Blended Learning: Trends and Innovative Approaches

Webinar Date: March 27,2014

Webinar Description

Trends come and go, but quality education will last a lifetime. In edWeb community, Blended Learning’s, latest webinar, attendees learned what best practice blended learning trends are, and how they can help support personalization of learning for each unique student. Webinar presenters, Tom Vander Ark, author of “Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World” and CEO of Getting Smart, an education advocacy firm, and Tim Hudson, experienced educator and Senior Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning discussed effective blended learning approaches that benefit students and teachers. They shared ideas for how to use these strategies to support student engagement and achievement, particularly in elementary math.

Webinar attendees gained knowledge about many blended learning topics, including:

  • Emerging blended learning trends
  • Teaching and learning in an increasingly mobile world
  • How blended learning can boost elementary math achievement
  • The impact of blended learning on schools and the teaching profession

Watch the webinar recording to learn how you can integrate blended learning practices in your classroom!

Webinar Presenters

  • Tom Vander Ark - CEO at Getting Smart, Washington

View Transcription

Tim: … and a lot of the people on this community and who are attending this webinar, might be pretty familiar, kind of expert users with Blended Learning but I was also recently at a conference where very few people knew what Blended Learning was.

Tom Vander Ark: No.

Tim: So, just a real quick slide if you want to, yeah, start with that.

Tom Vander Ark: I’m sure we’ve got a wide range of folks. Hello to everybody and Tim and I and our teams will do our best to address your comments and questions during and after the presentation. So, feel free to chat away. Blended Learning has been around for decades in K–12 but also in corporate learning, in military training, in the broadest sense it’s just multimode of learning. Great teachers have always done that but in the more specific and recent sense, our friends at Christensen have a really interesting definition. It’s where the kids spent part of their day learning online and then they add what I call the personalization twist or a high agency twist that kids have some control over time, place, path, or pace. So, that’s really a personalized learning and that helps to differentiate it from the old days of EdTech.

When I was a superintendent, we went one-to-one on our secondary schools way back in 1996 but we really just thought of technology as a tool and we’ve kept doing school the same old way and Christensen says, no, actually, a blend is where there’s a shift in delivery and that shift is done to give kids a sense of agency and control over time, place, path, or pace. I’d like to add another element and that it narrows the definition just even further just a little bit. And that I think of it as a shifted delivery, so there’s actually a change in delivery modality for a portion of the day, done intentionally to boost learning productivity, to make school work better for teachers and kids.

So, that part of the definition I think rules out babysitting the way that many schools for the last 20 years have used educational games for example, if you’ve finished your worksheet, you can go to the back of the room and play a game, sort of computer as a reward system. That might be valuable but it’s not in this sense blended. So, Blended Learning is really a new way to think about school models of incorporating technology in really productive ways that leverage and enhance great teaching and give kids a stronger sense of control.

Tim: Yeah, excellent. That’s a great overview and I think that as we’ll talk through these trends from my perspective as former math coordinator and teacher, really making sure that the time in the classroom is purposeful just like the time with technology is purposeful and making the most of class time as well as making the most of new technologies that are available to ensure students have that purpose and there’s that rationale for what we’re doing in class today and why we’re using technology and not just to, as you said just a little extra time on the computer after the assignment’s finished. That’s really helpful.

So, the first trend that’s in the white paper and its worth discussing and you heard Tom mentioning it just now, the idea of a deeply student-centered learning experience. So, Tom we’ll kick it off with that, talk a little more of that.

Tom Vander Ark: For 200 years, we’ve organized schools around the adult. We tried to create this setting where it was manageable for a teacher to deliver instruction for about 30 students. So, we’ve organized school buildings and staffing strategies around this idea of a teacher with 30 students. We’ve organized kids by birthday and we used birthdays as sort of the main matriculation management strategy, kids getting a year older and they move up a grade and that made sense a century ago but we now with the toolset that’s emerging with adaptive tools and personal-access devices, we can really begin to rethink what the whole environment looks like.

So, I love this picture. It’s a picture of a double math block in a double classroom in New York City and on the screen, there are five different learning stations that are visible. In the background, there’s kids that are online adaptive math games. There are some that are working with an online tutor and then in the foreground, there’s small group instruction and the magic of this small group instruction is that those students have demonstrated readiness for that lesson, on that day, in that modality, by the assessments that they took the prior day.

So, Tim is going to talk about DreamBox and Adaptive Learning but this actually an adaptive classroom where the whole setting is really student-centered and designed to deliver or to queue up learning experiences ready for kids and yes, Joe, that’s a school-of-one powered by a teach-to-one.

