Webinar Date: February 27,2014
New software and blended learning environments are enabling districts to implement personalized learning on a scale never before possible. New school structures in which classroom teachers and innovative learning technology engage students in more personalized ways hold some of the greatest potential for raising student AYP in mathematics particularly at the elementary level.
Attend this web seminar to hear how an experienced administrator implemented a personalized blended learning approach in her elementary school and has seen impressive and measurable growth in engagement and achievement in mathematics. Participants will learn ways to make learning more personal for elementary school students. Learn ideas for meeting the needs of each student and using new learning technologies effectively to help students become great critical thinkers.
Topics will include:
How to implement a blended learning model
Using data effectively to drive math achievement
Strategies for professional development in blended learning
- Cynthia White - Principal at Cleveland Elementary School, California
Kurt: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s District Administration web seminar. My name is Kurt Eisele-Dyrli. I’m the magazine’s Web Seminar Editor, and I’ll be your moderator. The title of today’s event, as you see here, is “Engaging Math Learners and Improving Achievement Through Blended Learning.” And it is being brought to you free of charge by our sponsor, DreamBox Learning.
New software and blended learning environments are enabling districts to implement personalized learning on a scale never before possible. New school structures hold some of the greatest potential for raising student achievement in mathematics, particularly at the elementary level. Today, we’ll be hearing from an experienced administrator who implemented a personalized blended learning approach in her elementary school and has seen impressive and measurable growth in engagement and achievement in mathematics.
But before we begin, some brief housekeeping notes here for you. This is, of course, the WebEx platform, and you’ll notice panels for communicating with us are on the right side of your screen. If you’re having any trouble listening through your computer’s speakers or if you prefer to listen over the telephone, you can click that Request Telephone button that you see under your name in the Attendee panel on the top right there. That will give you a phone number and an access code. We’ll also post those numbers in the Chat panel that you see in the middle right of your screen there. Speaking of that Chat panel, you can also use that to send a message to our host and producer, her name is Kylie Lacey, about any technical issues you may be having.
If you have a question for our speakers, we ask that you use the Q&A panel that you see there in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. You can please send your question to all panelists. That is the default option. Feel free to enter a question at any time during the presentation. We’ll answer as many as possible when we get to the Q&A session towards the end of the seminar. Also, our speaker slide decks will be available for you to download. And the archive recording of today’s presentation will also be available for you to review or forward to your colleagues, but I’ll tell you more about that a little bit later on.
So with that out of the way, on to our program. Our presenters today are Cynthia White. She’s Principal of Cleveland Elementary School in the Santa Barbara USD in California. Also, we have Tim Hudson. He’s Senior Director of Curriculum Design for DreamBox Learning. Cynthia is going to start us off, talk about her experience there at Cleveland Elementary. So at this point, I will turn it over to her. Cynthia, we’re so glad to have you with us. Welcome to today’s web seminar.
Cynthia: Thank you, Kurt, and hello, everyone. My name is Cynthia While, and I’m the principal of Cleveland Elementary School. And I used blended learning or personalized learning to turn around Cleveland Elementary School. So I’m going to give you a little bit of context about the school. I am in the unique position to have started my educational career as a kindergarten teacher in 1983 at Cleveland Elementary School, and at that time, it was a high-performing school. And subsequently, over time, between the time I left Cleveland Elementary School and then had the unique opportunity to return here as the principal for those past six years, there was a straight drop in scores. And so I would say that this school was underperforming. In fact, it was the lowest performing school in the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the second-lowest performing school in the county.
It’s a high poverty school. We’re considered a Provision 2 school, which means that our poverty level is over 85 percent. It’s a 75 percent English learner school. And through we’re 75 percent English learner, we have very few new-to-the-system students. So most of our students have been here since preschool or before that but their families are non-English speakers. The school had been sorely, sorely neglected. It had not been deep-cleaned here for maybe 18 years. And so it was dirty. It was smelly. The landscaping was in terrible shape, and the technology in the school was circa about 1993. And so subsequently, morale was terrible at the school with the teachers and the students, and they really needed something to change up everything that had been going on here.
So as an incoming principal, I actually had previously been the Director of Curriculum for this district, and so I was well aware of what was going on at the school. And so I started out by looking at what was a relative strength. And so a relative strength for the school was math. And so I had been aware of DreamBox, which is an adaptive online learning program. And I’d tried to get my colleagues around the district to try it, but it’s expensive. And so—but I’m going to get to the point in the presentation where I tell you why the cost of it is really not expensive in comparison to the outcomes that you’re going to get with your students. And so we have, locally, a professor named Bill Jacobs, and he was one of the consultants for DreamBox, which is one of the reasons I knew about this. And so he developed a program aligned with the Common Core State Standards called Context for Learning. So the models that are being used in DreamBox were also learning as a professional development and a way for implementing Common Core State Standards.
Because morale was bad, I did have the really great factor that the teachers at the school were willing to make a change. And also, wireless Internet infrastructure had just been installed 18 months ago, the summer before I started as a principal here. In addition, students in the upper grades were using a program called Read 180, which has an adaptive learning component to it. So the idea of using adaptive or personalized or individualized learning was really not new at least to the upper grade teachers. And as I mentioned, I knew about DreamBox, and I knew that many very high-performing programs around the country were using this platform.
So that’s where we started. And even though—so I’m putting right back at you the challenges, because one of the challenges was the technology infrastructure. Wireless Internet had just been installed. And so, as you know, when you have a new installation of something like that, it can be buggy. And we had upload/download speed issues, and so our pipe wasn’t large enough to bring in what we needed to have all of our students online at the same time. The hardware, as I mentioned was about 1993. And even though I had this idea that teachers wanted to change because things had been going downhill for the prior six years, the idea of moving from a traditional model to a blended model was, you know, not what they thought would be the best way to move forward. So I had to sell this, and I also needed to get School Site Council buy-in in order to move to a blended learning model. And I needed messaging to the parent community about why it was important to have an adaptive technology and why we’d be moving to the blended model.
