Study: Blended math boosts learning

Students learned significantly more when they used Carnegie Learning’s hybrid algebra program — a blend of online and classroom instruction — reports a two-year Education Department study, which used a randomized control group.

There were no significant results in the first year, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.In the second year, students who used Cognitive Tutor Algebra I improved by 8 percentile points.  That’s double the amount of math learning most high school students achieve in a year, said Steve Ritter, a founder and the chief scientist of Carnegie Learning, in Pittsburgh.

The improvements were similar across students of different ethnic and socioeconomic background, and high, regular, and low initial math ability, Ritter said. The researchers found similar improvements among participating middle school students—higher-performing math students typically take algebra in 8th grade rather than in high school—though the middle school sample was not large enough to show significant effects in the same way as the high school students.

Usually students worked with the individualized tutorial program for two days a week and spent three days learning in the classroom.

Study: Hybrid class works for college students

College statistics students in a hybrid class — online instruction plus a one-hour face-to-face session — performed slightly better than the control group and spent 1.7 fewer hours per week on the course, write William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, Kelly A. Lack and Thomas I. Nygren in Education Next.

“The effect of the hybrid-format course did not vary when controlling for race/ethnicity, gender, parental education, primary language spoken, score at the standardized pretest, hours worked for pay, or college GPA,” the authors report.

Half the students who participated come from families with incomes less than $50,000 and half are first-generation college students. Less than half are white, and the group is about evenly divided between students with college GPAs above and below 3.0.

Carnegie Mellon designed the hybrid course, which was taught at public universities in New York and Maryland.

Students in the control group received three to four hours of face-to-face instruction each week.

Moving to the hybrid model could cut the costs by 19 percent to 57 percent, depending on whether professors do all the teaching or assign sections to teaching assistants, the authors estimate.

Personalized learning with 48 students

In The Right Mix, Education Sector’s Susan Headden profiles a charter high school in Los Angeles that’s using blended learning to personalize instruction — despite having 48 students in a class. The Alliance Tennenbaum Family Technology High School “combines online and traditional instruction and allows students to learn in three different ways,” she writes.

On this particular fall day, 16 students are getting traditional in-person instruction in Algebra I from teacher Wendy Chaves; roughly the same number are doing math problems online; and still others are gathered in clusters of four tutoring each other. No matter where they are in the rotation, they see the student-to-teacher ratio as what it effectively is—an ideal 16-to-1.

Students work at their own pace, Headden writes. “With the software taking up chores like grading math quizzes and flagging bad grammar, teachers are freed to do what they do best—guide, engage, and inspire.”

Tennenbaum’s BLAST model breaks the day into two-hour blocks with students spending 40 minutes at each station.

Students report to stations based on what regular pre-tests have shown they can do. The low performers go right to direct instruction with the teacher, the high performers start with the collaborative session, and those in the middle start with online work.

Let’s say the English lesson is about effective use of literary devices. Students might start with a teacher-led lesson on metaphor, personification and the like, followed by an online tutorial on the MY Access! writing program. They write a short essay, which the computer immediately scores for mechanics and grammar. If the student has too many mistakes, he takes another tutorial and writes the essay again. He sets himself a deadline (say, all clean by the third draft), and when he has met it, submits the piece to the teacher for feedback on meatier qualities like content and orga­nization. Finally, in the collaborative session, students critique each other’s work, making suggestions for improvement based on what they have learned from the teacher and online.

Students don’t move ahead until they show mastery. Online programs let students review a lesson until they understand it. The software analyzes keystrokes to collect data on each student’s learning.

Tennenbaum has excellent teachers, but mediocre software, says Principal Michelle Tubbs.  “There is no A-plus software out there,” Tubbs says. “Most of it is C-plus or below.”

Technology lets the school hire fewer teachers, but the savings are wiped out by technology costs. However, once the school reaches full enrollment, the technology is expected to pay for itself.

“When computer-assisted learning fails, it is usually because technology has been deployed as an add-on,” writes Headden. “BLAST shows that for technology to make a difference in student learning, it must be integral to instruction, and it must come with humans attached.”

Public Impact’s new Opportunity Culture Charter School Network hopes to use technology to enable excellent teachers to reach more students. Four new schools plan different approaches to creating an “opportunity culture” for teachers: Foundations College Prep (Chicago), Ingenuity Prep (Washington, D.C.), Touchstone Education (Newark) and Venture Academy (Minneapolis).

 

Home schools go ‘hybrid’

Home schooling is going “hybrid,” reports Education Week. Parents mix and match their own lessons, online courses, community college classes, private classes, tutoring and even part-time studies at the local public school.

Baywood Learning Center in Oakland, Calif., a private school for gifted students . . . has a la carte classes on individual subjects once a week, as well as a multiage class that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays to cover core academics. Director Grace Neufeld said demand for the latter has grown 50 percent in the last year, to about 40 students ages 4 to 17.

. . . “Parents usually design a patchwork quilt of different classes and activities for their children,” she said. “What I see is they sign up for various classes being held in various locations like science centers or museums or different places. They also add things like music lessons, art lessons, sports, or martial arts.”

Parents join together in co-ops to share teaching, such as the Inman Hybrid Home School program in Inman, Ga.

Founder Holly Longino, a former health teacher at Carver Middle School in Inman, left public teaching to home-school her four children, but last year started the group classes a few times a week with five students and a handful of retired public school teachers. The teachers provide video lectures for students to use as well as in-class projects.

