Blended Learning: Best Practices for Empowering Students and Educators

Webinar Date: March 20,2014

Webinar Description

Trends come and go, but quality education will last a lifetime. Attend this web seminar to learn best practices for blended learning models, and how they can help support improved learning and personalization for each student.

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart and author of “Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World,” and Tim Hudson, Senior Director of Curriculum Design for DreamBox Learning, will discuss how to take advantage of emerging blended learning approaches that benefit students and teachers. They will be joined by education innovators Earl Martin Phalen, Founder of Summer Advantage USA, and Jeremy Baugh, Principal of George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academy, who will share the innovative ways they are boosting achievement in their network of high-performing schools.

Topics will include:

  • Emerging blended learning trends and how to leverage them
  • Teaching and learning in an increasingly mobile world
  • Blended learning innovations that have helped students at Summer Advantage and PLA make significant elementary math gains
  • Professional development for educators in blended learning environments

Webinar Presenters

  • Dr. Tim Hudson - VP of Learning at DreamBox Learning, Washington
  • Tom Vander Ark - CEO at Getting Smart, Washington

View Transcription

Kurt: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s District Administration web seminar. My name is Kurt Eisele-Dyrli. I’m the magazine web seminar editor, and I’ll be your moderator. It’s great to have all of you with us. The title of today’s event, as you see here, is “Blended Learning: Best Practices for Empowering Students and Educators.” And it is being brought to you free of charge by our sponsor, DreamBox Learning. Today, we are fortunate to have with us a panel of experts who will be discussing the latest trends regarding blended learning, some of the best practices for implementing blended learning models and how they each can help support improved learning and personalization for each student.

Before we get started though, just some quick housekeeping notes here for you. This is, of course, the WebEx platform. You may notice panels for communicating with us are located on the right side of your screen. If you’re having any trouble right now listening to your computer speakers or if you’d prefer to listen over the telephone, you can click that Request telephone button that you see under your name in the attendee panel up in the top right there. That will give you a phone number and access code. We’ll also post those numbers in the chat panel that you see in the middle-right of your screen. You can also use that chat panel in the middle-right to send a message to our host and producer, her name is Kylie Lacey, about any technical issues you may be having.

If you have a question for our speakers, please use the Q&A panel that you see at the bottom right hand corner of your screen there. Please make sure that it’s set to All Panelists, which is the default option. Feel free to enter a question at any time during today’s presentation. We’ll answer as many as possible when we get to the Q&A session towards the end of the seminar. Also, our slide decks will be available for you to download. And the archived recording of today’s presentation will also be available for you to review or forward to your colleagues, but I’ll tell you more about that just a little bit later on.

So with that, on to our program. Today, we’re fortunate to have with us Tom Vander Ark. He’s the CEO of Getting Smart. We also have Jeremy Baugh. He’s the Founding Principal of the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies. We also have Earl Martin Phalen. He’s the Founder and CEO of Summer Advantage USA. And we also have Tim Hudson. He’s the Senior Director of Curriculum Design for DreamBox Learning. So Tom Vander Ark is going to start us off with an overview of some trends in blended learning, so at this point, I’ll turn it over to Tom. Welcome to today’s web seminar.

Tom Vander Ark: Thanks, Kurt. Great to be with you. Tim and I are going to take a quick trip through ten trends happening in blended learning. Good morning, Tim.

Tim: Hey, good morning, Tom. Thanks for joining us. We’re excited to have everyone join us and for Tom and I to go through a few of these trends. And he’ll be sharing things that he’s seeing around the country, the different trends that he and his team at Getting Smart are following as far as what schools are doing to innovate through technology to really improve student learning, student experience and improve the work that schools and teachers are doing. And then we’ll also, of course, hear some specifics from the George and Veronica Phalan Leadership Academies, which I’m really excited to hear more about as well.

So these blended learning innovations, ten major trends, all those of you attending today will receive, within a week or so, a white paper authored by Getting Smart that goes more into depth with these trends. So you’re here for this webinar and get a little sneak peak at those trends in the white paper that will be coming out a little bit later. So the first trend is a deeply student-centered learning experience. So Tom, talk to us a little bit about that piece.

Tom Vander Ark: This may be sort of the central learning trend of our time. And we’ll talk about a number of related trends, but the new tools that are being developed are really helping us create learning environments that are really focused on kids and not on the historical constraints that caused us to create schools based on birthdays and an agrarian calendar. So all the innovations we’re going to talk about today are really aimed at doing a better job of personalizing the learning environment for every student. You have a picture of an innovative class rotation model that incorporates both online learning and small group instruction. A good example of an environment that’s designed really to meet the needs of individual students.

Tim: Yeah. As I think about this trend, I like to put it in sort of different contexts to help reframe what we’re trying to do for students. For example, just to switch the words and say well, what about the deeply student-centered like workout experience if you’re exercising or deeply patient-centered medical experience that when we go to work out or we go to get healthcare, we expect a deeply centered individualized, personalized kind of thing, and I think the work that is happening in schools is increasingly being more responsive to students.

