Personalized Learning and the Power of Adaptive Instruction

Webinar Date: September 18,2013

Webinar Description

Blended learning holds great promise as a cost-effective and egalitarian means to help greater numbers of students accelerate their learning, graduate, and meet challenges in a competitive world.

Attend this web seminar with education technology expert Tom Vander Ark to learn the keys to making personalized learning work for the greatest number of students through adaptive digital instruction, particularly Intelligent Adaptive Learning™. This new technology has the potential to be the ‘equalizer’ that provides greater access and opportunity for students, regardless of background or zip code.

Topics will include:

  • How intelligent adaptive learning can fulfill the promise of differentiated, individualized instruction
  • What students expect in a personalized learning experience
  • The impact of the Common Core, and how blended learning will help to implement the new standards

Webinar Presenters

  • Dr. Tim Hudson - VP of Learning at DreamBox Learning, Washington
  • Tom Vander Ark - CEO at Getting Smart, Washington

View Transcription

KE: Hello everyone and welcome to today’s District Administration web seminar. I’m so glad you could join us. 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 is “Personalized Learning and the Power of Adaptive Instruction” as you see there and it is being brought to you free of charge by our sponsor DreamBox Learning. Blended Learning holds great promise as a cost-effective and egalitarian means to help greater numbers of students accelerate their learning, graduate, and meet challenges in a competitive world. Today, we’re going to discuss the findings of a new white paper about blended learning as well as the keys to making personalized learning work for the greatest number of students through adaptive digital instruction particularly through Intelligent Adaptive Learning.

Before we begin though just some quick housekeeping notes here for you, this is the WebEx platform and panels for communicating with us are on the right side of your screen. If you’re having any trouble listening through your computer speakers or if you’d prefer to listen over the telephone, just click that request telephone button that you see up in the top right, under the attendee panel. That will give you a phone number and access code. We will also post those numbers in the chat panel that you see in the middle-right of your screen. You can also use that chat panel to send a message to our host and producer, Kylie Lacey, about any technical issues you’re having. If you have a question for our speakers, you can use the Q&A panel that you see in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Please send your question to all panelists, which is the default option. Feel free to enter a question at any time during today’s presentation. We’ll answer as many as possible when we get to the Q&A session towards the end of the seminar.

Also, our speakers’ slide decks will be available for you to download and the archived 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, on to our program. Today, we’re fortunate to have with us Tom Vander Ark, he’s the CEO of Getting Smart and we also are joined by Tim Hudson, he’s the Director of Curriculum Design for DreamBox Learning.

Tom, we’re so glad to have you. Tom is our first presenter and so, at this point, I’d like to turn it over to him. Tom, welcome to today’s web seminar.

TVA: Thank you Kurt. And Tim, if you’re there, you want to say hello? Tim will be adding some color commentary on strengths [INAUDIBLE] …

TH: Hi everybody.

TVA: Thanks Tim.

TH: Great to be here.

TVA: Tim’s got some of his team on the phone and the Getting Smart team is also here to help and so as Kurt said, please add questions and comments at any point. Our teams will try to get you links and resources as we go through a couple slides. Both Tim and I are really excited about the opportunity in this decade to help significantly more kids leave high school ready for college and careers in this country but also, that in the second half of the decade, the chance to reach hundreds of millions of students that really haven’t had a great opportunity to join the emerging idea economy. So, we’re excited about what’s happening, but we know it can be pretty confusing and even for those of us who spend all of our time looking at the emerging tools and schools. So, we’ll let know what we’re finding and happy to learn with and from you as well.

Today, we’re going to talk about blended learning and we’ll draw some comparison and contrast between Personalized Learning and Competency-Based Learning. We’ll finish off by talking specifically about Adaptive Learning.

The Christensen Institute—what was formerly the Innosight Institute—said that Blended Learning is when students spend at least a part of the day in online delivery of content and instruction with some element of control over time, place, path, or pace. So, it’s interesting that they focus on the sense of agency in that definition. Since 2009, I’ve been using a slightly narrower definition, where I call Blended Learning a shift to an online delivery for a portion of a student’s day done in order to make students and teachers and schools more productive.

So, that rules out a couple of things. It rules out babysitting that if you finished your work or use a computer in the back of the classroom. It’s also different than EdTech in a high access environment, even a one-to-one environment or that still teacher-centered environment. This implies that there is a change in instructional delivery for a portion of the day and it’s done to improve student learning and to create the opportunity for teachers to work together with students and with each other in new and more productive ways.

