Webinar Date: May 13,2014
Attend this web seminar to learn from renowned expert on K12 blended learning, Michael Horn, as well as educators at the forefront of blended learning innovation. Horn will illustrate how online learning is emerging within schools to create a more personalized learning model for all students. He will also outline the different ways in which blended learning is growing and evolving, and how it is transforming the education system into a more student-centric environment. And, innovative educators will describe how they have made the transition to blended learning and offer useful perspectives for districts of any size.
Topics will include:
- How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns
- How disruptive innovations are emerging with the promise to make education more affordable
- Real stories from elementary and middle schools that have recently adopted blended learning in their schools
Who will benefit:
Superintendents, K8 curriculum directors, technology directors, principals and others involved with personalized or blended learning. Anyone may attend.
- Julie Everly - Assistant Superintendent at Monroe Public Schools, Michigan
- Michael B Horn - Co-Founder and Executive Director of Education at Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Michigan
- Dr. Tim Hudson - VP of Learning at DreamBox Learning, Washington
Kurt: Hello everyone and welcome to today’s District Administration web seminar. It’s great to have you all with us. My name is Kurt Eisele-Dyrli. I’m the magazine’s web seminar editor and I will be your moderator. The title of today’s event as you see here is “Blended Learning in K8 Schools: Expert Advice from Michael Horn,” and it is being brought to you free of charge by our sponsor for today’s event, DreamBox Learning.
Today, we will be discussing how online learning is emerging within schools to create a more personalized learning model for all students, as well as the different ways in which blended learning is growing and evolving, and how it is transforming education into a more student-centric environment. Before we get started though, some quick housekeeping notes here for you. This is of course the WebEx platform, and panels for communicating with us are on the right side of your screen there. If you’re having any trouble listening to your computer speakers or if you prefer to listen on the telephone, you can just click that Request Telephone button that you see under your name in the attendee panel up there in the top right. That will give you a phone number and access code and I will also post those numbers in the chat panel that you see in the middle right of your screen.
Speaking of which, you can use that chat panel to send a message to our host and producer. Her name is Kylie Lacey, if you’re having any technical issues, and she will help you out. If you have a question for our speakers, you can use the Q&A panel that you see there in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Please send your questions to all panelists. That’s the default option. Please feel free to enter a question at any time as we’re going through the presentations here. We’ll answer as many as possible when we get to the Q&A session towards the end of the seminar today. Also, our speakers’ 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 a little bit later on.
So with that, onto our program, our presenters today are Michael B. Horn, he’s school founder and executive director for education at the Clayton Christiansen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. We also have Julie Everly. She’s assistant superintendent in the Monroe Public Schools in Michigan, and we’re also joined by Tim Hudson, senior director of curriculum design at DreamBox Learning. Michael Horn is going to start us off with an introduction and overview of blended learning so I will turn it over to him at this point. Michael Horn, it’s great to have you with us. Welcome to today’s web seminar.
Michael: Kurt, thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you once again. Thanks District Administration, of course DreamBox learning and Cisco WebEx for making it possible. I appreciate being able to be with all of you out there in the audience today for a little while to talk about this important topic of the growth of online learning and the importance of moving it toward personalizing learning for each child that each can be successful. There’s probably some irony in the fact that it says expert advice from Michael Horn when I suspect the real expert will reveal herself after I’m done speaking, Julie. But I look forward to giving you some thoughts over the next few minutes about how we’re seeing online learning evolving in the education space.
As some of you probably know, I wrote a book called Disrupting Class some years ago, that described how to create systemic transformation in our education system so that each child could be successful. And as we thought about how do we help schools really transform, to prioritize every child’s unique learning needs, what we looked to was this power of disruptive innovation which has really been the force that has transformed so many sectors in our lives. And when it comes to education, of course disruptive innovation has a number of connotations, many of them not particularly positive. I think my middle school teachers who read that I had written a book called Disrupting Class let out a sigh of relief and said, at last the young boy has written an autobiography.
But what we mean by it is something very specific by this term disruptive innovation. We actually mean the force that transforms sectors that are characterized by things that are complicated, expensive, deeply centralized, and inconvenient—and therefore they can only serve a limited number of people—into something that is far more affordable, convenient, accessible, simple to use, customizable, and therefore can serve the needs of many, many more people. And we see it sweep through lots of sectors from tech-heavy ones to not-tech-heavy ones.
And so, what I’ve done to illustrate how this force works, just plot on the screen a series of concentric circles, and what I want you to do is imagine that the innermost circle represents those people who have the most expertise or wealth in a field, and that as you out those successive circles, it represents people who have relatively less expertise or less money. What we see in every field is that before the field gets started, people sort of exist on that outermost circle and don’t have access to—and we all sort of have access to the same set of things. And then when the sector is created, it deeply centralizes in that innermost circle with the people with the most expertise or wealth, and then disruptive innovation is the force that decentralizes that again so that many, many more people can benefit from it.
So, let me give a concrete example in the world of computers. You went back before the 1940s, before the advent of computing, we all just sort of existed on this outward-most circle and whenever we had a computational problem to calculate, we just whipped out our slide rules on the spot and would do the calculations. With the advent of the mainframe computer, the beginning of the computing industry, in the 1940s and 50s, deeply centralized this world of computing in the innermost circle with those people who had lots of wealth and lots of expertise. And the reason was that mainframe computers literally cost $2 million to own and you had to have experts run the computing tasks for us. So, the majority of us just existed in these outside circles as what we call non-consumers of mainframe computing, of the computing period. We just didn’t have the money to afford a $2 million machine nor the expertise to use these things.
