Personalized learning platform to debut this fall at Lead-Deadwood Elementary

February 23, 2019

DEADWOOD — Lead-Deadwood Elementary School has launched an individualized learning initiative.

At the Feb. 12 school board meeting Principal Tim Kosters laid the groundwork for two new individualized learning platforms designed to benefit students and staff, alike.

In a word, flexibility.

Personalized learning, which allows students to learn at their own speed, is slated to make its elementary school debut during the fall of the 2019-2020 school year.

“Right now, we’re only focusing on the math conversation,” Kosters said. “The real benefit of personalized learning is that kids can learn at their own pace. The thing about personalized learning is it’s basically just removing the time structure from our kids’ education, so that instead of everybody sitting in front of the class, everybody doing the exact same instruction, you’re able to do some things at your own level.”

Math teacher Pam Smith said mathematics is a subject area that lends itself particularly well to personalized learning.

“In mathematics, the content builds on itself. Some students need more time to process the content. Others learn quickly. We want both types of learners to be successful and enjoy learning,” Smith said. “With personalized learning, the students and teachers can work in small groups to address needs, while other students can be working independently on their goals.”

Smith said the true benefit of personalized learning is that it provides more opportunities for teachers to differentiate students’ learning at their specific level and build upon that foundation.

“It also gives opportunities for students to take more ownership in their learning,” she added.

The introduction of the new learning style coincides with this year’s math curriculum review and currently, two different curriculums are being considered.

“The biggest part is getting it all together and answering all the specific questions, Kosters said. “It’s pretty exciting. The teachers are excited. The curriculum council are talking to parents about it, the differentiation opportunities it presents, kids who are sitting right next to each other, working on completely different lessons.”

Kosters was quick to point out what personalized learning is not.

“One thing I would say that most people think right away is that it is all a technology- based curriculum and it’s not,” he said. “There is instruction, exposure time, and collaboration, as well, then there’s obviously the technology by itself that is different than you could 20, 30 years ago, but it’s not the only instruction that they will get.”

Kosters said another benefit of this type of curriculum is that it lends itself well to building on other types of curriculum and platforms for learning.

“But the big thing is letting kids be at their own level,” Kosters said.

Superintendent Dr. Dan Leikvold pointed out personalized learning comes at a price tag.

“The biggest price tag is, in order to manage where everybody’s at,” Leikvold said. “What the lessons are at, their skill level. The grade levels are kind of mixed a little bit. You’ve got to have a pretty good platform to do that and that’s not free.”

Kosters said he and his staff are favoring the Empower platform, which easily allows parents to go in and see where their children are at, enabling them to help with homework and such.

“It’s pretty critical that we build the backbone of it,” Kosters said, adding that he has been working with District Technology Administrator Jamie Hohn to accomplish that.

School board member Tim Madsen asked if the program is web based.

Hohn said they are deciding whether to house the data in-house and save money or whether it is smarter to have the company host the data for the district. If the district hosts the data, it will be a $1,200 savings, and Hohn thought it would probably be doable.

The district is also looking at personalized professional development options for teachers and staff via an Educational Impact site.

“So the first-year band teacher doesn’t need to sit in a room next to the kindergarten teacher with 25 years’ experience and do the exact same thing at the exact same time,” Kosters said. “They would have the ability to go into each one of those catalog options and view discussion boards all on their own.”

“This would be a good opportunity for staff to do whatever they’re interested in,” Kosters said. “Another really nice thing about this is that the company actually encourages you to share some log-in data with parents. There are courses in there for parents of difficult children. If they’d like to be able to do that, we’d make that available for them.”

Kosters said two other schools in South Dakota are using the site and he called one in Sioux Falls to find out how it is going. The teachers liked the flexibility and ability to do professional development at home or on their own time.

Leikvold said there needs to be a reward component, as well.

“Some of it will be done on our time, but some of it won’t be. Some of it will be done on weekends or on their own time. And I think we should reward them,” Leikvold said. “What that should look like, I don’t know. It’s not merit pay. It’s not performance pay. And some folks are more motivated to get better than others. It’s a conversation we are going to need to have.”

The estimated cost of this platform is $9,500.

School board member Suzanne Rogers asked if staff could do as many modules as they want. Kosters said yes.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Rogers said.

Leikvold said the district would keep the four half-day professional developments to address topics such as suicide prevention and awareness and ALICE intruder training, CPR, for example.

“When we talk about individualized learning for our kids, I think maybe teachers should do the same,” Rogers said.

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