As the emphasis on using technology in the classroom increased, so too, did the need to maximize using it in a strategic way. Blended learning leverages the use of adaptive technology with tried and true small group and individual instructional strategies that our excellent teachers have been practicing for many years. With blended learning, we can teach all of our students more effectively.
For some teachers, using these blended learning models is brand new, while other teachers have been doing blended learning all along, sometimes unknowingly. The biggest challenge has been to get teachers to take the leap from whole group, teacher led instruction to small group or individualized instructional methods. There seems to be an idea floating around that students doing different things is, or could be, "chaos!" When all of the structures for success are put into place, however, this couldn't be farther from the truth.
The Blended Learning Coach and the Classroom Technology Specialist, together with the Curriculum Director, support and encourage classroom teachers as they make these tremendous changes in their classrooms.
With blended learning, we are seeing positive growth trends in our benchmark data. Student growth is even more dramatic in classrooms that have fully transformed to blended models. Blended learning takes care of both meeting the intervention needs of our struggling students, and challenging all students to learn and make gains, regardless of where they are today in their learning journey.
With the adaptations we've made to our structure and scheduling in both elementary and secondary at our largest school, we have seen greatly reduced discipline issues, increased attendance, positive changes in overall school climate, and genuine student investment in their learning.
Starting in the 2017/2018 school year, several schools in our district began participating in the "Variable Schedule." In the Variable Schedule, 7-12th grade students alternate between four weeks of core classes (Math, ELA, Science, and Social Studies) followed by two weeks of elective classes. During our Land Schedule of core classes, students have four (~75 min) classes a day. During our Aurora Schedule of elective classes, students attend two, much-longer classes a day. This longer class period (~2.5 hours) allows for students to really dive deeper into concepts through projects and place-based learning. As an example, one of my elective classes last year was Alaskan Culture and Dog Mushing. The long class period allowed time for my class to travel to a local musher's dog yard to learn about dog care and run dogs on a daily basis. There is also a shorter (~45 min) Continuous Class period that runs all year long, an ideal time to focus on study skills, providing interventions, or to offer a foreign language. Some of our smaller, outlying schools' students and teachers travel in to our hub school to participate in the Aurora Schedule of elective classes. We adopted (and adapted) this idea from our neighboring Copper River School District.
After seeing the success of our Variable Schedule at the secondary level, the elementary teachers at our hub school decided to make a change. They collaborated to develop the S.T.A.R.S pod classes. S.T.A.R.S. stands for Science, Technology & Engineering, the Arts, Regional & Global Awareness, and Stewardship. Beginning in the 2018/2019 school year, mornings are spent focused on the cores: Reading, Writing, and Math. Afternoons are spent in elective K-2 or 3-5 level classes that the students have chosen. Each quarter, teachers offer a different subject in one of the S.T.A.R.S. strands. Teachers are flexible in their leveling: some teachers who teach primary cores opt to teach an upper elementary S.T.A.R.S. class, and vice versa.
In the 2017/2018 school year, we also began an alternative school option for our students called Pathways. Pathways offers ala carte classes for students to complete coursework toward a high school diploma or a GED in a more focused environment with flexible seating and on-demand tutoring.
With these adaptations to our structure and scheduling, we have seen greatly reduced discipline issues, increased attendance, positive changes in overall school climate, and genuine student investment in their learning.
Focus Areas: Use of space/time in the classroom, Culturally Relevant Instruction
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