4 Elements of Personalized Learning Visible at Natick High School
By Blake Sims and Meg Smallidge

When I picture a high school, I think of long hallways, rows and rows of lockers, fluorescent overhead lights, bells and announcements signaling when it’s time to quickly pack your bag and shuffle out into the throng of teenagers caught up in a river of chatter and hormones as you make your way to the next class. If your high school experience was anything like mine, your next class was often spent sitting at desks, in rows, listening to a teacher talk about biology, history, or quadratic equations while frantically taking notes and trying to keep up.

What I saw at Natick High School during the MAPLE Learning Tour was nothing like high school as I remember it.

When our group of 10-15 educators popped into individual classrooms to observe real lessons, I saw teachers leveraging technology in meaningful ways. Instead of teacher lectures and furious note-taking, I saw small groups of students clustered in classrooms and hallways working on projects, laptops open on desks. I saw both students and teachers fully engaged. I saw personalized learning in action.

4 Elements of Personalized Learning Visible at Natick High School:

Personal Learning Pathways in Mechanical Engineering
I huddle around a shop table with Chris, Shawn and Eric, three high school seniors who are telling me about their project, building a steam engine. With bandsaws and soldering irons buzzing in the background, they explain how much they enjoy this class where they take things apart and work in independent teams to design their own solutions to problems. The students say they appre_dsc1184ciate the opportunity to try something, fail, and learn.

I ask Chris, Shawn and Eric how Natick personalizes learning for them and they speak about the freedom they are given in many of their classes and Natick’s variety of electives that students can choose from to explore their own interests. An area the students felt their high school could improve personalization is through providing more choice in core classes like math and English, however overall it was clear that students feel motivated to reach their goals and take ownership of their learning.

Competency-based progression in Web Design
Natick’s curriculum of standards and high expectations were evident in the three levels of Web Design offered at the high school. While classes are scaffolded to teach students a variety of web design skills, what impressed me the most were the projects they complete to demonstrate understanding and mastery.

  • Advanced 1 students partner with a teacher in the building to design and develop a website for their class.
  • Advanced 2, students make websites for clients outside of the school, connecting them with real customers in their community that often results in paid jobs. These projects are hugely beneficial for clients and students!

After Advanced 2, students have the option of sitting for  the Adobe Dreamweaver CC certification exam, a clear demonstration of skill development and a real boost to their resume. Learn more about the Web Design courses on Mrs. Cullen’s website.

Flexible Learning Environments in AP Spanish and US History
dsc_2717Flexible learning environments is a key component included in MAPLE’s definition of Personalized Learning. There were ample examples of unique classroom spaces across Natick High School.

The AP Spanish course we observed wasn’t held in their traditional classroom at all! Instead, students transitioned into the Digital Learning Lab, a space reserved specifically for foreign language classes. 30 individual cubbies, each equipped with a computer and headset are all centrally connected to the teacher’s station in an impressive example of how technology and space can effectively be utilized to develop speaking and listening skills.

In a Sophomore History class, students Maddy, Elizabeth, Eva, and Gillian were working in a small team to conduct primary research on slave narratives. They had rearranged their triangular desks into a clover. As they took notes on a shared Google doc, they explained how much they relied on their laptops in class and how the desks were great at providing extra space for them to also have other materials, like a notebook, out if necessary. Just before leaving the classroom, the History teacher asked students to move back into rows for the end of the lesson; an example of how simple, efficient and important shifting a learning environment can be for flexibility in the what, when, how and where of learning and allowing for different activities to happen at the same time. 

Tech Implemented Effectively and Affordably in Algebra 1
This Freshman Algebra class was a great example of how to combine technology with more traditional learning materials and _dsc1177manipulatives. Students were reviewing linear equations using Kahoot, a platform where teachers create engaging learning games with multiple choice answers. Each student had their laptop and was logged into their personal Kahoot account. They had 30 seconds to solve a math question before a graph of student answers was displayed, providing real-time feedback. Students also had small, individual whiteboards to do calculations by hand. High and low-tech materials were blended together to create a dynamic, fast-paced, and engaging review session. The class was an inclusion class,  and the teachers said they used the data from the students answers to track their progress.