Tim: All right, great. One of the things, the key questions here, you’re letting the classroom design be driven by the student needs. That is what the student-centered learning experience is and when you think back to that definition of Blended Learning. The key questions that the teachers and administrators need to ask is, well what control do students have over the when, the where, the how, and the rate. And in a lot of places, there’s not a lot of student control over that and that’s a key element of Blended Learning which, yeah, that picture is a great example of that and the sort of pain point for students is captured in this tweet that just showed up at the INACOL conference last October where my daughter wants to know why is 7:22 in the morning the only time I can access this history lecture? And that’s the pain point for students where we say get up early and get to school to sit in a lecture which the student is thinking, I’d be happy to listen to the lecture just maybe at a different time or if it is just a lecture on a device, at some other point, do I need to be at certain place. So, students are increasingly being vocal about one thing school being [inaudible 00:07:15].

Tom Vander Ark: I got to jump in here Tim. Having been a former superintendent, I know why you do a History at 7:41 it’s because the busses. You have to get three cycles of your busses and if you don’t start school early, you can’t get enough bus runs in. The interesting thing about the time that we live in is we live sort of between our traditions and systems that in many ways are a barrier to a really student-centered environment. But that’s why I think the questions that you asked right here are just such a great set of prompts for—if you can have your faculty get together this spring, before the end of the school year and say, what could we do different and better next year and really give kids a bit more control over how they learn and when they learn and where they learn. Tim and I think you’d be able to come up with some interesting changes that you may not be able to start next week but you might be able to do next year.

Tim: Yeah. I like to think about these students have a deeply student-centered learning experience. Well, when you go to your doctor or your hospital, is it deeply patient-centered medical experience? And that’s what we expect on those other contexts. And also of a more, there’s sort of a student-centered the learning what happens in the classroom that if you’re supposed to be in an Algebra 2 course, that’s your course for the year, that’s a personalization, that’s student-centered but then everyday in every lesson, how can teachers be responsive and be more student-centered.

And we as adults have high expectations for things being personally relevant to us, anyone who’s been to a faculty meeting knows that, there’s things maybe the principal or superintendent could have sent out by email, I could read this, what’s really the most valuable reason to bring people together for learning or for sharing or for collaborating and these are the kinds of questions that are continually asked in Blended Learning models.

Tom Vander Ark: Tim, I’m just sharing a blog that I wrote a couple of weeks ago about called Learner Experience. Being a software guy, you know about UX, the user experience that people try to—they think really deeply about how’s a user not just the interface but how’s the user going to experience the system that I’m creating. And I think the exciting thing about education is people are beginning to think about learner experience and I think both you and I don’t even talk much about curriculum anymore, we talk about a sequence of learning experiences. So, what set of experiences are best for each student and how can we create a sequence, a pathway that’s just right for every student. You guys are doing that in math but it’s really exciting to think about how we can do a better job of one, of thinking holistically about the learner experience and two, about creating these individual learning progressions for every student.

Tim: Yeah, definitely, great point. So, trend number two, soaring numbers of digital learners.

Tom Vander Ark: 20 years ago, we started what I think was the first online school in the United States, it’s called—still running, the Internet Academy down the street from you guys, two intrepid teachers that are still there. They were just stand a day ahead of students sort of making it up on the fly and I thought this was going to move really, really quickly. Well, 20 years later, it is and I think online learning in this country is growing by about 50 percent a year. It’s difficult to say because the recordkeeping isn’t great but I suspect five million kids will take a class online in K–12 this year and I think it’ll be 10 million very soon.

So, online learning is now growing rapidly. Districts are the biggest providers that are growing most quickly, most school districts in America now offer some online learning, most of that is part-time online classes at the high school level but the maturity, the maturation of online learning is really been an important driver for Blended Learning, I think where we’re going to see the biggest growth in the next decade is kids taking online classes but doing that at least in part at a physical setting. So, online curriculum but with sort of wrapped in an onsite environment with lots of motivating influences and lots of support systems.

Tim: I know one of the neat experiences sort of a-ha’s for me about some of the online learning and virtual schools was I think the iNACOL conference does a nice job this year of having students on stage for a Q&A and I know, I wasn’t able to catch it this year but last year, just to hear the stories of these students who for various reasons had attended virtual schools and online schools and just to hear their experiences, the success that they were having in a way that, that would meeting a definite need in their lives and really benefitting their learning. It’s really powerful to hear from the students themselves and growing numbers has a result for sure.

