This is my fourth time at the New Teacher Center Symposium, but the first as an actual staff member.  I appreciated the changes made to the Symposium this year – namely the addition of three new strands: blended learning, social-emotional learning, and Common Core State Standards to Quality Mentoring. Having spent many years in schools and out-of-school time programs utilizing blended learning strategies in one way or another, that was the track I decided to follow.

Blended learning is one of those buzz words in education – many of the presenters including the keynote, Brian Greenberg, CEO of Silicon Schools Fund provided a definition of blended learning from the Clayton Christensen Institute “Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns:

  • At least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
  • At least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
  • And the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”

Rebecca Tomasini and Chase Davenport of the Alvo Institute, a leading consulting firm, followed the keynote and provided a road map for how a school can “gradually release” teachers into a blended learning environment. Most compelling about this extended learning session were the questions they asked mentors and program leaders to grapple with. They would show a video of a teacher with students in a blended learning classroom and ask, “How would this have to fundamentally change how you work with teachers?” or “What types of supports would these teachers need that teachers in traditional classrooms would not?”

Robert Pronovost, STEM Coordinator for Ravenswood City School District, offered another glimpse into a blended learning classroom – his own. He deftly employed blended learning strategies in engaging the audience and even brought laptops with him to ensure all of the participants could fully engage.  At one point, he showed a video of how his students worked in his classroom and then proposed choice points he had to make in order to implement those strategies. For instance, he introduced participants to EdSurge’s EdTech Index and CommonSense Media’s Graphite as tools to help select software. Using a framework provided by Robert, participants reviewed software on these sites and then used MeetUp to post what they found for all of the participants to see. Robert archived his session and the resources on his website

It’s not the nuts and bolts of a blended learning program that excite me – it’s the possibility for it to re-envision the way we design K-12 learning environments. Brian Greenberg was able to paint the possible for the audience by recasting blended learning as “not about the tech” but rather a way to:

(a) Personalize instruction for the unique needs of each individual student

(b) Promote student agency by having them take control over their own learning

(c)  Ensure mastery of learning and not just coverage

(d) Allow the teacher to spend significantly more time to build strong relationships with students and surgically intervene with small group instruction

Tech is an enabler to make this all happen. Proposing this mind-shift, Brian was able to engage the audience with turn-and-talk with the question, “If you were going to re-design a school or a classroom, what would be important to you?” I happened to be sitting with someone who helps design the Symposium and she posited – what if Symposium 2015 had a day designed using principles of blended learning? Yes – what if?

Blended learning can transform K-12 education, but it can also transform educator professional learning. Classroom teachers and mentors have been in educational systems that have remained static for generations. In order to facilitate their transition to blended learning, we need to model for them the change we want to see. Riverside County Office of Education in Southern California is doing just that.  Tonya Almeida, Deirdre Edwards, and Angela van Horn presented a session on “Exploring Classroom Management for the Student Centered Common Core Classroom through Blended Learning Designs”. Over the course of the last several years, they have invested their educators in blended professional development. In this way, participants have greater control over their own professional learning and at the same time, are learning using blended strategies they will then be more apt to implement in their own classrooms. It’s too early to tell if this is the case, but teacher satisfaction is over 90% and research has proven modeling as one of the most effective ways to ensure implementation of a strategy in a classroom.

This strand hammered home for me that blended learning is nothing more than using technology as a better way to differentiate and personalize instruction for our students. Blended learning provides tools to help us get to know our students well and strategies to engage all learners where they are and where they need to go.


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