And then it was disruptive innovation that started to bring the benefits of computing to these outer circles. So, the first disruptive innovation that decentralized the world was the mini computer. The big disruptive innovation that I think most of us are familiar with is the personal computer that made computing far more affordable and accessible to so many, many more people who can never have access to it before.
Now, there are a couple things that are true about the personal computer. First, it started among these areas of non-consumers who couldn’t afford or get access to the mini computers and mainframe machines, and second, those early personal computers from the perspective of the people in that innermost circle were really, really primitive. They could barely do word processing, let alone the complicated calculations and computations that mainframe computers were capable of doing at the time. And so all those people in that innermost circle, they looked out of this personal computer and just said, “It’s not going to amount to much.” And as a result, those early personal computer companies, companies like Apple, they had to get their start by serving those non-consumers, people like children and hobbyists who were thrilled with this primitive machine because it was better than their alternative—nothing at all.
And then what’s true about every disruptive innovation in technology is that it improves faster than do our lives change. So what at one point was a primitive personal computer not good enough for the majority of us, over time packed in more and more functions and features such that it could do more and more complicated things and as this happened, those people in the inner circle, they started to migrate outwards because they were delighted with something that was good enough for their needs and was more affordable and accessible and convenient, simple to use and over time, customizable. And that’s how that world of transformation occurred from the mainframe computing world to a personal computing world.
Now, of course disruption has continued. We’ve seen laptop computers and tablets and things of that nature and the big decentralization over the last several years is of course in the form of handheld smartphones that likely you all have now and literally have more computing power in one of those devices than existed on the entire face of the earth combined some 60 years ago during the mainframe era. When you combined all the mainframe computers, they didn’t amount to the computing power that the smartphones have.
Now, you see how powerful this force is and over time they’re getting better and better and better and people are migrating away from desktop computers. Most of you probably only have laptops now and some of you probably even only have tablets and smartphones. So, we see how this world transformation takes place and why disruptive innovation is so powerful. Now, in education the question is how does disruptive innovation relate? For a long time since the printing press was created, there really was no disruptive innovation that appeared in the landscape. And it wasn’t until the last 20, 25 years with the advent of online learning that we’ve seen disruption take hold.
Now, true to form, disruptive innovation started in those areas of non-consumption and online learning has done the same thing. The challenge has been in our K–12 schools, where do we find these areas of non-consumption? Right? Because in the United States certainly, schooling is compulsory. Everyone has access to a free public school so there are no accessibility issues for the majority of learners. And yet, what we’ve realized is that if you look at the level of courses or classes themselves, there’s actually lots of areas of non-consumption for which online learning has been planting itself and gradually getting better and better year over year over year to serve more and more students. So, I’ve just put up examples, some bullet points of where these online learning have and could get started in many schools around the country, just to give you an idea of where this is started.
Now, what we’re seeing is that it’s growing so fast that it led us to project that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school courses would be delivered online in some form or fashion. And now, online learning is really growing rapidly in elementary school and middle schools as well. So, this brings us to a question which is: that’s great that the transformation is occurring but is it a good thing? Should we be happy that online learning is growing and getting better and better and so forth and changing the delivery of education? And I think there are some positives on this and I think there are some negatives too, rather I should say question marks that we don’t yet know the answer to, not negatives but question marks. I want to talk about the potential benefits of first, that if we do these things right, we can really harness to take online learning as this transformational experience that transforms the delivery model of education but actually takes it to being a student-centered one that allows every child to be successful.
So, what are its potential benefits? The first one is what Kurt mentioned in the beginning: personalization. This by my way of thinking is really the coin of the realm of why people are adopting online learning inside of their schools. So what is personalization? There are actually lots of definitions in the literature for what is personalized learning, tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests, enabling student voice and choice and what, how, when and where they learn, providing flexibility, it encompasses notions of differentiation and individualization. Those are sort of the landscape of different ideas of what it is. All I want you to do is think about basically tutoring and how personalized that is and how ideal an educational experience having a tutor available for each child is, and yet how prohibitively expensive it is and we can’t provide that.
But it’s really critical to be able to provide that sort of experience because we all have different learning needs at different times. Now, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists have debated what these differences are over the last many, many, many years, but no one disagrees that fundamentally these different learning needs at different times exist. So, some people learn pretty quickly. Other people learn much more slowly and this tends to depend upon the subject or domain in which we’re working and the reason we have these different learning needs at different times is because we have different working memory capacities, literally the aptitude to absorb and consciously work with information in a given point in time and secondly, we all have different levels of background knowledge or what people refer to as long-term memory.
Literally, because you’ve had different background experiences, certain terms are familiar to some of you. Others of you have misconceptions or stereotypes about them, and still others have never heard the term that I’ve used and the danger is that if I keep on moving and just assume that we all understand each other, that that misconception could grow and cause deeper problems in the learning. So because of this, because we all have different learning needs in different times, if we want to be successful for every single student, we need to create a customized learning experience for every single child or a personalized one.