So our School Site Councils in California, like schools across the country, we receive federal money, Title I and Title III. And because we were such a high-poverty school, we’re a school-wide school. So the money didn’t have to be targeted specifically to any student. It could be a large-scale change. So our School Site Councils are comprised of teachers and parents and can be community members and myself, and they are the decision-makers about how the federal and state funding that we received are made. So I really had a big job in pitching let’s try this and why it’s going to help us and what kind of changes we can make with a blended model.
And so the blended models that I looked for from teachers was during a three-group rotation so that it was small-group with the teacher, an independent rotation, and then a rotation on technology. And so I needed to talk and convince the teachers and the parents and the community that this was going to be a good model. So I started out with this idea that it was going to be a three-group rotation, and one of the rotations would be a blended model. So I’m talking about this adaptive personalized model using DreamBox, which is different than topic-based software.
So traditional models with our teachers, even if they were using a three-group rotation, they weren’t using the technology with a topic-based software. So in other words, if they were doing two-digit by two-digit multiplication, they wanted a software to do two-digit by two-digit. And so it was changing that premise and moving to how does the technology fit into it, making sure that we were doing a really strong model of instruction at the teacher level and that it was rigorous and that it was relevant. And I think that’s one thing that you’ll find in an adaptive program like DreamBox, is that there is the ability to monitor for the pacing, and the models are exciting. In fact, DreamBox became actually the preferred activity for all the students at my school.
Another piece of my instructional model was that we were going to use data and professional development to change the academic trajectory and outcome of the students. And so programs that are adaptive technology allow you to see very individually and very personally what’s happening with each child so that you can remediate difficulties that they’re having at any point as they are moving forward. So they needed to know and understand how to use the data from the technology. And so that—I needed to provide the professional development coaching. Again, that was part of the funding source that I needed to put into place with School Site Council and convincing parents, teachers and community members on the council that this was a direction to move in.
So what I did start with was I asked who wants to pilot DreamBox, and I needed a grade level. So the pilot started with the third grade. And they took it up, and of course, for about a month, they kept saying, “Nothing’s happening. Nothing’s happening.” And so that was then my job to go online and say, “You know, actually, let’s look at each one of these students and how they’re progressing.” Within six months, the teachers were so excited about how, okay, the third graders were primarily starting work at first and kindergarten standards. And so they weren’t seeing any difference when they were trying to teach third-grade standards. They weren’t seeing any difference, like they still didn’t get it. They still had to break it down. They still had to do all very, very intensive scaffolding to get students at our third-grade level then to work at a third-grade level, and they were struggling. But within six weeks, all of a sudden, because they’re working on this adaptive technology and the students’ skills were moving up from kindergarten to first and second grade. All of a sudden, there’s a lot of a-ha moments going on in third-grade math instruction.
So because I piloted with third grade, it was really the third grade teachers that sold the program to the rest of the staff. And so by April of last year, 87 percent, which meant all of my teachers but one, were able to be on the DreamBox platform. And the one teacher that wasn’t on the platform had iPads, and of course, now, the DreamBox technology is iPad-compatible. I also hired what I’m calling a home/school technology liaison because a push with the parents was to get kids on the DreamBox platform for 20 minutes a day as homework. So we started moving at that point last year from homework that was paper-driven homework or packet-driven homework, which it had been previously at the school, to digital homework. So instead of working on the third-grade standard, let’s work on the standards that the child can’t do so that we’re not working at a struggle level. We’re working at their challenge level.
So that meant that I needed to get support from parents to get the platform on their technology at home. And we have a program here in Santa Barbara County that provides used computers that have been refurbished to the Grade 4 through sixth grade students. So previously, very few of the students had taken up this idea of getting one of these free computers, because they couldn’t find a safe place at home, or Cox Internet was too expensive. But this past year, Cox joined many of the Internet technology providers with the Connect to Compete program. So Internet for all of my students, because I’m a Provision 2 school or a Title I school, is $10 a month. And I know that that Connect to Compete idea is being promoted across the country. I think a majority of the cable companies are providing that.
So since we started the DreamBox program and this idea of digital homework and having a school/home technology liaison who goes, actually, into the homes and sets up the technology if it’s not set up for them or now that DreamBox is tablet- and iPad-compatible, parents are bringing those tablets in, and our home/school technology liaison sets it up for them and shows them how to get on. So I have support for parents and students at home to provide them with that individualized, personalized learning at home as well as at school. So on our year-round school and it’s really important that our inter sessions or our breaks, because we’re a 45-15, that students continue to work online and continue to work in this personalized environment.
I also have an instructional coach and an RTI coach. So I’m paying for support for the teachers with the data, the teachers with the model. And then when it’s not working, with this three-group protection, inside the classroom—because my class size in Grades 4 to 6 is 33. So it’s not like we have these tiny little classrooms here in California. We have big classrooms. And my third-grader classrooms are 29 and 30, so I’ve got big classrooms. And so the RTI coach if there are students that can’t manage that rotation. They go to the RTI coach during the time that we’re doing the rotations.
I’ve developed a partnership with my after-school program. So the after-school program is also providing time for students to go onto the platform. So I have 100 students. My population here is 400 students, but 100 of those students stay until 6 p.m. So they get access now to DreamBox after school through the after-school program. And that wasn’t the easiest thing to shift, because the after-school program runs independently from my program, and they had their own curricular ideas. But we’ve now worked it out that the students get that time after school as well.
