Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S15

Taking Stock of Personalized Learning >
Whittemore Park 6th grader
Jason Bellnier reads from a
projected Web screen to
complete a "performance
task" for a math class.
iPads, adding to the MacBooks that
Ms. Beard had purchased with federal
Title I funding, and the school
upgraded its technology infrastructure
and invested heavily in professional
A 6th grade English/language arts
classroom is a good example of how
the personalized learning program
works. On a rainy September afternoon,
students discussed whether
schools should monitor students'
social-media activities. Along the
sides of the room, students on MacBooks
used the Achieve 3000 differentiated-instruction
to read an article on the topic. All
students read the same piece, but
the software tailored every article
to each student's individual reading
level, set after an assessment by the
program, but which can be changed
by the teacher. In the middle of the
room, some students used iPads to
watch a related cnn video or to respond
to open-ended questions on
the topic.
A data dashboard, created by
Education Elements, a Palo Alto,
Calif.-based for-profit company that
provides blended learning services
and which has guided Whittemore
Park and the district, provides
teachers with a comprehensive look
at student achievement and progress
through the curriculum. It can
organize and analyze the data in a
variety of ways, even by specific academic
Similarly, in Mr. Williams' math
class, students often work independently
on MacBooks using adaptive
curriculum provided by aleks-Assessment
and Learning in Knowledge
Spaces-a McGraw-Hill Education
Sixth grader Christian Wood said
he likes the program because he's
good at math and can move ahead if
he wants to. Each student's math-data
dashboard displays a pie chart of the
category of lessons done and still to do.
Students may choose the category of
lessons to work on and when.
On a Monday, Christian had
already completed three of four
math lessons on a particular topic
required that week. He said the
technology helped him improve his
grades. "I'm not good with organization,
and this automatically turns in
our work," he said.
The school also uses a block schedule,
with 100-minute classes, and a
rotational model. In Mr. Williams'
class, after 25 minutes, a cellphone
alarm rang, and organized chaos ensued:
Students at the middle tables
moved to seats along the wall with
the MacBooks. Students working
there moved to the middle, in front
of the interactive whiteboard with
Mr. Williams. Still another group
left the room to work with a math
teacher down the hall.
There were glitches. Mr. Williams,
for example, realized too many students
were in his room, so some
had forgotten to rotate out. But the
transitions were mostly smooth,
and nearly all the students stayed
on task.
The Good and the Bad
Though Whittemore Park has seen
progress, it's also had more financial
assistance than other schools in the
district are likely to receive. The
initial $150,000 Next Generation
Learning Challenges grant and an
additional $50,000, plus collaboration
with and support from other
school district grantees, have been
critical, Principal Beard said.
Education Elements created
several tools for the school-like a
single sign on for access across educational
programs and a data dashboard-that
are not available at the
high school level. And Whittemore is
also working with several other organizations,
including the Portland,
Maine-based Quaglia Institute for
Student Aspirations, on issues related
to school culture. Most other
schools in the district do not have
those partnerships.
Cross the Waccamaw River and
head southeast toward the beach to
the Horry district's 1,600-student
Socaste High School, and visitors
can watch the newest version of the
personalized learning initiative unfold.
At the end of September, school
officials had just issued Dell Venue
tablets to the majority of students,
though some still didn't have them,
either because parents didn't want
the financial responsibility for loss
or breakage or because of impediments
like student absences.
Teachers, who received the devices
in April, were still working to integrate
them into lessons. Some were
using them throughout each class
period, others only sporadically.
Twenty-five percent of teachers had
been tapped as "superusers" and
mentors for the rest of the staff.
Biology teacher Diane Goshert is
one of those high fliers. Along with
the science equipment, snakes,
tarantula, and family of crested
geckos in her classroom, she has
a cart filled with iPads previously
purchased with grant money. Last
month, students used the iPads and
their tablets, sometimes simultaneously,
to watch video tutorials, complete
lab simulations, and rewrite
class notes.
Ms. Goshert allows students to
choose how they learn the material,
and the technology provides the options.
"Everybody doesn't learn the
same way," she said.
Teachers who are newer to the effort
say they've been working longer
hours and had to overcome anxiety
about the technology. Google Classroom,
a new organizational tool
being used at Socaste, was just released
in August, and teachers had
to scramble to master it before students
got their tablets.
"I am not resisting, but it is difficult
to learn and understand the
technology and the technicalities,"
said global-studies teacher Marty
Jacobs, though his colleagues said
he has actually embraced the
Other teachers say the technology
saves time. Socaste English/language
arts teacher Suzanne Troiani,
who has a technology background,
said programs like Flubaroo
do automatic grading, and
ExitTicket lets teachers
provide quick assessments.
"They can take a quiz in the
beginning of the block [class],
and it can be graded by the end,"
Ms. Troiani said. That information
can inform her instruction almost
immediately. "I feel I can be more
effective commenting and working
