Students and teachers at Middletown High School have taken the initiative to organize learning and streamline their workflow. To stay on top of their learning, they use Hāpara Workspace. This school year, they joined the first wave of Hāpara adopters in Middletown Public Schools. These early adopters are beginning to exercise the tool’s potential to transform learning in their urban K-12 school district.
The need to organize learning during the pandemic
Prior to the pandemic, there was slow progress across the district in equipping its schools with 1:1 devices. Their district serves eight elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.
“We weren’t at 100% but when COVID-19 hit, suddenly everybody had to be there already,” reports Maghan Heslin. A teacher for 16 years, she started the year in a third grade classroom. She then transitioned to an instructional coach role in January.
Getting “everyone there” fell heavily on the shoulders of Instructional Technology Coach Steve Matthews. He has spent the past 14 months raising the floor for teachers’ technology use. Matthews scrambled to bring the district’s teachers up to speed on fundamentals like posting assignments in Google Classroom. He knew, though, that technology held more potential for education.
Hāpara Workspace wasn’t on educators’ radar when the district initially reached out to the company. They reached out late last school year as the pandemic pushed the school into virtual learning. Administrators were interested in data analytics to assess student engagement. Teachers, on the other hand, were requesting a monitoring tool. They needed to keep kids safe in the remote instruction suddenly thrust upon them.
A monitoring tool to organize learning
Teachers initially gravitated towards Hāpara Highlights, a Chromebook monitoring tool. As Heslin attests, “At the beginning of the year, the only thing I thought about was how to make sure my students were on what they’re supposed to be.”
Now having taken the Hāpara Champion training she says, “Highlights is great, but it’s such a teeny tiny piece of all the awesome things that you can do with Hāpara!”
Teacher training to organize curriculum
Matthews worked through the Hāpara training throughout the summer and early school year. He also concluded that monitoring isn’t the primary or even secondary function of Hāpara. He urged teachers to check out Workspace. He offered to help them build a Workspace lesson so they could experience the real power of Hāpara firsthand. When he offered teachers the Champion Educator Training, interest accelerated.
Another educator to complete Hāpara training early on was high school social studies teacher, Trevor Charles. He did all the heavy lifting to get his curriculum on Workspace and help other teachers do the same.
“It became abundantly clear that we could not provide a really well-organized, rigorous curriculum with just Google Classroom in a completely virtual situation,” he recalls.
“There were a lot of kids who basically checked out and when it came to making up work, they had to scroll and scroll, trying to find assignments because there wasn’t an organized system. A lot of teachers were just dropping everything into the basic stream feed as opposed to organizing their units and assignments. So it was a mess in a number of ways.”
Charles offered a PD at the high school earlier in the school year. Hāpara has made life easier for many teachers who took the PD. They marvel at how easy grading has become. Teachers can use the home screen progress window to see who has turned in assignments. Using it helps them whip through grading even faster.
It’s a far cry from the pre-Hāpara days and the mess Charles described at the beginning of the school year.
How students at Middletown get organized online
Charles also encouraged students to really dive in and take advantage of all Hāpara could offer them. He explains, “You can access work quickly, it organizes it for you. You can go right into the assignment without having to click on the assignment. Then click on the doc, then open it, then hit submit. Everything is done right there for you and streamlines everything.”
Students really responded and jumped onboard en masse to organize learning in Student Dashboard. Many shared that once they got accustomed to the format, the tool really helped them keep everything in one place.
Plus, they could pull in Google Classroom assignments from all their other classes, even those not using Hāpara. It made a huge difference in their time management.
Differentiation helps organize learning at students’ own pace
The huge potential for differentiating assignments and instruction stood out for Matthews as he completed the Hāpara training.
“With Hāpara Workspace you can create lessons from the get-go that allow for students to move at a pace that suits them. The unit of study you create could take a week, it could take a month or two months,” he tells teachers.