And I’ve been providing ongoing professional development through the coach, and for example, DreamBox offered us an online webinar to help us with the data. And I have kind of tacked experts as well on campus that support the teachers and the parents who need support with how to look at what the students are doing and whether they’re meeting their minutes online, because it’s really a recommended 20 minutes a day. So starting with the pilot, having support at all levels was I think one of the reasons that by April of last year, we were meeting kind of the parameters that DreamBox looks for for getting the types of outcomes that we achieved.
So in terms of outcomes—and in California, we have the Academic Performance Index and it’s called the API, and the state sets a target for us. And so this was the first year for me taking over the school, and I kind of expected either to make a couple points gain or I don’t know, a flat line, but I was hoping not to go negative. But because I had this mathematics program, I was—we went up 15 points. And for English learners, it was actually 18 points. So that’s one outcome. Another outcome is our students are measured on the California Standards Test as advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, or far below basic. I actually had, last year, no student score in the far below basic category in mathematics.
Just an artifact of having started it last year, this year at our first conference period in September, the teachers, pretty universally, without even me asking for this, started using the DreamBox reports as part of the conference. And so they were able to really talk about very specifically which standards they needed to work on to get to grade level. And I had a teacher come up to me and say, “You know, this is the first time in my 18-year career that I feel like I’m standing in two separate worlds: my traditional world of the things I know about my students’ learning; and then I’m also standing on some very accurate data that I can give to parents.” And so DreamBox is currently the most preferred activity, so our students—even in our most at-risk students—DreamBox is the most preferred activity. So if a student earns some free time, it’s DreamBox that they’re asking for. And DreamBox was used with our students with special needs, our English learners and our general ed students. And parent buy-in has been so great that we just had a jog-a-thon, and what the parents bought for the top performers were tablets, because they wanted students to have that digital access to the platform.
So if you have any questions—I am seeing that one of the questions is what is RTI. RTI is response to instruction, so response to instruction or response to the intervention. And that’s—we use that here in California as response to intervention, but I know it’s response to instruction in other parts of the country. So thank you for listening to my story, and I’m going to turn it over I guess to Tim.
Kurt: Okay. It looks like Tim Hudson may have lost his phone there. Let’s see. We’ll wait for Tim to dial back in. It should just be a moment here. To our audience, if you could just hang on just a second here, we’ll get Tim in just a moment here. There we go. Time, you’re with us.
Tim: Thank you so much, Cynthia. I just hit the wrong button there for a second. So yeah, you see Cynthia’s contact information down there at the bottom. I really want to thank Cynthia for being with me on this conference today and for sharing the great work that you’ve done. Those are amazing results. I think it’s a phenomenal story to revisit the school that you first taught at as a kindergarten teacher and have a chance to really make some meaningful changes and improvements that benefited all of your learners. At DreamBox, of course, we’re happy to partner with all of our schools, and we really view it as a partnership. Cynthia talked about those implementation realities and every school across the country that’s using DreamBox and even internationally has to take a look at their current infrastructure, their technology infrastructure, their budget, teacher readiness, PD.
And Cynthia, I just really love how you’ve considered all of those things and were really thoughtful and a deliberate leader to help get a few teachers on board to think differently about learning, about blended learning. I love that there was—I mean, one of the biggest implementation realities is that professional development need, is that mindset need. To think about the 18-year veteran who’s thinking and living sort of in two different worlds. Teachers are lifelong learners as well, and having a learning community where you can try new things and take those calculated risks in support and pursuit of reaching all students is so valuable.
Some of the mindsets you discussed too that are implementation realities as well, the idea of topic-based software. And I’ll be talking a little bit about that as we move forward. I really like how you discussed the expectation of immediate result that if students had used DreamBox or any software for a couple of weeks and thinking, “Why have I not seen movement?” There is that—that sort of goes along the lines with the topic-based software idea that we expect, “Oh, well, they learned something about adding fractions, and it took them two days. So now they should be good to go.” And that’s often how we treat things in the classroom, and learning isn’t like that. Learning is complicated. Understanding takes time to develop. We need learners to engage with ideas in meaningful ways over the course of time to really deeply understand.
And I’ll also be talking about that here in a second, but when you were describing that, I was thinking about this potato experiment my kids have at the house. They put potatoes in a cup of water, and I think we’re expecting to see roots grow. And my daughter had a strawberry plant. And we watered it every day and gave it sunlight, and nothing happens for a very long time. And I love that third grade teachers under your leadership really thought deliberately and took a look at the data to see what kids were doing and how the gaps in learning from first and second grade were being addressed in meaningful ways when kids were working on DreamBox and engaged in it because it was at their just-right level.
So what I want to do now is go up to a little bit of a higher level. Often, when we’re talking about blended learning, personalized learning, which is what Cynthia and her staff have been working on, there’s—I’m going to talk a little more sort of high-level theory as we move back from the implementation realities that Cynthia just shared. This is a tweet from David Warlick who’s a phenomenal speaker, a great thinker and blogger in education and technology. If you ever have a chance to speak, I would highly encourage it. I heard him for the first time, gosh, maybe six or seven years ago.
And this was a great tweet. Is there a difference between personal learning and personalized learning? And there were some pretty quick responses. And one of the things that all three of these responses have in common is a sense that personal learning is more self-driven where personalized learning sounds like something that’s more delivered, like it’s a product of an IEP as you see there in that second reply tweet. And it’s about student empowerment and student engagement. What am I doing as a learner? And what’s being done to me?
