Roadmap for teachers: U-M free online learning platform paves the way

September 8, 2020
Contact: Gabe Cherry gcherry@umich.edu,
Nicole Casal Moore ncmoore@umich.edu

With many
Michigan schools
shifting into
virtual learning

K-5 teachers are
seeking resources
that will help with
continued instruction

DAWN MICHALAK
THIRD-GRADE TEACHER
McAlear-Sawden Elementary School
The main challenge, I think, teachers are facing now is how am I going to deliver what these kids need to know in a way that’s engaging?

BILLIE FREELAND
STEM TEACHER
Kent City Elementary School
And how are you going to get your lessons through to your students in a way that they all have access to the lessons, they know what to do, and they know how to do it?

This U-M professor
has created a
free,
easy-to-use
online learning platform
that is keeping
students across Michigan
engaged

EMMA
STUDENT
Kent City Elementary School
You can just do it by yourself at home, and it’s, like, very fun to do.

OWEN
STUDENT
Kent City Elementary School
I do science, gym, music.

YOEL
STUDENT
Kent City Elementary School
It makes you feel like you’re at school because it has all the information.

ELLIOT SOLOWAY
CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DIGITAL CURRICULA
University of Michigan College of Engineering
These are the kids who are growing up with the internet. We can’t give them packets of paper. And the teachers absolutely know this. So the Center for Digital Curricula at the University of Michigan has a mission: provide deeply digital, standards-aligned curricula, free, K-5. All four subject areas:

Curricula provided:
English Language Arts (ELA)
Science
Math
Social Studies

ELA, science, math, social studies.

On the Roadmaps platform,
teachers can:
Use assignments made by
the U-M team, or build their own

Have students work together over voice chat

Monitor students’ work in real-time

In 2018,
the science teachers
at Kent City Elementary
began using Roadmaps
as part of classroom learning

NICOLE ANDREAS
STEM TEACHER
Kent City Elementary School
When things shut down and people were like, “So what’s next, what are you going to do?” We just said “We’re just going to keep going with what we’re already doing,” because the Roadmaps that we used in class can be sent via one URL to the students at home.

[FREELAND]
One email took them to the Roadmap, and that had all of their activities, it was colorful, it had arrows. We had five- and six-year-olds doing animations on Roadmaps.

In Bay City,
third-grade teacher
Dawn Michalek

has used Roadmaps to
encourage collaboration

I just recently started using Roadmaps within the last year and a half. What I saw happen is my students stopped asking me questions, and they relied on each other. They became problem solvers. And it freed up up to be a facilitator of their learning.

[SOLOWAY]
The kids are taking ownership. They see where they start, they see where they’re going, and they see how they’re going to get there.

More than
4,000
students
now use Roadmaps

and more teachers
join the platform
every week

[FREELAND]
To have the university and experts in the engineering department design this software, and they’re teaming up with a public school, I just can’t tell you what support that is for a public schoolteacher to have that available to them.

[MICHALEK]
It is the best thing that I have implemented in many, many, many years. It really reaches kids in a positive way.

Like thousands of K-12 teachers across the country, Dawn Michalek faces an uncertain school year.

She’s implementing a combination of in-person and remote learning in her third grade class at Bay City Public Schools, and that means bridging the gap between online and in-person learning.

“I think what a lot of teachers are facing is ‘how am I going to deliver what these kids need to know in a way that’s engaging’ because we can’t use our normal teacher tools,” she said. “When kids aren’t in front of you, it can be very difficult to tailor your instruction.”

Collabrify Roadmaps app screenshot

Collabrify Roadmaps app screenshot

But Michalek has help from the Collabrify Roadmap platform, a set of free, customizable digital learning tools developed by the Center for Digital Curricula at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Michalek was an early adopter of the platform last year, and she’s now one of hundreds of teachers who have used Collabrify Roadmaps with an estimated 4,000 students at public and charter schools across Michigan, including Bay City and Kent City.

The platform provides teachers with scheduling templates that can be customized to make all the activities that would normally take place in their classrooms available at home. The system guides students through the day, points them to the resources they need to complete their work and enables them to collaborate with teachers and each other.

These are kids who grew up with the internet and we can’t send them home with stacks of paper. The teachers know this because they work with the kids every day. Our mission is to provide digital curricula that’s aligned with standards and that teachers can use day in and day out
Elliot Soloway, U-M engineering professor

Collabrify Roadmaps example roadmap

Collabrify Roadmaps example roadmap

The platform also provides a searchable repository of online lessons developed and vetted by teachers. And because it can be used either in the classroom or remotely, Michalek is counting on it to be a bridge between remote and in-person learning that can keep the school year going whether students are in the classroom or at home.

Created last summer as a supplemental tool to make educational resources more widely available to Michigan teachers, the system’s use exploded in the spring when the COVID-19 crisis closed schools across the state. Its creators, which include U-M professor Elliot Soloway, worked through the summer to prepare the system for a new school year and get it in front of more Michigan teachers.

Elliot Soloway. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Elliot Soloway. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

“When we started, we went from zero to 1,500 students in three weeks,” said Soloway, professor of education, information, and electrical engineering and computer science. “These are kids who grew up with the internet and we can’t send them home with stacks of paper. The teachers know this because they work with the kids every day.

“Our mission is to provide digital curricula that’s aligned with standards and that teachers can use day in and day out.”

Soloway co-directs the Michigan Engineering Center for Digital Curricula, which he co-founded in July to address what he saw as a gap between the technological tools being made available to students and the teaching tools available to teachers.

While tools like Google Classroom can help streamline classroom logistics like grading and file sharing, Soloway says there was no single, reliable source for managing digital curricula.

“A lot of schools have attempted to arm their kids with some type of digital device to assist in learning—a Chromebook or a tablet,” said Don Manfredi, mentor-in-residence at the U-M Office of Technology Transfer who helped launch the center. “But the content to actually take advantage of these devices was very far behind. So the idea was, let’s provide teachers with a deeply digital curricula to make these devices more valuable to the kids. And with COVID-19, it’s just gotten pushed to the forefront.”

The center relies on a core group of seven Michigan teachers who create and vet digital content in addition to their teaching duties. And while Soloway is open to expanding the program in the future, he says the team is sticking to Michigan schools for now.

“It could be outside of Michigan, absolutely,” Soloway said. “But we’ve been focusing on the state of Michigan. We’re at the University of Michigan. So we feel an allegiance or loyalty to Michigan, and we’re going to make Michigan students, Michigan schools work.”

Billie Freeland and Nicole Andreas. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Billie Freeland and Nicole Andreas. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

For Billie Freeland, a STEM teacher at Kent City Elementary School north of Grand Rapids, Collabrify Roadmaps has become more than a way to unify in-person and remote learning. It has changed the way students learn, making them more likely to collaborate with each other to solve problems. And it provides an important social outlet for students who no longer see each other in person every day.

“I was really surprised at the ability of the platform to have students be creative and use their own abilities. And they love to look at each other’s creations,” Freeland said. “I think putting that learning on them and giving them the opportunity to be in charge of their learning is really big.”

Students have also responded well to the system, including Emma, a student at Kent City Elementary School. She particularly likes the fact that the platform enables her to work together with other students, giving help to others and getting help when she needs it.

“We can talk and give each other suggestions,” she said. “And if you need help, like if you’re trying to figure out how to do something that another person did, they can help you out.”

Daily Zoom webinars for teachers on how to use the resources are scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

 

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