Blended learning tools

By Rafael Gallardo, Learning Technologies Manager

The student’s digital partner

On one side of the classroom students are “playing” on mini laptops, interacting with an adaptive digital math partner. The partner identifies students’ needs and delivers specific objectives to reinforce concepts. Students pump their fists when they get something right. There is a pause when another student makes a mistake. Before the student attempts the problem again the program provides feedback and demonstrates to the student a possible solution.

In the opposite corner of the classroom the teacher is conversing face to face with a small group of students. The software provided data about a math objective that this group of students is struggling with. Together they now focus on problem-solving in a small group. Students learn, teachers have immediate feedback from the software they use, and the learning is individualized. Technology is not a distraction; it is a constructive partner in the classroom. It presses us to rethink what is possible for teaching and learning in classrooms.

Currently in Highline, every elementary student is paired with an adaptive digital math partner, either ST Math or Dreambox. These math partners deliver instruction that is relevant to student needs for ninety minutes each week. ST Math in particular uses almost no language, on screen or out loud, which makes it a particularly effective tool for ELL students to work with math concepts directly.

What blending can mean

Blended learning models are innovative and growing fast, and may have a different look everywhere you find them, not neatly fitting into a simple definition. In practice, high school learning models will have different features than elementary school models. Additionally, the blended learning models in practice challenge our established norms of what a classroom should look and feel like. It may involve a “flex” (some technology, some face-to-face) or a “flipped” classroom model (lecture delivered online, in-class for problem-solving only) and changes the dynamic and role of the teacher. The teacher is facilitating and pushing dialogue deeper, problem solving and individualizing. Importantly, blended models help students build capacity for the technology-driven workplace landscape of the 21st Century.

Pilots underway in Highline

Highline has made a commitment to individualize learning for students and has an initiative to explore, pilot and introduce more blended learning in our schools. In 2013 Highline Public Schools will pilot several programs designed to tailor learning and engagement to every student. In addition to the bold new approach to elementary math, we are managing several other pilots:

  • Emporium math model: Students in Math 8 at Chinook will pilot several tools within an LMS system. These include Virtual Nerd, a web-based supplemental math curriculum tool for middle and high schools that uses video tutorials to support and enhance classroom learning. In addition students and 8th grade Algebra teachers like Holly Sullivan will also have access to NROC’s Algebra I Open Course. These opportunities allow for teachers to individualized instruction to need student needs. The National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) is a growing library of high-quality online course content for students and faculty in higher education, high school and Advanced Placement.
  • Imagine Learning English: Is an adaptive reading instruction tool. It includes academic and social vocabulary in subject areas as well as basic vocabulary Phonemic awareness and phonics Comprehension. It is currently being used as a supplement for both ELL and currently being used with struggling native speakers. Several schools are currently using ILE and include: Southern Heights Elementary, Madrona, Midway, and Des Moines.
  • RAZ Kids: Is also a reading tool. Although it is not adaptive it allows teachers access to 900 online leveled books in a digital library that is aligned with the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment kits schools are using with students to measure progress and inform instruction in reading. In addition to time in text, there are options for listening to texts (great for ELL students) as well as online comprehension quizzes that allow teachers to know students are making meaning of their reading. As a bonus Teachers assign custom playlists and can look at class and online individual student progress reports. There are several schools currently using Raz-Kids. Midway, Hilltop and Bowlake where 3rd grade teacher Nancy Clement has two of her classes enrolled.
  • MyON reader: MyON provides access to over 2,400 books titles, personalizes the reading experience for students, and enables the teacher to monitor and forecast reading growth. As with many other blended tools, MyON is accessible at home and therefore can extend learning and reading beyond school. Sylvester MS, Cascade MS, Madrona, Hilltop, Beverly Park and Cedarhurst are helping us with the initial MyON pilot work.

An important feature of our work on blended models is our exploration into a tool called a “learning management systems” or “LMS.” These systems enable teacher-student collaboration on a secure social media platform. They support an extension of the school day by also allowing for easy teacher collaboration with each other or with district specialists around frameworks and associated content. The LMS also allows students to have a central place to view all of their courses, course work, assignments, tests, and projects, as well as course resources such as texts, sources, eContent, and supplemental online tools. We are working directly with Highline teachers to establish proofs of concept with Instructure Canvas at Chinook MS, Desire2Learn at Highline High School/Mount Rainier High School and Project Foundry at Big Picture High School.

Highline Public Schools places high value on student success and preparedness and is committed to find pathways that encourage students to engage with their teachers, with technology and with each other.

“A student trying the very first tablet version of ST Math”

“A student trying the very first tablet version of ST Math”


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