School of the Week: A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School, featuring 21st Century technology in a blended learning model to maximize student achievement

Imagine this: Your child has difficulty understanding certain math concepts, such as using proportions. Or, she struggles with reading comprehension and needs more one-on-one learning time.

A personal after-school tutor is an option. But, what if your student could instead engage in individual online learning right in the classroom? She would be able to spend as much time needed in the area where she has the most difficulty, and then advance to the next level at her own pace.

High-tech, individualized, blended learning 

This blended learning model is implemented in every single classroom, every single school day, with every single student at A.L. Holmes Elementary-Middle School as teachers collaborate and develop online and face-to-face instruction to initiate individualized strategies for student success.

The concept of Individual Learning Maps—which are academic blueprints for every child based on what they have learned and their strengths and weaknesses—has been implemented district-wide.

But, A.L. Holmes is one of the first DPS schools to implement individualized learning paths using a blended learning model at the elementary-middle school level.

“A lot of schools are doing a form of blended learning, but we’re intentional,” said Principal Leenet Campbell-Williams. “We start with a pre-test for each student to determine their different skill-sets. The pre-testing shows their strengths and weaknesses in certain areas. We then use the blended learning model of online curriculum coupled with our traditional curriculum to maximize individual learning for our students, allowing them to move at their own pace.”

In 2011, Holmes received a $2.8 million grant to improve student achievement. The school recently received another $500,000 grant with a portion being solely dedicated to technology. In partnership with Matchbook Learning, Holmes launched the Hybrid Learning Model where teachers and students use technology daily to enhance instruction and increase student performance with an interactive, comprehensive on-line curriculum.

Teachers offer data-driven instruction using a Learning Management System (LMS) to monitor student progress, create small flexible groups and implement Individual Learning Plans (ILP).  Parents can access their child’s lessons, projects and grades in the LMS.

Ensuring student growth, at every grade level

A. L. Holmes is on a mission to create an academically challenging learning environment that uses student–centered instruction with engaging activities that support learning, the use of data to drive instruction, and is propelled by high expectations for student success.

The school has a partnership with Cranbrook to enhance its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program and a mentoring program with Wayne County Community College District.

Last year, students in grades 3-8 engaged in virtual online instruction with a virtual teacher as well as face-to- face instruction from their classroom teacher.

“It’s like having a resource teacher online,” Campbell-Williams said. “We had three virtual teachers who lived in California, Colorado and Washington. This year, we’re not utilizing virtual teachers, but we still work in small group settings utilizing an on-line curriculum in our classrooms.”

The blended learning process showed such positive gains for students in grades 3-8, that this year the online learning model has been extended to grades K-8. Opting to not use instructors from other states, yet continue to utilize interactive online instruction programs, allowed Campbell-Williams to extend the program to all grade levels while maximizing costs.

Blended Learning Team Rotations

In teacher Eric Fredlund’s fourth and fifth-grade Language Arts and Social Studies courses, the students engage in Blended Learning Team Rotations with four individual work sessions. Each day, the students rotate through each of the four Blended Learning Teams until they have participated in each level.

Four Team Pathway Rotations:

  • Reading Pathway, based on each student’s pre-testing results. The students work on common core standards. Once this level is mastered, it creates a pathway to the second team.
  • Direct Instruction, one-on-one learning with the teacher in a small group setting.
  • Intervention Pathway, accelerated reading and testing on comprehension on the computer.
  • Writing Pathway, utilizing learned comprehension and critical thinking skills to develop opinion pieces. As an example, the students are posed with the question: “Do we watch too much television?” They have to find two articles opposing the question and two articles in support. The students then use the articles to determine and support their own opinions.

Throughout the day, each student will switch four times to take part in each pathway. This type of learning takes place daily at each grade level, in all classrooms.

“We see improvement daily because its targeted instruction based on their abilities,” Fredlund said. “We work on their level with intervention and we’ve witnessed great gains in this style of teaching.”

In all kindergarten through third-grade classes, there is a teacher and school service assistant for each room. In each classroom, from kindergarten through eighth-grade, you’ll quickly notice small groups, all doing different things, instead of the traditional model of one teacher at the front of the classroom facing 30-plus students.

Want evidence? Just ask the students.

Shamara Watkins, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Holmes, can testify to the impact of the blended learning model.

“I love interacting with the teachers, but working on the computers daily makes things so much easier,” she said. “If someone doesn’t understand something, they can work at their own pace, not at the pace of the class. Like me—I naturally have a hard time with math and using proportions. I didn’t get it at first, but I could go through the online practice assignments and get up to speed.”

“Being able to go through assignments using the internet is just better,” she added. “And the teachers do whatever they can to help us. They even let us come to class during lunch to finish projects.”

Christien Thomas, 14, who aspires to become a video game designer, said being able to utilize his Netbook to help with all subjects is helpful.  And, Christien has some advice for parents who don’t like for their kids to play video games: They can play and learn at the same time.

“I can use the math concepts and the computer skills that that I’m learning with the video game design,” he said.

And his favorite perk of being a student at Holmes? Taking home a Netbook each day.

“I can finish the work that I didn’t get to complete in class,” he said.

Christien and other students utilize websites such as coolmath.com, for free online math lessons and games, and brainpop.com, an animated Science, Health, Technology, Math, Social Studies, Arts  and Music site that provides quizzes, activity pages and school homework help for K-12 students.

Century-year-old infrastructure with 21st Century technology

Housed in a building that is nearly 100 years old, Edward Cribbs, Holmes technology coordinator, is proud to boast that his team has been able to successfully place 21st technology tools in the hands of students to maximize learning.

“Our students need to know how to navigate technology,” Cribbs said. “All classrooms have a SmartBoard and document cameras; students in grades K-2 have access to desktop computers and all students in grades 3-8 have access to Netbook computers. The school has an updated media center and three computer labs, one of which will soon be filled with new iMac computers.”

Principal Campbell-Williams added: “We have a group of amazing teachers who rally together every single day to make learning meaningful and fun for our students.”

More offerings: Community Garden Project, Good School Grant for Technology, Project Unify Grant for Tolerance and Anti-Bullying; Computer Labs, Media Center, Student Netbooks, SMARTBoard Technology, Volunteer Reading Corps (PreK & K), Local  School Community Organization (LSCO), Playworks Recreation and Conflict Resolution, Winter & Spring Festivals, Holmes Mime and Sign Team, Family Curriculum Nights, Pathways to Potential Program (Partnership with Department of Human Services), After-school Tutoring, various school clubs and more.

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