Video Demo) is a 3D virtual world game for students in grades three to five that teaches multiplication and division and the history of the Dakota. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2013 USDA SBIR award.
  5. Fish Lake (Video Demo) is a 3D game for students in grades four to six that teaches fractions and the history of the Ojibwe. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2013 USDA SBIR award.
  6. Forgotten Trail (Video Demo) is a game for students in grades five to seven that teaches fractions, decimals, measurement, and multi-step problem solving along with Native American history. Developed by 7 Generation Games with a 2013 USDA SBIR award.
  7. The The Fiscal Ship game helps students age 10 and above with no prior experience with the federal budget learn what will and won’t work. Designed to be whimsical and nonpartisan but grounded in the fiscal facts, the game highlights that small changes to spending and taxes won’t suffice. To win the game, you need to find a combination of policies that match your values and priorities and set the budget on a sustainable course. Developed by The Wilson Center.
  8. Engaging Congress is a digital civics interactive tool for students in middle school and up that uses primary sources to develop content knowledge, build critical thinking skills and expand analysis techniques all in the civics education arena. Modules are played in 30 to 40 minutes for Civics, Government and U.S. History and cover topics from the Founding Era to Present. Developed by Half Full Nelson with support from the Library of Congress.
  9. Race to Ratify (Video Demo) teaches students in middle school and up history and civics through a game about the Federalists and Anti-Federalists between 1787 and 1789. It is designed to help students understand the key debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution (including an extended republic, the House of Representatives, the Senate, executive power, the judiciary, and a bill of rights). It uses an engaging narrative to allow students to interact with the ideas, perspectives, and arguments that defined the ratification debate, which spanned geographic regions, populations, and socio-economic class. Developed by iCivics with a grant from NEH.
  10. DBQuest (Video Demo) teaches students in middle school and up history and civics through the use of primary source documents and evidence-based learning. It offers a platform, accessible with mobile devices, that reinforces evidence-based reasoning and Document Based Questioning by teaching students to identify and evaluate evidence, contextualize information, and write sound supporting arguments. Developed by iCivics with a grant  from the Library of Congress.

Note: Also check out the iCivics “School Closure SchookKit”

  1. In Digital Cards Against Calamity (Video Demo) players gain insight into difficult trade-offs when community stakeholders make decisions during a community issue, such as decisions coastal communities make during a hurricane. Developed by 1St Playable with an award from NOAA.
  2. Inspired by historical documents and events, the Traders & Raiders game allows players age eight to 12 to learn more about history, geography, and the life of a pirate. The game teaches players about the transatlantic trade, piracy, and how Philipsburg Manor, a National Historic Landmark site in Sleepy Hollow, NY, played a role in this vast and complex system. Developed by Historic Hudson Valley through a 2014 IMLS grant.
  3. People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North is an interactive documentary intended to introduce high school teachers and students to the history of Northern enslavement. The project focuses on what is known or may be interpreted about the lives of individual enslaved people, whose stories are rarely highlighted. Far from comprehensive, People Not Property nonetheless offers an interactive cross-section of human stories emblematic of the lived experience of slavery in colonial America. Developed with funding from NEH.

Social, Emotional, and Healthy Development

  1. Brainology is a multi-media intervention that teaches a growth mindset skills to students in grades PreK to 12 through a wide range of interactive activities illustrating how the brain gets smarter with effort and learning. Developed by Mindset Works in part with support of a 2010 ED/IES SBIR award and a 2015 IES research award.
  2. Healthy U is a sexual health learning platform for high school students aligned to the CDC’s National Health Education Standards and is appropriate for both general education and students with or at risk of disabilities. Topics covered include Puberty, STDs, HIV, Pregnancy and Healthy Relationships. Students practice and build skills through games, animated information videos, dramatic vignettes and connect to their future. Funded by a 2015 HHS/Office of Adolescent Health grant.
  3. PlayForward: Elm City Stories is a role-playing videogame for middle school students focused on sexual health and risk reduction and a range of behaviors including substance use, academic dishonesty, and unsafe driving among others. Developed by the play2PREVENT Lab and Schell Games with the support of NICHD.

  1. Smart Suite includes three games for students in grades 4 and up to support the development of executive functions: CrushStations, All You Can ET, and Gwakkamole. Developed by New York University’s CREATE Lab with partial support from a 2016 IES research award.