And the challenges though at our current education system were actually built to the opposite. It was modeled upon factories in the early 1900s, to standardize the way we teach and test. And the notion was that if we batch students up in what we started to call classrooms in grade levels based on their age, and deliver the same lesson to them all at the same time, that we could ship them out the other side and that they would all have learned the material. But because everyone has different learning needs at different times, the factory model system actually creates huge holes in different children’s learning. It’s what educators often call the Swiss cheese problem, because students don’t understand a concept and the class keeps moving, and so those holes just remain ever present and cause problems when they reach later learning concepts in their life.
Now, the big problem for a teacher is that looking out at it all the students with all these different holes, you have no idea which students have which holes. And the neat thing about online learning is that as it’s growing, it actually by being inherently modular, allows people to learn at different paces and pathways and the like. You can literally have one child learn something much faster if that makes sense for them and then they’ll pause later when they’re struggling with a concept while someone can pursue a totally different pathway. What I’ve put up here is just a simple screenshot to show you how students have these really different learning trajectories and can get stalled at certain times and then accelerate and so forth from a blended learning school in California.
Now, the second thing that I think is a potential benefit of online learning, this is two out of four so you can keep track at home, the second thing that is a really interesting potential benefit is the data and feedback that you can get from the system. You’ll hear DreamBox Learning talk a lot about the amount of data that they’re able to collect and how each student is learning so that they can better adapt to serve that student. The only point that I would make on the data and feedback, it’s fascinating the amount that you can get from these online programs now which can really help inform educators. The only thing I would be mindful of is that data and feedback isn’t always a good thing. And what I mean by that is if you use data and feedback in our current educational system where time is fixed and the learning is variable, in other words we deliver content to students, we test and assess’ and then students progress to the next grade, subject, or body of material, and only get the results afterwards. So, they progress regardless of whether they have mastered the concepts.
When you get data in that system, it’s actually deeply demotivating to lots of learners because they have no ability to take this data and do anything with it because they’ve already moved on to the next grade, subject, or body of material. Conversely, if you use data and feedback in a competency-based learning system where the learning is fixed and time is variable, the data and feedback are deeply motivated. So for example we still offer learning experiences to students, we still test and asses because testing and assessment is a critical part of learning, but instead, we now can get real-time and interactive feedback often which informs what students do next and students only move on when they’ve truly mastered a body of material, and in this system, data is actionable, it’s empowering for learners and teachers because it allows them to do something with it and therefore it’s motivating to them and causes them to want to learn even more.
Now, so what is competency-based learning in a technical definition? I just thought I’d give a high-quality definition of it from competency works. Five key elements, the first of that, students advance upon mastery. Second, that the competencies are explicit, they’re measurable, and that they’re transferable learning objectives that empowers students. The third is that assessment piece I just talked about that it’s a meaningful and positive learning experience for students. One of the things that I think is really important about competency-based learning is that in our current educational system, we often have these fights between formative assessment versus summative assessment. And the neat thing about competency-based learning is it does away with those distinctions altogether and every assessment is both for learning as well as high stakes, meaning that if a student shows mastery in a given assessment, they can move on. So, both informative learning and it’s high stakes. It does away with these false dichotomies.
The fourth thing is that students receive timely differentiated support based on their individual learning needs, and lastly, that the learning outcomes are not just around competencies that include the application and creation of knowledge, but also competencies that encourage the development of skills and dispositions that are so critical to being successful in society. Now the third benefit I think that’s really exciting about online learning is boosting teacher effectiveness. Now, some people say, “Oh technology, it is going to replace teachers.” My experience is that that couldn’t be further from the truth, that it actually elevates the role of teachers but it empowers teachers to do their jobs much more effectively because it gives them the tools to be able to more easily see where different students are, and work with them one-on-one or in small groups or facilitate discussions or projects, really to free up the teacher, to do what humans can uniquely do well and allow the computer to just do what computers uniquely do well.
And so the big question I think that as you’re embarking upon this world is to ask yourself, what’s the best use of face-to-face time. And I would submit it’s not the lecture but it’s really to take a teacher and have them be the mentor, the facilitator, the tutor, the learning evaluator, really assessments in a robust way or the counselor that often gets too short shift for students who really need support in their non-academic needs but because of the way guidance counseling works in the schools, they just don’t get that support that they need.
Now the last thing I think is that cost control is a key part of this. People sometimes assume this is going to be really expensive and it’s generally not the case. It’s often the same cost or it might even be a little cheaper depending on how you structure your learning model. The bigger idea I think though is that there is an upfront cost, but really what we’re saying is that for the first time, we can affordably give every child a tutor and that’s the big cost advantage that we’re starting to provide. Now, here’s the question which is will it fulfill its potential and I don’t know the answer to this for sure but there are some encouraging signs.
The first of that really surrounds around how technology is improving predictably, and in what I see is that it’s improving in three particular ways. First, this is an example of a virtual classroom. We’re able to communicate right now in Cisco WebEx. These things used to be really hard to do to communicate around the world with anyone, anywhere in really robust ways, and now, thanks to the advancements in technology from just 10 years ago, where if you had tried to do a video chat on AOL Instant Messenger, it literally would not have worked. Now with these technologies of virtual classrooms, Skype, Google Hangouts, and others, we’re able to do some really fascinating things with collaboration and communication in the online environment.
The second thing is that the content is getting more and more motivating and engaging itself, particularly as broadband improves too. You’ll see in DreamBox Learning they do a lot of game-based techniques to help students get excited about their learning. This is really the new frontier that we see improving more and more out there in the EdTech products coming on the scene.
