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Blended learning taking center stage in school design

As blended learning becomes an increasingly popular method of instruction, schools across America are taking steps to redesign classrooms and entire buildings to better accommodate the need for technology and a more open and interactive learning environment.

In New Orleans, some of the first elementary schools to be rebuilt since Hurricane Katrina feature areas specifically designed to accommodate blended learning programs, The Times-Picayune reported. Bienville, a PK-8 school, has computer labs with moveable walls and rooms where small groups can gather to learn new skills on computer software.

Some schools are taking their commitment to blended learning a step further. The South Carolina Science Academy (SCSA) is a brand new charter school and the first blended learning public school in the nation to focus specifically on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

SCSA aims to give its students the 21st century skills need to be successful in the STEM careers of the future. To accomplish this, SCSA will follow a blended model of learning whereby technology is used to personalize the learning experience of each student through a combination of online and traditional in-classroom instruction.

"Students will gain additional class time to construct their understanding of what they learn using project-based and inquiry-based learning," school officials announced in a statement. "The blended learning environment is also intended to allow students to collaborate more with educators and peers."

SCSA is not the only school to be completely designed around the blended learning model of education. Hybrid schools are popping up all over the United States, and many have ditched the traditional classroom design in favor of open spaces that are more conducive to the use of technology for personalized learning.

Rather than cramped classrooms, these schools feel more like offices or cafes, offering community learning spaces and comfortable chairs where students can hunker down with a tablet or computer and learn at their own pace.

The San Francisco Flex Academy, for example, allows students of all grade levels to work at cubicles in a large room. A customized learning program is created for each student, and they are allowed to work independently at their own pace. Teachers circulate the room to give added guidance, and track student progress to ensure they are making sufficient academic gains.

The model is progressive, to be sure, but the combination of traditional and online education seems to be gaining popularity among students as it allows them more flexibility to learn in a way that works best for them and will allow them to be successful.