Innovation: Frequently Asked Questions
About KIPP Empower Academy
- What were the key challenges faced in implementing this model and primary takeaways from the first year of operation?
- How did you identify online content providers and decide on your current vendors?
- Who oversees the technology in the classroom (troubleshooting, student challenges, etc)?
- What types of academic assessments do you use?
- Why did KEA choose to keep the technology in the classroom rather than having a dedicated lab?
- How much time do students spend on the computers per day?
- How does the rotational model work?
- What are the aspects of the model that require additional assessment and evaluation?
- Is the online learning integrated/aligned with in-class instruction?
- What type of technology-specific professional development do you provide for teachers?
- How is intervention managed at KIPP Empower Academy?
- What content providers did you use in your first year?
- What aspects of your school would you say have had the most impact in developing a successful model?
- Was blended learning an initial component of your vision for the school?
- Are all of your teachers credentialed?
1. What were the key challenges faced in implementing this model and primary takeaways from the first year of operation?
Through the launch of KIPP Empower, KIPP LA has learned a number of key lessons that are applicable to others seeking to get blended learning schools of the ground. Please see the Lessons Learned section of the KEA Case Study by clicking the button on the right panel.
Finding software companies that produce age-appropriate, interactive, and relatively inexpensive programming with enough content to engage primary-aged students for 25 to 30 minutes per computer session for an entire school year proved problematic. We found that there was not one company that had sufficient content for students in all of the core content areas of reading, writing, math, and science. Therefore, KEA was required to utilize a few different education software companies to provide enough content to meet students’ diverse learning needs.
For detailed information on the vendors KIPP Empower selected for its online content, please see the Classroom Instruction: Online section of the KEA Case Study by clicking the button on the right panel.
KIPP Empower Academy employs an Instructional Technology Assistant who rotates between classrooms and support students’ technology needs. This role has proved to be a critical component of the model and will need to be ramped up as the school expands.
The Instructional Technology Assistant’s responsibilities include: helping students troubleshoot when computer challenges arise; contacting the internet service provider if bandwidth becomes an issue; switching in and out headphones and microphones that are not operating correctly; monitoring battery life to ensure computers are at full power; transitioning iPads between classrooms; serving as point-person for teachers regarding proper computer usage and care; and acting as liaison with technology consultants and with content providers if necessary.
In its first two years of operation, KIPP Empower Academy utilized the nationally norm-referenced SAT-10 for assessing student progress in kindergarten and first grade, as students of that age are not yet eligible to take the California Standards Test (CST). Once KEA has students in the second grade and older, those students will be assessed by the CST. KEA also uses (and will continue to use) the nationally norm-referenced MAP to measure the growth of students in all grades.
Integrating computers in the classroom has a number of important advantages:
- Eliminates transition time to and from a computer lab.
- Eliminates the costs that are required to hire teachers to monitor these labs, as well as reduces the total number of classrooms required to operate the school.
- Increases student engagement by allowing for more dynamic and shortened rotation blocks between computer time and small group instruction
- Keeps the much-needed technology where it belongs. Students can use these computers to create presentations, type documents, explore the Internet, and so much more as their skill level improves.
On average, each student spends two blocks of 25-30 minutes each, for a total of 50-60 minutes, on the computer per day.
The rotational model varies slightly depending on the grade and subject matter. To take reading as an example, the rotational model splits a class into three groups of approximately 6-12 students. This is done in order to allow teachers to zero in on each student’s individual reading level and adjust instruction accordingly. Within this three-group reading model, at any given time, one group is with a teacher for a 30-minute phonics/fluency lesson, one group is with another teacher for a 30-minute comprehension/vocabulary block, and the last group is using the adaptive technology of the iStation computer program. Then, the students rotate from one block to the next until everyone has completed all three blocks (two with a teacher, one with computers).