The third thing is that originally, online learning was really a distance-learning phenomenon and increasingly, to serve more and more students, what we’re seeing is that it’s blending itself into brick and mortar school environments because we’re not talking about disrupting schools in my talk. Schools are going to remain an important part of the landscape and of communities, and as a result, because students need them and communities need them, online learning is blending itself into these schooling environments to create blended learning. And so, that raises a question of what is blended learning? And so at the Christiansen Institute, we’re a non-profit think tank, we’ve created a definition by looking at over 200 schools and talking to hundreds of educators around what is blended learning to try to capture this emerging field.
So, what I wanted to do is just give you the basic definition of what is blended learning and then I’ll break it down into something a little bit more simple. There are three parts. The first is that it’s a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning where that student has some element of control over the time, the place, the path, and/or the pace of learning. Those things that really start to make it student-centered. The second is that it has to of course occur at least in part of a supervised brick and mortar location away from home, so generally we’re talking about schools with teachers, and then third, the modalities along each student’s learning path within the course or subject have to be connected in some way to provide an integrated learning experience.
And what this means is that when I was off learning in grade school and got bored and the teacher sent me out to do Oregon Trail for a few minutes or something like that, that was not blended learning because that Oregon Trail experience was not connected to what I was actually learning in the classroom. And so basically the things that you do online have to somehow connect to what you’re doing offline through the various modalities of what you’re learning. So basically what we have here is online learning meets brick and mortar schools, and that these online and offline activities are somehow connected.
Now importantly, that means blended learning is not just technology-rich education. It’s often confused as such when people put in one-to-one laptops or something like that. They say, “Oh, we’re doing blended learning.” It’s just not the case. Simply having an electronic whiteboard or a SmartBoard and beaming online curriculum at students is not blended learning because you haven’t changed that classroom or that learning environment. It gives students control over the time, the place, the path, or the pace of the learning. You haven’t really wrestled with the learning model itself and what we’ve seen in districts across the country is too often we frame this as a technology thing and lead with the technology, rather than asking what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? How do we create a learning model that actually solves it and then using technology to enable that model to work rather than starting with the technology.
Similarly, just having one-to-one laptops or digital textbooks, while those may be important enablers of blended learning, just because you have them doesn’t mean you’re actually doing blended learning. And again, we’ve wasted lots of time and lots of money in this country leading with technology. So, be careful not to do that and really think about the learning environment itself.
Now, we’re seeing blended learning emerge in lots of different models across the country and what we’ve done is create a taxonomy to help people just talk across different schools to describe what they’re doing in simple and understandable ways. And this is a confusing chart that gets you started on that. Basically at the top we see brick and mortar schools and they meet online learning and they have a baby, and that baby’s name is blended learning. And then blended learning has four different dominant ways that it’s being done throughout the country. And within each of those, there are different subtypes and things of that nature and different combinations and so forth. I just thought I would talk about the models of blended learning that we’re seeing most common right now in K–8 schools given the focus of this webinar.
The first one we’re seeing a lot of is the station rotation model. And basically if you think to your typical elementary school classroom in the early grades and think about that centers-based learning where students rotate among different centers, basically the station rotation model is the same thing, it’s just one of the centers is now online instruction. So, you might take a group of 30 students, divide them into three groups, and you’d have 10 students working with teacher-led instruction and small groups. You can really get small, personal time with the teacher and facilitate rich discussions and group them based on the data so you can achieve your learning objectives. You might have 10 students doing collaborative activities in stations or project-based learning or something like that, and then 10 students maybe doing DreamBox Learning and really learning their core math skills and getting lots of opportunities to practice, and every 30 minutes they might rotate among these stations.
This is an example of what it looks like. It’s a school in Los Angeles where you can see the students on the rug with the teacher in a small group, 10 students there with that teacher. You can see the students there in the back, left corner on their computers. Here’s a closer look of what they’re doing and what’s not seen is there’s a bunch of students doing some collaborative activities and projects in this as well.
This school in Los Angeles happened to get some amazing results. When they moved to blended learning, they didn’t show because of budget cuts. They just couldn’t afford the traditional model and they had to move to a slightly higher class size and they wanted to preserve small group instruction. They did so with a group of students 92 percent free and reduced lunch, 99 percent of whom were minority students, and in California, there’s a 0 to 1,000 API is the way you measure the success of schools. 1,000 is the top school but 800 is actually the target. If you get an 800, you’re doing really, really well. The school with 92 percent free and reduced lunch students after budget cuts, after they moved to this blended learning station location, they got a 991 on the API, so it’s pretty stunning what they achieved.
Second one we’re seeing in a lot of elementary schools is the lab rotation model and in this, students rotate, still between different stations but one of those stations is the learning lab, really the computer lab in the lower right hand corner of that diagram, what they do with learning and they rotate into a traditional classroom for more direct instruction or project-based learning and things of that nature.
And then the third one is the flipped classroom which I’m sure a lot of you have heard about. It basically flips the instruction with the practice in projects. So now that the core instruction of the lecture occurs online at home and students go in to the classrooms to do guided practice and projects with their fellow peers and teachers, basically saying that’s a better use of class time.
Now, I’m going to end with just some thoughts about how you actually get into the implementation of these models. And the first thing that I would encourage you to do is don’t start with the technology but instead choose a rally cry and by that I mean figure out the problem that you’re trying to solve or the goal that you’re trying to achieve and make it really concrete so that you have a measurable way of knowing if you’re successful. So for example you might say, “We want to boost the percentage of students who are proficient in reading by third grade from our current 45 percent to 75 percent in three years.” That might be one goal. And then you would know if you are successful by whether you’ve achieved that or not.
