District-led launch of blended learning smoothes, speeds next-gen transition
August 16, 2016 |
August 16, 2016 |
Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) is launching into the future with a comprehensive, 20-school pilot program that paces the escalation of personalized and blended learning across its 174 schools. This program, named the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.) initiative, supports schools as they provide digital learning devices to every student, implement personalized and blended learning schoolwide, and design a new culture grounded in innovative teaching and learning.
During the 2015–16 school year, schools participating in S.T.A.T.—coined Lighthouse schools—included 10 elementary, seven middle, and three high schools. When school begins again this August, another 97 elementary schools will be part of S.T.A.T. Blended-learning design and implementation varies by school and by classroom as educators continue to experiment within a deepening culture of innovation. At the moment, the district is mostly seeing Station Rotation, Flex, or a fusion of the two models among S.T.A.T. classrooms. Although blended learning is very much cultivated by teachers and school leaders, the district envisions a momentum toward the Flex model tipping the scale over the next several years.
In this climate of growth and innovation, intensive professional development (PD) is a vital element. Every Lighthouse school has a S.T.A.T. teacher who serves as a PD coach.
“The S.T.A.T. teacher can drive the work in a non-evaluative role, as well as do team-planning, data analysis, co-teaching, lead PLCs, and more,” said Leeann Schubert, director of educational options at the BCPS Department of Innovative Learning. In an effort to plant seeds of innovation in schools beyond the original 20 participants, the district encourages Lighthouse classrooms to act as “learning labs” where teachers from elsewhere in the district may come to observe how a next-gen classroom can look and feel.
“[Blended learning] is a fundamental change in how teachers teach and how students learn. The teachers’ learning cycle has to radically change, too,” Schubert said. She added that all PD is now differentiated to refine instructional practices with teachers based on their individual needs and interests.
BCPS has hit the ground running with blended learning thanks to a clear, strong vision established by Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, who has outlined two district strategic plans, Blueprint for Progress and Blueprint 2.0, since taking the reins in 2012.
But the district’s venture into blended learning doesn’t end with S.T.A.T.. Four other district-led initiatives also leverage flexible, digital learning opportunities to empower students to succeed.
The extended day learning program, for example, shifted to a Flex model in the 2014–15 school year. In the evenings and on Saturday mornings, students who have been suspended or dropped out have an alternative place to go to keep learning. The Flex model means that learning is now carried over at home, too.
“This program really blew the doors wide open,” Schubert explained. “It allows students more voice, their own pace, and space to access resources, which they didn’t have before.”
Similarly, the extended year program adopted a Flex model two years ago. District administrators realized that the traditional summer school model they had previously used didn’t grant all students enough time to realize and demonstrate mastery.
Two other programs present opportunities for middle and high school students to catch up or advance on grade-level coursework. School Programs for Acceleration and Recovery Credit (SPARC) is an Enriched Virtual program that meets the needs of students in a flexible format, especially helping middle school students prepare for freshman year of high school. Some high schools have SPARC labs where students can work online during guided study periods that fit with their schedule and earn credit at their own pace.
Maryland Virtual Learning Opportunities is an A La Carte program that allows middle and high school students to earn credit from completely online courses.
The roll-out of blended and personalized learning in BCPS so far looks efficient and effective. Impressively, the superintendent’s future vision is—after just three years—becoming most BCPS students’ reality.