Photo: IB Coordinator Diane Pajkos (right) helps Kellogg middle schoolers solve a programming problem during Wolfpack Time, an hour of elective courses every Friday.
From the second I walked in the door, I could feel Kellogg Elementary’s happy, well-organized vibe. It’s a small, Level 1+ school in Beverly. About two years ago, the school successfully halted a plan to merge with nearby Sutherland. Time to put things on cruise control, right?
Nope. In fact, Kellogg is now in its second year of piloting personalized learning through a partnership with LEAP Innovations. Kellogg Principal Cory Overstreet got interested in personalized learning as a way to hang on to more high-achieving middle schoolers, who might otherwise head for Chicago’s academic centers, accelerated programs for students in seventh and eighth grades.
Kellogg started the work with a focus on using small groups to differentiate math instruction. “Last year, the only thing we did different was focus on small groups, and our math growth scores are up 30 percent,” said Overstreet. While educational software often dominates efforts to personalize learning, at Kellogg so far it has been used judiciously. For example, third-graders spend only 20 minutes a day supplementing math classwork with the DreamBox adaptive software.
This year, Kellogg has added Wolfpack Time, an hour of electives for its middle school students. Overstreet cheerfully admits he stole the idea from fellow principal Efraín Martínez of Orozco Academy. Every adult teaching students in grades 6-8 develops or supports an elective class, and Overstreet provides each class with a budget for curriculum and materials. Electives so far have included sports (the most popular), art, yoga, music, games, literature, movie reviews, newspaper and computer programming.
Wolfpack Time happens every Friday afternoon, and already it is a hit with students. They say it helps them feel more connected to their teachers and fellow students and some say it has helped motivate them to behave well and get good grades. Last Friday, Kellogg opened its doors to a staff team from nearby Barnard Elementary, who wanted to learn more about their work to personalize math and launch Wolfpack Time.
During the tour, middle school students took their spherical robots into the hall under the supervision of IB coordinator Diane Pajkos, who helped them when they hit programming snags. “I think you programmed this to run me over,” student support leader Jennifer Freeman joked with a student whose robot kept finding its way under her feet. The ultimate goal is to program the robots to lead school tours for new students.
At first, Overstreet was unsure how teachers would respond to the elective idea, but now he’s sold. “I love the Wolfpack Time,” he told the Barnard team during their tour debrief. “I was a little nervous to propose it because it’s another prep, but I haven’t heard any complaints [from teachers],” he said. Money to buy materials and supplies helped. “They were excited to share their passions.” And it’s part of a broader effort to build stronger relationships between students and teachers, which is paying off. “Discipline [problems have] gone down significantly since just two years ago.”