Using iPads and eSpark, a Colorado district brought creativity and individualization into classroom technology time to help every type of learner succeed with 21st century tools.
Longmont, CO, north of Denver
Over 32,000 students in grades PK-12; seventh largest school district in the state
Whole-class and center instruction models with eSpark in K-5; all district classrooms will receive a set of iPads by 2017
READ Act CO state funding
Preparing all students for 21st century success
Located north of Denver, St. Vrain Valley School District continually strives to transform traditional teaching and learning. In recent years, the district found that changing state standards and heightened expectations of student work made classroom technology essential to preparing all learners for 21st century success.
In 2012, the St. Vrain Instructional Technology Advisory Committee developed a multi-year, district-wide Learning Technology Plan to ensure their investment in hardware aligned with instructional needs. “We realized that in order to provide students and teachers with adequate access to digital tools for learning, we needed to think beyond the computer lab model of technology access and provide ways for every teacher and student to access these tools every day," states the district website. Administrators recognized the potential of mobile devices to expand learning beyond classroom walls, and a plan was set in motion to have a set of iPads in every classroom by the year 2017.
St. Vrain has a commitment to providing students with robust access to digital tools so they can investigate, communicate, collaborate, create, model, and explore concepts and content in authentic contexts. "We want our students to be more than merely consumers of information and passive actors in skill development," said Diane Lauer, Executive Director of Professional Development and Assessment. Many of St. Vrain's trailblazing teachers began the time consuming work of curating apps to use with students—sometimes finding high-quality, interactive apps that foster student acquisiton of core academic skills. Other times, teachers found apps that weren't designed to move the needle on achievement or engagement. "We knew we could never keep up with the ever changing and growing availability of content related apps… while we appreciated [teachers'] passion and interest in searching for great apps for students, we knew there had to be a more efficient way of doing this," commented Dr. Lauer. "That is when we found eSpark."
SOLUTION & IMPLEMENTATION
Differentiating instruction and engaging learners
In the winter of early 2015, the district partnered with eSpark Learning to individualize iPad instruction and meet the needs of all learners—from General Education to RTI to Limited English Proficiency students. Within the classrooms that already had iPads, many apps and games were on the devices that were not effectively helping children succeed. Administrators felt that teachers could be more strategic in their planning with access to curated apps for every student that were systematically researched and tested for their positive impact.
The program was one hundred percent opt-in for teachers across the district—as long as they had iPads in their classrooms, teachers could choose to incorporate eSpark into their instructional day. During the first semester of the program, 1,200 K-3 students across 12 buildings received individualized iPad instruction with a focus within the district’s Title schools. To accurately diagnose needs and assign learning goals, eSpark evaluated St. Vrain’s iReady assessment data to understand the areas in which each student required targeted reading support.
As teachers opted-in throughout the winter and early spring, they were trained and coached on best practices for incorporating shared iPads and eSpark into their classrooms. Students launched into self-paced learning pathways with engaging third-party apps, instructional videos, and creative challenges to help them learn and master new skills. Students quickly embraced the program and were "engaged and enjoying reading in a brand new and innovative way,” states the St. Vrain website. “Kids are working on skills that they need based on district data,” commented first grade teacher Bridget Witko. “The videos and apps they pick are top notch… who has time to hunt apps and videos and differentiate them for each student? eSpark does all that for you!”
Closing the achievement gap
After a successful first semester of transformative instruction, St. Vrain implemented eSpark in a summer school program before students resumed their individualized learning plans in October 2015. By this time, teachers had spread word of the successful program with their colleagues and the implementation grew to over 1,400 students across K-5.
Teachers used their online dashboards to monitor student progress and understand how students of various needs were performing toward their unique goals. While general education students received targeted reading support at their own performance level, English language learners were supported by features such as highly visual content and audio support. Reading foundational skills taught ELL students vocabulary, phonics, and print fundamentals at their own level. With creative synthesis challenges, these learners had frequent practice speaking and listening to continue building these skills as they mastered literacy standards. “My students who have IEPs enjoy eSpark,” stated St. Vrain Teacher Kyle Houghton. “It’s tailored to their needs so they feel successful and competent.”
Mary Magee, an ESL/ELA Teacher at St. Vrain, commented, “eSpark is valuable for my ELL students because they can hear and see the words of their quizzes and other eSpark texts read aloud. I have one student who was speaking very little English at the beginning of the year. He is now already on the comprehension section of eSpark quests, having moved from parts of words to comprehending text.”
After the fall semester, students completed the iReady assessment once again. Results indicated that eSpark K-5 students saw expected growth by mid-year, on pace with their non-eSpark district peers. With further analysis, the data indicated that the more content students completed in eSpark, the more growth was achieved. Students who completed two or more eSpark missions exceeded mid-year expectations.
While K-5 results were positive, administrators wanted to ensure the initiative was truly meeting the needs of all learners across subgroups. In comparing LEP (Limited English Proficiency) student performance against the performance of Non-LEP peers, a similar trend was revealed. English language learners achieved more grade level growth than their peers, and those who achieved high eSpark mission completion made large strides toward closing the achievement gap to get on track for a successful future.
With these results, St. Vrain administrators are excited that technology is being used effectively in elementary classrooms—over 2,300 students received individualized instruction through eSpark the following spring semester. As more students continue gaining access to innovative resources, St. Vrain will be well on its way to preparing all students for 21st century success.
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To measure the effect of eSpark on student learning, we analyzed St. Vrain's iReady data from the Fall—prior to launching eSpark—and Winter—after a semester of individualized iPad learning.