The next is once you’ve identified that, start to think about who do we need from the school to help us actually do this. Organize a team, figure out—and there’s a whole theory about how to do this but for gravity’s sake, figure out, do we need the technology coordinator to help us out? Do we need teachers from other departments to work on this with us? Are we going to be changing the schedule of the school? Do we need the principal, the assistant principal? Who do we need on the bus, on the team so we can do this if we have to work outside of just the teacher’s classroom? For example on those lab rotations that I cited, you’re going to need to work with people outside of just a teacher’s classroom because you’re going to need to coordinate across the school when people are able to use the learning lab and so forth.
Now, once you’ve organized a team, the next critical thing is to think about the student experience that you want to create for each child. What do you want them to experience in the course of their learning? Do you want them to have access to projects? Do they need core knowledge from the computer? Can they learn those things from the teacher? Where do you want that and how do you want that learning to actually look, and how much of them do you want to actually own it? Do you want them to own their path and pacing? To the online material but not the offline? Do you want them to own it through both of those things? Really give some thought about what the ideal student experience would look like.
And then you can start to think about what’s the ideal teacher experience. We’re seeing a lot of schools that are redefining the role of teachers away from that sage on the stage, much more to that design of learning experiences for students or the mentor, the facilitator, all those things that I showed in the chart before, and some schools are getting really creative and thinking through how do we do team teaching? Can we collapse different classrooms into one big giant learning lab and really change what teachers do, so one teacher can really focus on the data because that’s what he or she likes to do and another teacher can really focus on small group instruction or tutoring, and then another can really focus on projects and things of that nature. We’re seeing a lot of creativity across the country on these things.
Only then once you really thought about these experiences that you want to create, would I get into the content that you’re picking, the technology to support it, the facilities and what they look like and then think very carefully as you’ve created those, what the culture should look like too. And what I mean by that is blended learning in my observation will accelerate a good culture and make it great but it can also accelerate a bad culture and make is really bad if you’re not careful. And so it’s really important to think about all these things in interdependent ways and be very clear about the expectations that you have for learners and teachers in these new environments.
On the technology front, one thing to think about, a lot of people immediately say, “Oh, we need one-to-one tablets,” or, “We need one-to-one this or that.” It actually depends on the learning model you’re creating. If you’re using a station rotation for example, you might only need one computer for every say three or four students depending on how many rotations you need. Maybe depending on the contents you’ve picked, tablets are a great choice but maybe it’s not. Maybe you really need a keyboard or something like that to help facilitate this. So, really think about that design experience and don’t lead with the technology.
On the facilities, think about what’s the best use of brick and mortar space. I would suggest some things to be thinking about in making it a safe, clean, inspiring place, a place that says I’m available and makes teachers really accessible and it’s flexible for these different modalities of learning and really creating it in creative ways that just really engage students and get them excited about the learning environments. We’re seeing lots of creativity with everything from beanbag chairs to colorful seats, to things that really make people want to learn in this that look a lot like a modern workspace.
Now after you’ve constructed all of that, then you really go into this lean start up idea of figuring out what are our assumptions that we’re making in the learning model we’ve designed and how do we start it as we implement them to test and learn so that we can keep iterating based on what we learn. Don’t treat all of this that I’ve just gone through as the think state of how things have to look. What’s going to happen is that the first week you started building on this, you’re going to learn things that say, “Oh my gosh, we could actually have teachers do this instead of that,” and that would be really exciting, or, “Gee, we thought our students were really good at keyboarding. We actually have to walk backwards and teach them some skills on that front.” There could be lots of assumptions that you’ve made that you didn’t even now and so really have a flexible mindset to iterate as you go into these things to make them work and to realize your goals.
So, I will turn it over there to Julie and stop but I’m looking forward to taking some questions. I’m really excited about the opportunities that all of you have to create at these blended learning environments but really doing so with a student-centered goal in mind to really make sure every single child is successful and gets the different learning experiences that they need to be successful in life. So, thank you.
Julie: Thankyou, Michael. Thank you very much. It’s a perfect lead-in to me sharing just a little bit about our district. I’m located in Monroe, Michigan which is—you can look at it as sandwiched in between Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. So, when I talk about our district, we have about 6,000 students. Approximately 3,900 are elementary students between pre-K and sixth grade. And that is the focus of my portion today. But as I think of everything we’re going to discuss and everything that Michael has so eloquently spoken about, I really think that our culture of inquiry has helped us to implement the things that I’m going to share with you today and when I talk of these things, we very much view this as a testing ground as Michael spoke about.
So, when we’re going over these pieces today, please know that we’re asking and questioning and testing things all the time every single day in our schools. So, one of the things is we set out, our big question was how can we create a more student-centric approach. So, there was a lot of studying about what does student-centric mean. And we have our teachers organized into several different professional learning communities, but one of them is a content learning community. So, we have elementary teachers who are specifically studying best practice student-centric approaches in math and in language arts and in science and in social studies.