So, I have 10 quick reasons that I’m really excited about what’s happening, even though, we are in the early innings of Blended Learning, there’s interesting new developments. One is a private program that started in New York City three years ago, it’s called School of One. It’s now powered by a nonprofit called New Classrooms and they’re experimenting with personalization in an interesting way. In this picture, there are five different groups happening simultaneously. In the back left, there are students on learning games and behind the divider, there are students working with online tutors, and to the right behind the divider, there are students working through digital content. But, the thing that I’m mostly excited about is the group in the foreground; it’s small group instruction with the teacher.

And the real breakthrough is that each of these students by virtue of daily assessment have indicated readiness for that lesson on that day in that modality and that’s the magic for teachers and kids of real personalization and what New Classrooms is attempting to use, is predictive algorithms that are common in other sectors and beginning to be used in Adaptive Learning with dynamic scheduling, and to give teachers those powerful tools allows them to plan a lesson and know that their students are going to be ready for the lesson in that mode. It’s such a gift for teachers to work with a small group when they’re ready to learn and that’s the kinds of classrooms and schools that we should be creating in this decade, where teachers can do the kind of work that they want to do under conditions where they can be really successful.

The second thing that I’m super excited about is student engagement. I just think that the old versions of school have done a very good job of engaging students and we’re learning so much from the explosion of computer games about subjects like calibration. I’m just making the degree of difficulty just right, not too hard so that the students are frustrated, and not too easy so that they’re bored. We’re calibrating their activities, so that they build persistence and work hard for extended periods of time and that’s often what we see in labs like the one shown where students are using an adaptive game-based product like DreamBox.

And Tim will chime in on this slide as well, but I think the most important thing that’s happening in K–12 education today is Adaptive Learning, just the ability for at least a portion of the day to quickly assess student learning and deliver instruction right at their level.

Tim, do you want to add anything?

TH: Yeah, sure. Ah you know, like Tom mentioned in his more narrow definition of Blended Learning, it’s about increasing productivity, increasing student learning and in that sense, you know, the amount of time that is spent by teachers and principals trying to get lessons and learning experiences just right for kids. That sort of investment in time and precision should also be used in technology. When we do put students on computers, like Tom said, it’s not just the babysitting saying, “Oh when you’re done, go work on the computer,” but things like DreamBox, can engage students in the same types of great thinking that are happening in classrooms, and so it’s really about a strategic use of class time and with something like Adaptive Learning, you know, sometimes seeing kids on computers evokes different emotions. But, certainly for what we do at DreamBox, we imagine the kinds of manipulatives kids would be working on alone at their desk anyway as sense-making, as investigation things, as the teacher moves around and we’ve digitized some of those manipulatives and we can actually—to this point of Adaptive Learning—we can respond and give students feedback in the moment while they are interacting with the manipulative.

So, it’s not a sit and get situation. It’s a thinking and doing that we’re able to adapt not just based on multiple choice, right and wrong answers but the adaptivity is based on whether students are counting by ones for example or whether they, which particular manipulative they want to use to solve a problem. It’s that type of adaptivity.

TVA: Thanks Tim. Adaptive Learning has developed so much in the last three years that I really recommend that K–8 students spend 90 or 120 minutes a week in an adaptive product and then school teams work hard to use the data that’s derived from those experiences to help shape their core instruction and more on this subject later in the webinar.

I’m excited about what this means for teachers at the Houston Apollo Schools. These are turnaround schools in Houston that are deploying the best practices from the best schools in the country. They are working with Roland Fryer at Harvard to do that. And they’re injecting blended strategies like this blended classroom. It’s a ninth grade science room where you have four different groups working independently and then the teacher in the background delivering a small group instruction at a whiteboard. So, another example of empowering great teachers to do what they do best.