With reading such a huge part of every grade level, Heslin advocates Workspace as the perfect fit for differentiating reading groups where students can move along through novels or books at their own pace. Teachers can put all the work there and learners at similar levels of reading can work on assignments and projects together. “It just takes differentiation to a whole other level because even within a reading group, students still have different levels. They could just be flying through and if they need to go back, it’s all right there.”
At the high school level, Trevor still differentiates assignments according to reading ability noting that he differentiates for four levels.
Sometimes teachers ask him the best way to post assignments so learners don’t see them before the teacher is ready. To this, he asks, “Why can’t they progress in a way that’s appropriate for them individually?”
As a musician, Matthews makes an analogy to sound. “Compression in sound is raising the low volumes and lowering the high volumes so everything is more uniform. Instructionally speaking, we were lessening the amount of instruction for the higher level students, or in essence, compressing learning.”
Heslin agrees and notes that often teachers focus on students that need extra support. With this tool it’s easier to do the same for learners on the other end. Those are the ones who are ready to go further or go a different route.
Teaching digital citizenship
“The concept that the teacher is the sole purveyor of the knowledge in the classroom has been the case as long as I can remember,” explains Matthews.
“Yet with every child having a device now, the teacher is no longer the smartest person in the room. They could be the most wise in directing the students, because we clearly have to teach students and people in general how to vet information they find online. And there’s no machine that’s going to teach students how to do that.”
“I really do believe Hāpara can be an incredibly powerful tool for engaging students and keeping students focused in a time period where there’s so many distractions in the classroom from technology,” says Charles. He appreciates features that allow teachers to guide and direct learners in what they’re viewing, while teaching digital citizenship.
He also says that students must have the option to fail and go where they’re not supposed to. “Otherwise they’re not exercising digital citizenship. They’re just playing in the sandbox we provide them. What’s key is how do we redirect and how do we respond to that failure?”
Collaboration saves time and helps organize learning
Matthews believes the opportunity to save time with collaboration will get more teachers to engage with the tool. Teachers may say, “I have to learn something new and I’ve no time for that!” But we know with adult learners, when there’s a perceived benefit, they’re more likely to do it.
Teachers don’t have to individually do all the heavy lifting. In any given building, there are two or three fourth grade teachers, for example. Multiply that times the eight elementary schools in town. That’s conceivably 24 fourth grade teachers who essentially are teaching the same content.
There’s no reason that they should each individually have to do all the work, creating every single piece of learning for their students. Using Workspace, they can very easily collaborate with each other. Even sticking to the building level, one grade level colleague can take on the math component. Another can take the ELA component. They can each focus on their strengths, their specialty.
Trevor has collaborated from the beginning with his US history data team. Another AP Human Geography teacher pointed out, “There’s no point to us both building them.”
Heslin says, “Even having some students at home and some students here in the building, the level of collaboration between teachers and students, and the students together is at a different level with the technology that we now have and that everyone has access to.”
From tech dabblers to embracing digital learning tools
“I’m not sure we would have as many people using it as we do, if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Basically, I think a lot of teachers would still be engaged in the old practices,” admits Matthews.
Heslin fell into that category. She recalls with a laugh, “I would kind of dabble in technology. Steve did come into my room a couple times trying to help me get more comfortable with Google Classroom. But I didn’t dive fully into it because I didn’t have to. I mean, I was comfortable with what I had.” Now she’s on the brink of offering Hāpara training for teachers.
While rollout of Workspace hasn’t been immediate, Heslin has seen a change in the past year. She’s confident that interest will spread and appreciated the rollout being voluntary.
“If encouragement is coming from peers who are living it and valuing it, that’s so much more meaningful than hearing, ‘You have to do this right now.’”
Overall, the upheaval of the past year has definitely been a catalyst for growth in Middletown Public Schools. Matthews considers the growth necessary for truly equitable and individualized mastery-based learning.
“No one person can differentiate 20 different ways for the 20 different students in their class with any type of fidelity all year,” he concludes.