Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

GEAR UP for LIFE Staff Overview

Sherry Franklin, Scott Wilson, Leslie Williams, Laura Buxton | Published: November 30th, 2023 by K20 Center


This session provides an overview for staff at site recipients of the 2023 GEAR UP for LIFE project. The session aims to introduce staff to the K20 Center, explain what GEAR UP is, highlight the value of authentic teaching and learning, and communicate the value of college-going culture.

Essential Questions

  • How can the GEAR UP for LIFE grant and the K20 Center support and increase students’ and families’ college and career awareness?

Learning Goals

  • Participants will identify the characteristics and generate questions about K20 and its research-based professional development approaches.

  • Participants will identify characteristics and generate questions about the goals, benefits, and expectations of participation in the GEAR UP for LIFE grant.

  • Participants will apply their understanding of the benefits of going to college to create an image depicting the effects that going to college could have on an individual student they know.

  • Participants will be introduced to upcoming grant events that they can sign up for.

Materials List

  • Presentation Slides (attached)

  • GEAR UP for LIFE Overview infographic (attached; 1 printed on poster-sized paper)

  • GEAR UP for LIFE Overview booklet (attached; 1 per participant)

  • Note Catcher handout (attached; 1 per participant; printed two-sided)

  • Benefits of College Literature Review (attached; 1 per participant; optional)

  • Sticky notes in yellow and blue OR two other different colors (about 1 in each color for each group of 4 participants)

  • Set of instructional strategy cards (1 set per participant)


Welcome participants, and introduce yourself and the session using the attached Presentation Slides.

Display slide 3. Introduce the Snap, Clap, Pop strategy to establish a sense of community, to model a K20 LEARN strategy, and to introduce the authentic teaching and learning guiding this professional development. Tell participants, "The following activity is an example of an engaging and rigorous instructional strategy you can use in your own classroom. This entire overview session is embedded with other strategies you’ll find appropriate for modifying with your own content."

One by one, ask participants to join you for an icebreaker. Tell participants, “If you’ve attended a K20 event or PD before, give a wave!” Continue through the following list, having participants listen and join in for what applies to them:

  • Do you think quality PD involves modeling strategies? — Say, “Here, here!”

  • Do you teach social studies or ELA? — Pose like you’re writing an essay or story.

  • Do you teach science or math? — Pose like you’re pondering on a problem.

  • Do you teach another subject? — Act out your subject.

  • Do you think learning should be engaging and relevant? — Say, “I do!”

  • Were you a first-generation college student? — Say, “Cheers!”

  • Did you participate in GEAR UP as a student? — Clap your hands.

  • Have you participated in GEAR UP in another capacity? — Shout out your position.

  • Do you KNOW Bigfoot is real? — Do your best holler!

After this activity, go to slide 4 and share the session objectives with participants.


Transition to slide 5. Have participants divide into small groups (or pairs). Have participants look at the small infographic on pages 2–3 of their GEAR UP for LIFE Overview Booklets. Point out to the participants that the infographic is best read starting with the mission statement at the top of the page and to the right, moving clockwise as they read.

Pass out a copy of the attached Note Catcher to each participant. Introduce the I Notice, I Wonder instructional strategy, and point out the corresponding I Notice, I Wonder section of the Note Catcher. Assign each group either the left side or the right side of the infographic and have groups record what they notice (true statements) and wonder (questions they have) about their assigned side of the infographic. Share the following as examples:

  • I notice that the K20 Center is centered around collaboration with the university, community, and school.

  • I wonder how the community is involved in the collaboration piece.

Give participants three minutes to look over their side of the infographic and record their responses.

If desired, display the K20 Center timer to time participants.

Go to slide 6. Ask groups to select ONE statement they noticed and ONE question they wondered about. Have groups record their “I Notice” statement on a sticky note of one color and their “I Wonder” questions on a sticky note of the other color.

Once they have finished, invite all groups up to place their sticky notes on the appropriate half of the GEAR UP for LIFE Overview Infographic poster.