One of the things that I always would ask new teachers, new math teachers when they would come in to our district knowing that this increase of online learning opportunities and resources was available was as a classroom teacher, what’s happening in your classroom that students can’t get on the Internet or anywhere else that there’s the quality of learning in a virtual school, in a physical school with software, it’s all critically important. And for teachers who might not be in Blended Learning models or who might be wondering how to best bring value and learning to their students in an age when they can access a lot of information from their mobile phone, is to really think critically about, okay, what’s happening in my class that I can bring that they can’t get anywhere else, what’s something that we can’t do unless we have 30 fourth graders in the same classroom, a diverse range of learners.

So, really making the most of class time and thinking more strategically as what’s an opportunity for something we can do that we would not otherwise have unless these students were all here. All right, so, let’s see, next trend, supporting standards and higher order thinking skills, thoughts there Tom?

Tom Vander Ark: This is really—there’s two reasons that I think the Common Core is about the most important thing happening in American Education today. The first is that, they really do a better job of incorporating higher order thinking than most state standards had previously done. I really appreciate the fact that they value reading with comprehension, that they value writing with clarity, that they value problem solving and I think compared to most states, I think they really do a better job. I’ll note, that the other thing I really appreciate about the Common Core is that it’s an amazing platform for innovation for the first time teachers nationwide, are able to share resources, tools, and strategies sort of it’s broken down the barriers and it’s helped to combine with new tools like professional learning communities, it’s really helped to reduce the isolation but the stress on higher order thinking and more collaboration in the classroom, I think is really a terrific thing.

Tim: And from a curriculum standpoint, every educator wants students to be thinking at the higher orders of thinking and I think the important thing that I found we need to continually remind ourselves as educators is that this is a classification hierarchy. It’s not a curricular sequencing graph. It’s not that you can’t create until you’ve remembered a whole lot of things that actually becomes one of the more disengaging things about school because you can learn to apply and understand things through the act of evaluation and creating things.

So, as an example, a math example, there are plenty of adults who memorize and remember their 12-by-12 times tables but they can’t do 13-by-7 without a pencil because there’s something about understanding multiplication and mental math that maybe they didn’t have the opportunity to develop when they were in school. So, I guess when we think about Blended Learning and thinking about higher order thinking, one question I like to sort of pose is from Michael Horne’s white paper, you have these two models of different Blended Learning models, the Flipped Classroom and the Enriched Virtual and sometimes they ask questions like, “Well, which of these models has more higher order thinking?” And you can’t answer that question because you only know how the school has been set up to be more personal for students, you see when students are with teachers what are they working on practice and projects, both of them have some elements of online instructions and content at home.

But as educators in Blended Learning models, you need to continually be asking, okay, well, what is happening with the teacher, is there higher order thinking happening with the teacher and certainly on the computers, are the students engaged in higher order thinking on the computers. At DreamBox, we try to make sure students are always engaged in higher order of thinking when they’re using our software and there’s some educators who are 100 percent sure that higher order thinking can exist in a student self-directed kind of technology like DreamBox.

So, we spent some times exploring how we make that happen. And it really comes down of the question if you’re using a Blended Learning model, it’s a means to what ends and it’s a means to more personalization, better learning, more higher order thinking, and there are many, many models and strategies and approaches to getting after it but we just need to be clear about what the goal is as we develop our models and iterate on them.

Tom Vander Ark: We are in the early days of Blended Learning, it’s important to remember, we’ll talk more about this in a few minutes, that’s why cities need to be experimenting with school models and teams need to be really iterative right now.

Tim: So, trend number four, realizing benefits for both teachers and students, a lot of different benefits on here Tom, so talk us through some of it.

Tom Vander Ark: So, we’re really excited about all of the potential to improve learning for students, but the really exciting thing is that Blended Learning is also for teachers. I just shared a link of a paper that we wrote called “Improving Conditions and Careers.” And I’m excited about helping to create learning environments where teachers have a personalized learning, where teachers have an individual development plan, where teachers progress based on demonstrated confidence. And we listed a few of the benefits. Some teachers are taking advantage of teaching at home in a virtual school.

There’s some speech therapists now that can teach anytime anywhere, there’s world language teachers that can teach any time anywhere. As Tim just described, we’re creating more opportunities for teachers to promote a deeper learning. If we can get software to help build basic skills and many times teachers, they’ll be able to use technology to buy time to promote a deeper learning with their students. Blended schools are also creating new leadership roles for teachers, some grade span leaders within schools, some master teachers.

