Sparking Creative Classroom Solutions Through Teacher Innovation

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by Beyond Editorial Staff

Helping fourth graders access and understand the news. Increasing personalization in kinder STEM classes. These are just some examples of how our creative Rocketship teachers used funds they won in our first ever round of ‘Innovation Grants.’ This grant, sponsored by the Achievement and Operations Teams, awarded 5 different grants to help Rocketship staff innovate and solve important challenges that impact our Rocketeers. The grants were aimed at projects that identify specific, “bite-size” issues and include innovative and scalable solutions to solving the issues. 12 staff members, from teachers to enrichment coordinators to office managers, applied for this inaugural round of funding.  Here are some examples of the winners…

Analyzing the news through personalized learning

Ramya Subramanian, a fourth grade humanities teacher at Rocketship Si Se Puede in San Jose, decided to focus the innovation grant on helping students analyze nonfiction text. Our Rocketeers get a lot of practice with narrative fiction before 4th grade, in both whole group and small group instruction, but they are not as excited about nonfiction analysis at that young age. Ramya wanted to use the innovation grant to change that.

Ramya says, “With this grant, all of the fourth and fifth graders at RSSP have a Newsela account that allows them to access a diverse set of informational texts on various current events around the world. The articles range in topics and allow students to access texts that are not only of interest to them, but also help them build their critical thinking skills with nonfiction. Students can read and analyze texts at a lexile level that is appropriate for them. Through their quizzes, annotations, and written responses, students can get ample practice with text structure, author’s purpose, main idea, point of view, arguments and claims, and much more! Additionally, students can improve their discussion skills through the socratic seminars on Newsela!

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Teachers are able to target specific nonfiction skills by assigning articles and implementing Newsela in guided reading blocks. Through the implementation of this grant, students are able to approach informational texts with confidence and excitement. They have even started using it as research for their Exhibition Night projects! Students who previously were hesitant about informational texts have now begun to master specific targeted skills through the consistent use of this tool.”

Closing the achievement gap through STEM personalization

Adrienne Elijah, Kinder STEM teacher at Rocketship Los Suenos Academy, wanted to use her innovation grant to increase the personalization in her classroom in order to combat the achievement gap. Even as young as kindergarten, Adrienne was seeing students already behind where they should be, with many lacking very basic technological skills relative to their peers. Adrienne writes, “This is a new type of gap that is widening in this digital age and I’ve been trying to think of ways to address it in my own classroom.

My biggest struggle is giving every student the individualized instruction they deserve within the constraints of time that I have. This year, with the guidance and support of my coach, I implemented stations-based teaching and found that my direct instruction was helping to target the needs of my homogenous groups. Though many students were excelling using Online Learning Programs, I found that my students struggled with handwriting and I knew there were programs out there like Front Row that were not only adaptive, but with touchscreen technology, had students practice writing in math. This grant allowed me to get a set of 10 touchscreen chromebooks and a license to Front Row.

I utilize Front Row as both an early-finisher task and a station rotation. Students login independently and are expected to finish their math facts component for the day then are encouraged to explore within the Common Core math domains. I notice that students are motivated and enthusiastic about making progress in Front Row and with the new Chromebook touchscreens I find that students are emerging in their computer literacy skills. On the teacher end, Front Row’s user interface is easy to navigate and offers a variety of data dashboards to analyze. If I’m covering a standard for whole-group corrective instruction, I can assign a task to all students and easily look up who has completed it and with what percentage of accuracy or mastery. If I have a group of students struggling with a specific skill, I could assign it to just those students. Front Row offers Common Core aligned worksheets that I use as extended practice in their homework.

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We’ve had Front Row and our Chromebook touchscreens for about two weeks, and I feel like my classroom experience has changed for the better. With access to newer technology and programs like Front Row, they’ve begun to correlate their mathematical knowledge from what they see on paper or in the real world to what they are seeing and creating on-screen. They have also become advocates for their own progress and levels—they want to know where they are, where they are going, and how to get there. As for myself, what I value in all this, is that I can offer every child daily math fact practice in an engaging way and add this as a modality of individualized learning.”

Apply for next year’s grants!

This inaugural round of grants were so popular and successful that we are already accepting applications for round two. Similar to this year, “The Achievement and Personalized Learning Team is offering an incredible opportunity for teachers and school staff to get the funding they need to implement an innovative vision. This grant, sponsored by the Achievement and Personalized Learning Team, will award between $100 to $2,000 in funding for classroom or school-based projects to help Rocketship staff acquire the technology and resources to innovate and solve important challenges that impact our Rocketeers. The grant will be awarded to proposals that identify specific, “bite-size” issues and include innovative and scalable solutions to solving the issues. Applications are due by May 26.

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