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School of One, New York City, New York Case Study

Matching student needs with resources equals success

Differentiated and personalized learning is a goal for many schools; however, few take it as seriously as the designers of NYC’s School of One, a pilot program that is part of the NYC21C school reform initiative designed to prepare students for careers in the 21st century. Piloted in the summer of 2009, “School of One” is scheduled to expand to three sites in early 2010, five in 2010-2011, and up to 20 schools in just three years.

In the School of One, students begin by taking a diagnostic exam to determine the learning goals they need to work on—the results become something called the “playlist.” Then students complete a learning profile that indicates how they like to learn, their interests, and their learning styles. Each day, optimization software looks at what playlist items are needed based on the prior day’s assessment, and new classes are created to meet those needs. Lesson plans are matched to the students’ individual learning profiles to further enhance personalization. For example, if five students are working on multiplying fractions, two might prefer live instruction while three prefer fraction games.

Over time, the system learns from the assessment data to determine which lessons are most effective, with the ultimate goal of creating a vastly more efficient and engaging learning experience for both students and teachers.

According to Jonathan Skolnick, manager of program operations, “School of One is based on the theory that while computer-based instruction plays an important role in individualizing instruction, it should not be the only way, or even the most important way, that students learn. Students who learn best from live instruction with teachers, or with workbook or textbook materials, are assigned them as needed.”

Skolnick went on to say, “Digital textbooks help us deal with the logistical challenges of printing out different worksheets from different textbooks for different students, because students can access the digital material through a customized portal. Our program tags each workbook or textbook lesson with certain attributes so that we can match it to particular student needs. Over time, we can create a marketplace of different textbook vendors and select the best lessons from each.

A student might receive a fractions lesson from one vendor’s textbook and a geometry lesson from another vendor’s textbook. This may enable us, down the road, to pay vendors on a per-use basis, with the most successful lessons being deployed most frequently."

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