So, more teachers working in teams in a highly supported environment, having more sophisticated tools, just the cool thing about DreamBox is that it’s really, kids are living in an adaptive assessment and it provides so much rich real-time feedback to students but also invaluable information for teachers. So, Blended Learning is great for kids but it’s really producing a lot of benefits for educators, it’s just making this profession I think far more attractive.

Tim: Yeah, I think this might be a good time to bring up one of the questions that came up a short bit ago from, let’s see, we display this. So, what are some thoughts on flipped classrooms for math and how that might be play out in an elementary setting? And so as we talk about benefits for teachers and students both and we talk about more time and access options at home as you saw on that slide, when I think about the flipped classrooms, that is part of the rationale for doing a flipped classroom is to have more time that’s more personalized with students in class, to be more strategic and thoughtful about when students come to my fourth hour or, well, I guess if it’s elementary, 11 math at 10:30 or whatever time might be in the day. How can I make sure that I do have more time individually with students?

So, it’s a great strategy that’s thoughtful and strategic. The hesitation I have about flipped classrooms goes back to the earlier slide about higher order of thinking and I think a lot of times when we flip to say, well go home and then do this minor assignment or watch this online lecture video, I worry sometimes but that’s doing the remembering first and then come back to class so we can do the creating. In the book How People Learn, they talk about how an organizing lecture is really effective after students have had the chance to really wrestle and grapple with things. And I think that is happening in flipped classrooms and it’s a nuanced kind of conversation about what sort of prior knowledge to students need to have before they engage in a classroom conversation.

So, in terms of how flipped classrooms plan in elementary math setting, I think anything you can do to make sure the work students do at home is more relevant and more engaging as a result of technology so that when kids come back to class, I think that’s a really critical sort of thought process in reflection that teachers need to go through. Tom, any thoughts you have about that?

Tom Vander Ark: Yeah, I just, my EdWeek blog today has number different reflections on Khan. One is from a friend that visited a Khan Academy classroom recently but also read the SRI report that came out on Khan Academy last week and it was interesting, it said there was actually less flipped classroom activity than Khan had anticipated, he sort of thought that’s how people would access Khan Academy.

So, as you’ve said, flipped classroom, it depends, there’s so many different applications of flipped classroom. What I’m really looking forward to that I think we’ll see very soon is the ability to load a mobile consumption device, a tablet, with a playlist created for that student on that day so that homework really becomes very engaging and highly customized and I think that’s were flipped is going to hit.

Tim, you made a super interesting point that there’s two different camps. There’s the Summit Public Schools camp which is they used playlist to prepare kids for projects. I also have an NGLC grantee Next Generation Learning Challenge. It’s a maker school in Cleveland, very cool, called Makerspace. And they drop kids into interesting, challenging situations, and then they use those projects and experiences to prompt the learning. So, they start with an experience that sort of leads to a playlist of here’s some stuff that you need to learn to be successful. So, you can either lead with playlists that preps for projects or you can drop kids into challenging situations and then help them problem solve, sort of using flipped classroom and playlist strategies.

Meagan just shared some thoughts on the Makerspace, very cool high school idea kind of a flex DIY/maker idea and I just for the high school folks that are on here the ability to combine an online backbone with a sort of DIY/PBL/Makerspace, super interesting opportunity. Every district ought to have a flex project in that space.

Tim: Great. One slide I added here to talk about the benefits for both teachers and students and we’ll get to talk in a little more about data information in a second is, if you want to be more thoughtful about class time, one of the things DreamBox provides is we’re able to show you if you’re working on a particular idea or lesson or concept tomorrow like multiplication for example, we have a one-click report that shows which students already know that and have done that in DreamBox and how long ago they did it plus students who are currently working on it at DreamBox and then students who haven’t gotten there.

And certainly the teacher knows whether any of these students who haven’t started it, maybe they’re brand new to class, so of course there’s filtering and actions teachers need to take but this is one way we try to make teachers lives easier so that they can be more thoughtful about who needs what lesson and when. That tunnel leads right into trend number five about dated driven instruction.

Tom Vander Ark: I’m going to let you talk about this Tim but I just want to introduce this concept. So, I think of everything that’s happening in education right now, it’s such a super exciting time, Tim, be involved in learning. In the top two or three most important things happening is adaptive learning. The ability to use real-time data to construct these personalized pathways is very exciting sort of combining adaptive assessment and targeted tutoring and Tim will tell a little more about how DreamBox is doing that.

