With new state standards coming into effect, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) is in the midst of revamping its entire social studies curriculum to better prepare today’s students for the future. The ultimate goal is to engage 21 st -century learners, making them college and career ready. Incorporating project-based learning through real-world examples and application is at the core of the new curriculum. It’s also an area in which many social studies teachers do not have experience, so providing quality professional development has been a high priority for the district during the overhaul.

As a K–5 social studies coordinator at VBCPS, Meghan Raftery works in 56 elementary schools, implementing and adapting school curriculum to fit each school environment while supporting enrichment and remediation opportunities. It’s her job to bring district-level initiatives like personalized, blended, and project-based learning (PBL) to the classrooms by providing professional development to teachers. This year, the district is taking a new divide, conquer, and perfect approach to not only create a new curriculum, but provide flexible PD options as well.

Choosing Virtual PD

This summer, 25 teachers will be invited to complete "Performance Task PD with Jay McTighe," a four-part virtual course created by Defined Learning. The course is designed to help teachers incorporate PBL in a wide array of lessons by creating a performance task and a rubric aligned to new state and local social studies standards. Selected teachers will work in partnership with a specialist from their school to pilot the task in the 2016–2017 school year. Specialist area will include instructional technology, gifted, special education, art, music, PE, reading, math, and more. After the pilot, teams will make any needed adjustments and submit the finished product for full implementation of the new standards division-wide in the 2017–2018 school year.

Flexible PD opportunities that allow teachers to complete trainings on their own time is a high priority at VBCPS. The district emphasizes differentiation in instruction for students, so following the same model for teachers only makes sense. To honor all learning preferences, teachers have a wide array of options to complete the course. They may choose to work with a colleague, spread it out over several weeks, or complete all four modules at once.

"I liked the Jay McTighe series because it provides a ‘stretch’ for very competent teachers looking for a learning opportunity beyond the basic courses available in our catalog," said Raftery. "I am hoping the teachers will enjoy immediately transferring what they learn into their practice, while also providing a valuable resource to other division teachers."

"Performance Task PD" answers the big picture questions teachers have when planning for PBL. The course demonstrates what a performance task is, why teachers should use them in their curriculum, how to develop authentic tasks, how to reliably evaluate students' performance on open-ended tasks, and how a teacher can successfully shift into the role of a facilitator who puts students in the driver's seat of their own education. After teachers create tasks, McTighe and his team will review the lesson and provide expert feedback on how to better reach today’s students. Using outside experts to evaluate the lessons gives the district objective feedback on the lessons. Using Jay McTighe's team also provides third-party validation, showing that the curriculum is certified beyond VBCPS' central office.

The Benefits of Virtual PD

When it comes to benefits of adopting virtual PD, Raftery says the list goes on. Through effective virtual PD, VPCBS has seen teachers' confidence grow in planning lessons that go beyond the teachers' manual while still maintaining alignment to the standards. "It's more affordable compared to paying for substitute teachers and can be completed on a tighter deadline than in-person PD,"" Raftery said. "Having an asynchronous program creates an environment similar to a flipped classroom, where teachers can go back and reference specific sections of a lesson and learn the basics of the assignment, so I can devote my time to helping teachers better develop tasks as opposed to explaining the project."

With well-trained teachers guiding them, Raftery said, students never cease to amaze her with the kind of innovative and creative thinking they show when working on STEM projects. Oftentimes, she added, students exceed the expectations for proficiency when their work is applicable to a fun-to-solve problem that has meaning beyond the classroom. Meghan Raftery is the coordinator of elementary social studies for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

"I just finished the last task of the fourth module for the performance task series. I am so happy with it! I already have feedback on ¾ of the module work submissions and I just finished on Wednesday! The content of the lecture portion was EXCELLENT and exactly aligned to some of the pickier things I want teachers to know about performance assessment (not just a one day event, must be based on a worthy standard, require instruction that mirrors the work of the task, etc.) The assignments with each module require some really thoughtful reflection and actually really challenged me at times. The feedback from the raters is respectful, detailed, and timely. There was a strong element of gradual release in the development of the actual task and rubric and a strong plug for using the DDIPP process gave me some ideas for task review from a division level."
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