Common questions we hear about how to implement blended learning:
Visiting three Bay Area school visits with some blended learning experts helped provide some answers to these questions and more.
Redwood Heights Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, has worked over the past couple of years to support innovation pilot classrooms. One of eight pilot sites, Redwood is a part of the Rogers Family Foundation goal to support at least 3,000 high quality, innovative, personalized, student-centered seats in Oakland by 2020.
Principal Cynthia Bagby-Ellison is a proponent of small group instruction (below) and values the time technology swap that blended learning makes possible. She also expressed that she feels much of their success so far has been due to a great deal of teacher and student agency. Teachers had a great deal of say in what the pilots were in each classroom, so they created something that is truly theirs and that works for them (as a result, it is currently a collection of blended classrooms more than a single blended school model).
Students in pilot classrooms transition seamlessly from small group instruction to computer-based stations. A certain portion of a student’s day is spent in each of the different stations, depending on the given task or learning goal for that student.
In one classroom, groups were gathered on the carpet and having a math talk about adding two-digit numbers; and in another were in a mini-lesson about a topic several students needed review in.
We saw students working in pairs to solve math problems and providing each other feedback about different ways they went about solving them.
Students were working together to tackle a playlist of “Have-To’s” and then move onto a choice activity. Part of a playlist might include an individualized program that progresses according to student readiness, such as ST Math.
We also visited Urban Promise Academy, a middle school in Fruitvale south of the airport. Like Redwood, a $350,000 grant sponsored implemented several blended learning pilots. The sixth grade team was selected to join Summit Basecamp and is benefiting from the Personalized Learning Plan (PLP) platform and training. It will be extended to seventh grade next year and become a whole school model.
Alpha Public Schools
Founded by John Glover in 2011, Alpha Public Schools aims to prepare students in low-income communities with the knowledge, skills and character traits they will need to succeed in college and career. The Alpha team focuses on five key areas:
Cindy Avitia High School is colocated with another charter school in the back lot of Overfelt High School in San Jose. While the humble modular settings (below) limit flexibility and integration opportunities, we saw great examples of blended learning.
Most of the high school classrooms shared a blended learning model (below) featuring five stations. (See Christensen Institute’s description of blended learning models.)
Students in freshman Computer Science (below) were actively discussing their computer science project with their teacher while three other groups worked independently.
Our freshman tour guide didn’t think a career in coding was for her but was glad to have had the exposure.
Students were using Google Docs to write in Spanish about what they thought of the book Caramelo.
Both schools, while implementing their own version of blended learning, utilize some form of a station approach and a focus on small-group instruction as part of their solutions to these commonly asked questions. Principals from each school emphasized the importance of being versatile in the approach, but staying set on the vision of blended learning experiences for all students.
Jin-Soo Huh, Alpha’s Personalized Learning Manager, offered a few lessons learned about making the most of blended learning station rotation models:
Greg Klein, Senior Director of Innovation and Learning at the Rogers Family Foundation, has been working with Redwood in the implementation of blended approach and also provided some valuable insights:
In contrast, Grant-Beacon Middle School in Denver (which we visited again last week) uses subject specific models: station rotation in math, project-based learning in social studies, and a flex model in ELA. A group of next-generation networks are developing models combining personalized and project-based learning.
The most challenging aspect of station rotation models is the often forgotten third part of the Christensen definition: “modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.” Redwood Heights, Urban Promise, and Alpha teachers used data from adaptive computer-based stations to dynamically group students for small group teacher instruction to create a coherent and effective learner experience.
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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.