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Mapping the road to learning

Kent City — Elementary teachers Billie Freeland and Nicole Andreas are at the forefront of using a curriculum designed to further educational goals, regardless of whether students are in person or online.

Their experiences using Roadmaps — a program digitized by the Center for Digital Curricula, College of Engineering, University of Michigan — is featured in a video that promotes the curriculum.

“If COVID taught us anything, it has taught us that learning at school and learning at home must be seamless.” 

— Elliott Soloway, Roadmaps co-director, Center for Digital Curricula, College of Engineering, University of Michigan
Fifth-grader Lisandro Perez-Ramierz is pleased to figure out the digital material (courtesy)

Project-based Curriculum

The two kindergarten-fifth grade STEM teachers began using Roadmaps in fall 2019 in tandem with Multiple Literacies Project-Based Learning, developed by Michigan State University. That curriculum emphasizes integrating literature with science lessons, and is focused around specific questions for students to answer.

While in training for Project-Based Learning, they became aware of UM’s digital version of the lessons, or Roadmaps.

A software developer from UM came to Kent City and taught third- through fifth-graders how to use the tool, said Freeland. Center representatives also paid monthly visits to help guide the program.

Fifth-grader Quinton Gregory pauses on his Roadmap program to check on an answer (courtesy)

Just days before Michigan schools were closed in March to in-person learning, Andreas and Freeland were invited to present their experiences at a technology conference at DeVos Convention Center in Grand Rapids, where they met with program co-director Elliot Soloway and his team, which headed up the digitization of the curriculum.

On March 12 the convention was cut short, and schools closed the next day. With an immediate need for digital lessons, “Nicole and I knew just what to do,” said Freeland. “Use Roadmaps.”

Teacher Billie Freeland consults with first-grader Lindsey Cronkright (courtesy)

Paper Out, Digital In

Impressed with the program’s ability to deliver lessons to students at home, the Kent City teachers became part of a team to put other curriculums on Roadmaps, including ELA, social studies and math.

“Billie and Nicole are leaders in Kent City, quietly bringing the school into the 21st century, the age of digital,” said Soloway. “COVID accelerated the change. Paper is out, digital is in. K-12, like entertainment, finance, manufacturing, journalism, etc., are all going through their digital transformations.”

Educators know that children — especially in younger grades — have learned on paper, but if they are home then back to school, and then back home, paper doesn’t always work.

The problem, Soloway said, is that the majority of digital curricula available started out as pencil-and-paper curriculums put on a computer plus a few videos. 

If COVID taught us anything it has taught us that learning at school and learning at home must be seamless,” he said. “And only deeply digital curricula can make that happen.”

Fifth-grader Mary VandenBerg loves the new digital programming (courtesy)

Following the Map

Roadmaps were put in place five years ago and have shown promising impact, Soloway said. “NWEA test scores in math and reading went up during our pilot rollout with 500-plus kids in six Michigan elementary schools (September 2019 to March 13, 2020),” he said.

While Kent City came on board only last year, Freeland said they are pleased so far. “I love using Roadmaps at school to teach, especially with third through fifth grades,” she said. “The program allows them to interact with the lesson on a Chromebook. They can answer questions, view videos and animate models for learning and experiments.” 

Another benefit to being on the ground floor in using the curriculum, said Freeland, are the connections made while working in webinars with teachers across the U.S. and Canada. 

“It has been so inspiring to work with the team, and so many teachers from so many places,” she said. “The problems we are facing have really brought us together. We are in this together and here to help each other. Roadmaps and digital learning is just one way we can do that.”

A shorter version of this video featuring Kent City teachers is being used in promotional materials at U of M football games

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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