  1. Hats & Ladders (Video Demo) is a game-based apps to empower students ages 14  and up to explore in-demand careers that fit their strengths and interests and to engage in real-world skill building to help prepare for success in the world of work. Developed by Hats & Ladders with a 2015 and 2019 ED/IES SBIR awards and a 2017 OCTAE award.

For Parents and Teachers

  1. Gamesandlearning.co is an index platform where parents and teachers can access dozens of learnings resources (e.g., educational games, digital learning, virtual field trips, video lessons, and hands-on activities) for home or school use by children in pre-kindergarten to grade six. The platform provides a filter for users to find specific resources quickly and permits for individualized playlists to be created. Developed in part with an award from NSF SBIR.

Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Please contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions or for more information.

The Most Meaningful Way to Celebrate Your Teacher

This post was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

In classrooms all across America, long hours of curriculum are taught, thousands of papers are graded each day, yet teachers still find the time to constantly brainstorm strategies to support their diverse student population. They stay up late answering emails and stay after class to help a struggling student. On any given day, a teacher may wear the hat of educator, mediator, cheerleader, advocate, disciplinarian, nurse, counselor, and so much more. For many of us, there is no greater job!

If you were to ask these teachers why they entered the field of education, many would cite their dreams of making a difference and changing the lives of their students. However, if you were to ask them why they stay in the field, many would most likely cite the students that have changed their lives. In service, we often find that those we serve in fact give more back to us.

Teaching has become one of the most stressful occupations in the U.S.; teachers reported a daily stress rate tied with nurses as the highest among all occupational groups. This daily stress can sadly lead to burn out and teacher turnover. However, if you were to ask a teacher why they have persisted, they will most likely answer with a story. They will tell you about their most challenging student with a heart of gold, the student who graduated against all odds, or the one they believe they have failed. It is these stories of “triumph and despair” that remind educators why they do what they do.

There are many creative and clever ways to celebrate your teacher, but the most heartfelt and meaningful way would be to add to their story. Sincere letters of gratitude can often still be found in their desks or at home on display as a source of light in their rough seasons. I know not only because I asked, but because I have my own. The cherished notes or pictures can pull teachers through the most stressful times and remind them why teaching can be one of the most rewarding occupations out there.

So, how can you celebrate your teacher? Simple. Tell them why they are worth celebrating!


Julie Richardson serves as a school psychologist at Henry Barnard Labortory School in Rhode Island. She is a U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellow.

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Honoring Laura Coria


Laura Coria

4th Grade Teacher

Ogden, UT

Laura Coria teaches 4th Grade at James Madison Elementary in Ogden, Utah. She obtained her baccalaureate in elementary education from Weber State University  in 1993.  Since then, she has completed 6 specialties, or endorsements:  Reading Level I; Advance Reading Level II; Spanish (minor); Mathematics; English as a Second Language; and STEM. She is currently seeking certifications in Google Apps for Education.  Ms. Coria has spent her entire career working in Title 1 schools in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.  She has taught grades 1st – 5th, ESL adult education as well as elementary age children.  She has been a grade level team leader, steering committee lead, Hispanic Culture Director for her school.  In 2015, Ms. Coria received the “Higher Achievement Award” from Ogden School District, for demonstrating a “Growth Mindset” leading to excellence in achievement.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I love learning and it’s a privilege to work with children.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love most about teaching is making an impact in a child’s life and knowing I am a key tool in creating a future for children of poverty.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I still remember my 6th grade teacher and the impact she made in my life. I am a native of Mexico (now a US citizen), living in poverty myself, I remember how my teacher would tell me that I would be able to accomplish anything I wanted. She told me I had potential and I was a hard worker.

