Old-fashioned blended learning uses the rotation model: Half the class may be watching Khan Academy videos and taking quizzes geared to their performance level, while the teacher works with the other half on the math skills they need to learn. Rocketship charter schools are trying Blended Learning 2.0, reports Education Week. The classroom has more teachers, more students and more flexibility.
Here’s how the charter operator’s new instructional model looked in action at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San Jose, Calif. on a recent chilly morning:
On one side of the large, rectangular 4th grade classroom, teacher Juan Mateos leads a lesson on identifying figurative language. He projects a poem about California earthquakes on to a screen: “Palm trees begin to sway all by themselves / Here, the earth likes to dance, cha-cha-cha.”
Twenty-two students—grouped together based on their similar academic abilities, which put them in the middle of the classroom pack—are gathered on a carpet, reading along. At Mr. Mateos’ instruction, they turn to classmates and debate whether the poem is a metaphor or an example of personification.
Twenty yards away, teacher Jason Colon works with 22 of the school’s most-advanced 4th graders, also grouped according to ability. The children sit in pairs, facing each other across their desks, binders upright between them. To keep this ambitious lot engaged in his math lesson about graphing coordinates, Mr. Colon has the children create their own x- and y-axes, plot “battleships,” and attempt to sink each other’s fleets—a creative twist on the classic board game.
The lowest-performing 4th grade students work at learning stations or laptops. An aide keeps an eye on them while “working from a scripted curriculum to help four students learn letter sounds.”
Then Mr. Colon reteaches a lesson to the low performers, the middle group moves to computers and Mr. Mateos “adapts his lesson to push the more-advanced students to write their own figurative language.”
Under Rocketship’s old “station rotation” blended learning model, still used in early grades, class sizes are more traditional, and students of mixed abilities rotate from regular classrooms to stand-alone “learning labs,” where they receive computer-assisted instruction. Rocketship officials say that under that model, it’s difficult to address the needs of top- and bottom-performing students—a challenge many schools face.
Teachers now specialize. Mr. Mateos teaches each reading and language arts lesson in three different ways. Mr. Colon adapts math to three different groups.
In a flexible day, a student may spend time in a group of five students to 109 students.
Rocketship made its name by posting very high test scores for low-income, Latino students. Test scores fell when schools shifted to the flex model, reports Ed Week. Rocketship also was trying to save money on staffing and open new schools.
In response, the charter network is slowing the transition to flexible classrooms, using flexibility only in grades 4 and 5 in existing schools. The new model no longer is expected to generate cost savings.