Tim: Yeah, this slide is a sort of kind of technically wonky kind of slide that shows a high-level overview about how our engine kind of works and how we know that things are happening with teachers and students outside of DreamBox of course but then when students go on to DreamBox to use it, it does need to be adaptive and differentiate and personalize but the most important thing I think is that like asterisk that’s kind of there at the bottom that says, pedagogically designed to engage students that we take math concepts and ideas and build manipulatives for students to engage with those ideas. And so instead of it being a sort of digitized worksheets, students have to make sense of the math and use the manipulative tool to solve the problems as well as develop that underlying conceptual understanding where they’re really wrestling with things like the distributive property with understanding the partial products and partial quotients so that they can understand the multiplication and long division algorithms and things.

And so, when you have that pedagogical approach in the software like we do, just like a classroom teacher does, you want to give students thought-provoking things. You don’t want your classroom or software to be mind-numbing, you want to be thought provoking and once you provoke students to think about something and to figure something out, then you carefully watch and observe how they go about solving the problem, how they go about using the tool or the manipulative or the number line to answer the question and based on their intuitive, their own intuitive ideas about how to solve the problem, you then adapt based on the kinds of mistakes that they are making.

And so, we really think of it more as a learning experience rather than a—yeah a learning experience for students who are thinking and doing independently rather than a sort of sit-and-get kind of experience and that’s kind of our design challenge to make an engaging, and to make it fun to make sure that students are making sense of things and getting the kinds of real-time feedback that they need in a pretty immersive ways. The net result of that, let’s see the next slide.

The net result of that is we provide reports and information about how students are progressing and this is an actual snapshot of one of our reports from the first week of a first grade classroom in the district where I used to be the math coordinator. And the students had used DreamBox during kindergarten and so the teacher, the first week of school contacted me to say, “I saw the report and my kids already know a lot of first grade math some of them but some of them still have huge gaps in their kindergarten understanding.”

And so, the question was, well what should we do, and the answer was, something differently, we should take this information into account. You see what prior knowledge students had their in the blue and then what students actually did on the software in the orange and now, a first grade teacher has a challenge to personalize and it wasn’t a blended learning school by any means. So, this is the reality of where we’re headed next with more data, more information about what students know and schools becoming more responsive to it is kind of a challenge. Anything you’d like to add, Tom, before we move to the next trend?

Tom Vander Ark: No, between your comments and what Nancy is talking about on Flip Classroom is really interesting. It’s important to note that—I think most people that have tried Flipped Classroom strategies have sort of flipped the entire classroom, so they’re sending home the same videos for every student. And when I talk about a playlist for every kid, I’m talking about a customized sequence of experiences for every student like what Tim is describing here.

So, the challenge is that we’re living in a strange period between age cohorts and proficiency and of your proficiency exams and the new opportunity to customize learning for every student and that’s the challenge that every school has to take on and decide how far they can move towards a truly personalized learning environment each year. So, that’s a big problem with flipped learning right now is that it’s just sort of flipping the same lesson for every kid and pushing it home but DreamBox is a great example of a tool that helps us customize learning for every student.

Tim, I want to talk about organizational structures and how they can help personalize learning. As we’ve been describing, blended learning, it really is this combination of organizational design taking advantage of new technology tools. A great secondary example is Reynoldsburg, Ohio. This is just outside of Cleveland and they’ve got very interesting blended pilots from elementary all the way to secondary.

The picture here is a high school academy and I just wanted to mention that this high school, they have four academies, all of these high schools use a structure that’s a triple-block and they have combined math and writing and a social studies topic that kids here are in energy, environments, and the economy. So, it’s a timely, meaty subject but the kids are working in a team doing meaningful projects but the cool thing is each student is getting an individual writing intensive and each student is taking an online math class that’s just right for them so that the kids in the chair, they’re taking an online AP course. The kid in the leather jacket was taking a Udacity class.

So, my point here is that you have an organizational structure that’s smaller than the school but bigger than the class that really allows them to do very interesting things in personalization. The mindset that goes into it is what I would describe as sort of lean startup and iterative development, again borrowing from the EdTech startup space. By lean, I mean trying to invest everything that you can in students and teachers, so pushing budgets down to the school level, and then iterative meaning testing hypothesis and doing it on a really frequent basis, trying things for a week or two, measuring as much as you can, making small tweaks and also what we’re seeing here is not something that took three years to plan and three years to implement. It’s something that they’ve developed at the end of a school year, they tried it the next school year, and they continue to make tweaks in it.

So, blended learning, I want you to think about it, is a very dynamic experiment and just remember that we’re early in the process and so for those of you that are school leaders or district leaders, I think the most important thing that you need to do now is to lead a community conversation that results in a set of temporary agreements that helps your school continue to move forward. So, you ought to be having a conversation right now about what are we going to do differently and better next year. Let’s put some temporary agreements around that and we’ll go into next year with a clear picture of where we’re going to try innovation and where we’re going to try improvement. So, keep it iterative and stay flexible.

