Rocketship Education, a network of charter schools based in California, is changing the way students will use computers in its Learning Labs. Rather than spending chunks of time in computer labs with divided computer stations, students will be using computers in their classrooms, with the help of teachers and aids.
“The integration between the classroom and the Learning Lab was an area that could improve. That’s part of the reason that we made this shift,” said Charlie Bufalino, National Development Associate and former Online Learning Specialist at Rocketship. By moving computers back into the classroom, Rocketship is hoping to form a better connection to what students are doing on computers to what they're learning in class.
In a PBS Newshour special last month, several teachers said that Learning Lab practice isn’t linked closely enough to what happens in class. Bufalino says that teachers have always been encouraged to use data from online learning to inform their teaching; that said, at its most basic level, the function of the Learning Lab was for skills practice, while teachers focused teaching on what they call higher order thinking skills in class. Now, Rocketship is hoping teachers will have more control over both.
"The idea is that in this more flexible model, there will be more time for teachers to diagnose and look at the data,” Bufalino said.
The data, however, can be overwhelming for teachers to analyze. Rocketship uses six different online programs, all with separate mechanisms and criteria for feedback. Rocketship’s national office has been working on building proprietary systems that unify all the data, so teachers look at one screen that compares apples to apples at a glance. Their integration system is aligned to the Common Core and teachers can see if students have mastered a skill, what method they used, whether they tried and failed, even how hard they’ve been working on it. Rocketship also invests money into academic deans who visit classrooms, help teachers analyze data and use it to shape their lessons, and generally coach teachers on how they can improve.