DA’s Districts of Distinction showcases model programs at FETC 2020

Baltimore County Public Schools and Pinellas County Schools were honored for their innovative initiatives that have improved student learning outcomes
By: | January 16, 2020
K-5 students in Baltimore County Public Schools now have access to STEM learning, thanks to the Mobile Innovation Lab.K-5 students in Baltimore County Public Schools now have access to STEM learning, thanks to the Mobile Innovation Lab.

On Day 2 of FETC® 2020, two of the top honorees in the 2019 Districts of Distinction program were on hand to share the details of their model programs. Educators from Pinellas County Schools and Baltimore County Public Schools took center stage in the Trailblazer Theater to offer attendees behind-the-scenes looks into how their initiatives came about.

Pinellas County Schools was honored for its Personalized Learning Pathways (PLP), a student-designed and district-developed platform that allows students to track their learning and provides access to high-quality, standards-based lessons at home, during before- and after-school care, at a public library, or via mobile technology.

Parents and community members had frequently expressed concern that they did not know how to help their students build the academic skills needed to be successful, said Kevin Hendrick, associate superintendent of teaching and learning services. “So the question became: How do we connect people who want to help, and give them a tool or resource to do it?” said Hendrick. 

The PLP, which is accessible through any browser, features playlists with interactive digital lessons that include video- and text-based supports. The platform also provides access to college and career readiness information, such as credit status, GPA, SAT and/or ACT scores, industry certifications, and advanced coursework. 

Creating the PLP with the students took two years. It was a homegrown project-based learning experience since there was no existing software or program available, said Kevin Haugabrook, senior application specialist who led the development.

“The challenging part was taking the idea and taking the technology pieces, and then putting them together,” said Haugabrook. “The wonderful part is that students got to say, ‘I get to develop something from my own ideas and put it together, and it’ll work?’ and the answer was ‘Yes.’”

“Like a jigsaw puzzle, we started with a million pieces on the table, and we didn’t know what it would look like,” said Connie Kolosey, director of media, text and digital learning. She showed a video that included a student who had participated in creating the PLP process, and proudly shared her grandson’s PLP to show how his progress is tracked.

The success of PLPs required educators to build a warehouse of standards-based lessons that teachers can go to at any time.

“The great news for us was that after the first year, people were coming to us saying: ‘We need more playlists,’” said Hendrick. “And that was music to our ears.”

Baltimore County Public Schools was recognized for its Mobile Innovation Lab, a repurposed school bus that travels across the 114-school district with a dedicated resource teacher and the tools necessary for hands-on STEM and maker learning experiences. 

During the residencies—which can be anywhere from three to five days, depending on the size of the school—early elementary students participate in lessons planned by the resource teacher and school-based staff. Activities are planned around themes, such as literacy and STEAM, and are designed to spark curiosity and student-driven experiential learning that also encourages collaboration and problem-solving.

“The lab started as a simple premise: We wanted to bring maker learning into all of our schools,” said Ryan Imbriale, executive director of the district’s department of innovative learning. “We were looking for a way to bring exciting innovative practices to as many of our students as possible, and also share practices and teaching with our educators in each building.”

The shiny black lab started as a maker project itself, with the district personnel transforming the decommissioned bus. “Our transportation team was super excited to do it,” said Imbriale. “Rather than fix things, they were able to create something that students can use in another way.”

The inside of the bus was gutted, and counters now line each side, allowing students to stand while they work, which promotes collaborative learning. Various kits, monitors, printers, routers and other maker-type tools are stored underneath the counters, and can be brought inside the school to expand the learning spaces. In fact, a majority of activities do end up occurring inside the school building, said Michael Fort, the supervisor of the department of learning.

“The mission is to spark that innovation inside the building into doing STEM activities,” said Fort.

Christina Cumberland, the lab’s resource teacher, collaborates ahead of time with each school’s teaching staff to create activities that tie into current lessons. 

Cumberland also attained her CDL with the district’s help, and is “the only teacher who drives her classroom to school each day,” joked Fort. 

Over the course of four years, the lab has traveled to 57 schools and reached more than 35,000 students. 

“We could get to every school if it was just show and tell,” said Imbriale. “By having an extended residency, it ensured that we could have a true teaching and learning experience.”

For all FETC® coverage, click here. 

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