And so when we were studying that, we realized that some of the things that we were going to hold as tenants in moving forward across our curriculum is the integration of technology. In our research and in our testing, we found that it’s first and foremost a great motivator for students, and one of the things that we were especially concerned about are tools that would allow us to provide access to students. And when I talk about access, I’m specifically talking about interest access so that students have voice in their learning but they also have choice in their learning. I’m also talking about pacing access so students can take that time that they need to grapple and practice with a particular idea or skill but also excel and accelerate their own learning if they should choose to do so.
I also am speaking about content access, so when we think about just right content within a particular academic area, and also feedback access. And this was when we looked at integrating technology, we knew we wanted our students to have access to very specific, high-quality feedback that would be individualized to the work that they were spending time with.
Another piece that we held close to is really the embedded learning for all. Certainly, student learning is what we concentrate most of our conversations about, but really with student learning comes adult learning. And what we have a strong belief in is that however the adults in our organization are spending their time learning and collaborating, that’s the type of experience then that is transferred to our students. So, when we talk about a culture of inquiry and really testing things and debating things and sharing our evidence in reasoning together, we promote that with our staff but also with our students.
The other final piece we really study in our curriculum and how learning and teaching was going to transform in our district was we really saw the calendar in the school hours as a barrier. What we know about inquiry and learning is that it doesn’t end in June and start in September. So, it was important for us to choose the tools and the method that would really erase some of those traditional boundaries in that very industrial model that had been created of education.
So, in teams of teachers, specifically on our math team, we were looking and studying curriculum together and we knew that we absolutely wanted to hold in-person classroom instruction as a very important part of the learning experience. But as Michael referred to, what is the best use of that time? So, in studying that, we really looked at—there are so many of the practice pieces with math that maybe those could be done somewhere else and I wonder how they could best be done somewhere else. And we wanted to hold that classroom time as a time for collaboration, as a time for peer teaching, as a time for the teacher being a coach of thinking and of reasoning and also very much as a time for students to publicly share their thinking and question each other’s thinking.
So, it was clear to us that the design of this curriculum would not uphold a lot of bookwork, a lot of quiet math time. So, we then helped through a lot of research and design of documents. We helped to form a math workshop model which is what is in place in our classrooms throughout the school district. The math workshop model is very heavy in rich math tasks that provide an entry point for all learners. It’s very project-based, discussion-based, and students are innovating while they are applying math concepts.
We also knew, in addition to the classroom Tier 1 instruction that we wanted to offer daily enrichment and intervention opportunities. So, in thinking about all of the different levels in a classroom and all of the different learning needs in a classroom, it was really important to us that we had this time carved out that it could be very flexible, that teachers in a grade level or in a particular department content area could flexibly group their kids, and so we developed what we call an intervention and enrichment time and that takes place over and above the math workshop classroom instruction and it’s approximately a 35 to 40 minute window of time in which students are flexibly grouped according to the data that is studied. And we include DreamBox in both classroom instruction and in intervention and enrichment time.
In addition to that Tier 2 instruction and intervention and enrichment time, we knew we needed—that there would be students who, despite those two experiences, they needed more. They needed continuous access to that just right content, to that just right interest-based material. So, those students also use DreamBox during what we call intense intervention which takes place typically at a different time of day that is customized to get student’s learning profile and then of course we have extended day opportunities and we make DreamBox and our other blended learning programs a very big part of that extended day, again kind of divorcing ourselves from the idea that, oh we have this institution that is open from 8:30 until 3:30 from September until June and then we close up shop.
So, this extended day learning can take place with DreamBox in a very formal sense where because we have close to 60 percent of our district is free and reduced lunch, 60 percent poverty, we do put our Title 1 funds toward hosting structured extended day opportunities for our most at-risk students. So, you would see DreamBox and you would see other language arts, blended learning opportunities there. And one of the really points that we’ve received so much great feedback from parents on is the parent communication that is also a part of DreamBox.
So, even though we have that extended day structure for our most at-risk students within our school buildings, DreamBox is a web-based program that can be used anywhere there is web access. So, at any time, children can log on to DreamBox and have that just right content, exercise their right to choose within the DreamBox learning environment, and proceed on through that practice portion of the program. And then we are also extending our learning experience this year into a summer learning academy where we are going to include DreamBox as a key piece of our math curriculum and what we found in experimenting with that is that very much our—even our middle school students can be very engaged in DreamBox and I know they’re expanding their content to include the Common Core for middle school. We’re really looking forward to that, but our middle school students can enter DreamBox, receive that just right content experience, and as one middle school student said to me when I was talking with him when he finished up his DreamBox time, he said, “You know, I just kind of liked it. I can get the practice I need but yeah, my friends don’t know that I’m working on these fractions still.” So, I think that it really also preserves the dignity of when you’re a student who is older and you need intervention and some very basic math skills. That’s another benefit that really came out for us.
So, those were the pieces that were really important to our team of teachers, and as I reflect on Michael’s notes, really, one of the things that stands out to me is that the way we use DreamBox and our selection of DreamBox really answered the question that we were—our quest was to find a way that our students could continue practicing math in an environment that would not just reinforce accurate answers because that didn’t fit with the way we view, we needed to develop mathematicians. We really wanted to develop mathematicians who, with automaticity in their skills, also some flexibility in the way that they can solve problems. We wanted to develop mathematicians who could be very resolute and persevere with a particular task.
So those as we searched and searched and searched, what we found was so many of the blended learning opportunities that are marketed really addressed accuracy and that’s it. And when we found DreamBox, we really thought that we had hit the jackpot because we can maintain a focus on accuracy but also address this active our students using the problem-solving strategies that will allow them to be efficient problem solvers in the mathematical world.