After all groups have posted their I Notice, I Wonder statements, display slide 7. Look over the sticky notes and use participants’ notes to start a whole-group discussion. Ask participants to share what they noticed and wondered about the K20 Center. Mention common points or connections across the “I notice” and “I wonder” statements. As you address questions, you might find it useful to provide more information about other general K20 services that will be offered during the grant.

Display slide 8. Explain that the K20 Center is an educational research and development center that provides professional developments to educators across the state. Point out the IDEALS and explain that the acronym stands for Inquiry, Discourse, Equity, Authenticity, Leadership, and Student-Centered Learning Climate.

Display slide 9. Use the sticky notes to transition into a conversation about the GEAR UP for LIFE grant. Explain that the K20 Center is a statewide research and development center. K20’s mission is to advance leadership and learning through authentic experiences, educational resources, technology integration, college and career readiness, and community connections that innovate and transform education.

Transition to slide 10 and share the cohort model on the slide. Inform participants that GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. Explain that GEAR UP is a federal grant with a competitive application process and that participating schools have a 50% free and reduced lunch rate. The cohort starts in 6th grade and follows students through their freshman year of college. Share with participants that, during these seven years, students and teachers will participate in events like campus visits, college and career events, Counselor Academy, and ADEPT.

Display slide 11 and direct participants to the infographic map in their GEAR UP for LIFE booklet on page 9. Explain that the GEAR UP for LIFE grant is a partnership between the K20 Center and 27 rural schools in Oklahoma. The K20 Center provides professional development and services for teachers, students, leaders, and parents. The grant will directly impact 8,258 students, and will increase student learning and engagement throughout the next 7 years. Additionally, inform participants that LIFE stands for Learning and Investigating Future Education.

Display slide 12. Use participants' sticky notes to guide a whole-group discussion about what participants notice and wonder about college benefits to students.

Transition to slide 13. Point out the four main benefits expanded upon in the infographic:

  • Personal economic good refers to outcomes that have a positive effect on students financially. These outcomes might affect salary differentials or employment opportunities. A bachelor's degree can allow a student to earn $1 million more than a high school graduate over the course of their career.

  • Public economic good refers to ways in which college graduates benefit the financial status of the community, region, state, or nation in which they live. These benefits might include things such as taxes, charitable contributions, or filled jobs.

  • Personal social capital relates to a person's individual development. This can cover a broad range of skills like critical thinking, understanding of international perspectives, and interpersonal skills.

  • Public social capital refers to the social benefits to a community. This can include civic engagement, building a community of shared values, and involvement in nonprofits, teaching, and healthcare.

Display slide 14. Use the sticky notes once more to discuss with the group what the participants notice and wonder about research-based approaches.

Transition to slide 15. Point out the following approaches on the infographic:

  • Authentic learning

  • 5E Lessons

  • Professional Developments (PD)

  • Instructional Strategies

  • Tech Tools

  • Tech-Integrated Strategies

Emphasize that all approaches are centered around research. This includes working to improve and modify practices through feedback, surveys, and research studies.

Wrap up this activity by answering any sticky note questions you may have missed.


After discussing the GEAR UP for LIFE Overview Infographic, invite participants to condense information about the grant's elements into individual, meaningful, "bite-sized" connections.

Go to slide 16 to review GEAR UP for LIFE. Introduce the 3-2-1 instructional strategy. Have participants record the following on their Note Catchers:

  • 3: Record three student benefits of postsecondary opportunities or college.

  • 2: Identify two benefits LIFE will have for your school.

  • 1: Think of one student or group of students you envision this grant affecting (write a pseudonym or description).

If participants need help, encourage them to reference their GEAR UP for LIFE Overview Booklets.

If desired, display the K20 Center timer for participants.


Transition to slide 17. Invite participants to see success stories from students and teachers for whom GEAR UP grants have made a difference. Show the video “GEAR UP Overview.”

Go to slide 18. Ask participants to think deeply about the one student (or group of students) they chose in the 3-2-1 activity by considering these questions:

  • How will this partnership make a difference for your student(s)?

