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The most revealing stories about education originate inside schools – the places where teachers and principals must thrive within the realities of budgets and the communities they serve.
Teachers and principals are interested in what works – in schools that look like their own. What works in one place might not fit in another. That’s what makes the new partnership of Summit Public Schools, a California-based charter school network, Facebook and 19 public schools across the country so interesting. The partners represent urban, suburban and rural schools. And don’t miss this nugget: Fifteen of the 19 schools partnering with the charter school network are not charter schools.
My story last week at The Hechinger Report (“A technology team from Facebook works to serve classroom teachers”) explained how the technology works and gave the names of the schools involved in the technology-sharing project. Here are snapshots from three distinctly different schools taking part in the program.
Pomeroy Elementary in Milpitas, California
Sheila Murphy-Brewer, the school leader, said the staff began using blended learning about two years ago. They began with what is known as a “station rotation,” a model where, generally speaking, students move around the classroom on a timed schedule, among stations computer-based lessons, group projects and teacher-led instruction. A switch to personalized learning, which provides on-level lessons and allows students more choice in how they progress, seemed to be a natural next step, Murphy-Brewer said.
Alicia Fazal, a parent of two children at the school, said she has noticed her children are taking more “ownership” over the school day. And her daughter has thrived in an environment where she can move through lessons at her own pace. “She isn’t compared to all the other students,” name said. “She is really self-conscious about that.”
Carter Lomax Middle School in Pasadena, Texas
Norma Penny, the school leader, said the school has been working for several years to use research-based strategies to improve learning and had successfully established technology-rich classrooms. But, disappointingly, she said, they didn’t find “the success we hoped for and we were short on time and short on funds.” Vickie Vallet, director of instructional technology with Pasadena Independent School District, heard about the work of Summit Public Schools in California, and suggested it might offer a solution. The technology platform offered through the new partnership, called the Personalized Learning Platform, provides “one spot where we have all the data and information in real time,” Vallet said. It’s a benefit to stand on the shoulders of another school doing this work because, Vallet said, “we don’t have the resources to build this type of tool.”
Truesdell Education Campus in Washington, D.C.
Mary Ann Stinson, Truesdell’s school leader, said that the staff has finished laying the groundwork for improving the results and reputation of their elementary school. They’ve had success – growing enrollment from 364 to 600 students, she said. The next step in enhancing the school will be harder than the early work of organizing staff and rallying around a common mission, Stinson said. They must continue to improve teaching and learning, and Stinson said her staff is convinced that personalized learning is the solution.
“We see how it will benefit all the kids – not just those in the middle,” said Adam Zimmerman, director of operations, culture and innovation, adding: “You are not just feeding kids the answers anymore.”
This all sounds great. But will it lead to lasting changes? Anyone with experience in schools knows that flash-in-the-pan fads can lead to beleaguered teachers, parents and students.
To address that issue of how to avoid that here-today, gone-tomorrow phenomenon, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (aka iNACOL) is hosting an Oct. 15 webinar, free and open to the public. The online training session will include classroom teachers who have ideas on how to sustain the momentum of blended learning programs.
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A surprise to many followers of blended learning policy developments was the resignation last week of Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director of the education program at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. In a statement released Oct. 8 (“Stepping aside to dig deeper: My next career move”) Horn wrote: “I will continue to do some research and writing for the Institute, and I will be a sounding board for the team as a board member and distinguished fellow. But a significant focus in my next stage of life will be to work with a portfolio of education companies in a variety of board and advisory roles to help shape the future of education in ways that I could not as executive director, while also continuing to write and speak on the future of education.” Julia Freeland Fisher will become the director of the education program at the institute. Thomas Arnett will focus on blended learning and the role of teachers. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to advise Julia and Tom in a formal capacity,” Horn wrote.
You can keep up with developments and issues in blended learning by reading my free Blended Learning Newsletter. To have a copy delivered to your inbox each Tuesday, sign up here for a free subscription, and invite a friend to subscribe.