Applying Creative Approaches to Learning Both in School and at Home
Odyssey Elementary School offers a progressive learning experience that elevates project-based, blended learning and critical thinking. Teachers at this Woods Cross, Utah, school in Davis School District relish the autonomy that district leaders provide and dig deep into the curricula to make it their own.
“We have the ability to go in different realms and try new things,” shared Kayla Towner, 5th grade ELA and social studies teacher at Odyssey Elementary. “That's kind of what our school has allowed us to do, and our district pushes for that too.”
Toward the end of the 2018–19 school year, that something “new” came in the form of Edmentum Exact Path, a K–12 individualized learning program. In the spring of 2019, teachers across the district began to get their feet wet by using Exact Path’s diagnostic-driven, targeted instruction to meet students where they are and promote personal academic growth. The 2019–20 school year yielded even more buy-in from teachers at Odyssey Elementary that continued even after brick-and-mortar buildings were shuttered.
“The adaptive nature felt deeper than other platforms I’ve used,” remarked Rachel Wright, 4th grade teacher at Odyssey Elementary. “It really gave a true understanding of where [students’] holes were.”
Varying Implementations to Suit Classroom Needs
The implementation varied based on student needs and teacher preferences. In Ms. Wright’s 4th grade classroom, she primarily used Exact Path as a part of her station-rotation model for both math and reading. Exact Path was one of the stations used every day. There was also an expectation for 40 minutes of at-home use weekly.
“Any program that is not one-size-fits-all is going to help students succeed,” said Ms. Wright. “I noticed that no matter what level [my students] were at, I could see them progressing through the program.”
In Mrs. Towner’s 5th grade classroom, center time is replaced by what she refers to as playlists. Essentially, these are learning tasks assigned weekly that students work through independently. She includes Exact Path in this weekly structure, and sets an expectation to complete two to three lessons per week. If, by Friday, students finish their playlist, they are invited to Discovery Friday, a weekly activity in support of students becoming global learners. Students use “passports” to travel to a new country and learn interesting information or do a fun activity. Additionally, Mrs. Towner uses the customizable Challenge feature in Exact Path that allows students to earn badges when they reach different time-on-task or mastery goals set by their teacher.
“The nice thing I like too is the low-level kids were able to meet that goal a lot of the times,” stated Mrs. Towner. “I feel like that boosted their confidence, since, a lot of times, they can't always get their work done or it's hard for them. I think it was good for all levels.”
Transitioning Learning to a Virtual Environment
Quick decisions around school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a somewhat wild ride during the final months of the 2019–20 school year. Throughout the experience, both Mrs. Towner and Ms. Wright were grateful for the technology programs that students were already comfortable using. These elements eased the transition that started as initial triage and frustration and molded it into something that students and teachers alike gained valuable lessons from.
“I did use Edmentum during remote learning, in part, because it's a platform my students were already familiar with, and it was built-in differentiation,” shared Ms. Wright. “I could be confident that if they weren't following a lesson that I was providing, that at least when they were on Edmentum, they were getting something at their level and continuing that growth that they were making.”
Mrs. Towner used Exact Path in a similar fashion. Both teachers also applied the learning playlist concept in their virtual teaching approaches. Microsoft Teams was used to post weekly assignments that students could check off as they completed their work—Exact Path was one component of those weekly learning requirements.
“[Exact Path] is a nice way for [students] to get the curriculum they need that you [as a teacher] may not always be able to full-on dive into, so they can learn it on their own,” said Mrs. Towner. “When I would teach things, it’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, Ms. T., we learned that in Edmentum.’ I like the correlation.”
Both elementary teachers also rounded out their virtual approaches by introducing optional Zoom meetings and virtual field trips. Finally, students used online platforms to connect with each other under teacher supervision or to seek one-on-one or small-group help from their teacher when needed.
Staying Connected with Parents and Students
Outside of technology, interesting insights around the value of relationships—with both students and parents—became top takeaways from this experience.
“Students need their teachers,” remarked Ms. Wright. “They need that connection. We would come together in Zoom, and I had one kiddo who would log on and just share a joke every day. That connection is so important. During this time in particular, they needed a cheerleader for them to succeed.”
“I think that what parents need from teachers is the same thing that we need from them,” continued Ms. Wright. “Respect and clear communication and that shared goal of creating a positive experience for the student. If we can recognize those qualities in each other, it can be a really positive experience, and it was for me.”
Reflecting on Success and Planning for What’s Next
In reflecting on this school year, both Mrs. Towner and Ms. Wright recognize the benefits of a program that looks beyond the given grade level students are in and identifies gaps or opportunities to accelerate. While the risk of students losing learning gains during extended school closures was still present, the instructional offerings became and will continue to be a powerful tool in these teachers’ toolbelts to combat them.
“I think [Edmentum is] really beneficial, and it’s also a great resource for early finishers, for students to have another outlet to challenge themselves,” shared Mrs. Towner. “For those that need more revisiting of the concept, that is another good resource that Edmentum provides.”
“It’s been just a positive experience,” noted Ms. Wright. “There’s a lot of different ways to use it, and you’ve got to find what fits for you, and it takes time to do that. I look forward to putting more time into it next year, and when a teacher wants to put their time into something, that's kind of a big thing.”
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