And similarly, the potential for students to work at their own pace and on their own path is exhibited at Nolan K–8 school in Detroit. I’m really excited about the Education Achievement Authority. They’ve taken over the 12 most struggling, most difficult schools in Detroit and they’ve implemented a very exciting competency-based, student-centered school model and a platform, and what you see in this picture is a sixth grade, they call it level 13 and they’ve split into 18 different performance groups and both ELA and mathematics, and in every unit, students get to pick from multiple instructional materials. They also have their choice of how to practice and apply their learning and then finally, every student has to bring forward three forms of evidence around every learning target. So, it’s a system that creates a lot of student agency, a lot of ownership for the standards. The coolest thing about this picture is that on the right hand side, there’s a teacher working with three young ladies that needed some extra help. So, this is another example of what our friends at Public Impact—they’ve developed—they would called it a technology swap where a teacher is buying time to do what they need to do to work with the group of students that most need assistance. That’s There’s 10 detailed school models on that site where schools are using technology to leverage great teaching.

I’m also excited about Competency-Based Learning. Competency is probably the more challenging shift. Even more challenging than the shift from print to digital, a shift from sort of seat-time to learning as the metric that guides student progress, is one that I think will take us a generation to fully embrace. I’m excited about schools like Summit Public Schools in the Bay Area that are not just tracking English and math, but really helping students think broadly about college and career readiness.

This is my favorite chart of 2013. It’s a chart that shows a progress not only on academic content and cognitive skills but also non-cognitive skills. They call them habits of success and even real-world work experiences, internships and job [UNINTELLIGIBLE 00:15:36], so they have a broad dashboard of what it takes to be ready for, in this case, UC Berkley and they use simple data visualization tools in Google Apps to facilitate a conversation with parents and students and teachers. You can learn more about the subject of Competency-Based Learning at It’s a site funded by and supported by—that’s the Online Learning Association. Probably, the best source for online and Blended Learning and they also hold the best online and blended conference in the country; that’s coming up in October.

I’m excited about particularly for secondary students, the increased flexibility. The chance of creating environments that are more student-centered and also can take advantage of community assets, schools at museums, schools associated with traveling vans. We’re seeing hundreds of these flex high schools opened every year. There are schools that have an online curriculum but meet on-site. The picture on the left is Nexus Lansing where students spend half their time on E2020 from Edgenuity and half of it in teacher-led workshops. That’s really the Carpe Diem model of now famous blended pioneer that has had really terrific math results at the secondary levels. So, more flexibility, more agency for students, schools that are really beginning to embrace anywhere, anytime learning.

Blended schools use two different staffing strategies. One is differentiated, the other is distributed. By distributed school, I mean specialist at a distance is becoming more common to see students interacting with the speech therapist online on [INAUDIBLE 00:18:02] with the speech therapist and are more and more used in related services of online specialist and the results are really exciting. Students are often able to transition out of therapy more quickly. The therapist can work anywhere and anytime they want. Districts can much more easily schedule time with the therapist, and it often costs less than hiring their own therapist, and in a rural school, it can be really difficult to hire the specialist, and these online specialists you can match the specific need of a student with a specialist—an appropriate specialist. We’re also seeing at School of One, they use online tutors, and often in the upper division of schools, online advanced placement, online foreign language—that’s a paper that we’re working on. So, the ability for schools to hire just the right person at just the right time for students is an exciting development.

We are also excited about the potential for teachers. When I was a superintendent, I was guilty of hiring great young teachers and giving them very difficult assignments without much support, and the blended schools that we’re talking about today often use a differentiated staffing strategy, which means teachers at different levels, that, as suggests, that they leverage, great teachers, and create leadership roles for them, so that they can support new teachers and influence more students. So, new teachers in blended environments often walk in to a more supported environment, they have access to online learning opportunities of their own, often using products like [] that facilitates individual learning plan for every teacher. States and districts are using a variety of resources like this to combine traditional kind of whole staff teaching but more and more using just in time and personalized playlists for individual teachers. So, we’re excited about the potential to make education careers more supported and more rewarding, and excited about all the new options inside and outside of schools for learning professionals.

As I said before, we’re in the early innings of Blended Learning, on the right hand side, there is, maybe the most famous elementary blend, that’s Rocketship Education, the top-performing elementary schools in California. They use DreamBox in a lab setting as shown on the right and even though that they’re the best-performing schools in California, they’re still iterating on the model and they are shifting to a classroom rotation instead of sending kids to a lab. In their intermediate grades, they’ll be using more of a Class Rotation model.

Another example of a dynamic learning environment is Cornerstone in Detroit. It’s a K–12 school where there are three different learning models under one roof. There a picture here of students using DreamBox in a second grade lab and then in their intermediate grades, they have iPads in the classrooms so they use a tablet-driven Class Rotation model. Then when they get to high school, they go back to a Lab Rotation model where they spend half of their time on APEX curriculum and half of the time in workshops with master teachers, so three groups of teachers using three different models, all learning from each other with the support of some great suppliers.

