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Special Article

Creating Magic with Cooperative Learning

Athenian Academy Of Technology And The Arts

To cite this article: Athenian Academy Of Technology And The Arts. Creating Magic with Cooperative Learning. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #63. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

Background Information

Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts is a tuition-free public charter school located in New Port Richey, Florida. Athenian is designated as a Title I school with 77% of our students considered economically disadvantaged. It’s hard to believe it now, but since the school’s opening in 2006, Athenian Academy has mostly earned “C” school grades with two “D” school grades in the mix. One of those “D” school grades occurred during the 2015–2016 school year under previous leadership. At the conclusion of that school year, the Governing Board put new administration in place and tasked the team with turning around our “D” rated school.

During the 2016–2017 school year, as first-year administrators, Athenian was at risk of being shut down if we didn’t improve our “D” rating. The school was struggling with how to engage its student population and had culture issues that needed to be addressed. One of the core components of the school improvement plan since 2016 has been our student engagement initiative through the implementation of Kagan Cooperative Learning. The entire team is required to receive extensive and ongoing training from Kagan. Since implementing cooperative learning at Athenian Academy, school culture, student engagement, and student performance have all dramatically improved, while bullying and behavior issues have declined. We are proud to say that Athenian Academy improved from a “D” to a “B” during the 2016–2017 school year, maintained a “B” during the 2017–2018 school year, and earned an “A” school grade during the 2018–2019 school year. Due to the pandemic, school grades haven’t been released for the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school years. The team believes we are creating magic with cooperative learning!

Students playing Balloon Bounce from Silly Sports and Goofy Games

Students utilizing the cooperative learning structure RallyCoach to add and subtract fractions

Our Adventure

Kagan Cooperative Learning has been a core component of the school improvement plan each year since 2016, when the new leadership team was put in place at Athenian Academy. There are incredible folks who work for Kagan and partner with schools to help set you up for success. In addition, they have numerous resources to help you plan your implementation timeline. When the team decided to go all in on our student engagement initiative with cooperative learning, the team created an action plan to complete the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop within the first two years. By year two, the entire team was attending the Kagan Summer Academy in Orlando, Florida.

Excited to welcome the team back to the 2019 school year with Kagan wish list items!

5-Day Cooperative Learning Workshop

The entire team has attended the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop. When new candidates are interviewed to join our Athenian family, they understand student engagement is the primary initiative and that they will be required to attend the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop over the summer at the Kagan Summer Academy. This workshop is a crash course into cooperative learning and the seven keys that make it work. Each person that has attended the training has left stating it is the most enjoyable and impactful professional development training they have ever attended. It’s five days of high energy and fun with amazing content that truly makes a difference in the classroom. This is not a sit-and-learn-theory workshop; you are up, moving, interacting with others, and busy doing!

Some of our team at the 2018 Kagan Summer Academy

5-Day Brain-Friendly Teaching Workshop

By the end of year two, all team members had completed the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop. In year three, the team engaged in Days 1–3 of the Brain-Friendly Teaching Workshop and completed Days 4 and 5 in year four. The Brain-Friendly Teaching Workshop focuses on six brain-friendly principles to improve student engagement and learning, as well as improve students’ ability to retain and recall information. Like the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop, you are engaged and hooked from the beginning. The trainers do an amazing job of keeping you up and moving, while interacting with folks. They once again keep you busy doing, instead of simply feeding you information.

Our team participating in the Brain-Friendly Teaching Day 4 Workshop

Creating a Legacy

The Athenian Academy team has completed both the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop and the five-day Brain-Friendly Teaching Workshop. The team now selects content-specific workshops and other specialty workshops, such as Social Emotional Learning, Building Classroom Community, Thinking Skills, Growth Mindset, Coaching, etc., to attend at the Kagan Summer Academy. In addition to learning new strategies and structures at these workshops, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to build relationships and camaraderie with each other. The team enjoys spending time with each other during the workshops, breaks, and in the evenings at the resort, the parks, and Disney Springs! The following are workshops that our leadership team found instrumental in helping us build an amazing culture, while also closing the achievement gap at our school. At the end of the day, it’s not about the program; it’s about putting in systems, practices, and processes where student engagement is the priority.

Some of the kiddos utilizing Sage–N–Scribe in 4th grade math

5-Day Instructional Leadership Academy

During the summer of 2017, the leadership team was fortunate enough to attend the Instructional Leadership Academy with Dr. Vern Minor, which ultimately transformed the way Athenian Academy implemented cooperative learning. We can’t stress enough how amazing this five-day workshop is in helping to set your school up for success with cooperative learning. Dr. Vern Minor was also extremely generous with his time and advice as we planned our next steps for professional development with the team and implementation of cooperative meetings, Structure-A-Month clubs, and coaching. If you truly take to heart what is taught during this workshop, you will be creating magic with cooperative learning too!