And one of the things—we know that Cynthia’s been working on in her school in terms of working with Bill Jacob and the context for learning, which I’ll also share an example of that down the line. But also, at DreamBox, what we’re trying to do, it’s to really put students in the driver’s seat of their own critical thinking and giving them great problems to think about so that they can develop their understanding, because ultimately, learning happens in their brain, in their mind. And whether it’s—I’ll talk a little bit more about how we think about personalized learning here at DreamBox in a blended learning model.
If you are doing any work at any level with school- or district-level about how to design schools and classes and districts for learning, Schooling by Design is an excellent resource. And whenever I think about blended learning and personalized learning, it reminds me of this quote that too often, in contemporary school reform efforts, we focus on various means, like structures, schedules, programs, blocked schedules, hybrid schedules at the secondary level for example, and instructional practices like cooperative learning. And I would throw in there personalized learning, blended learning, flipped classrooms, iPads, hardware, these sorts of things. Schedules certainly have to exist, and they’re important and we need technology and hardware.
But as Wiggins and McTighe I think wisely point out, these reforms serve as the fuel for the school improvement engine. I mean you heard how Cynthia used these things to really meaningfully improve student learning, a 15-point gain in API for students and even ELL students doing even better than that, 18-point gain. That’s phenomenal. So she used this as the fuel for the school improvement engine. But of course, at the end of the day, we look at those scores, we look at the data that we’re sharing with teachers at conferences, and we have to realize the destination is improved learning. Installing Wi-Fi is not the goal. It’s what students are able to do with the Wi-Fi. Having better reporting that teachers can access is critical because it enables them to have better conversations with parents, for example.
So I’ve set up this matrix and have been sharing it a little bit that—there at the bottom, it’s supposed to say impersonal. Sorry that the l at the end got cut off to the next line. But when we talk about personalized learning or personal learning, the opposite, of course, to be impersonal, more of an industrial approach. And I want to separate out schooling, the structures that we set up, that we as adults set up for students. And I want to separate that from the learning, which is the pedagogy with the students. You heard Cynthia talking about there was coaching and pedagogy going on at her school, which is so critically important, but the school and the classroom and that pedagogy lives within a broader schooling structure. So you have industrial schooling approaches and industrial learning approaches, and I’ll talk more about that in a short bit. And then there’s personalized schooling and personalized learning.
And going back to David Warlick’s question about what’s personal and what’s personalized, some of that probably lives at the schooling level. An example I often share is how my wife and I went to a Lamaze class when we were having our first baby many years ago. And because we chose to go to that Lamaze class, we had a purpose, a very personal purpose for going to that class. That was personal learning. But then once we got there and the class began, then we expected the instructor to personalize the content for us in some ways, that there—for different people in the class. For us, it was our first baby. For others, it was their second or third baby, and that required—there were some different things there. Some of the birth mothers have had C-sections previously. Some were having twins. And so at that point, when you show up in the class, we expected some amount of personalization from the instructor. And it wasn’t that it was something being done to us. It was something that was necessary in order to meet us where we were at and really respond to the needs that brought us to that Lamaze class.
And in the same way, when students walk into a mathematics class, a lot of times, they may not want to be there. So maybe that’s not their personal choice, but what we need to do and what teachers have always tried to do is really connect each learner with the content and really personalize it for them once they’re in that third grade math class. And you’ve heard Cynthia talk about some of the challenges there, that if you have 30 students in a class and you only have one hour of mathematics in a given week—I’m sorry, in a given day, it’s very difficult to personalize for 30 students.
So a personalized learning approach really takes a look at the learner and says, “What should this student be learning, doing, and thinking about tomorrow?” Now if it’s an impersonal industrial schooling approach, the first question that comes up is, “What’s her birthdate?” So many decisions that we make in school drive from when a student was born. Even the terms accelerated or below-level are usually referenced in terms of a student’s age. And that’s not the most—that would have been strange if I walked into that Lamaze class and they said, “Now, how old are you two?” Well, certainly, I guess when giving birth, there is some consideration of how old the mother is, but we were less interested in that and more interested in the actual content of the class.
So you heard Cynthia talk about using the DreamBox data reports in different ways and how we empower teachers with a lot of great information, especially for really young learners. It’s difficult to get a good read on a first grader’s understanding of mathematics ideas. And this is an actual student data report. The names have been changed. But I was previously a high school math teacher and then a K–12 math curriculum director. And in one of our schools that used DreamBox with these students in kindergarten, this was the report that the first grade teacher had access to in the first week of school.
So starting off, it’s a brand new class of first graders, and she was able to see that a lot of the students already knew quite a bit of the first grade mathematics content. And you can look even there at the Time on Task how much time students have spent using DreamBox. This is a DreamBox report, how much time they had spent in DreamBox lessons making that progress. Things in blue are things that the student sort of tested out of, and things in orange are the things they actually completed DreamBox lessons in. And so every student has a unique sort of configuration about what they came in knowing and what they had progressed through in DreamBox, all with very different levels of time invested in the product. So Brianna, for example, almost has finished first grade curriculum, and she spent 51 hours in DreamBox lessons. Whereas Jayce, who has made comparable progress, spent 28 hours, and Marianne, also quite a bit of progress in first grade and only spent 16 hours using DreamBox. And that speaks to—if you’re the competency-based kind of model, trying to make achievement the constant regardless of a student’s age and regardless of how long it took them to get there, and DreamBox really supports that.
It also highlights the complexity of having a classroom of diverse learners that is something that Cynthia and her staff really tackled head-on. So in a more personalized relational schooling approach, the first question is, “What are you interested in? What does this young student know? Where could she be learning?” Spending time in DreamBox before school, after school, at home, because of the way DreamBox is designed, students can be making progress on their own, independently outside of typical school hours, which really can make a difference as you saw in Cynthia’s example.