For faculty, for teachers, there’s a lot of conversation out there about having a deeply teacher-centered professional development experience. When we think about faculty meetings, for example, a lot of times, teachers are thinking, “Do I need to be here? Do I need this information? Could you have put this is an email?” And so we have to think that our students, as they move from class to class every day, are thinking some of the same things.

Then apart from that, I think some of the personalization and being student centered sort of exists at a macro level as in what courses are you taking, when are you ready to multiply fractions, when are you ready for algebra II and things. There’s that sort of macro level student-centered experience, but then there’s the very micro experience of okay, now that it is time to learn fraction multiplication, how do we make sure the pedagogy is student centered? How do we not only get you learning the right thing but in the right way? So a lot of different levels where this student-centered learning experience conversation is happening.

Tom Vander Ark: Those are all great points, Tim. And we’ll talk later about how personalized and blended learning are for teachers as well as students, and we’re excited about being able to create environments that are more engaging and more supportive for teachers as well as for students. And I also appreciated the way you talked about personalization in sort of a micro, what’s the next unit and macro, what are all the new course choices available to me. And that suggests to me that we have to quickly develop much more robust guidance systems for students. We have a paper coming out in the next couple of weeks on next-generation guidance systems that we think need to be developed, help students, teachers, and parents sort of connect around these individual learning progressions.

Tim: Yeah, that’s something that when I was a K–12 math coordinator, we talked about with the high school teachers quite a bit to say okay, if you’re looking at our juniors, they’re a little over a year away from graduation. They’re thinking beyond high school, in terms of college and career and what they’re interested in. And if you were to—yeah, based on how a lot of school course flows are designed, regardless of whether you want to go to—be a restaurant owner, be in business, be a teacher, whatever it was, it was kind of like, “Well, juniors take pre-calculus,” or, “Juniors take algebra II.” It didn’t take into account some of the long-term pursuits that each student has, which is key to making sure when students come to school, they feel as though they’re being supported in pursuit of their goals. And there’s a lot of conversation there about maturity and student views about how early they need to make decisions. But I think in general, we can become more responsive. So I think the paper you just described coming out about those guidance systems, I think that sounds pretty exciting.

So second trend that we’ll move to is the soaring number of digital learners. I think this is one, Tom, that a lot of educators might not know some of the data that we’re sharing here.

Tom Vander Ark: It’s really exciting and a little bit terrifying to see how quickly things have changed really in the last 36 months. If you just recall the Apple iPad just came out in April of 2010, it’s hard to believe that it was just a couple of years ago. And since then, the smartphone and tablet penetrations have really jumped up. And surprisingly, even among our low-income families, our assumptions about how kids and families are connected to the Internet, those assumptions are changing or need to change because penetration rates have really gone up very, very quickly. And that’s true in this country and internationally. There’s probably 700 million people with phones in India now. Maybe 3 billion of the 7 billion people on earth have at least some Internet access. So this changed really quickly, and that has created a whole new opportunity set for learning but it’s also sort of pushing on some of our outdated ways of thinking about access in some of our district policies.

Tim: Yeah, I always—I keep remembering a tweet that was sent during the iNACOL conference last year. It was about a student who tweeted out, “Is 7:23 in the morning really the only time that I can listen to this history lecture?” And I think it’s kind of a valid question, that if students are coming just to—and what’s happening in the classroom is just a transmission of information and a lecture, then I think it’s just like faculty would question that at a faculty meeting, students would prefer to have some control over when they are able to access that. And that’s something I used to always do during new teacher inductions for our new math teachers. I used to ask them if what you’re doing in your class, if students can get that for free on the Internet then you need to rethink the value that you’re bringing to your classroom.

I think Will Richardson wrote a book called Why School? which gets into some of these questions. And for our team here at DreamBox, when we consider digital learning, we know that know that quality of digital learning is just as important as the quality of what’s happening in math classrooms. And so as things do move on online and virtual, educators need to be just as discerning about the learning experiences students are engaging in.

Tom Vander Ark: Right. Well, you guys noticed this trend a few years ago and started redeveloping your content for tablets, right, and trying to take advantage of the mobility and the touch technology and all of which powered a shift from a lab rotation model for the most part, where kids are accessing DreamBox through a class rotation becoming much, much more frequent. A change in technology can really change kind of the whole organizational structure of how a particular technology is deployed and utilized.

Tim: Yeah, that’s exactly right, that we want that students have great learning wherever they are on whatever device they’re on. It’s a very rapidly changing landscape, as you mentioned.

The third trend is supporting standards and higher-order thinking skills which is something that’s actually been around for a while. And Tom, do you want to share some insights as to how this particularly relates to some of the blended learning work and observations you’ve been doing?

Tom Vander Ark: We’ve had proponents of higher-order thinking skills and a real work readiness for 20 years, I guess. But the way that they were incorporated into the Common Core and widely adopted is really, certainly is one of the top two or three most important things happening in education. And whether your state calls them Common Core or something else, a focus on real college and career awareness and emphasizing reading with comprehension, writing with clarity, applying critical thinking skills, I think these are such important trends. And the standards are—I think well intentioned that in way too many schools created a test prep culture and mentality, and so I think it’s really positive that the Common Core is inviting us all to think about the outcomes we really want for kids and ways that we can encourage deeper learning and real critical thinking. So I think it’s a difficult but very important trend.

