EPIC Update: A Day in the Life of a Learner

By Travis Lape and first published on EdSurge. Travis Lape (@travislape) is a Technology Integrationist at Harrisburg South Middle School in South Dakota, and worked with Harrisburg Freedom Elementary on this project.


Our learners will arrive to school around 8am. Once they arrive they spend some time out on playground until around 8:10am. At that point they come in and go to their home studio. Each learner is assigned a home studio according to their age. This helps with taking attendance and lunch count. Once the learners have done that they then work their way out to the personal flex area where all 94 learners gather for morning meeting—this is where our foundation is built. We focused hard the first 15 days of school building a solid foundation on the Habits of Mind.

After our morning meeting the learners move into our reading block. Learners have a voice and choice in what studio for the week they will attend for their learning journey.

Over the course of four weeks our learners will move through the different learning studios and offerings. Inside the learning studios learners are grouped by their DRA levels for coaching sessions around the skills that are being taught in that studio for the week. Once we covered the skills we moved into genres and each learning studio focused on a different genre and then tied a skill to that genre. As we continue to develop our curriculum to meet the needs of learners our hope is to have larger themes that touch more on their interest.

After our reading block of time we take a brain break prior to our math block starting. The math standards are designed based on around our state standards and how they build over the course of elementary school. Learners take a pre-assessment and drop into a Measurement Topic.

Inside each measurement topic are learning targets which are the I Can statements to our standards. The goal of our learning pathway is not to pace learners ahead, but instead take them deeper into the content through projects.

Learners in both reading and math have a lot of voice and choice in how they show their learning. They also have writing components that they do to also share their learning.

This first year our focus was on reading and math. We will begin our summer professional development around building stronger formative assessments along with developing science and social studies curriculum that is flexible to meet our learners. We are still using our district’s curriculum in all subjects to support our learners.

How did we start?

We focused hard the first 15 days of school building a solid foundation on the Habits of Mind. We studied a new Habit of mind each day. Each Habit had activities and videos to support the learning activities. The reason for this focus was we wanted to put the learning back on the learners. This only happens if they understand how they learn and how they can approach learning differently.

“If we want students to reach for higher levels of thinking and performing, they must have opportunities to engage in, develop, and demonstrate a much richer set of skills and dispositions than are measured in the narrowly defined test so prevalent today.”

-Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda

It has been incredible to see how the Habits of Mind has started to shift the direction of our learning pathway. I could not agree more with Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda when they say “Habits of Mind facilitate a more holistic approach to learning.” We would not be where we are today without this strong foundation.

After morning meeting time our learners head off to our reading block. We have this block of time for around 90 minutes each day. Our facilitators create different offerings for the week for the learners to have some voice and choice in what they learn. We started out first by focusing on skills from our standards. Here are some examples:

  • Context Clues
  • Author’s Purpose
  • Characters, Setting, and Plot
  • Compare and Contrast

Each learning studio focused on a different skill for an entire week. All the learners 7 years old up to our 11 year olds would pick which studio they would want to go to first. This was tough for them because they had to decide: was it best for my learning to go with my friends or should I do what I need to do? To be completely honest this took our learners some time to adjust. Once they adjusted though they knew what was best for them.

After our reading block of time our learners headed off to math. Our math was focused on standards and how they build. Each facilitator in our program took a topic of which they were passionate about and started to create learning pathways.

Learners took pre-assessments and dropped into a Measurement Topic and started their learning journey. This was powerful for our learners because they got to work with all four facilitators throughout their year. This also helped us build community amongst all our learners. It also helped us change our mindset from being worried about just these 25 learners that are in my class to worrying about all 94 learners and their success.

This year has been a growing year and an incredible journey for our team in Harrisburg. We could not be this far without the support of South Dakota TIE (Technology Innovation Education) and the Bush Foundation. These two organization provided funds to help us pilot this learning pathway.



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