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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Personalized-learning model goes national

Milpitas Unified, a school district near San Jose, is using the Summit Learning Plan in several schools. At Pomeroy Elementary, 6th-grade teacher Sarah Thomsen (center) spent last summer revising SLP projects for her students.

Summit charter network’s personalized learning model is being piloted in schools — 70 percent district, 25 percent charter and 5 percent private — across the country, reports Education Next. I’m the author.

The model includes an online platform, developed with help from Facebook engineers, that comes loaded with a comprehensive, teacher-created curriculum, ideas for student projects, and assessments for grades 5 through 12 in core academic subjects.

Students master academic content through personalized learning, choosing from “playlists” made of such learning tools as Khan Academy videos, BrainPOP animations, guided practice problems, interactive exercises, websites, and texts. They take tests when they feel ready, moving on to new content when they’ve achieved mastery. A blue line on the student’s dashboard shows whether he or she is progressing at the expected pace. Technology is only part of Summit’s model. Students spend most of their time learning cognitive skills and concepts through individual and collaborative “deeper learning” projects. Ninth graders create scientific experiments to measure the impact of technology waste on the environment; 7th graders explore the Civil Rights movement by examining injustices in their own communities. Teachers work one-on-one with students, helping them set short-term and long-term goals and develop “habits of success,” such as self-management, responsible decision making, and persistence.

Summit’s partner schools get access to the platform, teacher training and mentoring and tech support throughout the school year. It’s all free. In exchange, they provide feedback on what works — and what doesn’t — in different environments.

Compared to her students of past years, this year’s pupils are much more mature and self-directed by midyear, says Brandy Holton, a fourth-year teacher at a Chicago charter school. They no longer act as if “the only way to learn is through the teacher.”

Wealthy philanthropists, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, are funding education experiments “with little public scrutiny,” reports the New York Times.  Students are “serving as de facto beta testers for their ideas.”

The story looks at Marc Benioff of Salesforce, who’s giving $100,000 “innovation grants” to middle-school principals in San Francisco, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who’s “championing a popular math-teaching program where Netflix-like algorithms determine which lessons students see” and Zuckerberg’s support for Summit’s personalized learning model.

The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and Gates Foundation are jointly funding a $12 million personalized learning initiative, reports Education Week. 

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