Tim: Yeah. And from a curriculum standpoint, I always need to—I always try to reiterate that this is not a curricular sequencing graphic, that the arrow underlying it is pointing to higher order as opposed to pointing to before you can understand, you need to remember, before you can apply, those sorts of things, because it’s a classification hierarchy. And I think we don’t want to think that students can’t apply, evaluate, or create without first being able to remember something. One of the great middle school teachers that I had the pleasure of working with, she spent a couple of weeks really trying to get kids to remember long division and finally called me up and she said, “It’s just not working.” And that’s because they were trying to remember something that didn’t make sense to them. They were trying to remember a procedure that was too abstract, that they didn’t really understand what was happening with the numbers. And so she and I worked together to figure out how to engage kids in different learning experiences that would help them understand the underlying mathematics because it’s far easier to remember things when you understand them. In fact, when you understand things, there’s less to remember, arguably.

And as another example of that, I would do a lot of parent presentations as a math coordinator, and there were plenty of adults who memorized their 12 by 12 times tables. And when I would ask, “What’s 13 times 7?” they would need a calculator or a pencil because they had just remembered some isolated information without understanding the nature of multiplication and those relationships. And so when it comes to this, it’s, again, a great chance for looking at what you’re doing in classrooms or what’s happening online to make sure that we’re not just saying, “Well, online is where students do lower-order thinking, and in the class is where they do higher-order thinking,” but really have the expectation that students are engaged in higher-order thinking both with technology and in the classroom.

Tom Vander Ark: Great points.

Tim: So the fourth trend is realizing benefits for both teachers and students. And we kind of hinted at that a little bit at the start so, Tom, go ahead and elaborate on that.

Tom Vander Ark: Yeah, we did. It’s that blended learning is really for both teachers and students, and we wrote a paper on improving conditions and careers that really goes into a lot more detail about this. I’m so excited about being able to create a profession where new teachers can step into a team, feel well supported, have an individual learning plan of their own where some of that learning is available just in time, any time, and online. And some of it is highly collaborative and team based and really focused on highly relevant challenges. I’m excited about a competency-based profession where not only students but teachers can show what they know and advance rapidly. And our friends at Public Impact talk about an opportunity culture where teachers can extend their impact to many more students and have a chance to earn more money earlier in their career. So I think in all of those ways, we can create a better profession that’s more professionalized, that’s more collaborative, and has really more interesting and rewarding career opportunities.

Tim: Yeah. I think you see here on this image that so many of the painpoints for both teachers and students and administrators that we want students to be eager to learn. We want them to, as has been said, run into school faster than they run out of school. And we want more time as teachers to focus on deeper learning and really have extended time with students. I think it’s best to not think of blended learning as a way to just replace things with technology but rather to optimize things with technology, to take a look at how we can create, within our schedules and school days, more time with teachers and students with the support of technology and we really use technology to go deeper and to improve that eagerness of students.

Again, I kind of think about a faculty meeting that when we talk about new options to teach at home and eager students, just like teachers who have—their time is very valuable, and we want to make sure that when we go to a faculty meeting, that it is highly collaborative, that people are eager to go because there are important things that require faculty to come together to discuss and have some extended time. And you know what? If you can send the information in an email and we don’t have to get together, those are some new options that technology affords for disseminating information. So I love the idea that highlighting blended learning is a way to really improve things for students and teachers both.

The fifth trend, data-driven instruction to more personalize learning. There’s a lot of talk of big data. Certainly, we have a lot of data here at DreamBox. And Tom, what are some of the things you’re seeing around data-driven instruction as you visit schools and talk with educators.

Tom Vander Ark: Tim, you and I are both super excited about adaptive learning and you’ll say more about that, but I love the way schools are combining adaptive learning with projects. I’d like to think of blended learning as playlists and projects, a list of tailored learning experiences for students that get them ready to participate in team-based authentic project work where they’re creating real artifacts of value and sharing those in a real public way. The combination of smart adaptive learning plus engaging projects is such a—for me, it’s a really compelling vision of what’s possible.

Tim: Yeah. This particular graphic is something that we developed at DreamBox in a previous white paper about a year ago just to kind of show how technology, and our technology in particular, works in terms of supporting student learning within the context of a classroom. And one of the key is you see a lot of asterisks there and they all point down to the things that are pedagogically designed to engage students, and that’s really a piece of the key. When we think about data here at DreamBox, we think about how the quality of the data matters. And you see like we have real time capture of students’ actions and solutions, that it shouldn’t be just about getting—analyzing data about answers and multiple choice problems but rather about how students are thinking and engaging with mathematics and with models and with manipulatives.

And so the key is that pedagogy and that interactive experience where the data are really informative about how students are making sense of things. And we try to be immersive in that way, and then give teachers a rich amount of data, especially for—you’re going to hear in a second from a K–2 school that’s using DreamBox and blended learning. And it’s difficult to get good math data about kindergarten learners, about learners that young. And that’s one of the ways that we support schools, by providing teachers with rich information as students are interacting with DreamBox.

Trend number six, personalized learning accompanied by a lean, blended, iterative approach. And Tom, you could probably—you see this a lot, I guess. Talk a little bit about being lean, and about being iterative.

Tom Vander Ark: Well, the important thing to remember is we’re all in the early innings of blended learning, and it’s important to use data in short cycles to test hypotheses and to drive these cycles of improvement. One of my favorite examples is Reynoldsburg, Ohio. It’s an East Columbus district. And they have four high school academies that share common goals and some common structures, but they’re all iterating in really interesting ways. One common thing that they use is a triple block capstone, all of these students here are in a common capstone on energy, environment, and the economy. And at the triple-block, it’s bigger than a course but smaller than an academy. It’s an interesting unit that allows them to be super innovative and very personalized. So, all of these kids are working on a project together. The two online on the left are taking an online calculus course. The young man in the leather jacket is taking a Udacity calculus course. Each of them has a writing intensive, and they’re all working on a big project together. So I love this example of a framework that’s allowing the school to really iterate to try a number of different components and to combine both blended learning and technology-supported project-based learning in a really innovative way.

Tim: From a school leadership standpoint, I like thinking about this particular trend as—I mean, schools are having to increasingly do more with less. So there’s already a built-in lean sort of factor there. And it makes it critical to try some new things and be strategic with the limited use of resources in terms of time, people, technology, and school leaders always have to be making tradeoffs and prioritizing things. With blended learning, it’s a strategic decision where you’re choosing technology strategically to accomplish some goals. And it’s difficult to make changes, but things do need to be more iterative where we do have meaningful metrics for figuring out whether approaches and strategies are effective for improving student learning and engaging students. So I like the overarching idea that we need to be strategic with what little schools sometimes have.

Tom Vander Ark: I’ll just add one more quick thought here. The key, I think, is developing—it’s doing OD and IT together, the organizational design and an integrative technology plan together, and iterating those on at least annual cycles. That’s not easy to do, but it’s important to have a blended model integrated with the best tools you can find and then staying really flexible and making modifications to both the school model and the tools that you’re using on at least an annual basis.

Tim: Tom, we just had a question come in from Mary Ann asking us to elaborate on the term iterate. So you want to field that first?

Tom Vander Ark: Sure.

Tim: : Yeah.

Tom Vander Ark: So what we’ve learned from—if you go to, you’ll see an extended discussion on this topic. And some at public schools in the Bay Areas are probably the best devotee of this approach. But it means taking—testing hypotheses on a regular basis. Some of the companies I’ve worked with have a hypothesis of the week and then make little, tiny changes to their app or their organization, and they test them. And so taking that sort of an approach where you are making small changes, measuring effects, and using the data to make improvements is really an iterative approach. A lot of companies are taking this approach now, where they put out a minimally viable product and invite teachers to use that and provide feedback and then they make quick changes. So thinking about this kind of software as a service approach where you put a product out and really use feedback to drive improvement. And what we’re suggesting in this paper is that teachers and school leaders can use that same approach to driving a collaborative innovation agenda by making hypotheses, by using data, and testing and continually getting better.

Tim: Great. Thanks, Tom. I think that captures it nicely. Trend seven is productive gamification. And I know as a teacher, I kind of—and there’s a lot of teachers out there get a little unnerved sometimes by the idea of gamification because we don’t want students to just be externally or behaviorally driven. But there is productive gamification. So Tom, share your thinking and finding on those trends.

Tom Vander Ark: Yeah, that’s a great point. There’s two points here. One is that there’s some really cool games and game-based products like DreamBox that you can use in your classroom, but you can also learn from them and incorporate some of these ideas into classroom instruction. In the blog that I just shared and in the paper coming out, we mention a number of really important points. One is make sure that your games and also your classroom instruction really focus on challenging concepts. Number two, provide productive feedback. Failure is really productive if and really only if you get quick, informative feedback. Number three, great games are really well calibrated. They’re not so easy that you get bored or so hard that you get frustrated. But calibration, right, Tim, you might call it the zone of proximal development, is really important. That helps to boost persistence and confidence among students.

Good games may have some reward systems where you earn tokens, but a good game will also enhance intrinsic motivation. And then good games and good instruction are highly accessible that every student has access to the tools and the information they need to be successful in the game. And good games and good instruction also promote deeper learning. So those are some of the things that, one, you want to look for in games; and two, some things we can learn from games to incorporate into classroom instruction.

Tim: Yeah, definitely, excellent summary. I don’t think I have anything to add other than like here at DreamBox, we make sure that the learning comes first. And then we try to make sure that as you’re making sense of mathematics in conceptually appropriate ways, we then make it as fun as possible and use a lot of those design principles Tom just shared so kids don’t get frustrated.

Tom Vander Ark: That’s really important. I mean some games, they’re like a personal shooter game, and then you stop and you do—it’s algebra as a gate to go back to doing fun stuff. And what we appreciate about DreamBox is it’s really focused on learning, and you’ve created really interesting conceptual challenges. So it uses games as strategies, but it’s all about learning. It’s not tricking kids into doing the math. It is about math and about conceptual understanding of the underlying principles.

Tim: Yeah, that’s definitely our goal. Alright, we’re a little over halfway through our time, and we’ve got just a couple more trends to get through before we pass it over to our next speakers. So Trend 8, mobile world is where learners live now. And these also might be some data, Tom, that educators aren’t familiar with.

Tom Vander Ark: Well, we covered this pretty well in the earlier slide. It’s just remarkable how fast the world is going to mobile. And one trend that’s similar to the slide that we have here. As my friend, John Danner, who started Rocketship Education, noted that just in 2012, the cellphone penetration, smartphone penetration among his low-income parents went from 50 percent to 92 percent. And he thought it was so significant, he actually turned over the reins of Rocketship to his co-founder and went off to start a mobile learning company to help them take advantage of the fact that now, just about all of these families were connected, so just the opportunities that I think is very different. We have to assume that most families now have a smartphone. That’s a capability we should use, and I think it encourages us to think about “bring your own device” strategies, particularly in our secondary schools.

Tim: Yeah. From a curriculum design standpoint, sometimes schools are getting iPods for K–2 students because they’re small and the kids are small. And there are some design challenges for a mobile screen. There’s only so much that you can make sense of with a manipulative on a small screen size. And I try to suggest to school leaders too that we don’t give younger kids smaller crayons. We give them bigger crayons. As schools make strategic decisions about screen size and what kind of device to buy for different students of different ages, there’s some important design challenges about the limitations and strengths and weaknesses of a mouse-based environment, a touch environment, a mobile phone which a lot of people have. You’re right. I think there’s something like 1.4 smartphones for every person in the planet. They’re just so pervasive.

Trend number nine, BYOD is here and key to active three-screen days. And I think that’s piggybacking again on what we just talked about. You got the three screens: the television or the whiteboard; and then you got the tablet or the desktop or laptop; and then you’ve got the mobile screen. What should school leaders know about this trend, Tom?

Tom Vander Ark: Well, two things. One is, particularly at the secondary level, as my friend, Jill Hobson, would say: “You’re already BYOD. You just won’t admit it.” So there’s a lot of kids bringing devices to school already. We think it’s important to update acceptable use policies and even more important, create acceptable use practices that encourage kids to use their devices responsibly and productively at school. Second, BYOD, with the few exceptions of affluent communities, is not going to solve the access problem. It can be part of creating this sort of two- or three-screen day, but it’s probably not the fundamental solution to the access problem at school. So we still encourage schools to phase in and improve student access to technology. We’re particularly fans of take-home technology, and I really like keyboards at the secondary level. I want students writing three or four hundred words every day across the curriculum. And right now, it just feels like the keyboard makes the most sense. So I still think schools need to make a commitment to equity and then secondly, invite productive use of mobile devices on top of that to create this sort of two- or three-screen learning day.

Tim: Alright, thanks, Tom, on that. The last trend—I think in the interest of time, to get to our next speakers, this next trend shouldn’t surprise anybody. And I don’t think there’s much more to say other than …

Tom Vander Ark: We just need more.

Tim: We do just need more.

Tom Vander Ark: Right.

Tim: So thanks, Tom, for having a great talk-through of those ten trends. And you’re going to hang on so we’ll do some Q&A at the end. And I think now, we’re going to pass it on to Jeremy and Earl.

Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you so much. Yeah, Jeremy, go ahead.

Jeremy: Hi there. Thanks everybody. I appreciate it. Fascinating to hear those, and as I was listening to your presentation, gentlemen, I was blogging the interesting fact that we’re putting in place here at what we lovingly call PLA, the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academy. So we’re going to take you through a couple of our slides, and I get to share with you from the school perspective kind of the active implementation of blended learning in our setting. And so I want to start off by showing you just a little bit of results.

Our school opened in August 19th of this year. We’re in Indianapolis, Indiana. We’re a public charter school. We opened kindergarten through second grade, and we’ll expand a grade level every year until eighth grade. And here are some of the results of our kids. We’re very much an urban setting. I’ll go over some demographics in a minute, but we started at 3 percent of our children on track in math at the beginning of the year. And as of our mid-year assessment, 51 percent of our kids were already up on track. We had 33 percent of our scholars on track in reading, and 82 percent of our kids were on track at the middle of the year. So we’ve seen some significant growth.

And we are a blended learning school with a station rotation model. So we are absolutely seeing the advantages and benefits of blended learning and using these rotations to get our kids into, a, small groups and b, into individualized learning. And it’s one of the reasons that we’re seeing the significant growth. So also on the line with us is our founder of our school. And our motto was based off Summer Advantage, which is also seeing significant growth in summer learning and short times and with some similar background in the blended learning experiences in some of those schools.

So our next slide here is a little bit about our school so you can see who we are and where we are. We currently have 147 scholars and seven classrooms. As I mentioned, we are K–1 and 2, so our largest grade levels are in kindergarten with four classrooms, two first, and one second grade. We are a 93 percent free/reduced price lunch population. We have 98 percent of our children are African American. With our team member breakdown, you can kind of see a little bit of our composition. We do have a teacher and a paraprofessional in each room. And as I’ll go over in just a few moments, we do our rotations; the teacher and the paraprofessional help to assist with those rotations.