So, upon implementing any type of blended learning, we have, through a lot of testing ourselves, we have really stayed true to the following points that you see on your screen. We know that the professional development that we do rather than telling people about DreamBox, we had a session where in small teams, our teacher-leaders who had studied and selected DreamBox worked with small groups of professionals and let every single person experience DreamBox and see what it was like as a mathematician to be on DreamBox and then reflect together and talk about how we might plan the structure, that experience for our students.
We also knew that we wanted to make the expectations of DreamBox use very clear. This was not something that initially we did explicitly enough. So, as I reflect on implementation, something that I would recommend anyone thinking about blended learning is the expectation is explicit. But just to remember that the foundation of that expectation is the professional development that is provided. So, the expectation and the ongoing support go hand-in-hand. So, DreamBox is written into our district improvement plan that we turn into the State of Michigan and every single one of our school improvement plan as a key portion of our goal to improve math achievement.
We quickly learned that access to technology devices, that was going to be something key to our implementation. We knew we had a great problem when teachers were saying, “I need more lab time. I want to have my kids on DreamBox more but there’s never an open spot.” So, those were wonderful problems to have arise and then to solve and we do have some one-to-one environments now and we find that obviously the blended learning access in those environments is very high and that we can then use those environments in a coaching model in planning, teaching, and debriefing with those teachers. We can use those classrooms with one-to-one as laboratory classrooms, where other teachers can come in and imagine the possibility of blended learning for their students and we can do some planning there, and that has been a great way for us to grow blended learning in our district.
The parent engagement piece is I think one of the trickiest pieces that we have because we do have parents who just really feel like this is the way I—it was when I went to school and I don’t know if this will really work. So, we have found and it has been very effective that just like with our teachers having them experience it, we have parent nights and parent engagement workshops where we have our parents come in and we really flip the facilitator and the kids facilitate the parents and the parents do what the students would be doing during the school day. Depending upon the school in our district, we have this happening as I said in the evening. We have it happening during the day. We’ve also done some outreach parent engagement activity, especially in our high-poverty areas where we go to community centers, where we go to clubhouses, in some of our housing projects and we set up a blended learning environment there for parents to experience.
And that has really grown the advocacy for blended learning. It has also helped us support technology purchases and just really has nurtured that home-school connection that every school is trying to strengthen. And lastly, we have, through the district and school improvement planning process, we have learned that it really helps to declare these public expectations of blended learning, so our local library, our community leaders, they know that our students are expected to be on DreamBox and the other blended learning curricular pieces that we have implemented. So, it’s very much published within our community that this is the expectation.
And lastly, I just wanted to really focus on the data and the piece of being very standard-based with blended learning because it takes away and diminishes so many of the traditional conversations that we have around data and education and now we can have really a professional conversation about where each and every student is in proficiency and what experiences and projects in the classroom would nurture them to move forward.
We use the DreamBox data through professional study as far as it drives some of the choices that we have made in PD speakers and in our PLC readings that we do at the school level and also at the district level, it has helped us to drill down in mathematics and we’ve done some program evaluation of our Tier 1 curriculum and made changes there as a result of DreamBox data. And it also has helped us to study individual students, students who we’ve had concerns about in their achievement and as a team, we’ve looked at the DreamBox data and the other blended learning data that we have and really talked about what is the best use of that individual student’s class time. Where are they making progress and where do they need the teacher’s facilitation and support? And it has really helped us to be more mindful of the instructional time that is so precious with our students. So with that, I believe I get to pass the baton one more time to—
Tim: That’s true. Thank you so much Julie. This is Tim Hudson, the curriculum director at DreamBox. And our team at DreamBox is really happy to have sponsored this webinar. We really appreciate the insights that Michael and Julie shared. Just two quick minutes about DreamBox before we hit the Q&A. We offer a rigorous and engaging pre-K through middle school math program that helps students make sense of math and improve their achievement. DreamBox combines three essential elements you see here, rigorous math, a motivating environment, and our Intelligent Adaptive Learning technology to really improve student understanding by inviting and empowering students to think independently and solve problems on their own.
We provide reporting aligned with many different standards and actively engage students in mathematical processes and practices. At DreamBox, we know blended learning doesn’t mean just digitizing age-old educational practices or putting students on a computer for 10 minutes after the classroom lesson is over. And personalized learning doesn’t mean every student just moves through the same sequence of lessons and problems at a different speed, rather, personalized learning means each individual student’s ideas are honored both in classrooms as well as when using technology. That’s why DreamBox fully adapts and differentiates for all students no matter where they are in their learning, to complement the work of classroom teachers and support personalization in blended learning model.
DreamBox doesn’t start lessons with instructional lectures but rather, we build highly visual, very interactive, manipulatives that empowers students to think in ways that can’t be done using pencils and paper. You heard Michael discuss how the distinction between formative and summative assessment will kind of dissolve so there’s a competency-based learning model and DreamBox really supports that vision. As you see here, our reporting for parents, teachers, and administrators really shows highly individualized progress and you can see how students can spend different amounts of time using DreamBox to arrive at the same location.