So, the second half of the webinar, we are going to spend a few minutes on trends, things that are developing in the space. That upper graphic that shows the four stages of Blended Learning is from our Blended Learning Implementation Guide. We published that a few months ago and [INAUDIBLE 00:23:24] second version of that with lots of new resources. The most important part of that guide are the five big decisions that you need to make in a blended plan. The guide does a nice job of walking through those at getting your goals right, picking a school model, making the best decision on platform and content, and then picking a device, and finally staffing and staff development strategies.

In terms of school models, there’s really, there’s two choices, rotation and flex. Rotation is common at the elementary levels. Flex more common at the high school level. The flex, as the earlier picture indicated, it’s an online curriculum but delivered on-site with on-site support and often augmented with workshops and projects. Rotation as it sounds is just moving from station to station. For the last 15 years it’s been most common to use a computer lab to support that but with the explosion of inexpensive mobile devices, we’re seeing a real shift towards a Classroom Rotation model like the one shown on this slide. This is a picture of KIPP Empower in Los Angeles, a high-performing new elementary school that was a pioneer in creating this Rotation Model. Mike Kerr, the principal thought really strongly about having a big block of time in reading and math instruction where students were in a small group of less than 1 to 14 with the teacher. And so her created a collaboration center and an online learning center where students would have three great sets of opportunities but including small group reading and math every single day and does that on a very small Los Angeles budget with great results.

The Lab Rotation model that we talked about at Rocketship in the primary years looks something like this. Students in one group will start their morning in the Computer Lab and then move to STEM Block and then to Humanities Block with specialist staffing and then Group B will go to the Computer Lab. So, it’s an eight-hour school day. Students spend almost two hours in the Learning Lab under the supervision of a lab supervisor and some AmeriCorps Vara Volunteers. Rocketship has been working hard to connect the work that students do in their Learning Lab with the instruction in the classroom and that’s why they’re moving to more of a Class Rotation model in their intermediate grades.

We worked with DreamBox on a paper on Blended Learning and particularly on personalization. In that paper, goes in to some detail on five big benefits of personalized learning of being able to create a more student-centered environment, being able to use personalization strategies to embrace higher Common Core standards to better facilitate self-pacing and mastery-based progression, and to improve student ownership, student agency.

As I said before, Competency-Based Learning is probably the most difficult technically and even politically. I know when I was a superintendent, the shift to standards-based grading was very controversial and my local district is going through that again. It was controversial one, because it was different and two, because I didn’t do a very good job of making it easy for teachers to provide standards-based feedback. So, as we developed these new competency-based environments where kids show what they now and move as they demonstrate mastery. We’re going to need to make the rules and the tools very simple and as [NAME 00:28:12] elegant for teachers and parents so that the shift from seat-time to learning is successful. I’m a Director of iNACOL and I’m really proud that they’ve made this so essential to their advocacy agenda, they’ve really become the most important Competency-Based Learning advocates out there and as I’ve noted earlier, is a terrific resource on this site.

As I said earlier, Adaptive Learning is really the most important development of this decade. Adaptive Learning combines two important elements, the first is adaptive assessment that can in a very few questions quickly identify a student’s learning level and combines that with targeted tutoring of meeting a student’s instructional needs.

And that’s why Tim and I are so excited about this topic. Tim will tell you about what’s developing in Adaptive Learning.

TH: Thanks, Tom. A lot of great information there and a lot of resources that you’re seeing in the chat as well as some of the white papers that Tom referenced including the one that he just did in conjunction with us here at DreamBox and we, of course, share Tom’s enthusiasm about Adaptive Learning and more specifically what we kind of do here, which we called Intelligent Adaptive Learning because it’s not just a matter of students answer a question and then they get the next question that’s either harder or easier. Certainly that’s a component of it but we do far more than that. You see here on this slide, we do an intelligent analysis of a student’s solutions that, like I mentioned earlier, we know because of how we build our manipulatives and our interactive digital experiences for kids, we know if they are counting by ones if they’re adding with 10’s, if they understand grouping, those sorts of things. Some of the same manipulatives kids use in classrooms concretely, we digitized, so that we can actually capture how kids are thinking about the problem and as they’re doing those interactive problems and solving them, we give them support as they go along scaffolds. We are able to build scaffolds into our manipulatives and into the feedback that we give students, that is written and designed by our great team here at DreamBox, which includes experienced classroom teachers who know the complexity of learning and how much time and intellectual effort it takes for kids to really make sense of ideas.

