Evergreen Public Schools is trying to answer a bold question: Can technology help ensure learning experiences are consistent across all of its schools, and at the same time promote personalized learning?

The district’s work in technology didn’t start with this question. Three years ago, officials decided to make an investment in one-to-one technology for the 27,000 students it serves. Once down this path, they quickly realized that the conversation had been primarily about the technology itself, and not how the technology would support personalization in teaching and learning.

By questioning how the technology could support teachers and students, the conversation and work in teaching and learning shifted away from technology and toward curricular resources that can be easily used to support the learning design focus in the district.

To date, the general model for curriculum has been the physical textbook. If a school district adopts a textbook, that became the base for curriculum. In recent years, many teachers are augmenting district-approved textbooks with texts and open educational resources, digital materials and links to PDFs—meaning third grade students in different classrooms at the same school may be experiencing the same content in a completely different way.

Evergreen’s leaders have decided to change how they think about curriculum to ensure equity across all schools.

Rather than thinking of curriculum as a physical thing, Evergreen is flipping the script by using curricular resources as a tool that works with their technological investments to better meet the needs of their teachers and students, and ensures coherent, quality instruction across their district. Such a tool needs to:

  • Be easily communicated and distributed to schools, teachers, and students
  • Be quickly accessed across devices
  • Provide an adaptive and flexible resource that can change with needs of students
  • Support students and teachers in a variety of classroom settings
  • Help measure learning to empower teachers and school leaders to track success and adjust accordingly

A textbook can be a part of the tools available to get these jobs done. In many districts, a textbook becomes the base of a plan chosen and put forward by district leaders. A textbook can be used to guide plans teachers create and use in their classrooms. Often textbooks have assessments as well to help measure learning. But there are also limitations to a textbook model. Specifically:

  • What if the textbook doesn’t capture the particular needs of the district?
  • What if teachers don’t get their textbooks?
  • What if teachers don’t use the textbook to plan and deliver instruction?
  • What if the textbook doesn’t speak to the needs of every student in the classroom?

(Next page: Harnessing Curriculum-as-a-Service for personalized learning success)

Harnessing Curriculum-as-a-Service

In the case of Evergreen, what if the textbook not only doesn’t fit the district philosophy of teaching and learning, but doesn’t work well with the new one-to-one technology investment? In any of these situations, the corresponding resources and assessments won’t help the teacher or the district see patterns in the actual student learning and then use those patterns to respond to student needs.

If we change our orientation from curriculum in the form of static materials to Curriculum-as-a-Service  (CaaS)— one powered by technology and human expertise — we can start to imagine a better tool for getting these jobs done.

Rather than provide teachers with one static resource, technology creates an opportunity to empower educators and create helpful, high-quality curricular resources through CaaS. CaaS changes curriculum from a static, paper-based product to an adaptable, cloud-based service. CaaS combines:

  • A cloud-based platform that enables districts to edit, author, curate and publish dynamic and adaptive instructional materials and track their impact
  • Digital content that provides districts with a starting point of high-quality materials
  • Professional services that provide guidance on how to strategically manage classrooms, guide student learning, and track impact

In Evergreen, this approach meant partnering with LearnZillion and working with teachers to take the resources already in-place in classrooms, and adjust them to be student-facing, accessible and dynamic using this new technology.

CaaS Around the World

Using technology to ensure students have equal educational opportunities is an approach being explored outside the US as well.

Brazil, for example, is undertaking an amazing challenge—creating new national education standards for the skills and abilities that every student should be taught in order to succeed in the 21st century. Led by the Lemann Foundation in partnership with Nova Escola, and with support from Google.org, this work includes creating high-quality instructional materials accessible to every teacher in Brazil.

The work being done in places like Evergreen inspired the approach leaders are taking in Brazil. Technology will play a critical role in the creation and distribution of these resources. Starting in 2018, the curriculum will be created in cycles with Brazilian educators using LearnZillion’s CaaS cloud-based platform. Once complete, teachers will have access to 6,000 lesson plans from grades K-9 across all subject areas, as well as digital resources, quizzes and reports.

Creating access to high-quality resources promotes equity whether we focus on classrooms in Washington or Brazil, and technology makes high-quality, easy-to-use and accessible curricula a reality. By providing a high-quality base for all teachers and students, they’re set up for success no matter their area code. This is the future of curriculum.

About the Author:

Eric Westendorf is the CEO and Co-Founder of LearnZillion. Eric incubated LearnZillion at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, in Washington D.C., where he was Chief Academic Officer and principal. While he was principal, E.L. Haynes posted three-year student achievement gains of 50 percentage points in math and 26 percentage points in reading. Each year the school was named a national Silver Award winning school through the federal Effective Practice grant program. Prior to leading E.L. Haynes, Eric founded a non-profit focused on teacher leadership development; was the Assistant Principal of St. Joseph’s School in Harlem, and taught for seven years in North Carolina, New York, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia.