E.P.i.C.C. Academy at East Hall High School in Gainesville, Georgia is a Hall County Program of Choice that intends to embody the meaning behind its acronym. Resting sturdily on “Endless Possibilities in Creativity and Collaboration,” the goal of E.P.i.C.C. Academy is to provide all students with engaging, innovative, and shared learning experiences that transcend the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar classroom. By providing a vast array of educational environments that range from interactive, whole-class instruction to digital schooling to project-based knowledge, students’ learning styles, talents, and interests are always an integral part of the educational equation at E.P.i.C.C. Academy.

In three previous posts, “Blended Learning That Is Truly Blended,” “Tupac & Einstein,” and “The Tao of Blended Learning,” I shared our team’s vision and enthusiasm as we embarked on a somewhat mysterious adventure. This vision, one that our team characterizes as “putting the wings on the plane as we fly it,” is a living, breathing, fluid, and ever-evolving concept, and one that is gaining strength in its inaugural year.

With the comfort of a full semester completed and much anticipation and excitement as we move forward with future registration, please allow me to provide updates and clarification for E.P.i.C.C. Academy.

Location

Separated from East Hall High School by a large parking lot, E.P.i.C.C.’s current home has come a long way since its original days as a childcare classroom. For decades, pre-school kids filled nearly 1,800 square feet with laughter, curiosity, innocent mistakes, and hands-on learning. We hope to continue this tradition with our present, high school students.

As we continue to grow forward, we are definitely in discussions about the necessity to expand and offer additional, flexible learning spaces. For now, however, take a look at our classroom’s high-tech, drastic transformation since July of last summer and the #edtech gadgets available every day.Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 8.19.24 PM

Curriculum

Right now, our course offerings are rather simple. Spanish I & II, Accelerated Coordinate Algebra, Accelerated Analytic Geometry, Advanced Algebra, American Literature Honors, and Advanced Placement Language comprise our classes. However, along with future hopes of generating interest from potential students and acquiring additional classroom space, our plans also include offering history and science classes for the 2014-2015 school year.

In fact, the potential of co-taught, cross-curriculum courses that pair History with Language Arts and Science with Math are already being presented to all students as we move forward with pre-registration procedures for the next school year. Take a look at what E.P.i.C.C. Academy has to offer by viewing these slides. Want to see a bit more detail involving our future plans? Take a look at this brochure.

Students and Teachers

Sixty-three East Hall High School students physically attend E.P.i.C.C. Academy for at least three courses.  These courses may include Spanish, Math, Language Arts, or Directed Studies. In addition to the brick-and-mortar students at E.P.i.C.C. Academy, roughly one hundred virtual students, who are stationed at seven different Hall County schools, participate in Spanish courses by navigating their ways through online content and by video conferencing with the instructors via Microsoft Lync.

Our academy has three teachers on campus and two others who work virtually, but future growth will surely propel us to add many more teachers as we share and expand our pedagogical practices with other colleagues. For now, all Math classes are led by Dr. Lisa Sheehy, a twenty-five year veteran in student-choice and progressive education and one of the pioneers of Woods Mill Academy in Gainesville, Georgia. Wes Vonier, a tech guru and blended learning specialist, heads up the Spanish courses, and I, a self-proclaimed interactive educator, guide students through American Literature and AP Language. I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I have learned from my multi-talented and forward-thinking colleagues. Every day provides me with new insight to how I can improve as a 21st Century educator.

Schedule

Of the sixty-three students, one group attends during the normal time frames for first, second, and third periods, whereas, the second group attends during the schedule allotted for fifth, sixth, and seventh periods. The time designated for a normal fourth period serves as a planning period for all three teachers and as a study/relaxation/remediation/enrichment opportunity for all students.

The ability to have students during longer, extended times without necessarily adhering to a rigid bell schedule has provided us with the flexibility to experiment with many different learning designs and creative ventures. However, a more structured program schedule will be essential as we expect to triple our number of enrollments by the next school year. If all goes well, we seek to have classes “running” first through seventh periods continuously. Some courses will be cross-curriculum and blocked off during two time frames, and others may be offered as virtual classes with guidance from actual teachers, not algorithms.

School Model

Now, this is where it gets a bit convoluted. If I were forced to label E.P.i.C.C. Academy’s blended learning model based on these definitions from the Christensen Institute, I would probably go with the A La Carte model. However, our Spanish courses can be more aptly placed in the Flex model, and without a doubt, all three teachers, whether individually within their own classes or together with rotations of three courses running simultaneously, have somehow experimented with all of these blended learning models, with the exception of the Enriched Virtual and Lab Rotation models.

I realize my apparent vagueness surrounding this topic warrants claims that E.P.i.C.C. Academy may not have a grasp on its true identity yet. Not so. In fact, our identity is rooted in a simple educational philosophy…W.I.N.T.S.

This “Whatever Is Necessary Teaching Style” prompts us on a daily basis to contemplate how best to guide students through their educational journeys. Ultimately, what is created is a broad spectrum of pedagogical possibilities.

One end of the spectrum may involve a teacher meeting virtually with a student periodically as he works through an online course. This student may also find it necessary to visit our academy on non-traditional school hours for additional face-to-face tutoring or to take advantage of our tech gadgets by creating authentic representations of his knowledge.

The other end of the spectrum may involve an interactive, whole class structure that at first glance appears to be old-school in nature but upon further inspection unquestionably honors differentiation while providing the breeding ground for “Ahh hah” and life-changing classroom experiences.

Content and Platform

With the exception of our dynamic Spanish courses, which were molded by Wes Vonier from purchased Florida Virtual School material and edited to match our district’s standards and curriculum maps, our course content is generally constructed from scratch. By treating the internet as a smorgasbord of educational goodies and by using HallConnect, a digital learning platform created by adding Dell and Intel layers on top of Agilix’s BrainHoney software, our teachers strive to collect, create, and curate digital content that captures the same classroom magic that is so often experienced in a captivating physical environment.

Even though we admittedly have made several mistakes, celebrated a multitude of successes, and are “putting the wings on the plane as we fly it,” we collectively have no fear.

Truth is…this plane is already beginning to wag its wings while soaring high above any educational boundaries.

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John Hardison
John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC) in Gainesville, Georgia. By creating a flexible class where literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the stars, Mr. Hardison focuses heavily on creativity, interactive structures, and student choices. In the past 18 years at East Hall High School, he has taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with their own talents and interests. Mr. Hardison shares his classroom concept and interactive structures by presenting at professional conferences and upon request by various schools. Look for John at ISTE and follow him on Twitter at @JohnHardison1.

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