We know we can’t just tell them things like, “Oh, to divide fractions, invert and multiply and now go practice it.” We know that there’s far much more conceptual understanding that needs to happen. So, with our curriculum sequencing as well as the multiple learning experiences using multiple contexts to help kids work through an idea. It’s not enough to just learn to add with the algorithm. You need to understand addition on the number line in different ways to different strategies for grouping numbers with landmark numbers in the early grades and making sure the kids see those lessons, those manipulatives, those multiple contexts and situations at a presentation pace that is unique to them. That some students may really need more time working on fractions but those same students might really understand decimals pretty quickly and it’s not that you have to do one before the other necessarily but you can be working on several ideas simultaneously, even oftentimes, across multiple grade levels. So, by tailoring the pacing to how students are progressing and developing understanding, we’re able to improve the quality of thinking that students are doing when they’re using DreamBox.

Real quick before I share a bit more about DreamBox. We wanted to put this slide up here. This is information for contacting Tom or his organization Getting Smart or you check out their website. We’re continually updated with a lot of great information and resources for schools using Blended Learning and people interested in digital learning. Tom and his team travel around to tons of different schools across the country as you heard him sharing from his experiences to see exactly what people are trying, what innovations are happening and what’s working in these different scenarios.

Before we get to the Q&A, I’ve just got four quick slides to tell you a little bit more about DreamBox. We, at DreamBox, are trying to reinvent the learning experience. We’re trying to digitize great learning experiences, so as an adaptive math program for grades pre-K through fifth grade—we differentiate uniquely for each student. DreamBox is available online and will actually be on the iPad for schools in the upcoming weeks, which is pretty exciting for us. We do have some middle schools using DreamBox for intervention because we all know, you know, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders often are struggling with those foundational mathematics pieces.

And, as I mentioned earlier, the quality of math software is just as important as the quality of classroom learning experiences. You know, we would never say, “Well, they’re in a math class, so surely they’re learning math.” What’s going on that classroom is so critically important. Are they using some of the strategies that Tom discussed and is it a competency-based math classroom? And in the same way, we shouldn’t as educators just say, “Well, you know, they’re on math software, so, certainly they’re learning math.” Not every math classroom is the same. Some are more effective than others and the same thing with software.

I, myself was a high school math teacher for several years and then a K–12 math curriculum coordinator. So, I spent a lot of my time being quite skeptical of different technologies and really critically analyzing the learning experiences that students were engaging in.

We combined three essential elements. We have rigorous mathematics, where kids are learning to think critically that not just practicing. There’s embedded practice but conceptual understanding develops because of the way we build our manipulatives. And as I also mentioned earlier, one distinguishing factor of DreamBox is that we don’t start our lessons by telling kids, “Okay, here’s how you do this. Now, go practice it.” We don’t say, “Here’s how you divide fractions. Here’s a little something about why it works. Invert and multiply. Now, go practice.” Kids need to be understanding things and we build our interactive manipulatives so that kids can understand why fraction division works and how it works for example.

As Tom was mentioning there at the end about Competency-Based models, it doesn’t just mean students pass a skill quiz in DreamBox. Skill is certainly one learning outcome but conceptual understanding is another key one that certainly many schools across the country are, they want students to have that deeper learning. So, we have our full-time experienced classroom teachers here at DreamBox who work with our programmers and creative team to build those manipulatives that help kids make sense of things and then, this is the next part, our adaptive engine, which is an intelligent adaptive engine because it’s assessing how students are thinking with the manipulatives, how students are representing their answers, and giving students very targeted feedback. There are dozens and dozens of different mistake categories as we call them in DreamBox, where if a student’s off by 1, if their answer’s off by 1, well that tells you something very different than if a student answer is off by a 1,000 and our teachers take a look at every point where kids are answering questions in DreamBox or using the manipulatives. Take a look at what that answer in different kinds of answers will say about what students are thinking.

So, our adaptive engine is able to differentiate for every student based, even on their mistakes in the middle of a learning experience, as opposed to a quiz at the end. So, there are millions of unique paths and nonlinear progressions and thirdly, the motivating learning environment. We try to incorporate gaming protocols and gaming elements to develop more than just skills—again, that conceptual understanding, our questions are very focused on the mathematics content first. We don’t build a game and then layer math on top of it. We take a look at the key math ideas and then try to make it as engaging and game-like as possible, highly visual, concrete, spatial, interactive virtual manipulative are we think some of the best out there for sense-making.

So, those three elements really help us do what we do. We have over 1,300 rigorous lessons. We have age-appropriate learning environments. Young students engage with technology differently than older students. Different things motivate them, so we have two different environments that take those developmental factors into account. We have grade reporting for administrators, teachers, and parents, aligned with several different standards, and of course students can access it from school or home anytime.

We also have Flexible Implementation models and resources online to help with that. As you see there on this slide, you know, Tom was mentioning different Blended Learning models and we have videos explaining how DreamBox can work in a Computer Lab rotation or a Daily Classroom rotation. A lot of implementation resources can help because most of schools, or lot of schools using DreamBox do have very specific Blended Learning initiatives.

And, we also have resources that are free for anybody, any teacher if you go to Any teacher especially with a smartboard or promethean board up at front of the class can use some of those resources and some of our virtual manipulatives to engage students in whole class work.

Speaking of free things, we do free school-wide trials if you’re interested. If you go to, there’s that orange bar up at the top of the webpage where you can try DreamBox out for free, if you are a critical analyze, I suppose, of a digital resources and trying to find something that will work well with your school. We offer a way for you to try it for free and see how well it will work for you.

So now, we’ll transition into the Q&A.

KE: Okay. Okay, great. Thank you so much, Tim and thank you, Tom. It was a really interesting presentation. Now, let’s get to some questions from you, our audience. Just a reminder to everybody, a couple of reminders, I know there’s a lot of information contained there. You will have the opportunity to download the slides here. If you want to go through them again at your own pace and this event is being recorded and will be archived on the District Administration website as well and you’ll get a link about that, so you can access it and go over it again if you want to go through it at your own pace.

So, another reminder, if you have questions, just enter them in that Q&A box that you see there at the bottom right hand corner of your screen, not the chat window in the middle right but the Q&A in the bottom right hand corner and we will get to as many as your questions as we can here.

Tim, there’s a question there asking for clarification of the difference between DreamBox Learning and something like the Khan Academy. I wonder if you could address that. I take it the main difference would be the Intelligent Adaptive Engine there as opposed to something that’s passive. Is that kind of the idea?

TH: Yeah, there’s definitely sort of two things there. One, the way students engage with the mathematics. We don’t have any video lectures in our product that when students first encounter an idea such as placing fractions on the number line. From the very get-go they’re immediately asked to start placing fractions and try some things out just like, they would when they’re Angry Birds or Super Mario Bros. You know, those games would not be nearly as fun if before you did a particular level, you first watched a video showing how someone else beat that level. It kind of reduces the engagement and reduces the thinking, so there’s some key pedagogical decisions being made there.

But in the second piece is our intelligent adaptive engine that really enables that interactive inquiry-based pedagogy to work because if students are very early on with a new idea and they’re testing something out, trying to, you know, place one-half on the number line, maybe they’re not sure where it is. It’s because we have that intelligent adaptive engine that we can analyze where students actually are placing that one-half fraction and respond with very targeted feedback to help students progress and understand. So, it’s those two things.

KE: Okay. Okay, great. Thank you. There’s a question here asking for a little more detail also from you, Tim, about the gamification element seems to be kind of a question about do you have a philosophy of gaming and how that fits in to DreamBox and this whole Blended Learning, Adaptive Instruction model. How does gaming fit in? What role does that play in DreamBox?

TH: Sure. Some of the gaming elements are sort of outside of the lessons. We allow students to customize their environment. For example, as they complete lessons, they earn coins or tokens, which they’re then able to use to play math games, for example, that are more fluency in practice. So, there’s sort of that the whole environment is designed to be a little more engaging. Kids can earn some badges, things like that.

