New York City is experimenting with new tools and tactics with its Innovation Zone, a devoted unit for trying out new approaches to learning and sharing best practices with like-minded educators. The iZone, as it’s commonly called, started in the 2010-11 school year with 81 schools, and since then, they’ve more than doubled that number and hope to reach 400 participating schools by 2014.
Schools across the system are trying out different learning approaches, including blended learning, online courses and project-based teaching. As with the most lofty aspirations of educators, the iZone’s goals are to personalize learning, provide real-world experience, change the ways staff and students view their roles and take advantage of the vast number of tools available to students and teachers.
The iZone serves as a hub for innovation taking place at school sites. Staff support schools with funding for equipment, connecting teachers to resources and one another, as well as serving as the repository for the growing body of knowledge about progressive approaches. Though the project is still young, this program has made a dent in differentiating learning, according to Deputy Chancellor for Talent, Labor and Innovation, David Weiner.
“It can be really hard for the leader to shield teachers from traditional measures so that they can feel free to innovate.”
For example, in participating high schools, the 35-40 percent of students who are taking an online English Language Arts class are passing the state’s Regents test at the same rate as students in traditional classrooms. Continue reading