Personalization Efforts Move Forward Thoughtfully

  • Personalization Efforts Move Forward Thoughtfully

    Buzzwords abound in education. One of the latest buzzwords, personalization, defines efforts that are alive and well in MPCSD. As a component of MPCSD's Teaching and Learning Strategic Direction, MPCSD educators are piloting several personalization efforts throughout the district, while other efforts have succeeded before personalization was even a "thing." As we push these efforts forward, MPCSD teachers have been both agents of change and harbingers of caution amidst the energy and noise of rapidly changing learning environments.


    Teachers at Encinal See Personalization Promise in an App

    The SeeSaw app being piloted at all three elementary schools is an example of educational technology that personalizes the visualization of learning for both the student and parent. Seesaw allows teachers and students to post evidence of learning to a classroom stream. Students have choice in what they post (photo, audio, video, drawing, Google docs, or a combo of the above), giving them voice to what they learned and why it matters. In doing so, it helps students own their learning, a key component of personalized learning.


    The Seesaw app caught on organically in Menlo Park several years ago as teachers heard about it at tech conferences, saw how easy the app was to use, and saw immediate potential for transforming the way that students and teachers document and share learning. Led by teachers like Maria Theresa Magaña at Encinal and the district’s tech coaches, word started spreading about this app in 2015-16.  Last year, use of the app went viral at all three of our elementary schools.  Parents especially love the visibility into their child’s learning, not just at conference time or at the end of each trimester, but ongoing throughout the year.


    With our Seesaw for Schools subscription, we look forward to continuing to tap into Seesaw’s potential for personalizing learning in our classrooms.  This includes sharing activities across the district that can be used to give students different tasks that meet their needs, as well as entering learning targets into Seesaw’s “skills” section so that teachers can choose to use Seesaw as a formative assessment tool to track progress towards mastery of standards.


    Oak Knoll Teachers Remind Us that Personalization is Not New

    Before personalization existed as an educational reform effort, multi-age teachers at Oak Knoll were developing strength-based strategies to grow student knowledge and ability without the confines of age and grade restrictions. Multi-age systems lend to personalization as teachers build longer-term relationships with their students. Teachers work together and collaborate to create curriculum that is built on standards but at the same time creates opportunities for students, no matter the age or grade, to accelerate their learning, thinking, and experiences. The real-world context of multi-age opens up teachers and students to the realization that everyone is unique in how they approach, demonstrate, and communicate their learning. This model is only one example of how personalization has been a “thing” in MPCSD for quite sometime.


    Project Based Learning is Core to Personalization as Laurel Teachers Well Know

    Almost as soon as it was announced nearly four years ago that Laurel School would become a K-5 school over two campuses, Principal Linda Creighton and Laurel teachers led a visioning process to determine the learning paradigm that would define the new Laurel experience. Out of that process came the decision to embed powerful learning in an approach that is central to the personalization effort--project based learning (PBL). High quality PBL fosters inquiry into students’ own questions, provides an authentic context for why students need to learn the content and create a product, and gives students extensive voice and choice in what that product is and how they’ll share that learning with others.  This process taps into each child’s strengths, and results in highly engaged learners who are building the skills to own their own learning. Now in the second year of PBL implementation, every student at Laurel will get to dive into at least two project based learning units this year.


    Hillview Teachers Pilot Personalization Through Learning Management System

    Last year, Vesuvius Academy teachers Emily Lowrie, Joseph O’Brien, Yogi Sullivan, and Julie Hilborn piloted personalized learning by building an academy around the use of the powerful Learning Management System based on Summit Personalized Learning Platform (the online platform designed by Summit schools based right here in the Bay Area). About 125 sixth graders and their parents agreed to participate in the year-long pilot. At the conclusion of the year, it was agreed that we learned much about the benefits and challenges of implementing a technology-enabled personalized approach to learning. One key learning was that tools, as promising as they may be, cannot drive the instruction; sounds simple enough, but so many of the products on the market promising personalization are ‘tools-focused’ and not ‘pedagogy-focused.’ Vesuvius teachers joined a team of parents and administrators to see if a tool existed that was driven by pedagogy and allowed for the customization and ease of use that MPCSD desired. The team was pleased to discover that AltSchool, a small network of independent schools, was seeking public school partners to serve as co-designers in the further development of their Personalized Learning Platform (PLP)--AltSchool Open. Choosing to “go slow, to go fast,” some members of the Vesuvius team are integrating the AltSchool Open platform into their pedagogical approach and finding reason to be excited. There’s still a long way to go; we’re excited to see where the partnership takes us.


    So What’s Next for Personalization in MPCSD?

    With all these potentially disparate examples, it is most appropriate to ask, how does MPCSD define personalization? While nascent as a reform model both in our district and industry-wide, for MPCSD, personalization is not about technology. Technology is simply a tool that allows teachers to more effectively personalize instruction and assessment. In MPCSD, personalization is about a pedagogical approach that provides teachers the opportunity to teach to every student’s individual needs and students to take more ownership over their own learning. Beyond that, our personalization definition is still in its development stage.


    With the support of MPCSD’s new Assistant Superintendent, Jammie Behrendt, and the skilled guidance and leadership of our Tech and Innovation TOSA, Theresa Fox, MPCSD will spend time this year bringing clarity to what our district means when we use the term personalization. Throughout the course of the winter and spring, formal and informal conversations will be encouraged and facilitated; potential opportunities for further teacher exploration will be availed. As with all efforts in MPCSD, and admittedly there are many, our moves toward greater personalization are really about finding teachers who are interested and already moving in this direction. If this is not you, don’t worry. There’s no pressure and no expectation to pick up this effort. You are where you are and that’s exactly where you need to be. Where do you want to be tomorrow? If personalization isn’t it, we get it. Stay tuned, though; exciting stories are on the horizon.