By Kevin Kelley
Most parents who are critical of the Summit Personalized Learning Platform eventually come to see its value, according to the educator who is helping the Fairview Park City Schools implement the system.
“While there are instances of parents who don’t initially welcome the change, what we’ve seen is that once they’ve had time to see the program in action over the course of the school year, they’ve shown overwhelming support,” said Laura Crowe Zado, Summit Basecamp program manager.
Zado, who holds a master’s degree in education from Stanford University, was the featured speaker at a Feb. 16 meeting on Summit at Fairview High School’s Innovation Center.
The Summit Platform, an online tool that helps students set and track goals and learn content at their own pace, has drawn criticism from some parents who say students are being asked to teach themselves.
Teachers of all core subjects in grades six and nine, as well as math teachers in grades seven and eight, are utilizing the Summit Platform, which was developed by a network of charter schools. With the guidance of the teacher, students follow a lesson plan through an online playlist consisting of content such as videos or articles.
Speaking via an internet connection from California, where the Summit schools are based, Zado said the platform is best used when projects are tailored to the needs of a specific student.
Parents can help their students by understanding specifically where their struggles are, such as with poor study skills, and working on those areas, Zado said. Zado also said parents and teachers need to help students grow in perseverance when they are struggling.
While the Summit platform has many online tools for learning, Zado and Melanie Wightman, the Fairview Park district’s director of learning, said sometimes utilizing educational tools beyond the computer can be helpful. For math, going to old fashioned pencil and paper may be necessary.
Zado acknowledged a change in teaching methods can be difficult for some.
“In the Summit Learning Program, students have constant access to challenging content – they don’t have to wait on direct instruction from a teacher. Students have the opportunity to explore the ways in which they best learn – such as reading text, listening to a podcast, watching a video, collaborating with peers – moving through content at a pace that is right for them and only progressing when they’ve demonstrated mastery in that subject area,” Zado later told West Life. “They do all of this with the constant support and guidance of their teacher.
Once students have learned the content, they are asked to apply that knowledge in projects that reflect real-world experiences. This area is where Summit Learning teachers spend the majority of their time, Zado said.
Andy Bruening, a ninth-grade biology and middle school S.T.E.A.M. teacher in the Fairview Park district, said some students are not skilled at learning from online videos. They don’t seem to realize they can pause or go back over something they don’t understand.
Still, Bruening said, students are learning more than they realize precisely because the Summit system is nontraditional. With the implementation of the Summit platform, students are expected to submit quality work, not just complete something to “turn it in.”
“In the past, [students] had to show up and allow information to be dumped into your head,” Bruening said. “And we’re saying that’s not an effective learning strategy … The goal of this is the application of knowledge. It is a complete shift.”
Superintendent Bill Wagner made clear the district administration is firmly committed to personalized learning.
Preliminary test results show Fairview Park students in Summit-based classes have increased significantly, Wagner said.
In the past, students who fell behind the class were sometimes passed anyway despite gaps in learning, Wagner said. Some, even in Fairview schools, were given A’s they didn’t deserve, he said.
Under Summit, students have nowhere to hide if they don’t know the material or cannot apply it, Wagner said.
The message to students, Wagner said, is “Do you know it and can you prove it? If you can’t we’re not going to say, ‘Oh well, we’re just going to keep moving on.’ We’re going to stick with you until you get it.”