Honoring Eduardo Lopez


Eduardo Lopez

 High School Social Science Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Eduardo Lopez was born and raised in a single parent Mexican immigrant household in Los Angeles, California. The unrelenting work ethic instilled by his mother carried him to college. He is a two-time UCLA alumnus, graduating with both a Bachelor of Arts in History, minor in Political Science, and a Masters of Arts in Education. For the past decade he has taught at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School (RHS), located in East Los Angeles. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and Social Science educator. Currently, Mr. Lopez teaches 11th grade A.P. U.S. History, U.S. History, and a 9th-12th grade all male ethnic studies course. Early in his profession, Eduardo realized that in order to have a lasting impact on students he needed to form partnerships that went beyond the four walls of his classroom. He served as a fellow at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, Council of Youth Researchers (CYR) where he worked alongside professors, graduate students, community activists, parents, and students dedicated to addressing educational inequities in schools and communities throughout the city. The CYR created opportunities for youth to develop community-based critical research projects, write research papers, and deliver presentations to audiences of university faculty, community activists, parents, and elected officials, offering them the space to have their powerful voices heard. This passion for transformative education is also evident in his work as an Education Consultant with the Social Justice Learning Institute where he instructs its Urban Scholar Compadres (“brotherhood”) program, a program aimed at increasing the academic and personal success of young men of color at RHS and throughout Los Angeles. In 2014, he was honored by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, as 1 of 25 educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District, to receive the 1st annual Inspirational Teacher award for his dedication to empower young Latino males. Additionally, in 2010, Mr. Lopez was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Study Fellowship to Morocco and in 2012, selected to travel to China as a Freeman Foundation Fellow. Of his many accolades two more worth noting are his interviews given in Spanish for both La Opinión (a Spanish-language Los Angeles daily newspaper) and HispanTV, (a Spanish-language news channel) where Eduardo stressed that as we prepare students to become global citizens we need to acknowledge and applaud the linguistic capital our bilingual youth bring from home as an asset and not a hindrance to our schools and country.

Why do you teach?

  • I teach to inspire and be inspired
  • I teach to foster caring relationships with students and parents
  • I teach to provide a culturally relevant humanizing experience for all students
  • I teach to share in the victories and pains of life alongside my students
  • I teach to work collectively with students to audaciously hope for a better tomorrow
  • Lastly, I teach because this is my calling in life

What do you love about teaching?

I genuinely love being in the classroom with my students. Engaging in meaningful discussions/lessons is key in sustaining lifelong learners.   Every single day presents a new opportunity to serve the youth. The energy and ideas they bring I liken to jazz, where improvisation occurs daily in every class period. This creation of rhythmic knowledge fills both mind and soul and I am an equal with all my students.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I was blessed to have a few inspirational teachers throughout my schooling experience but the one that stands out the most was my high school science teacher, Mr. Limón. As an adolescent developing my identity, I yearned to learn about my Latino heritage and the only educator who found creative ways to incorporate cultural connections to his lessons was Mr. Limón. Gracias to him I became a proud Chicano.

Honoring Rene Muñoz

Munoz_Photo LatinosTeach

Rene Muñoz

Junior High Language Arts Teacher

El Cajon, CA

I would not be here without first acknowledging the support of my mom, abuelita and nina. Although my family and I lived in Tijuana, Mexico, I was born a U.S. citizen and my mom wanted me to go to school in the United States. As a young child, I only spoke Spanish, and no private school would give me a chance. My mom searched high and low for a school willing to give me an opportunity. It was not easy, but she did it! For the next 12 years, we (my mom, abuelita, nina, younger brother and I) woke up every morning at 3AM to cross the border. We would make line for hours at times, but we were never late for school. School mattered!

For better or for worse, I’m going to share with you what has proven to be the secret of my success in the classroom… my degrees are in English and History; I do not have a degree in Education. As a matter of fact, I have never taken an education class… ever. I do feel that a degree in Education has tremendous value, but for over 15 years, I have been a private school teacher, and I have had the freedom to be completely unconventional. Completely! For me, not knowing how I was “supposed to teach” proved to be a big motivation to observe and learn from anyone and everyone, but most importantly, it motivated me to experiment in the classroom.

I had to stop and think about what had actually made me successful in high school, college and now, hopefully, as a teacher. I asked myself: Did knowing the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird” make me successful? Nope! However, what I learned from the conversations that it inspired, did. The work ethic I learned through those assignments, did. I was beginning to figure out what I wanted to teach but how to teach it would be a whole new challenge!

This list of unconventional things to teach combined with a lack of formal training in Education, forced me to try many unconventional approaches. This led me to create a program that has been helping my students get into the top high schools in San Diego County for around 15 years, which is helping to lead them to the top universities in the nation and is now helping make them successful in the “real world.”

The secret to my success is that I do not teach literature and grammar to middle school students. Instead, literature and grammar are the tools I use to teach them what will make them successful in life. I expect them to be creative and imaginative. I expect them to be hard-working, passionate and full of pride. I expect them to do their best in every situation. I expect it every day. Most importantly, I do not teach them these things with fancy projects or the newest technological craze or the newest teaching technique. Actually, I use very few educational materials that are pre-made by a major company. At the end of the day, my class is a bunch of people sitting around, reading some of the greatest authors, discussing their ideas and how they relate to those ideas.

Why do you teach?

There are a million reasons why, but it boils down to the fact that I feel teaching, and helping students, is what I am meant to do.

What do you love about teaching?

Again, a million different things but a big one is seeing the long lasting positive outcome of my work as a teacher. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with 90% Latino students. Latinos that are hard-working, accomplished, positive members of society. I’ve even had 2 former students invited to The White House by the Obama Administration! It’s awesome to see them accomplish great things!!

When you were young, was there a great teacher that inspired you?

A teacher, no. Several teachers, absolutely!

Mr. Ned Wilson– Science teacher, St. Augustine High School: I stole so much from his approach to teaching! He had this way of being this grumpy and cranky yet kooky and lovable teacher that made you work harder to be a better student and person without you realizing it. This person who brought out the absolute best in you through such an unorthodox way;  someone so willing to accept his own faults and eccentricities made it so much easier for his students suffering through the craziness of high school to accept their own. His willingness to just go crazy at football games and basketball games…His willingness to cram 10 of us in a van and take us to a Tony Gwynn Padres game… Supposedly, “just because…”  It took me years to understand the sheer brilliance of it all, because it had all been a brilliantly orchestrated scam to make us better….

Dr. Louis Warren– History professor, University of San Diego: College can be hard. I struggled a lot my first year… A LOT!! Going into my 2nd year, I didn’t think I could do it. Then, I walked into Dr. Warren’s American Civilization II. It was challenging… It was interesting… I could do it. All I needed was confidence. He gave that to me through his class. I took every class he ever taught. They were all brilliant… But, his General Custer lecture is probably the best lecture I ever had the privilege to hear. I would not be the teacher I am without their influence.

Honorable Mention:

~~Mr. John Vignol. Philosophy teacher, St. Augustine High School

~~Dr. Bart Thurber. English professor, University of San Diego


Honoring Mario Benabe

Mario B photo

Mario Benabe

High School Math Teacher  

Bronx, NY

Mario Benabe is the founding Math Teacher at the South Bronx Community Charter High School (SBCCHS), a school birthed out of the New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) and the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) School Design Fellowship. Prior to teaching at SBCCHS, Mr. Benabe spent two years as the Special Education, Mathematics Specialist at the Bronx River High School. Mr. Benabe holds a M.S.T in Special Education from Fordham University and a B.A. in Culture and Deviance Studies with cross disciplinary research training in Sociology and Latin America and Latinx Studies from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Throughout his early teaching career, Mr. Benabe has advocated for educational justice for youths of color. At Teach For America’s 25th anniversary summit Mr. Benabe spoke at the #StayWoke: Stop the Violence and Increase Opportunity program to an audience of over 1,200 people at the Walter E. Washington convention Center in D.C.. In 2015, The Entertainment Industry Foundation honored Mr. Benabe as one of three teachers selected nationally to be recognized as the 9/11 Day Teacher. Mr. Benabe has received the Robert Bob Douglass Hall of Fame – John Hunter Community Service Award for his dedication in serving youths through education for the National Association of  Each One Teach One program.

Mr. Benabe is the initiator of “Do-The-Right-Thing Pedagogy”, which frames the importance of examining the ways in which teaching and learning occurs in afrocentric and indigenous populations and using that as a Dialectical Opposites [Do] To Heal Education [The] that invites Reality, Immersion, Good-Hearted Teaching [Right] Through Historical Indigenous/Afrocentric and Native Grounds [Thing]. His role as an educator is to create conditions that allow young people to express their brilliance through their sense of what is vernacular for them so that they  can feel valued within the village of teaching and learning

Why do you Teach?

I teach as a response to a very powerful age-old adage that describes, “if the youth are not initiated to the tribe, they will burn it down in order to feel its warmth”. Often times because of our marriage to ineffective pedagogy, it creates conditions that allow young people to feel as though they are not deeply connected to the village of teaching and learning. I teach because it puts me in a position to heal and create conditions that never run counter to the spirit of young people. I teach because I understand that broken pedagogy cannot teach young people to be whole. Therefore, my work requires me to invest my efforts as an ally to the village of learners, to cultivate a teaching and learning context that is emancipatory, that invest in young people’s perception of self-worth and that builds a pedagogy of joy.

What do you love about teaching?

