Submitted by Sujata Bhatt, Founder and Stepan Mekhitarian, Principal
Note: The information in this profile represents 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated.
Located in the heart of Silicon Beach, Los Angeles’s startup ecosystem, the school’s mission is to launch the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow by building a culture of self-starting. To engage students in managing themselves and their own learning, the school uses gamification, a school economy, and learning dashboards. The Incubator School’s learning pathways embrace technology-based learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, and socio-emotional learning. It also recognizes that in today’s complex world, expertise is diffuse and located in many places beyond the teacher; it brings in real-world experts and skill-share student expertise to enable its Innovators to work collaboratively to impact the world outside school boundaries.
Blended Learning Program
Program model: Flex
Students spend the first third of each school day learning math and English language arts online. The school gives students access to a full suite of online curriculum providers and allows them to choose how they progress through the material. Teachers work with students to set challenges and goals and then help them achieve those goals by providing small group and individual face-to-face instruction to students who are struggling with the material.
How much time do students spend on campus in this blended-learning program? How much of this time do students spend learning online or using educational software?
Students are required to be on campus every day of the school week (most days from 8:40am-3:50pm) and spend a minimum of 2.5 hours per day learning math and English language arts online.
Briefly describe the offline components of this blended-learning program.
Teachers pull students off computers daily for targeted small group and individual face-to-face instruction and intervention. The offline instruction often only lasts approximately 10 minutes because teachers prefer for students to spend most of the period learning online. When needed, however, students are pulled for longer directed intervention.
How are the online and offline components of the program connected to provide an integrated learning experience for students? How do data from different learning modalities inform each other?
Teachers use the data from the online courses to analyze the students’ strengths and weaknesses so that they can provide targeted small group and individual face-to-face instruction to students who need additional help or intervention.
How does this blended-learning program fit into the rest of the students’ school day?
Each school day is split into three approximately two-hour periods. During the first period of the day, students spend nearly the entire period learning math and English language arts using online content and instruction. The second period of the day is dedicated to project-based learning, and students spend most of it working on alternating 3-9 week social science or science projects. The third period of the day is referred to as the “Incubator Period,” and teachers use it as a more robust advisory period where they can address the whole student by exploring socio-emotional awareness via literature circles or financial literacy via creating businesses.
What are the teachers’ roles and responsibilities in both the online and offline components of this blended-learning program?
Teachers are responsible primarily for gathering and analyzing data to use for intervention purposes. Teachers use the data to identify where individual students are struggling or need intervention so that they can provide them with targeted small group or individual face-to-face instruction. Teachers also help students set and meet progress goals and challenges by monitoring their progress and offering assistance when needed.
What other adults are involved in this blended-learning program (e.g., paraprofessionals, learning coaches, counselors) and what are their roles and responsibilities?
The school works with an academic life coach who trains teachers to help students identify their learning styles and interests and guide their academic careers. The school also uses parent volunteers for IT issues and employs a part-time counselor to deal with student issues inside and outside of the classroom. The school also brings in parent and community experts to teach specific content (e.g., web design, game design, set design, playwriting).
Briefly describe the set-up of physical space for this blended-learning program.
The school shares a building with an elementary school. The school’s space includes two traditional classrooms and two blended-learning classrooms; two portable carts with HP laptops travel between these four classrooms. The desks in the blended-learning classrooms are arranged around the outside of the room so that the teachers can walk around the middle of the room to help students. Twice per week the school also has access to the elementary school’s computer lab, which is outfitted with Apple desktop computers. Students can also bring their own devices to use during the blended-learning period.
How are students grouped within this blended-learning program?
The school groups students by grade level, but skills- and concepts-based intervention takes place across grade level.
Do students have some element of control over the pacing of their learning? Are students tied to a semester-based course schedule or can they complete courses at any time? Briefly describe any requirements or benchmarks in place to ensure student progress.
Teachers work with students by helping them set and meet progress goals. Teachers identify specific skills that need to be acquired so that students can use those skills in the project-based learning portion of the day. Teachers stage interventions to keep students from falling behind, as well as for enrichment. Assessments are built into the online content, and students can progress to another online lesson or course once they have demonstrated mastery by passing the assessments. Teachers actively use game-based learning as well as gamification to motivate students.
Describe the academic results of the program, using quantitative data where possible.
The school is in its first year of operation and as a result does not yet have telling quantitative data.
What have been the biggest obstacles in implementing this blended-learning program? What has needed adjustment along the way?
The biggest obstacles have resulted from its being a small school in a very large district. The school received its approval to open late and consequently could not hire teachers until two weeks before the start of the school year. Also, the school could not take online attendance for the first two months of the school year and things like single sign-on, security certificates, firewalls, and connectivity have been issues for the school since it opened. Managing the data streams from the various blended-learning programs has also been a challenge.
Have you or are you planning to scale your program model to more/other schools?
The school opened with only sixth and seventh graders, but plans to add one grade level each year until it is a fully operational grade 6-12 school in SY2018-19. It plans to scale not by self-replicating but rather by incubating an open-source culture of innovation and collaboration that will spread beyond its boundaries.