Within the lessons, what we do is, one of the key gaming elements that we use, kind of as I mentioned earlier, is we first present the students with an achievable challenge where they can interact with our manipulatives, solve some simple problems, maybe there’s a lot of scaffolding there, but then, just like video games sort of progressively get a little more challenging and a little more restrictions on what you have to do to solve the problem. We have that some sort of gradual increase in complexity to where, you know, maybe in some lessons, when kids are computing in different ways, they have a certain number of moves, a certain number of times that they can either adjust the manipulative or equation that they can use to help them get to the answer. And then, as they progress, we slowly decrease that amount, because we want them to be thinking more optimally. So, those are couple of ways that we use gamification elements.

KE: Okay, great. Thank you. Let’s see, Tom Vander Ark from Getting Smart. There’s a question that comes up often when we talk about what you were mentioning there, the different models specifically for Blended Learning, Personalized Learning. Is how a school determines, which model is right for them? Do you have any advice in terms of what criteria schools should use when you’re looking at implementing this kind of technology and all the different models that they could use? How they determine what one they should pursue?

TVA: That’s a great question and I think that’s why in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, we suggest that you secure the conversation about goals first and that really should be a community-wide conversation where you get clear about what variables are most important to a community. You’ll need to take into account the interest and skill levels of the teachers to make a decision about both the model that you adopt and whether you flip the entire school to one model or whether you phase it in over the course of several years.

I’ll make another comment, at the secondary level, whether there’s a consideration, you know, you may choose a Flex Model if there’s interest in connecting with the community asset, you know, a Flex Model would be common. At the elementary level, the real drivers are whether you are do a lab rotation or class rotation and that may have to do with sort of legacy assets in your building whether you have desktops or laptops and the extent to which you can distribute those. That may be driven by, you know, where you have broadband and what computers are in your building but if you create a three or four year transition plan and then you could launch with a lab rotation model and then in a year or two from now, transition to more of a classroom model when you have time to phase those devices in.

KE: Okay. Great and so, you’re kind of leading into—there’s another question here that ask about first steps in shifting towards a more personalized learning structure. So, you’re kind of leaning into there, is it kind of piloting, trying different models in a school or in a district, in different classrooms? Are there other first steps that you’d recommend for people looking to implement this model?

TVA: So, for school and district leaders, the first important step is to find out what’s happening in your district. There’s probably a lot more going out than you know of about. What makes this time so interesting and so different than anything we’ve experienced before is that parents, teachers, and kids are flipping and blending their own learning. So, there’s a lot more digital learning happening than some administrators know about. So, do a quick survey. Make sure you understand what’s happening. Identify the teacher leaders you have.

Step number two would be, investigate models and well, there’s just nothing better than field trips to do that. So, if you can visit new schools, that’s fantastic. One of my favorite blended schools in Las Vegas does, you know, they use common planning time for teachers to be able to visit other teachers’ classrooms. So, they call them sort of in-school fieldtrips. So, there’s probably teacher leaders in every building that are doing really interesting stuff, so, just the opportunity to visit other schools or other classrooms is a terrific one.

So once you’ve done that, once you know what’s happening and what your options are, then the school team can put a plan together to phase in a Blended Model over perhaps a three-year period of time.

KE: Okay, excellent. Tim, a question asked more about software in general. It says, how can you tell if software is personalizing the learning to the student? Is there a way to tell that? Is there a criteria that you use to determine that?

TH: So, the great thing, one of the current things that’s happening right now is, the term, personalization, individualization, differentiation, adaptivity. Those are still a little fuzzy in I think in the minds of everybody who is discussing them but since this question specifically about personalization, there are a couple of different ways that I think about personalization.

One is your student’s interests. I know for example when I took the GRE exam, I did way better on the reading comprehension passages that dealt with astronomy because I was kind of interested in it. So it was easier to really dig in, read it, and be excited, and then some of the other reading passages were a bit harder for me to really think about because I was so disinterested in the subject matter.

A lot of times, math teachers trying to teach statistics will think, “Oh, baseball is a great, great context for engaging in statistical thinking.” So, I’m going to do that in my class with students and try to really to make a personal connection but in reality, you know, maybe 10 percent of students are really interested in baseball. So, teachers are always trying to match things to student interest and we sort of do our best. At DreamBox, we think of personalization a little bit less in terms of your personal interest and more in terms of your personal cognitive, intuitive thoughts. When we first present an idea or a problem or a task to complete, because we haven’t told students how to solve it, we really are getting their personal best guess, their intuition. We are really leveraging their own personal prior knowledge in solving that problem and then our Adaptive Engine, which is informed by the work that our teachers do in the technology to write the lessons, that then meets every student where they are in a real personal way based on what they’re thinking. So, there’s a couple different ways to think about personalization and that’s one of the ways we do in DreamBox.

