Highlander Institute: Advancing classroom technology throughout Rhode Island
The heading on the SmartBoard asks, “How well do you know your antonyms?” challenging third graders to identify and spell the opposite of the word “silly.” After a short discussion between the teacher and three students she is working with, the students are on their way to spelling “serious.” In this SmartBoard-based lesson, they tap on letters appearing on the board; a correct letter is added to the word on the board, an incorrect letter means the students must start over in selecting the correct letters. Teaching moments occur throughout the exercise: “What letter other than e makes the long e sound?” ”What three letters have we learned make the us sound?”
|Kindergarteners at Highlander Charter School use iPads for practicing math concepts. (Photo courtesy of Devlomedia and Kate Kelley Photography.)|
Down the hall, second graders are being assessed on reading comprehension. But this isn’t your traditional paper and pencil test. Instead, the teacher is talking with her students, asking questions that provide both qualitative and quantitative measures of understanding, and entering outcomes into a Highlander Institute-developed assessment application, Metryx, on an iPad. Students, wanting to see how they’re doing, look at the iPad, which graphs their individual progress.
These examples are the tip of the iceberg, not only for the use of blended learning at Highlander Charter School, but also for the number of students who are benefiting from what Denise Jenkins, grant programs officer at the Foundation, refers to as “what appears to be the most advanced 21st century technical instruction program in Rhode Island.”
|A kindergarten teacher uses Metryx to take formative assessment data during reading groups. (Photo courtesy of Devlomedia and Kate Kelley Photography.)|
With Foundation support, Highlander Institute has developed an integrated technology strand of professional development services to show educators how technology provides them “with the power to individualize instruction, create student-centered classrooms, and inspire higher student engagement.”
A former teacher at Highlander Charter School, Shawn Rubin, now the Highlander Institute’s director of blended learning, saw firsthand the need for better assessment tools in the classroom. “With a classroom of highly diverse students with highly diverse needs, I really needed to know how to personalize instruction and group students,” he explains, noting that writing assessments on a clipboard just wasn’t working.
He developed the concept of Metryx and credits Stephanie Castilla, a recent RISD graduate now the Institute’s technology integration specialist, with building the prototype. “And I give a lot of the credit to Rose (Rose Mary Grant, head of school). She saw the potential for this immediately and we took the leap. We had no idea what the demand would be for professional development with SmartBoards and iPads (as well as Android tablets, Smartphones, and web-based tools), but we provided services to 400 teachers over the past year.
“And that’s literally thousands of students,” adds Jeanne D’Agostino, Highlander’s development director.
“There’s no way these tools are not coming, and if you don’t start the training now, it’s going to be a heavier lift down the road,” Shawn continues.
One school that is partnering with Highlander is Pleasant View, a pre-K through fifth grade school in Providence’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. “We have a strong understanding of this model (of integrated technology) and Gara (Dr. Gara Field, principal, Pleasant View School) has a strong desire to implement it,” Shawn says.
|A first grader uses a computer to do adaptive reading instruction. (Photo courtesy of Devlomedia and Kate Kelley Photography.)|
Gara, who describes the two schools as “philosophically-aligned,” notes the importance of meeting students where they are (with today’s technology). “Not only is the Metryx exciting in terms of formative assessments that teachers can do on the iPad, but so are the professional development opportunities. I can’t say enough about the team at Highlander. We’re building relationships, trust, and rapport. We hope to be the model school for blended technology in the state.”
Rose Mary (Highlander’s head of school) explains, “It basically comes down to the professional development to support teachers. We need to think about how to train teachers and to help them see the value of these assessment tools. With technology, it’s easier to connect the classroom with the outside world.”
Highlander intends to provide high-quality professional development to at least 1,000 teachers this year, as well as tailored consulting services to select schools/districts, with the end goal of improving student proficiency through interactive technologies.
|First grade students use technology to personalize instruction during literacy centers. (Photo courtesy of Devlomedia and Kate Kelley Photography.)|
Shawn’s vision calls for Highlander serving as a blended learning institute, “where you have all the tools you need in one place,” with the institute providing professional development, certification for technology leaders in schools, and a laboratory for yet-to-be-identified innovative ideas.
“This project is a true example of a charter school being an incubator of best practice for all schools,” Denise concludes.
The Highlander Institute is an education reform nonprofit organization focused on researching, developing, and disseminating innovative educational methods to improve outcomes for all learners. The Institute is the sister organization to Highlander Charter School, a leading urban K – 8 school in Providence, which acts as the Institute’s lab school for the incubation of educational reform efforts and best practices. The Highlander Institute is focused on sharing best educational practices through various outreach efforts to improve teaching and learning across the region in the areas of blended learning, diverse learners, and expanded learning initiatives.