Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014 - 10
Tom Dodge/Columbus Dispatch
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 9
Schoeff, left, and
make a DNA model
out of candy in a
science class at
Darby High School,
part of the Hilliard
city school district
An Ohio district's 'learning menus' give students
choices about how they will learn class material
hen the science department at
Darby High School outside Columbus, Ohio, received new iPads two
years ago, the devices came with a
challenge from the school's principal: Make classroom instruction look different.
The result has been new student "learning menus"
that offer "voice and choice" via the chance to decide
among a variety of assignments and activities to
meet class requirements, said Mike McDonough,
the 16,000-student Hilliard City district's director of
"The resounding response from students is that
they feel like they have ownership of their learning,"
Mr. McDonough said.
That's just one example of an emerging trend in
educational technology. Sometimes called "curriculum playlists," the idea is pulled from other sectors
of society in which content is "unbundled" so that
users can reassemble the pieces according to their
It's iTunes meets public school, said John Bailey, the
executive director of Digital Learning Now!, a digitallearning advocacy group based in Tallahassee, Fla.
"The same way you and I might like most of what's
on a [music] album, but might want a couple different songs, the same is true for teachers," Mr. Bailey
said. "They want to be able to pull resources from
pbs, from publishers, and from other teachers."
As experimentation with learning menus is still
new, many questions about academic rigor, developmental appropriateness for different ages, and
best practices remain to be answered about this approach, according to educators.
Sometimes, as at Darby High, teachers are solely
responsible for pulling the learning menus together.
For a recent science lesson on continental drift, for
example, all students were required to complete a
guided note-taking activity, answer questions about a
video, and complete an exercise about plate tectonics.
But they had their choice of assessments and could
select whether to do a puzzle activity, a virtual lab, or
a custom-made geography challenge in order to complete the lesson requirements.
"Students appreciate that [approach] and find it
items covering basic facts and vocabulary.
Eventually, Mr. Kilty will use the resulting digital
data to make a basic instructional adjustment: sorting
his students into groups. As part of the new hybrid
model, most students are required to attend the faceto-face portion of his class just three days a week. But
those who are "red-flagged" in the peak12 reports for
not spending enough time reading online or for poor
quiz performance are required to attend every day.
Ms. Heritage of cresst questioned the educational
value of that approach as it was described to her. Too
often, she and other experts maintain, formative assessment is seen as little more than pop quizzes and "minisummative assessments," neither of which provide highquality data on what students are thinking, learning,
and doing. The quiz items from the Reconstruction unit
of the K12 curriculum, Ms. Heritage said, "don't tap into
deeper learning and don't tell what a child has or hasn't
learned or is on the cusp of achieving."
"This seems to be an example of using digital technology for its own sake and actually taking away from the
richness of the classroom," she concluded.
Depth vs. Breadth
much better than the traditional drill-and-kill or
lecture models," Mr. McDonough said.
Because customizing daily or weekly playlists for
dozens of students isn't always possible, software
often plays a role, too; some tools make it easier for
teachers to curate content, Mr. Bailey said, while others, like Knewton or Read 180, use algorithms to tailor their offerings to individual students.
"I don't know if there are any platforms where
the algorithms overrule a teacher's judgment," Mr.
Bailey said, "but having a tool that can get you 70
percent there frees teachers to spend more time on
Karen Cator, a former Apple executive who previously managed the U.S. Department of Education's
office of educational technology, said the learning
menu or playlist approach is tailor-made for the Internet age.
"We can only leverage all the content online if we
can come up with better ways of organizing it," said
Ms. Cator, who currently heads the Washingtonbased nonprofit Digital Promise.
"Curating content playlists helps teachers ensure
that there's relevant material for today," she said,
citing teachers who pulled together for their students readings, content, activities, and math challenges related to the Winter Olympics.
In Hilliard, 600 middle and high school students
have used the learning menus over the past two
years, and the practice has started to spread from
the science department to other subjects.
Other schools doing similar work include the Summit Public Schools charter network in California and
the School of One in New York City, Mr. Bailey said.
The key, he maintained, is making sure the variety of available materials is rich enough to provide
differentiated options to students not just based on
their skill levels, but on their learning styles and
"Just the right content in just the right way at just
the right time," Mr. Bailey said. "That's the hope." n
Mr. Kilty doesn't entirely disagree, saying the digital
curricula from K12 is only "an inch deep" and acknowledging that the formative-assessment data he receives
in the form of usage statistics and quiz grades provide
only broad strokes of information about his students.
But for real teachers faced with real classroom constraints, Mr. Kilty said, that information is quite useful, especially because of the fast and user-friendly way
in which the peak12 system makes it available. Now, he
said, he can determine before class even starts if strug-
It's not about
digital tools. It's
about helping them
embrace a different
way of teaching."
National Center for Research
on Evaluation, Standards,
& Student Testing
University of California, Los Angeles
gling students have fallen behind because of a lack of
effort or a lack of comprehension. That allows him to
tailor his interventions for those students without losing precious face-to-face time with the rest of the class.
As a result, Mr. Kilty said, he can focus those sessions on what he believes really matters: the skills
required of historians, such as analyzing primarysource documents, and the skills embodied in the
new Common Core State Standards, such as constructing and writing persuasive arguments.
During the recent third-period lesson, Mr. Kilty
quickly reminded students about the online readings
and quizzes that were due later that week, offering encouragement to individual teenagers based on what the
peak12 system has told him of their progress.
Then he quickly thrust the class into their task
for the day.
"You're going to play the role of a lawyer," Mr. Kilty
told his students. "First, you need to find constitutional
evidence for why the legislative branch should be the
one to control Reconstruction."
As the students dove into the text of the document
PAGE 12 >
>> MARCH 13, 2014
Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014
Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014 - 1
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Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014 - Contents
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