So to flesh these out a little bit more, in an impersonal sort of schooling structured approach, that’s where you have school policies that are designed for efficiency, economy, and scale, where, you know what, the only—this happens in high schools quite a bit. If you want to take AP European History, it’s only offered third hour. So if you want to take another class that’s only offered one hour of the day and it’s also third hour, you got to make a choice, and that really hinders students’ ability to explore and take the classes that they want. I remember having to make choices like that when I was in high school. But a more personalized schooling approach is where the structures are designed knowing that students are unique individuals, where we’re going to use the schedule and the locations and the technology and the pacing more strategically to respond to individual—to students as individuals. The impersonal learning, the more impersonal pedagogy is really kind of a sit-and-get approach. That’s how many of us probably experienced math class. It’s to teach, to practice, to test. It’s where everybody hears the same history lecture, for example. And maybe that’s appropriate for some lessons. But if it’s every lesson for 13 years, maybe that’s not the best approach. And that’s that traditional lesson paradigm of math instruction.
Whereas personalized learning is really what is an empowering approach for children, where it’s critical thinking in new situations, explorations, creativity where students really have to think and do using their own intuitive ideas. That’s the critical piece. Personalized learning should involve students bringing their own ideas to a particular problem and then having great classroom teachers or software like DreamBox who are facilitating student learning as they’re having those ideas, being more of a coach. And if you want to throw blended on here too, that a lot of times I think when we talk about blended learning, we are probably talking more about blended schooling to say, “Okay. Well, students are going to do some work on a computer and some work at school.” But that’s very different than blended learning in terms of pedagogy, as I’ve outlined it here. That really, you can throw an iPad in any of these quadrants and probably find an app that matches with that approach. DreamBox happens to fit in the upper right hand quadrant where our app and our lessons are designed to empower students to think on their own and think independently in mathematics. And oftentimes, that’s a challenge if the school structures are built to be more impersonal. But as you heard from Cynthia, really trying to tailor things more to individual students and using blended learning to cause better achievement and improved outcomes, that’s really where we find DreamBox is most effective in those school situations.
Michael Fullan in his report “Alive in the Swamp” with Katelyn Donnelly—it was published last July. I encourage you to take a look at it. It’s really helpful for thinking about technology and schools in the current rapidly changing landscape. That’s why they call it “Alive in the Swamp,” because things are a bit messy out there. But they rightly point out that a lot of technology-enabled innovations have issues with pedagogy and outcomes. That, as you see there in orange, most often, technologies are about introducing concepts with video instruction and then just following up with progression exercises and tests that are basically digitized worksheets. And a lot of times, digital innovations are just the same old practices that have been done for many, many years.
And when I ask audiences and parent groups and teacher groups what folks remember from math when they were in school, having been a high school teacher, I can take it. I often hear some very sad and shocking stories. Occasionally, I hear of some really rich learning experiences, but typically, people have the same common experience that’s outlined in the book Teaching What Matters Most published by ASCD in 2001. It’s another great resource that I highly recommend. It was a fifth grade teacher from New York who said, “I had great teachers who were earnest, funny, caring. However, for eight years, every math class, I came into class and it was, ‘Get out the homework. Let’s go over the homework. Here’s the new set of exercises. Here’s how to do them, and I’ll be around.’” And this teacher, that was her teacher’s best attempt to really personalize things, that every teacher that says, “You know what? Get to work. I’ll be around,” it’s because teachers want to meet every student right where they are. And if you have 30 students, there’s never enough time to get around to every student, but that’s what they were trying to do. That was the goal. That was the hope. And yet the instruction itself was largely impersonal, because it was, “Here’s how you do this, then I’ll come around and help you do what I just showed you to do.”
If you have two minutes today, go to YouTube and search for Kid Snippets math class. It’s a great video series where—well, it’s one video, but the Kid Snippets group, they interview—not interview. They have young children have a conversation about something. In this case, it was math class. They have one that’s a blind date. They have one that’s driver’s ed class. And these five-, six-, seven-, eight-year-olds have a conversation about the situation, and then adults go in and at out what the kids described and sort of lip synch and dub the children’s voices over it. So you have the teacher over here trying to help the student here, counting on their fingers kind of thing, and all of this with the voices of a five or seven year old. It’s pretty funny. And the teacher, by the end of things, is like sort of yelling because the student isn’t getting it, and that’s a lot of times how math class feels. It’s not personalized. It’s not empowering. It’s a sit-and-get.
And in Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe, Stage 3, that number 3 there, they talk about how teachers need to plan learning experiences and instruction. And the models that I just shared with you, the Kid Snippets, the quotes from Teaching What Matters Most, that’s really an instruction kind of approach, where there’s also a way to develop learning experiences, which is how we designed things at DreamBox.
So in a common teaching cycle, which is an instructional approach, there’s sort of a whole-class or small-group instruction followed by independent practice, this is kind of Madeline Hunter’s idea, whole class assessment and then perhaps there’s an opportunity to use that whole class assessment data to formatively plan. But frequently, the data are just used summatively. You give the test and you move on to the next unit because the schedule moves on. There’s logistical realities, and schools aren’t set up to have personal pacing for things. Now that is an instructional approach of content delivery, whereas another way to think about it: let me show you how to do X; now you go do X; can you do X on your own; maybe you need to be shown X again; or you know X. That sort of thing. But in this case, of course, the question is who’s doing the thinking? We need to empower students to do more thinking at the outset.
