This is a guest post written by Edmentum customer Krystal Smith, a 5th grade teacher at Twin Rivers Intermediate School. You can get more awesome teaching tips from Krystal on her personal blog, The RenewED Teacher.
Imagine this: You’re at a staff meeting, and your principal announces that your elementary school is going to get a new computer-based program that teachers must use to individualize student learning. If your school currently does not have any computer-based programs, you might be thrilled. But, if your school already has such a program in place, you might sigh, roll your eyes, complain, or tune out the principal and wonder how you’re going to fit in yet another online tool.
The latter was my situation. My school was invited to participate in a beta program for Edmentum’s new K–8 individualized learning solution, Exact Path. Between the two other online programs we currently use, I couldn’t imagine learning the ins and outs of another program and how to incorporate it into an already too-tight schedule. I had some questions, and regardless of whether your situation resembles mine or not, you might have similar ones. For a peek into my experience with Edmentum’s Exact Path, I’d like to offer answers to four key questions, as well as my tips on how to overcome challenges and implement the program in your classroom.
1. Why should I use Exact Path when we already have individualized learning programs?
Because my school participated in the Exact Path beta program which included ongoing training and support, I was immediately on board. Despite being hesitant about adding another resource to my plate, I knew that I would not be left to learn this alone. For me, the obvious answer was yes!
Edmentum has a number of different online products, and I had prior experience with two of them, Study Island and Plato Courseware. I had been impressed with how those programs helped me analyze and interpret my students’ data, so I was willing to give Exact Path a try.
Edmentum’s products are “designed by teachers and for teachers.” This is important because teachers have reviewed the Common Core State Standards (or their own state’s standards), worked to understand them, and broken them down into small pieces to help their students meet or exceed them. Edmentum works with teachers to make sure that those insights are reflected in their content. Because of this, I personally trust that Edmentum will continue to develop products that teachers will want and need to use.
Most times, convincing yourself to be open minded and put in the extra effort to learn something new is more than half the battle to accepting any kind of change. This also rings true as to why you should give Exact Path a try, even when may already have an individualized learning program. It’s another tool to help you to understand your students and how to help them be successful.
2. How will Exact Path benefit my teaching and my students’ learning?
This is the only question I really needed answered. And you will only learn the answer to this question by having your students complete the initial Exact Path diagnostic assessments as soon as you can. Yes, this means adding another test to the long list students already face, but the information the diagnostic provides makes it worthwhile for you and them. Unfortunately, I did not take my own advice. If I could start this year over, I would certainly take heed.
You need to get your students to some computers and inform them that you want to be the best teacher you can be for them. Tell them one way that you can do that is by learning what they are really good at in math or language arts and what they need to improve on in those subjects. You want to make sure that you take the diagnostic assessments seriously so that your students will too. You want the most complete and accurate data you can get. And, make sure that your students understand that this isn’t a test they’re supposed to ace; it’s designed to find out what they already know and what they still need to learn.
If you teach 4th grade math and all of your students score above grade level in numbers and operations of whole numbers, you can perhaps change your entire curriculum map and begin teaching other concepts earlier in the school year. On the other hand, if all of your students score well below grade level in counting and cardinality, your curriculum map is going to have to change as well—and drastically.
This assessment is one of the biggest benefits Exact Path has to offer. Results from the diagnostic clearly showed me the specific math concepts that were strengths and weaknesses for each of my students, and those results were eye-opening. Another program we use gives similar information, but it does not follow that up with the interactive instructional or practice components Exact Path offers. And, although that program is based on state standards, it doesn’t include any language arts content and only scales down to 3rd grade standards. Exact Path goes as low as kindergarten standards and all the way up to 8th grade for my higher achievers.
I am able to view all of this information about my students’ progress through Exact Path’s Knowledge Map, which provides a breakdown of the skills and grade levels my students are performing on. Yes, I am actually aware of and working with one of my 5th grade struggling students on counting and cardinality—the first standard in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and in my state’s standards for kindergarten. If it were not for Exact Path, I would not have this knowledge. Of course, I would know this student was struggling, but I would not know it was because the student had not mastered counting and cardinality.
On the other side of the coin, I have another student who has assessed above 8th grade material. This student is identified as gifted; however, Edmentum provides specific information on where this student is excelling. I would not know this particular student assessed above grade level on scatter plots and rational approximations on an 8th grade level if not for this assessment.
To get to this point of targeting specific skills with your students, you must have them take the diagnostic assessment as soon as possible and have a positive attitude about what knowledge you will gain from it.
When in doubt: Motivate yourself and be excited about what you will learn about your students academically. Share not only what you learn with the colleagues who teach your students but also with the students, their families, and outside agencies. It takes a village to help students overcome academic deficiencies and realize their potential.
