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1/4/2018 12:20:00 PM
Southeast Dubois County school explores more personalized learning platform

Allen Laman, Herald

BRETZVILLE — As soon as next year, Cedar Crest Intermediate students could be learning at their own pace in an education system drastically different from the one currently operating at the school.

A group of Southeast Dubois Schools teachers and administrators are currently exploring how Summit Learning — a free, online education platform that emphasizes personalized learning — could affect the Bretzville school.

The Summit Learning platform was developed with the support of Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and its technology-infused curriculum features individualized learning time on electronic devices, project-based learning activities, as well as built-in time for mentoring and enrichment.

The group of Southeast Dubois educators is still in the early phases of exploring the program and hasn’t made any formal requests to the school board, but Cedar Crest Principal Mark Jahn said teachers at the school are generally interested in the possibility of implementing it.

“It was well received,” Jahn said of their reaction upon hearing about the program at a schoolwide meeting. “There’s an openness to pursuing this exploratory stage.”

Cedar Crest teachers Kelly Schroering and Hannah Sitzman led a brief presentation for the corporation school board Wednesday night in which they explained how Summit Learning might look at their school. Schroering, Sitzman and Jahn are all members of the Dubois County Regional Opportunity Initiative’s design committee — a countywide collaboration between all four school corporations — and were exposed to Summit Learning during a group trip to Camp Ernst Middle School in Burlington, Kentucky.

Thirty percent of the kids’ time in school would be dedicated to personalized learning, which consists of them working at their own pace on assignments on their Chromebooks or other tech devices.

“They would be driven at their own pace,” Sitzman said. “It would not be the teacher in front of the room saying, ‘We’re all going to learn about personal narratives today.’ It just wouldn’t be like that anymore.”

Instead, students would log on to the program and work their way through tutorials, lessons, and tests on their own schedule, with teachers intervening with groups of students who need help. Sitzman said this creates an environment where students can work ahead and teachers can dedicate more time to the students who are struggling.

The two teachers said in-class projects that help kids develop soft skills would supplement the online portion of the curriculum, as would designated mentoring time that helps kids plan how they’re going to tackle their assignments. Schroering added that some classes, like math, could still feature traditional instruction.

The Summit Learning platform is based on Common Core standards, but would be tweaked to meet Indiana standards if implemented at Cedar Crest. No schools in Indiana currently utilize Summit Learning, but it is active in more than 330 schools across 40 states.

Sitzman and Schroering said they have not yet decided if the platform would be a good fit at Cedar Crest and plan on visiting more schools that use it before they would make a recommendation to the board. Applications to use Summit Learning in the 2018-19 school year are due in March.

The pair of teachers said potential cons to bringing the program to the school include somewhat less freedom in teaching style, much more screen time for students and possible pushback from parents because of how big the jump from traditional schooling to an e-learning curriculum can be.

One school district in Connecticut recently suspended the use of the program, citing issues with content in the platform and a substantial degree of misunderstanding and misinformation within the community. Parents within that corporation also expressed concerns regarding the increased screen time for students and privacy concerns.

But Schorering and Sitzman are excited by the ways the program could help the school. Individualization, acceleration, student ownership and motivation, and an emphasis on personal goal setting are all bright spots to them.

On its website, Summit Learning promotes that the platform’s approach leads to better student outcomes, adding that kids who use the platform can “articulate what they are learning, why they are learning and how they learn best.”

“Every student I talked to (at Camp Ernst) said they preferred this new style as opposed to the teacher being up in the front of the room and talking all the time,” Sitzman said.

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