Classrooms across the country are quickly evolving as new technology is introduced. Gone are the days of just paper and pencil; schools are now incorporating tablets, e-readers, laptops among various …
Classrooms across the country are quickly evolving as new technology is introduced. Gone are the days of just paper and pencil; schools are now incorporating tablets, e-readers, laptops among various other devices into the normal school day to help students prepare for the modern age of technology.
Here in Rhode Island, the Highlander Institute, based out of Providence, is trying to help schools better enhance technology integration and blended learning efforts.
Warwick was chosen to be a part of the Highlander Institute’s Fuse RI program, which allows for teachers, or selected fellows, across districts to collaborate on blended learning strategies.
The Highlander Institute, which began in 1990, is an organization dedicated to the improvement of education and making sure all children have the opportunities and support they deserve. Highlander Institute provides various educational services backed by research.
One of their biggest priorities is “blended” or “21st Century” learning. Blended learning incorporates technology, digital and online media into traditional forms of educational instruction, merging new and old. The aim is that students and teachers alike can be better prepared for a world so reliant on technology.
Fuse RI, a two-year fellowship program started by the Highlander Institute and funded by a $350,000 grant from The Learning Accelerator, seeks to improve blending learning initiatives throughout the state by having different districts partner together. The fellows of the program, various teachers and administrators from different districts, meet and discuss what has and has not worked in their districts and then assist other districts in their blended learning initiatives.
The Learning Accelerator, a national nonprofit with the goal of enhancing blended learning initiatives across the country, funded Fuse RI because the state’s size offered an amazing opportunity for statewide blended learning implementation as well as face-to-face collaboration initiatives.
Shawn Rubin, director of Blended Learning for the Highlander Institute and coordinator of Fuse RI, said, “What we see here in Rhode Island, and nationally really, is that districts end up in their own little silos. They are doing all this creative and innovative work, but they never communicate that because there isn’t time built in for that kind of sharing. We wanted to find a way to meet the needs of the districts, providing outreach and support in a more ongoing way. With Fuse RI we are creating pathways for the movement of information and collaboration.”
He explained that the 30 volunteers or “fellows,” chosen from 75 applicants for the program have undergone extensive training that started with a two-day boot camp during the summer to define blended learning and prepare for the work they will be doing over the next two years.
Dawn Manchester, who has been an elementary school teacher for 18 years, is the Warwick fellow. She currently works as a sixth grade teacher at Lippitt Elementary School.
“Being accepted into the program was definitely an honor. I am surrounded by so many amazing people and I was chosen. So far, Fuse has definitely boosted my idea of what I am capable of. The world is bigger than my own classroom, and I can help more than just my classroom and my students. I can help other teachers, administrators, possibly a whole district, and that’s really empowering.”
Since the summer camp, fellows have met once a month for updates and more training, and each participating district has gone under an evaluation.
In February, now that evaluations are finished, fellows will begin to visit their partnered districts to help with the implementation of different initiatives, whether that is professional development, technology courses or teaching good data practices among other things. Manchester will partner with the Johnston Public School Department.
“The most important job of a fellow is to go into a district, see where they are already doing good work, where they want to accelerate and then help them accelerate that,” Rubin said.
Manchester said, “This program is a way to blend the Rhode Island districts, not just bringing blended learning to the districts.”
She said that districts can get caught up in what they are doing and a collaboration between districts is a “huge conversation” that Rhode Island needs more than ever as the face of education is changing with the introduction of technology in the classroom.
Rubin said that Warwick has had a lot of involvement with the blended learning movement already and has a lot of potential with the Fuse RI program because the educators here are dedicated to personalizing and improving their students’ education.
“Blended learning is not just throwing a computer at a kid, but using technology as a way of personalizing education students can move at their own pace,” Manchester said. “I’ve found that in my own classroom collaboration has increased, but so has their passion for learning. It is a way of meeting kids where they are. They know there is a world outside the classroom, and blended learning acknowledges that.”
Superintendent Richard D’Agostino is excited for the integration of blended learning in classrooms and proud to have the program in the Warwick Public Schools District.
“Today, go into any classroom or home and kids are on some form of electronic device. Information is at our fingertips, and if we weren’t to use that to our own advantage I don’t think we would be understanding the full potential of instruction. Students are far ahead of us, and it’s about time we catch up.”
Similarly, Mayor Scott Avedisian mentioned his excitement for the program in his inaugural speech earlier this month. He thanked Manchester on her consistent effort on improving our own district and congratulated her on being accepted as a fellow.
Avedisian wrote in an email, “Over the next few years we will also see many changes in the way students learn in order to help them compete in this new digital age. A special thank you to our talented teachers and staff who understand the importance of creating new integrated systems that mix teaching, technology and data in order to increase personalization, engagement and mastery of all essential skills for our students.”
In the coming months Manchester, as well as the other fellows for Fuse RI, will be working closely with partnering districts to figure out what services each district would like and then implementing those throughout each district.
For more information on Fuse RI visit fuseri.highlanderinstitute.org. For more information on the Highlander Institute visit their web page at www.highlanderinstitute.org.
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