Our school just finished its second year, so we are pretty young. Our EPIC Schools network is four years old. SBC has been committed to a 1:1 device program and a Learner Management System since we opened. However, as time has passed, we have become less interested in software programs for discrete skill building. We initially dedicated time in the schedule for the use of these programs, but we found that they did not motivate students in the same way that teacher-created curriculum does. The yield in terms of skill building was not as substantial as we had thought. Generally, in the last five years, education software has not developed substantially to improve the student experience. The back end data available to teachers is certainly better, but the capacity for more interactive learning has not been tapped on the front end. Teachers still use software programs at their discretion (often for independent practice at home), but in general we have moved away from pre-packaged software.
We have faced a challenge in building staff capacity to use a Learner Management System. We had a painful experience 4 years ago in some of our other network schools, where teachers did not really know how to use the chosen LMS. Identifying an easy-to-use LMS and scaffolding support for teachers were really important steps. We ultimately settled on Schoology, which provides substantial back end data and features integrated design tools and an interface modeled on Facebook. The key is that students and staff have been able to learn how to use Schoology quickly and without much trouble.
Additionally, we have found that creating truly personalized pathways for students has been challenging. Though we envisioned students engaging in independent learning courses that are totally self-guided, it is difficult for high school students to achieve that level of autonomy. With opportunities like that, we haven’t seen a whole lot of success. We’ve seen the most success with teacher-created blended learning experiences, where students work through teacher-created curriculum at their own pace, and where teachers act as guides throughout the experience.
We’ve had better yields from the use of blended learning for deeper learning than for discrete skill building. Make sure that there is still thoughtful teacher guidance for students in a program where students are working through digital curriculum. Face-to-face teacher support is a critical component of student success. Be thoughtful about the percentage of professional learning time that you dedicate to software training. If you’re piloting a blended learning program, it’s not only about teaching educators how to use software but also about communicating a shift in pedagogy. Our experience tells me that starting with a really simple software program like Schoology enables students and teachers to better handle the daily manifestations of this philosophical shift in teaching and learning.
South Bronx Community Charter High School (SBC) promotes student excellence through an emphasis on academic, personal, and professional skills in a supportive and responsive learning environment. SBC students graduate with a positive sense of self, ready to design and realize their futures in college, community, and career. In 2013, NYC DOE's Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) School Design Fellowship enabled fellows representing cross-functional expertise to spend a year reimagining high school to improve the experiences of students of color. SBC is part of a network of four EPIC schools that emerged from this program to provide empowered, personalized, and culturally responsive educational experiences for traditionally underserved students. SBC opened its doors to a first freshman class in 2016 and will ultimately serve 425 students in grades 9-12.
South Bronx Community Charter High School
890 Washington Avenue
Bronx, New York
Telephone: (646) 470-5594
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