Too often, as we move to blended learning solutions and approaches, there’s an idea that if we just cover something clearly, kids will get it. But we know that we just can’t present things and explain things and have students really get it unless they have a chance to wrestle with different examples, and that’s very well grounded in the research literature and educational literature. Another thing that I think about too is what happens at school and what happens at home. And if you look at working on blended learning solutions, that’s a key thing. That’s something that Cynthia and her team had to decide, “Well, what should kids be doing at home? What is the best use of class time at school?” And if I change that framework to say, “At school, we show kids how to do X, and then at home, they practice it,” I worry sometimes that the flip classroom, all it does it just change the location about where the same sort of pedagogical things are taking place. If at home, you watch a video about how to do X and then at school, you practice X, you have changed something. You have flipped the classroom, but I’m not 100 percent sure that the pedagogical approach has changed, because students are still in a situation where they’re not doing the thinking from the get go.
And that’s where we talk a lot at DreamBox about personalized learning principles, and those principles are so important. If you’re familiar with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, there’s tons and tons of methods. There’s tons of models for blended learning, tons of approaches, but there are a few principles of learning. And if we really understand principles of learning, then we can choose the best method for blended learning. If we just try methods, if we just try, “Well, put them on a computer. Put them in a math class,” that sort of thing but we’re ignoring the principles of learning, then we’re going to have some trouble. So that’s something to be aware of, harkening back to the Schooling by Design quote I shared that blended learning, personalized learning, these are important things to be doing because they help improve learning. And we need to focus on principles.
So one example of Bill Jacob’s work with Cathy Fosnot—this is a consultant at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Some of their context for learning materials engages students—this is the first time that kids, in their materials, experienced fractions and worked with fractions. And you see here four different groups of students, and each group of students had been given a different number of—I’m sorry, a number of submarine sandwiches to take on a field trip. So you’ve got three sandwiches for four students, four sandwiches for five students, seven sandwiches for eight students and three sandwiches for five students. And those are the four different cars going on a field trip. And when you present this to students and take about at least two weeks of class time to let kids be engaged in doing mathematics, be engaged in trying to figure out what is—the natural question that kids ask is, “Is this fair?” That’s an important thing to allow kids to have that conversation in class. And what kids end up doing is they end up adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions within a very short amount of time, because they have a context for sense-making.
John Dewey back in 1916, almost 100 years ago, in his book Democracy and Education, Chapter 12 “Thinking in Education,” he notes that thinking is the method of an educative experience, and it’s really about reflection. And this speaks to those principles I was talking about. So here are some education principles from Dewey that might have been born out in the research. And he says first, you need a genuine situation of experience that kids are interested in for their own sake. And when we hear Cynthia say that DreamBox is kids’ preferred option for free time kind of thing, that makes us feel good because we feel like it’s something students are interested in for their own sake. So you give kids a field trip problem and you talk about lunch, and there is some interest there.
But then we have to have a genuine problem that’s a stimulus to thought, Dewey said. And that’s really is the sandwich distribution fair, and kids naturally ask that question. It’s a genuine thought-provoking question. Then students need the information to deal with that and make observations. So that’s where you have to give kids a week or two to make sense, to model, to use manipulatives, to have conversation, to have arguments. If you’re in a Common Core state, the standard of mathematical practice, construct viable arguments, critique the reasoning of others.
And then, and this is a key one, suggested solutions occur to him, that solutions need to occur to students. And how do you know when something occurs to a student, when they have that idea on their own? When we used this unit with our fifth grade students in math intervention, at the end of the first week, one of the intervention teachers called me to say, “My struggling fifth graders, one of them just said, at the end of the first week of working with the sub sandwiches problem, ‘So it looks like a half of a fifth is a tenth. Well, that’s easy.’” And if you’re—I’m not sure if you feel confident or strong in mathematics for those of you who are here in the webinar, but I think a lot of adults might have to actually take pause at that statement. Is that true? Is the half of a fifth a tenth? And how do you know that? But this student who’s been struggling in math for years, just by working on this problem for five days, was able to have that a-ha. Something occurred to him, and it was powerful.
Test your ideas by application. Make their meaning clear. And that’s where you convince yourself. That’s the more generalizable thing that happens after you have the a-ha moment. So in DreamBox—let me give you one example of that, and then we’ll get to the Q&A. in DreamBox, we try to give kids genuine interesting situations and experiences. So here, we give kids 5,916 gumballs in a gumball machine, and we ask them to pack them into bags of four. And the question is how many bags can sit there? And it’s basically kind of like—it’s not a long division problem, but it’s a big division problem. And we empower students to either pack some bags or to click “Hint” to get some information. And that’s where they have the information and make observations.
Oh, I skipped up to the genuine problem stimulates thought. Gosh, how many bags of four are in there? So it looks like a lot of gumballs. Then solutions occurring to her where she needs to develop them, that’s where we empower students to pack however many gumball they want. Some students might pack 4,000 first. Some might pack 400 as this student did. And then in real time, they see the results of their first packing, and see, “Wow, I packed 100 bags. That’s 400 gumballs, and I’m left with 5,516.” The student can see, “You know what? I haven’t even made a dent in that,” and then continue on. Test your ideas, make meaning, discover validity, continue solving the problem, and maybe the next thing this student might say is, “Whoa, I can do 4,000 and go from there.”
And this is really sort of the heart of the matter, is that when it comes to learning, we can’t accomplish it by putting thoughts into a mind. We have to rather empower a mind to generate thoughts, and that’s how we approach things at DreamBox Learning. And so with that, there’s a little bit of my contact information. And let me just give you two quick slides about DreamBox Math and then we’ll jump into the Q&A and bring Cynthia back in.