Tim: That actually reminds me—first a couple of things, one, Tom, what I like that you mentioned about that example was they were doing a combined sort of map, writing, social studies kind of thing. It’s kind of a shame that those things are separated ever because if you’re a mathematician, the work that you do is necessarily communicative. It’s about writing. There are math journals, you’re proving things, there’s correspondence there. Math was never meant to be a writing absence course. And then secondly, the majority of actual authentic work that statisticians and mathematicians do these days is around tons of social studies topics and politics and environmental change, economic change.

It’s a wonder that we could ever separate them out from each other, so that’s a really great example. And actually, from earlier when you were talking about the bus schedules and how those are kind of locked in, we’ve got athletic practices and schedules after school, what are some thoughts about how to be iterative when we still have some of those fixed transitional kinds of things that might impede iteration?

Tom Vander Ark: So, a few minutes ago, I shared the blended learning implementation guide. So, that’s really our best advice on this subject and most schools and definitely most districts are going to benefit from a three-year plan where you start by identifying the great things that are currently happening in the school that you identify the teacher-leaders, you find a way to leverage—you leverage those folks and then you build a one-year plan, a two-year plan, and a three-year plan. You improve student access to technology, you improve broadband, you phase in these blended learning models, sort of starting where you’ve got the leadership and that might be elementary and moving up or it might be in the middle grades and then moving down and up simultaneously.

But launching a bunch of pilots early on, particularly flex blends at the secondary level where people can see what a competency-based environment looks like, Tim, and I think that adaptive learning in the elementary grades is a fantastic place to start, one, because it personalizes immediately and, two, because it gives you access to adaptive data. So, short answer is phase it in, you don’t have to do it all at once. Build a plan and then really support your teacher so that they feel like they’re supported in this journey because it’s a big transition and it changes everything about what it means to be a teacher.

Tim: Yeah, I like the piece about—you mentioned you have to be testing hypotheses and that means you have to, at the start of any change, you need to set out the measurements of success that you decide, okay, we’re going to—and for years, schools went back and forth perhaps between block schedules and traditional schedules but without probably any meaningful metrics to say, “Yes, we know that changing the schedule worked,” and I think when you set out those measurable strategies and benchmarks that you’re going to be watching, that helps you decide when to stick with a strategy or abandon it and try something new.

Tom Vander Ark: Yup.

Tim: All right, trend number seven, productive gamification.

Tom Vander Ark: Yes, so the exciting thing here is twofold, one is that there’s so many great learning games and learning experiences that have incorporated gamification like DreamBox, but also thinking really hard about what have we learned in the last 10 years from casual games and how can we make the entire school experience, that learner experience much more rich. So, I think Tim and I both have thoughts on this subject. I’ll mention a couple. I think one thing casual games have taught us, it sort of reinforced our ideas from 15 years ago about zone of proximal development, that good games are really good at calibrating. They make learning challenging but not too challenging and never boring but always challenging—keeping that level of challenge at an appropriate level.

Another thing is instant feedback and some games are completely extrinsic in nature where the reward system is a badge or something, but really good games sort of reinforce intrinsic motivation. Tim, what else have you learned about great games and sort of game-based strategies?

Tim: Yeah, I went through some of the things that we talk about here at DreamBox and I picked out one thing that I added to this slide here that it’s really learning through safe exploration. That’s kind of casual games, your Temple Runs, your Angry Birds, not your immersive payloads and things like that, but casual games that people kind of pick up and really want to play more and more, your Candy Crush, Tom, are you with the Candy Crush?

Tom Vander Ark: No, I am refusing.

Tim: Me too, all right. But you see these three things here and Tom was kind of mentioning some things along these lines, trial and error, productive failure, to lead to some a-ha moments. Same thing with learning in classrooms, this would apply as well. And there’s not really punitive things if you perform below expectations but you get that feedback, it’s really clear, you know what to do better next time. And so in classrooms and in technology, make sure that exploration, you have a chance to do that first where it is safe, that’s safe exploration. I think that’s kind of the main takeaway I wanted to add.

Trend number eight, the mobile world is where learners live now and here we have some data about student usage of different devices.

Tom Vander Ark: Well, mobile device use has just exploded particularly in the last three years. It’s hard to imagine that the iPad just came out in April 2010. So, we’re only a couple years into this mobile learning world. But it’s super important to remember that smartphone penetration has really changed a lot in the last few years. Our friend John Danner who started Rocketship, a famous high-performing elementary network in California noted that between 2011 and 2012, the smartphone penetration among his low-income Hispanic parents went from 50 percent to 92 percent.

