Originally published in The Modesto Bee – February 24, 2019
Third-grader Mynie Ocampo could be the poster girl for the Stride learning technology used at her school. The adaptive program in Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District classrooms guides each student to practice where he or she needs most — math, language arts, reading and science — and helps the kids hit their stride, so to speak.
Mynie, 9, was born in the Philippines, where she lived until she was 7. Her classrooms there were very low-tech, she said: no digital devices, not even whiteboards, just blackboards and chalk, papers and pencils.
When her family came to the States, it moved a few times until arriving in Crows Landing. And before starting at Bonita Elementary School the day after winter break of her second-grade year, she’d been home-schooled. “My sister would work, but then on her days off she would teach me different things I would learn in my grade.”
She felt advanced in some parts of her education, Mynie said, but still, starting in a California classroom was a dramatically new experience. About language arts, she said, “I’m not purely, like, from here, so in there (the Stride program), I get to know new ways of talking, like the right punctuation and how it works.”
She added, “From where I used to be, the schools don’t work this way, and Stride really helped me catch up.”
Helping students catch up like that, or even go ahead in subject areas that have yet to be taught in the classroom, is what Stride’s adaptive learning technology is about, NCLUSD Superintendent Randy Fillpot said. It’s geared to state standards and is used by 1,500 students across the district’s four elementary schools.
Stride, brought into the Newman-Crows Landing district about five years ago, is one of several tools educators use to create a learning environment that blends technology with traditional teaching. A U.S. Department of Education report notes that in studies “contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective, providing a rationale for the effort required to design and implement blended approaches.”
The use of Stride in his district has translated to improvement on state standardized tests, Fillpot said. For example, after fifth-grade teacher Martin Freeburg’s students began using it, “every one of them was proficient in science on the state test,” the superintendent said.
Stride uses artificial intelligence to adjust lesson difficulty based on a student’s skill level. As students move through the lessons, they earn digital coins that can be redeemed to play quick Stride games.
Within Stanislaus County, Newman-Crows Landing may be alone in using Stride. Modesto City Schools and Turlock Unified said they don’t use it. Hughson Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Carrie Duckart said it’s similar to iReady, which her district uses in grades K-5 for math and English/language arts. And Ceres Unified spokeswoman Beth Parker Jimenez said, “Stride is not being used in Ceres. Having gone 1:1 with take-home, Internet-enabled devices for students several years ago, we do use a variety of other technology tools, including some innovative ones relative to special education and inclusion.” Other Stanislaus districts could not be reached.
NCLUSD teachers have some leeway in how they use Stride. In Bonita Elementary teacher Julia Cope’s third-grade classroom, students use the program for about 20 minutes a day, Mondays through Thursdays. Each day is focused on a particular subject: math, reading, language arts or science.
The children’s Stride time allows the teacher to walk around helping, or pull kids in small groups to drill down and deal with individual needs, Fillpot said.
Cope said she tells her students to take their time with the lessons and turn to her for help. “You have to be able to work one on one with them if they have a question about one of the problems,” Cope said. While Stride is adaptive to individual children’s abilities, there will be hard questions students will struggle with, so she needs to be there to guide them.
“It doesn’t replace the teacher, who is essential in providing that first instruction,” Fillpot said. Rather, the data it provides as students answer lesson questions lets the teacher see where gaps are developing, so they can be addressed. It also reveals where students are finding success in standards that haven’t yet been taught.
Mynie and other students interviewed outside Cope’s classroom also said that while Stride is a fun way to learn, it’s no substitute for their teacher. “Stride only gives us two chances to get it, then the question is gone,” said Ariel Brown. “But if we don’t get it, we could ask her and she’d go over and over it with us until we completely got it.”
Fillpot asked the children if they use their composition books while working on Stride, and was told yes, especially during math lessons. “My feeling is if you’re working on any kind of computer program, you’re going to improve your comprehension if you’re taking notes at same time,” he said. “That’s part of the blended part of it.”
Cope said she can look at data week by week or over the whole school year to see how the class and individual students are doing. Charts have lesson quiz results color-coded green, yellow and red. An area where students broadly are scoring in the red may mean she needs to revisit the topic — or it may be a topic she hasn’t covered yet.
“I get excited about this,” Cope said. “… I see that the kids are learning and there’s so much data for a teacher to take and drive their instruction and to look at and see where they can help their students. … Who wouldn’t want real-time data to show how you can help your students to learn?”
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