Virtual School Meanderings

March 26, 2013

SITE 2013 – Creating Opportunities: The WCATY Academy, A 5th-8th Grade Blended Learning Environment for Gifted and Talented Students

site-conf-logo-2013The third session that I am blogging from the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference is:

Creating Opportunities: The WCATY Academy, A 5th-8th Grade Blended Learning Environment for Gifted and Talented Students

Peter Boettcher, Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY), United States, Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY), United States

Blended learning opportunities are becoming the norm for schools and students at many levels. This workshop will focus on how the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth was developed into an innovative blended learning opportunity for gifted students from Wisconsin, and the application of this concept to other educational online ventures. The process WCATY takes to create and implement challenging courses for students will be explored. This includes looking at our design scheme and how we use gaming and storytelling to engage students. The focus WCATY has on student growth and how we build community within the Academy will be highlighted. This workshop will look at technological tools the Academy uses to produce quality learning experiences and real-world applications for students through the use of Moodle and other production tools such as Glogster.

This session was a roundtable, so my notes are based on the conversation from the first fifteen minutes or so of the session. Based on the hand-out, the roundtable will focus on a blended learning program at a Wisconsin-based school for students who are considered gifted and talented from grades 5 to 8.

The program that uses Moodle 2.0 as its learning management system, with all of their materials aligned to the Common Core.  The program focuses on three areas: reading, writing, and interaction.  Each week students would be working on three or four assignments, as well as an integrated discussion question that the respond to in the discussion forum.  Most courses require students to read about two books per nine-week course (quarters), each of which has an assignment or discussion forum associated with.  Students also complete a larger “quest assignments,” where students have two or three choices and have to complete four to six of these over the nine-week semester.  Finally, most classes have significant final projects due at the end of the quarter.

In terms of the actual set-up of the program, the students are based in their residential school and are regionally-focused in terms of geography.  So they complete their gifted activities in a single course, in a supplemental fashion – with the school setting aside one slot in the students schedule for them to work on this gifted program.  On three occasions during a nine-week semester, the students come together for face-to-face sessions – that generally last about four hours.

The actual online courses have a consistent look and feel in terms of lay-out and navigation.  Following an initial introduction, the course is organized by weeks with specific tasks due at the end of each week to keep students moving through the course together.

The courses also contribute to an electronic portfolio.  The portfolio is organized around the three areas: reading, writing, and interaction; and the students select pieces of work that highlight each of the specific criteria in each of these three areas.  Each of the components have a reflection attached to it in the portfolio that outlines their thinking process and how each artifact aligns to the criteria.

We finished with some conversation about how they are trying to transition to creating more of a gaming environment, where the students’ tasks are challenges that they have to complete towards an overall goal (i.e., to win the game/course) – with Voki recordings acting as the non-playing characters.  As students complete the various tasks (and completing them at higher levels), students earn badges (at various levels: novice, artisan, apprentice, professional, and expert).  At this stage, I had to run to another session…

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