He thought that was so profound, he quit to start a mobile learning company called Zeal. He’s still on the board and a big contributor to Rocketship, but he just thought that’s a game-changing observation that if all of his low-income families are now connected, we need to find ways to really make use of that and so we’ll talk a little bit about BYOD and how to put that to use.

Tim: Great. One of the things that I think about when you’re choosing a device is schools are always trying to figure out what device is most appropriate. I like to remind ourselves that learning is the goal and it’s not the tech use. So, you want to choose the right tool for the job. A lot of the time you often talk about if you’re producing things, you probably need a keyboard but there’s all sorts of considerations to make when you put the learning as the goal, when you put the student performance. You don’t want to try to force a technology into a learning outcome when it doesn’t belong and one of the examples I use here at DreamBox, we don’t have second grade lessons that teach students how to use a yardstick, because if you have an iPad, I mean it just doesn’t fit. It’s better for the students in their classroom to pick up an actual yardstick and go to it.

So I think as you choose your devices, keep the learning goals in mind. Different screen sizes have different strengths, pros and cons, and limitations and enhancements for learning and just keep that in mind.

So, that brings us to trend number nine which—yeah, it’s a perfect segue from what we’re just talking about. We’ve got BYOD here and three-screen days. Tom, there might be some people here who don’t know what three-screen days are.

Tom Vander Ark: Well, most adults learn and work in a three-screen day. They use a small mobile consumption device or communication device. They have a production device and then they have a sharing device. And I think the future that we should be shooting for with young people is a sort of a three-screen day where they also have a consumption device, a production device, and then a sharing screen, whether that’s a big video monitor at school for doing video production or like the picture here.

Obviously, schools can’t afford to pay for a three-screen day but this is where I think BYOD comes in. In most schools, you shouldn’t think about BYOD as your primary access strategy. I like to think of it as an add-on that sits on top of a real commitment to equity. At the secondary level, I think it makes a lot of sense to provide a production device and encourage kids to bring a consumption device. At the elementary level, there’s different options. A simple approach that some districts like Riverside in California have used is bring what you can, we’ll make sure you get what you need and we’ll work with you on connectivity.

So, BYOD, number one it’s time to end the bans if you have a ban on personal cell phones at school. Two, you need a really good acceptable use policy. Three, even more importantly, you need even an acceptable use practices at school that teach kids there’s good and bad ways to use personal technology. But BYOD can be part of your access solution. It’s not your entire access solution.

Tim: All right, great. I think that brings us to basically our last—actually no, I have one thing I wanted to add here, and Tom I don’t know if you talked about the SAMR model at all. I like to talk about it frequently because it helps us think differently about how we design content at DreamBox, to know that when you’re using a screen, regardless of what size it is, are you using technology to substitute for existing print resources that aren’t digital without any functional change? Is the learning augmented in some way? It’s a direct tool substitute, kind of like a digitized worksheet but maybe it collects data and reports it to the teachers, but largely, the student experience is the same.

And then you got the M which is modifying tech use, where we can really redesign some of the tasks. And a lot of people talk about the way that you can connect with people around the world using the web, using Twitter instantaneously. There’s different tasks that can happen with technology and then really the redefinition that let’s create some things that we couldn’t do without digital technologies. And at DreamBox, we try to make our learning and our lessons more transformative in those top two categories rather than enhancing static or existing kinds of learning resources.

Last trend because we’ve got about eight minutes left, number ten, more broadband please. That one’s a pretty straightforward one.

Tom Vander Ark: It is and we’re enthusiastic about the potential for a better e-rate that could help schools expand broadband. But on one hand it’s great that broadband has gotten so much better over the last couple years but we also end on this note just to encourage people to pay attention to broadband. There’s three or four different places where you can test your broadband, do that and then check the blended learning implementation guide and our friends at SETA state EdTech directors’ association all have speed tests and recommendations in terms of the broadband that you should be planning for. So, we talked about that three-year plan, make sure that you are planning for what you need in 2017 and that it’s part of your capital budgeting for your school or district.

And then the last thing is just the last mile challenge of getting better broadband at home is something we’re all going to have to keep working on, not an easy solution but districts and providers and cities I think can come up with some creative solutions. So, get your superintendent to work with that problem.

Tim: Yeah, there was a question that came in that’s kind of related to this about implementing technology with low-income students because there might not be a lot of use at home. Tom, is there some discussion of that in any of the papers that you’ve been sharing in the sharing?

