learn / 2014

Transforming school communities through digital learning

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by PowerMyLearning, Inc.

CFY’s Digital Learning Program provides training & digital learning tools to teachers, students & families in LA low-income communities.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

CFY’s Digital Learning Program provides training & digital learning tools to teachers, students & families in LA low-income communities.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Fernando Valley

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Imagine a world in which students learn in ways ideally suited to their specific needs, and in which they have the tools to explore their passions and take charge of their learning. Imagine a world where teachers don’t have to stay up all night finding high-quality resources for their diverse set of students. Imagine families empowered with digital learning tools and Internet access at home. Imagine this being true in ALL communities, regardless of income.

That’s the world that CFY’s Digital Learning Program is creating in Los Angeles.

We provide high-quality training & digital learning tools to students, families & teachers in low-income communities. We help students do better in school & prepare them for lifelong success.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

CFY will provide wrap-around support for students, teachers, and families at 5 low-income LAUSD middle schools where we will implement our Digital Learning Program in 2014-15. The Digital Learning Program includes three key elements: Family involvement in learning, professional development for educators, and PowerMyLearning.

FAMILY INVOLVEMENT IN LEARNING:

CFY provides workshops for parents and students at our partner schools that are designed to increase students’ self-directed learning, empower parents, and provide access to technology at home. They include:

  1. Essentials of Home Learning: A highly engaging workshop in which families learn how to use home technology to improve student learning. Families also receive a free refurbished home computer that is theirs to keep. The workshop encourages families’ ongoing use of the technology for learning.

  2. Additional workshops such as “The Internet as a Learning Tool,” “Supporting Student Learning at Home,” and “Planning for the Future with Your Student – High School and Beyond.”

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR EDUCATORS:

CFY’s support for educators is designed to help them leverage technology in an instructionally effective way (not just to replace paper worksheets) so that they can provide personalized instruction to their students, make the transition to the rigor of the new Common Core standards, and take full advantage of the iPad roll-out in LAUSD. Support includes:

  1. Intensive in-school 1-on-1 coaching support for teachers to adopt blended learning strategies. Research indicates that this type of coaching is one of the most effective ways to help teachers adjust their instructional techniques in a sustainable way that respects teachers’ expertise and goals.

  2. Educator Workshops an entire school staff that introduce them to the benefits of digital learning and to PowerMyLearning.

POWERMYLEARNING:

PowerMyLearning.org is CFY’s innovative K-12 learning platform that enables students, educators, and parents to find and use thousands of carefully curated academic games, videos, and interactive simulations that are tagged by Common Core standard, subject, grade, Spanish-language support, and more. It includes powerful tools that enable teachers to fully personalize the learning experience for their students and it provides parents with a reliable source of digital content and helps them better support their children’s learning.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Throughout the greater Los Angeles community, a substantial opportunity gap persists between low-income and higher-income families. Large numbers of students in LA’s low-income communities are not graduating from high school on time, and even larger numbers are inadequately prepared for college and careers. This, in turn, is contributing to an unprepared workforce and growing income inequality.

Additionally, teachers are facing growing pressure to provide personalized instruction to large classes of students with diverse needs and learning levels. The new Common Core standards require teachers to re-focus their curricula and LAUSD’s related iPad roll-out means figuring out how to use these new tools effectively as well.

CFY is addressing these problems by helping all the key constituencies in the learning process—students, teachers, and parents—use digital learning more effectively in school and at home.

Our Digital Learning Program helps teachers provide more personalized learning for students. Instead of giving one lesson to their class, teachers have a CFY coach who empowers them to create playlists of digital learning activities (videos from different publishers, educational games, simulations, and more) and then assign those playlists to targeted groups of students. In this model, students receive instruction at their level in the areas they need the most help.

This student-centered classroom experience also inspires students to be more self-directed learners. After completing their assigned playlist of activities, students are free to explore their passions and areas of need. This higher-level thinking and metacognition is essential for success in high school, college, and career.