We also use our music, art, P.E., Spanish teachers in creative ways. They are content specialists in our computer labs. So we too follow the three-screen day, and one of those screens is basically a Chromebook in a computer lab or an iPad, because that’s another rotation. And our kids are working within that environment independently with a content specialist overseeing and having conversations with them about their data. And that’s what our current music, art, P.E. and Spanish teachers do during the morning academic time, is to work with them. As I mentioned, we just opened August 19th of this year, so we are a very new school.

Here’s a little bit of our model so you can understand what we’re trying to accomplish. As Tom mentioned, we’re trying to really break down the walls of a traditional school day and year. So our kids are here from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for academic instruction and enrichment. We are 225 days a year instead of the traditional 180 days. And we are using some exceptional curriculum within our school, and we are using technology to individualize learning to allow our kids to accelerate or to use it as remediation in those cases. So this is a little bit about us. We are the first of ten schools to open here in Indiana, and we’re authorized by the Indiana Charter School Board, with plans to expand across the country.

So this is a little bit about what our day looks like to put into perspective what we’re talking about with blended learning in PLA. In the morning, we have community time. We use that for power standards and character development. And so when I say power standards, we’re targeting those skills that kids need to master in making sure they’re academically ready to take on these rigorous challenges that they’ll face as they grow a little bit older in school. Between 8:30 and 10, we do a literacy block. And during that time, there’s small group instruction, rotations of computer lab, and then collaborative time to do projects with their peers based on the skills they’re learning. We switch over to math and do the same type of rotation, 30 minutes of whole group instruction followed by three rotations of online learning, small group learning, and collaborative learning. And small group is led by a teacher and then there’s collaborative independent group work. Our lunch and recreation time and in the afternoon switches to all art and enrichment, and we have our science and social studies. We have some writers workshops. And then our scholars can choose between enrichment courses, and I’ll show you that here in just a moment for our enrichment courses

This is a visual so you can see we are a station rotation model. It just allows you to see a little bit of what that looks like, 30 minutes of whole group instruction. We divide the kids out into three equal groups then are able to make those very flexible so we can move those groups pretty much any time that we choose all based on data. One group will be focused with a teacher and a paraprofessional, and so that group becomes very small. So one of the things you see at PLA is groups of around four scholars when you’re working with a teacher. It allows us to really understand what their needs are and really focus on that. And then in the computer lab, we’ll have large computer labs. Like our first and second grade labs have 66 children at a time and two adults overseeing those labs and tracking the kids and then using parent volunteers to help oversee those as well. And then there’s also another 30 minute group where they’re actually just practicing skills and then working on those.

And then finally, what do our enrichment courses look like? So one of the unique things about our day because we’re an extended day is at the very end of each day, we have these enrichment choice classes. And so right now, they’re five-week courses. Scholars get to choose between the courses that they want to take. All of the team members in the building stop and drop what we’re teaching and everyone picks up an enrichment course, and these are some samples. Originally, they started out as 10-week courses, which is why I said that they’re now five-week courses. And scholars are able to do two five-week courses within that period. And so they’re getting a really wide host of enrichment and really deep learning experiences and building some vocabulary that they otherwise would not have had.

So I know we wanted to leave some time at the end for Q&A. So I went very quickly and there may be some questions, but I’m actually going to then pass that off. This is just some contact information for Earl, our school founder and myself if anyone has any questions about that. But I’ll hand off the lead there and allow others to speak.

Kurt: Great. We’ll go back to Tim Hudson from DreamBox for just a minute here before we get to the Q&A. Tim?

Tim: Yes. Thank you, Kurt, and thank you, Jeremy. I look forward to Q&A here in a second. Just real quick, a couple of things about DreamBox Learning in case you’re not familiar. We combine three essential elements to really improve student learning: rigorous elementary math, motivating learning environment, and our Intelligent Adaptive Learning engine. In DreamBox, students have to think critically. It’s not just a practice program, although there’s practice embedded throughout. It develops vocabulary and conceptual understanding. We haven’t just digitized worksheets. Rather, we’ve created new ways for students to interact with mathematical ideas and manipulatives and really harness the power of technology to meet students right where they’re at and then also engage them in learning, right in the moment providing them meaningful feedback. We don’t just help students how to solve problems and then ask them to go practice them. Things like when you’re learning fraction division, just invert and multiply. Now go do this worksheet. Rather, we help students make sense and understand the kinds of things underlying mathematical concepts.

We have full-time experienced classroom teachers on our team at DreamBox who work closely with our programmers and creative team to build manipulatives for sense-making to really capture how students are thinking. And our adaptive engine millions of different unique learning paths tailored to each student’s needs in a non-linear way. We have a motivating environment where, as we talked earlier, it’s games that are more than just skill practice. There’s conceptual understanding through our games. And DreamBox really develops that confidence that comes from understanding when students are able to show their own work with our manipulatives.

Here are three screenshots of some manipulatives that we have, and the way we build our tools allows our teachers to write lessons where we can respond uniquely to different student mistakes. And students are able to use their own intuitive strategies to activate their prior knowledge. We look at how efficient their strategies are, because that’s how mathematicians really—what they really strive for. We look at the scaffolding that’s needed, really trying to complement the great work that classroom teachers are doing by personalizing learning experience for students.