More than 2 million students were homeschooled in 2010, nearly 4 percent of  K-12 students, according to Homeschooling in America by Joseph Murphy, a Vanderbilt education professor.  While most homeschoolers are conservative and religious, a growing number of moderate and liberal families are choosing to teach their own children, Murphy found. “Bullying and teaching practices, have now edged out religious values (31.2 percent to 29.8 percent) as the top reason parents teach their children at home.”

 

K-1 kids learn math online

Online learning produced significant gains for young students at three Rocketship charter schools, according to an SRI analysis.

Kindergarten and first-grade students who used the DreamBox Learning program to practice math skills outperformed the control group by 2.3 points on the NWEA test, the equivalent of moving from the 50th to the 55th percentile. All students received 100 to 110 minutes per day of math instruction in the classroom. Half spent 22 hours on DreamBox over the 16-week period; the control group used DreamBox for only five hours.

Rocketship’s hybrid model combines traditional classroom learning with individualized instruction through online technology in the Learning Lab and intensive tutor-led small groups. Because the Learning Lab is supervised by aides rather than teachers, Rocketship saves money that can be used to pay teachers more, hire tutors and extend the school day.

It’s a big win for edutainment software, writes Venture Beat, which notes that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings bought DreamBox last year.  A long-time charter advocate who served on the state board of education, Hastings is a Rocketship backer.

DreamBox has created math software that is “adaptive.” That is, a child can log into the online game and solve problems and the game can react to the skill level of the child. If the child does well, the game adapts the lessons so that they are harder. If the child needs more help, the game adapts the lessons so they are easier.

Teachers don’t have to worry about being replaced by computers says Andrew Elliott-Chandler, a Rocketship math teacher who’s moving up to the principal’s job.

“A lot of the grunt work of teaching is switched out for getting to know kids,” he says. “That’s one of the exciting changes. As learning the math facts shifts to the Learning Lab, there is a whole array of activities and programming that I no longer have to do in the classroom and instead, I’m able to spend more time looking at my kids’ needs . . . really exploring more high-engagement, high-leverage lessons with my kids.”

Rocketship’s Chief Schools Officer Aylon Samouha says the organization is planning further studies to compare the effectiveness of the available software programs with additional tutoring and class time for teaching given concepts.

Though most Rocketship students come from low-income Hispanic families, test scores are much higher than the California average. The network is opening four new schools and wants to have a 29-school network by 2018.

 

What computers do best, what teachers do best

“There are things that the computer does best and things that teachers do best,” says John Danner, co-founder of Rocketship Education, in a conversation with Liz Willen on the Hechinger Report. Rocketship uses a “hybrid” model:  Students spend part of the day in small classes taught by well-paid teachers and the rest working at their own pace in a computer lab supervised by an aide. The San Jose elementary schools, which primarily serve low-income, immigrant students, are among the top-scoring high-poverty schools in the state. They even do well compared to schools with middle-class students.

There are things that the computer does best and things that teachers do best. We think that computers do basic skills best. Traditionally, people have maligned computers in the education space for ‘drill and kill,’ but computers help kids practice things and help kids who don’t understand what they are practicing figure it out and go back to the original lesson. Computers can adapt on the fly to an individual child’s mistakes or successes, and that would be impossible for a teacher in a class of 25-30 kids.

What are some of the things that teachers do best?

We think it is social and emotional learning, and helping kids to think critically, along with project-based learning and integrating skills. Very few teachers became teachers to teach basic skills. They became teachers because they like to work with kids and help them learn values—and take what they know and apply it to problems, and help kids understand and cement concepts. There is a big difference between that and what you will see in low-income schools, where teachers have to spend all their time on basic skills. We can do both.

Rocketship hopes to open 20 charter schools in Silicon Valley by 2017 through partnerships with up to 11 school districts. Danner’s ultimate goal is to expand the Rocketship model to 50 U.S. cities, he tells Willen.

Bricks, clicks and civics

In a post on “hybrid schools” that combine “bricks and clicks,” Larry Cuban warns that efficiency isn’t the only goal: Schools are not “information factories.”

In some ways, the new hybrid schools are fulfilling progressive educators’ dream of student-centered learning, he writes. Digital lessons are “hand-crafted to fit students for part of or most of the day,” while teachers coach students on what they’ve learned or teach a few traditional lessons. There are fewer teachers and therefore lower costs.

But techno-enthusiasts’ view of public schools is too narrow, Cuban argues.

They equate access to information with becoming educated – more of one leads to more of the other.  These very smart people ignore other crucial and purposes public schools have served historically in a democracy. . . What can be as important as students acquiring information? Try socializing the young, developing engaged citizens, moral development, and, yes, even custodial care of the young.

Schools have never been solely information factories; they have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose job is to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and  live full and worthwhile lives.

That criticism may apply to click-only education. While home-schooled children often participate in youth soccer, Little League, the church choir, art classes and other group activities, some parents may let their children grow up as loners.

However, it’s not likely that bricks-and-clicks students will go to the same building to learn but never socialize. Do students need to be grouped into classes to learn to be good citizens? Are they more likely to be independent thinkers if they’re taught in a group? What do traditional schools do to develop morals that a brick-and-click schools couldn’t or wouldn’t do?

San Jose’s Rocketship schools, charters with a hybrid model, are rated #5 and #15 in the state among schools with 70 percent or more low-income students. Students, predominantly from Mexican immigrant families, significantly exceed state performance goals. These children will be just as able to “live full and worthwhile lives” as traditionally educated children with weaker reading, writing and math skills.