Personalizing Future-Readiness for Students

Using edtech to innovate instruction and prepare students for the future

by Dr. Rod Berger

The Putnam County School District in Tennessee has slightly over 11,000 students spread out over 400 square miles, and it’s the job of Sam Brooks and Lance Key to help prepare them all for the unknown future. Working as teachers and administrators implementing personalized learning programs has given them insights into blended and flipped classrooms, for which they’ve developed effective instructional solutions using edtech. Due to their willingness to share their practices, districts from around the country have learned about the innovative programming Sam and Lance have implemented. They will be presenting four sessions on blended and flipped classrooms at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida from January 27-30, giving more educators an opportunity to pick up effective techniques.

Like their colleagues, both Lance and Sam have used programs and apps like Shmoop, Makerspace, and DreamBox, including at the beta testing stage, so they can bring the best possible learning tools to their students and give feedback to product providers to improve the tools even more. Their input helped make programs more useful and valuable to students with each new and improved version. By witnessing the mind-blowing innovations happening around them and seeing the seismic shift their effect was having on education as well as the rapid evolution of technology in society in general, Sam and Lance realized an entirely new approach was needed. They set their sights on achieving the daunting educational goals set for them, and over time they refined and improved the approach to getting their students future-ready.

“With ‘future ready’ we are getting students ready for jobs that don't exist yet,” Lance says. “We prepare students for things five years down the road, and things are just changing so fast.” For the first several years of his math teaching career, Lance saw the technology become ever-present in his students’ lives. Realizing that the old rules didn’t apply to the new reality, Lance decided to do something different, and for the past 9 years, he has taught math using the blended/flipped model in his classroom. Lance says the difference is startling. “We're trying to think out of the box with ways to help students become problem-solvers, help them learn to create. We're also providing opportunities for students like they've never had before, like mentoring and having easier access to advanced placement classes they can take.”

Sam adds, “There was a focus for technology in the classroom, but we learned that with the tools we needed better ways to give the kids the personalized learning they needed. We were concerned with finding those moments of time to use that device as a way to move student learning forward and not sticking the kid on the device for an hour and calling that ‘class time.’” Sam says the solution was to trust the teachers. The idea is to give them ample professional development and technology to help them move the needle and then let the teachers make the decisions about students on an individual basis in a classroom devoted to personalized learning.

While personalized learning has changed the daily classroom routine, it has also altered outcomes. “We have students who can take a mechatronics class for a non-degree machine shop career even though they may be headed to a four-year university,” Sam says. “They can take a mechatronics CTE class that will prepare them not only better for college but also the job world when they get out of college.” With what students are learning in K-12, they are provided with paths to success whether to and through college, or directly into a career.

About Sam Brooks

Sam Brooks is honored to have worked for Putnam County Schools (TN) for the past 25 years. Brooks leads all student/teacher personalized learning opportunities in the district, which includes online, dual enrollment, dual credit, and industry certification options. Mr. Brooks is a Google Certified Trainer and was recognized by the Center for Digital Education as a national Top 30 Technologists-Transformers-Trailblazers in 2014 and his program has been identified in several national organizations including EdSurge, The Institute for Teaching and Leading, and The Clayton Christensen Institute. Follow Sam on Twitter.

About Lance Key

Lance Key is the Instructional Technology Specialist and has taught all math classes 6th Grade math to AP Calculus. He has a B.S. Degree in math from Middle Tennessee State University and a Masters Degree in Teaching and Learning from Cumberland University. He has taught mathematics for 12 years and has been using the blended/flipped model in his classroom for the past 9 years. Key has also supervised the online learning for the past 6 years at Cookeville High School and is a District Administrator for Google and Compass Learning for Putnam County.

Key has been charged with developing the instructional technology for Putnam County Schools. He specializes in helping teachers incorporate technology in their classroom and was selected as the 2016 - 2017 VITAL Teacher of the Year. Key’s Certifications: Google Certified Trainer, Edulastic Innovator, Nearpod Certified, CK-12 Certified Educator, Book Creator Ambassador, Read&Write Certified, & a Kami Hero. Follow Lance on Twitter.

FETC January 26-30, 2019

Sam Brooks and Lance Key will be co-presenting four sessions each at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) from January 27th-30th in Orlando, Florida. The conference will bring together thousands of educators and technology leaders for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices, and pressing issues. Registration is now open.

Sam and Lance will be presenting at the following sessions together:

Lance Key will be part of the panel for:

And Sam Brooks will be presenting the session:

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