Five Popular Education Buzzwords Defined

Those who wish to keep up to date with education — especially parents — might just be put off because of unfamiliar jargon. In the past several years, the growing influence of the education reform movement and the increasing enthusiasm for technology in the classroom have brought about many changes to academic milieu. Those charged with covering and promoting these changes have coined a bewildering number of new buzzwords to describe them. Now, CNN’s Schools for Thought blog covers the five most popular education buzzword terms to allow even education neophytes to get up to speed quickly.

A lot of ink has been shed on the topic of Common Core Standards, considering that it was supposed to be a low-controversy multi-state initiative to work out a set of benchmarks all states could adopt and implement as they chose. Although the Common Core is the work of state academic leaders, opponents see it as an encroachment by the federal government into an area long viewed as the purview of state and local authorities. Still, those objecting their adoption represent a minority, and 45 states – and three territories – have committed to begin testing their students on the Common Core by 2014.

The concepts of flipped classrooms came about as part of an effort to augment the traditional classroom instruction with technology. Many trace the seeds of the idea to the pioneering Khan Academy website with its selection of instructional videos covering topics from mathematics to music. Now, a number of schools are experimenting with the approach, which involves having students learn the material in their own time at home and using class periods for “homework” allowing them to to get individual help from their instructors. The concept isn’t universally embraced. While some schools reported better attendance and test scores in flipped classrooms, other say that since the approach requires access to a computer and broadband internet connection at home, it locks out students from lower-income families.

Gamification is a simple concept to explain but difficult to implement. In short, it means using gaming elements in settings that are not typically games-friendly – like a classroom, for instance. provides an example of using rating tables, quests and badges to mark academic progress as one way to introduce gamification into academics.

Proponents of gamification argue that it’s unrealistic to expect the video game generation to sit quietly in class and absorb information; the old “chalk and talk” method doesn’t work for these students. One way to engage students and help them learn, say gamification advocates, is to deliver the content in a game format. But there are questions about gamification: Is it a student achievement game-changer (no pun intended) or does it undermine intrinsic motivation?

The only confusing part of the popularity of MOOCs, or massive online open courses, is understanding what took them so long to arrive. The first MOOC offered by Stanford University kicked off less than a year ago, and yet its influence spread so widely that it’s hard to believe MOOCs weren’t always there. It is hard to pin down the exact number of MOOCs, free online courses open to anyone with an internet connection, available today, but Coursera alone – a company that was founded by those behind the first Stanford course – offers more than 200.

School choice – The different educational options available to parents and students and the extent to which they can take advantage of these options.  School choice is not a new term, but one that will continue to drive the education conversation this school year, especially around election time. It’s a concept that is politically popular, though some opponents question the fairness of vouchers and some point out mixed reviews on charter schools and student achievement.  For most students, their school is determined by their address.  School choice advocates prefer that parents, not ZIP codes, determine what school their children will attend.