One of the things that Learning Counsel members love about our Guest Administrator Panel Discussions is the range of ideas that surface, often presented with a no-holds barred attitude. The idea is to throw challenges on the table, along with solutions now working in a hometown district. This panel discussion features Nationally recognized experts Dr. Jesse Ireland, Learning Technology Specialist at Columbus City Schools and Kimberly Nidy, Director of Technology at North Canton City Schools.

One of the key discussion points was structure, and according to Kimberly Nidy, “I would say that our teachers have gotten more structured on their own. They all started doing things together in teams and then sharing, you know, ‘I've got my set up like this, I've got mine set up like that.’ They started using Bitmoji classrooms, which are kind of a cool, new thing that came out. And there are even Facebook groups dedicated to how to create these things. People have built templates and shared them. Some of our teachers ended up using those, and they love them. They use them all the time now and we've seen them grow exponentially.

“I think having that organization in place is good, because it helps everybody know where to look for things,” said Nidy. “But now we are looking at common assessments, so where we did have everybody doing things on their own and they were grouping in teams and doing things together, we're becoming more structured now with assessments. We are using Performance Matters and we're using the analytic side of it right now. And now that PowerSchool ended up buying everything that we bought, it's good now because it's so interoperable that it is really starting to give us some of the things that we've always wanted.

“It's great that they all have the ability to work together and create and share, but it's the time, and how do we structure to give them more time? And that's the other thing that has been born out of this, we are collaborating more than we ever have before because we have the systems in order to share and to do the work; we are finding that we can be more structured, and be better in the classroom as far as personalizing the learning.”

Dr. Jesse Ireland’s team is taking a different approach in their structure. “We're working with 150 teachers right now that cool build these courses. So, it's really a kind of homegrown approach. We could've easily done it ourselves as a department, but we really wanted it to be a collaborative effort. And so we used teachers to work on these courses. Each team of teachers is working on a blueprint course and building out the assessments and sample learning experiences within the course. And then the teachers who eventually get the course are able to customize it based on the student needs they have in front of them. Each of us in our department has a monthly check-in with the teams to make sure we are on the same line and on point, and to give them feedback and review.

“And then we work with our curriculum team. So, we're in the office of learning technology. And we have our curriculum team who then goes in and also gives feedback on these courses, particularly the assessments to make sure they're aligned at the standards.”

Moderator LeiLani Cauthen, CEO and Publisher at the Learning Counsel, introduced the idea of breaking down the standard definition of grade levels and education being defined by age and years, semesters, etc. “So, when you define a course, is it defined by time? Not just subject? And when you say sixth grade math, it's a semester and another course for the next semester? What I'm asking is, must everything be anchored by time and space? It's like, this course is supposed to take one block of time, a 45-minute Carnegie unit daily across this amount of time, okay, now go, right? So, the build is anchored by time and space.”

Cauthen introduced a board game designed before the pandemic to help districts understand a more student-centric model that restructures time and space. (You’ll need to watch the video to see for yourself) “This allows teachers to roam,” said Cauthen. “They're not tethered to a classroom all the time. They only go into the classroom when a cohort of kids hits the moment of togetherness. So it makes your teachers define togetherness. It's an exact lecture, or it's only 30 minutes or it's a hands-on project required. So different cohorts, same age are arriving at different times in the course of the year. This is a complete flip administratively in the thinking of this market. So, start thinking about doing this maybe for part of their study day.”

When asked her thoughts on the new board game model, Kimberly Nidy said, “I love it. I have so many thoughts. When I look at this kind of model, I think it's so much better in the sense that you do have interaction.

“It may be difficult for parents to accept because that's not the way they did it, the compartmentalized approach,” said Nidy. “But truly for learning, this is a great approach because they can move through, they can go deeper, they can work with other people and they're not locked into those Carnegie units, per se.  I would be in favor of it, but I will tell you that it will be difficult to implement for a laundry list of reasons, which is why I think we’ll probably see it first in private schools before a traditional public-school environment. But I think there's such a shift happening. I know, even in Ohio, the ODE has started looking into personalized learning and what that looks like and how we encourage our districts to pursue that. So, the conversations are there and they're starting to move; it's my hope that we get to this.”

The discussion continued with more talk about changing structure and a move towards personalized learning. The ideas were non-traditional, but were well thought out, and surprisingly, there was a good bit of agreement on how we might get there.

This is an important discussion, and you’ll want to watch this video. There is much to use in your own district, and you will want to see the board game that is introducing a new, structurally sound way to bring real personal learning to schools across America.