A Rocketship student works at the Learning Lab using adaptive software.
The question keeps coming up: What technology should schools invest their money, time, and effort in? During this fraught time in our economy, the decision to invest in tools like adaptive software and other tech devices is sometimes portrayed as excessive or wasteful.
In Sunday’s New York Times, Matt Richtel and Trip Gabriel wrote about software program companies inflating their effectiveness in schools, and how they “ignore well-regarded independent studies that test their products’ effectiveness.” In the next couple of days, we’ll deconstruct the writers’ sources of information — namely the main source for their claim that the technologies are ineffective, the What Works Clearinghouse.
“It shouldn’t be a call to stop for investment, but a call to invest more, because we need to get it right.”
In the meantime, I spoke to Aylon Samouha, Chief Schools Officer at Rocketship Education, a network of charter schools in the Bay Area that uses software to reinforce basic skills mastery. (You can read more about their hybrid learning program and their competitive scores in this MindShift series). Samouha is in charge of the design and strategy of Rocketship’s hybrid learning model, as well as its teacher and principal training program, among many other things.
Samouha, who lives and breathes educational software and is consumed with finding the best way to integrate technology into the school day, has a very different perspective than what Richtel and Gabriel portray.
First, the facts. In an independent study released in August by SRI International, which Continue reading
By Betsy Corcoran, EdSurge
Teachers who want to use technology in the classroom to its best potential typically face a problem dealing with computers that’s weirdly reminiscent of dealing with a roomful of bright but disruptive students: It can be too much of a good thing.
With sophisticated high-tech tools comes a deluge of data, and for a lot of teachers, finding the right resources at the right moment can be maddeningly difficult. What’s more, the most sophisticated programs, which deliver detailed reports about student progress, don’t share data–which means that teachers can wind up with multiple “data dashboards.”
So educational technology entrepreneurs are starting to offer up a bit of help for both of these programs, according to two reports in today’s EdSurge newsletter.
Combining data from different programs to help teachers avoid an air-traffic-control problem as they try to mix and match the tools they use.
In Mountain View, a startup nonprofit organization, EdNovo, is doing early “alpha” tests of a Google-like search program for helping teachers find exactly the right digital content at the right time. And in San Francisco, a firm called EdElements just got a huge boost of financing to support Continue reading
Students using computers at Rocketship's Learning Lab.
Silicon Valley executives — CEOs and COOs of companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Skype — have funneled $3 million to Rocketship Education this year that will be used to refine its sophisticated software system.
The money will be spent to improve four components of Rocketship’s computer software: assessment of students, the way it generates learning plans that identify what students need to learn, a scheduler that uses the learning plan to choose from a bank of lessons that’s best suited for each student, and a management system that keeps track of all that information.
With a more streamlined process, the aim is to lighten the load for teachers who have to analyze all the data for each student, and to have the software recommend better default learning plans that teachers can easily adjust for students, according to co-founder John Danner.
“There’s a sense in Silicon Valley that there’s got to be more in the way that Silicon Valley solves problems that can be applied to education.”
It’s a software engineer’s dream — or nightmare — however you look at it. Creating a system that takes into consideration 1,000 standards that students need to master from K-5, and lessons mapped to each of those objectives offered by dozens of different vendors. Continue reading
The Rocketship network of charter Schools in San Jose is fairly new — the first school just opened in 2007. But from an observer’s perspective, a few lessons can be pulled from the way the young network has engineered the design of the school system. Can these ideas be applied to any school, whether they’re charter, private, or traditional public school?
- THE CAMPUS IS ONLY THE SETTING. When it comes to school, innovation in the way a student learns lives in the circuitry of the way the day is designed. For a school that’s known as one of the pioneers of hybrid learning, the campus of Rocketship Mateo Sheedy is decidedly traditional. Classrooms, playgrounds, and the school’s office look like any other. In fact, I’d argue the campus is more modest than many I’ve seen. Students sit on the floor of the Reading Center for their individual reading times. The computers are sectioned off from the cafeteria with dividers. Students are squeezed next to each other on the only available seating in the lunch room. What makes it different is the inventive schedule that guides how and what students learn, making most of the educators’ time and effort. With all the discussions about the future school day, it turns out that it might actually not look so different than today.
- SMART, ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY IS KEY. Finding the “Holy Grail” of individualized learning when it comes to technology depends on how well the computer programs work with students’ learning levels. Rocketship administrators believe the ones they’ve chosen do the job. As spokesperson Judith McGarry described it, remediation happens seamlessly until each student is ready to move to the next level. Granted, these are fairly simple subjects in K-5 grades. The true test will come when or if it moves into middle school curriculum and beyond.
- SCHOOLS CAN DO MORE WITH LESS. Because a portion of students’ day is spent in the computer Learning Lab using the adaptive technology, hiring an extra teacher for that period is not necessary. The labs are monitored by teacher aides, who mostly answer questions and try to keep students focusing on their work. Continue reading
School of One
Engaging, motivated teachers are at the heart of every successful school. For schools like Rocketship, where 75% of teachers come from Teach for America, which recruits mostly recent college grads to commit to two years, finding ways to train and keep them becomes that much more of a priority.
What’s their strategy? First, they pay more than typical public schools – on average between 10 and 20 percent more, according to Judith McGarry, Rocketship’s spokesperson.
And since most of these teachers are “very young” — for many of them, it’s the first time teaching in a classroom – McGarry said teachers’ progress is tracked closely. Every eight-week assessment of students’ progress is compared to the teachers’ own eight-week assessments.
“We reward talent, provide an upwardly mobile career path, and give them a reason to believe that this could be a sustainable work-life balance.”
“We think that this constant feedback helps them ramp up really quickly,” McGarry said of new teachers. “So we do actually use student achievement and student testing as one measure of how we evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. But we don’t really have the problem that the Los Angeles School District did, because, first of all teachers walk in knowing this is how they’re going to get evaluated, and second, it’s one of multiple measures that we use for their effectiveness.”
Other measures include meeting regularly with the principal to work on their professional growth plans, collaborating closely with other teachers, and working with academic coaches. Sometimes classes are videotaped, so teachers and coaches can evaluate the way the class is run play-by-play, and sometimes educators wear microphones and earbuds to get live coaching while they teach.