Home access to technology, along with an adult who is trained in how to use it for learning, can transform students’ home learning environments to create rich learning experiences. Families who participate in CFY family learning workshops leave empowered with the tools and knowledge to strengthen the learning environment at home.

Currently, students and teachers in low-income communities have less access to personalized learning, high-impact professional development, and technology than their higher-income peers. CFY seeks to close this divide and provide equal access to students, families, and teachers regardless of their zip code.

Whom will your project benefit?

CFY’s Digital Learning Program targets middle school students, their families, and teachers at partner schools where at least 75% or more of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. Last year, approximately 87% of CFY families in Los Angeles had annual incomes of $35,000 or less.

Our program is designed to meet the needs of non-native English speakers and approximately 70% percent of our workshops are taught in Spanish by bilingual facilitators.

We focus on the middle school years as research shows that this is the time period where the greatest drop-off in academic achievement occurs. According to an ACT research report, “the progress toward college and career readiness that students have made by eighth grade is crucial to their future success.”

Teachers are also direct beneficiaries of the Digital Learning Program. Educators receive one-on-one coaching with a CFY Blended Learning Consultant. We also provide interactive educator workshops to help all faculty access the benefits of digital learning and PowerMyLearning.org.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Please specify whether or not these collaborators are confirmed. What added benefit does each partner bring to your project? Have you worked together in the past? Please list three factors that are critical to the success of your proposed collaboration.

In 2014-15, CFY has solidified partnerships with 5 schools as part of our core Digital Learning Program. They include:

  • Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy of Arts & Culture (South LA)
  • Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy of Business and Technology (South LA)
  • Valor Academy (Arleta)
  • Stella Middle Charter Academy (West Adams)
  • Jack H. Skirball Middle School (Watts)

Additionally, we plan to work with additional school partners on select portions of the Digital Learning Program. We are still in the process of securing those additional partners.

CFY also works closely with other leaders in the digital learning and educational technology space. We were a member of the Los Angeles Next Generation Learning Systems collaboration that submitted a proposal to the Gates Foundation to scale personalized learning district-wide. Members of the team included LAUSD, KIPP LA, and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. CFY has also partnered with Alliance College-Ready Public Schools to provide a portion of their blended learning professional development during their summer institute for teachers.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index scores
  • Students receive personalized instruction

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

CFY’s innovative Digital Learning Program has already demonstrated success in improving educational outcomes in the LA area and across the nation. Results from the implementations of our comprehensive program in the 2012-13 school year showed participating schools increasing their statewide percentile ranking by an average of 10 percentile points compared to the prior year. Research shows that success in middle school is a gateway to high school proficiency.

Additionally, state test data from the 2012-13 math tests show that in schools where we implemented blended learning consulting that year, we helped move students to proficiency at a faster rate than the district as a whole.

When students receive instruction at their level, they start to believe that they can be successful academically; this drives intrinsic motivation. Teachers can use digital learning to ensure that students are receiving personalized learning.

When students have access to digital learning activities that allow them to exercise their motivation to explore their passions, they acquire habits of mind that reinforce their ability to be self-directed. The Digital Learning Program and PowerMyLearning.org are designed to give students choice in their learning rather than just sending them on a pre-defined learning course. Learning how to be self-motivated and access intrinsic motivation to do well in school are keys to high school graduation and college matriculation.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

For the 2014-2015 school year, CFY-Los Angeles’ proposed outcome metrics are:

  1. The Digital Learning Program reaches 540 low-income families at 5 partner schools in low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

  2. At least 80% of parents report greater connection to their child’s educational success as a result of our workshops and family engagement program.

  3. At least 80% of teachers rate Educator Workshop professional development sessions as “excellent” or “good.”

CFY-Los Angeles will partner with LAUSD and charter management organizations to secure and analyze test data that may be available, recognizing that there will not be publicly available state data this year due to the transition in the testing approach for California. To protect student privacy, we use data collection protocols approved by an independent Institutional Review Board.

