How Da Vinci RISE uses technology to help youth succeed.
GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Roepke
One of the most exciting uses of education technology in K-12 is the area of blended learning, where online, self-directed study is combined with a hands-on classroom environment to enable a more dynamic learning experience.
A well-known example of blended learning is the flipped classroom model, where lectures and core content are delivered via online video, which frees up class time for activities such as projects, presentations, debates and lab experiments.
Students gain more control over their own learning process and, rather than lecturing, teachers can spend more time having personalized interactions with students.
Taking On the Challenge
But what about a situation where students aren’t able to get to the classroom? For many of society’s least-privileged kids, such as those who are homeless or live in foster care, something as simple as getting to school every day may be difficult or impossible.
For these kids, it is all too easy to fall behind and become disconnected from the traditional school system. One school network that has taken on the challenge of helping students who need it the most is Da Vinci Schools through the opening of Da Vinci RISE High School.
Located in the El Segundo area of Los Angeles, Da Vinci Schools comprises five separate charter schools with over 2,100 students. Recognized as one of the most innovative charter schools in the country, Da Vinci has received multiple grants and awards for its progressive approach in preparing students for both college and careers.
Da Vinci emphasizes a hands-on, “learning by doing” process that gives students real-world skills. Da Vinci Schools specialize in specific areas ranging from science to communication and design. Da Vinci has over 100 industry partners—including Chevron and Boeing—that provide a bridge between the classroom and the workplace.
Launched in 2016 by educators Kari Croft and Erin Whalen (pictured), RISE was conceived to find a way to bring a Da Vinci school to youth experiencing homelessness, kids in the foster care system, and others who are forced to work, care for siblings, or face medical difficulties.
For its bold re-thinking of what a high school can be, RISE won a $10 million grant from educational powerhouses Laurene Powell Jobs and Russlynn Ali as part of XQ: The Super School Project. RISE had its first 10 students graduate in 2017, and all are moving on to college. Today RISE serves 115 students in two school sites in Hawthorne and South Central Los Angeles.
Technology is at the core of how RISE operates. The school provides all students with Google Chromebook laptops. Instead of using off-the-shelf edtech software, Croft and Whalen worked with online learning platform Dream See Do to build a custom solution tailored to RISE’s specific needs.
Dream See Do
For RISE, Dream See Do functions in many ways. It has live video/webinar functions for remote learning, a course builder to let teachers organize and sequence learning modules and smart dashboards. These dashboards enable teachers to view “attendance” by providing evidence of students’ work. All student activity is automatically updated to provide proof of their work, and teachers are able to get real-time information on student progress via heatmaps. This proof of work is essential to how RISE functions as a school: it replaces seat time as a primary metric for students to earn credits.
At the same time, Dream See Do is used by teachers to assess student mastery of specific subjects. With a competency-based approach to learning, RISE can meet students at their individual level rather than assigning them to an arbitrary grade.
“We don’t utilize the language of traditional grade levels,” says Erin Whalen. “For many of these students who have been in and out of different educational settings, credits and transcripts are not representative of what they’ve done.”
At RISE, students move forward when they achieve mastery in 13 core competencies or skills. Using technology like Dream See Do allows RISE students to control the pace of their studies and gives them a way to fit their education into lives that do not allow them to attend classes in a traditional way.
An Information Repository
Beyond course management, work tracking and competency assessment, Dream See Do also functions for both teachers and students as an information repository. For teachers and staff, there is a case management portal that helps them note and respond to emergent issues affecting individual students. For students there is a “resource bank” where they can share information, along with geo-tagged locations about places to get free meals or similar resources.
As the backbone of how RISE functions, Dream See Do is much more than just an online course portal or administrative tool. RISE takes a holistic view to addressing the needs of these young people who have been failed by more traditional institutions. RISE partners with youth and social services agencies to see that these students get health care and legal assistance. Dream See Do helps the school monitor their progress.
In Los Angeles County, there are 63,000 homeless kids, another 28,000 in foster care and close to 20,000 are incarcerated. These are the children that have fallen between the cracks and have been left behind by the traditional school system.
RISE is creating a model for how schools can lift disempowered youth up and give them the one thing that can change their lives forever: an education. Dream See Do is helping RISE meet this challenge and is another powerful example of how technology can be used to help transform people’s lives for the better.
Jon Roepke is the director of product management for Belkin International, Inc. He leads the creation and fulfillment of new business ventures, and helps define and develop technology solutions, including mobile apps and hardware for next-gen learning environments in partnership with Apple, Samsung, Google and other core technology leaders. Follow @Belkin