KE: Okay. Thank you. Another question for you, Tim about how DreamBox works—you mentioned the importance of sequencing in the software—it asked how does DreamBox know the right next lesson for each student? What goes into the development of sequencing in DreamBox? Could you touch on that aspect of the software?

TH: Sure. That’s a question that we get quite frequently and understandably so as Tom was mentioning and as we all know there is a linearity to how schools and classes have typically operated that as a high school geometry teacher, I had, you know, 180 days and a group of students and basically, it was hard to do more than just one thing on a specific day and I planned all my lessons and units in a very strategic sequence but it was not always possible for me to be working on two related or connected ideas at the same time in class. So, in DreamBox, there’s never really one specific right next lesson for every student. There is always a collection of different lessons that students could work on and that’s informed by a number of different standard documents and developmental pathway documents. Specifically, we use a lot of, one of our advisory board member as Cathy Fosnot. She and her team and colleagues have done great work in the Young Mathematicians At Work book series and they’ve developed what they called the landscapes of learning that are really, you know, based on decades of research of watching students and young children think mathematically and what their own intuitions are and sort of mapping that on the landscape because it is not a linear progression that, you know, students struggling with place value to the thousands. You know, that’s kind of a 2nd grade thing and maybe 3rd grade more multiplication. Those students could be working on early skip counting. That’s not too complicated idea but learning something about multiplication actually will help you with place value because place value has some multiplicative structures in it. So, there isn’t one just right next lesson but our sequencing is informed by a lot of research to give students a selection of appropriate lessons and that actually helps them be more self-directed learners to actually choose what they want to work on.

KE: Okay. Excellent. Let’s see, we have another question here asked. Can you give an example of how competency framework relates to common core or other standards and are there one or more competency frameworks that are emerging as we leading models? Perhaps, Tom Vander Ark, do you have thoughts on that, competency frameworks?

TVA: Two distinct a couple of quick questions or comments. is going to be the best extended resource on this topic. [INAUDIBLE 00:53:24] on competency-based environments. There are 500 schools that are part of the deeper learning network from the Hewlett Foundation. These are mostly secondary schools but big picture and expeditionary learning high tech high – and vision. All of the [00:53:50] demonstration of learning may also use portfolios now. Most of those networks have shifted to a digital portfolio system.

So, those are all great examples to look at and we have a number of very recent blogs where we’ve gone into some detail about how the schools manage Competency-Based Learning. My new favorite model is Summit Denali. It’s a 6-12 school on the Bay Area. It’s an NGLC winner. NGLC is the Next Generation Learning Challenges. If you just Google NGLC profiles, you will find [INAUDIBLE 00:54:48] competency-based frameworks. You can also look at Christensen [INAUDIBLE 00:54:56] database of school models that are competency-based. What was Denali does so interestingly is they combine playlists that are tailored for each student as skill building activities and then when they complete this playlist, it makes them eligible for engaging team-based project work.

So, I think that’s the future of Blended and Competency-Based Learning. A combination of personalized skilled building often adaptive computer-based instruction alongside or in preparation for authentic team-based often community connected project based learning.

KE: Okay. Okay, excellent and I think that’s a great note to end on here. Unfortunately, we are running out of time. So, on behalf of District Administration, I would like to thank our speakers once again, Tom Vander Ark and Tim Hudson. Thank you both so much and thank you to our sponsor as well, DreamBox Learning for putting on today’s event and to you, our audience, of course, thank you so much for joining us. I hope you found today’s web seminar informative and useful to you. Producing web seminars like this one is just part of our mission 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 one we’ve discussed here in the pages of our print magazine as well as on our website and in our daily E-news letter, 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 review our speakers’ presentations at your own pace, you can access it from our website by going to as you see there or it will be posted in the archive section within about 48 hours and you will get an email notice about that when it’s ready. If you like to download our speakers’ slides to go through them at your own pace, you’ll find instructions and a link and a thank you email that you’ll receive later on today.

So, that’s it for today’s event. I’m Kurt Eisele-Dyrli for District Administration. On behalf of our producer, Kylie Lacey and my other colleagues, good bye everyone and enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much for joining us.