How trailblazing districts leverage blended learning

September 13, 2016 | by Jenny White

Trailblazing districts are forging a new landscape of education with innovative instructional methods bolstered by technology. Among them are Future Ready districts across the country who have taken a pledge to rethink how we prepare students for college, career and life in the 21st century. Since 2014, over 2200 superintendents have signed the Future Ready District Pledge, over 450 have attended a 2-day summit with their district leadership teams, and 17 states have committed to becoming Future Ready. The three BLU districts featured below have followed through on their promise by creating cultures of bold instructional practices that make a difference both for their students and for the districts that will follow their lead.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, the third-largest district in the country, is methodically launching blended learning initiatives from the top-down. Through a set of varied initiatives, from professional development series to a blended math program across all district middle schools, MDCPS is making strides as one of the country’s leading innovators. As both a Future Ready and Race to the Top District, it promised a blended learning environment as early as 2009. One of the hallmarks of the district’s work is iPrep Academy. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho serves as the principal at this magnet school. iPrep was designed as an Enriched Virtual learning program with Florida Virtual School (FLVS) online courses act as the learning core and students work with teachers in a 1:1 or small-group setting a few times each week.

The iPrep Math program, which reaches all middle schools across the district, features a Flex model and 21st-century classroom designs. The classroom serves up to 60 students at once in a large, open space composed of unique learning hubs. Students move between hubs like a snowflake area with a Smartboard, where teachers conduct small-group workshops or students give presentations; a cluster of tables and chairs for teacher-led, small-group  instruction; a collaborative area for student group activities; and a lounge corner for quiet, independent work. iPrep Math has shown promising results. For two straight years, iPrep Math students have outperformed students that take traditional middle school math classes on state standardized tests. They have also had higher attendance and lower suspension rates than students that take traditional math classes, according to Ilia Molina, Executive Director of iPrep Math.

Vancouver Public Schools in Washington is another Future Ready pledger that has been an innovative thinker in the field of blended learning. A highlight of the school system is the Vancouver Flex Academy at Lewis and Clark High School, a redesigned alternative school that provides a rigorous academic experience for nontraditional students. The Flex model used allows students to move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities. The school likens the students’ learning experience to a college environment, as students’ schedules weave equal parts independent study time and classroom instruction, and students complete online assignments in flexible, open work and study spaces. Since its opening in 2014, the Academy has successfully scaffolded the independent, online learning process for students by providing plenty of face-to-face instruction and support. A teacher mentor meets with each student three times a week and leads a tight-knit advisory class to facilitate students’ development of critical learning skills like time management, organization, and self-reliance. The entire Vancouver Public Schools system implements one-to-one technology and offers ongoing support to teachers at all grade levels as they leverage technology within various blended and personalized learning models.

Metropolitan School District of Warren County in Indiana, a Race to the Top district, officially rolled out blended learning in the 2015-16 school year. During the planning stages, district administrators set the stage for bottom-up adoption of blended learning and made sure to include key voices in the conversation. With Education Elements as a partner, a district leadership team supported design teams from each school in the district as they envisioned, designed, and began implementing their own blended learning strategies. The district cabinet and Education Elements team worked throughout the year of design with the school teams in a series of workshops. In the first year of implementation, the majority of models used have been Station Rotation or a hybrid of Station Rotation and Flex. Every blended classroom infuses student voice and choice to ensure personalization for every student. At the core of these new technology-fueled learning approaches, teachers value the perspectives and preferences of students and respond to data to deliver instruction that challenges and encourages each learner to grow.

These BLU districts are just three of the Future Ready districts making waves, and the ripple effect of their efforts will likely prove just as noteworthy. On the BLU, we aim to capture each wave of blended learning innovation in school systems around the world. Are you an administrator or teacher leading blended learning change in your school system? If so, join the BLU to collaborate and learn with other innovating schools and districts by sharing experiences, best practices and common challenges.

From now through November 4th, all BLU school and district leaders are invited to apply for an exclusive seat and speaking opportunity at the 2017 Blended and Personalized Learning Conference. Learn how to apply.

This blog was originally posted as part of ConnectED day. The ConnectED initiative, launched by President Obama in 2014, set a goal of connecting 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband by 2018 and called on the private sector to provide digital learning devices and high-quality, low-cost digital content for teachers and students.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.