We have 1,300 rigorous adaptive lessons for PreK through Grade 6. It’s convenient, flexible and accessible. Cynthia talked about how they accessed it at her own school. The real-time reporting, not just for teachers and administrators but also for parents to make sure they’re partners just like we partner with schools. And of course, supports Common Core and the Standards for Practice with these kinesthetic, accessible, virtual manipulatives. We’re used in all 50 states and internationally. And whether you are on a tablet, are on a computer, when you log in and log out, your progress is seamless. You can pick right up where you left off. And of course, it develops vocabulary and is great for students—the ELL students, like Cynthia was talking about, it’s really benefited them as well. And the reason that we believe that DreamBox is effective is we combine rigorous math with reporting aligned with many different standards documents; that motivating environment that makes kids want to play more; and the Intelligent Adaptive Learning engine which really helps us differentiate for each student based on what they’re thinking.
So with that, I think Kurt’s going to come back on and Cynthia’s going to come back on, and we’ll do a little Q&A to round out these last 10 minutes.
Kurt: Okay, great. Thanks so much, Tim. So let’s get to the Q&A. Just a reminder to our audience, if you have a question for either Tim from DreamBox or Cynthia from Cleveland Elementary, just enter it in that Q&A box that you see there in the bottom right hand corner of your screen there. We’ll try to get to as many as we can here. We are getting some questions still in the Chat window in the middle right. Again, if you’ll just put those questions in the Q&A in the bottom right hand corner there, the Q&A if you have a question.
So Cynthia, there’s a question here for you. You referred to the three-group model that you implemented there at Cleveland Elementary. This question just asked, “Could you remind us of the different parts of that three-group model?” Could you review that?
Cynthia: Yes, that’s a great question. Tim referred to the blended school and the blended model, and what my definition of the blended model for our purposes is we’re using a three-group rotation. So for example, if I have a classroom with 30 students in it, 10 of the students are meeting with the teacher, and there’s a lesson based either on the Context for Learning with Bill Jacobs that I mentioned and so did Tim. A second group is working on either a project that comes out of that rotation, the grade-level standards or the context for learning lesson. And then the third group would be working on DreamBox, and the students on DreamBox then—again, it’s blended because some of them are working in a traditional model, and some of them are working in a personalized model. So we’re blending the traditional and the personalized learning. So what I’ve done with the technology that we’ve purchased through Title I and Title III and some of our state funding and a parcel tax which is a gift from the Santa Barbara community is each classroom has enough computers in it, either desktops, laptops or iPads, for a third of the class to be on the blended platform—the blended piece that we’re using the technology-based learning.
So those are the three pieces of our model, and we’re doing it in reading, language, arts, and math. And so as we get more money, which we did this year—so that was last year. That was three-group. We’re at the point where we can have, in some of our grade levels, half of the students in a context for learning lesson with a teacher and have a project associated with it, a project-based learning piece, and then half on DreamBox. So it’s either three or two depending on which grade-level you’re in.
Kurt: Okay. Okay, excellent. Thank you. Let’s see. There’s another question here for you Tim. You mentioned the Intelligent Adaptive Learning engine as a crucial part of DreamBox Learning. Someone just asked, “Can you explain that Adaptive Intelligent engine? Is it something similar to the artificial intelligence of ALEKS? How are they the same or different?” Could you talk about that?
Tim: Yeah, definitely. So our technology is not—we wouldn’t really call it artificial intelligence. That brings along with it a whole slew of sort of interesting additional conversation topics. But what we did is we built a platform that empowers—like I’ve talked throughout, it empowers learners to have their own ideas and represent their thinking. And one of the earliest advisory board members at DreamBox was John Bransford, who was the lead author and editor of the book How People Learn published by the National Academy of Scientists, which is a phenomenal book. And by having him along with Cathy Fosnot, who’s a colleague of Bill Jacob, having the two of them as well as Skip Fennell and others informing how that platform was designed, the goal was to enable great teachers, classroom teachers, which we have full time on staff here at DreamBox, to create manipulatives and lessons and ways to engage learners.
And the platform empowers teachers to basically create lessons and certain kinds of problems and problems asked in certain ways. There’s a certain scaffolding at certain times, and the adaptive engine is monitoring when students need that scaffolding, when they need additional, more complicated problems, when they’re ready to move on, but it’s all informed by a certified, experienced teacher who’s written the lesson on the learning platform. So it’s actually—it’s an Intelligent Adaptive engine that is empowered by the designs of great teaching and great ways to work with students. So I hope that answers the question a little bit.
Kurt: Right, great. Great. And there’s a follow-up question here just asking about the—which I think relates to what you’re saying there just asking about the trajectories that students go on. So it being an Intelligent Adaptive engine, it’s personalized to each student, so they’re going on their own trajectories. Is that kind of the idea?
Tim: Yeah. And the idea is it’s not a linear thing. Mathematics and different ideas don’t progress linearly. You can be working on second grade place value and “third grade multiplication.” That those ideas, from a mathematical sense, don’t have to—they’re not contingent on each other. So students in DreamBox have that ability to be choosing different lessons in different areas and still be making forward progress, which gives them that empowerment to self-direct their learning. And if you’re struggling with place value to the thousands and you start doing some early multiplication lessons, when you go back to those place value lessons, you learn something about the multiplicative structure and nature of place value that enables you to better understand that. So it really is taking a far more complex, non-linear view of how students learn and progress, and to really develop deep understanding of ideas because they’re encountering them in so many different contexts.
Kurt: Great. Another one for you, Tim, just a quick detail question asking what grades DreamBox serves.
Tim: We currently serve PreK through Grade 6. We even have a few seventh grade lessons. And later this year, we will have quite a bit more at the middle school grade levels.
Kurt: Okay, great. And people should watch for that on the DreamBox website, I assume, for any news about that.
Tim: I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?
Kurt: Just in terms of people following up on those additional grades, should they just keep checking out the DreamBox website there?
Tim: Yeah, keep checking in the website. And if you’re in math conferences or education conferences throughout these upcoming months, we’ll have more information there.