3. How easy to use is Exact Path for me and my students?
This is an easy answer: It’s easy. We worked with Tony, one of Edmentum’s implementation consultants, throughout our time in the beta program. Before we got up and running, Tony explained each component of the program, including how to understand the data that would be collected, how teachers could implement the program based on the data, how the program is related to Edmentum’s research-based mastery learning model, and what students would be doing while interacting with the program. He had one-on-one meetings with any teacher who wanted individualized instruction on how to use the program. He communicated via email regularly and even shared his personal cellphone number with teachers so that we could reach him whenever necessary.
When it comes to actually getting started, my recommendation is to go in and become familiar with the program before you allow students to use it. Check out the instructional and practice components to get an idea of what your students will be doing. Show students how to log in before allowing them to actually log in. This is easy if you have access to a SMART Board®, Promethean interactive whiteboard, or any other device that allows you to project your screen for students to view. For management purposes, keep all student account logins, usernames, and passwords on index cards stored away in a place where you can access them quickly. It is inevitable that students will forget this information on their own.
When you take advantage of the support Edmentum offers and take the time to become familiar with the program, you and your students will be comfortable using Exact Path in no time.
4. My school isn’t 1:1. When will my students be able to use Exact Path?
This was and remains one of the biggest classroom challenges I have with Exact Path. Not enough time and not having enough computers. Not having a 1:1 school made getting started difficult for me and the majority of my colleagues.
I’ve set the goal of having my students use Exact Path at least twice a week, although without any working classroom computers, this is not always possible. I know this makes it difficult to maximize the benefits of Exact Path—especially for struggling students and for those students ready to begin working on above-grade-level material. So, what have I done to combat these issues?
• I use Exact Path during my scheduled computer days. Each teacher in my building has two scheduled computer days in the computer lab per week on a five-day rotation. At one point in time this year, I did not have scheduled times to visit the lab with my students. I signed up to use the lab whenever it was available and also relied on signing out the laptop cart at my school (I actually prefer that—one less trip outside the classroom!) However, I have 23 students in one class and 24 in another, and there are only 21 laptops. When I have the laptops but the computer lab is not available because it’s being utilized, I often ask the teacher using it if there are any extra available computers, and if so, I may send some trustworthy students down to work on Exact Path independently. I have only been denied when there were no extra computers.
• Students take turns using the laptops. If there are no extra computers, I have students trade off. If we are working on an independent assignment in science or social studies where the students may not need too much assistance from me, I will have the students who are unable to use a computer work on that assignment. Once our computer time is over and we transition into science or social studies, those two-to-three students get to use the computers while the rest of the class work on the assignment.
• I use Exact Path during center time. Using Exact Path as part of my learning centers has really benefitted my teaching and students’ learning. I am able to use my Promethean interactive whiteboard as a part of my center rotations and display an activity of my choice based on my students’ performance for added practice. Additionally, I sometimes sign out four-to-five laptops at a time and use them as part of a center rotation. Students know that when they go to that center, they can log in to their individual accounts and continue working on their learning pathways.
• Another way Exact Path can be used is to pull students into small groups for some offline learning based on the data it offers. I have yet to use Exact Path in this way, but I like the fact that it includes a grouping tool so that I can use it in this manner. For example, in the geometry domain, one of my students in struggling and eight of them have yet to even attempt working on understanding attributes and classifying two-dimensional figures (5.G.B.3 and 5.G.B.4 in the CCSS). In math enrichment, we have just begun learning about quadrilaterals and how to classify them. Because I know that there is a struggling student and eight that need to be caught up, I can create two small groups with these students and begin assessing their prior knowledge on two-dimensional figures and plan their small-group instruction based on where they are. The rest of the students then complete the regularly scheduled partner, small-group, or independent classwork.
• Have your students work on Exact Path whenever you can. I recently made a plan with the gifted support teacher and my principal to allow a student access to the computer lab to use Exact Path whenever I deem it necessary. In a case where a parent and I both had concerns that a student’s needs were not being met, I had to humbly admit I was not sure I could meet them by myself. Because of Exact Path’s capabilities, family support, colleague support, and administrative support, this student will continue to flourish.
So, what are you waiting for before you get started with Exact Path yourself? Go ahead and be like Nike—“Just do it!”
If you have experience with Exact Path, and have had to overcome challenges of your own, I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts too! With shared experiences, I know we can continue to grow and learn from each other.
Until then, happy teaching!
Interested in learning more about how Edmentum’s Exact Path can support K–8 individualized learning in your school? Find out how our online program can help you meet students where they are to move learning forward!