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing.
Some parents protested the optional
$50 insurance fee. Schools had
to be rewired for Wi-Fi access, and at
first, the network was overloaded.
For Socaste and the rest of the high
schools, unlike the middle schools,
there is no overall data dashboard to
inform students and teachers and no
single sign on to access the various
subject-based software programs,
a nuisance which several students
complained about. The school has set
up a help desk staffed mostly by students
to make minor tablet repairs
and help both fellow students and
teachers with issues, and the office is
busy with those seeking assistance.
In math teacher Jimmy Bailey's
Algebra 1 class, he used the tablet
to see how many students were answering
problems correctly during a
10-question exercise.
But 9th grader Kacy Ervin didn't
have a device and hunched over the
cracked screen of her smartphone
trying to access the material. Eventually,
she moved to a desktop computer
in the back of the room. Students
can use their own devices, and
the school disassembled its computer
labs and scattered desktops throughout
the classrooms as a backup.
Mr. Bailey, who is still learning
how to use the devices effectively
in his classroom, said Google Classroom
alerted him that the day before,
when a substitute was leading
the class, only five students submitted
their notes as assigned. But
when he tried to use ExitTicket to
assess students, the software wasn't
able to properly grade questions with
explanatory, sentence-style answers.
"The program is going to tell you
you're wrong, no matter what you
write," said Mr. Bailey, as he tried
to reassure students. "The downfall
of this is that it tries to grade
Preparing Teachers First
Whittemore Park itself has worked
through plenty of kinks. The school
uses educational resources from
aleks, Achieve 3000, Discovery Education,
and Compass Odyssey. But
when the Whittemore Park initiative
launched, there was no single sign
on, as there is now for middle schools.
"We were losing so much instructional
time," Principal Beard said.
In addition, with a heavy emphasis
on English/language arts and
Science Project:
To see a science video created
by Whittemore Park Middle
School students, go to
math and the
100-minute block
schedule, something
had to give.
So students get
science and social
studies every other
day, and the curriculum
for those two subjects they're using
is not inherently adaptive. Science
and social studies teachers in those
subjects have had to collect and
piece together their own versions of
adaptive lessons.
Another problem was the infrastructure
of the decades-old building.
When the personalized learning
initiative launched, the Wi-Fi signal
wasn't strong enough to penetrate
walls, and the broadband would
often get overloaded.
"Any time there was a problem,
the children would get off task,
which means behavior issues," Ms.
Beard said. "Then the teachers
would throw up their hands and say
they wanted to go back to the way it
used to be."
But a strategic move nearly everyone
agrees the district has done
right is its investment in professional
development. Teachers at
Whittemore were given their devices
nearly a year before students
were to give them time to prepare.
Not wanting to schedule professional
development after school
hours when teachers were likely to
be tired, educators at Whittemore
instead give up two of their 50-minute
planning periods per week for
professional development related to
the personalization initiative, Ms.
Beard said. It's a move that might
not work in a unionized district, she
acknowledged, where that would
have to be negotiated through a
union contract. But it worked here.
That emphasis on professional
development is echoed across the
district. Teachers at the other middle
and high schools also were given devices
months before students, and
they receive weekly professionaldevelopment
sessions. The district
hired six new digital integration
specialists just for the Personalized
Digital Learning project. Numerous
content-area specialists also provide
regular support.
"What has been a huge benefit is
getting those devices in the hands
of the teachers prior to issuing
them to students and doing a lot
of heavy professional development
before teachers felt the stress of the
kids having the devices in the classrooms,"
said Ms. Cox.
Mr. Williams, who has taught at
Whittemore Park for 15 years, said
the blended learning effort has been
a significant commitment for teachers,
but one that has excited them.
Over the years, "I lost my drive
and passion," he said. "I'm so glad to
be here now. I really feel I'm meeting
the needs of the kids." l
James Jason Lee for Education Week

Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report

Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - SR1
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - SR2
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S1
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S3
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S4
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S5
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S6
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S8
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S10
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S12
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Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S15
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Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S20
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S21
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S22
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S23
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S24
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S25
Education Week - October 22, 2014 - Special Report - S26