We provide robust reporting. Here’s an actual kindergarten report where you see students—the first grade report for the first week of school after students have been on DreamBox in kindergarten. You see the amount of time they’ve spent and how they’re working at very different places. But some kindergarteners at the start of first grade are actually nearly done with first grade content, which has real implications for blended learning models and for the schools trying to meet the students right where they’re at. And we also provide teachers with strategic grouping reports so that at the click of a button, you can figure out where best to use your classroom time with students.

We also have a lot of those three-screen days. You saw one of the images of a teacher at the whiteboard., a bunch of free manipulatives that any teachers can use today to engage their students in mathematical conversations, and we provide free school-wide trial. Just go to and check out the free school-wide trial.

Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Tim. Thank you, Tom and Jeremy as well. Now let’s get to some questions. Just a reminder to our audience, if you have a question for any of our presenters, just enter it in the Q&A box that you see in the bottom right hand corner there. We’re getting some in the chat window in the middle right, but you want to put questions in the Q&A box there, bottom right hand corner. We’ll get to as many as we can here.

Tom and Tim, you both talked about one of the trends being BYOD as well as the growth of mobile devices and smartphones. Someone asks here, how do you convince parents of the use of a smartphone as an educational tool in the classroom. Is that a factor here? Or are parents accepting of that as an educational tool? Tom?

Tom Vander Ark: That’s a great question. I think the short answer, it just has to be very useful. Just like teachers, they won’t use it if it’s not super useful. I think the two things parents care about is helping their kids learn and connecting with their student’s teacher. And if an app isn’t doing one or both of those, they probably won’t use it. So it does feel to me like there’s a big opportunity to do more to create apps that do a better job of connecting home and classroom. But I am very encouraged by the explosion of zero to five apps, and parents seem to be buying those. So it does feel like we have a new generation of parents raising kids and incorporating digital learning into that experience.

Tim: What I would tell parents—I’m a parent of four kids under the age of eight right now, and certainly, screen time, regardless of the size of the screen, is a key consideration in our house. I actually recently wrote a series of blog posts about when technology is developmentally appropriate for young children. And certainly, you want to have wise limits about the amount of screen time the kids have, but also take a critical look at what they’re doing during that screen time because not all screen time is equal. Just as we know that there’s great math classrooms and there’s math classrooms where we need to improve how kids are engaging in math, in the same way, there are apps and things that students do with tablets and on computers that are not the best use of their intellectual time. So to help parents really be thoughtful about when students are engaged in learning on their screen time as opposed to just screen time because it’s not all equal.

Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you. And speaking of screens, Tim, I think you referred to a three-screen concept. Someone just asked for clarification. Could you touch on that again?

Tim: Yeah, sure. You’ve got the—and Tom, correct me if I’m wrong on this. But you’ve got your mobile phone. You’ve got your small device. And then you’ve got your tablet or laptop, which is a mobile device with a bigger screen or a keyboard, like Tom had mentioned, like having a keyboard at the upper ages. And then there’s the television or the smart board, the interactive whiteboard. And each of those from my view—is that right, Tom?

Tom Vander Ark: Yeah. I’d like to think of the middle one as a production device with a real emphasis on students creating. So a consumption device, production device, sharing device, some version of that.

Tim: Yeah. Tom, I like the way you phrase that because it really speaks to the strategic thinking behind the use of the device, that we want the device to serve the purpose, the learning purpose, the collaborative purpose, the connectivity purpose, the sense-making purpose. You need to choose the right screen for the job.

Kurt: Okay, excellent. Let’s see. There’s another question here that seems to be asking for advice. It says we’re looking at using digital learning days to possibly make up delays or days off due to snow. My question is what do you have students in K to 2 grades do with these devices? We’re not one-to-one but working towards that. Seems to be kind of an advice question for grades K to 2. Tim, do you have any general advice when it comes to having students work in a digital learning environment?

Tim: Well, yeah. Certainly, when students aren’t in school and they do need to connect with learning to keep that up, and this year has been a crazy year for snow days, I don’t know. I think Jeremy might be a good person to weigh in here as well. But yeah, if a school is using something like DreamBox and students aren’t able to be in school and they do have access at home, which is of course an issue, spending 45 minutes on DreamBox when they’re not in school had a decent—I think quite a bit of value, to be honest, in partnership with what the school’s trying to accomplish. Jeremy, did you have a lot of snow days this year in Indiana?

Jeremy: We sure did. We had seven snow days here in Indiana. But our kids really—it’s amazing how much they embrace the technology. So we use DreamBox on our iPads. We use another product, i-Ready, on our Chromebooks. We also use Raz-Kids. We use Voyager’s program called Ticket to Read. So our kids have numerous stations when they rotate through to, a, keep engagement up and to keep them really active on what skills they need. But all of them are based around specific standards that we want kids to master. And the beautiful part is that as they work and can really show that they have an understanding of what that concept is, they’re able to continue moving. So we have our little kindergarten scholars who are working at third grade skill levels because they’ve been able to show mastery. And throughout those rotations, they’re able to continue working at the high level. So we see technology as a lever to really make sure that the kids can continue to excel at their own pace. And it allows even our lower scholars our special education scholars, to experience learning at their own pace and to maybe sometimes have it explained differently than the teacher did.

Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you all. Let’s see. There’s a longer question here giving their situation, and I’ll kind of sum it up here. It seems to be that they’re working with online courses for the past three years in their school, but they understand that the courses are intended—even though they’re intended to help students work at their own pace, in their school, they want us to use direct instruction along with the online courses. How can they make this effective, the combination of traditional and online learning? Seems to be the definition there of blended learning. I don’t know if any of our panelists have advice for this attendee here about seems to be how they get started with blended learning. They already have some online learning. How do they incorporate traditional instruction into that? Go ahead.

Tom Vander Ark: This is Tom. I’ll make a quick comment, and Tim and Jeremy probably can chime in. I’ll just say that I think most schools are struggling with some version of this, of incorporating digital learning, particularly adaptive learning like DreamBox, and a traditional environment. I mean what increased in many schools dissonance in math where kids are getting personalized instruction in a portion of the day and traditional, often cohort instruction for the other portion of the day, and that may be a good way to get started. But I think resolving that dissonance so that every student is on a coherent trajectory should be the goal here. I think Jeremy did a great job of describing his rotation model, and maybe Jeremy or Tim can describe how they try to get DreamBox and face-to-face instruction synched up.

Jeremy: Well, I’m happy to chime in. Go ahead. Did you want to jump in, Tim?

Tim: No, I was just going to say go ahead, Jeremy.

Jeremy: I will say that—and I’ll be real honest. I mean we’re still figuring that out. And I think, Tom, your description of the beginning stages of where we’re at in blended learning is the real stage is that we have kind of a traditional cohort of instruction happening for that 30 minutes. We know that there are certain stage standards that we’re expected to master and be able to show content mastery four our kids. And so we’re taking that time to do that in that 30-minute block. And then for the other three rotations, for 90 minutes following, we’re able to really get in there and be independent with our kids. And so we’re finding it to be a pretty happy marriage right now of do the skills that we know that we need and that we want to make sure that nobody loses, but we are still evaluating how do we really marry up what happened in DreamBox in the computer lab and these three children who are working at the third grade level but they’re kindergarteners.

And so when they come to us in small groups, how do we take that data and drive their small group instruction to explain the next upcoming skill. And that’s kind of where we’ve started to migrate to after we’ve now been opened for about seven months is looking at okay, great, so we can use the data from DreamBox. We can use the data from these other programs to drive small group instruction in our classrooms. So as soon as they come back in from the lab, we’re able to work with our teacher and explain that next new skill or explain something that they didn’t understand that the computer couldn’t do. And so our teachers were able to dig in immediately, look at that data and know where the kids are when they come back for the next group.

Tim: I think to follow up on that, it comes down to strategy I think to speak to this question and what’s sort of in your control. So on one hand, if you have 24 students that are all over the place in terms of their readiness, their prior knowledge, those sorts of things, from a systemic level, I think schools need to be more thoughtful about how 24 students come together to be in a class together for any length of time, that we don’t want it to just be birthday-driven but let’s be more thoughtful about when students are together with other students and what informs that, stopping—probably avoiding using birth date as a proxy for understanding. But in the reality that there is a diverse group of 24 students who are all over the place, I think teachers need to be more thoughtful about, okay, what are some things that I can only do with this group of 24 fourth graders or eighth graders who are all over the place? What are some ways that I can engage all of them within great learning and see it as an opportunity rather than as a hindrance? And there are some great collaborative resources out there and curricular resources that engage students in meaningful—at least mathematics as an example.

And then the last thing, since the question mentioned about how do we jive direct instruction with e-learning and things, is thinking about—in the book How People Learn, they point out that an organizing lecture and direct instruction is particularly valuable after students have had a chance to wrestle with the concept, wrestle with an idea, wrestle with some problems. And then they come to the teacher and come to the group of learners to figure out what they’ve been struggling with. So I think there’s structural and pedagogical sort of important ideas that are underlying that very broad question, and I hope my answer helped a little bit.

Kurt: Okay, great. Well, we’ll have to leave it there as we’ve reached the top of the hour here. On behalf of District Administration, I want to thank our presenters today, Tom, Jeremy, Earl, and Tim. Thank you all so much for being with us today. And thank you again to our sponsor, of course, DreamBox Learning, for putting on today’s event. To you, our audience, thank you so much for joining us. I hope you found today’s web seminar informative and useful to you. Producing events like this one is just part of our mission at DA to inform school district leaders like you about news and trends in K–12 management.

You’ll find more coverage about the issues we discussed here in the pages of our print magazine as well as on our website and our free daily e-newsletter, DA Daily. And as I mentioned before, for those of you in the audience who’d like to share this event with your colleagues or review our speakers’ presentations at your own pace, you can access it from our website by going to It will be posted in the archives section within about 48 hours, and you’ll get an email notice about that when it’s ready. If you’d like to download our speaker slides, you’ll find instructions and a link in a thank you email that you’ll receive later on today. So that’s it for today’s event.

Once again, Kurt Eisele-Dyrli for District Administration. On behalf of our producer, Kylie Lacey, and my other colleagues on our production team, goodbye everyone, and enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much for joining us.