In a virtual academy, teachers and families relate learning to the real world
In 2010, the Elk Grove Unified School District in California launched the Elk Grove Virtual Academy (EGVA) for grades K–8. EGVA draws a variety of students for whom a traditional brick-and-mortar school is not the right fit — athletes and actors, students with special needs, students whose parents must travel for work, and those looking for a fully supported homeschool program.
In the 2015–2016 school year, EGVA replaced its online curriculum, which was not meeting its accountability needs, with Connections Learning®, a set of online courses and services now part of the Pearson Connexus™ suite of offerings.
Students, who come from nine counties in California, work on their online courses at home, with parental support. The three EGVA teachers who guide student learning communicate with students via phone, text, email, Skype, and FaceTime.
Twice a month, students and teachers come together, once for physical education and once for an activity in EGVA’s physical classroom or a field trip. The teachers also meet face-to-face as needed with small groups of students in their counties.
EGVA focuses on providing personalized learning. Students’ course of study is determined by their instructional level, not by their age. “Every student is getting an individualized approach to their education,” remarked Miriam Lyons, the K–3 teacher and online program coordinator. Referring to herself and her colleagues, she added, “We see the need to engage and instruct in different ways and in different modalities, as well as using different curriculum. And Pearson’s curriculum provides that.”
The fact that the online learning curriculum is “portable” is critical to students and their families. “Because the curriculum is available 24/7, students can access their lessons anywhere anytime,” Lyons said.
In addition, the flexibility of the online learning curriculum enables teachers to modify lessons in order to give them real-world applications. Lyons explained that 4th-grade students are required to study California history. If students visit one of the historic missions along California’s coast, for example, they can get credit for doing a project that shows what they learned from their visit, instead of completing the entire online lesson on the subject.
The flexibility of the curriculum opens up the entire world to students.
Lyons added, “The parents love the fact that they can take what’s being taught in the individual daily lessons and go out into the world and find concrete examples and experiences for their children to really reinforce it, to take it to the synthesis level instead of just the recall level.”
According to Lyons, the accountability built into the courses helps the teachers provide personalized learning. With EGVA’s previous program, “we were always digging for evidence that learning was happening,” Lyons explained. With Pearson’s online learning courses, “we can see students’ daily progress and see where they need support, what they are missing, where they are excelling. Maybe they don’t need the next lesson, so we can skip that lesson. It becomes very individualized.”
“I think our students are performing better by just the fact that we can see how they are doing on any given lesson,” Lyons said. “[We can] reinforce the right factors and provide immediate feedback on work relating to any concept or standard that might not be heading in the correct direction. The platform allows us to catch any issues very quickly.”
“A lot of our colleagues are interested in what we do,” Lyons remarked. When she tells them about EGVA, they exclaim, “We wish we could do that in the classroom!”
Other colleagues refer students whose needs are not being met to EGVA. Lyons observed, “They see the value of a program like this.”
To learn more about how EGVA uses online learning to individualize instruction and establish accountability, read the full success story.