Kurt: Okay, great. We’ve reached the top of the hour here, but we do have a number more questions here. So if it’s alright, we’ll try to keep going here, see if we can get a few more questions in.
Kurt: Cynthia, there’s a question there about your use—let’s see, about your use of DreamBox with RTI. I wonder if you could address your use of this software in response to intervention. The question just asks, “Do you recommend using DreamBox in 25-minute RTI session? Is this a good fit?” Could you talk about DreamBox and RTI and Cleveland there, Cynthia?
Cynthia: Hi. Actually, all of our students have RTI, because they are on this adaptive software. So there’s really one student, a sixth grader, who’s actually finished all the DreamBox lessons, kind of something that we really celebrated. But the rest of the students are still working at different levels by standard, and I think Tim’s explained a little bit about how that works. And so each math lesson—during the school day, students get 20 minutes during the math rotation whether it’s a two-group rotation or a three-group rotation. So there is a component of that that’s response to instruction because the teachers are monitoring with the students how they’re progressing in terms of getting to what is defined as grade-level standards. So you can look at grade-level standards as the Common Core State Standards or the Texas Standards. DreamBox has it disaggregated in a lot of different ways.
So it’s working for us. Just like for example, there’s a very famous professor from California who says that all students are academic English as a second language learners. So they don’t have academic language, and so we need to explicitly teach academic language. On the DreamBox platform, it’s learning the conceptual mathematical language. And so all of our students, in that sense, are receiving RTI, and that’s the way it becomes a personalized and then also a blended platform. We also are assigning DreamBox as digital homework. So we’re asking that students do 20 minutes at home. So really, our students are doing between 20 to 40 minutes a day of DreamBox, and it’s really making a significant difference.
I also noticed that another one of the questions that came up is, “Is the novelty being lost?’ Well, we’re now at—for our third graders, it’s our second year of a complete year of DreamBox. And for the rest of the students, they started around December last year. We really are not losing the novelty, and it’s really been an amazing thing to see a platform be the preferred activity for two straight years. Because I know, you know as educators that this platform can lose its novelty and then students don’t engage.
Kurt: Right, great. Another question for you Cynthia asked, “Are kids using this during their actual math instruction time? Or is it used more at home? Is there kind of a balance there? Or is that more one or the other?”
Cynthia: Well, it’s part of the three-group rotation or the two-group rotation during actual math instruction time, and then it’s also a home piece as the digital homework.
Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you. Tim, there’s a question here referring to something you mentioned there, asking you, “Talk a little bit about planning the curriculum backwards. What are the different steps? And what are the benefits?” Tim?
Tim: Yeah. That’s an excellent question where we have to start by saying what do we want students to really understand and not just focus on skills and procedures as outcomes, although there will be outcomes. But for something like the distributive property of mathematics, a lot of people have learned it as FOILing in class. You take an idea like that, and we need to plan backwards from, okay, if the Common Core says students need to understand distributive property, and I think it’s sixth grade, might be fifth grade. But to take a look, that idea is not just something we teach as a skill, to say the distributive property is here is how you do it and you just multiply these numbers, and you add these together and you’re done. You don’t just FOIL.
The idea of the distributive property and how it is a property of the way the number system and operations work, we actually have lessons in fifth grade, fourth grade, third grade and even second grade where kids are engaging in understanding of the distributive property, where they’re using a number line in second grade and early third grade learning multiplication that when you do six times six, another way to think about that is that it is four times six plus two times six and seeing that on a number line and seeing that with arrays and then ultimately, using DreamBox lessons to see that with variables. That we plan backwards from the big ideas as well as the skills and then decide what sort of learning tasks and manipulatives students are going to need along the way, even if it’s many years ahead of time, for them to really deeply understand that idea.
Kurt: Okay, excellent. Thank you so much. Let’s see. We’ll try to fit in maybe one more here. I know we’re going over our time here. Let’s see. Is there a limit on how many students can log in at once? And how do you schedule that? Maybe Tim, since that’s kind of a technology component there, you want to take that one first?
Tim: Yeah. There’s really no limit in the number of students who can log in. Any limitations or constraints are usually at the school site level and how much bandwidth they have. But on our end, no, there’s no limitation. If every computer has good Internet connection at a particular school, then yeah, tons of students can be logged on at the same time.
Kurt: Okay. Okay, great. Well, of course, we’ve gone over by a few minutes here because we had so many great questions from our audience. So to our audience, thank you so much for these questions. It really moves the conversation here in some new and interesting directions. So I’m going to have to wrap things up here. On behalf of District Administration, I’d like to thank all our speakers, Cynthia White and Tim Hudson. Thank you so much for your great presentations. And of course, thank you again to our sponsor, DreamBox Learning, for putting on today’s event. And of course, to you, our audience, thank you so much for joining us. I hope you found today’s web seminar informative and useful to you.
Producing seminars like this one is just part of our mission at DA to inform school district leaders like you about news and trends in K–12 management. You’ll find more coverage about issues such as the ones we discussed here in the pages of our print magazine as well as on our website and in our free daily e-newsletter, DA Daily. And as I mentioned before, for those of you in the audience who would like to share this event with your colleagues or if you want to hear the speaker’s presentations at your own pace, you can access it from our website by going to DistrictAdministration.com/WebSeminars, where it will be posted in the archives section within about 48 hours. And you’ll get an email notice about that when it’s ready. If you’d like to download our speakers’ slides, you’ll find instructions in a link in a thank you email that you’ll receive later on today.
So that’s it for today’s event. Once again, I’m Kurt Eisele-Dyrli for District Administration. On behalf of our producer, Kylie Lacey and my other colleagues, goodbye everyone, and enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much for joining us.