If you could design a school …

“If you could design a school what would it look like?” In Milpitas, a middle-class district near San Jose, Superintendent Cary Matsuoka asked teachers and principals how they’d redesign their schools, reports EdSurge News. Propsals had to “integrate technology, use data to inform instruction, be student-centered and flexibly use space, time, and student grouping.”

As a result of the design challenge, two-thirds of the district’s elementary school classrooms are now using “blended learning.” Students spend part of the day using software that adapts to their individual learning needs and produces data for teachers.

Some plans were patterned after Rocketship, a charter network with five schools 10 miles south in San Jose with deep experience in experiment with technology–including teaching 90 student in one space at a time. Other schools, such as Marshall Pomeroy Elementary School run by Principal Sheila Murphy Brewer, instead focused on addressing the diverse needs of a school where fully half of the  506 students are English language learners. “Blended learning came out of the necessity of reaching all abilities,” she says.

Some classes use a one-to-one model, each student equipped with a Chromebook. Others rely on in-class rotations with some students on computers, some doing independent or group work, and others getting direct instruction from a teacher.

All blended classrooms use iReady, an adaptive reading and math program. Other popular tools include Khan Academy, Edmodo, Newsela and No Red Ink.

Burnett Elementary School’s learning lab relies on a huge garage-style door that slides up to divide the space into two rooms–and to harkening back to the days when Silicon Valley startups began in garages. The space is meant to be used for mixed purposes, offering soundproof areas for students to work on projects, while others can quietly work on the computer or receive direct instruction in small groups.

In classrooms, students are also doing classroom rotations. In the fourth grade math class, students rotate every twenty minutes between Khan Academy, group work on Common Core performance tasks, creating their own videos on Educreations, and peer coaching. Students put their name on a ‘peer coaching’ board, to volunteer to help other struggling students. Their teacher, Allison Elizondo, stands by to help struggling students and ensure that all goes smoothly.

“When you give kids freedom, they just go for it,” says Elizondo. “I don’t see myself as a traditional teacher, I see myself as a coach.”

The Hechinger Report looks at blended learning in an Aspire charter elementary school in Los Angeles.

On a recent Monday morning inside Freddy Esparza’s second-grade classroom, . . . a small group has gathered on the rug to hear Esparza read “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse.”

The remaining students log into their computers. One student reads a non-fiction book about beluga whales. Another takes a quiz on synonyms and antonyms, posting a perfect score. “Yessss!” he whispers, pumping up his little fist.

I’m attending (and tweeting!) a conference on blended learning today at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. I’m also finishing a freelance story for Education Next on a blended learning experiment in Oakland elementary and middle schools. Oakland Unified teachers typically have 32 students of widely varying achievement, aptitude and English proficiency levels – and no aide. Without adaptive software, differentiation is “fairy dust,” as one principal put it.

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Comments

  1. I thought the Hoover Institution blended learning thing was Thursday and Friday. Can anyone attend? I have first block prep, and the Friday morning panel looks interesting.

    • It’s Thursday and Friday. I’m traveling, working ahead — and confused.

      I was invited to the conference. I don’t know if you can drop in.

  2. My kids used to talk about this during long drives to their travel sports venues. Even when they were still young ES kids, they wanted more academic content, taught directly by a teacher who really knew content, strict discipline and dress codes (including ties for boys), no artsy projects but art history and music appreciation as a regular part of social studies and teachers sitting at lunch tables with kids and enforcing appropriate manners and (age-appropriate) conversation on events currently in the news.

  3. So typical – give an open-ended question (“if you could design a school, what would it look like”) and then shut it down with must-haves: <>

  4. Did you know Milpitas API scores tumbled. Wish a Star test or SBAC was this year to really see if blended learning showed any gains. Placing computers in front of elem school kids all day isn’t teaching. Too bad their parents will never care enough to second guess this teaching style. Milpitas kids won’t have social skills. But at least they have gadgets, that’s super hip and really important in shaping young minds.