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Students at multidistrict iLead Academy, plus two Trimble Co. schools will start the new school year with a new, project-based learning management system
News Democrat, Carrollton, July 31, 2017

iLead, Trimble students to embrace new learning tool


Summit Learning will be introduced to students at the iLead Academy in Carrollton and at two school facilities in Trimble County when classes begin this fall.

iLead Director Larisa McKinney said the premise behind the new learning method “is students have the opportunity to meet at their own pace but there’s a lot of support within that where they have project times for each class. They have to have 360 minutes of project time and they work collaboratively in their project time with other kids at the same pace. There is personalized learning time where they move through focus areas or know your essentials that you have to know in order to do their project. They can move at their own pace.”

iLead Academy is a regional career academy focusing on nontraditional education for students who are accelerated in math science and are interested in a career in engineering. Students from five counties—Carroll, Gallatin, Henry, Owen and Trimble—are enrolled in the academy.

The Summit Learning program is a free project-based learning management system that schools have to apply to for acceptance to participate in the program, McKinney said. iLead Instructor Jenna Gray learned about the program and applied for it in February.

“We immediately heard back from them,” McKinney said. “They were interested in accepting us and so we had to fill out several essays about our philosophy of education and our environment. They look specifically for schools that are wanting to change up the way education is done, providing flexible learning experiences for students. We found out we were accepted around spring break.”

Trimble County Public Schools is also implementing Summit Learning, McKinney said. “Their entire middle school has been accepted and they’re implementing it middle school-wide there and in high school they are only doing it with a portion of their students who have applied to do this. It’s completely free.”

“Many of our staff from both TCMS, TCHS, and district leadership have been working very hard this summer receiving the necessary training to implement Summit Learning at TCMS and the Raider Innovation Academy at TCHS,” Trimble Superintendent Steve Miracle said. “Our students will definitely benefit from new opportunities due to the hard work of our staff this summer.”

“We are starting our Raider Innovation Academy this year that will utilize the Summit Learning platform,” Trimble County High School Principal Michael Slider explained. “Summit Learning is basically 70 percent project-based learning, and 30 percent computer-based learning— all teacher led. The system is set up to teach the kids to be goal-oriented, independent learners that can persevere through difficult challenges. These are the exact skills and habits that employers are looking for today, especially in the fields where job opportunities are expanding—like the tech industry.”

Slider emphasized that Summit is not simply computer-based learning. “One of the fears that parents had when we started this process was that we were just going to sit their students in the corner with a computer. This is still very teacher-led, hands-on instruction. We are just trying to get our students ready for the type of world they are entering.”

McKinney, who attended a leadership training in California at the end of June, said Summit Learning is a proficiency-based program so students can still go back and re-do assignments they didn’t master.

“All of the projects are based on a cognitive skills rubric that has 36 dimensions,” she said. “That’s one platform. There are three pillars to Summit and the first one is project time. The second one is mentoring time. We wanted to spend more time with our students, but we wanted it to be structured. Every week we have to spend at least 10 minutes with each of our mentoring students. We’ve already addressed how many students that we have that we mentor and when that’s going to happen. We schedule mentoring time into the students’ schedules. During that time we talk about goals.”

According to McKinney, the Summit Learning platform was established by the Mark Zuckerberg and Elizabeth Chinn Foundation and the Gates Foundation. “They came together and developed with their engineers a curriculum with teachers in mind and a platform in which teachers can look at each of the students and see, hey, I’m not meeting this particular skill on the cognitive skills Rubric. Then I can start conversation with my student saying, ‘what is it about analyzing a textbook that you’re struggling with? Is it the text that you’re struggling with? Is it the vocabulary that you’re struggling with? Have you talked to your language arts teacher about your struggles?’ So that’s that mentoring time and the Summit Learning platform gives us the opportunity to use data and to direct our conversations with our mentors or with our mentees.”

Previously, iLead was using a program called Edgenuity, which doesn’t have the mentoring program, McKinney said.

Summit Learning is replacing Edgenuity.

“The thing we didn’t like about Edgenuity was that we thought our kids were just sitting on a computer basically for their English/ Language Arts class. There wasn’t an opportunity for them to choose how they were doing on that content. Edgenuity is monotonous, it’s rigorous—especially with the level of questioning, but we wanted the mentorship and we wanted the project and we wanted those to be the main focus rather than the self-paced aspect of Edgenuity.

“The mentoring program gives the teachers a general framework to talk with the students about are we being successful and what does that look like,” she added. “There is a cultural framework in that we want our students successful in their health and well being, we want them successful in their community, successful in their career. There’s five different success levels that it identifies and it gives us well-rounded mentoring and shapes the mentoring into those five areas. The mentoring really sold us the most and hopefully will help us to be proactive with the students that are struggling.”

“Students will meet with a mentor once a week to check on progress and set goals for the following week,” Slider said of the TCHS Raider Innovation Academy. “The platform is set up for teachers and parents to easily monitor each student’s progress. Based on the feedback they are seeing in real time, teachers are able to tailor instruction to better meet each student’s, individual needs.”

Slider said 130 TCHS students have signed up across grades 9-12 to take two or more of their core classes (English, Math, social studies and science) in the Raider Innovation Academy. “We have one teacher from each subject area that is teaching in the Academy,” he added.

McKinney said the new teaching method made her and iLead teachers Jenna Gray, Jessica Crenshaw and student advocate Erica Klimchak change the way their schedules work. There’s still a flexible learning environment and students are still in charge of their schedule in that they sign up for which class they’re going to go to, she said.

“It’s a little bit different than a traditional high school where we hand them the classes that they’re supposed to take or that they signed up for but then they have to fill in the time slots that they’re going to go to,” McKinney said. “The projects are already built into the curriculum for us, but we have the autonomy as teachers to change that curriculum and to move things around.”

What McKinney really likes about Summit Learning is it gives teachers the opportunity to take less time trying to plan for the year and make more time to make sure that they’re meeting the needs of the students individually. It identifies that they’re not being successful in this area. It also provides extra activities so all of the students have to complete a certain amount of the curriculum.

“For the students that already get it, there are other areas that we can add on,” she said. “It gives us additional resources. It gives us an opportunity as teachers the tools to give them activities that might meet the needs of struggling students. It gives us a lot more time to spend with students.”

The website offers the following description of the teacher’s role in Summit Learning:

“Teachers have the tools they need to customize instruction to meet student’s unique needs and interests, as well as the time and support to build strong relationships with students. Teachers target instruction individually and in small groups based on real-time student assessment data. Teachers mentor students in weekly check-ins, providing ongoing feedback and serving as a coach and advocate to develop habits of success such as learning strategies, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills. Teachers develop strong relationships with students to understand their aspirations, help them set goals and reflect on their progress through weekly mentoring check ins.

Learning from the student standpoint is summarized on the same website: “Students are empowered to become self-directed learners—they set goals for their learning, reflect on their progress, and build habits and mindsets to help them succeed in college, career and life with mentorship from their teachers. Students reflect on their experiences with their mentor and develop habits of success, including learning strategies, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills. Students make a plan for success in college, career and life. No matter what students want to accomplish in their lives, they need a plan to make that dream a reality. Students set and track short-term academic goals and longterm college and career goals.”

The iLead instructors last week completed a four-day training for teachers.

Summit Learning organizers and program designers are “big on making sure the teachers are supported,” McKinney said. “We also have a mentor that we can contact each other each week to make sure that we’re implementing it appropriately.”