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'Fraser Public Schools: Where Learning Drives Innovation' by guest blogger David M. Richards, Ph.D.

Fraser Public Schools in Michigan recognize today’s students are digital learners and that learning occurs anytime, anywhere.

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David M. Richards, Ph.D. is the Superintendent of Fraser Public Schools in Michigan.  

Fraser Public Schools recognizes today’s students are digital learners and that learning occurs anytime, anywhere. Through advanced technology in all classrooms, personalized iPads for all students K-12, hybrid course offerings, and a strategic plan which focuses on the implementation of a competency based education model for our students, Fraser Public Schools continues to work to blend the best of our traditional school offerings with the best of the digital resources available to transform our learning environments.

I would like to share a little bit of our journey towards a competency based model of education for our students. Often when we talk about innovation in education, the focus is on the role that technology is playing in our classrooms and how devices are being leveraged to transform learning in the classroom.  In Fraser, we have been fortunate to equip our students with these resources and it absolutely has made a difference in the opportunities that they have had to demonstrate mastery across all grade levels and content areas.  However, rather than focusing on how the digital resources have transformed our classrooms, I would like to share the story of how we are transforming the structure of our school system, to increase flexibility in our schedules and practices to support student voice and choice in their learning.

With the goal of personalizing learning in our district, we have strategically leveraged the use of mobile devices for every child; implemented a learning management system to provide staff and students with a digital resource to collaborate and communicate learning resources beyond the regular school day; and implemented systemic changes to our daily routines to allow for flexibility in pace, path, and place for student learning.  What we found through all of these changes was the need to go further in our structural thinking to provide students with deeper learning opportunities and to increase student ownership of their learning.

One of the most amazing transformations within the District resulting from these innovations is the students’ ownership of their learning. Students in Fraser are truly empowered and make choices about their learning on a daily basis. Across all levels, students are using digital tools to create and communicate ideas in an effective way. Ask any student at any level, and chances are he or she knows which competencies he or she has mastered and which still need work.

During the past several years, Fraser’s teachers have worked hard to create a common language that allows us to create, plan and deliver 21st-century lessons to our students. The digital learning environment requires teachers to strategically leverage not only the technology, but to also universally design their teaching practices to individualize the instruction for their students. This requires a high level of understanding around pedagogy and instructional design. Fraser teachers are committed to rethinking their practice, and they have been purposeful in designing lessons that use a combination of best practices, which includes Direct Instruction, Inquiry Model, and a Constructivist Approach to student learning.

In order to achieve a competency-based learning model, we are defining our competencies through a lens that allows us to assess students by content, skill and conceptual proficiencies. Teachers have worked collaboratively to study the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, the C3 Framework for Social Studies, and the Michigan State Standards to create a comprehensive continuum of competencies that will allow students to progress through the curriculum at their own pace.

Finally, we have transformed our static buildings and learning environments from their traditional focus into flexible places focused on providing students the ability to learn anytime, anywhere, and at any pace.  Classrooms and learning spaces throughout the District have been redesigned to incorporate the preferred learning styles of students.

Fraser Public Schools launched the Idea Lab in 2015. It is a space for students, staff, and community members. This space, located within the District’s Richards Middle School, transformed an outdated training room into a next-generation model classroom. The room is a multi-functional space designed to support student learning and staff growth. With moveable furniture, soft seating, green screen technology and writeable surfaces, the Idea Lab serves as a test-bed for new technologies and instructional strategies.

Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, Fraser High School will implement flexibility at the end of the school day for eligible students. This seat time waiver, granted permission from the Michigan Department of Education Innovation Council and State Superintendent Brian Whiston, and approved by the Fraser Board of Education, will only be offered to juniors and seniors who meet specific academic and disciplinary requirements.  This program is designed to allow students the chance to experience more personal responsibility and to prepare them for the freedom of the post-secondary environment. Students who are not eligible to leave campus will be able to utilize the class time to improve their academic achievement.

Take a closer look at Fraser Public Schools’ journey toward a competency based model of education:

More about Fraser Public Schools and Dr. Dave Richards

Fraser is a school district of over 5,200 students located in Macomb County, Michigan. The District is one of the largest 1:1 iPad initiatives in the Great Lakes Region with students in grades K-12 equipped on a 1:1 basis with a focus on personalizing learning for every child. To further support the individual learning needs of every student, the District is currently in the process of implementing a competency based education model across all grade levels which will allow students to progress through their academic experience based upon demonstration of proficiency in each of the subject areas.  

Dave is an Executive Board Member for the Tri-County Alliance and currently serves as the President of the Galileo Consortium for Teacher Leaders.  In 2016, Dave was elected as chair of the National Council on Digital Convergence. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or contact him by email.

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