  • What does that difference look like in your mind’s eye?

After participants have reflected, have them share their answers at their table or with the whole group. Then, have them look at the GEAR UP for LIFE picture frame and the Starfish Story on the bottom portion of their Note Catchers. Ask participants to follow along as you read the story aloud to the whole group.

After reading the story, reinforce to participants that this GEAR UP grant can benefit and provide opportunities for all students. However, keeping particular students in mind helps us give meaning and a personal connection to this large influx of sitewide changes.

Go to slide 19. Inform participants that this partnership will have an incredible and positive effect on all students, but some will be affected more than others. Inside the picture frame, ask participants to draw a one-frame Cognitive Comic that shows how the GEAR UP for LIFE grant will make a difference for the student(s) they have in mind. This snapshot will be a memento that each participant can take with them and keep tucked away somewhere safe in their classroom to remind them of the important and meaningful work they are doing. Provide a brief amount of time for those who want to share their Cognitive Comics. If desired, display the K20 Center timer for participants as they work.


Display slide 20 and introduce the participants to the scheduled events they should attend. Start by introducing ADEPT (Authenticity and Discourse for Engagement using Pedagogy and Technology). Explain that the overarching goal of ADEPT is to equip educators with the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver rigorous and engaging learning experiences. This program calls on two teacher leaders from each cohort school to undergo a yearlong professional experience focused on a student-centered, constructivist learning approach. These teachers attend an in-person summer institute and have quarterly interactions with an instructional coach. Additionally, they receive an honorarium, or payment, for their participation.

Display slide 23 and introduce Counselor Academy. Explain that Counselor Academy aims to equip counselors with skills to build partnerships, provide valuable information, and facilitate college readiness for students and families.

Display slide 22 and introduce OETT. Explain that OETT provides schools with technology grants to support students with technology and skills. Inform participants that the next OETT grant cycle will start in early November and run until early February.

Display slide 23. Inform participants that the first step to applying for an OETT grant is for their administrators to attend OETT/OK-ACTS Phase 1: Leadership. Explain that this three-day seminar brings administrators together to learn from the K20 Center and from each other. Attendees learn skills to promote authentic technology integration and build strong professional learning communities at their schools. OK-ACTS expands leaders' technology skills and creates a collaborative network where participants and K20 professionals collaborate, problem-solve, and work toward systemic change. Upon completing Phase 1: Leadership, their districts/schools are eligible to apply for up to a $40,000 technology grant. Encourage administrators to use the QR code and link on the slide to sign up.

Display slide 24. Have participants fill out the survey to receive information on the event they might be interested in attending. Encourage participants to look at pages 5-8 in their booklets for a full list of services provided in this partnership.

If time allows, go to slide 25 to showcase the K20 LEARN website and the resources available for participants to use in their own classrooms. Have participants reflect on the four strategies used in this PD (also listed in the slide) and fill out the Instructional Strategy Note Sheet in the back of their GEAR UP for LIFE Overview Booklets, thinking about how each strategy was used and how they could it in their classrooms. Pass out a set of instructional strategy cards to each participant.

Display slide 26. Have participants complete the session evaluation form.

Research Rationale

See the attached Benefits of College Literature Review.

The stakeholders working within the GEAR UP grant to support the partnership between the district and the K20 Center are crucial to the implementation of GEAR UP services. Welcoming and priming these stakeholders for a new program is important. It not only establishes buy-in, but introduces the K20 Center and its mission, approach, and ideals, as well as the GEAR UP program and its goals. Promoting inquiry throughout the session allows participants to explore this relationship, helping them discern how the K20 Center and GEAR UP program work together to establish in schools the college- and career-going culture that leads to life-altering benefits for students, families, and the larger school community.


Eiseley, L. C. (1978). The star thrower. New York: Times Books.

K20 Center. (n.d.). 3-2-1. Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.) Cognitive comics. Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). GEAR UP overview. [Video]. YouTube.

K20 Center. (n.d.). I notice, I wonder. Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). Snap, clap, pop. Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). Timer.