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Blended learning gives boost to Memphis students' math scores

Following the lead schools around the country that have embraced blended learning, an all-boys school in Memphis, Tennessee, has reworked its math curriculum using modern technology, and students’ test scores have risen as a result.

“Our scores are stronger than before,” Lee Burns, headmaster of Presbyterian Day School, told The Commercial Appeal. “And anecdotally, students are much more engaged. So many boys now say their favorite subject is math. They love the approach. They own the learning, so there is great engagement in it.”

In lieu of traditional teaching models, the Presbyterian Day School in Memphis has discarded rows of desks facing a blackboard in favor of a technology-infused approach to learning. Students sit at Wi-Fi workstations with iPads and laptops, and have access to tools such as interactive whiteboards.

The students can work individually or in groups, and are given eight days to master each new math unit. They have access to a wide variety of resources, including a tutor to chat with via Skype, adapted learning programs and in-classroom teachers. After four days, students who feel they’ve mastered the math concept can take the test. If they score 90 percent or higher, they’re given new math challenges.

The school’s blended learning classroom model emphasizes individualized learning by allowing students of differing math abilities to work at their own pace and have their instruction adjusted to their needs.

“You never want a child to be afraid to move ahead, to tackle more challenging material just because it’s harder,” Susan Droke, the school’s assistant headmaster, told the source.

The school’s revolutionary classroom structure is modeled in part after Rocketship Education in California. The K-5 charter school system caters to low-income students, and has also found great success with the blended learning model of education. It’s one of the top performing school systems in California – 82 percent of its students earned math scores on the California Standards Test (CST) on par with the most affluent school districts in the state.

Although this approach to instruction is decidedly modern, even critics will find the noticeable increase in test scores difficult to ignore. Because the blended learning model allows students to work at their own pace and adapt their instruction in a way that will help them be most successful, it simultaneously ensures that gifted students are not bored while struggling students receive the attention that they need.