Just as Michael talked about, we help keep achievements, expectations constant while providing students varying amounts of time they need, plus we enable strategic groupings for teachers with this one-click grouping report so teachers can know whether next week’s lesson is appropriate for none, some, or all of the students in the class. If you’re interested in a free trial of DreamBox, you can go to our website. We really do technology as a vehicle for constant engagement rather than just constant delivery and we’re excited to be releasing DreamBox for Middle School this fall. Many thanks again to Michael and Julie and to Kurt for being a great host, so I’m going to turn it back to him for the Q&A.
Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Tim, and thank you to Michael and Julie as well. I know there’s a tremendous amount of great information there we were able to get through here. We’ve reached the top of the hour but we’ll try and hit some questions here. We’ll go over by just a couple minutes here. First question here, it’s a long question, I’ll kind of sum it up and their district has been working with flipping the classroom and other blended learning models but there’s some panic with parents and students that seem to think students are not being taught if it’s not a teacher standing sort of in the traditional classroom set up. Julie, you talked about parent engagement as an important part of your implementation there, blended learning. I wonder if you could touch on that again.
Julie: Sure Kurt, sure. One of the things—I will say we had reaction like this as well, and one of the things that we found is that for parents to experience this, to experience the blended learning vehicle that you are going to be using and because we found that we could explain and explain and explain but that really wasn’t what tipped the support we now have for this. It was when the parents experienced it and it was when we had not adults, telling adults, but kids, their children telling them about and showing them what blended learning was all about.
Kurt: Okay, great, thank you. Michael, in your content there you described a few different models for blended learning including one called a station rotation model and we got a few questions about that one in particular. This one asks, is that station rotation model geared more towards longer class periods instead of the traditional 45 to 50 minute class. Is that part of the disruption that we’re talking about here, Michael? Do you have to change the class periods as well, the structure of the school day?
Michael: Yeah, good question. My sense is on two sides of it, one in elementary schools where teachers already have considerable discretion over how long students spend learning any given subject. It’s actually not that big a barrier, right, because you can say, “We’re going to stretch out for two hours on math today and go through a range of activities,” or even an hour and a half or even a little less than that. And so we see lots of schools being quite creative with their teachers in how they do that and support that. As we move into more of the traditional middle school and high school scheduling, this certainly becomes more of an issue and that’s where when we think about organizing the team, it’s so critical to get the right people in the room so you can think through, do we need to move to some sort of block scheduling and ask questions like that. The most innovative schools, there’s no question, Kurt, are rethinking the use of time and space even as they create these learning environments. So, it’s a critical part of it to do the more far-reaching models I would argue.
Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you. Tim, there’s a simple question here asking does DreamBox work for the middle school level for math? I think you mentioned that quickly. Could you touch on that again? There’s a new area you’re moving into, is that right?
Tim: Yeah, that’s correct. We were pre-K to 2 for a while and then pre-K to 5 and we’ve had some 6th and 7th grade content for quite some time, and this fall we’re going to be releasing a ton more so that we can really complement the work that’s happening in middle schools. We really focus on the—if you’re on a Common Sore state, what’s kind of called the major clusters, sort of the big ideas and pain points where students and teachers typically as they’re working on Algebra and getting ready for Algebra have some struggles. So, we’re excited to be releasing something this fall for that.
Kurt: Okay, excellent, thank you. Julie, there’s another question, a similar question, you talked about the importance of parent engagement. There’s another question here asking the same thing basically about teachers, what about getting teacher buy-in when you’re talking about moving to this new model. I wonder if you could address that. Was that a challenge there in your district, getting teachers onboard? This comes up often with any kind of new learning model or new initiative in the district? What’s the key to getting teacher buy-in there, Julie? Julie, I think your phone is still muted.
Julie: Thank you. We really wanted to be thoughtful about that and through our experience in other curriculum implementations, we knew that we wanted to be able to give a purpose to the data that DreamBox could generate. So, that was the one thing that when we implemented this, we utilized those reports as discussion points. So, as a teacher, what I knew is that when I was coming to the ongoing PLC conversation, the ongoing professional inquiry that we have, I was going to have time to dig in to my DreamBox data. I was going to have time to ask questions and plan from that data as one resource. And then the other—because DreamBox is really committed to growing and changing the learning environment, the ongoing time carved out to have teachers experience DreamBox as their students do was really important with our implementation and that buy-in that you speak of. And then lastly, our teachers have received enormous feedback from our parents about DreamBox because DreamBox, the program, generate emails that update parents on their child’s progress. So, when our teachers started getting thanked and getting all sorts of positive feedback from parents about those emails parents were receiving. I think that helped to sell them as well.
Kurt: Okay, great. Thank you so much. Well, we’ve gone over by a few minutes here so I’m going to have to leave it there. On behalf of District Administration, I’d like to thank our speakers once again, Michael, Julie, and Tim, thank you so much for putting on today’s presentation. We really appreciate it, and thank you again to our sponsor, DreamBox Learning for sponsoring today’s event. And of course to you, our audience, thank you so much for joining us. 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 issues such as the ones we discussed here in the pages of our print magazine, as well as on our website and in our free daily newsletter, DA Daily. And we did get some questions here wondering about this, for those of you in the audience who would like to share this event with your colleagues or view our speakers’ presentations from—at your own pace, you can access it from going to our website, by going to the URL on the screen that you see here. We’ll be posting it in the archive section within about 48 hours and you’ll get an email notice about that when it’s ready. If you’s like to download our speakers’ slides, you’ll find instructions and a link and a thank you email that you’ll receive later on today.
So, that is it for today’s event. Once again I’m 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.