New Research: Digital Tools and Personalized Learning, Today and Tomorrow

Project Tomorrow's Speak Up National Research Project reveals blended learning trends
By: | Issue: August, 2014
January 30, 2015

Digital tools are transforming learning and teaching, and Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up National Research Project surveys provide insights about 21st century skills, STEM instruction in classrooms, and how these tools are being used. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on June 10, 2014, Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, shared recent survey findings and discussed what the future of personalized blending learning is expected to look like. A curriculum administrator also shared his experience leading his district’s transition to a blended learning modelÑa 12-school pilot with a new “Centers Approach.” Other topics included how administrators are leveraging technology solutions to decrease costs and how technology is being used to personalize learning across the U.S.

Julie Evans
Project Tomorrow

Speak Up is a national research project that is conducted using online surveys and focus groups. Project Tomorrow creates online surveys for lots of different stakeholder groups within K12 education. We have grade-level and reading-level appropriate surveys for K12 students. We have surveys for teachers, for the parents of the students and for administrators. This year, for the first time, we also polled community members. And we also polled pre-service teachers in schools of education, i.e., the next generation of educators. We asked district administrators last year about the different solutions that would have the greatest potential to transform teaching and learning in their classrooms and thus have the biggest impact on student success. They told us, of course, that enhancing teacher effectiveness is number one. And almost 50 percent of them believe that leveraging technology more effectively was key. When we drill down a little bit more into what district administrators are telling us, we see that they’re thinking about the use of digital content in the classroom, some blended learning environments or flipped learning modelsÑthe idea of using different types of mobile devices, tablets included, along with one-to-one programs and online textbooks. Those are the types of tools that they think would have the greatest impact on learning.

This dovetails very nicely with what we hear from other stakeholders. Amongst all the audiences that we polled, we see that parents, principals and district administrators consider the effective implementation oftechnology within instruction to be extremely important. Six out of 10 parents want their child in a class where they can use a mobile device for learning. When we looked at it by different types of community, and by age of child, we saw very little differentiation. So whether we’re talking about parents of elementary students, parents from rural communities, parents from urban communities, it’s very much a universal opinion that they value the role of mobile devices in the classroom. A lot of that has to do with the fact that these parents are increasingly mobile users themselves. They see how it helps them stay better organized, as well as how it transforms the way they are connecting with people, the way they are collaborating, their access to information. They want their child to have that same type of experience paired with their education.

Alec Logman
Elementary Math Curriculum Associate
Stamford Public Schools (Conn.)

In the beginning of the year when I took this position, the superintendent of elementary schools said to me, “We have a lot of different things going on in our district in terms of math support intervention software. Can you research what is out there so that we know what we should be working with, what is effective, why it is effective, and in what context?” I did a lot of research, and the thing that caught my eye with DreamBox is that one of our schools, unbeknownst to us, had just bought it. That was Westover Magnet Elementary. They were just about to have their training; they invited me, and it was very informative. I was impressed. The next part was to reach out to DreamBox, and they were very accommodating with our needs. We began talking about our options. I said that we can’t really go and tell the schools that this is what they’re going to do. We needed to build a grassroots movement where they would be the ones interested and they would be the ones asking for it. I began with Davenport Ridge Elementary School. DreamBox gave us an extended pilot to start with this school so we could test our rollout strategy. Initially, we launched it in a before-school program, but very quickly we began experimenting with putting DreamBox into the classroom daily instruction.

Our math periods are about 60 minutes, starting with a 15-20 minute mini lesson on the day’s main topics. Then the students break up into about four stations, one of which became a DreamBox station where students were able to rotate through and get at least a little bit of time on it. That became a very successful way to get the teachers trained on DreamBox and to get the students interested in it as well. Then we asked the teachers from Davenport to speak to teachers in the other schools, and with that, we were able to extend the pilot to 11 other sites. We started in October with 262 students, just at Westover, added Davenport in November, and the other schools in January. So halfway through the academic year, we had half of our almost 8,000 students participating. The push by the end of the school year was to make sure that the students would have DreamBox for the summer so they could continue using it on their own. Our plan for next year is that DreamBox will be part of all our professional development, and will be put heavily into our before- and after-school programs. That way students can get it in an organized way, even in schools that aren’t in the math workshop model.

What I am most impressed with is that about a third of all the hours our students used this were actually after school. The fact that students were going home and working on this extensively on their own is very important to usÑthe fact that we achieved so much student engagement.

Joe Trahan
Curriculum Designer
DreamBox Learning

DreamBox offers a rigorous and engaging pre-K through middle school math experience that helps students make sense of math and improve their achievement either online or with our iPad app. We know that improving student understanding in mathematics with technology doesn’t just mean digitizing old educational practices such as worksheets, or putting students on a computer for 10 minutes at the end of the day. DreamBox engages students in rigorous math content aligned with standards used in classrooms today, including Common Core.

Many schools are shifting to figure out how to use those standards, and DreamBox can help with that. We also developed a motivating environment and used our intelligent adaptive learning technology to create a personalized experience with online formative assessments for the students. DreamBox improves student understanding by inviting and empowering them to think independently and to solve problems on their own. We provide reporting aligned with many different standards, including Common Core and other standards across the U.S., and actively engage students in mathematical practices and processes.

At DreamBox, we view technology as a vehicle for content engagement, rather than just content delivery. DreamBox doesn’t start lessons with instructional lectures. We don’t say, “Here’s how you do this. Copy what I am doing. Now let’s see how many you can get right in a row.” Rather, we build highly visual, very interactive manipulatives that empower students to think in ways that can’t be done using pencils and paper. One thing that we focus on with the rigorous math is that the students are thinking critically. DreamBox students have to think critically. It’s not just a practice tool. As they go through our lessons, they develop their vocabulary and their conceptual understanding through their experiences.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to