5 examples of personalized learning in action

[For the past ten years I’ve been following the development of Personal Learning (PL). In this eSchoolNews article you’ll discover a new report from iNACOL, the organization that focuses on blended learning.  This month I’ll join my former Carnegie Mellon University student, Sam Franklin, for a workshop on Technology and Personalized Learning. In the past personalized learning put a tremendous burden on the teacher. It was really what Barbara Bray and Kathleen Maclasky called “Individualized Learning.” Today the technology can play a major role to develop playlists, produce immediate feedback, or allow learners to collaborate on projects. In the next ten years PL has the potential to transform our learning system. For the first time everyone can learn on their own pace, at any place or time, and based on their interests.]

BY LAURA ASCIONE, MANAGING EDITOR, CONTENT SERVICES, @ESN_LAURA
February 16th, 2017
Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

As technology becomes more and more ubiquitous in classrooms across the nation, it is easier than ever for students with different learning styles and needs to create personalized learning environments.

A new report from iNACOL gives educators, parents, and policymakers a platform to learn about and advocate for personalized learning in their schools.

The report makes the case that, due to a large opportunity gap, not all students enter college or the workforce with the digital skills they need to succeed. Advocating for personalized learning and involving stakeholders and community members in conversations about personalized learning helps make those learning opportunities more accessible for all students.

“Across the country, communities are coming together to explore deep conversations about how they can better ensure that students will graduate with the knowledge, skills and experiences they need for a well-rounded education and to be prepared for future success,” said Susan Patrick, iNACOL president and CEO. “This report empowers communities, families and educators to understand the potential of how teachers are personalizing learning to help each student get what they need to truly excel and thrive.”

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Future of Educational Technology

This year I had a chance to travel to Orlando for the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC). I spent a good part of my time conducting workshops for Birdbrain Technologies, but I did have time to peruse the Exhibit Hall, hear keynote speakers, and talk with a number of folks who had participated in FETC before. Here are some of my reflections.

Here Comes Virtual Reality

For the opening Keynote Dan Lajerska, the Chairman of EON Reality, Inc, outlined how his Swedish company is moving not only into educational spaces, but commercial ventures. EON provides a very robust tool that will definitely play a role in educational technology. In the Exhibit Hall zSpace brought an RV to demonstrate their technology. However, the most impressive technology for me came from two young Chinese educators who have created “SnapBench.” Up till  now most VR projects are opportunities for learners to consume and be entertained by the novelty of AR. SnapBench provides a creative tool that looks like Minecraft. You can actually create your own VR projects using SnapBench. Where this will lead is really up to the creative user. I can see environmental education, design projects, and other opportunities. In addition to allowing a user to create a virtual representation, SnapBench also provides a 3D printing option – something that no other technology I’ve seen can accomplish.

Teaching to One

Yes, Personalized Learning is on the radar for many schools. Tyler Sussman, the Director of Partnerships for Summit Learning, outlined at the opening keynote the opportunities for schools to tap into the free Summit Learning tool set. Marc Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook not only paid for this project, but they also provided the engineering behind the software tool. Summit Learning now has over 100 schools (grades 6-12) around the country using the software. The tool set is designed to provide not only an encapsulation of what students have done, but it also is designed to allow learners to set goals around careers and post-secondary opportunities. In addition to Summit there were workshops and presentations sharing success stories about Personalized Learning. Other companies, like Pearson  showcased their software in the Exhibit Hall.

STEAMING Ahead

Hummingbird

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

If there’s one focal point that everyone seems to agree upon, it’s the importance of giving all learners active learning experiences that are interdisciplinary and inquiry based. I participated in the Mobile MEGAShare where TechTerra organized 18 stations that FETA participants could sample in six rotations. I worked with one of TechTerra’s gurus to challenge folks to create an animated product in less than 30 minutes using the Hummingbird Robotics Kit from Birdbrain Technologies.  I was amazed how teams of 2-3 educators could meet this challenge using the CREATE Lab’s Visual Programmer. We need to make all entry learning activities as challenging and rewarding as this. Other stations included software from BrainPop (one of the big hits in the Exhibit Hall), robotics from Lego, science inquiry tools from Pittsco, and Virtual Reality from SnapBench. Over 100 people jammed into the meeting room. In addition, at the Exhibit Hall there were dozens of STE(A)M companies. I had a great chance to talk with one of the representatives from SparkFun Electronics. In the past I’ve been involved in eTextile projects that have used the LilyPad from SparkFun. Today they’re a great resource for educators looking for STEAM materials.

Active Learning

David Dulberger FETC

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

While some people are proclaiming the end of interactive whiteboards, SMART Technology has moved forward with new tools that work both with their boards and without them. My wife’s nephew, David Dulberger, did a presentation on SMART Amp, an incredible tool for collaborative, active learning that has engaged David’s 5th grade students at the Emma Doub Elementary School in Maryland. Throughout the exhibit hall there were vendors demonstrating new furniture for active learning. There were also a host of hardware and software products. Everyone seems to realize that active learning leads to Deeper Learning. We need to provide opportunities for learners to move, to get out of their seats, to have flexible solutions, in order to have creative and productive learners. In addition, we need to  make the activities project or problem-based where learners work collaboratively.

School of Me

[This Hechinger Report looks at Personalized Learning where it’s not just the technology that matters, but meeting each student where they are. In my 40+ years of educational experience I’ve seen attempts at individualizing or differentiating instruction. In both cases, it’s about the teacher trying to meet the needs of individual or groups of students. Today, we have technology tools that are beginning to appear. The Summit Public Schools have worked with Facebook to develop a system to track student progress. However, it’s not the technology that makes the essential difference; it’s the teacher working with the student. In a truly personalized learning environment, students have choices based on their interests, knowledge, and skill levels. Teachers play a critical role working with students to address not only deficits, but strengths. Ultimately, we want every student to succeed and become lifelong learners.]

A fifth grader works on a digital lesson as part of a blended learning program. Photo: Meghan E. Murphy

A fifth grader works on a digital lesson as part of a blended learning program. Photo: Meghan E. Murphy

By design, some students go through two years of kindergarten in Middletown, New York.

People associate repeating grades with disastrous consequences. But in the Middletown City School District, the kindergarten repeaters often end up ahead of their peers in later grades — standout students who avoided getting forever labeled as performing “below expectations.” They’ve had the extra instruction they needed, when they needed it. The district has worked to remove the stigma of being “slow,” and has stopped moving children in lockstep through school in grade bands defined by age. They now focus on each child’s individual needs.

“We have proven the fact that all children can learn — and can learn well — under the right instructional circumstances,” said Kenneth W. Eastwood, the district’s superintendent.

About a decade ago, leaders in this public school district nearly 70 miles northwest of New York City decided to radically change the way they provide education to its diverse and academically challenged student body. They decided to “personalize” learning for every child, which means that they tailored lessons to each student’s needs, interests and learning pace. They gave each student access to technology that helps teachers customize their lessons. And they ended social promotion, so that struggling students are no longer shuttled along to the next grade level simply to keep them with the herd of similarly aged classmates.

The shift has coincided with improved test scores and graduation rates.

“I am overwhelmed with joy for my students because I know now they each stand a better chance of being a successful student,” said Regina Trout, who teaches the second-year kindergarteners at Maple Hill Elementary School in Middletown. “When they come to me knowing zero letter recognition — some might not even be able to recognize their own name. And at the end of the year, to just see their growth … I start to get teary.”

And it would not be possible, Trout said, without small-group instruction and the assistance of classroom technology that helps her deliver a custom-fit lesson for each student.

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