The Phoenix Reporter and Item (http://www.phoenixvillenews.com)

Spring-Ford gets update on Spring City hybrid learning initiative


By Frank Otto, fotto@21st-CenturyMedia.com

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

LIMERICK — Well into year two of Spring City Elementary School’s re-branding as a hybrid learning center, its principal and staff provided the Spring-Ford Area School Board with a glowing look into the efforts there.

“When we looked at the group in third grade, prior to the hybrid model, to now, with the hybrid model, we saw increases in both literacy and math,” in the last year, said Spring-Ford Director of Curriculum Keith Floyd. “Off the top of my head, we had a 23 percent growth in our students moving from either below basic, basic, or proficient into the advanced range in mathematics from that third and fourth grade year...so we are seeing increases across the achievement levels.”

Such growth seems to be typical at Spring City and three teachers as well as the school’s principal, Mitchel Edmunds, turned out to the board workshop meeting last week to express their satisfaction with the new education style.

Hybrid learning consists of three different rotating stations, the school’s teachers explained.

In the “independent” station, students work at computers on their own using educational programs such as one new program, ST Math. The second station called is the “collaborative” one, which involves students working in pairs, small groups, or, if they so choose, alone, on tasks assigned by the teacher, sometimes using iPads. Finally, there is the “direct” station, which involves the classroom’s teacher giving instruction straight to the students and working with them while utilizing a SMART board.

Students rotate through all three stages in an order established by the teacher.

Each stage lasts roughly 20 minutes. Teachers assign where the students begin in the rotation.

“It is not a cyber school,” said Edmunds, who also serves as principal at Limerick Elementary School.

If necessary, a teacher can take the whole class together and instruct them in the traditional method.

By going in the stages, students are broken up into smaller groups within their classrooms. It also effects the physical layout of classrooms into a sort of triangular configuration.

“The hybrid rotation gives me an opportunity to work with children in small groups for all subject matter,” said third grade teacher Janet Rudinsky in a video on the subject presented to the board. “I’ve been able to provide enrichment and intense reinforcement for students exactly when they need a little help. The hybrid model seems to be the best way to economically use our resources with the small group teacher and student interaction.”

Students are also able to “use each other” and build learning relationships with their peers in their collaboration, Rudinsky told the school board in the meeting.

She also said students are “really excited” about hybrid learning and parents have been impressed with the progress of their children.

By going through hybrid learning, individual data and assessments of students is collected each day, almost within minutes of the completion of tasks.

“Because the data drives the groups on almost a weekly — sometimes a daily — basis, we can address a student almost immediately. They don’t have to wait,” said fourth grade teacher Deborah Eaton.

Superintendent David Goodin said the adaptability of the program to each student’s learning needs is “exactly why I signed on to the hybrid program.”

“Whether they’re under-performing or advanced, (teachers) are able to tailor that instruction in a small group setting to meet those students’ needs,” Goodin said.

In 2013, Spring City exceeded the state standard in both math and reading in growth (demonstrating improvement in scores over last year), but didn’t quite make the marks in achievement (flat test scores) that the district hoped to make, according to Floyd.

“Kindergarten grew by 33.3 percent from the mid-point of the year to the end of the year the first grade students grew 34.6 percent from the mid-point to the end of the year,” Floyd said. “So we are very pleased with that.”

Edmunds said better data will be gathered on achievement and growth in the months and years coming due to the hybrid learning model being fully implemented only by the beginning of 2013, which means hybrid learning data from the first year of the testing really only drew from half of the school year.

“I think this is our first year of collecting solid data and we can build upon that year after year,” Edmunds said.

Spring City is in the midst of a three-year trial of hybrid learning and is partnered with the PA Hybrid Learning Initiative.

Additionally, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit are also working with Spring-Ford on the Spring City project, which has drawn visitors from across the country to investigate how hybrid learning is conducted.

“The feedback has been extremely positive,” Edmunds said. “Another of other districts are thinking about implementing (hybrid learning) at the elementary level.”

At the end of the three-year trial, Floyd said the district will evaluate hybrid learning and then discuss potentially expanding it elsewhere.

“If things continue to trend where they are, we’ve already begun discussions with working with Dr. Goodin and the rest of the administrative team to begin moving more horizontally, at first, across the other buildings in the elementary division, and then seeing it potentially grow vertically (to the secondary schools) as well,“ Floyd said.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.