According to Mark Breen’s calculations, the pandemic pushed his school district three to five years ahead.
Breen is Chief Technology Officer of the Vail School District, which has 14,000 students near Tucson, Arizona.
The problem facing him and his colleague Kelly Pinkerton is that he runs a mixed and online program for the district as director of evaluation and innovative learning at Vail School. , Face-to-face learning.
Education Week talked to Breen and Pinkerton about the hybrid and blended learning models their districts are using and how they measure their success. (This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Last year, the hybrid strategy used by the district when students alternated face-to-face and distance learning throughout the week evolved into two full-time online options. One is delivered in real time and the other is served at your own pace. Children enrolled in the virtual program will continue to be counted as part of the district school and guarantee them a spot when they choose to return.
Next, the district established a blended learning program for junior high school students. Students spend part of their school day with their teachers four days a week, spending part of their day working on online assignments from their laptops in the school’s atrium. Friday is reserved for optional activities such as field trips.
Finally, the district also opened a so-called microschool to assist families who chose to homeschool their children. There, classes and field trips are offered a la carte to families.
One of the options the family doesn’t have this year is a district-like hybrid program that was used most of last year. In this program, students alternated face-to-face classes two days a week, with the rest studying away from home. According to Breen, the term was prosecuted during a pandemic and became undesirable, and the district basically abolished it in this school year.
How did your district reach this current setting?
Pinkerton: Last year, when we returned directly, there were quite a few families who chose to stay home. Individual schools handled it themselves. Some sites said teachers intend to teach both groups at the same time. Some sites said they would move some children and hire a remote teacher, who would try to teach the children at home.
But what we found was that the teachers were overwhelmingly overworked. Trying to teach both groups at the same time was really, really hard for people.
This year, we hired full staff to handle students who want longer-term distance learning. Currently participating in the virtual program is a full-staff K-8 group that handles all distance learners throughout the district.
I was trying to keep them [online and in-person classes] It’s really a mirror image, so if you choose remote, you won’t choose less than what you get in a direct classroom.
How do you determine that these models work both technically and academically?
Pinkerton: I was looking at the data of the logged-in children. Do they attend all live classes? Are they showing up? Academically, I saw the same formative and benchmark results. In other words, children, who are virtual students, are on the same platform, taking exactly the same benchmarks that students are actually taking. Therefore, you can actually arrange the data side by side.
And in addition to those parts, Im is constantly looking at the number of registrations and what they look like. Who leaves these virtual platforms and why do they leave? Even after a pandemic, it needs to be a family choice to build what appears to be sustainable each year.
How do you judge these models from a technical point of view?
Breen: Several different things were being considered to get feedback and to see where we were and where we needed to improve. One of those elements is the sheer number of devices added to the system in terms of one-on-one pushdowns. [computing] Further to elementary school. Over the last 6 months, we’ve added thousands of devices to be at least one-to-one. [grades] 3 to 12. Another thing I was doing to see where people were was always trying to stick a barometer out there to see how the principal felt. And other district leader staff were also investigating. We investigate the family. Through analytics and dashboards within your learning management system, you can see what kind of engagement you’re getting. So it feels like things are definitely going on and on with technology usage between it and the vast number of devices. We are trying to find a way to make sure we are constantly getting that feedback from our community and district leaders.
Another kind of exciting thing that definitely blew up from all of this: our educational technology culture has grown significantly and there are some great leadership around it. We have built several educational technology leadership teams. There are several cohorts passing through ISTE [International Society for Technology in Education] Obtained the certification and created your own internal Vail ISTE type certification. There are many teachers who have just enrolled in this fully optional Educational Technology Internal Training Course. I think that shows that there is a lot of momentum and excitement around it.
One thing that hasn’t changed, and that I don’t think will change, is good instruction from good teachers. So we always want to make sure it is in front of our hearts. And technology is really there to enhance teaching.
How has your approach to technology-centric teacher professional development changed over the past year and a half?
Breen: One of the things we did last year in response to trying to get teachers to train quickly on some of these new tools was to increase online opportunities. Therefore, in addition to living online, we have also created a more self-paced course where you can go through a learning management system and study at your own pace. Probably one of the most interesting things we started with for this and I think it’s working. That’s what created this really cool PD opportunity for teachers to actually sign up for presenters and leaders. Therefore, instead of the education engineer in the district office running this PD, it has a little more grassroots sense in that teachers teach teachers. When a teacher hears it from another teacher who is doing it now, it means more to them.
How has the pandemic changed the district’s approach to technology, learning and the big picture?
Pinkerton: In many of the examples we thought of before the pandemic, I think it makes sense that everything had to be done directly. right?Kids couldn’t learn otherwise this way, kids would learn late or wouldn’t reach where we needed to go, and what we learned, yeah, that I think it means that there is a population of students who are struggling with typing [remote] As for the environment, there is a population of children who are doing really well in that environment.He said he would be back this year because he had many parents. [to fully in person instruction], However [decided the online environment] It actually works fine.
During the summer, many parents will get in touch and say, “I don’t know what I want to do.” And it was very nice to be able to say, “OK, how does this sound?” We have this list of family options we can say, which of these options meets your family’s needs?
Breen: At a very high level, we realized that we wanted to be very competitive as a district. We didn’t really have to be that competitive because it was a highly rated district. And there are many families who move to our community specially for our district, [but] These families can go to an online school that operates in Phoenix or somewhere in the state. As a result, that competitive consciousness has changed as follows. Not only are we competing locally, we are now competing globally.
Has the pandemic permanently changed the use of technology in learning, and how?
Breen: I think so. Broadly speaking, I’m thinking of two things. Depending on how technology has changed with instruction, technology becomes a necessity rather than a convenience, especially when we need to move remotely instantly. For the other part, I think the teacher is just used to the tools. One thing that hasn’t changed, and that I don’t think will change, is good instruction from good teachers. So we always want to keep that in mind. And technology is really there to enhance teaching.
Whether you’re talking about educational technology tools, Wi-Fi or internet connectivity, the most common technology, but what you need, 10 years ago, some of these are: It was like. Oh, that’s nice, but it’s now very important to every part of the organization. So it’s definitely in front of my own heart. It’s about making sure we have high quality and consistent technology. Not only is it robust and innovative, we want to make sure that the foundation level is always working and all the pistons are working. The pressure has changed a little.
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