Tom Vander Ark: Sure, the BLIG, the Blended Learning Implementation Guide talks about that. This is exactly why schools need to plan on take-home technology. It’s not good enough just to have it at school. I really think take-home technology is super important. All of your families deserve to be connected and as I said, create a community partnership to try to improve access to broadband.

Tim: All right, let’s see, we have a couple other questions here to round it out. Let’s see, so here’s kind of a big question, so kind of a long one too, personalized learning, it is thought at least to personalize progression which John thinks is an ideal future but requires significant organizational change and Tom, you spoke a little bit to that earlier. What are some of your thoughts on these big topics like high-stakes testing, social promotion, and contracts? John knows it’s a broad question.

Tom Vander Ark: It is. But this is why in the blended learning implementation guide, we really encourage people to think about the school model. So, you start a community conversation with the goals, what do we want kids to know and be able to do, how are they going to show what they know. Number two, what kind of a school model is going to best help us move in that direction. I think it’s worth visiting a lot of different schools and then many of the early DreamBox implementations were a lab rotation model where you just go down to a lab, use DreamBox and come back to the classroom and now, many more class rotation models.

So, make sure that you understand all of the options but when you do look at those options, what it will call into question is the basic staffing model, that it creates new opportunities to think differently about what your school staff looks like and what your employment agreements look like so that teachers really do have more access to leadership opportunities that you have longer year learning opportunities. So, this is obviously a lot to bite off and that’s why we suggest phasing things in over three years, that way you can improve access, you can support teachers, and you can have a three-year conversation with your school board about all these policy changes. So, it’s a lot to do but a create a project that frames the change in chunks of three or four years and you can make it doable for everybody.

Tim: All right, great. Thanks Tom. Well, that brings us here to the end of our time together. So, here’s @Getting_Smart and @DreamBox, these are our Twitter handles and in case you want to continue the conversation via Twitter. Tom, I really want to thank you for your time, for your insights, for the help of the whole Getting Smart team on the white paper that everyone’s going to be receiving. Any final thoughts?

Tom Vander Ark: Thanks Tim. It’s always fun. We’ve never had a better chance to improve learning for kids and to improve the profession for teachers, so let’s keep the conversation going.

Tim: Excellent, agreed. Thank you so much Tom. In these last couple minutes, just a little bit of housekeeping and a bit more information about DreamBox Learning. Here at DreamBox, we’re a web-based adapted math program for pre-K to Grade 5 that differentiates uniquely for each student. We’re also available on the iPad. Some middle schools are also using DreamBox for intervention.

We combine rigorous math, our Intelligent Adaptive Learning engine, and a motivating learning environment in order to help kids persist and progress to proficiency. We require kids to think critically, not just—it’s not just practice. The practice is embedded but students have to think conceptually. We don’t start our lessons by saying, “Oh, here’s how you divide fractions. Now, go divide fractions.” We engage students in making sense of it. We have full-time experienced classroom teachers who work with our programmers and our talented creative team to build manipulatives like I mentioned earlier that really make the most of a digital environment, for helping kids connect with abstract and concrete mathematical ideas while developing vocabulary so that they can become excellent mathematical communicators.

Our adaptive platform helps us differentiate uniquely for each student and the adaptivity is not just right or wrong answers but it’s based on the kinds of mistakes that students are makings. If you’re counting by ones or if you’re counting by tens, you need different lessons. And then the motivating learning environment, we have experienced game designers on our team who we try to make our games fit those principles like we were describing earlier. They are highly engaging, highly visual, and very interactive. We know that the quality of online learning is just as important as the quality of learning in classrooms. So, we have 1,300 rigorous adaptive lessons that’s convenient on the iPad or Chromebooks, laptops, desktops, plenty of reporting for parents, teachers, and administrators that—with reporting that’s aligned with the Common Core and then other standards such as Texas and Virginia and some Canadian standards as well.

We have the kinesthetic and accessible virtual manipulatives and currently, DreamBox is used by students in all 50 states as well as internationally. And the cool thing is, if you log out on the iPad and log right back in on a computer, your progress syncs seamlessly as educators would expect. We have robust reporting, I shared a little bit about that during the talk, including reporting that helps teachers differentiate when they need it with plenty of great information.

We also have some resources online. Checkout, we have free teacher tools. Some of our manipulatives are available for use at the whiteboard when teachers are looking for resources along with tutorials and some video demos about how to use those tools.

If you are interested in a school-wide trial of DreamBox, just go to and click on that orange bar on the top—free trial—and you can have students working on DreamBox pretty quickly.