2014 Education Innovation Fellowship: Key Learnings from the Golden State

2014 Education Innovation Fellowship: Key Learnings from the Golden State

The CityBridge Foundation’s 2014 Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF) kicked off last month with its second cohort of fellows who will spend the year together learning about the most promising practices in blended learning. Last week, we began the “travel and learn” portion of the Fellowship with a week-long trip to the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. We visited nine public schools on the cutting-edge of blended and personalized learning and met with some of the field’s most prominent thinkers and supporters.

For me, the most valuable experience by far was bonding with this group of talented PreK-12 educators from D.C. who teach a wide range of subjects. The rich discussions that the Fellows had over the seven-day trip with leaders and experts in personalized learning were instructive and enlightening.  Among the key takeaways for me:



2014 CityBridge Education Innovation Fellows at the Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus


1.) Ensure that kids internalize routines and procedures before setting them loose on digital content.


The most successful blended models we saw were in schools where teachers developed intentional routines and procedures for their station rotations. At Aspire Titan in Huntington Park, routines and expectations were second nature to students. Students were so engaged on their laptops that teachers never needed to redirect a student. They also prominently posted signs outlining these specific classroom routines and expectations on their walls. Administrators from Aspire Titan told us how a team of teachers gathered over the summer to write 26 lesson plans to norm students on rules, expectations and routines. They spent the first month of school perfecting those routines before introducing students to educational software.



Make sure rules and procedures surrounding digital devices are clear BEFORE introducing students to apps and other digital content.


2.) In a blended learning classroom, the teacher’s role is more important than ever.


The case that some argue against blended learning is that computers will replace teachers in a tech-rich classroom.  However, during our school visits in California, I noticed that blended classrooms required teachers to completely master the content they teach in order to tailor instruction to each of their students’ needs. When teachers get blended learning right, instruction is truly personalized and teachers no longer “teach to the middle.”

At schools like Learning Without Limits in Oakland, teachers separate students into dynamic groupings based on skill level and then design their lesson plans accordingly. The educational software generates data that informs their instructional planning, so they can better support students’ learning needs.  In a personalized learning model, educational software does not replace teachers, but rather teachers use technology as a precise tool to support their students’ learning and track their progress.




3.) Get rid of the pacing guide to maximize student engagement and growth.


Brian Greenberg, CEO of the Silicon Schools Fund, spoke to the Fellows last week urging them to scrap the pacing guide that teachers have long followed in their classrooms. Students all learn at different paces and schools that fully embrace this view will educate the most successful students.

The most impressive schools we visited on our California tour were those where students were most engaged in their learning.  These also happened to be the schools where the majority of students were engaged in content at their specific level—as opposed to content that happened to be on the pacing guide that day.

At Summit Denali Middle School in Sunnyvale, each student works on a different “playlist” of topics for their Earth Science course. They move through this content at different paces and have a mentor to make sure they stay on track. The teacher does not have to stand at the front of the room to lecture to her class because all students are engaged in individual or small-group work.  In these classes, I saw no misbehaviors from students or teacher redirections.

In a truly personalized model, students aren’t forced onto a pace dictated by their teacher who delivers the same lesson to 30 students.  Rather each student works at a self-directed and challenging pace.  Blended learning makes personalized learning possible, and personalized learning cultivates a love of learning.  When this happens, Alex Hernandez , Partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, says students have, “the opportunity to learn what they need, when they need it.”



Students at Summit Denali working on content at their own, self-directed, pace.


Written by Adam Hill

Adam Hill

Adam Hill is the Curator of Institutional Practice at Ingenuity Prep, a new public charter school in Southeast D.C. utilizing a blended learning model, and Curator of Fellowship Knowledge for the 2014 Education Innovation Fellowship. You can follow him on Twitter, @adam_ingenuity.

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