Dr. Vern Minor during the Instructional Leadership Academy

Kagan Coaching

Kagan Coaching, Cooperative Meetings, and Structure-A-Month Clubs are three areas the team wishes we had implemented sooner. Don’t make the same mistake we did! In March of year two, we brought Kagan Coach Dr. Rick DuVall to our school for two days to spend time with our team in their classrooms. The administration team tagged along with Dr. DuVall as he went to each teacher’s classroom. Dr. DuVall provided in the moment feedback as each teacher utilized a cooperative learning structure in the classroom. One of the amazing aspects of the Kagan Coaching Model is teachers receive immediate feedback and are provided an opportunity to adjust the instruction in the moment and continue the lesson/activity.

After working with Dr. DuVall, the leadership team decided to attend the two-day Kagan Coaching Workshop at the Kagan Summer Academy so we could begin coaching our teachers in year three. It’s important to note that when we are in classrooms coaching, this is not part of the evaluation process. Our purpose when coaching teachers is to strictly provide immediate positive feedback and one tip that can help the teacher improve instruction. It is our expectation that the teacher processes the feedback, redirects the class if needed, and implements the feedback. The team receives a digital copy of the coaching form before we depart the room. As noted above, this feedback is not for evaluation purposes; we are trying to provide the team with meaningful feedback to improve instruction in the moment. In addition to the two of us, we also have eight classroom teachers who have attended the two-day Kagan Coaching Workshop and have been trained as coaches.

Cooperative Meetings

As with Kagan Coaching, the team wishes we had implemented cooperative meetings much sooner! In addition to attending the Kagan Coaching Workshop at the end of year two, the leadership team also attended the two-day Cooperative Meetings Workshop. This workshop provides you with a huge binder of resources to help you with incorporating cooperative learning in your meetings. Following this workshop, we began incorporating cooperative learning in all of our meetings, teacher planning weeks, school improvement days, and early release days. For example, every meeting is kicked off with a Classbuilder and Teambuilder, and structures are incorporated to teach, process, and review content/information. Cooperative learning is embedded into our ethics and PBIS trainings, initiative planning, and during consensus-seeking discussions.

One activity that the leadership team did with the team recently was a Blue Sky activity. Our teams worked together to "imagineer" ideas to continue to make Athenian Academy the most magical school. Their task was: if they had a magic wand and could make changes today to our school, what would they do? They were encouraged to remember that the sky is the limit! Then teams used a Continuous RoundTable to create a list of things they would love to see implemented, changed, etc. These lists were then combined into a spreadsheet that the leadership team continues to work on each year to chip away at making these items come to fruition. It has been an amazing opportunity to model cooperative learning for the team and provide them with the opportunity to experience what their kiddos do each day. Cooperative Meetings have transformed the way we meet, learn, and discuss as a team. It’s not just the kiddos who learn cooperatively. The adults do, too!

The team doing some relationship building with a Kagan Teambuilder during a cooperative meeting

Structure-A-Month Clubs

A Structure-A-Month Club is the other area we wish we had implemented sooner. Time is something none of us have enough of. An early release day was added each month, which provides time for our cooperative meetings and our Structure-A-Month Club (SAM Club). During the SAM Club, the administration team incorporates Teambuilders and Classbuilders, followed by introducing a new structure we want the team to try that month. The structure is modeled for the team, and then they experience the structure. Following the structure, the team shares management tips for the structure. Next, teams conduct a PIES analysis of the structure (PIES are one of the seven keys you learn about in the five-day Cooperative Learning Workshop), breakdown the functions, discuss how the structure can be utilized during the lesson design process, and generate ideas on how they can incorporate the structure in their classrooms. Even while looking at the Structure of the Month in depth, we are still incorporating various cooperative learning structures to process the information, analyze PIES, and generate ideas! The team then receives a homework assignment to begin implementing the Structure of the Month in lessons during the month and test it out. Each team member is responsible for sharing at our next SAM Club how they utilized the Structure of the Month, how it went, and any management tips they came up with or any issues they had with the structure.

The team learning a new structure during our SAM Club

Kagan Model Schools

Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts has experienced much success with our student engagement initiative with Kagan Cooperative Learning; however, there is still much work to do to close the achievement gap at our school. Throughout the last several years, our leadership team has visited two Kagan Model Schools in Florida, Berkley Charter School in Auburndale, Florida, and Corbett Preparatory School of IDS in Tampa, Florida. These were both tremendous experiences as we had the opportunity to see what a true cooperative learning culture looks like. During the summer of 2019, the team had the wonderful opportunity to work with Dr. Jackie Minor at the Kagan Summer Academy at several workshops, including Instructional Coaching, Structure-A-Month Clubs, and Lesson Planning.

Athenian Academy has been fortunate enough to have Dr. Jackie Minor visit our school for multiple coaching sessions with our team, a five-day Cooperative Learning Refresher Training, and the week three Advanced Cooperating Learning Training. As of November 10, 2021, Athenian Academy of Technology and the Arts is now a Kagan Model School! We hope we can be an inspiration for others to create their own student engagement initiative.

Students utilizing Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures and Silly Sports and Goofy Games

It’s all about student engagement, and may you, too, create magic with cooperative learning!