Prior to teaching I often guided myself to think critically about what brings out my inner peace? I felt this fear that was birthed out of a pain that maybe came from the gospel, that said, “there are many who die but do not rest in peace”. Even with all the roads in place, I stood at the border of  each pathway of opportunity thinking about why is it that life hasn’t allowed for me to fully crossover into my inner peace? It wasn’t until that special moment when I walked into a classroom as an educator for the first time where I felt like I could finally anchor my spirit, define my purpose in life, create a sustainable me, bring out my inner peace and guide young people to an education that is beyond a set of standards. I love teaching and learning because it has allowed for me to teach within a village of learners that celebrates our existing shared cultural capital as a result of me being Latino, having shared history and common experiences, speaking the same languages, and teaching within my direct community in the South Bronx, NY at the South Bronx Community Charter High School, so that when we exchange through transactions within dialogue, authenticity within the relationships shines through.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Absolutely! In 7th grade, back in 2002, I was blessed with having a math and science teacher who is now one of the nation’s most inspiring educators, Dr. Christopher Emdin. His work on #HipHopEd, Science Genius and Reality Pedagogy is at the intersections of critical pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy. I can’t imagine my world without the inspiration he fills within my vessel of passion for teaching and learning. If I could relive any moment within my life repeatedly, it would be that year when I walked into his class. I speak from the deepest parts of my heart with joy and a sense of caring about the value I have for him for guiding me to see that everything that is out there is already within me. I know that when I was most lost in life, he gave me direction. I am forever thankful for him, and his family.

Honoring Karla Gudiño Avila


Karla Gudiño Avila

High School Math Teacher

Detroit, MI

Karla J. Gudiño Avila was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan, Mexico. At the age of one, her parents brought her to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. They lived in California, worked double shifts to afford the rent, and barely had enough money for food and clothing. In an effort to improve the lives of their children, they eventually moved the family to Detroit, Michigan. They arrived during a snowstorm, did not have warm clothing, and lived in a house without heat or electricity. The family shared one mattress. On top of those conditions, Karla’s father was an abusive alcoholic, who often wasted their money on alcohol. As the oldest child, she assumed the role of a second parent. She wanted to help out economically, but no one would hire her because she was too young. Her parents separated when she was fifteen years old. The family still struggled economically, but there was emotional peace in the home.

Karla knew that the best way to help her mother and siblings was to do well in school, so she could get a good job to help care for the family. After high school, she attended the University of Detroit Mercy. There she earned a Bachelor of Arts and teaching certification in Mathematics, with a minor in Psychology. Her goal was to teach in the community where she lived. She remembers going into the middle school and high schools around the neighborhood to drop off her resume. Since her graduation occurred in December of 2008, she did not anticipate being hired to teach during that school year. To her surprise, a teacher was needed in April of 2009, and she was hired on the spot. Ever since then she has been working at Detroit Cristo Rey High School as a mathematics teacher. She has taught Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry to freshman, sophomores, and juniors. Detroit Cristo Rey is one of thirty schools around the United States in the innovative Cristo Rey Network. Its students work one day a week to pay their tuition. They train in the summer and have an extended school day and school year.  Karla is proud to be a part of the Cristo Rey Network, where every student lives below the poverty line. In addition to teaching, she is currently working on a Master’s Degree at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Why do you teach?

Since I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was be a teacher. I would pretend I was the teacher and my little brothers were my students. I love mathematics and helping others. Mathematics was the only language that I fully understood. I was able to explain math concepts to my classmates, and they encouraged me to become a math teacher. I know math is not everyone’s favorite or easiest subject. I want my students to enjoy math as much as I do and not be afraid of it. Math has given me a way to support my family and to escape the violence that occurs in Detroit. Most importantly, I love to teach mathematics because I know it is a powerful tool for students. It enables them to think critically, raise their ACT scores, earn scholarships, and attend college.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is the feeling that I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students. I get to know many of them and their families. By sharing my experiences with them, they see that it is possible to achieve one’s goals despite the difficulties they face in their daily lives. I push them to do their best and not to quit. I have the privilege of not just teaching subject matter but teaching them about life. I get to see my students grow and become adults. I love when they come back to get college math help or just to talk about how life is going.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I had the privilege of having many great teachers and staff members who inspired, supported, and believed in me. I am grateful to Mr. Grams, Ms. Vega, and other teachers like them, who gave me advice when I needed it, a ride to school, helped me with my studies, or encouraged me with their words of wisdom. They showed me that through hard work and dedication anything is possible. My biggest supporters are my mother, Martha, and my husband, Sergio. They are my number one teachers, who support me on my journey. I hope that I can give to my students what others have given me.