All computer-based content mirrors the small-group instructional model, in that it is geared towards instructing students according to their level in each subject. For example, iStation consistently adapts to each student’s reading level. If a student struggles with their decoding skills, iStation will cycle back to re-teach the lesson. Likewise, if a student excels, he or she can accelerate ahead so that the challenging content matches his or her level.
During writing and science, half of the class will remain with the lead teacher for hands-on, small-group instruction or inquiry while the other half of the class may use our laptops, iPads, or work in independent learning centers. In math, students are split between a lead teacher and an intervention teacher. These teachers may utilize the laptops for additional guided or independent practice or for student assessments.
For more information, see the Rotational Model section of the KEA Case Study by clicking the button on the right panel.
KIPP Empower will continue to assess: 1) what the appropriate amount of computer time is for primary aged students; 2) how to best utilize and support teachers in the blended learning environment; 3) whether it is better to integrate the online learning with class instruction or to maintain a parallel track where the online adaptive learning is separate from in-class instruction; and 4) how best to maximize the role of the computer as students move into the upper elementary grades.
Currently no online systems contain assignable standards (that is, teachers are not able to ensure students are answering certain questions or reading certain texts), so the online learning is not fully integrated or aligned with the in-class instruction happening at the same time. Bringing these two aspects of our instructional model into alignment is something we are continuing to assess.
We focused a great deal of time ensuring that all teachers had clearly planned lessons in which all routines and procedures were well thought out. Teachers needed to train students how to transition quietly between teachers and on and off computers. This added further classroom management responsibilities to the teacher; however, just as with any other transition, once the students understood the teacher’s expectations and practiced how to move on and off the computers, these transitions became a seamless part of the school day.
Moreover, KEA teachers were trained how to use the wide array of student data from the online content providers and from in-class assessments to inform their teaching practice. In most areas, the online data, which was reviewed periodically, confirmed what the teachers had already experienced with the students in the classroom. However, at times, the online content data provided additional information that teachers had not previously experienced with their students. Teachers mainly focused on the areas of weakness the online programs had identified for remediation so that they could alter their lesson plans to focus on these areas.
In many ways, KEA’s entire instructional model is focused on intervention, as it is built around providing small-group and individualized instruction in the four major content areas. KEA uses a full RTI (Response to Intervention) model. Based on student performance, students are grouped into one of three tiers. Tier two and three students receive additional supports and interventions based on needs. These interventions include additional offline tutoring, additional time on the computers, remediation with iPads, and intensive intervention provided by a learning specialist from the Kelter Center, company that specializes in providing high-intensive services for students with special needs.
A detailed explanation of our online content providers is available in the Classroom Instruction: Online section of the KEA Case Study by clicking the button on the right panel.
13. What aspects of your school would you say have had the most impact in developing a successful model?
Strong teachers and administrators are the cornerstone of KEA’s success. All KEA teachers and staff members have previously worked in public schools in New York City, Detroit, Philadelphia, and in the greater Los Angeles area. Each staff member chose to work at KEA because he or she wants to help prove what is possible in public education.
We were very methodical in phasing in certain aspects of the school model, including both our curriculum and rotational blended learning model. From the outset, we strived to establish a positive, achievement-oriented school culture. Ultimately, KEA’s model is focused on supporting excellent teaching and learning in the classroom. Technology has been critical in assisting us in implementing our small group instructional model and ensuring we are able to provide the small-group and individualized instruction that bolster student achievement and provide the academic foundation our students need to propel them to and through college.
Lastly, having an experienced school leader has been a critical component of KEA’s success. With a deep understanding of school management and instructional practices, Founding Principal Mike Kerr was able to focus his attention on implementation of this new model without being as encumbered by the day-to-day challenges of also being a first year school leader.
Not initially. The impetus for considering a blended learning model was driven by the severely restricted fiscal environment in the state of California. Technology has been critical in assisting us in implementing our small group instructional model and maintaining individualized instruction despite larger class sizes.
All of our teachers are either credentialed in the state of California, working to transfer a credential, or are in the process of obtaining a credential.