In the long-term, CFY is committed to scaling the approaches of our Digital Learning Program so that we can impact students across the low-income communities of Los Angeles. This Los Angeles-based work will also contribute to the CFY national organization’s larger mission of improving educational outcomes in low-income communities nationwide.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

When we were founded 15 years ago, CFY placed families and the home learning environment at the core of our work. While we saw great impact on improving student outcomes by strengthening learning at home, we hypothesized that as digital learning tools increased in rigor and moved from software installed from CD-ROMs to services available in the cloud, that they had the potential to dramatically impact the way that teachers differentiate instruction and the way students learn.

We piloted our one-on-one coaching model for teachers in 2011-12 and we quickly realized that our hypothesis was correct: Students whose families received training and technology and who were also enrolled in the class of a teacher who was receiving coaching spent more time on learning at home. We also had strong qualitative evidence to suggest that this “whole school” model had a far greater impact than the family-only approach of our earlier years.

This move to include educators as an equal focus with families in our Digital Learning Program is the first major lesson that impacts our work today.

The second lesson that heavily influences our work is that inspiring change in teacher’s instructional practices requires respect, patience, and personalized support for educators. Like all professionals, it is hard for teachers to dramatically change their practice. However, we have learned that when teachers are treated as the leaders of their classroom and provided with non-evaluative expert support that’s customized to help them meet their goals, they can take risks that they otherwise would feel uncomfortable taking. And as teachers have success in leveraging digital learning to create student-centered experiences in their classrooms, they are motivated to continue their new practices. Over time, we have amassed a range of strategies for coaching teachers who are at different levels of facility with digital learning and with student-centered instruction.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

CFY has deep experience transforming the learning environment for students, families, and teachers in low-income communities in Los Angeles. Since beginning our work in LA in 2008, CFY has served over 16,000 families with training and digital learning tools. We have partnered with more than 40 Los Angeles-area middle schools in low-income communities in LAUSD and various charter school networks. We received a $7.6 million federal stimulus grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce that led the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to say that “CFY today is a national model for digital learning” (see http://tinyurl.com/cfy2050 for the full article).

Our Los Angeles team is made up of talented individuals, over half of whom have middle school teaching experience in the communities where CFY works. Everyone on staff has experience implementing the Digital Learning Program in LA. We are supported by colleagues at our offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, Atlanta, and New York City; having access to this network of coworkers also allows us to quickly share learnings across the country and correct problems before they develop.

CFY has the leadership and funding to sustain itself. CFY has a Los Angeles board with excellent connections in the community and in the digital learning space. CFY has also garnered support from some of Los Angeles’ leading foundations including the Weingart Foundation, The Riordan Foundation, Rose Hills Foundation, S. Mark Taper Foundation, Dwight Stuart Youth Fund, The Green Foundation, Joseph Drown Foundation, John S. Carson Foundation, as well as from foundations with a more national focus including Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Oak Foundation.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One barrier to the implementation of digital learning in classrooms is access to reliable technology and Internet bandwidth at school. While major strides have been made in improving the tech infrastructure in many Los Angeles schools, on-site technical support to fix problems promptly is often lacking.

In order to address this challenge, CFY plans to partner with schools that have adequate technology and a history of overcoming tech challenges. We are equipped to help schools setup the procedures to overcome minor tech challenges, but we use our partner selection process to ensure that our partners are as technologically ready to do digital learning as possible.

Another challenge to implementation is ensuring that families take advantage of our training workshops. Many factors play into a family’s decision to participate, including when the workshop is offered, what kind of information the family has about the workshop, and if the workshop is offered in the family’s preferred language. In order to ensure that we have high family attendance at our workshops, we take the following actions:

  • We offer our family workshops in English and Spanish.
  • Our workshops take place on Saturdays and weeknights to increase the likelihood that parents will be able to attend.
  • We do extensive outreach to students to ensure that they are well informed and encourage their families to attend. At some schools, this includes participation in a special pep rally to get students excited about digital learning.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research