Trigg County session

Trigg County session

Personalized, project-based learning Trigg-ers change
Kentucky School Advocate
March 2017
By Vickie Mitchell
Staff writer
The Trigg County school district has been ranked as high as 20th in state testing among Kentucky school districts, a measure that signals success. Yet, there also were signs that the district was not delivering what students need: graduates who had to take remedial classes when they got to college or who scored well on the ACT yet couldn’t succeed in college.

“They were struggling to persist at that college level,” said Superintendent Travis Hamby (left). “We believed there were things that we weren’t equipping our students with that they needed.”

A team from the district explained how it reoriented its approach to education in a clinic during KSBA’s annual conference. The reboot emphasizes teaching content in creative, personalized ways that not only convey knowledge but develop problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, communication and other skills needed for 21st-century jobs.

“We believe we need to rethink what school looks like, and create new experiences for our students,” said Hamby. “We didn’t want them to sit in rows anymore and take quizzes and tests and learn content. We wanted them to be doing something with it so they were using those 21st-century skills along the way.”

Hamby, school board vice chairwoman Sharon Simmons and instructional coach/teacher Mary Jones described for the clinic attendees the changes the Trigg County district has made in the last two years.

A design team of students, teachers, administrators and district office support staff led the effort, which began by identifying five core values that the district should provide its students. They are mastery of content and skills needed for career success; personalized learning; authentic, real-world experiences; continuous improvement; and relationships.

The group also brainstormed about how the learning environment could be transformed to encourage deeper educational experiences. Students on the team were quick to chime in and raise good points. “They would say, ‘We don’t understand why you can’t take content and integrate it more,’” said Hamby. “They asked, ‘Why do we have to have one class for math and one for science? Why can’t they be taught together?’”

The school district also turned to other innovators for ideas, using Summit Public Schools in San Jose, Calif., KM Explore charter school in Wales, Wis., and others as models.

Change on two main fronts
Two focuses of Trigg County’s innovations have been project-based learning and personalized learning, which both teach students about multiple subjects in a more interactive, engaging manner.

The teams of students who collaborated on projects also displayed and discussed their work during exhibition nights held at schools.

The exhibitions served several purposes, according to Simmons. Students’ communication skills were enhanced as they explained their projects to parents, teachers and others. And parents and school board members got to see the results of the district changes they had only heard about.

Families attended the exhibition nights in droves, said Hamby. “We had more parent participation in the exhibition nights than in athletic events.”

To create real-world experiences for students, the district developed an intersession where seniors, juniors and some sophomores leave campus for a week to work with a professional in a field they are interested in. The job shadowing has assured some students that they are on the right path and alerted others that the career they thought they would love is not for them, Hamby said.

Personalized learning, which enables students to follow their own paths at their own pace, has also been a positive experience for students.

Jones, who taught before she moved into her instructional coaching role, talked about personalized learning’s impact on a second-grader named Jonah, who struggled with writing. She compared one of his early assignments, a few sentences scrawled on a page that took him 30 tearful minutes to write, with a beautifully written and researched, two-page piece that he wrote seven months later about his favorite subject, Mount Everest.

“What made the difference?” she said. “I starting asking my students, ‘What are you curious about? What are you interested in?’ I let them take the power of their learning. Jonah had choices in what he learned. He was still learning the same content; however, he was learning it with the thing he was most interested in.

“Two of the biggest elements of personalized learning are voice and choice,” she said. “When my students were in my class up until two years ago, it was Ms. Jones’ classroom. I taught them to be very compliant. What I wasn’t teaching them was how to think for themselves and how to know themselves as learners. Now, it is no longer Ms. Jones’ classroom but their classroom.”
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